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“Home” coming

The four of us were too wrapped up in what we were doing to notice just how many people had shared our moment.  Hope, Jacky and Shell still tease me about the audacity of the meek.
To this day I’m glad our extended families had our backs until we were truly ready to handle everything the world threw at us.  We’d had no idea what we’d let ourselves in for.  But in the end, would those who opposed us have really wanted us to know they were coming so we could be ready in advance?

From an interview with Rionnagh Cheshire Scott


Sometimes you don’t want to fix crazy.  You want to grab onto it and enjoy the ride.

Artemis

Cheshire

It wasn’t long after we said our “oath” that Kim and Rachelle came to get us.  After being introduced to Elspeth, Hana, Marion and their families they led us down a hallway to a small conference room where two figures were waiting.  Kitsune, Astra and Shell followed behind.
The one barely had time to turn around before my arms were around her neck in a hug. “Ruth!!  You’re back!”  
As Kim did introductions behind me, Ruth wrapped her arms around me and squeezed back. “Chuckle.  It’s only been two days Cachorra.”  She nuzzled my forehead, “But I’ve missed you too.”  She gave me a thump on the back before setting me down.  “I’m back, but not 100 percent yet, so I have maybe an hour before having to return to rest form.  So we need to go back soon.” She paused to brush a lock of hair back and tuck it behind my ear.  “On that subject, Dr. Brock has something for you.”
Dr. Brock smiled in greeting, “Hello again young lady.  Ruth and Evelynne tell me you’ve been busy.”
I smiled back, “It’s mostly been a good busy.” I bit down on a giggle as Shell rolled her eyes.  
“Chuckle.  Anyway.” He said as he pulled a leather pouch from his pocket, “This is for you.”  Handing it to me he continued, “Other than myself you are the only one who can use it.”  
I could feel something solid inside the pouch as I turned it over in my hands.  Reading the lettering I asked, “Little Yggdrasil? What is it?”
Dr. Brock had a twinkle in his eye, “Open it and tell me.”
I gave him a wary look I pulled the pouch open and slipped what looked like a metal casting of a tree part way out of the pouch.  “Looking” closer at it I could see a glowing framework within the metal.  Pulling it the rest of the way out I found that the “roots” of the tree were the bars of a tuning fork. “OH!”
I closed my eyes and gently tapped the forks on the palm of my hand and listened to the tone it produced.  Opening my eyes I could see a translucent image of a door with a bas relief of the tree on it.  In a large arc in front of it  were arches similar in size to the recessed alcoves in this room.  Looking back at the door, just before the image faded, I caught sight of my crest.
I was in awe of the gift he’d given me. “A key. You finished it?”  Looking around at the people gathered I asked, “How many people can we bring with us?”
Dr. Brock smiled, “To the first?  Yes.  To the second?  Only the base features; Tokki is working on installing the flowerbeds, gardens, orchards and vineyards.  To the third?  We have 100 passes but only 20 tokens for breakthroughs.”
Astra stepped forward, “Why the passes Dr. Brock?”
Dr. Brock nodded to her, “For security reasons, Ms. Corrigan-Miyamoto.  As Ms. Scott has been informed, the world is doubly dangerous for those of us that can bridge locations at will.  For me, my little corner of reality serves the same purpose as your Dome.  I admit my passes allow me to track the wearer, but without them the security I have in place will throw out any intruder.  If they are lucky they will end up someplace hospitable on Earth.  If not they are thrown adrift to land where they may.
Astra’s face was grim, “And the tokens for breakthroughs?”
Dr. Brock matched her look for look, “To provisionally allow those not connected to my collection of realms to use their abilities while there.”  Astra gave him a shocked look. “If you are thinking that means that any breakthrough without a token would be low jacked you would be correct.”  He frowned before continuing, “According to Dr. Harte I share at least one trait with Lady Ozma.  I am good, but if you threaten those I care for, do not expect me to be nice.”
Astra closed her mouth and shook her head as if gathering her thoughts, “Provisionally?”
Dr. Brock explained, “The tokens and passes can detect intent.  If the wearer intends harm to my realm or one connected to it within its boundaries, they cease to function.  Attempting to analyze it or copy it in any way results in the same.  As does intending to provoke another wearer into a violent action.  I include mental manipulation and coercion in this restriction.  Sigh. It still needs fine tuning, but we can discuss the excuses used by those that think ‘the rules shouldn’t apply to them’ later.”
He took a look at Shell’s belligerent expression and added, “Don’t worry Ms. Boyer.  Honest retaliation for tickle fights is permitted.”
Despite the situation Astra smirked, and I had to smother a giggle at Shell’s expression.  She caught the twinkle in my eye and stuck her tongue out at us.  She huffed when I returned it with a smile.
Dr. Brock clasped his hands together, “Now to better explain.  I had an interest in learning about Ms. Scott’s range of abilities so I solicited a contract with her guardians to create a place for her to stay.”  He turned to me and bowed.  “And I apologize Rionnagh, I did use the opportunity to test how well the passes will work, so they will only function in the arboretum.  Which reminds me.  No one that intends to come is allergic to bee stings are they?  No? Good.”  Looking back to me he nodded, “When you are ready young lady.”
I picked an arch and was just about to tap the key on my hand when a thought occurred to me.  The tone hadn’t been a “sound”.  I could “hear” magic; could I “speak” it?  If only for this?  “Oh well.  If it doesn’t work I can pretend I was just hesitant.”  
Taking a deep breath I brought the tone to mind and “sang” it.  The tone reached out and the image, of what I now realized was basically a courtyard, formed again.  In a bizarre version of echolocation the tone fluoresced off of the alcove and produced an echo in a courtyard arch.  When I willed them to line up the view into the alcove was simply replaced with one of a wood floored courtyard and facing me was the door that I was guessing led to my tree house.  I blinked, just a slight “press” and I was holding open a portal to Dr. Brock’s pocket reality as easily as I was breathing.
Without looking back I stepped through.  Gazing left and right I realized how right I’d been.  The door was set into the trunk of a very wide tree.  A twenty meter wide ramp led up to my right and down to my left pausing every ten meters vertically to level out at a “deck” to grant access to a balcony, maybe four meters wide, before continuing on.  Trunklike “posts” along the outside of the wider ramp held it up.  Looking closer I realized that there was actually a channel next to the outer rail, sunken into the surface of the ramp, with a brook running in it linking cascades and small pools of water.  “It looks like it runs the entire ramp!”
Floating up and turning around I could see that there were other trees here, the closest about a hundred meters away.  Smaller than the one I was next to, they looked to be about fifty meters thick.  Their ramps were smaller and the balconies were absent.  Following the trunks up I saw a network of branches about two hundred meters above me that seemed to connect every trunk to every other.  The scale of the space stunned me. You could fit a football field and a decent sized stadium between any four trunks here.
I was thinking the trees went beyond my visual horizon until I saw the figure next to a thicker trunk a mile away.  She was wearing a blue dress, had flowing white hair and was floating above a set of arches.  Lighting my wings and shifting position confirmed it.  “Yep that’s me.”  Paying attention to my “sight” I could make out that this “room” was a mile wide each way by two high.  Outside of the trunks it was separated into sixteen “floors”.  Inside the trunks…. I lost count.  I was in awe.  Tokki Sif had designed what was basically a self contained arcology with twenty-five two mile high towers and Dr. Brock had crafted it in under three days.  I could also see the Tokkis that were in the process of planting the garden areas.  It was going to take them a while, until then most of what could be seen was dreamcrafted.  Dr. Brock and Sif had included “flowers” that, in addition to providing variety to the visual landscape, would tide over the little glowing clouds of bees from the apiaries that Tokki had already placed until the real plants started blooming.
“UHumm-hum.” Dr. Brock cleared his throat to get my attention. “All of our guest are here, Ms. Scott.  Are you ready?”
Looking down I could see everyone had come through and were spaced around the courtyard.  I returned the key to the pouch, carefully tucking it into my sash, before closing the gate as I descended to land in the space next to the “front door”.  Taking in the expressions of confusion and awe in front of me I had to suppress a giggle.  Grandma Alice and Daddy just watched me and smiled at my delight and the joke we were sharing.
Letting my inner imp take control I stood straight and addressed the group.  “Good evening everyone,  thank you for joining us.  I am Rionnagh Cheshire Scott and I will be your hostess.  On behalf of New Underland I would like to welcome you to the extrareality pocket that is the Little Yggdrasil arcology.” I gestured at the vista around us and bowed.  “We hope you enjoy your visit.”
Roars of laughter broke out around me, literally in Ruth’s case as she involuntarily shifted back to her rest form.  Elspeth and Marion ran up to hug me while Hana adopted a more dignified pace.  Behind her, her Grandmother caught my eye and gave a slight nod of approval.  Astra and Shell’s jaws hung open.  
Shell recovered first. “An extrareality forest?”  Shaking her head she added.  “This place is huge!”
I kept one eye on Dr. Brock while I replied, “An extrareality simulation of a mythical forest and, while large, it is not as big as it tries to appear.” I gestured toward where I could see our group a mile away both directions. “As those of you with the vision to see detail at this distance can tell that is actually this group you see at the wider tree.  The arcology measures a mile in each direction laterally and if the intervening floors weren’t in the way you would see that it measures two miles vertically for slightly over five cubic kilometers in total volume.  Exterior to the towers we have a total of 16 floors.  The interior of the 24 smaller towers each have 640 floors while the main tower we are adjacent to has 320.”  I attempted to stay serious but my tails were betraying me by refusing to hold still.
Dr. Brock’s eyes twinkled, “Well my dear, I believe it is time to show our guests inside.”
“Of course, Dr. Brock.” I nodded and turned to the door.  Seeing the panel to the side with its arrangement of buttons I mentally shook my head.  He had it set up so you could access every “tree” and floor separately.  “I know I suggested it but I think he went overboard for the first attempt.”  Fortunately it was easy to deduce the floor designated as mine.  I had to admit, it was so simple I may have made it look like I knew what I was doing the whole time.
Then I had to clamp down on a snort of laughter as the door opened by sliding to the side without a sound.  Dr. Harte must have told Dr. Brock about the doors in the dome and he’d cheekily replicated the apparent function here.  Then I stepped through and nearly forgot I wasn’t alone.  The door had opened into a den/bar/lounge area that was one of four large, equally sized spaces on this level.  Measuring more than eighty feet each direction they all had overhanging loft/balconies that added half the space again to the floor area.  
There had to be more than two acres of living space on this level alone and it included a circular, seventy foot diameter, pool in the center.  An open shaft went up nineteen more levels to what I realized was the bottom of another pool.  Only the first balcony of the shaft had decorative plants but as I looked around I realized they’d managed to furnish this floor, including some indoor plantings, to the point that it didn’t feel sparse.  Breathing deep I realized they had to have finished within the last hour or two.  I could still smell dust that hadn’t settled.  Two groups of Tokki in professional uniforms stood to one side.  One group was dressed as staff and was loosely spread around the lounge.  The closer group looked to be guides and the one closest to me gave me a wink.  The tablet she was holding was labeled Sif.
I’d managed to take all of this in quickly enough to turn and be ready as the last of the group entered.  Swallowing past the lump in my throat I continued,  “This is the point at which I admit to having reached the limit of my information.  I will now turn you over to Sif and her design team.  Please direct any questions pertaining to the arcology to them.  Thank You.”

Tokki Astrid

I had a sad smile on my face as I watched Cheshire.  The poor munchkin had nearly fainted at the sight of her “tree” house.   I introduced myself smiled as she welcomed me to the table she and her friends had been settled at.  She always made a point of addressing each of me by our chosen name.
 Despite the fact that every me I had was at least slightly different in personality and interests than any other me, I was/we were a redux, and we were used to being addressed as Tokki or even “Hey you.” and it would be understandable if she did as well.  That she made the effort to “know” each one of me left me/us as feeling as warm and fuzzy inside as she was on the outside.  As a result I/we on the design team may have overdone with our thanks.
“Well Rionnagh I take it from your expression that you didn’t quite expect this?”  I teased her as she sipped the drink Ginger brought her.
She shook her head, “I had hoped for something maybe the size of my rooms at The Dome, in a tree maybe fifty feet tall, next to a pool or pond with a gate to Tygeara’s grotto.  The whole thing wouldn’t have been as big as the floor I have here.”
I paused before taking a drink from the glass I’d brought with me. “The ‘floor’ you have here?” I watched as her eyes became saucers.  “Rionnagh, we set aside everything from this floor up to just below the next pool for you and your guests.”  Yep we had definitely over done it.  
Her voice was a squeak as she tried to grasp the information. “Why?  How am I going to use so much space?”
I smiled, “For now?  You and your friends are young why not use them as a place to further your education and training?  With your ability to go nearly anywhere you want it would be no problem for you to do the less energetic things here and then hop out to designated firing ranges for when you go all out. ”
 I watched Cheshire relax as she got over the initial shock and started thinking again.  “I wonder if Dr. Brock could set up a pocket to repair itself after it’s been damaged.  Kind of like Tygeara’s larder, except instead of replacing the material consumed it would renew the features damaged by training.  It would be even better if he could make it with variable weather and terrain.”  
She sighed, “I’m being terrible.  As convenient as it would be to have our own danger room, I’m sure there are far better uses for the power it would take to set up something both big enough and with different permissions than are in effect here.”
I swirled the ice in my glass as I responded, “I don’t know that he couldn’t do it.  After all, until you came along with your suggestion, he’d balked at doing this for over a year.  Now that his part in it is mostly finished we need a new project to bug him about.”
A chuckle rumbled from behind me, “Heh.  It wasn’t enough to be the annoying older “sister”.  Now you’ve thrown in with Shell on being a bad influence.”  Ruth leaned over and nuzzled Cheshire’s forehead.  “Hey cachorra, I’m not as recovered as I thought and I need to go get a quick bite.  I was wondering if you wanted to walk me out.”
Cheshire frowned.  “Oh okay.” Her tone wasn’t happy, no surprise there, but she set her drink down and stood, taking Ruth’s hand when she offered it.  I could see her struggling to keep her ears up... for the first few steps at least.  At that point Ruth pulled her out of line with the door and began leading her a new direction.  Suddenly her ears were perked forward and you could see the twitching start in her tails.
I smiled and looked at the youngsters at the table.  Their eyes were all wide with curiosity.  Catching the eye of Hana Ehara’s grandmother, I made sure to pitch my voice so she could hear. “Would you three young ladies like to see where they are going?”  Hana barely looked at her grandmother long enough to see her nod her approval before getting out of her chair.  Elspeth and Marion had stood and taken a step before looking to their uncles and waiting for their permission as well.
While the parentals followed behind, Elspeth and Marion grabbed my hands to follow Hanna,    who’d managed to get to Cheshire and take her hand while our backs were turned.  Laughing I allowed them to hurry me along until we caught up to the trio in front of us.  
Walking to the left we passed through an archway and a short series of planters and fountains that completely screened off the area we walked into.  This was the “little” corner we’d set up as the munchkin’s private space.  The two story “apartment” that took up half of the area was the size of a mansion.  Private kitchen, dining room, living room and a gaming/movie area, open to the second level on the lower floor and bedrooms, library/study area and viewing balcony on the second floor.
The other half was a courtyard lit to make it look like a clearing hidden in the woods, including a woodland pond taking up the back corner, and several thermal soaking pools that drained into said pond.  In a “nook” there was a futon bed big enough to make Ruth’s rest form look small and it was piled high with pillows.  One whole wall was actually a projection screen that could turn the nook into a private theater and even though it was in the part of the courtyard closest to the center of the “tree”, it was separated by a floor to ceiling wall.  The only open side was an arch facing the “pond”.
The pond is what Ruth currently led us to.  She put her hand on a post next to the pond and beneath the water a light shimmered, revealing a short tunnel that led down into the depths of her grotto.  Bending down she nuzzled Cheshires ear again and murmured. “See lucecita, we did not forget.”  Cheshire gave her a quick hug making her chuckle. “Heh.  I won’t be long.”  Ruth stepped back into the pond before turning and diving down into the depths.  
Cheshire watched Tygeara until she touched an underwater projection and the view of the tunnel disappeared, leaving just the pond.  She gave a start as Hana spoke beside her, “You certainly have some amazing friends Rionnagh-chan.”
Cheshire reached and took her hand, “Hai Hana-chan I do, and they all have their own special place in my heart.” She reached her free hand to Elspeth and Marion,  “Every one of them.”
“Oh now that is just too darling for words.” I could almost feel my teeth ache from the sweetness as the four of them wrapped each other in a hug.  
The next hour was spent in negotiations as the munchkins tried and succeeded to get what turned out to be the first sleepover for all of them.  It didn’t take them long to figure out that we’d planned on the possibility.  After all, despite the extravagance of Cheshire’s new home, there weren’t many reasons to keep a walk in closet stocked with a rainbow of yukatas in four different sizes.  Given how many of me there were the end result was me getting a lot of hugs of my own.  
Ruth returned in time to join the discussion and weigh in on the choice of chaperones.  In the end Fuji Ehara would leave Kabe, Mizu and Hi no tori from her security detail to pull shifts, while Father Anderson and Father Hadid were satisfied that Ruth and I would provide support as needed.
Shell, Astra and Kitsune along with myself and Ruth played aunties and uncle to the munchkins for the next two hours as everyone relaxed before the adults not staying headed off to their hotels.  Ruth stayed until the munchkins had fallen asleep before heading off for another feeding.  When I checked in on them ten minutes later I sniffed the air, “That’s funny.  I swear I can smell cherry blossoms.” I shook my head, “I must be more tired than I thought.  I’d better ‘call in’ a replacement.”

