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Twisted Triplets (Part 2)

by

Phoenix Spiritus

Bittersweet homecoming

Thursday Lunchtime, Station House

Almost involuntarily, Constable Stevens smiled in delight as he watched Stacy and her two sisters buzz through the door, little pixies that flew down to alight on his desk. Unable to help himself, he grinned as he saw the 'Crysta' and 'Tinkerbell' dresses Stacy and Sue now wore. Seeing his grin, Stacy twirled around, before giving him a curtsey and grinning back up at him.

"Very nice," Constable Stevens murmured to Stacy's huge smile. Glancing at the others to include them he turned serious. "I need to talk to you," he informed them. "Is it possible for you to change back?" he asked, gesturing to the chairs around his desk.

Happily Stacy jumped down, followed by her sisters. Buzzing to a chair she transformed into a normal girl, complete with her a more usual shirt and skirt. Lexi followed suit on the chair next to her, but when Sue tried to do the same on the other side of Stacy, she appeared not in Stacy's mother's dress as she had been intending, but in a normal sized version of her Tinkerbell outfit, complete with zig-zag helm and cute green slippers. While Sue stared down at the dress in disbelief, Stacy let forth a peal of laughter, Lexi giggling along with her. Even Constable Stevens had a weird bubble in his voice as he addressed Sue.

"Well, that's certainly an interesting dress," Constable Stevens commented, manfully not laughing, though nothing could stop a smile. Once the girls had calmed down a bit, Constable Stevens addressed the three of them. "I'll be going out soon, I'm going to pick up Julie and bring her back," Stacy's eyes widened in delight and she sniggered a bit. "As you know," Constable Stevens continued, resignedly shaking his head at Stacy's giggling. "Julie is my girlfriend, but she's also one of the local solicitors, she's coming back with me to talk to the three of you about your legal issues."

"Legal issues?" Stacy blurted fearfully.

"Yes, legal issues," Constable Stevens confirmed. "You're all three orphans. Sue and Lexi are already Wards of the State, it's likely you'll become one too Stacy, and then there's the plane crash and ... complications."

Constable Stevens paused, seemingly in contemplation, before with a jerk he turned back to the girls. "Father Michael suggested that, under the circumstances, it makes sense for you three to get a lawyer on your side, and Julie knows Stacy and would be happy to help the three of you."

"Julie's going to be our lawyer?" Stacy exclaimed excitedly.

"She's going to try to be," Constable Stevens sternly stated, trying to contain Stacy's enthusiasm, but failing. Stacy was almost floating at the news. "We need to see a judge first to make sure she can be, that's why I'll be out for the rest of the afternoon," Constable Stevens explained. "Stacy, you know where Mrs. Havelock lives, in case you need something," he said addressing the girl sternly. "And you know the town. If you and your sisters go out, make sure you leave a note telling me where, and if something happens, call me!"

Nodding earnestly Stacy promised, eyes still glowing at the news Julie was to be her lawyer.

"OK," Constable Stevens said standing up. "Don't worry about dinner, I'll bring back some Chinese with me when Julie and I return. In the mean time, be careful and don't cause trouble," he admonished them smiling.

As the three girls nodded their agreement, a shimmer occurred around Sue, and suddenly the green dress she was wearing disappeared. Constable Stevens stared in shock at the naked girl suddenly sitting on the chair before him. Sue's screech of mortification galvanised him, and he dived for the door, dodging raining female clothing as he raced through it.

Calling "I'll be back for dinner!" he closed the door, making sure to shut it firmly behind him. Waiting to confirm Sue stopped screaming, and to hear desperate scurrying behind him, he ruefully shook his head. Chuckling he made for his Police Land Cruiser, wondering how long it would take him to get used to seeing real magic performed, and how long it would be before the three girls got a proper handle on doing it.

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Thursday Early Evening, Station House

"Where are the knives and forks?" Lexi asked confused, looking at the table as she laid out bowls in each place. Stacy and Sue had spent the afternoon exercising under Lexi's guidance to improve their Essence control, even doing a little practicing of flying and fighting, pixie style, as well. As the evening arrived, Stacy had insisted they stop and prepare the dinning room for dinner.

"It's Chinese! You eat it with chopsticks," Stacy said holding one up.

"I … I don't know how to use them," Lexi stammered.

"It's OK, we'll teach you!" Stacy promised.

"And there are spoons if that doesn't work," Sue smiled as she pointed to them at each place.

Lifting up a single chopstick Lexi dubiously studied it, causing Stacy to laugh. "You look like you're holding a sword. On guard!" she cried holding her chopstick in her hand and pointing it at Lexi. Startled, Lexi shifted, now holding the chopstick like a spear guarding herself. Unconsciously Stacy followed suit. Getting over her surprise at shifting to pixie form, Stacy lunged at Lexi, laughingly mock attacking with her 'spear'. The two of them went at it joyfully, flying over and all around the table and its settings, attacking and defending with their 'spears'.

Laughing so hard she was holding her sides, Sue watched happily as her two sisters flittered all over the place having their mock battle, when suddenly her two sisters stopped, looked at each other and with glad cries turned dived at Sue. Grabbing a chopstick off the table, Sue found herself changed into her Tinkerbell form and defending herself, launching into the fight happily, chasing after both her sisters in a wonderful free-for-all, so intoxicating none of them heard the front door open and Constable Stevens return, not even when the dining room door opened. It wasn't until the awed gasp of "Tinkerbell!" that they realised they weren't alone, and worse, nor was Constable Stevens! Eeping all three of them vanished with tiny pops of air.

"What the?" The young lady with Constable Stevens exclaimed, looking a little desperately around the room before carefully turning to Constable Stevens.

"No, you weren't imaging it, Hopefully they are still here." Turning to the room Constable Stevens called, "Come on you three, come out and meet your court appointed lawyer!"

Cautiously first one, then two, then finally all three looked out from behind various objects around the room, when unexpectedly the brown haired pixie darted out and flew straight towards the woman. Just short of the woman, Stacy transformed, and at her full size landed, careening into the woman to hug her tight. "Julie! You're going to help us?" she cried happily looking up in hero worship to the young woman she was tightly hugging.

Shocked and surprised, Julie at first flinched back from the darting pixie, and then especially the girl that appeared out of nowhere, but when belatedly she recognised Stacy, her arms automatically wrapped around the girl. "Oh Stacy, of course I will represent you! I would do it for free, but since it's my job, John here thought we should see if I could get paid for it too. You don't mind?"

"Na huh!" Stacy grunted, not letting up her tight hug.

Laughing, Julie let go her hug and when Stacy still showed no sign of doing the same, gently shook her by the shoulders. "You going to let go? John will get jealous?"

Keeping her tight hug, Stacy turned her head, and when she found Constable Stevens relaxed smile, she deliberately stuck out her tongue. "Mine now! Julie is my lawyer, so there!" she finished giving Julie an even tighter hug, causing Julie to squeal and laughingly hug her back.

"Come on Stacy, introduce me to my other clients," Julie smiled down at the girl.

Not letting go, Stacy swung around until she was at Julie's side. With Julie's arm on her shoulder and her arm around Julie's waist, Stacy finally let go with her other arm to point towards Lexi. "Julie Havelock, please meet my half sisters. Alexis Kelly, Lexi."

Smiling nervously, Lexi fluttered down and changed back to her human form, offering her hand. "Hello Miss Havelock."

Smiling and shaking the hand the woman murmured. "Pleased to meet you. Please call me Julie."

"And Sue Kelly," Stacy pointed to the Tinkerbell look-a-like fluttering close by, who flew up and bobbed a greeting.

"You don't change back?" Julie asked confused, causing Sue to blush bright red and Stacy to laugh.

"She changes back, she just gets embarrassed. Go on Sue, show her, do!"

Still blushing red, Sue changed and tried hard to picture her original cloths, but sighed as she again found herself still in the bright shimmering green clingy sleeveless dress and green flat heeled slippers of Tinkerbell.

"What a delightful dress," Julie started, as Stacy murmured "Wait for it." Stacy and Lexi started laughing hard as clothes rained down onto the floor. With a squeak, Sue bent down to gather them up, before racing from the room, where a muffled further squeak come back through the door, causing Lexi and Stacy to bend double, laughing so hard tears came to their eyes.

Confused, Julie looked from the laughing sisters to the blushing Constable Stevens, who looked away so as not to meet her eyes. As Stacy finally stood back up wiping her eyes, Julie gave her an enquiring look.

Smiling, Stacy explained. "Sue is still getting the hang of the magic of the clothes spell. She has no problems swapping to her Tinkerbell dress, but it's a little sticky for her. When she swaps back, it comes with her, and it takes a few seconds for her original clothes to arrive and the dress to leave, usually as a pile of raining clothes before she finds herself naked."

"So that squeak?" Julie prompted pointing to the door.

"Yep, her dress disappearing. Anyone in the hall would have got a stunning view," Stacy explained breaking out in laughter once again.

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Constable Stevens opened one of the containers of Chinese takeaway and was starting to dish it out into the bowls on the dinning room table when a red faced Sue crept back in and took her place, silently bowing her head and saying a prayer while the food was dished out.

Looking at the bowed figure, Julie frowned when she saw the girl cross herself and then use a finger to pull her bra strap. "Is something wrong with your bra Sue? You look more then a little uncomfortable."

"Um, it's not my bra, it's an old one of Stacy's mother's that Stacy lent me," Sue said pulling at the strap a bit more.

"Where's your bra? In the wash?" Julie asked curiously. 

"Umm," Sue said blushing, looking towards Stacy, who sighed.

"Both Lexi and Sue are borrowing clothes, they don't have any here," Stacy explained.

"None?" Julie demanded, eyes narrowing.

"We kind of arrived as pixies," Alexi mumbled with a blush, "and, um, without any clothes."

"Both of you?" Julie pressed. At the girl's embarrassed nods, Julie turned and glared at John. "And you thought a lawyer was their most pressing need?" she asked with a raised eyebrow.

John sighed. "Julie, we need to sort out the will before we can access their father's accounts to pay for clothes."

"John! I love you, and I want to marry you, but sometimes!" she rolled her eyes. "An ill fitting bra is hell John, it's not something that can be borrowed! I'll need to take both of them to Wagga tomorrow, so you'd better organise a time with your Sergeant so you can take us all."

John smiled. "Well, you'd better sort out the wills then, hadn't you?" he suggested handing her a bowl of food before he passed the others around to the girls.

"It's not that simple," Julie sighed. Turning she looked towards Stacy. "Both your parents assumed the other one would survive them, and while their wills leave everything to you, they leave the other as your guardian and trustee of the estate until you are eighteen." Turning to the other two girls she frowned. "Unfortunately for you two, while your father was trying to get custody of you, he hadn't updated his will since he divorced Stacy's mother, and the estate was all still willed only to Stacy."

Sue and Lexi exchanged glances, and shrugged. Turning back to Julie, Sue explained. "We have our own inheritances from our mothers tied up in trusts until we are adults, we don't want to take anything from Stacy."

Julie exchanged a quick look with John before leaning forward towards Sue. "Sue, I understand you are trying to be nice with your sister, but he was your father too …"

"It's mostly just the chaff business right," Sue interrupted. "The estate? Most of it is that?" Julie nodded puzzled. "And if you split the estate, you'll need to sell it right?" Julie again nodded.

Sue looked at Stacy, who had hunched up unhappily at the suggestion of selling her Dad's business. Turning back to Julie, Sue explained. "When we arrived, the place we went to, to be with one another, was the haysheds. It's, well …"

"It's Dad," Stacy spoke through tears. "It's where Dad always was, where we were always together." Tearfully looking up at Julie, Stacy begged her. "It's all my memories of Dad!"

Lexi and Sue exchanged another look, and at a nod from Lexi, Sue again spoke to Julie. "We don't want the business sold. We want it to go to Stacy," she spoke firmly, accompanied by Lexi's emphatic nod of confirmation.

Julie tried again. "Sue, Lexi, he was your father too. We can try to sort out some sort of ownership ..."

Sue and Lexi shook their head firmly. "No!" Sue stated. "We don't want it sold, and that's almost certain if we fight amongst ourselves. Give it to Stacy! She's the only one of us that understands the business anyway!"

"Sue ..." Julie reached out for her.

Glaring at Julie, Sue almost snarled. "You're our lawyer right?" she demanded. Julie blinked, then nodded once. "Well, then you need to do what we say, and all three of us are telling you not to contest the will!"

"It's not that easy. I'm supposed to actually act in your best interests..." Constable Stevens reached out and touched her shoulder, gently shaking his head when she looking his way. Sighing, Julie nodded, giving each of the girls an apologetic look before delicately dropping the subject.

"What about Mum's will? Does that have problems?" Stacy asked worriedly.

Julie smiled at her and shook her head. "No, your mother's will is very simple. She's left everything to you, and John here is the executor. He just needs to do the paperwork to get things changed over to your name."

"So could we do that tomorrow for Mum's account? There's money in that we could use to get Lexi and Sue clothes?"

"Don't worry about money," Sue interrupted. "Lexi and I have accounts of our own, enough for some clothes anyway."

"Sue, without your card you can't access your account," Julie reminded her. "And I thought you arrived naked, without anything?"

"We did," Sue blushed. "But, we rung a couple of friends today, and they're express posting us our cards, which should be here tomorrow."

Julie smiled at her, "Well, aren't you the clever one?" she murmured.

"Are they sending you some clothes as well?" Constable Stevens asked.

Sue shook her head. "They checked, it would have cost more then buying new ones, so they just sent our bank details and identity stuff."

"'Identity stuff'?" Julie asked puzzled.

"Birth certificates, Lexi's passport, that type of thing," Sue shrugged.

"Really? That would be very helpful!" Julie enthused to Sue's smile.

"That's what they said," she agreed.

"How much trouble are we in for running away?" Lexi asked softly.

"None," Julie said with a smile. "But don't ever do it again!" she sternly warned Sue and Lexi, who shook their heads wide-eyed. "Now, your former foster parents have already been asked to look after a couple of new girls, so unfortunately you can't go back to them, be we assumed that the three of you would want to stay together anyway?" she asked, to which all three girls nodded their heads enthusiastically.

"Is that going to be possible?" Lexi asked wide-eyed.

"It's certainly what John and I are going to try for," Julie assured her.

"When will you know?" Stacy asked.

Julie sighed, but it was John who answered. "DoCS will make that decision, but they're not going to  make any permanent decisions until after your father's funeral. I'll have a talk to them tonight and let them know Julie is your new lawyer."

"And I'll be able to look into it tomorrow," Julie promised. "After we get the girl's some clothes," she mock growled at John, causing Stacy to giggle.

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With the dishes done, Stacy insisted it was the job of her and her two sisters and had marched them off to the kitchen and organised it like a drill Sergeant, the three girls ran off next door to shower and gather some nighties as well as feed Lexi's magpie.

Watching the three girls run through the gate to Stacy's mother's house and inside, John turned to his girlfriend and raised an eyebrow. "Give DoCS a call?" he suggested.