Dr. Adam Brock

As I reached the top of the hill the four children were following Kitsune around a bend in the path on their way to wherever the stream flowed.  My hostess turned to greet me as I approached.
Her voice was warm as she spoke, “Welcome, young crafter.  I have been watching you for some time.”
I bowed deeply as I replied,  “It was a great honor to receive your invitation.  I could not refuse.”
“Why not?  You have many times before.”  
Her eyes danced as she watched me.  A teacher teasing a student.  She already knew the “why”.  I answered anyway. “You were not the only one watching.  Kabukicho was none to pleased when I won the bet and escaped him the first time.  Part of him has been lurking ever since.  It is because of his obsession with my ‘vision’ that I stopped attending anything resembling a theater.  Three times he almost had me but there are no glowing koi in your stream.” I turned the business card, with its blossoming cherry tree and multi tailed fox logos, over in my hands.  “Your Kitsune was more persuasive, and far more pleasant to converse with.”  
She laughed, “Wonderful.  You have considered our proposal then? Are the terms acceptable?”
“I have considered it.  Though I am reluctant to agree to the terms.”
She raised an eyebrow, “Oh?  Did you not find them generous enough?”
I smiled sadly, “My pardon, Lady Kannon.  My reluctance stems from my questioning whether I am worthy of such generosity.  Sigh, I will do my best to merely give them a positive learning environment.  That is the only promise that I can make.”
Kannon nodded. “Then we have a compact.  I have been watching you, Adam the Crafter, longer than you realize.  You were never one to take the easy way if it wasn’t the right way.”  Her smile brightened the sunrise. “As your gift to Rionnagh exemplifies.”
“Heh, point taken.  Sif and her team had been bugging me for months to create an arboretum.  One innocent little question from Rionnagh and over half of the logistics were solved.  I wouldn’t be surprised if something she said is behind the sketches I saw Sif’s team playing with this evening.” I shook my head. “If that is the case I should be getting back.  But now that I know the path here I would like to return from time to time.” Bowing, I continued,  “With my lady’s permission.”
Kannon smiled, “Permission granted, for both your leave and your repeated returns.”  Handing me a jade case, she nodded her leave and turned to walk down the path the children had taken.
I did not need to open the case to know what I’d find.  A silk cloth folded around petals from cherry blossoms.  Together they contained enough power to complete the training area and leave just recruiting the needed instructors.  What Tokki jokingly called the New Underland education system would be a reality.  
I slipped it into my pocket as easily as I slipped back into the arboretum.  Ruth looked back at me from the darkness behind the children where she’d curled protectively around them.  I nodded to her before I stepped forward to brush a lock of Rionnagh’s hair back from where it was tickling her nose.  I only paused a moment to study the glow from the charms on her necklace.  I found it was emanating from petals that had  somehow found their way inside the sealed vials.
I smiled.  “Sleep well, young dreamers.  The future will be on your shoulders.”   In her own way Kannon had set me a challenge.  Her protections were in place, now it was time to see what I could do to make sure they never needed to be used.  
Leaving them to the care of their “Den mother” I prepared to do just that.  

DSA Field Report: Agent Smith
Mama Bear Incident

Okay Boss our people have gone over the video and here’s their best guess.  We were moving on the information gathered by Galatea and Orb that indicated that the Oregon chapter of Humanity First had been infiltrated by a breakthrough-backed child porn ring when we got the word that the leaders, a husband and wife, were on the move and headed to the precinct where Mrs. Scott was being held.  We were just entering when all hell broke loose.
Turns out Mrs. Scott had broken through just minutes earlier, while drinking tea of all things.  Our local mentalist recognized the technique as one taught by a local meditative mixologist.  Seriously boss. Meditation by drinking.
Anyway, when the cops brought Mrs. Scott out, she waited until she was two steps from the husband before dropping her restraints and performing a seven-ten crush on his privates.  She then pulled an attending officer’s nightstick from his belt and fractured the husband’s skull before throwing it with enough force and accuracy to knock the wife senseless.  The wife had been waiting in the car, but timestamps show her rushing into the building shortly after Mrs. Scott was thought to have broken through.
This is where things went freaky.  The second the wife was stunned, half of the officers present jerked as if they’d been slapped.  Luckily an agent recognized the effects of mental manipulation and had a somnolence cap handy to slip over the wife’s head before she recovered.  The officers affected staggered around for a few minutes before recovering.
Mrs. Scott, however, was making a beeline for an officer not affected.  An officer that, instead of standing his ground, was trying to make his way out, along with several clerks and officials.  I’ll never forget it boss; there were multiple attempts to restrain her and to a one they failed.  It didn’t matter whether they tried to grapple her, cuff her or lock a door.  She’d slip free, pop the cuffs or simply turn the handle.
Luckily someone managed to hit the lockdown and seal everyone in.  The remaining suspects locked themselves in a conference room and attempted to flee out the window.  Team two had caught up with Mrs. Scott and she considerately opened said locked door for them and remained in the hall as they rounded them up.  Afterword she sat quietly in a holding room with an agent until we had things sorted out.
It was sick, Boss.  It turns out the wife was the only breakthrough in the ring, an A class mentalist.  It took repeated exposure over a day or two for her to get her hooks in but once she did she only needed to reset the hooks every four or five days.  She got the cops at a local coffee shop where she worked. They’d happen to stop in for coffee two or three days in a row and she’d have them.
And she would do anything to please her pedophile husband and his brother, who just happens to be the cop that tried to flee.  You heard right Boss; the husband was the pedophile.  The wife broke through to make sure he had anyone he wanted and his brother got the mothers.  Turns out several of the parents were willing accomplices as long as they could sample each others spouses.  Damn it Boss this is just plain ugly.  We have dozens of kids and good parents that are going to need years of therapy to recover from this.  Hell half of us that made the bust are going to need a few weeks ourselves.
As far as the bust goes we ended up field testing Mrs. Scott’s power, at her insistence.  Boss it borders on Deus ex machina.  If she wants to get somewhere no lock will stop her no automated system will target her, she’ll miss every tripwire and she can walk through a minefield without stepping on a mine.  Booby trap a door and she’ll open it, pick up the explosive, and chuck it into your bunker where you and your buddies are hiding.  If you just set a gun to fire randomly it will track around her or jam.  But you can shoot her; the woman went through three vests before she started trying to avoid gunfire, but if it’s not lethal she gets back up way faster than she should.  One of the wives mistakenly thought her husband was innocent, tased Scott and had herself taken hostage for her loyalty.  Scott grabbed the dropped taser, rammed it into the dirtbags groin and triggered it.  I think she made a point of holding him up until fear showed in his eyes.  We found out why when we searched his phone.  The bastard had been stalking Scott’s daughter at her school and taking pictures.
Since we finished up she’s been cordial but she has asked to be transported to Chicago to apologize to her family in person.  I’ve already scheduled a flight and an escort and if you want to tell her no, you can come here and do it.  I for one don’t want to see the look she had on her face that night directed at me.  


Epilogue

Rionnagh

Malcom and I were sitting in the Young Sentinels common area, just being there for each other.
We’d come back from New Underland this morning to find an escort of DSA agents posted at one of the visitors lounges.  We’d gone inside and found Seven guarding a woman sitting with her back to the door and watching news footage of us.  When the door closed behind us the woman gave a start.  She took a deep breath, stood up and turned to face us.  It was our mother.
It was so long before any of us spoke I had time to notice the bruising, the nicks, the cuts, and taser burns?
She spoke before we did.  “I’m sorry. So. So sorry.  I abandoned you, both of you.  I was so blind, so willing to only see the bad.  Sy... Rionnagh I’m so sorry I hurt you.”
Malcom’s voice was shaking with anger,  “Mother why are you here?  And why are you being guarded by the DSA?”
Her expression turned sad and haunted,  “I’ve been classified as a potential national asset and have been asked to undergo training.” Her laugh had no humor in it, “The irony of it.  All of my fear of uncontrolled breakthroughs and I end up dragging your sister into a situation where a ‘human’ controlled breakthrough caused suffering to dozens of people, most of them children.”  
She looked at Malcom with, was it pride? “What  was it you said in one of your interviews?  Powers are the same as a person winning a ton of money.  If that person uses it to help people, great.  If they decide to carve out their own kingdom at the expense of others, not so great.  Not eloquent but accurate.”
She turned to me, “And you, young lady.  So young, but so strong, so caring.  So beautiful, inside and out.”
I looked at her, “Mother what happened?  What do you mean potential asset?”
She turned to Seven and held out her arms toward him, “Young man if you would take the restraints you and my son have and use them on me please.”  
Seven glanced at Malcom and shrugged before pulling a set of standard cuffs out of his pocket and a set of blacklock thumb cuffs from Malcom, fastening them securely on mother’s arms and stepping back.
She waited a moment before asking, “Are you sure you secured them properly?”  Seven just raised an eyebrow at her.  Just before his jaw dropped as mother pulled the restraints off as easily as she would loose jewelry and set them on the table.  “Doors don’t fare any better.”
Malcom stammered, “ You’re,  You’re a breakthrough?  Since when?  And how did you get those injuries?”
“Since a little over a day ago.” She touched the burn marks on her neck, “I got these making my first payment.  The DSA is keeping it as quiet as possible and so far most of the details aren’t known to the public.”
She looked up at the sound of a knock at the door.  “It is time for me to go.  I have three years of mistakes to make up for.” She looked at the footage still playing. “I have two children that have proven themselves to be the stuff true heroes are made of.  The world had to kick your mother in the teeth to get her to see that.”  
She took a shuddering breath as tears streamed down her face, “I am proud of you both.  All I can say is I’m sorry and hope one day I’ll earn your forgiveness.”
The knock sounded again, “They’ve promised I’ll be able to call.  Will, will you accept them?”
Malcom looked from the restraints on the table to her before answering.  “We’ll take them.”  I barely managed to nod but it was enough.
She gave us a tremorous smile as she walked to the door and then she was gone.
Malcom and I had made our way down to the common room and simply sat at the table saying nothing.  Each of us processing what had just happened.  One thing I held onto was a glimmer I’d caught when we’d both said yes to taking her calls.  For one moment Malcom and I had had our Mommy back.

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Aftermath


The attacks targeted seven cities around the world that openly showed support for the TWB (Teachers Without Borders) cultural exchange program.  But even with 30 dead and 150 severely injured, Chicago suffered fewer losses than any other target, despite being hit by a force larger than those in the other cities combined.  The toll could have easily have been ten or even one hundred times or more higher if not for Cheshire.
The young lady has been credited with directly saving over 400 lives and indirectly assisting in saving hundreds more.  Recordings of her actions at the new Buckingham fountain stayed in the top five most watched clips for a week.  Not bad for someone on her second day after her breakthrough.

Terry Reinhold

Cheshire


I drifted to awareness at the touch of a warm breeze that was rustling grass and the sound of a brook happily burbling in it’s banks.  My head was on someone’s lap and a gentle hand was stroking my forehead.  Opening my eyes I could see the hand belonged to a beautiful Japanese or Chinese woman with long flowing hair.
“Greetings young lady, I am Kannon.  Since you were resting I asked Kitsune to show you the way to this place in the High Plane of Heaven so we could talk face to face.”
I blinked,  “Kannon?  I have a friend named Hana that has talked about a Celestial Kami by that name.”
She smiled down at me, “In answer to the question you haven’t asked. Yes, I am that Kannon.  If you are in China I am also Quan Yin.” chuckle, “You can ask Astra about it after you wake up.  
“Now, while you are here, what do you say to getting to know each other better.”
Wide eyed, I spun up onto my knees to face her.  A chance to talk with a very powerful resident of an Otherland?  Yes please.  She smiled at the excitement in my voice as I answered, “Yes. Please!  I would like that very much.”
After that we spent the time asking each other questions.  I asked her about her home and other “spirits” like her and she asked me about my studies and how, or even if, I was thinking of using my powers in the future.  It was a little strange but I suppose with my breakthrough,  strange was going to be par for the course.
It was a long time into our conversation when I noticed Kitsune had joined us as a seven tailed fox.  I went to bump noses with him in thanks for bringing me here… and ended up tripping on my yukata.  Why?  First, I hadn’t even realized I was wearing a yukata.  Second, I suddenly had two left, and right, feet.  Puzzled I rolled onto my back and held my paws/hands in front of my face as I switched back and forth between biped and quadruped.  The transition was smooth and effortless.  Had I “leveled up”?  Or had my body just finally adapted?
I turned to ask Kannon if she knew and ended up with a petal from a cherry blossom on the end of my nose.  A cherry tree stood where Kannon had been kneeling and petals were falling from the branches in a steady stream.  My vision let me see that Kannon and the tree were one and the same so after rubbing my cheek against her trunk I went full cub/kitten and started trying to catch the petals as they fell.  Her laughter floated on the breeze like an echo of the brook as she watched my antics.
I’d captured about dozen when Kitsune nuzzled my shoulder and whispered,  “All right Koneko.   It is time to wake up.  There are people here to see you.”
I let out a wide yawn as I stretched before rubbing the sleep out of my eyes with my paws.  Paws?  A mixed chorus of Awws, giggles and chuckles broke out as I peeked between my paws to see Daddy,  Grandma, Astra, Shell, and Quin.  I was just about to change to biped when I realized my gown was bunched up under the blanket.  I let out a “Meep!” and ducked under cover to a burst of laughter.
I shifted my form under the blanket and had just gotten my head and arms through the appropriate holes when I felt Kitsune, above the covers, get up and thump to the floor.  I shifted back to full size and peeked out in time to see him, in a very nice suit, walking around the end of my bed to join Astra.
I double checked to make sure I was presentable before pulling the cover back and sitting up.  Then I remembered last night and why I was in a hospital bed.  My ears went back and I started sobbing.  “I-I’m s-sorry Daddy.  Y-you and Grandm-ma Alice just got m-me back and I al-alm-most…”  
I didn’t hear the others leave as Daddy and Grandma Alice wrapped me in a hug.  “Shhh. It’s okay my Rionnagh.  You are safe now.”  Grandma crooned as she stroked my hair.  “I won’t pretend you didn’t give your father and me a few new gray hairs but you did nothing wrong.”  She hugged me close and kissed me behind the ear as I continued to sob.  “Oh my sweet little Rionnagh it is not fair that such a hard choice fell to one so young.  But you made that choice and you chose to save all of those people.  And with a little help, that is what you did.”  Grandma Alice drew a ragged breath before continuing,  “We are very proud of you.”  
After a few more minutes and several wet hiccups I was calm again.  “Sniffle.  They’re waiting for me aren’t they?” I asked.
Daddy nodded, “Yes sweetheart they are.”  He nodded to the pile of clothes on a chair next to the bathroom.  “How long do you think it will take you to get ready?”
I thought for a moment, “If the water pressure is good 15 minutes?”
He nodded,  “We’ll wait for you in the hall.”  Seeing my look he added, “Don’t worry.  There are chairs.”
With another kiss and hug to both of them I went to get scrubbed down and changed.  I wrapped the blanket around me for modesty and checked the clothes on the way to the shower.  They were one of the sets Donna had done, a dark blue skort with liner, a blue blouse and the sandals with the decorative greaves for footwear.  I frowned, the look would say grown up or professional.  Pbbbt, maybe I could keep from fidgeting long enough to pull of the look, maybe.
I’d closed the door and hung the blanket on the hooks provided and was working on the gown when I caught sight of my tails in the mirror. Tails plural.  Two of them.  Whether Kabe knew it or not he’d been right,  Neko kami, cat spirit.  I tried merging and separating the tails to prove to myself I could.  I didn’t know if I should be puzzled or pleased at that I could do one or two without effort but not three or more at all.  I sighed and then shrugged and continued getting ready, I’d figure out what to do later.  
I managed to shower in record time, but I ran into an issue with my Skort due to my tails.  The base of my twin tails was just enough thicker to be uncomfortable.  I growled softly, “Darn it.  It couldn’t wait until I’d had the clothing for a few weeks?” I huffed a bit before a thought struck me.  “Wait if my clothes adjust with me when I change size then maybe….”  I merged my tails to one so the skort fit properly and then visualized the skort adjusting when I split them into two again and,  “Yes!  Perfect fit.”  
I tried it a few more times to be sure I had the method down, but left them merged before stepping out and rejoining my family.  After grabbing a few more hugs to fortify myself I took their hands and followed Tim as he led us to the assembly room.

Tokki Kim

I watched as Rionnagh gaped a bit at the number of people as she was introduced.  Blackstone, Chakra, Astra, Shell, Ozma and Quin were here.  Along with Tommy Brannigan, Alex Chandler, Dr. Beth, Dr. Mendel, and Dr. Harte.
Once they were settled Blackstone stood up to address them.  “Thank you for joining us young lady.  On the behalf of the Sentinels, the Guardians and the city of Chicago I extend our gratitude to you and Tygeara for saving our city and our lives.  Without the two of you many if not all of the heroes in the city would have been dead when the Kaiju reached the harbor, making them unopposed as they burned the city to the ground.”
Rionnagh interrupted, “But…. but I didn’t do that much.  I just opened gates.  How did that protect the heroes?”
Blackstone laughed, “Didn’t do that much?  My dear girl you detected the Kaiju almost the moment they were portaled in and transported Tygeara within striking distance, and keeping them from reaching the city where stopping them would have done considerable damage.  Then you portal more than twenty vehicles and their passengers to safety, removing them from danger and thereby keeping the terrorists from using them as bait, enabling my teammates and the other guardians of the city to concentrate their efforts on shutting the attackers down.  You finish up by catching an airbus with over 300 people on it and ghosting it in for a safe landing.
True, you had help but NONE of it could have been done without you.  You and you alone were the difference that kept this from being a complete disaster.”
By the time he finished Rionnagh’s ears were flat against her head.  She’d gone from embarrassed straight to scared.  She managed to not stammer when she asked, “With all of the people recording what happened the leaders of the terrorists know that don’t they?  Is my family in danger?” She paused, “Will, will I have to give up the cultural program?”
I felt for the kid.  I could see she felt guilty asking about the program but I knew from looking at her records it was one of the few things that brought her stability over the last two years.  According to Ms. Hunter, the school counselor, as Sydney she’d had trouble making friends because of her mother’s Humanity first affiliation.  Students from both sides shunned her because, after an article damning the conviction of a “normal” vigilante, she’d made the mistake of asking, “If non-breakthroughs shouldn’t be held accountable for an action, why should a breakthrough be punished for the same action?”  Apparently neither side liked being reminded that no one was above the law.  
I made a mental note to send Ms. Hunter a donation for her efforts.  She’d created a place that taught children that discourse, not arguing, was what helped solve problems.  I brought my attention back to the room as they continued.
Blackstone’s tone was grim when he answered, “It is likely they know, yes.” Then a twinkle entered his eye as he continued.  “But Dr. Harte tells us that NU Inc. is willing to hire your father on as an on sight financial consultant.  And your grandmother is going to get that bakery she’s dreamed about.  Both will be well protected by the security already in place.”
I watched as she turned those wide eyes of hers on her father, “Daddy?”
I hid a grin as Mr. Scott explained the whys and whats of the offer to her.  As he talked Rionnagh’s ears came up and her eyes just sparkled.  Turning my attention to Alice I could see where she got them.  As far as Alice’s bakery went I was glad I’d be able to spread out the consumption, because the samples she’d whipped up in the Sentinels kitchen last night to calm her nerves had been Goooood.  
 Blackstone stepped back in, “As for the cultural program?  Not only do you get to keep participating, but there is talk of making you a guest of honor at the opening ceremony for this weekends conference.”
There were smiles around the table as Rionnagh’s eyes grew even wider.  All she managed to squeak out was, “Me? Why?”
Blackstone smiled wryly.  “Just something to do with saving the lives of three of the most influential supporters of the program.  You may have heard their names,  Fuji Ehara, James Anderson and Nicholas Hadid?  Between them they brought a granddaughter and two nieces.”
I could see Rionnagh’s eyes misting up as she replied, “Elspeth and Marion were on that plane?  Do, do they know it was me?”
Blackstone nodded, “I suspect they do by now.  They do have suites adjoining Hana’s at their hotel after all.  You will get to see them if you want but before that we have quite a tangle to sort out.”  He nodded to Legal Eagle and Mr. Chandler, “Gentlemen if you would?”
I watched as Legal Eagle went over the labor laws and what they meant for Rionnagh.  He emphasized that they were getting a pass on the events of yesterday only because she’d volunteered, and no one had known the extent of her ability.  No one was in trouble but once Rionnagh’s age came out critics were going to scream child endangerment and child labor very loudly anyway.
Then Chandler made his pitch.  Since she’d been wearing her Astra inspired costume he offered her a position as Kid Mascot to the Sentinels.  Brannigan and Chandler were pros and they’d have all of the i’s dotted and t’s crossed but I worried about how the publicity would affect her.  I kept getting glimmers of a haunted look in Rionnagh’s eyes. She hadn’t been a breakthrough for two days yet but she was already set to be world famous.
Dr. Mendel must have seen something as well because she broke in to ask Rionnagh if she was alright.
Rionnagh gave a shaky smile, “Honestly?  Part of me wants to hide away for a week or more  and pretend none of this happened.  But that won’t solve anything and knowing that just makes it worse.  I know I need to face everything but there is so much so fast.” She pulled her feet up into her chair and hugged her knees to her chest as tears started to flow. “I n-need Ruth. I n-nne-eed.”
Astra rushed around the table to get to her.  As she got close, Rionnagh unfolded, shrank to four feet tall and clamped her arms and legs around Astra while hiding her face in her shoulder.  Mr. Scott held the chair still so Astra could sit with Rionnagh on her lap as the girl trembled with quiet sobs.  It was no wonder she’d wanted Ruth.  Judging by how her grip was compressing Astra’s costume Rionnagh was holding on for all she was worth.  Anyone with less than D class toughness would have been crushed.

Cheshire

Astra held me until my breathing became deeper and smoother, “Thank you Astra, I really really needed a solid anchor and with Ruth not here…”
“Shhh it’s okay,” She told me.  “I was almost twice your age when I broke through.  Realizing that my new strength meant much of the world was very breakable still hit me hard.”
I was shifting my grip to be over Astra’s shoulders instead of around her chest when I realized that being this short meant I couldn’t feel much difference between hugging Ruth or Astra.  My thoughts made it as far as,  “All Astra would need is a coat of fur and..” before I suddenly I broke out in giggles.
Astra tried to look serious as she took my face in here hands. “Rionnagh?  Are you okay?”
“Snerk,” I wiped tears from my eyes as I tried to explain. “Oh oh. I’m sorry. I just had the thought that with me at this size, Andrew would just have to make a furry jacket for you and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between hugging you or Ruth.” I paused to gasp for breath. “And and sud... suddenly I could see you in a fuzzy head.. head to toe Tygeara sleep jumper with just your face showing.  You were not happy.”
Chuckles and outright laughter broke out around the room.  A red faced Astra gaped at me until she got out, “Why you little….”
“Yeeeek, no!” I squealed as Astra started tickling me.  I squirmed and kicked my feet but I was laughing too hard to get away.  I heard a thunk just before I gasped out, “Uncle! uncle, uncle, uncle, UNCLE!!”
Astra stopped and as I gasped for air I looked over to the other side of the table to see Shell’s chair was empty and spinning slowly. Her howls of laughter were coming up from the floor.  
Astra looked at me, “Well? Are you feeling better now?”  
I giggled and sighed, “Yes much better thank you.”  Astra hugged me one more time before setting me down and walking back to her chair.  Meanwhile I returned to my full height and turned to Blackstone, Legal Eagle and Mr. Chandler,  “I’m sorry about the interruption.” I glanced over to where Astra was looking down at Shell.  “Ummm, should we retrieve Shell from the floor first or shall we continue without her?”
Shell managed to pull herself up into her chair as Legal Eagle went down the basic list in greater detail.  The hug and laughter had done a lot to let me step back and process everything as it came in and I found myself putting mental notes behind some of the examples.
Until I was sixteen I could only work from 7am to 7pm (9pm during the summer) and I was limited to 3 hrs a day during school days, 8 hrs non school days and 24 hrs (40 during the summer) per week.  It could also not be shown that any work I did interfered with my education. (“Keep my grades up. Got it.”)
I was currently limited to Acting (Publicity shoots, Pr events or actual acting. “Scary, but maybe fun.”),  Delivery (newspapers, baked goods and other light items), and yard work (raking leaves, shoveling snow, “getting kittys out of trees”).
At twelve I could work in an agricultural jobs such as the orchards in New Underland.  
At fourteen the jobs I could do expanded to things like clerical workers(“Yawn”), cashiers(“Meh”), cooks (in limited capacities)(“Baking is fun”), cleaners(“ick”), kitchen workers(“Dishes? Bleh.”), artists, creatives,(“Those are kind of the same aren’t they?”)or intellectuals(“Thank you for inviting me to speak today.  Hmmm maybe.”)
At sixteen I could participate in CAI activities that involved dangerous situations.  Fires, Floods, Landslides, Earthquakes, etc.  and I could work in manufacturing, mining, or construction(“Maybe I could work with The Crew as a mover.”).
I had to be eighteen before I could be knowingly deployed into a hostile situation where there was a real chance of injury or death. (“I might talk to SaFire about this.  Websites say she’s an EMT.”)