Julie nodded thoughtfully. "Good idea," she replied. "Get the full situation from them now so we know. Hopefully there's nothing that would be upsetting for the girls, but if there is, this way we can choose how we tell them, instead of them hearing it over a phone."

Nodding John guided her to his desk in the official section of the station house, and putting the phone on speaker dialled the number he'd been given for the New South Wales Department of Community Services.

"Department of Community Services, child protection, Tanya Smith speaking ..."

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Julie watch as her boyfriend smiled fondly at the three girls as they teased and pranked each other getting ready for bed. Eventually they settled and John wished them goodnight, turned off the light and followed her into his bedroom.

"You're sure about this?" she asked him.

John nodded, smiling. "Never surer. They deserve to be together, and I'll do anything to make sure it happens."

Trying to keep her smile of delight hidden, Julie stepped close to him. "So, when are you going to tell them?"

John frowned a bit, then shrugged. "When DoCS confirms its OK for me to do it," he said with a sigh. "I don't want to get their hopes up, then dash them like that."

Julie stepped up and gave him a deep, passionate, slow kiss. When she finished she gave John a naughty smile and quickly undressed, placing her clothes neatly on the chair in the corner. Julie pulled down the covers and jumped on the bed, turning to John who was standing staring off into space, a worried frown on his face.

"What's this, performance anxiety?" Julie asked, leaning back on the bed and displaying her naked body provocatively to her still dressed lover standing beside the bed.

Worriedly Constable Stevens looked towards her. "What if they are watching?" he questioned finally. "They're so small, they could be anywhere!"

Sitting up abruptly, Julie's eyes narrowed, and she scanned the room like a hawk, before glaring at something in the corner. Eyes narrowed to slits, Julie pointed imperiously at the pile of washing sitting on the dressing table. "You! Scat!" she commanded.

Startled, Constable Stevens looked to the clothes puzzled, when a small gasp and popping sound from the clothes caused him to stare wide-eyed.

Laughing, Julie rose from the bed, quickly stripping her boyfriend of his clothes and dragging him back down onto the bed with her. "Relax John, she's gone," Julie purred, pulling him down beside her.

"How did you know?" John asked stunned, lying down on his back.

"Only child!" Julie laughingly teased him, snuggling close to his side and leaning in for a kiss. "All younger sisters spy on their older siblings kissing," she explained. "It's how you learn to do it right." Leaning over, Julie proved that she'd been especially dutiful in learning from her own older siblings.

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"Well, that was fast," Sue commented to the blushing Stacy after she re-appeared in their room, Lexi sniggered at her too.

"You knew she'd spot me!" Stacy accused Sue, as Lexi snorted at her, laughing hard.

Getting herself under control, Lexi mock sternly faced the outraged Stacy. "If you recall," she reminded Stacy. "Sue warned you not to do it."

"But, we need to know if he made the offer to DoCS!" Stacy wailed. "How else were we going to find out! He dodged all my questions when we came back!"

Lexi turned to Sue, who looked back at Stacy with a disappointed shake of her head.

"Oh!" Stacy gasped blushing, remembering again of Sue's gift for seeing the future. "I forgot about that." After a flustered few seconds, she turned back to Sue excitedly. "So did he? Did he offer to adopt us?" she asked breathlessly.

"You know he did," Sue assured her with a smile, to Stacy's excited squeak of joy.

"And they'll let him? DoCS will let him?" Stacy demanded excitedly.

Sue frowned, and Stacy stared at her in hurt shock. Quickly moving to gather her sister in her arms, Sue assured her. "We'll live with John and Julie," she promised. "Just, things will get complicated and uncertain for a while, but please, always believe, they will work out!" Sue sat holding Stacy, begging her with her eyes.

Nodding fearfully, Stacy cuddled tight to her sister, before with a sigh she gave her a hug and made her way to her bed. Crawling in, Stacy slid under her doona, unconsciously shifting to pixie form and curling up in a silently crying ball. Seeing the distressed state of her sister, Sue exchanged a look with Lexi, before both changed and dived down to wrap themselves around the crying pixie, holding her tight in their arms, comforting her until they all fell asleep in a small ball of pixie arms and legs.

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Saturday Morning, Station House

Julie couldn't help herself, she stood staring down in entranced wonder at the three tiny pixies. Sleeping together, all wrapped up in each other's arms, smiling dreamily as they lay in the little doona hollow they'd created for themselves on the bed.

Curious at what was taking Julie so long to wake the girls, John came in and smiled down at the enchanting scene too. Leaning forward he kissed his girlfriend on the cheek and restrained her already reaching hand. "No, you can't cuddle them to your chest all day like baby chickens," he admonished her. "Now wake them up, we need to get going soon so that we can stop off at the post office and get Lexi and Sue's mail, and still get to Wagga early for you and I to start straightening things out."

With a final peck on the check for his girlfriend, and a smile of wonderment towards the pixie nest on the bed, he left the room.

With a sigh, Julie knelt down and bent over the bed, then with a smirk, she gently started blowing on the three naked pixies. As the pixies stirred, frowned, and sleepily started wiggling and whimpering at the 'cool breeze', Julie broke down in laughter so loud it woke the three girls who stared up at her in confusion.

"Time to get up girls and go to Wagga. Obviously all three of you need to buy some nighties or pyjamas," she smirked, pointing at their naked forms. Giggling Julie stood and left the room, happily making her way down the hall. "I'm going next door to start on the breakfast!" she called as she open the front door and left, just as the girls started blearily searching the room for their clothes.

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Breakfast behind them, and a relatively short drive (for the country) completed, Julie walked with Stacy and her sisters from Wagga's Police Station Carpark back to the main street and all its shops.

"Toiletries first?" Stacy suggested pointing to the supermarket the next block along.

Julie frowned, then nodded. "Yes, we'll do the grocery shopping first, bring it back to the car and then hit Main Street for clothes," she agreed.

When they stepped in the door Julie grabbed a trolley while Stacy instead grabbed Sue and Lexi's hands and started pulling them along behind her. "I'll help Sue and Lexi get some necessities while you get the groceries!" she called back to Julie as she dragged her sister's away. Laughing Julie waved as Stacy led her sisters to the female aisles.

"That was a bit rude?" Sue commented with a frown as Stacy dragged her along.

"I didn't want her to see how unfamiliar both of you are with 'feminine hygiene products'," Stacy whispered softly. "There's no way two girls as pretty and developed as you two could be naive about them," she sniggered as both Sue and Lexi's eyes widened in understanding.

Dragging them around the corner into the feminine hygiene aisle, Stacy giggled as Lexi stopped stunned. "Little bit bigger then in the sixties?" she smirked as Lexi nodded woodenly. "Well, basics first," Stacy ordered, grabbing a shopping basket and dragging Lexi forward again. "You and Sue need hairbrushes, we all have different hair colour, there's no way we can steal each other's without everyone knowing who did it. Then we all need deodorant, shampoo, conditioner..."

"Can't we all just use the same?" Sue interrupted bemused.

Rolling her eyes at Sue's ignorance, Stacy carried on. "... Moisturiser, face cleaner, shavers, ..."

"We won't need shavers," Lexi informed her, finally shaking free from her daze at the almost endless products shelved around her. "Fae have almost no body hair."

"We don't?" Stacy asked confused, glancing down to her privates and then quickly back at Lexi with a slight blush.

"Body hair, Stacy," Lexi smirked, pointing to her underarm and then running a hand on her thigh, emphasising it's silky smoothness.

"Really?" Stacy exclaimed, before smiling and pumping her fist. "Yes! No more razor rash!"

Laughing, Lexi shared a happy smile with Sue at Stacy's antics before Stacy reached out and grabbed her hand again.

"Come on!" Stacy urged. "We've still got to finish all this and get Sue up to speed on her period needs before Julie gets here, she'll get really suspicious if she catches us explaining tampons and pads to a girl with Sue's breast size!"

In horror Sue stared up at the wall of 'feminine hygiene products'. Stacy quickly grabbed her normal pads, before with a frown she turned to Lexi. "We still get periods right?" she whispered worriedly.

Lexi sniggered, and nodded. "The mechanics are different, but we still do get them, yes," Lexi assured her.

Stacy frowned at the 'mechanics are different' proviso, but after a quick glance around, seeing other shoppers coming their way, she decided to ask later. "What about when we're ..." she held her thumb and finger up indicating a tiny person, then held out the pads.

Lexi laughed, and then lent close to her and whispered, "Don't worry, I'll show you a spell," she assured Stacy, absently glancing at the box Stacy held, then grabbing another like it. After a single glance at the still shell-shocked expression of Sue, she grabbed a box of the next size up as well and put them all in Stacy's basket. With a warm smile, Lexi took Sue's arm and gently guided her to the selection of hairbrushes further down the aisle.

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"That was fast," Julie smiled as Stacy ran up followed by her sisters, glancing in the basket Stacy held. "Did you get some for me as well?" she asked.

Smiling, Stacy held up the basket and nodded, before she transferred everything to the trolley and returned the basket to a nearby stack. "We need anything else?" Stacy asked politely.

Julie frowned down at the trolley contents, mentally running through a list in her head. "If you could get one of the large boxes of tea-bags and meet me at the checkouts, I think we're done. Then we can drop these in the car and start the real shopping!" Julie smiled as Stacy nodded excitedly, and grabbing the hands of her sister's ran off again.

Meeting Julie at the checkout, the girls happily grabbed the shopping bags and carried them back to the Police Station carpark, waiting while Julie opened the back so that they could neatly stack them inside. "OK girls," Julie called cheerfully as she slammed the door on the Land Cruiser and all their groceries. "Lets go, clothes aren't going to buy themselves!"

Smiling happily she led the excited Stacy back to the main street, while a laughing Lexi dragged the reluctant Sue along behind them. Not even pausing she led them through the doors of the department store. "Bras first I think, then we can grab you Sue and Lexi some basics, then it's show time! We've all morning to go through every single clothes store there is!"

Eyes glowing in excitement, Julie completely missed the look of horror on Sue's face as her sisters chuckled gleefully and dragged her along between them.

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Friday Lunch Time, Wagga Police Station.

"Something you'd like to share?" Julie turned around from the amusing spectacle of Stacy and Lexi teasing the blushing Sue mercilessly over the green dress they had all but forced her into buying and wearing, and smiled at the cluster of female officers approaching her. After finishing the clothes shopping, Julie had bought the girls back to the Police Station with lunch to leave them with John, so that she could start getting some paperwork finalised for Stacy's parent's wills.

"Just Stacy and her sisters," she explained with a laugh as she greeting her friends. "I'd say Sue is quite the tomboy, which contrasts interestingly with Lexi's very American, and very forward, upbringing, especially her comments on boys. Lexi has had Sue blushing all morning, and the way both her and Stacy ganged up to get Sue into that dress!" Julie rolled her eyes before laughing again at the memory.

All of them turned and considered the three girls, smiling slightly at the furiously blushing Sue in her simple knee length leaf green dress. Suddenly Stacy stopped and stared, tears coming to her eyes. Glancing where Stacy was looking, Julie sighed too. One of the cleaners, a great friend of Stacy's mother, had entered the corridor outside the room, and could be seen busily mopping the corridor.

"When's the funeral?" one of the female Senior Constables asked quietly, turning to look back at Stacy, now getting comforted by her sisters.

"Tomorrow after lunch, at Wagga Catholic Cathedral," Julie murmured softly.

When the Senior Constable glanced over to the Sergeant nearby, he nodded. "Commander has already started shuffling the rosters, getting volunteers to man the stations," he murmured sympathetically. "Mrs. Kelly was one of our civilian support staff for over ten years, she'll get a proper police turnout, including special leave for all who want to attend the funeral. You'll need to organise shift swaps though if you plan to attend the wake," he apologised.

"There'll be two wakes," Julie informed them. "A private one tonight when the coffins arrive, to let Stacy and the girls, as well as anyone else, say goodbye to them privately if they want to. There will also be a big one at the club after the burials."

"That will make things a lot easier for the command," the Sergeant smiled in relief. "I'll start passing the word," he offered to Julie's relieved nod. Leaning forward, the Sergeant gave Julie's shoulder a  commiserating squeeze, before turning and making his way back into the administration section of the station.

"What about Stacy and her sisters, do you know what's going to happen?" the Senior Constable asked quietly when they were alone again.

"John offered to adopt them all," Julie said with a pleased smile, causing the Senior Constable to raise an eyebrow.

"And have you managed to get him to ask you to marry him yet?" she enquired with a smirk.

Blushing slightly, Julie shook her head. "I did tell him though yesterday that I want to marry him," she admitted.

Eyes widening in delight, the female Constables lent in close to Julie. "And?" one demanded breathlessly.

Julie blushed even harder. "It was in the middle of me scolding him for not having gotten proper clothes for the girls already," she whispered mortified. "I didn't even realise I'd done it until later, and by then I couldn't remember exactly what his reaction had been."

"Well it couldn't have been bad," the Constable commiserated with her. "There's no way you would have forgotten that!" she smirked, to Julie's relieved laughter. "What have you planed for the rest of the day?"

Julie looked back towards the girls. "After lunch I was going to go over to the courthouse and see about untangling the wills. With John the executor of Stacy's mother's will I can at least get a lot of that untangled, and Lexi and Sue don't want to contest their father's will, so I can try and get that untangled as well. Hopefully as their court appointed lawyer I can get the estates transferred to Stacy as per the wills, and get myself appointed the as trustee for her in her parents steed."

"Do you think you can?"

Julie shrugged. "It's not unusual for lawyers to be appointed trustees of estates for minors, so there is precedence, and the paperwork to protect Stacy from unscrupulous lawyers is fairly well established." Julie smiled. "It should go through fairly easily, there's nobody to contest the wills other then Sue and Lexi, and they were fairly firm in their instructions to me not to contest them on their behalf."

"And then?"

Julie sighed, turning to watch the distressed Stacy being comforted by her sisters. "We go home and wait for the coffins to arrive," she replied sombrely.

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Friday Evening, Stacy's house

As Stacy sat on her mother's bed, absently cuddling her mother's hairbrush with Sue and Lexi sitting next to her, Lexi examined her Australian birth certificate. "How did you do this Sue?" She asked curiously.

Sue winced. "Ah, the Catholic Church runs lots of hospitals, most of them with maternity wards. They're all linked into the government computers, we just slipped in a couple of 'births' into a one of their updates, one for you and one for me, and then legitimately sent a request to Birth's and Marriages for print outs of them."

"And the passport?" Lexi waved some papers.

"It's not a passport, its travel documents. Before 9/11 it was common for babies to travel under their parents passports, so the story is your mother did that when you left Australia, and then when she needed to bring you back she got 'travel documents' from the Australian Consulate to get you back in the country."

"And how did you get them?" Lexi repeated with a smirk watching Sue wiggle uncomfortably.

"It's all just computers," Sue reluctantly admitted. "I had someone plant some false documents into the computers and then rung them up for copy of the 'travel documents', stating they had been 'lost'."

"And how about the fake foster homes?"

Sue shrugged. "They are part of a Catholic Welfare group, which has valid access to the DoCS computers, and again we just slipped in a couple of fake fosterings with a normal update from the social workers to the DoCS computers."