Legal Eagle looked up from his notes. “Now Ms. Scott I stress that this isn’t an exhaustive
list but does cover most of the points.  Do you have any questions?”
I thought back through the information to what I could legally do now and a light went on. “Mr.
Brannigan, do the laws prohibit using breakthrough powers to make deliveries?”
I could see Quin’s and Dr. Harte’s eyes light up as Legal Eagle answered.  “The only guidelines in place state the youth doing the delivery must be able to carry the item or items to be delivered.  A bicycle or cart is an acceptable aid and...” He smiled as he realized, “Why you clever little kitten.” He turned to Dr. Beth.  “Dr. Beth could you give us a quick rundown of Cheshire’s abilities?  Just how strong is she?”
Dr. Beth gave a wry smile. “Her lift capability is low C, about a medium or large moving van.  Given her age it is quite probable that will increase to solidly, or even maximum, C.  Flight and toughness are solidly C.  Senses are a variant of Atlas.  Hearing, smell and visual acuity are the same, but instead of seeing a broader spectrum, Ozma has informed me that Cheshire can see, smell and hear magic.  Which means she senses it more acutely than Astra could during the Villains, Inc. incident.  Given that she has displayed two alternate physical forms and can change her size I’d say she has C possibly B class Metamorph capabilities.  Finally, as a Jumper she has displayed more raw capability than I’ve ever seen.  Definitely A class.  The two things we don’t know is why she needs what Ozma calls ‘sympathetic gates’ and what her range is when she isn’t catching a plane to get there.” Dr. Beth’s dry humor elicited smiles and chuckles around the table.  
I just smiled and gave a bashful shrug before we continued.  I was much more confident now that I had an idea of the limits I needed to work within and enjoyed going over the options with Quin and Mr. Chandler.  By the time they called a stop we had drawn up a schedule of training and testing for the next two weeks, Including three or four public appearances and interviews.  I was going to argue for continuing but my stomach reminded me I hadn’t eaten since last night before the attack and it was almost  eleven now.  I did pause at that as I was hungry but not the hungry that I’d been since my breakthrough.  After yesterday I’d’ve though my stomach would’ve been roaring but I was just getting grumbling of the “You missed breakfast.” kind.
I thanked them for their time before we left to go to the Young Sentinels common room where Willis had a buffet ready.  Despite all of the greetings and congratulations I received I managed to get my food and begin eating.  In the background coverage of the aftermath of yesterday played on the big screen.  
I was just finishing my second plate when they began to replay clips of Tygeara’s fights.  I left my last bites on my plate as my fork fell from my trembling fingers.  I’d been too tired.  I hadn’t seen how badly she was hurt last night.  Her fight against the last Kaiju hadn’t gone well.  It was half again taller than her and while she was fighting it the submarine had ambushed her with missiles, hitting her in the arm, side and leg.  
After we watched her check on me and vanish, I rose to my feet and stumbled to my room, not hearing the questions and calls of concern.  Barely remembering to be careful, I fumbled my epad on and logged into my accounts.  I held my breath as I found and opened a new message from Ruth. Her tired human face greeted me as the message started playing.  “Hey Cachorra I hope this message finds you well.  I can’t hold this form long yet so I’ll have to be quick.  I’ve healed most of the damage from my fight but it completely drained my reserves.  So despite consuming my larder as fast as it can renew itself I still have about a day to go before I’ll be fit for ‘civilized’ company.  I’ll find out from Tokki where you are when I’m ready, until then be good and say hola to Danilo for me.  I love you Lucecita, take care.”
I sagged in relief and rested my head on my arms for a few breaths before drying my face, recording my response letting her know I was okay, and sending it.  I checked my other messages and answered texts from my exchange partners using the new avatar Shell had made for me, my star and disappearing eyes on a dark blue background.  Passing my fingers over it I looked at it in a new light.  Even if I couldn’t go to active zones until I was sixteen I could still do a lot of good.  The rear assembly areas should be secure enough for me to volunteer for “nonprofit” reasons.
A blinking message from Shell caught my attention.  “Hey you doing alright?”
The icon indicated she was live so I turned the audio on. “I’m okay, I was just really worried about Tygeara.  Thank you for asking and thank you for the avatar.  I’ll be right out.”  I took my epad with me as I left my room pulling up the page for the conference this weekend.  The opening ceremony was actually tomorrow night.
“Well hello there.”  The cheery voice startled me enough to make me jump.  The big screen had been switch to a video conference and a blonde woman with a mischievous twinkle in her eye was looking at me. “You must be the cannon’s little sister.”
I blinked “Cannon?  Oh.  Right.  Malcom.” He was standing by Astra rolling his eyes.  “Umm, yes I am.  Given his expression I take it he’s had repeated exposure to you?”
The woman, Astra and Shell broke out laughing and another woman appeared in the background to see what the mirth was about.  
Malcom’s tone was wry when he answered,  “You could say that.  A recent joint exercise with Boeing gave me renewed interest in space exploration and survey.  Wifflebat and Pinky decided to designate themselves my ‘liaisons’.” On screen the two women stuck their tongues out at him.  “They called to check on me and I had to tell them Dr. Beth put me on reserve for a week, so the next step is on hold.”  He turned toward me and my ears went flat.  His left arm was in a brace.  
I set my epad on a chair so I didn’t drop it, before shrinking down and wrapping my arms around his waist in a hug.  “Hey, easy squirt.  It’s just a wrenched shoulder.  I heal faster now remember?” he assured me as he hugged me with his good arm.  “I’ll probably be done with the brace by tonight.  Dr. Beth just knows better than to trust the common sense of any member of this team.”
I snuggled in tighter as his thumb stroked the nearly faded scar on my forehead, “Sniffle.  Don’t care.  After the last two days I worry the world isn’t going to let us make up lost time.”
I felt him wince as he held me tighter than he should have with his injured shoulder.  “You don’t have to tell me twice.  It’s a good thing I had a chance to see you resting last night before I saw footage of them pulling you out of the plane or it would have given me more gray hair than dad has.”  He relaxed when I giggled.
I looked around. “Where are Daddy and Grandma Alice?”  
“They didn’t get much sleep last night so I’m giving them a chance to rest.  They promised to be back in an hour or two.”  After giving me a squeeze he grasped my chin and raised my eyes to his.  “Hey, someone in dark clothing mentioned a creation involving dark cocoa and dulce de leche.  Would you be interested?”  I barely remembered to not squeeze his injured shoulder when I popped back to full size and hugged him.  “I’ll take that as a yes.” He chuckled as he hugged me back.  Kissing my forehead he gave my shoulders one last squeeze before directing me to the kitchen where Artemis was waiting.
As I picked up my epad on my way over I heard Wifflebat complain, “You brat. Did you have to say it that loud?  You do know she ruined the coffee shops up here for us don’t you?  The only ones that compare charge forty bucks a cup and even with my job I’m not paying that.”
“Forty bucks?!” Artemis caught my thoughtful look as I walked into the kitchen and sat at the counter taking glances at the screen.
“All right you fuzzy ray of sunshine out with it.”  She ordered as she leaned on the counter and looked at me.  “You look like someone that’s up to something.”
“Artemis?  Where are they right now?” I asked her as I glanced behind the women to their kitchenette where I could see two cups sitting in front of a propped up epad.
“Shell said Boeing’s Skyreach station.  It’s on the outer edge of LEO (low earth orbit) about 1200 miles up.  Why?” She asked.  Her mouth twitched in what could have been a smile when she noticed where I was glancing.  Handing me a stand for my epad she moved to ready more ingredients.
Typing away I pulled up Boeing’s website and went to the page for the station.  Their PR department had helpfully provided a locator that depicted the stations general location from the user.  “Just curious.  I’m always wondering what it would be like to see the world from another person’s point of view.” “Okay I’m here and they’re about there.  Deep breath and feel for an area that ‘looks’ like where they are and..” “Seeing it from a physical as well as a cultural point is an exercise Ms. Hunter would encourage to promote discourse and understanding.” I finished as I handed her the two cups.  Then I pulled my feet up on the stool and rested my chin on my knees as I watched her performance, it was like watching an artist create a masterpiece.
“This Ms. Hunter sounds like a wise woman.” Artemis commented as she mixed the drinks, two mochas and a hot chocolate. ”I’d like to meet her some day.”
I took the two mochas she handed me and silently put them on the counter where I’d found the empty cups before tapping my screen to bring up the conference page. “If you have time this weekend you may have a chance.  She’s supposed to be part of Saturday’s panel to promote the exchange program here in Chicago.”  I accepted my cup and took a sip.  “Mrrrrrrrrrrrr.” I purred as my tails unfurled and started flicking back and forth together.  It was like sipping a caramel oreo dipped in cream.  One tail just wasn’t enough to show my appreciation.  “Thank you Artemis.  This is wonderful.”
Artemis laughed, “You’re welcome ‘Cheshire’ but in private or out of uniform it’s Jacky, or Aunt Jacky if you want to be formal.”  She booped my nose with her finger.  “Got that Fuzzy Ray?”
I set my cup on the counter and threw my arms around her shoulders. ”Yes Jacky.  I got it.  Thank you.”
She hugged me back hard enough to squeeze air from my lungs before letting me go.  “Alright you, enough.  I have a rep to maintain.”  She reached up and gently tweaked my ear as I retrieved my cup before I went back into the common area.  Another sip and I resumed my purring.
Wifflebat gave my drink a wistful look. “That looks so good I can almost smell it.” Then she sighed, “So Cheshire what do you plan to do now?”
“If I want to use my abilities my age kind of limits my options.  Outside of supervised non-profit volunteer work I’m basically limited to acting, getting kitties out of trees and deliveries.”  I sipped my drink as I paused, out of the corner of my eye I could see Shell trying to hold it together.  “Quin and Mr. Chandler are working on ideas for the first two, but I was thinking of trying a delivery service and was wondering if you had any advice for me.”
Wifflebat looked surprised, “I’m not sure we’ll be much help.  What do you need to know?”
I shrugged, “I assume it’s based on range, frequency and load capacity, but there isn’t much information on what the going rate for a jumper is.  I was wondering if you were allowed to tell me.”  I pointed to the counter behind them.  “FYI your mochas are getting cold.”  Their cups were thermal so I was exaggerating a bit but the drinks deserved to be enjoyed as fresh as possible.  Besides I was worried that Shell was going to short out her shell if I made her wait much longer.
I sipped my drink with studied interest as Shell doubled over laughing, Wifflebat and Pinky spun around and stood staring at their cups sitting on the counter with vapor rising up from their contents and Astra spun to gave Jacky a disbelieving look.  Ozma just gave me a wink and a barely perceptible nod from where she sat sipping tea.  
Malcom hugged me one armed and stood grinning like a fool as he watched the women cautiously pick up their cups like they were handling unstable ordinance and take a sip.  Wifflebat looked up from hers and fixed her gaze on me.  “Okay you adorable scamp, you have our attention, but we need a few more details.”  She counted them out on her fingers as she listed them.  “How did it feel opening the gate, maintaining it, and making the transfer?  Do you know of any obvious limitations to your ability?”
I collected my thoughts before I answered.  “Once I used the stations webpage to get a general location I reached out and ‘looked’ for a space that ‘felt’ like what I was looking at on the screen.” I said pointing at the one she was displayed on.  “Kind of like being in a dimly lit room where you can make out the general size and shape of an item but have to touch it to confirm detail.  After I opened it I guess it felt like walking down an uneven sidewalk?  Or maybe the top of wall just wide enough to walk on comfortably if you paid full attention?  As far as the transfer went it was next to no effort.  If what I did yesterday is any example I might be able to do twenty tons or more per jump before I start to ‘feel’ it.  
“As far as limitations?  Ozma thinks I need a sympathetic portal, Epad to epad in this case.  Door to door, mirror to mirror, archway to archway, water to water.  I need to experiment but I get the feeling that any two things that could be considered entryways might work as long as they are of the same type and a similar size to each other.”
Pinky looked up from her epad.  “Let me make sure I have this right.  Did you just say that opening a bridge to a location over nine thousand miles away was only ‘starting’ to get difficult?”
Despite myself that took me a moment.  “Umm I guess?”  I shook myself. “Sorry.  Hearing someone else give the number kind of brought it home.  Am I going to have to go into hiding?”  I focused on not crushing my cup as I waited for the answer.
Astra was wary as she answered, “If you didn’t need someone to have ‘been’ there before you?  Quite possibly.”  She turned to Shell. “What do Quin and Blackstone say?”
Shell wasn’t laughing as she answered.  “To not mention ANYTHING about Cheshire being able to bridge any further than she demonstrated yesterday.  Safe responses are.  ‘For legal reasons due to her age we cannot discuss details of her power set.’ or the old standby, ‘No comment.”
She turned and looked at Wifflebat and Pinky, “He told me to assure you that you two will be credited with the recruitment but asks that you use the same responses if questioned.”
Wifflebat nodded.  Looking at my flattened ears she explained.  “Even with your limitation you’re in the top ten percent of jumpers, maybe even the top one percent.  Sorry munchkin.”  She looked at Malcom.  “You keep her safe Megaton.  I want the hugs I get from her to be because she’s glad to see me, not relieved to.  Do I make myself clear?”
Hugging me close Malcom smiled at her, “Crystal clear Ma’am.”
Wifflebat nodded, “Then we’ll sign off so you can get to it.  We’ll do what we can from here and contact you tomorrow.”  Pinky nodded from over her shoulder. “God speed.”  They cut the connection there.
I sat down on a chair and sipped my drink while doing breathing exercises.  Moving to Oregon hadn’t ended mother’s preoccupation with new agey “stuff”.   Mara Lynne, the instructor mother settled on, was a longtime friend of Aunt Beth.  One night when I’d had a bad week at school, and after mother had dropped me off to go to a Humanity First meeting, Aunt Beth had asked Mara to come over to talk to me.  She’d walked me through some exercises to help me focus and “let go” of tension or worries.  She’d revealed she was a “soft” breakthrough and I’d  secretly revelled in that fact since.
All I needed was something to focus on and Jacky’s creation worked very well.  Inhale. Sipp. Focus on how the bitterness of the dark cocoa was conterpointed by the dulce de leche.  Exhale, let the discordant notes of tension and troubles to fall away.  Inhale. Sipp. Observe how the heat of the drink allowed the richness of the cream to balance everything into its appealing whole.  Exhale.  Feel the strum of the love and care of those around you and let it fill you with its light.  Repeat.
After the third time through I was starting to purr at the flavors again.  I opened my eyes to see everyone staring at me in bemusement, including Chakra who was standing in the doorway watching me.
Chakra spoke first, “Well young lady Blackstone sent me down to see how you were holding up.  I must say I’m impressed at how well you executed that technique.  Though I’ve never seen it  done with hot chocolate before.”
“Any drink made with care by a proper artist is a symphony.” I quoted.  Purring, I finished my cup and set it on the table.  My tails swayed lazily back and forth as I continued.  “Mara used tea most often because it was the simplest for casual students to get right on their own but she had a.. ‘knack’ for adapting her techniques so they worked for those that had access to higher skills.  
She never had me try coffee or alcohol obviously but when she wasn’t teaching meditation she gave classes on mixology.  Her students work at or own over half the cafes and bars in Oregon.”  
“FYI we are not going to do a competition between her and Jacky.  Not without the judges signing a consent form.”  I received confused looks, “Well we shouldn’t be held liable if they expire of bliss should we?  Or suffer withdrawals?”  
I took a deep breath and released it as I waited for the laughter to die down.  I knew the danger hadn’t gone away but looking around I knew I had people I could trust to help me face it.  
After the last 48 hours the rest of that day and most of the next were relatively uneventful.  Resistance training, self defense evaluation, exhaustive scholastic placement tests, an interview with Dr. Mendel and Protocol and procedure manuals filled in the time between the press conference, the interview with Terry Reinhold, and dinner both nights with my friends in the exchange program.  A private one hosted by Hana’s mother and the donors dinner after the opening ceremony.
Andrew had made me a fancy version of my Astra based costume in a beautiful sky blue that included a full skirt and an opalescent white sash fastened by a clasp with my crest in glittering crystal on a dark blue background that gathered it at my waist.  It was so beautiful I was terrified to wear it.  Quin assured me that, despite the feel, I could spill motor oil on it and it would wipe completely clean.  A little food and drink would be no match for it.
Quin and Astra had worked with me on my expressions, getting me to cooperate with my ears instead of fighting them.  So I managed to make it through the ceremony with reasonable poise.  Daddy and Grandma looked more at ease than I expected as they joined me at the table with the families of the other students in my group.  Hana and her grandmother Fuji Ehara in green and gold.  Elspeth in red with a tartan sash and her uncle Father James Anderson, and Marion in silver and green with her uncle Father Nicolas Hadid.  
Through the meal the four of us mostly exchanged looks or answered questions from one of the adults when their discussion was directed at us.  However after the dessert course each of us were handed cases by our parentals.  Each one contained three charms and a necklace braided from nine different chains.  And each charm had a crystal vial with seven strands of our hair braided into a flat ribbon with a half twist joined at the end and then folded to resemble a fan.  
Once each of us had ours we presented them to the other three.  Mine were smaller versions of the clasp at my belt.  Elspeth’s resembled a shield with crossed weapons on it as well as mechanical engineering symbols in the quadrants made by the crossed weapons.  Marions  was a disk with symbols for fire, water, wood, stone and metal arranged around the edge and a prism in the center.  I started a bit when Hana handed out hers.  They were faced with a cherry tree on the peak of a hill and backed by a very detailed bust of Kannon.
I had just finished placing the charms on the necklace when Kitsune asked from behind my shoulder.  “Why that particular order Koneko-chan?”
I’d put Hana’s in the center with Marion’s to her right and Elspeth’s to the left.  I put the completed necklace on as I answered and held my hands on the charms. “Ever since I was introduced to them all this is how I’ve seen them.  Hana was my first contact in the exchange program, and when I look east to her home on Hokkaido, Marion’s home is to the right and Elspeth’s is to the left.  That, that way when I watched a sunrise it reminded me of the light they brought into my life when I needed it.
“Mara lynne, Aunt Beth and Ms. Hunter could shelter me from to time to time but I still had to go back out into the dark alone.”  I took a shuddering breath and dabbed away my tears. “I’m sorry.  That world can chase me all it wants, it is behind me now.”
Elspeth, Hana and Marion solemnly put their necklaces on.  I almost started crying again when I saw the placement.  My three friends, no my sisters had placed my charm at the center of their arrangements.
Marion held up her hand between us, “We will be the light to banish the darkness and reveal the divides separating people.”
Elspeth added her hand, “We will be the engineers that bridge those divides and connect the people of all worlds”
Hana added her hand, ”We will grow understanding between people and cultures providing gateways to a future where all may flourish and grow.”
Finally I added my hand, “We will join other champions in defending these gateways against all who would tear them down and return us to darkness.”
We finished together, “We shall stand by the side of each other, and those who join us as long as we draw breath, to uphold this concordance for this generation and all that follow.  This do we so swear.”
None of us heard the crack as Astra broke the stem on her glass.

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Cheshire

Astra turned to me as we flew, “So do you know how fast you can fly yet?”
Tearing my eyes away from the view I shook my head. “No I don’t.  Everything involving flying has been maneuvering for pictures or getting from place to place in a small area.  The one chance I had to go all out I chose swimming with Tygeara.  I think she said we reached 100 knots.”
Astra blinked, “That’s impressive.  But.. what made you want to swim instead of fly?”
“I was kicking my feet in the water this morning and I subconsciously changed their shape to be fins.”  turning to look at the east horizon I shrugged. “I managed to change them back and when I checked I found Donna had made me a swimsuit.  I’ve always liked swimming and I guess the thought of possibly being able to dive as long as I wanted and not having to come up for air was too tempting.  Tygeara didn’t mind me joining her for laps so I experimented a bit and managed to shift into what Grandma Alice calls my selkie form.”  
I looked over at at Astra only to see her squinching her eyes and using her hand to block the light coming from me.  “You sneak.”  She must have slowly sped up while I was distracted.  “You said something earlier about bad influences?”  I heard a snicker over comms from Shell as Astra blushed.  I blinked in surprise as I watched the ground go by, “Just how fast are we going?”
Shell answered over the comm, “About 130 mph.  How much faster do you think you can go?”
“I’m not sure but..” I hesitated biting my lip, “Just how noticeable do you want our entrance to be?  When I was swimming at top speed I was as bright as the sun.  I’m trying to turn it down but it isn’t working.”
“It’s your call Astra.”  Shell replied.  “But you should know, I’m already tracking three feeds asking who the new breakthrough flying with you is.”
Astra winced,  “I’m sorry Rionnagh.  I thought the daylight would mask your wings.  I didn’t realize they became brighter with higher effort.  What do you want to do?”
 I thought about it, “Is there a way we could convince them we’re going in one entrance and at the last moment go to one as far on the other side of the dome as possible?”
Astra looked thoughtful, “A bait and switch?  That could work.  Shell?”
“On it.”  Shell sounded cheerful, “I’ll contact Sykes.  Give us 5 to 10 min.”
“Got it.  Stall for 5 to 10.” Astra responded before turning to me. “So, sun bright huh?  Want to try for your top speed?”
I grinned,  “Yes ma’am!” and started to push myself.  They told me later my speed reached 190 mph and stayed there, give or take a few mph.  I followed Astra’s lead as Shell guided us so my light didn’t interfere with air traffic, giving us a circuitous route timed to get us there when “Sykes” was ready.
As we came in from the west on our final approach I could see six guards keeping the crowd standing outside away from the main entrance as even more cars drove in, dropping off more people that pulled out cameras and phones and raced to join the crowd.  So many people.  Fighting rising panic I followed Astra in, slowing to half speed.  
We stopped descending to a height just high enough to blow past the west side entrance and still clear the dome.  The east side entrance only had a dozen or so people by it but it was suddenly still too many.  I started looking for someplace to hide as we broke hard and dropped down.  I was about to give up when I noticed Astra’s cape had fluttered vertical as we descended.  “It isn’t much but I’ll take it.”
Keeping the brightness up I shrank to a foot high, shifted behind the curtain and “switched off the light” so I was out of sight and, in the time it took her to land, ducked into my hiding spot.
Before she could give me away I reached up from under her cape and tugged her hair whispering, “I’m here.” through the com.
I barely felt her twitch before she turned to greet the guard, “Good afternoon John.”
Peeking out I spotted their reflection in the door as he responded.  “Astra.”  I felt my eyes go wide as he flicked his gaze to me and winked. “Interesting day for reflections.”  
“Yes, Yes it is.” Astra’s shoulders shook with repressed mirth as she entered the building.  After the doors closed I pressed my face into her back to muffle my squeak as I let out the breath I’d been holding.  She laughed quietly before asking, ”Are you alright back there?  Why so shy suddenly?”
I took a deep breath before using the com to answer, “I’m not sure.  I mean I was nervous meeting you and the other Sentinels but you are Malcom’s friends and teammates.”  I shuddered, “These people are all strangers. I... I just don’t know if I’m ready for a close encounter with the general public.”
“Nuts.” I could feel Astra tense, “Terry is here.”
I crouched lower. “Who is he?”
Astra kept walking, “Technically he’s our embedded journalist in all but name.  He’s a decent guy most of the time but he has a habit of pushing a little too hard for a scoop.”  she sighed, “If nothing else I can threaten him with Quin.”
Just then Shells voice cut in,  “Okay I’ve been talking to new Tom and I think we have this.  Alright you little ray of sunshine, are you ready to get sneaky?”
Despite my nerves I found myself grinning.  “Yes ma’am.”
I could hear the glee in Shell’s voice as she started giving direction, “Okay Astra, not as if you had a choice but, stall Terry at reception.”  About ten steps later Astra began to slow.  
“Okay Rai, new Tom is about to open a drawer.  I want you to get in it…..”  Shell hesitated as Astra came to a stop. “Now. Go!”
I went.  Shifting immaterial I swung around Astra to see the receptionist just starting to pull the drawer out.  Flitting down I ducked in and found plenty of space to shift back.  Whoever this new Tom was, he was good.  The only signs he showed he noticed me were him handing me a badge with my face on it and the wink he gave when I waved at him and mouthed ‘Thank You’.  I whispered to Shell, “Okay. I have the pass.”, as new Tom closed the drawer.
“Good, The next step is to move to the area next to the elevators, but the com signal doesn’t reach you when you go immaterial so you’re going to have to come back in and find a place to hide.”  Shell paused for a moment.  “There are some potted plants that should work and I can try adjusting the lighting when no one is looking.  Whenever you’re ready.”
“Going.” Whew okay, I can do this.  Shifting again I flew through the side of the desk and towards the elevators.  I slowed my pace when I noticed new Tom had filaments running from him to Sykes and more than half of the security force I could see, including the guards by the elevators and at least two others on the levels below.  I shook my head and continued on.  I could ask about him/them later.  For now I needed to find those plants. “There.”  Four low leafy plants and two small trees were spaced around the area in front of the elevator.  The trees even had white blossoms on them and were lit so the side toward the wall was in shadow.  I picked the tree on the left and squeezed in.  I could hover without my wings manifesting so the branches didn’t even wiggle when I shifted back in.
“What took you so long?”  Shell almost snapped at me. “Astra’s on her way over.”
I flinched, “Sorry.  I’m still getting used to seeing things differently.  It distracted me for a bit.”  I waved at one of the guards when he glanced up at me. “At least now I have an idea about why you called the receptionist ‘new’ Tom.”
“You what?!”  Shell’s exclamation startled me.  “No.  Not important now.  You need to be right with Astra when the doors open.  Move as soon as she’s in sight.”
“Okay.  I can hear her boots.. I go...now.”  By now shifting was almost as easy as walking.  So with barely a pause I was through the air and at Astra’s shoulder as the doors opened.  As she stepped in she moved to one side and I maneuvered behind her.  Looking over her shoulder I could see Terry looking in this direction so I made sure duck under Astra’s cape before shifting back.  The doors had barely closed before she burst into giggles.  Shell and I followed quickly.  
Growing back to full height I gasped, trying to catch my breath.  Suddenly realizing I was hearing Shell in stereo, I glanced to my left.  What I saw stopped my giggles with a hiccup.  Shell was hanging in the air a few inches off the floor wearing jean shorts and a t-shirt that read “Life 3.0 .. The extended warranty was worth it.” and looking at Astra.  I cautiously leaned over to sniff at Shell and as my whiskers got close to her they limned in silver and touched her cheek.   Shell squeaked and ducked behind Astra.  Which was a bit disturbing as part of her was in the wall of the elevator.
Her brow furrowed Astra looked at her.  “What’s the deal Shell?  It’s not as if Rionnagh is the first person that has been able to see you.”
Shell slowly pulled out of the wall,  “Sure but none of them were able to touch me!”
Astra did a double take,  “Wait what?  Shell are you sure you didn’t imagine it?  Maybe flashbacks to when Graymalkin would wake you in the morning?”
I watched as Shell began slowly disengaging from the wall “Umm I can try to not use my power for evil.” I said with a wide eyed innocent look... just before I flicked the back of her knees with my tail. “But no promises.”  and broke out in a wide, Cheshire grin.
Shell’s eyes nearly popped out of her head as she squealed and disappeared.  
Astra looked at me with a little chagrin, “You’re making me feel guilty for wanting to keep you around just to level the playing field for tickle fights.”
Shell came through the coms,  “Oh come on!  I said I was sorry.”
Astra smirked and I giggled.  You could hear the pout in her voice.
I tried to stifle my mirth as I apologized, “I’m sorry, Shell.  That was somewhat unfair of me.  Truce?”  Shell reappeared with an incredulous look on her face.  I raised an eyebrow. “I could see if I can reach you when your piloting one of the Galatea shells.”  Shell just floated there making a choking sound.
Just then the elevator stopped and opened its doors to an underground lobby with a desk manned by a man that looked identical to new Tom upstairs.  I put on my badge as I stepped out, and when I looked he was one of the two “nodes” I’d noticed from up stairs.  His nametag said Bob.  I giggled and waved a greeting.  
The ghost of a smile appeared on his face, “Good afternoon. Astra, Cheshire.”
I smiled, “Good afternoon Bob.  It’s nice to finally get to talk to one of you.”  My ears dipped to bashful as both Bob and Astra looked at me with surprise.  
Astra blinked. “Wait.  You’re saying your sight lets you see that a person is a Redux?”
I shrugged, “It seems to.  At least if the duplicates are permanent in nature.  I don’t think I’ve met an intermittent redux yet anyway.”
Astra smiled, “Well we can schedule something to test that in a couple of days.” she held out her hand.  “Right now we need to get you to Dr. Beth so you can be done in time for your family’s arrival.  Come on.”  I took her offered hand and she led me down the hall past a fancy gym until we came to a door marked, “Medical”.
When we entered we found Dr. Beth doing final adjustments on a web of elastic bands with sensors attached.  After having me change into a jumpsuit Dr. Beth apologized for the source of the webbing (the bands were ones a veterinarian would use for monitoring animals without shaving off hair) and the amount of gel necessary for the sensors to maintain good contact.
He examined my scalp first to make sure I was healing before he moved on to something close to a normal physical.  The easy part over, he began the tests on my powers.  Flying pushes to test my exertion levels, weight sets to gauge my strength and tests for hearing, scent and vision.  
Towards the end of the vision tests I caught a slight whiff of jasmine.  While trying to locate its source I turned and nearly fell off the chair I was sitting on when I found myself nose to nose with Chakra’s astral form.   She was completely unfazed by the perturbed growl that escaped me, so I limned my body like I had in the elevator with Shell and booped noses with her.  Chakra’s eyes widened in surprise and then sparkled with delight.  Before I could stop her she’d taken my face in her hands and kissed the bridge of my nose.  I could have just dropped my limning but the feelings of welcome she projected and the massage she was giving my ears felt too good.  She let me go with the promise she would see me at dinner before fading away.  
Turning my attention back to the room I noticed Dr. Beth giving me a quizzical look.  I blushed furiously when I realized I’d been purring and that he’d only seen my side of the exchange.  After a very quick explanation we finished up the vision tests and moved on to trying to quantify my abilities.   Shape shifting was first, followed by shrinking, then my phantom ability and lastly my ability to seemingly disassociate body parts.  
Finally Dr. Beth was satisfied with his preliminary tests.  He handed me a lollipop and let me go, saying he’d have the results ready by the time dinner was over.  Astra showed me where the towels and bodywash were and gave me time to scrub the contact gel out of my fur.  Once I was done I did a shrink, shake, and scrub to dry off.  It worked so well it actually took me longer to brush the extra fluff out of my fur.
I’d gotten my costume back on and was getting the last tangles out of my hair when my ears picked up a sound I couldn’t identify.  Turning my head back and forth after closing my eyes I let my ears see for me and when I felt I was facing the source I opened my eyes and found myself facing the mirror.  Peering closely at the surface I could almost make out a spot of color. “Nix?”  Wanting to see clearer I felt something click in the back of my mind and I suddenly found myself looking at Nix and Ozma standing in a lab of some kind.  I reached out my hand and pressed it against the mirrors surface.  My touch said the glass was there but some instinct told me it didn’t have to be.  
Looking at the mirror I suddenly realized Nix and Ozma were looking back at me.  My ears drooping I snatched my hand away and apologized, “I’m sorry.  I-I just wanted to know what the sound was.  I didn’t know I could...”
Ozma smiled at me, “I will accept your apology if you will accept mine.  I was working on something for you and an augury suggested now would be the time to scry you to get the measurements I needed, which I did without your permission.  Now that you know, though, it would be easier if you were on my side of the mirror.”
Her side?  I looked at the mirror and remembered how I’d arrived in Ruth’s living area.  I wondered, “Could I do it again?”  
Gathering up my courage I reached back toward the mirror and asked, “Lady Ozma?  May I try?”  She nodded her permission and stepped back to give me room.
Finishing my movement I touched the mirror, or tried to.  Instead of contact, a glowing ring rippled out to the edges of the mirror and clung there.  Floating up I passed through the opening and into what must be Ozma’s private lab.  Touching down I turned and, with a thought, closed the opening leaving it just a mirror.
Ozma clapped her hands together, “Very good, Rionnagh.  Am I correct in thinking this is the first time you’ve consciously opened a portal bridge?”
I nodded absently looking with wonder at not just the mirror but the room around me.  Much of the equipment and furnishings were what you’d expect from a modern lab but some of it, - especially with my vision, - seemed otherworldly including the indoor garden to one side.  As I looked around I started noticing other auras.  Not the shifting glimmer that living things had, but organized and set.  
Ozma called my attention back to her, “Is there something wrong, Rionnagh?”
I could feel my ears droop with worry.  “I think my, what did Dr. Beth call it?  My visual cortex?  Is still learning to translate the information it’s getting from my eyes.”  I pointed at different objects and asked.  “Are those magical?”
Ozma looked from the objects I’d pointed at back to me.  “Yes they are.”  She answered with a hint of a smile.  “You are certainly manifesting an interesting range of sensory ability.  Can you also see heat like an Atlas can?”
I shook my head, “No I can’t.  I only have the visual acuity of an Atlas type.  But I do have very good low light vision.  According to Dr. Beth I can still see in color by the light of the full moon and in black and white in light as dim as that shed by a quarter moon.”
Ozma tapped her chin in thought, “Hmmm.  Some stories grant felines the ability to see the spiritual or ‘magic’ world.  So perhaps Supernatural Senses instead of Super Senses.” She smiled, “But, that is something to explore after we have had time to talk to Dr. Beth and your legal guardians.”  Picking up what looked like a simple caliper she continued, “For now I should get the measurements I need and then send you back before Shell tells Astra you’ve gone through the looking glass.”  She pointed to a chair. “Sit here please.”
After I took the chair Ozma indicated she began taking measurements of my head and face and calling out the numbers while Nix wrote them down.  
Five minutes later I’d thanked Ozma and shrank down to give Nix a hug before going back through the mirror.  I felt vain but I checked over my fur one more time.  If Chakra was going to be there perhaps some of the other senior Sentinels would be as well and I didn’t want to let Daddy and Malcom down.
Opening the door I found a guard waiting for me.  Tim (another Bob, I peeked) apologized and explained Astra had been summoned for a team meeting.  He asked me to follow him and led me down the hall past the lobby and Bob down another hall until we reach an open door with “Young Sentinels” written above the lintel.  

Tokki Kim

We’d only been waiting about five or ten minutes when there was movement at the door.  Looking up I saw Rionnagh being ushered in by a guard suspiciously similar to the other three we’d seen since we’d arrived.  The only new face that wasn’t a Sentinel was Willis the Majordomo.  I watched as he introduced himself.  Rionnagh giggled and I overheard her telling him it was nice to see a new face.  “Waaaait a minute.”
I waited until she’d walked over to hug her family before getting her attention.  It only took one look from me and her giggleness leaned over and whispered into my ear.  When she was done she booped noses with me and went back to answering questions about her examination.  “Well I’ll be damned.”  I relayed the information to the other me’s and then we got back to work.
June and Julia were in the room the Sentinels had set aside for Rionnagh to use as long as she needed to stay here for tests.  They were setting up the laptop they’d linked to Rionnagh’s phone and epad and coordinating the security for it all with Shell.  They’d even contacted the cultural exchange program Rionnagh had been participating in and been able to transfer the secure application to the three devices so she already had texts waiting for her.  
At a signal from June I nodded to Alice who broke the news to her granddaughter.  Once in the room Rionnagh bounced with excitement.  They managed to settle her down enough to get her to put her things where she wanted before they headed back out to the common area,  with Rionnagh taking her phone with her.
The Sentinels were going to be another ten minutes so Rionnagh sat between her Father and Grandmother and spent the time answering the texts, (apparently in the languages of the friends) and telling her family about each friend as she did.
Shell ended up whistling in my earbud. “Wow.  She’s fluent in Japanese, Scott Gaelic and Arabic at a month or so short of ten?  She even reconfigured the keyboard for each text.  And don’t tense up.  Mr. Scott asked me to get her full records so Dr. Poppins could get a starting point for Rionnagh’s continued education.”
I had to smirk.  Dr. Harte sat at the counter in her full regalia, drinking tea and holding conversation with Willis as he put the finishing touches on the buffet.  It was a custom modern pants suit with coat, all cleverly cut to look like it could have come right out of the movie.  Her hat, parasol and satchel sat next to her.  I frowned looking at that last.  June had been in the room when Dr. Harte had packed and told the rest of us she had loaded up as if she expected a disaster.  
I didn’t have any more time to think about it because the briefing had apparently ended.  The senior Sentinels came through first, only staying long enough to greet Rionnagh and her family and grab a sandwich and drink before heading out to patrol.  The only exception being Seven who engaged the family in conversation.  I had to be impressed.  He managed to interrogate them about Rionnagh’s mother without mentioning her once or arousing suspicion.
The Young Sentinels stayed longer but even that wasn’t long.  Standing back and watching I could tell there was an underlying tension, as if they were waiting for something to happen.  There was some levity however.  Those of us from NU watched in amusement as, much to the confusion of the Sentinels, Rionnagh put away more food than anyone other than Grendel or Tygeara.  After everyone had eaten all but Seven and Ozma excused themselves and filed out.  
After everyone had left Ozma opened a box she had with her and pulled out a small case and handed it to Rionnagh.  Ozma prodded her when she hesitated. “Go ahead.  Open it.”
Rionnagh opened the case and asked, “Anonymity Spectacles?”  She giggled, ”Magic glasses as a disguise?”
Ozma smiled at her.  “Yes.  So long as you don’t do anything unusual such as fly or lift a car you’ll be able go out in plain view without trouble.  We can go for a walk in Grant Park, even wade in  the new fountain to test them out if you want.”
Rionnagh smiled and looked at her Father.  I tried to hide my smile by finishing my coffee.  She might be able to look him in the eye now but Rionnagh would always be Daddy’s little girl.  Alice didn’t argue against it so in short order we were headed up stairs and out.  