Lexi giggled. "It's so surprising seeing what a criminal mastermind you are! It's a good thing you now have Stacy and I here to keep you on the straight and narrow! Just imagine what you could have grown up into otherwise!" she joked before they both looked towards the withdrawn Stacy. As Lexi lent in to give Stacy another hug, Sue gave her a significant look and Lexi sighed and nodded.

"We're going to need to tell John and Julie about Lexi," Sue said softly to Stacy, who turned to her in wide-eyed surprise.

"Everything?" Stacy gurgled in shock.

Sue chuckled. "No, not everything, but Lexi's going to need to give them her 'cover' story, and try to convince them it would be a bad idea if the MCO was to become suspicious of her."

"Because they'd use that to find you and me again?" Stacy asked wide-eyed.

Sue shook her head. "Only partly. Mainly its because Alexi is as powerful as you and I, but her magic isn't something she can hide like we are doing. It's part of her, part of her very nature. She can't not use it, it'll go out of control is she tries to suppress it." Sue sighed and hugged Stacy. "The MCO will chase Alexi just as hard as they chased you if they realise how powerful she is."

"So why do we need to tell Julie and John?" Stacy asked worriedly.

"So that they can help us hide it," Alexi explained. "If they accidentally tell people what they've already seen us do, and it gets back to the MCO, they'll start investigating and that would be bad for all of us."

Stacy looked back and forth between her two sisters before finally nodded her understanding.

Sue glanced at the clock and sighed before standing up. "It's that time?" Lexi asked.

Sue nodded. "They're just about to call now," she murmured, reaching out to help Stacy up. With Lexi comforting Stacy, Sue led the three of them out of Stacy's house and back to the Station House, entering the front door just as the Station phone started ringing.

The three watched as with a quiet "thank you" Constable Stevens ended the call and slowly returned the phone handset to its cradle. Looking up to the fearful gazes of Stacy and her sisters, he nodded to them. "They've arrived," he confirmed. "Father Michael and the undertakers have set up in the church."

"I'll check in at the club then," Julie offered from where she had come down the hall and lent in the doorway also watching the call, glancing to the girls before turning back to Constable Stevens. "You take the girl's to the church John, let the girl's have that time and see to those ... other things," Julie finished delicately.

Nodding, John rose and gave her a kiss before he shepherded the girls through the door and to the Land Cruiser.

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Julie gave a sad smile and stepped up to the two female police officers as they entered the function room of the Sports Club and looked around were a solemn gathering was starting to assemble. "Thank you for coming," she greeted her two friends again.

"We both wanted to say a private farewell," the younger Constable said giving Julie a hug. "Mr. Kelly's been buying hay from my dad for as long as I can remember. Him and Stacy coming out to the farm on that ancient truck of his has been a summer memory of mine since forever. And Mrs. Kelly," she started crying. "She drove all the way to Goulburn when I graduated. Her and Stacy, cheering me from the stands as we marched past."

Julie clasped her friend to her and waited for her to regain her composure. "If you like, I can drive you to the church?" she offered. At her friend's puzzled look she explained. "Father Michael had the undertakers bring the coffins straight to the church, that's where Stacy and her sisters are now, at the church saying their goodbyes. I can take you there to do the same if you'd like?"

"Please?" The young Constable begged, tears of sorrow in her eyes.

Nodding Julie started to led her from the hall, exchanging a wave with the other Constable who gave Julie a grateful smile.

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Pulling up to the church Julie sat and stared at the two hearses parked outside. Finally with a sigh she undid her seat-belt and turned to her companion, also staring at the hearses. "It's just the coffins," Julie warned her.

"Pardon?" The young female police constable replied.

"It's just the coffins Kathy," Julie told her friend softly. "Mr. Kelley, Mrs. Kelley, it's just their coffins. You won't be able to see them."

"I know, but ..." Kathy sighed and took off her own seat-belt. "It's still them, it's still a chance to say goodbye." Nodding her understanding, Julie got out of the car and the two of them started walking to the church door.

As they neared the church, Julie was surprised to see Father Michael and another person loitering in the darkness of the church door. Julie slowed down cautiously, eyes-widening in surprise as she heard the golden tones of a girl singing. At the sounds of their footsteps behind them, Father Michael and the person next to him turned, Julie recognising John as the person with Father Michael, both waving them closer, indicating for them to be quiet.

Creeping closer, Julie peeked inside the door to the small country church, and looked towards the altar. Two coffins where sitting in the aisle before it, and Lexi was holding Stacy close as they sat in the front pew. The singing continued, and Julie looked all around but could not spot who was singing. Confused she turned to John.

"It's Sue," John whispered, pointing to some stairs across the way. "In the choir loft."

"Why are you hiding here?" Julie whispered back curiously.

"Didn't want to disturb them," Father Michael responded softly. "I took John into the presbytery to finalise some paperwork for the funeral tomorrow, leaving the girls to say a private farewell. When we came back, Sue was singing for her sisters, we've been waiting for her to finish since."

"How long has she been singing?" Julie asked John. "You left nearly an hour ago."

"Don't worry, she's nearly finished," Father Michael murmured, listening with his eyes closed and a smile on his face as Sue sung. "It took me a while to realise, but she's singing a mass, and she's reached the final song now." Feeling her amazed stare, Father Michael turned to Julie with an amused look. "I'd say your prospective adopted daughter has quite the experience singing in church choirs," he chuckled softly, before sighing as Sue finished singing and the echoes from her final note faded in the air.

All four adults watched sadly as Sue climbed down the stairs and carefully hugged her sisters, who had come down the aisle of the church to meet her. Turning to the adults the three girls silently hugged Julie, then Father Michael before moving to stand beside John. With a final kiss for Julie, John led the three somber girls out of the church and to the police Land Rover, to drive them to the club and those gathering their at their parent's wake to offer the girls their condolences.

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Saturday Afternoon, Local Cemetery

With the end of the internment service Stacy stood numbly, staring down at the holes. Her mother and father, buried in side-by-side graves, the mourners filing past slowly, dropping dirt or roses into the graves as they did. Some of them murmured words to her, which she nodded robotically to, no more hearing the words nor noting the people than she had earlier at the cathedral, or last night at the wake.

Clutching tightly the crucifix they'd removed from her mother's coffin, mounting it and handing it to her before they lowered the coffin into the grave, Stacy stood numb, tears rolling unchecked down her cheeks. Finally everyone had filed past and Stacy could stumble back to the graves, falling to her knees between them, tears rolling down. Stacy cried her farewells to her mother and father as her two sisters knelt beside her, holding her tight.

Tanya Smith carefully watched the three girls crying between the graves, before turning and seeking out the young police constable standing with his girlfriend, all but hovering over the three girls. With a cough to get their attention she held out her hand. "Tanya Smith," she introduced herself. "From DoCS."

"Oh! Hi," Constable Stevens scrambled to offer his hand. "I didn't realise you'd be here in person."

Tanya turned to the three girls and smiled sadly. "I'm not just a DoCS case worker, I'm also a trained counsellor," she explained. "When there is no surviving family, we like to be available at times like this in case our charges need comforting." Tanya watched Sue and Lexi hug and comfort their sister for a moment before turning back to Constable Stevens. "Since they are doing a good job of comforting each other, I thought I'd take this opportunity to talk to you."

Belatedly John realised they had been ignoring Julie, and introduced her. "Pleased to meet you Ms. Smith," Julie held out her hand to shake. "I'm the girl's court appointed lawyer, so if you want me to ..."

Tanya Smith smiled and dismissed it with a wave. "This is not a formal interview, it's more to confirm some things." Turning to Constable Stevens she frowned. "You're sure the girls are mutants?" she asked worriedly.

John nodded. "Lexi can do magic, and she taught both her sisters too as well. Apparently she learnt from her mother before ..." John paused, glancing sadly towards the girl's and the graves.

Tanya sighed. "There are non-mutant mages, but it takes years of study, not something a teenager could teach to other teenagers." Worriedly she frowned at the three girls.

"Is it a problem?" Julie asked. "Neither John or I mind ..."

Tanya winced. "It's not that. With all the issues, and frankly, all the problems we've seen happening overseas, we have very strict procedures when a ward is even suspected of being a mutant, for their own protection you have to understand!" Tanya anxiously explained to Julie and John.

"Their own protection?" John asked confused.

"All those stories of disappearing mutants," Tanya sighed. "The government wants no hint of that happening here, and we already have such a bad record with normal fosterlings running away ..." Tanya paused, a pained expression crossing her face briefly before she grimaced and continued. "When a mutant State Ward is suspected, they must be tested at the government testing centre, and their status confirmed. Then there must be a hearing to assign custodianship of the mutant Ward, in front of a Judge of the Family Court. We can't just assign them as we wish ..."

Wide eyed, John stammered "So I ..."

Smiling, Tanya reached out and touched his shoulder. "Don't worry, you can still have guardianship of the girls, you just need a Judge of the Family Court to approve it is all." Reaching into her bag she retrieved a piece of paper and handed it to John. "Here, this is the details of the State testing facility, its at Westmead Hospital in Sydney. If you like, there is a Family Court in Parramatta, right next to Westmead, you should be able to book a hearing for while you're in Sydney getting them tested. I'll update the records leaving the girls in your care until they are tested and the hearing has occurred. For what it's worth, I hope you get them. From what I've seen and heard, it would be the best possible outcome for the girls." Nodding her leave, Tanya made her way back to her car as Julie and John turned to gather up the grieving girls, pulling Stacy away from the unhappy sight of her parent's graves.

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Sitting in the station house kitchen, sipping hot chocolate after the stresses of the funeral and burials, Sue and Lexi exchanged worried looks. After a firm nod from Sue, Lexi turned to the two adults.

"Is it true?" Lexi all but whispered.

"Is what true Lexi?" Julie asked curiously.

"We need to be tested?" Lexi pleaded with her eyes.

"What is it you're afraid of?" John asked softly. "The MCO?"

Dejectedly Lexi nodded. "Mum came back to Australia when I manifested," she murmured, staring down at the mug tightly gripped in her hands. "She was terrified about what would happen if it they found out about me."

Julie stood up, and came around the table to crouch and hug Lexi tight to her. "Why do you fear the MCO so much Lexi?" she asked softly.

Lexi stared at her mug for a while, before swallowing and looking up, desperately locking her eyes on Constable Stevens sitting across the table from her. "I'm not a normal mutant," Lexi whispered.

"How so?" John asked softly.

Lexi swallowed. Hands gripping the cup so tight they were white, all blood drained from her face, Lexi tried hard to force the words through her desert dry mouth. "I'm Fae," she whispered. "I have all the knowledge and power of a spell-caster of the Sidhe courts. It's means I'm an unusually powerful Mage, and the MCO, they track powerful mutants. Mum. Mum didn't want the MCO to know about me."

"Sidhe courts?" John asked puzzled.

"The elves, the bad ones," Lexi clarified. "The ones from Irish legend that slaughtered and kidnaped humans for fun and slavery. The ones gone from the land in ancient times."

John stared at Lexi, mouth opened in shock. "Why do you believe that?" Julie asked cautiously.

Lexi stared at her hands, then slowly began murmuring, speaking captivating words in a musical language not of this world. Eyes closed, Lexi's hands released their grip on her mug and raising, started dancing and weaving to the song she was singing.

With a gasp Julie stared around in awe as the kitchen she crouched in was replaced. Bright wondrous sunlight poured in through the open flap of a luxurious tent, brilliant colours swimming in the sunlight, expensive silks flapping in the breeze.

Through the flap ran an enchanting girl, fully Sue's equal in beauty with an unearthly quality to her looks. Slender tall body, figure-hugging flowing dress, golden sunlight flashing red from her darken locks, the pointed ears merely emphasising her ethereal beauty. Julie blinked, a flash of reflected sunlight bringing to her attention a flying shape following the girl into the tent. In shock she stared as the pixie, Lexi, attended to all the girls needs, instantly obeying all her commands.

As Lexi's singing stopped, and the vision faded, Julie and John stared at Lexi in stunned disbelief. "A Queen of the Sidhe in waiting," Lexi murmured, "and her companion and attendant since birth." Lexi glanced between Julie, Stacy and Sue, before turning her frightened eyes on John. "I have all the memories of her, the attendant," she whispered. "All her knowledge, all the knowledge the Sidhe taught their royalty, as she too took the young Queen's lessons with her. Most especially, I have all the knowledge and skills of the Magic the Sidhe were known and feared for, all the knowledge and skills of one of their most powerful Mages."

"I thought they were myths, stories told to frighten children," Julie breathed.

Lexi shook her head slowly. "Legends, removed from time by a cataclysm that threw their shattered souls to the four winds, but real. Creatures of Magic and pride, cast down and thrown from the world, the loosing side of this planet's first real world war."

"The one they lost to the humans?" John guessed.

Lexi shook her head slowly. "The one they lost to the demons but, luckily for us, the demons won only a Pyrrhic victory, one that shattered time and almost wiped out the demons too, leaving them too weak to take control of their prize, and humans free to seize the earth."

"And you now have that power?" John pressed. "The power of a race that fought demons and shattered time?"

Lexi scowled at John. "It was the demons who shattered time, but yes, I have the power of a spell-caster from the race that fought demons in a war were time was shattered."

"How?" Julie whispered. "How do you have her power?"

"I ... I manifested, and changed, became her and ... and all her memories, they became mine." Lexi turned to Julie, tears in her eyes. "I'm still me, I just ... just ... I remember being her too."

John contemplated Lexi silently for a moment. "Lexi, how powerful are you?" he finally asked her.

Arms pulled in to wrap around herself, Lexi slumped staring at the table. "A single nuclear warhead has more destructive power then I could ever hope to wield," Lexi answered, tears barely held in check. "And there are lots more powerful mages in the world, even today, than me!"

"How many more? A handful? A dozen? A score?" Sighing at Lexi's unhappy nod, John stood, coming around the table and crouching down next to Julie beside Lexi. Reaching out, he lifted Lexi's chin and turned her to face him. "Lexi, any power to which nuclear weapons can be compared is not a comforting power." As Lexi's face fell, and the tears swelled in her eyes, John reached out and gathered the crying girl to his chest. "Don't worry Lexi, the testing is being done at a government centre, a hospital, not by the MCO."

Lexi shook her head, still crying into his chest. "It doesn't matter," she wept. "The MCO gets all records of mutant testing, no matter where it's done! They'll find me and ... and ..."

"We'll think of something Lexi," John promised, pulling her tighter in his arms. "Trust us, we'll keep you safe," he murmured to the girl, rocking her as she wept. "I promise, we'll think of something. Why don't you start by telling us what it is you're most afraid they'll find out?"

With a desperate look towards Sue, after a firm comforting nod from her, Lexi took a deep breath and begun speaking.

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The Big Smoke

Wednesday, New South Wales Family Court Parramatta

"Alright, we have here a request for a Guardian ad litem for three girls, sisters all fourteen years old," the magistrate started as soon as he sat down, reading from the papers before him. "I also note that there is a request by the proposed GAL to become full time Guardian of the girls as well. Let's check to see if everyone is here. Constable John Stevens?"