Tygeara

I shifted down to my human form before we got in the elevator and stayed in it when we got up stairs.  Ozma handed me a pair of the specs in the elevator and I caught myself smiling at my reflection before I put them on.  Human form or not a six and a half foot tall woman built like a brick house and wearing a leather bodysuit and boots would draw attention and it was warm enough out that long jackets would have been out of place.  Nodding my thanks I put them on before the doors opened.
No one gave us a second look as we stepped out of the elevator.  Kim and I shared a shrug.  If it worked.  It worked.  The disinterest persisted as we walked through the atrium.  We broke into groups after we exited the building.  Rionnagh, her father and Alice made one group, Kim and I the second and Ozma, Seven and Evelynne a third.  
We spread out as we made our way into the park, passing memorials and decorative statues as we went.  I watched as Rionnagh went from display to display, enthralled with everything and trying to take it all in at once as only the young could.  Still, a part of my mind told me there was something wrong and it was leaving me edgy enough that I was having trouble staying human.
It wasn’t until we reached the open area around the new Buckingham fountain (rebuilt and expanded since the green man attack) that I realized that I could see more than a dozen Tokki spread out in groups of 2s and 3s.  I turned to Kim with a hiss,  “Seriously Kim.  What. The. Hell?  What’s going on?”
Kim hissed back,  “I don’t know.  Evelynne started loading her satchel after her noon meditation.  When Claire asked why Evelynne told me to activate three response teams.  One medical, one crowd control and one suited up in D gear.”
I almost shredded my boots before I reeled my claws back in.  D gear?  That was what NU called their Verne created D class exosuits.  They gave a user moderate D class Ajax abilities and were compact enough that they could pass as slightly bulky clothing and a backpack.  Three teams meant I’d only seen half of the Tokkis here.  “Okay Ruth calm it down.  Whatever Evelynne saw wasn’t totally catastrophic or it would have been more teams and C or even B gear.”
I nodded to Kim and then pasted a smile on my face hoping the tall, fuzzy munchkin wouldn’t notice it was fake.  Luckily Rionnagh was distracted by the fluid arches that traveled the inch deep splash area.  
Flanking the main fountain it ran in an arch running from its start at the northern side of the main fountain and around to its west before stopping at its southern side.  It had been added during the rebuild in an effort to keep people from wading in the main fountain.  By the time Rionnagh had taken her boots off my smile was genuine.  She was barely making her first splash before I was pulling my boots off and putting them on the bench next to her’s.  
I joined her in an impromptu martial forms routine as she explored what worked with her new body and what needed adjusting.  The experience was so enjoyable that I began entertaining the hope that whatever Evelynne had seen wasn’t going to happen today.  Of course that was when Rionnagh suddenly clapped her hands over her ears and looked northeast over Lake Michigan.  I heard nothing but the fountain and all I saw was a few small clouds low in the sky.  Then I felt it.  A subsonic rumble I’d first felt a three weeks before.  I didn’t grow but my fur and claws popped and an answering rumble built in my chest.

Tokki Kim

“Shit!”  Both of them were reacting to something.  This was SO not good.  I moved closer just as Rionnagh reached out and moved her hands as if opening a window in the mist from the fountain.  I stopped and stared.  Apparently that was exactly what she was doing because we were suddenly looking down on the lake from about three thousand feet up.  There was a glowing line in the water and I could see three shadows emerge from the south side of it.  The longest was half the length of the lake freighter traveling north in our view.  “Rionnagh what is it?”
Her ears were folded back against her head as she answered me.  “I’m not sure Kim.  I think the glowing line is a portal.  It hurts my ears.  And… I think those are Kaiju.”
Seven’s voice came from over my shoulder.   “Damn.  At least this explains why they seem to appear out of nowhere.”  Then he did a double take, “Wait.  You can hear it?”  Rionnagh nodded.
Ruth’s voice was a frightening base rumble as she handed her specs to Dr. Harte. “Rionnagh can you get me close?”  
For an answer Rionnagh waved at an arch that spanned a walking path.  A flicker of light and instead of the path we were suddenly looking down a concrete dock and across the lake to the freighter five miles away.  Ruth turned towards the portal and shifted to her full rest form.  Rionnagh called out before she stepped through, “Tygeara?” Ruth hesitated, looking over her shoulder, “Kick their scaly butts.”
Ruth gave her a broad toothy grin. “You got it sunshine.”  Then she turned and began running down the dock, picking up speed before diving out into the water.
Rionnagh closed the portal with a wave.  Seven called it in while we watched through the mist “window” as Tygeara grew from a speck to her full size, the cavitation of her passing leaving a wake behind her as she raced towards her targets.  Out in the lake we could see that the freighter was slowing, the Kaiju’s EMP must have shut down their engines.  We all held our breath as one of the shadows turned toward the vessel and surfaced.  Tygeara passed beneath the ship before surging upward, just in time to block the plasma breath of the attacking kaiju and creating a cloud of steam.
The delay as the sound traveled the three thousand feet to the window made the view surreal.  It was like watching a video with the sound track out of sync.  By the time we heard the crunch of a blow three more had been traded.  When Tygeara finished off her first opponent she was already slipping back beneath the surface by the time the sickening gurgle from her ripping its throat out reached us.
We were watching Tygeara close with the next kaiju when the ground pulsed beneath us.  “What the hell?”  A few seconds later the sharp report of high explosives reached our ears as well as the muffled sound of falling concrete and tearing metal.
I turned to Seven and Ozma,  “What just happened?” But the answer came from Rionnagh.
“There are people in the river!” she called out and when I turned to her she was staring down into the water in fear.
Seven’s voice was tense as he added, “Someone just dropped five of the bridges into the Chicago river.” Rionnagh gasped a second before Seven paled. “They shot the vehicle.”
I turned to him,  “What?”
Seven was livid when he answered, “It’s an ambush.  Watchman tried to pull a car from the river and they blew it to pieces!”
Movement caught my eye.  Rionnag’s hand trembled as she handed her specs to Ozma.  Tears ran down her face as she shook her head.  “No more.  No more lights can go out.  I can’t let them.”  She stared down into the water at her feet and gestured. “NO MORE!!” With that yell she plunged down and disappeared into an inch of water.
Stunned, I just stared at the water, “What?”  I only had a moment to be confused before light blazed and Rionnagh reemerged, pulling a vehicle with her.  “Oh you wonderful, wonderful child.” Seven grabbed the chunk of concrete lodged in front of the windshield and used it to break the drivers window and let the water out as I rallied me.  “ALL TOKKI! FALL IN ON MY POSITION!  EMERGENCY RESPONSE PROTOCOLS!”  
April arrived as Seven pulled the driver from the vehicle and May helped the coughing passengers out of the back.  Dr. Harte started directing the med team in setting up a triage area and the control team started cordoning off both the triage area and space for the D gear team to move the waterlogged vehicles to.  Not a moment too soon.  A splash followed shortly by a flare of light and Rionnagh was pulling a second vehicle out of the fountain.
We settled into a rhythm.  Rionnagh would dive in and pull a vehicle through.  Two D gear would break it open to free the passengers before carrying it off while two more moved up to get the next vehicle as Rionnagh dove back in.  The eighth vehicle was a large passenger van.  Rionnagh was struggling to pull the front through when the rear end lifted out of the water and a battered SaFire came with it.  Once it was on dry land SaFire only paused long enough to rip the back doors open to drain the water before grabbing a gasping Rionnagh in a hug.
“SaFire!”  The call came from a man used to making himself heard over noise.  “You need some help?”  SaFire looked at Rionnagh who nodded.
The relief in SaFire’s voice was easy to hear as she called back, “Irons! Come on in.”
“Irons? The crew?” I looked up from sorting out the sports team from the van to see Irons and Lash push their way in.  Catching Rionnagh’s eye I nodded.  I could see her sobb with relief as she hugged SaFire back before standing and turning and moving into a new position.
She wasted no time.  “June.  Metro bus incoming.”  She pointed to two positions for Irons and Lash to stand “Sir? Ma’am?”.
Irons turned to a third man that had followed him in,  “Kabe.  Can you do up a sling so we don’t have to dive in?”
The man nodded, “Hai.”
I saw Rionnagh give a start at his name but she turned back to the fountain.  A wave of her hands and the gate opened leaving the roof of the bus visible just below the surface.  Kabe immediately sent a web of glowing bands through to wrap around it.  When he nodded both Irons and Lash grabbed on and heaved.  Rionnagh braced herself as the bus came through.  Judging by the amount of water pouring out it must have weighed as much as a heavy load Semi.  Once it was clear Rionnagh closed the gate so they could set it down.  I watched as she turned to the unknown breakthrough.
Rionnagh asked worriedly, “Hogo Kabe san?” He looked to her in surprise as she continued.  “<Where are they?  Are they alright?>”
Lash interrupted, “Hey.  English please?”
Kabe shook himself, “Yes of course.”  Looking at Rionnagh he continued,  “I am not sure.  The locator had them on the State street bridge when I lost contact.”
I hissed.  Blocking technology suggested someone was targeted.  I could only watch helplessly as Rionnagh frantically scanned the water as seconds dragged by.  Suddenly her gaze locked onto the water walls that capped the end of the wading fountain.  A wave of her hand and we suddenly had a shrinking window showing several cars on a bridge with water lapping at the tires.
Kabe called to Rionnagh,  “Nekokami.  Can you bring it back?”
Rionnagh blushed a little as she answered, “Hai Kabe san, but if you’re willing to swim I know the location now so we don’t have to wait for the wall to be splashed again.  Is Mizu san with them?”
Kabe nodded, “Hai. She should be.  What do you need her to do?”
“If she can put a vertical wall of water in front of each vehicle Irons and Lash can pull them through quickly as I open a gate to each one.”  Rionnagh told him before turning to me and nodding at those of me in D gear.  “Can they be ready if the cars aren’t drivable?”
I grinned, “Yes they can.” I “signaled” them and they quickly took up positions leading away from the wall.  I turned back to Rionnagh, “Ready when you are, Cheshire.”
She nodded and opened a gate, “Good luck, Kabe san.”
I watched as Kabe dropped through and Rionnagh closed the gate behind him and moved to the path side of the wall.  Tense seconds passed before Rionnagh’s eyes went wide and she opened the first portal.  Irons and Lash wasted no time grabbing the bumper that appeared and pulling the first vehicle through.  Two of my D gear began guiding the driver away to where the control team had another area ready to receive the cars while two more took their place at the gate.
Other than two bodyguards that came through with the second vehicle it became rinse and repeat, with Rionnagh switching the gates from one vehicle to the next as fast as Irons and Lash could pull them through.  They were on the third car when the sounds of combat started coming from the gates, getting louder and louder with each car pulled through.  Finally a crowd of bodyguards followed a car through while energy blasts slammed into the bridge behind them and the gate collapsed.
Rionnagh scrambled frantically to the other side of the wall and plunged her arms into the water.  When she pulled them out she brought two figures with her, Kabe and a female guard that struggled until Rionnagh let her go.  Three of the other guards came around and helped them to their feet.  The woman calmed down as she realized there was no immediate danger and Kabe managed to stand on his own, albeit a bit shakily.
A man that Astra had introduced as Kitsune at dinner seemingly appeared at Rionnagh’s side to catch her as she wavered.  “Easy Koneko-chan.  Here.”  He said as he guided her to a bench.  “Sit. Rest.  You’ve pushed yourself very hard.  Too hard for someone so young on her first day.”
When Alice came over to sit next to her and tried to pull her into her arms Rionnagh protested weakly, “But Seanmhair I’m soaking wet.”
Alice smiled at her and pulled Rionagh’s head into shoulder anyway, “Hush, aon bheag it is nothing.”  
Kabe nodded to the woman that had come through with him and she turned to give a small bow to Alice before calling the water from Rionnagh’s fur and her’s and Alice’s clothes and letting it flow back into the fountain.
Rionnagh gave a seated bow, “Arigatō Mizu san.  This is much better.”  and relaxed (slumped really) into Alice’s arms.  Physically exhausted, Rionnagh stayed there, blinking slowly as she watched Dr. Harte queue the rescues for transport to the hospitals.
While we waited I started collating the information from my various selves.  Of the people that Rionnagh had helped to rescue twenty were seriously injured but only four had been life threatening and SaFire and several C class atlas Guardians had delivered those to hospitals already.  They weren’t out of danger but the doctors gave them a fifty fifty chance they’d pull through.  But while the C-class capes continued to work their way down the queue, SaFire had returned to the front line along the river.  For some reason whoever was behind this wasn’t giving up.  It had gotten bad enough that Chief Redmond and Watchman had given the order for “No Quarter.”  If severely injuring or killing the target would result in less loss of life and less damage the CAI teams were to do so.
I was looking toward the east as a black smudge appeared in the sky.  “June!  What the hell is that?” I asked “showing” her what “it” was through our/my link.
June’s response was quick. “Airbus out of New York.  All four engines just blew.  They’re too far out to make the airport.”
I was going to ask if there was a chance the pilot could ditch when waterspouts sprang up three miles out in the lake.  Four missiles left contrails as they raced in the direction of the airbus. “June?”
June voice was hoarse as she answered, “Long range spike interceptors.  Top speed Mach 3.4.  L- less than 20 seconds to impact.”
I turned to see Rionnagh looking at me all I could do is shake my head.  What were these people after that they were willing spend so much to kill so many innocents?
A stubborn look was on her face as Rionnagh lurched to her feet and took a wobbly step before lifting off and fading from view.  I was looking around trying to find her when a star burst into being over the lake and streaked towards the plane, passing the missiles in seconds.  
Seconds ticked by as Rionnagh reached the plane and disappeared inside.  June began a countdown. “Missile impact in five, four, three, t… The airbus has dropped off radar, repeat it has dropped of radar.  Negative impact!  Missiles have lost their target.”  June’s voice was awed.  “Holy crap.”
“Dammit June out with it!  What’s going on?!”  I yelled  through the link.  I could still see Rionnagh’s light but it somehow seemed more diffuse.  Wait, did she actually?
June answered.  “She jumped the whole freaking plane!  Visual is confirmed.  I’m getting a ‘ghost’ image of the plane with Rionnagh shining like a star inside.  No radar or lidar.  They are there, but not there there.” she paused.  “SHIT! Activity from the submersible.  It’s firing!”
Out in the lake the vessel had surfaced and began firing at Rionnagh and the plane with laser turrets mounted in the upper deck.  They weren’t having any effect on the plane now but Rionnagh was exhausted.  It was only a matter of time.  Flashes started coming from the direction of the Navy Pier as the fight moved from the riverfront to the lake.  A new turret with flak cannons began firing at the approaching capes to keep them back.  I blinked.  Was that a bow wave spreading out behind the ship?
An alarm and a frightened voice behind me made me turn,  “Basaan!  It is a Kaiju.  What do we do?  There is no place for these people to run.”  The speaker was a young girl looking up at an older woman.  Both were ringed by their bodyguards, who looked ready to whisk them both away at an unknown signal.
Kitsune stepped up to them,  “The water displaced is the only thing we have to fear from this one.” He turned to Mizu,  “Mizu san could you be so kind as to direct the waves away from shore when they arrive?  I believe our opponents have made Tygeara very angry.”
I turned back in time to see the ship lurch upward and begin to tilt as a massive force hit it from below.  Tygeara’s subsonic growl rumbled like a shockwave and the turrets ceased firing as 100m of metal groaned under the force of the impact.  Up it went. 100 feet.  200 feet.  300 ft.  By this time the ship was fully upside down and at the peak of its ascent.  For a moment I could see Tygeara’s eyes blazing.  Then they disappeared as she roared and yanked the ship down and into the spur that protected her knee. Vern metal or not the ship was not made to withstand a focused attack from an angry Kaiju.  She put so much force behind it the bow and stern crashed together hard enough to crush the turrets and conning tower into the opposite decks.  
Peeling the wreck off of her leg Tygeara held it out in front of her and exhaled a freezing hell directly onto it.  She kept it up until we could hear the metal pinging and cracking with the cold.  Setting it on the water she went over it one last time.
Kabe walked up to Kitsune. “Kitsune san why is she doing that?”
I turned and answered before he could, “If I had to guess, Tygeara just dropped the ambient temperature of that ship to a degree or less Kelvin.  If the Vern that built it had any self destructs they can’t currently go off.”
June cut in, “Heads up she’s here!”
I turned in time to see the ghostly plane hover into view just off shore before turning solid, dropping into the water and extinguishing the still burning engines.  Seven was already down the dock Rionnagh had luckily set down next to and opening the forward door.

Cheshire

I’d shifted between because I was tired and I didn’t actually weigh anything there.  I hadn’t realized that meant I could fly much faster than I could in the “physical” world.  Speeding by the missiles I didn’t think about how little time I would have once I got there.  When I arrived I simply went through side of the aircraft before dropping out of between.
A flight attendant gasped and covered her eyes at the sudden brightness, I’d have to apologize to  her later.  Reaching out with what I was coming to think of as my “key”, I tried to open a door to get the plane closer to the ground, but every door I felt was as insubstantial as I’d just been.  Searching closer and closer I finally felt something.  “Seeing” the missiles about to strike I didn’t hesitate, I pulled.  The missiles reached the plane, and did nothing, passing through us like ghosts.  Around me the passengers screamed, but I couldn’t hear them over my own cries of effort.  I’d pulled the whole aircraft and everyone in it “between” but it was HEAVY and I was so tired.
I clenched the door frame so my shaking wouldn’t topple me over.  Lights flashed from the submersible but they didn’t touch us any more than the missiles had. But my grip on the balance that kept us between was slipping.  Even with the faster speed here I didn’t think we could make shore.
My pulse was pounding in my ears so I couldn’t hear myself sobbing as I tried desperately to get us closer to the water so my failure would not immediately kill the people I was trying to save.  Struggling, I held on for just a few more seconds.  Pain.  Tears ran down my face and I could taste blood.  Had I fallen?  Was I dying?  “I’m sorry Daddy.  I didn’t mean to leave.”
Suddenly I felt arms around me and I could smell Jasmin.  “Hang on sweetie I have you.” Chakras voice whispered in my ear.  Her voice and touch bolstered me as she guided me the last few  seconds.  Finally, “We’re here, Cheshire.  Little Rionnagh, let go.  Let go, they are safe.”
I began releasing the plane slowly but the moment a wave touched it my control broke.  Passengers screamed at the sudden drop and the roar of the still burning engines being extinguished in the water.  Then there was quiet as the plane gently bobbed, it's nose just touching the shore.  The attendant unbuckled herself from her seat and caught me before I fell.  
She’d just grabbed a towel and placed it under my head when I heard the door open and Seven’s startled voice, “Cheshire?!!  Jezes kiddo.  What did you do to yourself?”  He stepped in and kneeled in front of me.  “Cheshire?  Can you hear me?”
I was so tired I could barely blink.  Even focusing my effort I could barely twitch the fingers of my hand but it was enough.  Seven took my hand and began asking me yes/no questions and having me press his fingers.  After a minute he seemed to relax and turned to nod to someone over my shoulder.
I heard something rattle behind me just before Seven, the attendant and SaFire carefully lifted me up and lay me down on what turned out to be a gurney.  SaFire tucked a blanket around me and gently strapped me down.  Then she and Hi no tori, one of Hana’s bodyguards, lifted me out of the plane and flew me to the shore.  
Hi no tori leaned in to whisper in my ear, “Kitsune has explained enough Koneko-chan.  Hana-chan and her grandmother only ask that you tell them the whole story when you’re strong enough.  Until then rest ‘little’ hero.”
I tiredly dipped my chin in the only bow I could manage, “Arigatō Hi no tori-san.”  She smiled down at me and nodded.  
Everything was passing in a dreamlike state.  Dr. Harte assured Daddy and Grandma Alice that I was just very tired and that, despite the clotted blood she and Ozma cleared from my sinuses, I’d done myself no lasting harm.  Tygeara scared everyone when she lurched out of the lake to make sure I was alright.  She nuzzled my forehead before letting Dr. Harte do something that sent her back to her grotto in New Underland to heal.  After that they took me to the dome and down to the infirmary where they switched me to a very soft hospital bed.  The last thing I remembered was Dr. Harte and Ginger giving me rich, warm, milk to drink.  I barely finished the last glass before finally falling into the embrace of sleep.

Mature Content

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Andrew’s

Tokki Rachelle

I stood back with Detective Fisher and watched the family reunion while Alice Scott pulled Ruth into the group hug.  I smiled as she introduced Ruth to her grandson Malcom aka Megaton.  Six feet tall, give or take, he had looks on the better side of average but two years of training with the Sentinels had given him a good set of shoulders. “Hmmm.  He’s also wearing those jeans rather well.”
“Could you be a little more professional?” Kim said with irritation. “Stop checking out Rionnagh’s brother!”
I looked up to see Ruth’s raised eyebrow as she turned back to Kim.  Kim managed to blame her flush on having to interrupt the reunion in order to get us to the meeting site on time.  I had no such luck.
“So Rachelle.  Got busted did you?”  The question came from Detective Fisher where he stood beside me just barely covering his smirk with an unlit cigarette.
I’m sure my freckles disappeared as I felt my blush go down to my collar.  “Sigh.  Just because I don’t mix business with pleasure on photo shoots doesn’t mean I don’t notice.”  I rubbed my neck, “Though I’m usually better at not being so obvious about it.”  
Turning to walk to the van, I changed the subject, ”You’ll be following Mr. Scott, Detective?”
He nodded,  “I will.  We have the recordings from both Rionnagh and her aunt’s security firm, but the brass wants interviews and written statements.  Need to have the ‘i’s dotted and the ‘t’s crossed as soon as possible.  The kid’s been through enough but it shouldn’t be too hard on her.  The people in Brannigan’s firm are pros, and since he’s agreed to share his transcripts I get lucky.” Sighing, he continued,  “No matter what though, the School Safety Act means Whitlow’s Academy for her.”
Given the look he gave me, something must have shown on my face.  Pausing out of sight of the family I held up a hand and sighed, “Look. I need to join Kim.  Just….watch Rionnagh’s interview and come tell one of us what you think then.”
Fisher gave me a thoughtful look as we parted and went to our separate vehicles.  I climbed into the passenger side of the van and looked in the back just in time to see Ruth hand Rionnagh the Grendel plush.  She accepted it with a bashful ‘Thank you’ and hugged it close as Kim pulled out and navigated our way through traffic.
I made small talk with the family as we watched Rionnagh squirm and bounce in her seat with excitement.  I had to smile, bright as she was, she was still very much a little girl.  Malcom had to cover his mouth to muffle his laughter when she nuzzled the plush behind its ears enough to trigger the purring.  His response to our questioning looks was to comment that Grendel should have known better than to let Nix pick his plush for him.  
We finally drove up to a hanger at a little used airfield and pulled into an attached garage.  Kim and I got out as Rionnagh’s father and Detective Fisher pulled in beside us.  Letting Kim ride herd on them, I headed inside to get set up.
While we’d intended to meet Andrew at his studio, we quickly realized we’d need more space and Pixello’s studio was perfect for what we needed.  A Verne type that specialized in electronics engineering with a side in videography and data storage, he developed gear for everything from space probes to deep sea submersibles.  The studio was where he did his alpha testing.
The studio took up most of the hanger but the area most important to us was the massive green room.  200 ft wide, 200 ft long and 300 ft high, it stretched from the roof to over 100 ft below floor level.  The room could be used dry or you could flood the portion below main floor level for underwater or shoreline shots.  If you used his equipment for half or more of your session he would rent it for next to nothing.
I gave a nod to Donna where she was waiting near two of the four available dressing areas.  She was talking to two people near a table with several chairs surrounding it, one of which was large enough to hold Ruth as Tygeara.  Tommy Brannigan was easy to recognize and the other was probably Angelica Grant, the attorney for F3.  
Kim led the rest in a few minutes later and began introductions, ending with Ruth shifting to Tygeara.  By the time they were done I had the equipment ready.  They started with the legalities around the Tygeara trademark and then went on to the statements of the situation surrounding Rionnagh’s breakthrough.  They finished with trademarking the name Rionnagh Cheshire.  All told everything took until noon.  
Detective Fisher grabbed himself a coffee from the spread Ginger had set up while they were finalizing the paperwork and gestured for me to join him.  Suspecting the reason I walked over and waited for him to begin.
He took a drink before asking.  “Scholastically she’d score at highschool level or above wouldn’t she?”
I nodded,  “Even before her breakthrough she’d skipped two grades and was ready to skip a third.  Dr. Harte is sure her comprehension has been increased.  At the very least she’s college level in extra reality physics as well as linguistics.  So she’s sweet, adorable, talented AND knowledgeable beyond her years.  That’s why NU has moved up part of it’s schedule to begin a boarding school for children with advanced learning capabilities.”
He frowned,  “Putting a whole bunch of hyper-intelligent, underage breakthroughs under the same roof?  Are you sure that’s the answer?”
“Me?  No.  I’m just a videographer.”  I gave him a wry smile.  “But Dr. Harte is of the opinion that you can teach someone responsibility and respect for others without them having to be ‘grown up’.  So children like Rionnagh can have a chance to be children and not be forced to be adults in children’s bodies.”  I sighed, “She claims the trick is to find a way to give them freedom within ‘guidelines’.  From what I’ve seen the only hard rule she has is ‘The right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.’”
Fisher barked a laugh, “Do you think she’d be willing to teach a class at the Pen based on that?”  He finished his coffee.  “Well I have what I was sent here for.  I should be getting back to the precinct.”
I shook his hand.  “Thank you for keeping us in the loop last night Fisher.  Finding out her aunt was going to be OK really lifted a weight from Rionnagh’s shoulders and I think Alice’s as well.”
“I’d say it was just part of the job but I’d be lying.” He said with a wink.  “Thankfully my boss saw it as maintaining good relations with the Portland PD.  Keep an eye on the kid for me would you?”
I smiled back “I’ll do that. Take care of yourself Detective.”  And with that he made his way across the studio and to the garage.
After that I joined Donna, Pixello and Angelica Grant in planning the photo shoot.  There was no way to tell which of us was more excited over the challenges and opportunities Ruth and the munchkin were providing us.  
While we were doing that Ruth shrank back down to human size and joined Rionnagh and her family for lunch.  The kid still had quite an appetite, though only about half of what it was this morning.  
After everyone had eaten we went to one of the lounge areas and sat talking.  Rionnagh managed to elicit more smiles as she started nodding off before eventually curling up to nap between Ruth and Alice.  She rested quietly until about 20 minutes later when she began twitching and mumbling in her sleep.
“Hnnnn  N-no.”  Rionnagh mumbled as her head started shifting side to side.  “Grma gave her t’me, you you cn’t have her.”  Her limbs began twitching as if she was struggling with someone.  “N-no. Wht’r you doing?..  MOTHER NO!!!” With a yell Rionnagh jerked awake, limbs flailing and eyes wide but unfocused in fear.  
“Easy pequeña you’re safe.”  Ruth crooned to Rionnagh as she held her and rocked back and forth. “Easy now.  We have you.  Shhh.”  Slowly her gasping breaths relaxed and her eyes began to focus.  When her grandmother took her face in her hands she took a last deep breath and most of the tension visibly left her body.  
Sighing, Rionnagh closed her eyes, leaned her head into her grandmother’s shoulder and carefully took her hand.  “Sorry. I’m sorry.”  She spent the next few breaths  resting, but despite the occasional tremors going through her there were no tears.
After just a few minutes she pulled away and gave Alice a nuzzling kiss to the cheek. ”Thank you Grandma.” Turning to Ruth she pulled her into a hug and thanked her as well.
Malcom had been changing when Rionnagh had called out and had come running, carrying his helmet and jacket.  He knelt next to the couch where they were sitting and looked at her with concern.  “Bad dream Squirt?  Is everything okay now?”
“Do do you have to go?”she asked him while giving his uniform a worried look.
He looked down, “Oh this?  No.  Quin decided that since I was going to be with you and Ruth when you had your photoshoot with F3, I might as well get mine done as well.  Once we’re finished do you think you’d be up to meeting my teammates?”
I had to grin as I watched Rionnagh’s eyes widen.
She silently opened and closed her mouth twice before she got out, “The Young Sentinels?  Meet them?  Today?” she asked as she brought her closed fists up in front of her nose.
Malcom’s eyes twinkled as he answered, “Yes.  You little ray of sunshine.  Today.  The Young Sentinels and at least Quin of the Sentinels as well.”
Eyes shining Rionnagh sat there for a count of ten before throwing her arms around his neck and tumbling them both to the floor.  “Eeeeeee. Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  You are the best brother EVER!”
“OOOFff.  Easy there Squirt.  You’re a lot more than the armfull you used to be.”  She relaxed her grip enough for them to get to their knees, though Rionnagh looked slightly hurt.  Malcom grasped her chin and made her look him in the eyes. “Hey. Hey. None of that.  It’s not your fault you needed a bigger container to hold all the cute that is you.”
She giggled at that and hugged him again.  Pulling  back she gave him a bashful look.  “I might need the bigger container most of the time but I think,..” at this she closed her eyes and with a thought shrank to 4 feet tall. “I can do the armfull.  At least for a little bit.”
Maclom only stayed stunned for a moment before picking her up in a hug that resulted in more giggles and laughter form her.  “Oh I’ve missed you kiddo.  It’s been far too long since I’ve heard you laugh like this.”  She had her arms around his neck again so he had an arm free to lever himself up so he could stand.  He started carrying her over to the dressing areas, “Come on.  We have things to do before you meet your new extended family.”
Kim stepped up beside me. “It’s like watching layers peel back one at a time.  Just when I think she can’t get any brighter, she goes up a couple of lumens.” she observed with a smile.
I shrugged, “For someone her age, when we first saw her had to be close to her worst.  I’m glad we were there to catch her.”  I gave my head a shake. “Anyway.  I’d better do a check of the gear.  Pixello has added a few more bells and whistles.”
Kim grinned, “Doesn’t he always?”  We laughed and went about our separate duties.  
We started with some promotional stills on dry land and then moved to the green room (that Pixello had quietly flooded) to do more dynamic shots with Ruth at full height as Tygeara.  Rionnagh played multiple parts including little fuzzy faerie (she looked an inch and a half tall in Tygeara’s palm (and the ones where she was standing on Tygeara’s nose were just adorable)) as well as shots underwater using the selkie form she’d discovered this morning.  We were even able to get some aerial shots with Megaton thanks to a programmable flight of drones with sound dampening projectors that dropped the volume of his blasting down between 40 and 50 decibels.  It wasn’t easy to hold a conversation with him when he was firing but it wasn’t deafening (we were inside afterall).
Donna called a break at about 2:30.  Everyone that wanted to grabbed something to snack on while we waited for Andrew to show up.  The “snack” for Ruth and Rionnagh was pounds of rare steak between them.
Ruth had just shifted back to her human size when a commotion announced the arrival of the Sentinels.  Astra walked in side by side with Kim and Artemis, with The Harlequin and Andrew just behind.  Galatea (in her human guise) and Crash came next followed by Ozma, Tsuris and Grendel (who had Nox and Nix on his shoulders) and a mix of dozen or so photographers, assistants and press.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw Rionnagh wipe her mouth with a napkin, take a frantic look at the smear she left on it and vanish in a puff of silvery mist.
I walked over as Ruth looked at the suddenly empty chair and the napkin fluttering down onto it before turning to me.  I shrugged, “I’m thinking she went to one of the sinks with a mirror to wash up.  She can’t cheat by shifting out of her fur like you can.”
Ruth blushed, “I didn’t think of that.  Some Auntie I am.”  She looked at me, “Help me find her?”
I shrugged, “We can try but given what she just pulled she’ll probably evade us until she thinks she’s presentable.”  
Ruth gave a resigned sigh, ”I should have seen this coming.  When Mr. Brannigan mentioned us going to the dome after the photoshoot she became anxious about making the right impression.”