"Your honour," Constable Stevens said, starting to stand.

"Thank you Constable, no need to stand, we are not in court session. This is just a hearing." The magistrate waited for Constable Stevens to sit again. "You're applying for both Guardian ad litem and also full time guardian?"

"Yes your honour."

"Any reason for the GAL?"

Julie spoke up. "That was my idea your honour," she said sitting straighter but not standing.

"And you are?"

"Miss Julie Havelock. I'm the girl's legal aid."

The magistrate shuffled some paper. "Ah yes. You're a long way from home Miss Havelock, may I enquire why you are the legal aid for these girls?" he asked looking up from the paperwork to Julie curiously.

"We are all a long way from home your honour," Julie corrected him. "The girls needed to visit Westmead Hospital and since we were here anyway, we asked that the cases be heard in the permanent Family Court here in Parramatta, rather the wait for a circuit Family Court to come through Wagga."

"Visit Westmead Hospital? All of them?" the magistrate asked surprised.

"They all manifested as mutants your honour. They need testing," Julie explained.

"Ah," the magistrate relaxed. "Has the testing been completed?"

"Not yet your honour, it is scheduled for tomorrow," Julie explained. "We came up today because it's one of the protection order days here in Parramatta, so we can have the hearing today, and the testing tomorrow."

"Hmmm." The magistrate started quickly shuffling through the papers and then looked up suddenly. "I thought the girls where sisters?" he accused.

"Half sisters," Julie corrected. "Different mothers, same father."

"I notice two of the girls already have applications for guardianship by their father, is he here today? Michael Kelly?"

"Michael Kelly died your honour," Julie said sadly. "Along with Stacy's mother in the Nevada plane crash, making all three girls orphans and taking the lives of the last relatives they each have, other then themselves."

"Was there no wills? Provisions for guardianship on death?"

"Ah, the two where divorced your honour," Julie explained sadly. "They where traveling separately to the same event, not together. They had listed each other as the sole guardian in case of death your honour."

"I see, and Constable Stevens, what is your relationship?" the magistrate turned to regard John.

"Mrs. Kelly, the lady who died in the plane crash, was the housekeeper for the Station House I man in our country town. She and her daughter have been like a family to me since I arrived there four years ago. I have eaten every breakfast and dinner with her and her daughter for the last four years. It was I who was looking after her daughter while she travelled your honour."

"And the other two sisters?"

"Um, they have been staying with me since just before their father's funeral your honour. The three girls get along really well and want to stay together, I am happy to have all three of them your honour. I understand that in foster care, keeping siblings together is usually difficult. I thought if I offered to adopt all three, the chances of them staying together would be much better."

"If you don't mind my saying Constable, you are not old enough to be these girls father."

"No your honour, but I am of the age when men start becoming fathers. I don't see my age being a problem to being their guardian for the next four years until they turn eighteen."

With a "hmm" the magistrate started shuffling the papers again before looking up. "Who is the DoCS case handler?" he questioned.

"I am your honour, Ms. Fields." A young lady sitting further down the table, behind an impressive stack of folders, raised her hand.

Frowning at the papers the magistrate asked. "And those?" he said pointing to the pile of folders.

"Just the files for my other cases in court today your honour," she said pointing to a thin folder open in front of her. "The girl's files are only these ones."

"And they consist of?" the magistrate prompted.

"Birth certificates, parents death certificates, parents wills, foster care agreements," she answered flicking through them. "Before losing their parents, all where unknown to DoCS you honour."

"And the wills?"

"Pretty normal your honour. After selling off the houses and paying the debts and the outstanding mortgages, there is only a few thousand dollars each to be put into trust funds for them."

"Do we have to sell our home?" Stacy whispered to Julie.

"Pardon?" The magistrate demanded.

"Sorry your honour," Julie answered. "It was just a question of disposing of the house, not relevant for today your honour. The last will and testimony will be executed by Constable Stevens as per the will, and not the state." Turning to Stacy she whispered, "Don't worry Stacy, they can't force you to sell it. Your mother had no mortgage on the house, it's yours free and clear." Smiling happily Stacy turned back to the magistrate.

"Happy?" he asked, smiling as Stacy nodded. "Alright, this is, as I said, not a court session. This is just a hearing to see if we can resolve the issue without need of a full court case. Ms. Fields, anything to add from DoCS?"

"Well normally your honour, as an unmarried young police officer, we'd be against Constable Stevens adopting, due to the risk of him being killed or seriously injured in his job. Not to mention the inherent increased ease of parenting with two parents."

"Normally?"

"Well your honour, as he said, teenagers are hard enough to foster. There is almost no way we could keep two, let alone three, teenaged sisters together usually, and then there is the whole 'mutant' thing. I'm just not sure we'd be able to place them at all if Constable Stevens wasn't offering."

"So is that an endorsement?"

"Your honour, Constable Stevens is a fine upstanding man, obviously genuinely concerned for the girls welfare, was one of the mother's own choices for long term caregiver to her daughter, is in a stable long term relationship with his girlfriend, a healthy sexual relationship. All character references are adamant that there is no taint of any inappropriate behaviour. If it wasn't for how inherently dangerous his job is, he'd be an ideal candidate."

The magistrate looked at Constable Stevens and the fiercely blushing Julie. "Miss Havelock?" he enquired.

"Yes your honour. I've been seeing Constable Stevens for nearly two years now."

"Apologies for the indelicate enquiry, but cohabiting?" he pushed.

"Not technically your honour, we both still have separate houses in separate towns. But most nights, well honestly nearly all nights, we spend together in one or the other's house," she admitted with a slight blush.

"So if I was to place the girls in Constable Stevens care, they would in effect also be being placed in yours as well?"

"Yes your honour," Julie stated.

"Any issues?"

"Oh no your honour!" Julie said smiling at the girls and giving Stacy a hug as she beamed up at her.

"Ms. Fields?" the magistrate enquired of the DoCS officer.

"No objections to Miss Havelock at all your honour," she replied happily.

"So that just leaves the question of mutants. All are mutants?" he asked.

"We believe so your honour," Constable Stevens said. "But we can't say for sure until the testing is done."

"Hmmm. Yes. Alright," he agreed before glancing at the huge pile of paperwork in front of the DoCS office. "Ms. Fields, given the size of your caseload at the moment, are you actually in a position to act as guardian for the girls and attend their testing tomorrow?"

Ms. Fields shoulders slumped. "Not really your honour. Not without compromising someone else's case," she admitted. "Quite frankly, at the moment, with both Constable Stevens and Miss Havelock looking after them, these are the most competently handled cases in our office. They are frankly in our least concern basket. The only reason I'm looking after them at all is that I was already coming over to the Family Court today anyway."

"Is there other foster parents available?"

"Frankly we haven't even looked. Until the question of mutant powers is settled we can't know the requirements. I can tell you that their old foster parents have already accepted new girls, we basically have nowhere near enough places for teenaged girls as it is," she said sadly.

"OK, Miss Havelock," he turned to face Julie. "It looks like your suggestion of a GAL was a good one." After a quick glance towards his clerk, the magistrate turned to Constable Stevens. "Alright, since the girls are happy with you and Miss Havelock, Constable Stevens, I'm going to make you their temporary Guardian ad litem until …" he quickly flicked through a diary, "Friday at two pm when we will return here again. Ms Fields can you make that time?" he enquired looking up.

Ms. Fields had already quickly reached for her phone and after a few moments looked up too. "Yes your honour, that will be fine. I have court appearances scheduled for Friday already, but none at that time."

"Excellent. I'll get my clerk to write up the paperwork and that, along with Miss Havelock's court appointed lawyer status, should allow the two of you to attend the testing tomorrow. Please make sure to return details of the testing to Ms. Fields when it is complete. Ms. Fields?" he turned back to the DoCS case worker.

"Yes your honour?"

"If you could bring a summary of alternative possible fosterings with you on Friday, that will help me greatly with my decision. No need to set anyone up, I just want to know who the options are."

"Your honour?" Ms. Fields asked confused.

"Check the computers, see if anyone is available, print out their details," the magistrate ordered.

"Yes your honour," Mrs. Fields agreed.

"Any final questions?" the magistrate enquired looking at everyone in turn.

Stacy cautiously raised her hand. "Does this mean Constable Stevens won't be our guardian?" she asked with a catch in her voice.

"I'm sorry," the magistrate said looking at the three girls. "No, that's not what it means. I want more information before I make a finally decision, information we can't get right now. So for tomorrow, while you are getting tested, and until Friday afternoon, when we come back here, I've officially made Constable Stevens a temporary guardian for you. Then on Friday afternoon I'll look at all the information and we'll see if it is possible to make a proper ruling then. OK?"

Waiting for the three girls to nod, the magistrate looked around, seeing no other questions he stood. "Until Friday two pm then." Nodding he left the room while the three girls looked enquiringly over to Julie.

Before she had a chance to answer, Ms. Fields walked up and presented a business card to Constable Stevens. "Here, this is the fax number to send the test results too." She also held out a sheet of paper. "As state wards their privacy is paramount. Please make sure that all testing is done under these pseudonyms, the testing centre will know why when you explain they are state wards."

"Mary, Jane, Sarah?" Constable Stevens read out confused.

"I'm sorry, it's all that came to my head when I needed to fill out the forms, and currently the names are not being used for other at risk children," she explained. "Just make sure when faxing the test results that these names are used, no others, otherwise the results will get lost. Oh, also, these are the names to use when referring to the girls regarding any hearings too, never use their own names," she cautioned Julie, who nodded in understanding.

"You said 'at risk'?" Julie questioned as Ms. Fields was about to turn away.

Ms. Fields sighed and pointed to the large pile of folders still on the table where she had been sitting. "Most of these are mutants. Unfortunately, even in a helping organisation such as the Department of Community Services, there are bigots and racists. I have such a large case load because we have too few staff for our work, but also because some of my colleges would rather just report mutants to the MCO and hope they disappear rather then do the work to help them, and even those who are not so inclined tend to find other cases to do in preference to mutants who, inevitably, turn out to be difficult and time consuming cases that give you bad performance reviews due to all the harassments and inevitable swapping of foster homes until the mutant finally lands with an accepting family and school and neighbourhood, so many things," she sighed.

"Ms. Fields," Constable Stevens begged. "If I leave the police force, will it improve the likelihood of getting the girls?"

"Oh don't do that!" she said putting a comforting hand on his arm. "As far as I'm concerned, they've struck the jackpot! Do you know how hard it is to foster teenagers? How few we can place? Do you know how many siblings I've had to watch crying their hearts out as we've sent them off to different fosterings knowing that they will almost always never see each other again? The magistrate is just doing his job, making sure the best option is being chosen. You are someone we almost never see, someone who will foster the whole of someone else's family. It would take a miracle for me to find a better position for the three girls. I'm sure you will get them." Nodding firmly she squeezed his arm, then nodding to Julie and the girls, went back to the table to pick up her pile of folders before she too left the room.

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Testing

Thursday Afternoon, Westmead Hospital Sydney

"Well, here we are," John said with a sigh, turning to glance at the three girls tightly holding either his or Julie's hands. "You all remember the plan?" he checked. "Just try and show a low level magic gift is all, don't let them see anything else."

Waiting till the three of them nodded firmly, John turned to Julie who also took a deep breath and nodded. Unconsciously gripping tighter the hands of Stacy and Lexi, John stepped forward through the main entrance of Westmead Hospital and strode towards the reception desk.

"Hello, can I help you?" smiled the middle aged female receptionist as they approached.

"We have an appointment at the Physical Assessment Facility of Westmead Research Centre?" John asked politely.

"Ah, you want Block B3, ground floor. Take the corridor over there and follow the signs for Block B3, its on the ground floor."

"Thank you," John replied, nodding his thanks before leading his group towards the indicated corridor.

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"Hello there," an older woman in the uniform of the hospital's admin staff greeted them as they stepped into a sparsely furnished waiting room. Glancing around John let out his unconsciously held breath as he saw nothing more then a typical small waiting room of a hospital diagnosis centre. Relaxing slightly, he led Julie and the girls to the reception desk with its smiling assistant.

"You must be the Kelly sisters?" the assistant continued greeting the girls with a happy smile before turning to John and Julie. "We received a fax from the Department of Community Service about the appointment," she continued handing over a clipboard to them. "If you could just confirm the details? One of our doctors is waiting already to start the testing of the girls."

"Waiting?" John asked stunned, checking his watch and then the clock on the wall. "But, we're early?"

"Yes well, your girls are our only appointment today," the assistant explained a bit primly. "And well, we're a research centre, there's always great excitement when we get to test a new subject."

John blinked. "How exactly will you test them?" he asked cautiously.

"Well, first they'll be giving a thorough medical examination by one of our doctors," the assistant explained. "Then they'll be taken to a gym, and given tests similar to those taken by professional athletes. Running, jumping, weights, riding a bicycle, that sort of thing. Then they'll be a test for magical affinity, some tests to see if they have any affinity for gadgets or devices, and finally some pen and paper type tests, well exams really, where we'll see if they have any affinity for maths, English, science, the academic side of things."

"So, not too different to what they would do in school?" John asked perplexed.

"Very similar," the assistant agreed with a smile. "The only difference it's we'll have the girls hooked up to a raft of machines and computers measuring everything nice and scientifically so that the doctors can go over the results with a fine tooth comb and debate everything to their hearts content."

Comforted by the seeming normalcy of the tests, and the grandmotherly admin assistant at the desk, John checked the documents and gave them back. Glancing quickly at them to confirm they were complete, the assistant smiled and picked up the phone. "Rebecca? The Kelly sisters are here and ready for you." Turning back to John she nodded to a corridor on her right. "If you'll go through, she'll meet you."

Stepping into the corridor they were met by a rather pretty young woman in a short skirted business suit, over which was a white lab coat. Her 'lab tech' look was completed by glasses, a pony tail and clipboard as she almost pounced on the three girls, a huge smile of delight on her face.

As the energetic lab tech introduced herself as Rebecca Mackay, she led them into what looked like a normal doctor's room, were she set about gathering the medical history of the girls, measuring their weight, height, blood pressure, gathering blood samples, all the time typing energetically into her computer. As the young lab tech started asking questions of the girls about their powers, Julie spoke up.

"I'm sorry," Julie finally interrupted. "But we were informed the test would be undertaken by a trained doctor, when exactly will they be arriving?" she demanded of the flighty young woman.

"But, that's me!" Rebecca exclaimed, pointing vaguely at the wall were several framed certificates were hanging.

Blinking at the newly revealed doctor in disbelief, Julie stood and strode to the wall to examine the certificates. "Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, Doctorate of Microbiology," she started murmuring when her eyes went wide. "Paediatrics!" she screeched, spinning back to the young woman who blinked owlishly at her. "You're a paediatrician? How old are you!?"

"Twenty six!" Rebecca defended herself.

"How could you be a paediatrician?" Julie demanded. "That takes years of study!"

"Yes, well, you see we needed a paediatrician badly, and the Children's Hospital is just across the car park, and it's a teaching hospital, so as a special request because they just couldn't spare a paediatrician for us, they trained me."

"But, years!" Julie blurted in disbelief.

"I passed all my tests and qualifications," Rebecca protested. "And I did all the hours of residency everyone else did!"

"Rebecca is really very bright." A voice caused Julie to spin in surprise, blinking at the admin assistant standing in the doorway. "Best in her class, best most of her instructors had ever taught really," she continued, coming into the room and placing three folders on Rebecca's desk before turning to face Julie. "Rebecca could have joined any medical facility in the country, trained for any specialisation she wanted, but what she has always wanted to do is study the mutant phenomenon." The assistant shrugged. "She really is the best in the country at this," she promised Julie.

When Julie turned back to her, Rebecca smiled weakly. "Do we want to move onto the physical tests now?" she asked with a shy smile. At Julie's nod, Rebecca's manic grin returned and she jumped up with a cheer. "Yippie!" she cried grabbing her computer and trying to juggle it, the three folders and a key ring full of keys. "This is gonna be so much fun!" she called running from the room before stopping and poking her head back in. "Follow me, the gym is just down the corridor here," she absently instructed before her head disappeared and they could hear her running.

Grabbing her sisters hands, Shelly pulled them up and ran out of the room, pulling them after her. "This is gonna be fun!" Shelly cried as ran down the corridor. 

The assistant winced as Julie turned a glare on her. "She really is the best," she apologised with another shrug.

"I'm sorry, I didn't get your name earlier?" Julie asked the assistant puzzled.

"I'm Mrs. Farnst," she replied holding out her hand to Julie. "I'm the director of the centre."

Julie stared at her, so stunned she forgot to let go of her hand. "But your not ..." she blurted, before stopping blushing.

"Not a doctor?" Mrs. Farnst asked with a raised eyebrow. "No I'm not, I'm one of the dreaded bureaucracy I'm afraid," she confirmed with a smile, before gesturing to the door. "Shall we follow them? Rebecca would never hurt your girls, but it's never a good idea to leave an excited scientist and the objects of her obsession alone for too long, you never know what she might encourage them to do," she explained starting to walk. "Keeping the scientists in check and their experiments within the bounds of common sense is part of my duties I'm afraid, and while Rebecca really is the best in the country, she does tend to let her excitement override her common sense."

Chuckling in spite of themselves, John and Julie followed Mrs. Farnst from the room.

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"Damn," Lexi murmured, staring at the glowing ball Stacy was holding.

"What's wrong?" Sue whispered to her.

"Damn, damn, sneaky, sneaky witch!" Lexi muttered under her breath. "They didn't separate the tests!" she finally explained to Sue. "That orb is a Mage Light! It converts loose Essence to light. Damn sneaky, evil, conniving ... " Lexi mumbled to herself.

"Lexi?" Sue demanded worriedly.

"It lights up in the presence of Essence!" Lexi exclaimed. "Stacy is powerful but unpracticed. Like you, she can't contain her Essence without concentrating on doing it. With all the exercises she's been forced to do, Stacy's distracted and not concentrating. That sneak just got a true reading on the amount of Essence Stacy attracts!" Lexi wailed. "She knows not just that Stacy has a Mage gift, but that it's a relatively powerful one too!" Nervously Lexi worried at a fingernail as she contemplated Stacy's testing, wincing as she noted Dr. Mackay staring wide-eyed at the orb.

Sue winced too. "What do you want me to do?" she asked worriedly.

Lexi frowned thoughtfully, then sighed. "Nothing for it, we'll need to let her measure our true amounts too," she sighed finally, to Sue's wide-eyed stare. Turning to Sue, Lexi shrugged. "If we don't she'll query how Stacy is more powerful then us, when we told her I'm the trained and powerful one."

"Do you want me to still pretend to be weak?" Sue suggested.

Lexi sighed and shook her head. "It doesn't matter if you and Stacy test the same, it's me that's going to be the problem. I'm the powerful one," she sighed.

"So why not just not show your full amount?" Sue suggested.

Lexi smiled and gave Sue a hug. "Because silly, you and Stacy are powerful too. I need to show my full power to distract from the two of you."

"But ..."

"It's Stacy Sue, if we want to protect her we need to distract from what she just showed. Look at Rebecca, she's almost google eyed at what Stacy is showing!"

Sue turned to the doctor and saw what Lexi was saying. Sighing she turned back to Lexi. "But we're still hiding ...?" she asked wide-eyed.

"Everything we can, Sue" Lexi assured her. "Everything we can. Hopefully we can get away with just Mage ratings, nothing else."

Nodding, Sue returned to watching Stacy, fearfully hoping she'd let nothing else slip.

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"Well Lexi?" Sue asked quietly as Dr. Mackay sent Stacy off with Julie to have a shower and get changed, while she prepared the machines for Lexi.

Lexi sighed. "She's thorough. She got Stacy's proper Mage rank and also her danger sense, but luckily nothing else."

"So we just need to make sure she only gets our Mage rank too?" Sue suggested hopefully.

"That's the best we can do," Lexi agreed, equally as quietly. "Nothing I saw looks like it will pick up anything else. We have no physical enhancements, so the endurance and physical tests won't trip us up. None of us are Gadgeteers or Devisors, so that test is a wash. Her Mage test is deceptively simple, so we just need to "fall" for it too, and the psychic tests are as I expected, we know what to do to 'fail' them."

Sue nodded and watched worriedly as Lexi made her way over to where Dr. Mackay was waving her up onto a bicycle fitted out with breath measuring tubes and other stuff hooked into computers.

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"Well?" Constable Stevens asked as Doctor Mackay sat down behind her desk. Julie was still busy brushing Sue's hair, as she'd rushed her back from her shower to make sure they were there in time for the test results to be delivered.

"Congratulations!" Doctor Mackay said with a huge smile. "You have three of the highest rated Mages we've ever tested!" Singling out Lexi, Doctor Mackay fixed her with the full force of her infectious grin. "Lexi, you're a strong five, and your two sisters are both strong threes!"

"Er, what does that mean?" Julie asked hesitantly.

Blinking, Dr. Mackay sat a little straighter, and her posture took on the more expected outlines of a doctor as she begun to lecture. "OK, well, nearly everybody can do magic if they are willing to study hard," she explained. "And if they can work out some way to gather, contain and channel Essence. Now with mutant mages, they get a big step up. Mutant Mages naturally, um 'gather'," she frowned. "No that's not right, 'accumulate', that's the better word. They naturally accumulate Essence. As such, mutant Mages just need to learn how to store and channel it. The Mage ratting is an indication of how much Essence they naturally accumulate, from 1 to 7. For such young users, strong ratings of three, and especially five are amazing!" she finished with her normal enthusiastic excitement.

"Why does it matter that they are young?" Julie pressed.

Doctor Mackay smiled happily. "Well, with practice and maturity, most young Mages increase the Essence they can accumulate, at least a little. I would not be surprised to see your girls jump another rank by the time they've finished training."

"Four's and a six!" Julie yelped.

"Yes!" Dr. Mackay squealed excitedly. "A true six would make Lexi the most powerful Mage in Australia, probably the Southern Hemisphere!" she exclaimed, clapping her hands excitedly and bouncing in her chair.

White faced, Julie turned to the equally as pale Constable Stevens. "The MCO!" they moaned simultaneously. Quickly Julie turned back to Doctor Mackay, "Is it possible not to issue them MIDs?" she pleaded.

Doctor Mackay winced, and pulled three small credit card sized pieces of plastic from the folder in front of her. "I'm sorry," she apologised sorrowfully. "But DoCS policy is for all of its wards, when tested, to be issued MMIDs on the spot."

"MMIDs?" Constable Stevens asked confused as he reached for the cards.

"Military Mutant IDs," Dr. Mackay explained. "Because they are State wards, and protected by the comprehensive privacy laws Australian has for its State wards, the New South Wales Government issues MMIDs to their wards."

"I thought the MCO issued MIDs?" Stacy asked puzzled.

Dr. Mackay gave her a shark's grin. "The MCO wants people to think that, but actually the official records of MIDs is kept by the appropriate government authorities, which in Australia is the various state offices of Birth, Deaths and Marriages. The MCO, by treaty, has access to those records, but for MMIDs only the information on the cards is kept in the "Official" database. For these ones," she waved to indicate the cards Constable Stevens was holding. "The details of the testing and such are only kept in our records here, and in the Australian MMID database, which is looked after by Commonwealth Department of Defence somewhere, so probably has armed soldiers guarding it 24 / 7." Doctor Mackay smiled comfortingly at the subdued Stacy, before turning to glance at her two sisters.

"I'm sorry about the names," she apologised, indicating the cards in Constable Stevens hands. "Again, DoCS insisted on them." Gathering the cards back from the Constable, she shuffled them around a bit. "Mary?" she offered the card to Sue who took it. "Sarah," she lent forward and passed the card to Stacy. "And finally Jane," she handed the last card to Lexi.

Lexi frowned and looked over the card. It had a headshot photo of her wearing a masquerade mask on the front, the name 'Jane' in big letters to the right, with below it, in equally large type, 'Wiz: 5'. Turning to the back, there was the word 'Classified' and a long string of numbers and letters. "What's this?" Lexi asked, pointing at the letters and numbers.

Julie glanced at it, and held out her hand. "Can I see?" she asked politely. Handing the card over, Lexi watched as Julie examined the letters carefully, then passed the card back to her. "That's your Family Court case number," she said, with a puzzled look towards Doctor Mackay.

"Proof of wardship and eligibility for a MMID," Rebecca explained. "We use court cases because in New South Wales, even in official court documents, minors are never identified. It's always done using aliases, so we can 'prove' the need for a MMID, but still not identify the owner," she finished grinning at them.

"What now?" Stacy asked Julie, who looked towards the young doctor.

"You're free to go," Rebecca shrugged. "There's no medical issues with them, though with such strong magical ratings, you'll want to make sure they are well trained. That much loose Essence floating around is bound to cause gremlins and the like unless properly controlled."

"Gremlins?" Julie asked startled. "Like the movies?"

Rebecca laughed. "No, manifestations, usually subconscious. Whenever the girls have too much Essence floating around, there is a chance for their subconscious to cause manifestations. Training to control their Essence is vital."

"Would you happen to know a good teacher?" Constable Stevens asked worriedly.

Doctor Mackay shook her head. "We're a Hospital. Most true magic users avoid us like the plague. They consider us vampires, always ready to suck them dry for miracle cure after miracle cure." She shrugged wryly. "I can't really blame them, if I had a patient that was dying, I know I'd reach out to any magic healer I knew, desperately twisting anything I could to get them save my patient."

Julie looked at her pleadingly.

Doctor Mackay shook her head. "Check with their DoCS case handler," she suggested. "I'm sure they've had magical mutants before and organised proper training for them," she assured Julie.

Rising, Rebecca gave each of the girls a hug, and Julie and John a handshake. "Here, this is a copy of their testing," she held out the folder to Julie. "You'll need to give it to DoCS."

"Thanks," Julie absently replied, smiling in spite of herself as the enthusiastic Doctor waved goodbye to the girls. Reaching out to John, she slipped her hand in his, thankful for his quick squeeze of assurance and comforting smile. Smiling back, Julie help herd the three girls through the Hospital and back to the Land Cruiser.

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Thursday Early Evening, MCO Response Centre Sydney

"Sir?" The MCO technician called over his supervisor, staring fixedly at the screen in front of him.

"Yes Ted?" the supervisor asked stepping up.

"The computer flagged a newly issued MID, and when I looked I saw these two also come in as part of the same update."

"Westmead Hospital again," the supervisor noted with a sour expression, then his eye caught the flagged card. "A Wiz 5 rating!" he exclaimed. "And two Wiz 3's as well! Excellent work!"

Sitting down at a nearby console, he bought up the full information for the MIDs and then swore. "Military MIDs?!" he exclaimed in disbelief. "What are the military doing with magical mutants?"

Looking over at the supervisor's screen, the tech corrected him. "That's not military, that's state wards," he explained.

"What!?"

The tech sighed and rolled his eyes, wondering when he'd get lucky and actually get an Australian supervisor, rather then the endless raft of American know-nothings sent his way. The 'Australian' MCO was an American organisation, and all the management positions, not to mention anything else exciting like field agents, seemed to be given to American ex-pats rather then local hires. To add insult to injury for the local employees, it was fairly obvious that the US MCO deemed Australia a convenient dumping ground for their 'problem' employees.

A consequence of the Australian MCO being run by Americans led to it slavishly duplicating all the parts of the US Mutant Control Organisation wether they made sense or not, like a 'Response Centre' permanently manned to search for and identify 'mutant outbreaks' in order to dispatch Agents to investigate them.

This sounded fine in theory, except for the fact that the MCO wasn't allowed to 'investigate' mutant outbreaks in Australia. Australia had only eight police forces, one each for the six states and two territories, and the states and territories had no intention at all of ever allowing police like powers for anyone or anything else. Since it would require legislation to pass through each of the parliaments of the states and territories, the MCO might as well whistle Dixie as far as getting their UN Charter ratified in Australia was concerned.  All this led the Sydney 'Response Centre' to be about as useful as the human appendix and, as Ted had long ago realised, the preferred dumping ground by the actually competent management of the Australian MCO for the real prize fuckups foisted on them by the US.

"Look at the code names," he pointed out to his supervisor. "'Mary', 'Sarah', 'Jane'. Those are the type of aliases courts here use to refer to juveniles. Those are state wards, that's why the MMIDs. It's to protect the wards. It's illegal to publish information about state wards, not even their names or likenesses are allowed. To comply with the laws, state testing centres are used, and they give all state wards MMIDs."

"All a mutant has to do here to hide is become a state ward?!" the supervisor exclaimed in disbelief.

"Err, no," the tech looked heavenward and sighed. His 'new' supervisor had been here for three months now! Surely repetition should have allowed simple facts to have penetrated his thick skull by now. "There is no law that mutants need to get a MID at all in Australia," he reminded his supervisor. "All a mutant needs to do here is just not get on a plane," the technician replied with an eye-roll as his supervisor predictably went ballistic. Again. Was it really that hard for to pay attention in the briefings given to all the US 'appointments' when they arrived in country to bring them up-to speed with the local laws? It wasn't as though these very issues weren't bought up in the presentation. He knew, he'd double-checked the powerpoints himself to confirm it was in the material covered.

"Wait a minute, you said court case?" the supervisor demanded suddenly, breaking his torrent of swearing. "These names would be from a court case?"

"Yes?" Ted replied puzzled.

"So we can track these names to a court case?"

"Of course?" Ted wasn't sure what the supervisor was on about, but he sure looked excited, never a good sign.

"Do it! Do it! Find me those mutants!"

Shrugging, Ted popped open a browser window, and double checking the MMIDs, started searching the court records. It only took a moment or two to find a case the day before in the Parramatta Family Court that used all three aliases. Bringing up the details, he waved over his supervisor.

"A custody case?" his supervisor's eyes lit up in glee. "I wonder?" he mused as he sprung back to his desk and grabbed the phone. "Ted! What's the number for our lawyers again?"

Rolling his eyes, Ted looked up the number for the Macquarie Street law firm the MCO had on retainer.

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Thursday Evening, Rydges Parramatta Hotel

Julie frowned as she hung up the phone. "Something the matter?" John asked her concerned. They had come back to the hotel after the girl's testing, and Julie had just finished faxing the testing details to the DoCS number they had been given when her phone started ringing.

"It was the Family Court clerk," Julie said slowly. "He was informing us that the girl's hearing has been moved to 10am tomorrow, then he made a big deal that it would be in the number one courtroom, not a hearing room like before."

"Courtroom?" John bleated. "Wouldn't that mean it's going to be a court case not a hearing?"

Eyes widening, Julie desperately search amongst the papers on the table, and grabbing one started dialling a number, putting the phone on speaker.

"Department of Community Services, Judith Fields speaking," a tired voice answered.

"Ms. Fields, it's Julie Havelock, we meet Wednesday at the Family Court?"

"The three orphan girls from Wagga? I remember, they were to be tested today at Westmead, how did that go?"

"They're all mutants, magic ones, but that's not why I called," Julie panted. "The hearing tomorrow, I just got a call from the clerk of the Family Court. He informed me the time had been changed from 2pm to 10am, and they've moved it from a hearing room, to the number one courtroom, is that normal?"

"Normal?" Ms. Fields drawled slowly. "No, that doesn't sound normal. Usually the courtrooms are only used for court cases, but a simple adoption doesn't need a court cases, only a contested adoption would need a court case ..."

"Contested?" John blurted. "Who'd contest it? None of the girls have any family left! And everyone in town already knew Julie and I were going to try and adopt them!"

Silence greeted that statement, before finally Ms. Fields spoke. "Let me call the office," she said. "If anyone wants to adopt any state wards, the paperwork needs to be filed with DoCS, a quick check on the computer will sort this out."

John and Julie exchanged anguished looks as they fidgeted impatiently, giving the phone agonised stares as they waited for her to call back. Finally Julie almost pounced on the phone as it started ringing. "Well?" she demanded.

"I'm so so sorry," Ms. Fields almost wept. "I don't know how it happened, but there is another request for guardianship filed. Julie, I don't know how to tell you this, but." She swallowed a few times and forced it out. "It's the MCO. I'm so sorry, but the MCO are trying to get guardianship of your girls." The horror in her voice sent chills down the back of both Julie and John as they stared at each other in shock.

"Could they?" John whispered. "They are an organisation, not people. Is that even possible?"

"I don't know," Ms Fields quivered. "There's no law against it, and I'm sure they'll have the best lawyers money can buy," she stated, causing Julie to go white and grip the phone tightly.

"Julie?" John demanded of his white faced girlfriend.

"The Catholic Church!" she whispered horrified. "For as long as we've had welfare, it's been normal to put children in the care of organisations such as the Catholic Church, Anglican Church, all sorts of religious and state run orphanages. It's perfectly legal for an organisation to have guardianship of a child!"

John stared at her in horror. "How did they find out?" John moaned. "No one in town would have ratted them out. Not Stacy! Not when she'd just buried both her parents!"

Taking a deep breath, Julie gave John wain smile, and then demanded into her phone. "When did they file? Do we know when they applied for guardianship?"

"Just now, the application hasn't even had time to route to me as their case handler yet. The Clerk at the Family Court must have rung you while he was still moving the case in their systems."

Julie frowned at John, desperately thinking before she went palest white again. "The mutant IDs!" she breathed. "They must have done it as soon as they registered the Mutant IDs for the girls!"

"The most powerful Mage in Australia!" John whispered horrified. "They're after Lexi!" he exclaimed.

"What?" Ms. Fields demanded.

"Lexi was the most powerful magical mutant they had ever tested," Julie whispered. "The MCO must have flagged her Mutant ID as soon as it hit their system!" she swore. "And the case ID was right there on the MMIDs! It lead them straight to the court case!"

"But they're minors! All that's supposed to be sealed!" John exclaimed.

"Doesn't matter," Julie sighed. "They don't need the details, just the case ID would be enough. It'll lead straight to the Family Court, and the public dockets would tell them it was heard yesterday, from that alone they'll know it was a custody case, and then because it was continuing tomorrow they'd know it wasn't settled."

"Julie," Ms. Fields whispered, emotion tightly controlling her voice. "This is very important. You need to pull out all the stops, don't leave anything to chance! You'll be up against some of the best lawyers money can buy, the very best of the worst. If you don't stop this tomorrow, you're not going to get a second chance," she warned her.

"Can't you stop this?" Julie demanded. "Say they're unfit or something?"

Even over the phone they could hear the wince. "There are DoCS agents who are very sympathetic to the MCO," she admitted. "It'll be all I can do to make sure none of them are assigned to this case over me," she apologised. "The clerk's call to you, and your's to me, was very lucky. It means I can officially acknowledge and confirm my attendance as soon as the case hits our systems, stopping another agent accepting in my place. But now, I need to move all my appointments for tomorrow, then double and triple check I've got people I trust ready to take emergencies for me so they can't manufacture something to force me away from it."

"You think they will?" Julie asked worried.

"Julie Havelock, understand this and understand it well," Ms. Fields growled. "The MCO is an American organisation, and the majority of the agents in positions of power in Australia are American too. They do not give a flying fuck for the Australian legal system, nor anyone or anything else in Australia. If they fuck up anywhere near enough for our Australian law enforcement to even look like they'd be able to make something stick to one of them, they simply declare an 'emergency' and scuttle back home to the US and laugh at our attempts to prosecute them. They believe they are above the law, and past experience has proved that they have nothing to fear from Australian law enforcement at all. There is nothing they don't believe they can get away with doing if they feel like it."

John reached over and pulled the white faced, terrified Julie towards him. Clutching her as tight as she was clutching him.

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Trial

Friday Afternoon, Parramatta Family Court, Courtroom 1

Julie slumped in her chair, face falling into her palms as she tried desperately to hold in the tears. Ms. Fields had warned her she'd only get the one chance, and after today she understood. They'd underestimated her and hadn't been fully prepared, even so, all Julie had been able to do was hold them off until they'd sprung their ace-in-the-hole and demanded a new testing of the girls under MCO supervision and a recess. On Monday, when the case reconvened, they were going to crush her like a bug.

"You did well you know, much better then any of us had hoped." Startled Julie looked up and stared in disbelief at a young magistrate's clerk, who gave her an encouraging smile and a pat on the shoulder. "It's true you know," he said. "It's not everyday a country solicitor so outsmarts a senior Silk he needs to beg an emergency adjournment."

"He was a Silk?" Julie gasped in horror. "What was a Silk doing appearing in the Family Court?"

The clerk smiled. "At a guess," he chuckled. "Wolfram and Hart didn't have any lesser skilled lackeys certified for the Family Court, I'm sure at this very moment all their bright young things are hurriedly studying to rectify that."

Julie smiled in spite of herself. "'Wolfram and Hart'? That's not really their name is it?"

The clerk smiled. "No, of course not," he agreed. "Doesn't stop it being the name they are called all through Macquarie Street though," he shared a smile with Julie before becoming serious again. "I'm sure you're bushed. It's Friday, get a drink. I can recommend the Bier Cafe opposite the police station," he suggested. "Sit at the bar, get yourself a nice glass of wine."

"At a Bier Cafe?" Julie asked puzzled.

The clerk nodded. "A nice red. Sit at the bar. Back left corner." With a last pat on her back, he returned to his table, gathered up his papers and left.

Now that everyone had left, John led the girls from the public seating up to the lawyers table. "What was that about?" he murmured while bending to give Julie a kiss.

"I don't know," Julie murmured back as she hugged him and then each of the girls tight. "But he seemed very insistent that I go to the Bier Cafe and have a glass of wine."

John stared thoughtfully at the door the clerk had left through. "That's opposite Parramatta police station right?" he murmured.

"That's what the clerk said," she agreed.

John stared after the clerk for a while longer, then turned to Julie and smiled. "Why don't you grab a glass of red or two?" he suggested leaning in to kiss her again, then bending down and gathering up her papers neatly, returning them to her sachet. "I'll take the girls to the station and see if they'll let me use the AV facilities to make a quick call to Wagga command and let them know what is happening."

Staring thoughtfully at the door the friendly court clerk had left through, Julie absently agreed.

Smiling as the young solicitor and her policeman boyfriend walked off surrounded by the three girls, the young court clerk reached into his pocket and retrieved his phone.

"Indiya," he smiled. "You're in Parramatta today right? Guess who I just saw at the Family Courts?"

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"Constable," the desk Sergeant greeted him with a grin. "Not everyday we get a celebrity in here."

"Pardon?" John replied puzzled.

"Big name Silk, no less, bad naming you in a press conference. Must have done something to get so far up his nose."

"I don't know what you mean sir," John stared at him in confusion.

"You really don't know?" the Sergeant blinked. He pointed to a TV in the corner where those waiting would have something to watch. "There's a big name Silk and an MCO mouthpiece oh so carefully implying without ever quite saying so, that you should be locked up for un-named infractions of a serious nature, never once using such a crass word as 'paedophile'."

John turned to the TV in shock, staring as the lawyer from the girls case calmly answered questions for a tame pack of reporters. Turning back to the Sergeant, face white in anger, John tried desperately to control his voice. "Sergeant, is it possible for me to use one of your conference rooms to contact my commander?"

"Of course, I'll call a female Constable to look after the girls for you."

"That won't be necessary, they'll come with me," John stated, guiding the girls towards the security door giving access between the public side of the police station and the back rooms.

"Constable, only authorised people can come back here," the Sergeant reminded him compassionately.

"They are authorised," John growled, passing his badge to the Sergeant and pointing towards the computer. "They live with me at the station house."

Blinking, the Sergeant gave him a startled look. "And before you think it, they live with me and my girlfriend, and have done so ever since their parents died in the Nevada plane crash. I was here today to become their guardians, when that scum sucking piece of filth ambushed us in the Family Court and tried to make the MCO their guardians instead!"

Taking a deep breath, John closed his eyes and held it until unclenching his hands he released it, and glared at the Sergeant. Swiftly swiping the Constable's card, the Sergeant carefully checked the computer, glanced quickly at the girls, then nodded, handing back the card to Constable Stevens. He pressed a button under the desk that made the door buzz. "Constable Collins will take you through," he informed them.

Nodding his thanks, John quickly opened the door and rushed the girls through, waiting impatiently for a young Constable to wave him down the corridor to their left.

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Julie sat nervously sipping her wine, looking around furtively at the crowded room. Most people were sitting around the bar, or standing at high tables to the side, drinking and laughing with colleagues, the dinner tables against the walls still almost empty.

Turning back from contemplating the dinner tables, Julie's eyes widened as she saw a young, immaculate dressed, professional Indian girl approaching her with a smile. "Indiya, what are you doing here?" she gasped, standing to greet her old university roommate with a smile and a kiss. "I thought you had a job at a big law firm in Macquarie Street?" she questioned.

"I do," her friend smiled as she sat on the bar stool next to her, pointing at a beer to the enquiring look of a bartender. "But then, some country solicitor makes the head devil-silk at Wolfram and Hart stink worse then the Bondi deep water discharge, and I had to come congratulate her," she said accepting her beer and clinking glasses with Julie with a smile. "I told you you were good enough for Macquarie Street, no need to hide out in the sticks like you do."

"I like being a country solicitor, it's what I always wanted to be," Julie reminded her workaholic, highly career orientated friend. "It gives me time for more then just work. Time to have a life too."

"How is your hunky policeman?" Indiya asked with a knowing grin.

"Still hot," Julie replied with a possessive purr, laughing happily with her friend. Finishing her wine, she signalled the bartender and ordered another, raising an eyebrow as Indiya ordered one too.

"What?" Indiya demanded. "I haven't seen you in years, of course I'm gonna do this properly. In fact, let's have dinner," she suggested, pointing at the tables to the back. "Take some time, catch up fully."

Julie shook her head. "I can't, John's waiting ..."

"Ditch him!" Indiya urged. "He always has you, I haven't seen you for years, surely you can skip a night with him to catch up with an old friend?" she laughingly suggested.

"Normally I would," Julie sighed, "but it's been a horrible day for both of us," she explained almost crying. "That case? The one against the Silk? That was supposed to be John adopting the girls, and now there's a Silk, and the MCO, and they're getting tested again tomorrow by an MCO Mage, and it's all gone so wrong!"

Turning to her friend, Julie was shocked to see understanding in her eyes, not surprise. "You already know!" she whispered. "How do you know? Who told you? How could you know I would be here? You're not working for them are you?" Julie demanded horrified.

"No! Nothing like that!" Indiya assured her, reaching out to calm her. "In fact, my firm is the hired gun of the New South Wales Government. Nearly all our cases come from them."

"The Government?" Julie asked puzzled.

"Please Julie, have dinner with me," Indiya begged, giving Julie a pleading look. "Call your boyfriend, tell him you've meet someone, and they're helping you with his case and you need to go to a working dinner."

Julie's eyes widened. "Really?"

"Really," Indiya confirmed, nodding towards a corner table, where two well dressed older men sat watching them. "The head partner for my division," she whispered to Julie. "And the head partner for our Parramatta office," she explained. "There's some things you really need to know. Your case has become about as political as it can get, and unfortunately, the MCO has you behind the eight ball. While some very, very powerful people want you to succeed, it's you that needs to pull off the tricks to do it."

Standing the two men approached Julie, introducing themselves and inviting her and Indiya back to their table. "We'll wait while you call Constable Stevens and assure him you're OK," Indiya's head partner suggested. "In fact, invite him to bring the girls over and have a meal with them and wait here, we'll happily pick up the tab for their meal as well. Assure him it's not a conflict of interest, the bill will be paid for by his employer, the New South Wales government."

After a quick glance to Indiya, who firmly nodded her head, Julie smiled weakly to the two men and reached for her phone.

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"So Constable, what the hell is happening there?" John's commander demanded looking out at him from the screen of the video conferencing system.

John winced. "The MCO sir, they're making a play for Lexi."

"Lexi?" His commander's eyes widened. "What's the matter with Lexi?"

John sighed. "We think it's her Mage rating, the testing centre said it was one of the highest they've ever tested, and then, well, as soon as the girl's MMIDs were registered, the MCO put in a counter claim for guardianship of the girls and sent lawyers to back it up. Julie's had a horrible day fighting them in court, we've only just recessed for the weekend. The MCO want to test the girl's tomorrow, and we have another court appointment for Monday, and it's all a nightmare here!"

"What about the paedophile accusations?" 

"Sir! It's not true! I just saw the news, the MCO scum lawyers are making that up!"

His commander sighed and nodded. "I believe you, but we'll need to look into it anyway. I'll have Constable Gibbs investigate it discreetly, with her contacts and ear to the grapevine she'll be able to find anything nasty going on."

John sighed and nodded agreement.

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"So why is this so political?" Julie asked cautiously when they had finished ordering.

All eyes turned to Indiya's boss, who paused to take a sip of wine before answering. "What do you know of the MCO's presence here in Australia? About how they got their authority?"

Julie shrugged her innocence. "Isn't it under some sort of UN mandate?" she asked.

"The MCO likes people to think that, but Australia never ratified that particular UN resolution, so the MCO have no authority under it in Australia. No, the MCO's 'authority' is spelled out in other treaties, treaties Australia has ratified, treaties like the international accords on Airplane security, or the TPP."

"The Trans-Pacific Partnership?" Julie asked puzzled. "Isn't that a trade agreement?"

"It is, but like Australia, most of the countries of ASEAN, South America and the Pacific felt no need to ratify the MCO's UN charter, so the MCO had been restricted basically to Airport security in the region. Somehow the MCO got the United States to insert increased powers for them into the TPP, and then when the US announced that the TPP superseded its two party free trade agreements with individual countries in the region, and were therefore ending them, Australia and the other countries have no option but to sign up to the TPP or loose their access to the US markets."

"The US government's blackmailing us into accepting the MCO?" Julie gasped wide-eyed.

"That and other things," Indiya snorted, before looking apologetically towards her boss for interrupting.

Glancing towards Indiya her boss sighed. "You're right, I doubt the US really cared for the MCO, there are lots of other things in the TPP they want, like Intellectual Property Rights upgrades and strengthening trade ties against China, that made it a certainty the US will play hard-ball to get countries signed up to the TPP. I'd guess the MCO just realised that and rode the coat-tails to get their amendments slipped in there with the rest somehow. However they did it, the fact is that the TPP is almost certain to be signed and ratified, and the MCO will have more authority in Australia then the Australian governments really feel comfortable with them having, and the MCO is taking every chance they can get to keep pushing and pushing trying to get more."

Pausing Indiya's boss lent forward, fixing Julie in his gaze. "While they can't step in and officially stop the MCO from doing to your three what they are trying to do, the New South Wales Government would be very happy for legal precedent to be set such that they fail, especially since the MCO is trying to argue that they should automatically be the Organisation that gets guardianship of orphaned or abandoned mutant children. Basically the NSW government want you to win your case."

Julie laughed. "You can tell them from me I didn't need incentive to try and win, what I need is a miracle, or a Silk of my own so that I stand a chance in hell at beating the Silk the MCO has already set loose on me!"

"While we can't provide another lawyer, as you are the girl's duly appointed legal council ..."

"Please! If you have someone, I'd happily step aside!"

Indiya winced. "Politically it would be problematic if the State was seen to be directly opposing the MCO," she explained delicately. "If you stood down, all that would happen is another legal aid solicitor would be appointed, bluntly someone less skilled and less emotionally invested in the outcome." Julie winced, but nodded her understanding, turning back to the man she had interrupted.

"As I was saying, while the government can't officially help, nor can we be seen to be helping, you do have friends," he pointed to Indiya, "and as outmatched as you are, no one would think anything of you reaching out and getting their help. In addition, our firm maintains an office here in Parramatta, with a law library every bit as complete as our Macquarie Street one. Indiya and you would be welcome to use it."

Julie sat thoughtfully for a minute, before turning to her friend. "I'm sorry Indiya, normally there'd be nobody I love more to help me, but what exactly is the area of Law you've been practicing?" she asked pointedly.

"Commercial Law," Indiya admitted.

Julie nodded and sighed. "What I really, really need right now is a clerk who knows the intricacies of the Family Court backwards, and is an expert at family law."

Indiya's boss smirked and Indya blushed slightly. At Julie's puzzled frown Indiya shifted uncomfortably. "Ah, I might of discovered a little bit of that 'life' you've always been after me to get," she admitted blushing.

Julie laughed at her friends embarrassment, before frowning. "Um, not that I'm unhappy for you, but what does this have to do with my need for help with my case?"

"Ah," Indiya started flustered. "You remember the cute court clerk who came up to you after your case?" she asked Julie.

Julie's eyes widened is surprise. "No? Really?" she exclaimed.

Blushing furiously Indiya nodded her head. "He used to be an assistant in our office before he took up a clerking position for the Family Court."

Julie carefully observed her friend's posture, then smirked. "Your assistant?" she guessed, laughing out loud at her friend's embarrassed nod. "Indiya, are you offering me access to pillow talk between you and your boyfriend to help me win my case?" she demanded mock-outraged, laughing uproariously when her friend blushed almost incandescent. Reaching out she hugged her friend tightly. "Thank you Indiya," she whispered, tears coming to her eyes. "I'd be honoured to have your help."

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Friday Night, Rydges Parramatta Hotel

John sighed and closed the connecting door between the adjoining hotel rooms, not surprised that Sue and Lexi had once again nestled, wrapping the crying Stacy in their arms as the three of them fell asleep a tiny bundle of pixie arms and legs in the lee of Stacy's pillow.

In the room he and Julie were sharing, he walked up behind the coldly furious Julie as she stood glaring, watching the highlights of the news conference from the MCO Silk outside the Family Court that afternoon. When the news piece finished she grabbed the remote and stabbed the TV off, almost screaming her frustration.

"Julie?"

"How could they!" she growled. "It's an ongoing case! It involves children! It's supposed to be sealed! They're not allowed to do that!"

"Julie?" Reaching out John turned her to him, realising that Julie was crying as she turned to face him.

"It's wrong! They're supposed to be protected! I'm supposed to be protecting them, and I can't. He's doing anything he likes," Julie wept as John pulled her into his arms.

"You can do it, you're a good lawyer and you have right on your side," John comforted her.

"It's not about right or wrong, it's about skill, and he's a Silk! He's one of the best barristers in the country! I'm a country solicitor! He's going to eat me for lunch!"

"No he's not. You'll pull this off."

"What if I can't?" Julie whispered.

"You will. You must." John replied back, holding her tight. "There's no other way," he murmured, comforting Julie as much as he could while she cried into his shoulder.

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Retested

Saturday Afternoon, Westmead Hospital

"That's the MCO Mage?" Stacy asked incredulously as they watched a very expensively suited elder man condescendingly greet Mrs. Farnst. Looking over to Lexi, Stacy raised an eyebrow.

Giving the man a long look, Lexi smirked and turned to her sisters leaning close to whisper to them. "He's a baseline Mage," she explained to them. "He accumulates no Essence of his own, he needs to rely on rituals and pendants to gather and store Essence, and he's not very good at it. Despite all the showy wealth, the few magical items I can see on him all seem to have been made by someone else."

"Which means?" Sue asked carefully.

"Let's see how he reacts to Doctor Mackay, if he reacts like I think he will, we might be able to pull a bluff on him."

"Pull a bluff?" Stacy asked wide eye.

"Look at him with Mrs. Farnst, completely dismissing her," Lexi suggested with a nod to where Mrs. Farnst was trying to explained the testing already done on the girls, and the newly arrived Mage all but yawned in her face. "If he does the same to Doctor Mackay, he'll dismiss everything she found. In that case we can go back to the plan of hiding our Essence again, and hopefully he'll fall for it and give us lower rankings."

"Would that work?" Stacy asked hopefully.

"Yes," Sue stated with a smile of her own. "Look at him. Look how into being 'the best' he is, the clothes, the attitude. He'd down rank Lexi anyway just to make her not seem to outmatch him, but look at how disgusted he is at being here, he'd love nothing more then to 'prove' that this testing centre isn't really that good."

"... and this is Doctor Mackay, she's the one who did the testing for the girls." Mrs. Farnst introduced Doctor Mackay, who with none of her usual enthusiasm stepped up to offer her hand.

Staring at the hand like it was offensive, the MCO Mage ignored it and looked down his nose at Doctor Mackay. "And what rank are you in the Arts?" He demanded of her.

Dr. Mackay withdrew her hand and gave the elder man a thin lipped stare. "I'm a medical research doctor, I have no 'rank' in any arts," she all but snarled at him.

"Well, if you have no arts, how is it that you feel you can determined they do?" he replied archly.

"We have a device that ..."

"A device!" He cried in outrage. "You deem that, that junk! Those fakes from the purveyors of outrageous 'science' legitimate means to discern ranks in the Arts?" He stared at her in outrage. "No, we shall see what we shall see! I require a neutral room, one with no hints of any others personality. Not an office or a 'consulting room', find me a conference room, comfortable chair, natural light, not recently used, surely you have a directors room or boardroom of some sort around here? I'll require it, you may observe through the windows."

As Mrs. Farnst led off the MCO team, the Mage with his nose held high, Constable Stevens held back the three girls until they were out of hearing, then bent down and whispered urgently. "What are the three of you planning?"

Lexi gave him a big grin. "A little downgrading, he looks exactly the sort of person to dismiss everything already done and start from scratch. I think under the circumstances we all should try and downplay our gifts don't you? If he measures us lower, he'll just assume 'incompetence' on Doctor Mackay's part, and not look into it. If we pull it off, it could make the MCO lose interest in us?" Lexi suggested hopefully.

John shared a look with Julie who looked thoughtfully down the corridors, before turning back and nodding firmly. "OK Lexi, what do you have in mind?" John asked her. Lexi smiled in relief and gathered her sisters to start explaining what she wanted them to do.

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"What's wrong with Doctor Mackay?" Julie whispered to Mrs. Farnst as they stood in an out-of-the-way corner watching the magical specialist the MCO had procured test a scowling Stacy in Mrs. Farnst's own boardroom. Far from her normal exuberant self, Doctor Mackay was staring through the window into the room with an angry glare.

Mrs. Farnst sighed and laid a comforting hand on Julie's upper arm. "Don't worry dear, it's not you or your girls," she assured her. "Last night we received another patient, she's in a critical condition in our ICU and Rebecca is her resident in charge. The girl was being chased by the MCO and to hide from them she hid in a house that was in the process of being demolished. A brick wall fell on her, critically injuring her."

"Critical? Intensive care?" Julie turned to Mrs. Farnst in shock. "If it's that bad, surely some other Doctor could be here supervising, it doesn't need to be her!"

"Oh Rebecca wants to be here," Mrs. Farnst assured her with a growl. "It was the MCO who put the poor dear into intensive care. Rebecca is determined to stop them causing any more issues with your three, or any of our other patients. Rebecca despises everything the MCO stands for." Mrs. Farnst took a deep breath and then sighed, giving Julie a slightly fearful look. "Actually that's not the whole story. Rebecca is terrified the MCO will find out the girl is here, and do the same to her as they're doing to you and your three."

"What? Trying to adopt them?" Julie clarified.

Mrs. Farnst nodded slowly. "Yes, the new girl is a foster child as well, but we're hopeful they don't know it yet. From what we've heard at the Children's Hospital, they've been looking for her, but they don't know her name or which hospital she was taken to." Mrs. Farnst looked to Julie sorrowfully. "To be truthful, Rebecca is mostly here to make sure the MCO don't find out the girl is with us. We're not sure what they know of this place, but you must admit, having an ICU in a 'testing' centre wouldn't be what most people expect."

Julie looked puzzled. "Why do you?" she asked finally. "Have an Intensive Care Unit?"

Mrs. Farnst sighed. "Not all mutants are like your girls, seemingly normal with an extra gift. A lot of them come in with medical issues. GSD, MATD, CTA, so many things. We help them here, and for some of them it's very touch and go." Mrs. Farnst sighed. "Not all of them make it," she all but whispered.

Julie's eyes widened, and she turned to stare thoughtfully at the angry Doctor Mackay. Turing back to Mrs. Farnst Julie asked softly. "Would you like some help?"

"Help?" Mrs. Farnst asked her surprised.

"Well, the DoCS case handler for the girls is expecting a conference with me after this testing. I could call her now, ask her to meet us here? She's been really good with the girls, and she seems very sympathetic to mutants? Perhaps she'd have some ideas how to protect your patient from the MCO?"

Mrs. Farnst smiled. "Would you? Having a known sympathetic ear in DoCS for the girl would be ever so helpful."

Nodding Julie reached for her phone and started dialling as they both turned back to watch the Mage swing a pendant before his eyes and squint through it towards Stacy.

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As Mrs. Farnst escorted the MCO contingent, and its gloating Mage, from the Boardroom, Doctor Mackay picked up the paper from the table and read it bemused. Stacy and Lexi placed hands over their mouths to contain their laughter, finally breaking out in hysterical giggles after Sue signalled the all clear from the window where she was watching the MCO contingent leave.

"What did you three do?" Rebecca Mackay demanded, looking up from the paper she was holding.

Still giggling Lexi held up a hand. "Let's wait for Mrs. Farnst to come back," she suggested as Julie stepped forward to give her a hug of congratulations.

Julie was just finishing hugging the girls when Mrs Farnst entered the room and gave them a wry look. "I assume you three deliberately did that somehow?" She demanded of them.

Stacy and Lexi broke into giggles again, while Constable Stevens stepped forward to come clean to Mrs. Farnst and the bewildered Doctor Mackay. "Yes they did," he admitted. "At Lexi's suggestion they concentrated on gathering in and holding onto their Essence as much as possible all through the testing."

Doctor Mackay looked at Lexi, eyes widening in surprise, before with a return to her normal exuberant nature she rushed forward to hug Lexi crying out in delight. "Oh you clever girl!" She hugged Lexi tight before hugging each of the other girls and turning back to the adults. "For newly emerged Magical Mutants, all the testing concentrates on measuring the raw Essence surrounding them! By gathering and containing it, they made it appear there was less Essence and tricked him into under-report their ranks! No wonder he gave them Ranks of low twos and 'barely a four'!"

"Do you think it worked?" Mrs. Farnst asked Julie hopefully.

Julie shrugged. "We'll see on Monday," she answered. "But they were going after Stacy and Sue when they though their ranks 'just' a 3. Lexi is still a rank 4, and they may just be going for precedent, the precedent that the MCO can adopt Mutants and become their legal guardians."

"So you think they'll keep going?" John almost begged her.

Julie's sighed and stepped close to hug him. "They've spent so much getting were they are, and I don't see that Silk backing down ..."

Nodding his understanding John bent down to hug the girl's close to him.

"Do you want to take the girls to the cafeteria and get them some dinner?" Julie suggested to John. "I'll ring you when we're done here?" Nodding John waited for Julie to hug the girls before he led them off down the corridor.

Resuming her seat at the boardroom table, Julie looked at the monitoring images for the Centre's ICU, at the pale unconscious girl wrapped in bandages and plaster in its bed, while Ms. Fields finished flipping through the case folder in front of her and sighed. She'd already been bought up-to-date on the situations for the girl's, now she was looking through the details of Rebecca's patient.

"It's only a matter of time before the MCO identify her," Ms. Fields noted. "And from the reaction of the foster mother, rules or not, she's going to spill her guts to the MCO when they track her down, and she knows where Mary is. The foster mother has already informed our case handler that she'll not take Mary back after the 'incident'."

"So we need to get her a new foster family," Rebecca stated.

"It's not that easy," Ms. fields sighed. "The fact she's a mutant is problematic enough, but with her injuries! Long hospitalisations strain normal families, foster families don't typically survive. Hell, a lot of normal families reach breaking point with things like this! Do you know how many divorces can be traced back to a long term illness of a family member?" Mrs. Fields shook her head. "And a new foster family isn't going to make the MCO go away, they could still sue for guardianship anyway. We need something better, like an adoption."

"I'll adopt her."

In stunned silence, everyone turned to look at who had spoken up, blinking in surprise to see it was Doctor Mackay. "I will, I'll adopt her right now," she insisted.

Ms. Fields sighed. "I wish it was that easy." Everyone looked at her and she sighed again. "It all takes time," she explained. "Time to do background checks, time to pass DoCS vetting, we need a solution that would be faster then that! Something done and dusted before the MCO have a chance to get their lawyers involved! They're already looking for her, we don't have time for weeks and weeks of adoption vetting! We need to stop the MCO turning her into another case they can use to push for precedent that they have rights to guardianship for orphaned and abandoned Mutant children."

"Rebecca has already passed all the DoCS vetting," Mrs. Farnst declared unexpectedly.

"I have?" Doctor Mackay bleated, blinking towards Mrs. Farnst in surprise.

"Of course you have dear," Mrs Farnst smiled at her. "This is a paediatrics ward after all, and you're one of our head paediatricians," Mrs. Farnst smiled at her. "In addition to that, due to being the state referral ward for mutations, and the need for sometimes long term hospitalisations of teenage state wards who are having a difficult time with their mutations, we're actually also a state foster institution." She turned her computer and waved at the screen. "I just finished the paperwork, it was the only thing I could think of to give us some leverage. Once confirmed, Mary will be 'fostered' here to us. In the eyes of the law we will be her 'guardians'."

Ms. Fields eyes went wide. "Do you have the records of that? Can I see what Doctor Mackay's approvals are?" she asked excitedly.

"Of course!" Mrs. Farnst tapped a few commands into the computer, and waved Ms. Fields up.

Staring at the screen, Ms. Fields face became more and more happy, until finally she was glowing. "She's a foster parent!" Ms. Fields all but squealed. "She's already vetted! We can do this!" she exclaimed happily looking around in joy to all the others present. "We just need a judge to approve it, nothing more. A simple case of the foster parent 'adopting' her child!" she squealed happily. "In the morning I can get one of the DoCS lawyers to draw up the paperwork!" Quickly she turned to Doctor Mackay. "You really will do it?" she begged. "It wasn't just ..."

Doctor Mackay's face went grim and she fiercely shook her head. "I said it and I meant it. Right now, I'll adopt her right this second!"

With a smile that split her face, Ms. Fields almost danced a jig in happiness. "I'll write the email now, and the lawyer can get started on the paper work tomorrow ..."

"I can do that," Julie offered.

"Pardon?" Ms. Fields asked confused.

"I can do the paperwork," Julie insisted. "I've gotten all the paperwork ready for John and our three, it was all ready and filed with the judge when the MCO stepped in. I can create another set, I already have the template on my laptop here. I just need to fill in the correct details, get Doctor Mackay to sign it, then I can witness it and it's all ready for a judge."

"You can do that tonight?" Ms. Fields asked wide-eyed as Julie just nodded. "Can you come with us to the Family Court tomorrow?" Ms. Fields begged Doctor Mackay.

"Tomorrow's Sunday," Julie reminded the excited DoCS agent.

Frowning, Ms. Fields pulled out her phone, and after a few taps stared at it. Finally she turned to Julie. "Can you get me the documents as soon as you've finished with them. I have the number for a Judge's clerk, I might be able to organise something ..." she mused.

"You have a Judge's clerk's phone number?" Julie drawled with a smirk and raised eyebrow.

Ms. Fields blushed. "He might have invited me out for a drink a couple of times," she mumbled.

"Just a couple?" Julie sniggered, causing Ms. Fields to turn totally red in embarrassment. Still smiling, Julie nodded. "OK," she promised. "Let me get my laptop and I'll go through it right now with Doctor Mackay and get it done. You," she smirked at Ms. Fields. "Go give yourself an excuse to buy that party dress I saw you eyeing yesterday," she ordered, laughing outright at the fiery red face of the other young woman.

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John watched through the window as a different Judge from the Family Court grilled Doctor Mackay, finally nodding and reaching forward to start signing the documents. Sighing he turned to Julie. "At least she's safe from the MCO now," he murmured. "Any chance it'll be as fast on Monday for our three?"

Julie shook her head and reached out to hug herself tight to him. "I'm sorry, but no. I don't even know what I'm going to do! Indiya has agreed to meet with me tomorrow at her firm's Parramatta offices, and we're going to see what we can find in the law library there."

"So, don't expect you back early then?" John teased.

Julie shook her head solemnly. "I'll be there early and probably not back until really late, don't wait up for me," she warned him.

John sighed and returned to watching the boardroom, where they seemed to be finishing. Mrs. Farnst was thanking the judge and clerk as Doctor Mackay stood in front of the large screen, clutching the papers to her chest and crying as she watched the monitors from the ICU. "At least something good came of today," he remarked as Ms. Fields and Mrs. Farnst stepped up to congratulate Doctor Mackay. "Even if it doesn't help us, we've kept the MCO from doing the same to another child. Come on," he gave Julie a quick hug and nodded the girls towards the boardroom door. "Let's congratulate the new mother."

Walking into the room, Julie was surprised when the judge looked up and smiled, immediately standing to make his way over to her. "Congratulations Ms. Havelock," he stated holding out his hand to her. "There was quite the crowd yesterday watching your performance, I even got to see a few minutes of it myself between cases, I was quite impressed. Which law firm are you with?"

"None sir, I'm a country solicitor." Julie explained nervously.

The judge raised an eyebrow in surprise. "If you have any friends, you might want to reach out to them ..." the judge started when Julie smiled at him.

"I already have Sir," she assured him. "My roommate while I was studying at Sydney University, Indiya ..."

"Young Tom our new clerk's girlfriend?" The judge enquired, before smiling at Julie rueful acknowledgement. "Well well, I'm impressed. From what I've heard she's quite the talent herself. I look forward to seeing more of your performance on Monday then!" Smiling, and with a polite nod to John and the three girls, the judge took his leave and left.

John gave Julie a questioning look. "Watching good lawyers argue cases is a spectator sport amongst the legal profession," Julie explained with a shrug before going over to congratulate the new mother.

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Endgame

Early Sunday Morning, Office Law Library Parramatta

"Well, what did your boyfriend suggest? Was he really the one looking after my case?" Julie asked Indiya after she guided her through all security for her law firm and let her into the law library for their Parramatta office.

Taking a seat beside her at the large table in the middle of the book lined room Indiya laughed. "No, he was just one of the spectators, looking in because when he saw your name on the court docket, he remembered you were my uni roommate. He just dropped in to see how good you really were before gathering up the files and filing them as part of his duties. He called me to let me know you were in trouble."

"Thank you Indiya," Julie said, once again wrapping her friend in a hug. "I don't know how I'm ever going to repay you for helping me like this," she sniffled.

"Hey girlfriend," Indiya replied returning the hug. "That's what friends do for each other."

Julie hugged her once more then let go and sat back. "So, what mistakes did you boyfriend explain I made?" she asked bluntly.

"Actually, he was impressed," Indiya replied. "No really! Many things you did impressed him, but particularly how you went for the throat when they used 'more testing' as an excuse for an adjournment to prevent you winning. Forcing them to try and prove inadequacies in testing to get it, then only allowing them to retest with a Mage when they got the adjournment on the technicality that no Mage tested the girls already, and forcing the testing to take place again at Westmead Hospital as that was the 'testing centre of record'. He was also impressed that you fought for, and won, the extension of John's GAL status until the new court date."

Julie sighed and closed her eyes briefly. "None of that was tactical," she finally explained to Indiya. "I didn't do any of that to win! I was just trying to protect the girls. We've all heard stories about MCO testing centres, I didn't want the girls near one! And I just fought for the GAL to make sure John could be there with me and the girls during the testing yesterday, and that the girls would stay with us and not be taken off to foster care or something!"

"True, but it was still very effective and very good legal strategy Julie. You have a great legal mind, a real feel for the thrust of legal argument! All we need do today is plan out an effective strategy for you to argue tomorrow!"

Julie sighed. "First, tell me why are they trying to blacken John's name through the media like they are?"

Inviya cringed. "It's part of a two stroke strategy. First making John 'unappealing' as a guarding for the girls. Judges aren't supposed to be swayed by outside influences, but everyone knows at least something will get through, even if only subconsciously. It doesn't matter if it's true or not, nor even if the judge know it's not true, it only matters that there is now doubt entering the judges mind, and the scum can exploit that."

Julie reluctantly nodded her understanding. "And the second part?"

"They are the MCO. They are chartered by the UN to look out for the interests of Mutants." Julie snorted. "No really, they are. According to their UN charter they are supposed to be a protective and advocative organisation for Mutant needs, as such it could be argued that the MCO are the correct choice for guardianship for all orphaned Mutants."

"Well, that's a surprise. How have the MCO managed to become almost exactly opposite to their supposed 'United Nations Mandate'?"

"Really? The United Nations? A place that has countries like China, Russia, Zimbabwe and Libya in its Commission on Human Rights? Allows these countries to chair the Commission on Human Rights? Are you kidding me?" Julie blushed as Indiya's world weary tones beat down on her idealism.

"So what can I do?"

"First, slam down and close any attempt by them to try and discuss John's character, then we'll need to ..." Indiya leaned in, enthusiastically outlining what they needed to do.

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Late Sunday Night, Office Law Library Parramatta

Very little of that enthusiasm was left as Indiya leaned back in her chair with a sigh and stared at the ceiling, a concerned look on her face. On the largest table in the law library, they had spread around them many heavy books of law as well as an avalanche of paper notes, here and there interspersed with the remains of multiple takeout meals.

Even after an all day session of brainstorming and searching through the books of case histories, a total solution to their problem had remained elusive. While they now had strategies and solutions to many of the arguments that had been used against her already, Julie hadn't seen a solution to the main problem that the MCO had deep pockets, and anytime they sensed the judge might be become favourable to Julie's arguments, they'd find a new way to force an adjournment and use the time to research and prepare a new avenue of attack.

"I know that look," Julie confronted her friend. "You have something to say and are afraid I won't like it. Spit it out, we don't have time to be delicate here, the case resumes tomorrow at 10am, and after all day of looking I still I have nothing to go on here!"

Indiya turned to Julie and nodded. "I know a way for John to get the girls, but I don't think you'll like it."

"You do!" Julie exclaimed. "What is it? I'll do anything!"

Leaning forward again Indiya pulled a photo over, the devil-silk from Wolfram & Hart. "Our problem is, as good as you are, he's better," Indiya waved the photo while Julie nodded dejectedly. "But that's not because he is a better lawyer then you, it's because he has an entire firm to back him, with as many other solicitors and legal aids as he needs. There's no way the two of us can beat that."

"So how do we win?" Julie demanded.

Indiya smiled. "By turning it into a clerking battle, not a lawyer one," she smiled.

Julie blinked and frowned. "But you just said that his advantage is all his staff!" she bleated confused.

"In a straight up legal fight, yes it is. It's us two against all of Wolfram & Hart. But if we can get the case adjourned, then it becomes a clerking battle about when the case is heard again, and while we can't replace you as the lawyer for the case, there's absolutely no reason my firm can't look after the paperwork for you ..."

"So it becomes a case of two big firms fighting it out with court filings rather then a court case!" Julie exclaimed in joy. "Oh Indiya, that's perfect!" She exclaimed diving to give her friend a hug.

Letting Indiya go, Julie sat back in her seat. "Why did you think I wouldn't like this?" she asked, starting to gather up their papers and books, quickly shifting to the side books and papers for their previous abandoned ideas.

Indiya reached out and clasped her friend's hands. "They won't give up," she warned her. "This isn't a win, it's a stalemate. All we can hope to do is stall the trial for two years until the girls are sixteen, after that they get a say in who they go to that the Judge cannot ignore. He'd only be able to award them against their wishes if the guardian was proved incapable of looking after them."

"Yes, but that's not a worry," Julie affirmed. "Stacy thinks of John as her big brother, she'll always chose him, and the other girls will stay with Stacy," Julie happily explained, continuing to gather her papers.

Indiya reached out and captured Julie's hands again, forcing Julie to face her. "Julie, this is not a win. What we'd need to do is start tomorrow by getting John made foster carer for the girls for 'the duration of the trial', and then we need to force an adjournment to 'have enough time to adequately respond to the allegations and organise character witnesses', and get it to be an open-ended adjournment, one without a set resume date for the trial."

"OK, that all seems doable," Julie agreed. "We will have to hide your involvement in the case until the adjournment has been agreed, otherwise Wolfram & Hart might smell a rat, but ..."

"Julie! He'll only get them as a foster parent, a Guardian ad litem! It'll be under DoCS and court scrutiny all the time, he ..."

Julie reached out and stopped her friend. "I understand Indiya, I really do," she assured her softly. "But they'll be together, they'll be with John and me. They'll be out of the hands of the MCO." Julie sighed and smiled fleetingly at her friend. "Indiya, I really do appreciate what you're saying, but I can't beat this guy! They'll win if we don't do this! It's not ideal, it's not what we want, but it gives us the girls and that's the only thing that matters at the moment!"

Indiya nodded resignedly. "What are you going to tell John? What are you going to tell the girls?"

Julie shrugged. "The truth. This is the only way I know how to keep them out of the MCOs hands, and safe with me and John."

With a sigh, Indiya stood to give her friend a tight hug, before finally both of them returned to clearing space on the table to start planning out their new strategy for the morning.

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Mid-morning Monday. Parramatta Family Court 1

"Did we win? It doesn't feel like winning," John mused as he stood hugging Julie at the lawyer's table, the three girls tightly hugging her too.

"It's a win. We got the girls, not as we wished, but they stay with us," Julie confirmed leaning tiredly against John. "Indiya has promised her firm can tie up the paperwork for at least the two years it'll take for the girls to turn sixteen, and after that they get to say who they wish to stay with, and the judge can only assign against that if it's proved their choice is legally not of a fit state to care for them."

"But I won't adopt them?" John confirmed, sighing at Julie's dejected agreement. "And we haven't forced a precedent against the MCO being 'guardians' of orphaned Mutants?" Again Julie reluctantly shook her head.

Pushing back from John, Julie moaned at a summons from the court clerk, waving to her from the door the judge had left through. "Lets go fill out the paperwork," she sighed gathering up her papers and putting them neatly in her bag. "Lets see if that will make it feel more of a victory."

"I know what'll feel like a victory," John stated taking her bag from her. "Getting in the Land Cruiser and driving home with the girls safely in the back seat. That'll feel like a victory."

Chuckling softly Julie put her arm around her boyfriend, and the other on Stacy's shoulder and led them through to the Judge's chambers to sign the foster papers.

 

Comments   

0 # alisa28 2017-01-25 19:29
Hope this legal challenge ends with a swift kick to the MCO's butt!
Wondering if; Rebecca's going to get involved with feisty pixies?
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0 # Phoenix Spiritus 2017-01-25 23:14
Well ... I do have some more Rebecca written.
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0 # alisa28 2017-01-26 01:04
Feel free to post..ANYTIME!!
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