Cheshire

“Oh no.  Oh no.  Oh no!”  I shifted back into phase in the safety of an empty washroom next to the sink.  Sure enough when I looked in the mirror it showed there were spots of fur around my mouth with food stains on them, especially on my chin.  I turned on the water and began splashing my face and scrubbing with my hands.  I breathed a sigh of relief when the discolorations washed out, then tensed up again at the sight of my wet fur sticking out in all directions.  No no no NO!  I was NOT going to meet THE Sentinels looking like something out of a bad Meme.  I started scrabbling at the drawers looking for a clean towel to dry off with.  I’d only found a small hand towel before I heard voices through the door.
Rachelle, “I’ll check the doors on this side, Ruth.  You get those.”
I heard the door to the next room open; I was out of time.  “Ooo, No! I have this.”  I shrank down to a foot high and was able to press off more water due to my lower surface area before I grabbed the now beach towel sized cloth and shifted out of phase again.  The door opened and Rachelle looked inside as I flew unseen through the walls and then up to the high shelf where I’d left my bag.
Phasing back in I quickly scrubbed as much moisture as I could from my fur before propping up my epad and powering it on.  Once I’d logged in I used the camera for a mirror. “Yikes!”  Now my fur was over fluffed.  I burrowed into my bag to reach a side pocket.  I fumbled through a few things in it before finding the brush.  It was meant to help clean a plush, but when I tried it on my arm the bristles worked almost as well on my fur.
Crawling back out and settling in front of the epad I managed to get my facial fur presentable if not perfect.  I was doing the last touches on my arms when a voice came from over my shoulder.
“There you are.”
I spun around to see a face wearing a blue half mask.  “Eeeep! She found me!”  I nervously straightened my clothes as Astra - ASTRA! - Put her elbows on the shelf and rested her chin on her palms as she watched me.
Seeing I was finished she remarked, “You know Rionnagh, my friend Shell is already trying to wheedle a copy of this out of your Grandmother.  If you don’t come down soon I might let her.”
I spun around and sure enough the video chat was active.  I must have turned it on along with the camera.  But anything I was going to say slipped my mind when I saw someone peeking over the edge of my bag and gazing at the Grendel plush.  “Oh!  Um hello?”
Astra giggled behind me. “That would be Nix.  She’s very shy but she heard you had an interesting plush up hear and had to come and see it.  Would you like to meet her?”  I could only nod.  “It’s okay, Nix.  I’m pretty sure she’s friendly.”
Slowly Nix fluttered over the bag to join me.  She was a doll(?)my current height with ball jointed limbs and painted on facial features that nonetheless still moved.  On her back were a pair of beautiful butterfly/faerie wings that must have let her fly up here.  I shifted my vision and blinked, “You.. Glow!”  I reached out hesitantly toward her and she lifted her hand to mine.  I grasped it lightly and looked at her in wonder.  “You’re alive!” Nix suddenly looked wary and my stomach sank along with my ears. “I’m so so sorry.  That was so rude of me.  I didn’t mean…” I stumbled to a halt feeling miserable.
Nix looked at me and must have seen I hadn’t meant to hurt her.  She gave me a tentative  smile before saying, “Apology accepted but… what did you mean ‘I glow’?”
I shifted unsure,  “To.. to me every living thing, from grass to people, has a glow if I look for it.  You glow a little differently than Astra or myself but you are as bright as anyone else here.”  I hesitated, “Start again?” she nodded and, blushing furiously, I tried again, “Hello Nix, my name is Rionnagh Cheshire.  It is very nice to meet you.”
Nix blushed back at me, “Hello Rionnagh, It is very nice to meet you as well.”  She fidgeted a bit before asking, “Would it be okay if I took a closer look at your plush?”
I smiled and for an answer I held her hand and led her over to it.  When we got there I let her go so she could get a closer look.  It was my turn to fidget as I watched her examine the mane, “Um, Nix?” she turned to look at me.  “Malcom thinks Grendel let you pick his plush.  Did he?”
Nix gave me worried look, “He did.  Do you think that was wrong of me?”
I shook my head quickly, “No that’s not what I meant.  I...I just wanted to be sure I offered the ‘thank you’ hug to the right person.”  I could feel the heat in my ears as I blushed.
Nix gave a start of surprise but then happily reached out and pulled me into a hug.  I happily returned it and nuzzled her cheek before letting go.  She giggled, “That tickles!”
Astra asked from behind us, “Rionnagh.  Why would Megaton think Nix picked the plush?”
I grinned and hopped to the other side of the plush by its left ear.  I motioned to Nix to copy me with its right ear and started rubbing.  A very indelicate snort escaped  Astra as the purring built in volume.  When I turned to look she had a hand over her mouth to contain her laughter but her eyes were shining.
Turning back I sighed and pulled away from the plush.  As much as I was enjoying this they were probably on a schedule.  I took a deep breath, “It wasn’t too bad for the first shoot.  I can do this.” I grabbed the Catstra plush and walked to the edge of the shelf as Astra collected Grendel.  
Nix flew down to rejoin Ozma as Astra tucked the plush under one arm and held out her hand to me.  My wings shimmered into view as I took it, stepped clear of the shelf, and started growing as we flew down.  Her eyes widened in surprise as I grew and kept growing until I reached my full height.  Touching down next to Malcom and Grandma Alice I turned to see Astra with her free hand on her hip and giving me an exasperated look.  Wondering what I’d done wrong I lowered my eyes and I saw it.  We were eye to eye and my feet were on the floor, but she was tapping her foot.  On empty air.  Almost a foot off the ground. “Oh.”  My ears drooped in embarrassment and I shrugged, “Ummm.. I’m sorry?”  
My imp took over and I shrank so her eyes would be level with my ears.  “Is this better?” and gave her my best wide eyed, innocent look.  We both blushed as laughter broke out around us.
Astra rolled her eyes, “Saints preserve us from the cuteness and bad influences.”  That last was directed at the redhead about Mal’s age standing next to Grandma Alice.  
She (Shell?) stuck her tongue out at Astra and then grinned,  “Say what you want but the stills from your mask cam are going to be gold.”
A tall, fit looking man in a perfectly tailored suit stepped up accompanied by The Harlequin.  He waited a moment for the mirth to die down before saying, “Sorry to interrupt but we’ll need Rionnagh at her full height for her final fittings.”
I blinked, “I’m sorry but.. Final fittings for what?”  Grandma Alice had a twinkle in her eye as she pulled papers out of a folder she was holding and handed them to me.  The top paper read,  “Congratulations on your submitting the winning design for the F3 Astra plush.  As a bonus The Sentinels are extending this certificate, good for one complete outfit from Andrew’s Designs.”  The second one was the same for the Grendel plush.
Malcom caught the certificates falling from my trembling hands while Ruth caught me and guided me to a chair as my knees gave out .  It took me a few moments to respond to the questions of what was wrong.  “Two years.  Two years I’ve had to hide my interest in this part of my brother’s life.  Two years I’ve had to be careful of what I said or what was on my epad or phone so my mother wouldn’t get upset.  Two years of studying everything I could to try to fill the emptiness of not getting to sit on the couch next to Daddy and my brother and planning a weekend trip to a museum or a park or zoo.
I’m sorry.  I’ve been dreaming of something like this for so long that so much of it coming true in so short a time is a little overwhelming.  It’s hard to believe that this time yesterday I was a regular,  non-breakthrough girl talking to her grandmother over video chat using the prize she’d won from the contest she’d entered her into.”  I took a deep breath and stood drawing more looks of concern “I think I’m okay now.  I just needed to catch my breath.”
I reached and took the certificates back from Malcom.  Looking at them I felt a little bit guilty.  “Do I have to use both of these for me?” I asked, biting my lip and looking at Ruth.
She looked back at me.  “It’s sweet of you to think of me pequeña but you’ve gone through a lot over these.  Are you really sure you want to use one of them for me?”
I stood my ground, “I am.  I know you didn’t intend to break through but if you hadn’t I wouldn’t be here now.  I won’t pretend that I won’t have nightmares about what caused my breakthrough and put me on your doorstep or that I won’t have problems stemming from being furry and so tall for may age.  But I wouldn’t go back even if I could and I’d fight anyone that tried to make me.
“I’m very grateful to you and the rest of NU Inc. for what you’ve done for me.  Please let me do this for you.”
Donna had walked up and joined our group and Ruth turned to look at her.
Donna shook her head,  “Don’t look at me.  The cost of materials Andrew uses for just one outfit can be enough to equip five operatives.  We can’t touch what this is worth.”
Ruth looked like she was going to continue to argue when Andrew cut in.  “If it makes things easier for you, Ms. Botes, after being contacted by Donna and being informed of the situation surrounding your circumstances, I took it upon myself to design an outfit for you based on the measurements provided.  All I ask in exchange is that I be allowed to partner with Donna on your line of Kaiju couture.  We would of course need you to be the primary model for our creations.”
I watched Ruth’s jaw drop.  Looking around I could see I wasn’t the only one stifling giggles.  After recovering Ruth looked suspiciously at Andrew and Donna.  “You sneaks.  You have dozens of concepts drawn up already don’t you?”
Donna grinned, “Guilty as charged.”  She shook her head, “Ruth, designers have been trying to break into the powers market in Japan for years.  As a Kaiju that fights Kaiju you have the best chance we’ve ever seen.  And I’m certainly not going to pass up this chance to work with a Master of Style”
“Alright. Alright.”  Ruth cut in. ”Sigh, Have it your way.  Two things though.  Matching jackets and footwear for when I want to be human AND there had better be a legitimate script that I approve of for any interviews or guest appearances.”
“Fair points. I’ll take your terms” Andrew grinned and held out his hand, “Deal?”
Ruth shook it and nodded. “Deal.” Sighing she looked at Donna and shrugged, “As good as I am at fighting I need to face the fact that it’s as much part of the advertisement now, as it was the feature of my former career.  Maybe I just need to feel like I’m doing something productive.  Even if it’s outside my current comfort zone.”  
Negotiations done, Andrew and the Harlequin(she insisted on Quin) turned their attention back to me.  Their first offering had black dress slacks with a silver shirt and black vest.  A tie in a blue that matched my eyes (worn loose) and boots with multiple buckles that covered halfway up my calves accessorized it.  A swipe of the screen and I was wearing a black pantsuit with a blue blouse and open toed flats with straps that held decorative leather greaves to my foot above and below my digitigrade ankle.  Both outfits had my star on the breast pocket with two blue dots bracketing the bottom tip of the star.  As I played with the view the dots disappeared and reappeared depending on the angle.  Enlarging them revealed them to be cat eyes the same shade of blue as mine.
Rapidly blinking my eyes I quickly zoomed back out and moved on to the next picture. “I won’t cry.  I won’t cry.  I won’t cry!”  The next costume was a cross between my swimsuit and Astra’s uniform.  The main color of the outfit was the dark blue of the sky when the first stars come out.  High waisted shorts went from mid-thigh to the top of my hips covering my navel and the near sleeveless top covered me from my neck to just below my ribs leaving a few inches of fur showing.  Fingerless gloves and toeless boots that reached to my elbows and knees and a sash around my waist fastened with a clasp accessorized it and the new crest on my chest completed the look.  A tap dropped light armor with greaves, bracers, breastplate and a matching mask/helm over the costume.  
I realized I was starting to tremble and shakily set the tablet down before I dropped it.  I had my hands over my muzzle trying not to squeal hysterically when I heard Donna say, “Sorry but I saw what happened to Megaton when he told her you were coming.”  When I looked I saw she had somehow managed maneuver Astra and Quin so they formed a screen between her and me.  That was all the warning they had before they were wrapped up in a fuzzy hug and being spun in a circle.
“Eeeeeee!  THANK YOU!!! They.  Are.  So. COOL!”  I squealed as I pirouetted up into the air, my wings pulsating with light.  I spun until Astra started to gently loosen my grip around Quin.  I barely kept myself from dropping her when I realized that I’d been hugging her so hard her ribs had bent.  I quickly descended and set them down.  I knew I should be upset with my lack of control but Quin looked more bemused than hurt so the most I could manage was embarrassed.  “I’m sorry.” I apologized as I vibrated with excitement.  “The designs are so wonderful I just couldn’t stop myself and the crest is perfect.  How is the intermittent effect achieved?”
Andrew smiled, “Reflective crystals just 2 or 3 molecules thick arranged in varying grids pointing different directions.  All in a durable media the thickness of a coat of paint.” he explained while pulling the breastplate out of a box and handing it to me.  “It’s nearly as durable as the material it’s adhered to and easy to replace if it is defaced by damage.”  He continued as I looked it over.  “Now.  Where would you like to start?”
It took me a few minutes but I decided to start with the designs meant to go with Grendel.  It took a few tries but I was eventually able to, as Shell put it, project “proper feline disdain.” to go with his near perpetual glower for a few serious shots.  But after that the time was spent with fun and sometimes silly scenes. Including one where Donna had found an outfit for me that matched Nix and had us do an “Ogre being kissed by faeries” shot.  Grendel pretended to be long suffering but the looks the rest of the team gave him after we were done told a different story.
The shots with Astra were even more fun.  While I could lift her maul easily (at least after she described how to “fly” to counterbalance the weight) I didn’t feel comfortable posing with it.  But Mrs. Li, a sensei for my youth self defense class back in Portland, had taught me to use both Tonfa and a Bo staff.  Pixello actually had a pair of Tonfa on hand and after a bit of looking he found some unused structural rods and fashioned one into a Bo staff for me.  So after the promotional stills they recorded me doing forms with Astra for about ten minutes.
The other winners of the F3 competition had their photos taken separately using one of several smaller stand alone studios Pixello had in the hanger.   The group shot would be assembled digitally later under Quin’s supervision and sent to each of the winners.  
We were getting ready to go when Grandma Alice turned to me. “Well my little Rionnagh have you had fun today?”
“It’s been wonderful Grandma.”  I sighed happily,  “Malcom’s teammates are almost like family.  I wish the day didn’t have to end so soon.”
“Well my dear I have good news and bad news about that.” Grandma sighed as she reached up and stroked my cheeks, “The good news is The Sentinels have invited us to The Dome to throw us a reunion dinner.  The bad news is they want their Dr. Beth to give you a quick once over before then.  Mostly to see how your noggin is doing.” she said running her fingers over the light scar.  It had barely itched all day but I could feel my ears droop.
“Oh sweety it won’t be that bad.”  She lifted my chin to look me in the eye. ”Hey.  Would it make it easier if Astra flew with you to The Dome so you can get the examination over with sooner?”  
Eyes wide I managed to stammer “I-it w-would.”
“Good.” she said with her eyes twinkling.  “Because your father and I told them you’d be delighted.”
She hugged my head tight to her shoulder as I went weepy happy again.  Putting my arms around her I very carefully hugged her back.  A few deep breaths later she gave me one last squeeze and reluctantly let me go.  
Looking up as I dried my face I could see Astra walking over carrying her maul.  Smiling at me she held out her hand, “Well young lady are you ready to go?”
“Yes, ma’am.” I said standing up.  I wondered for a moment why she blushed but filed it away for later.  ASTRA was going to take me for what would be my first real flight.  I had so much energy I started skipping as we walked to the door leading outside.  Laughing, Astra skipped with me.  
The members that hadn’t left yet were all smiles as Astra had me put my mask back on.  She floated up, adjusted it, and showed me how to use the comms.  Satisfied she took my hand again.  “Ready?”
In answer I rose into the air and followed her up into the bright August sky.  The towers of downtown glittered in the afternoon sun as we flew toward the city.

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I became aware of a soft rumble as I drifted awake.  Slowly opening my eyes I found myself still wrapped in a blanket and there was a large black furred arm cradling me.  I smothered a giggle, the rumble (not quite snoring) was coming from Tygeara.  “Ruth.” I corrected myself.  She liked the name I’d come up with for her but said she’d feel better if I called her Ruth, at least in private with friends.  I thought it made her seem more like a new older sister or young auntie so I didn’t mind.  
Not wanting to wake her, I focused;  between one heartbeat and the next the world washed in silvery white and I drifted through her arm to stand  next to the bed.  When I was here living things glowed with a “light”, though the light generated by sentients was brighter.  I took a moment to look around.  Ruth’s light was bright and warm next to me and one of Tokki’s was in the living area nearby.  That she was a redux meant I could see filaments leading off to other nearly identical lights both nearby and more distant.  I’d given up trying to count them at “lots”.  Satisfied, I “let go” and everything returned to its normal color.  Quickly I padded away on my digitigrade feet to take care of the reason I woke up.  On my way back I detoured past the cove.  It was lit from below and the water was so clear it looked like open air.  At the edge a series of wide steps led to the water.  I walked down and picked one that was just far enough above the surface that I could dip my feet and most of my calves in and kick them without splashing water to where I was sitting.
I watched my fur flow back and forth in the water as I thought back to last night.  All the panic I’d felt then was gone.  Daddy hadn’t taken long to get over the sight of me with fur.  In fact he didn’t do much more than blink when we found out I could fly (by manifesting white glowy wings), change my size, (from full size to as short as one foot in height) and phantom shift like I had to get clear of Ruth.  I could even shift just one body part at a time, and hadn’t finding that out been fun.  I shivered at the thought.  Poor Tokki, she’d turned around from cooking to see my disembodied face hanging in the air behind her and the rest of me still sitting at the counter 20 feet away.  I didn’t know who screamed louder, her or me.  Luckily a dim glowing mist hid where my disassociated parts would normally connect.  Despite the creepiness of that, Daddy handled it better than finding out what Mother had done to trigger my breakthrough.  The detective had said Aunt Beth would be alright; her son Billy had managed to get the hockey stick away from mother and the police had arrived before she broke her way back into the house with the axe she’d taken from the shed in the backyard.  Despite being covered in blood that wasn’t hers she tried to lie her way out of it by saying Billy was the one that attacked his Mom and me.  I was glad that Aunt Beth had both video and audio security footage to prove otherwise.
Mother.  I rolled the word around in my head.  I felt no emotional attachment to it.  Thinking back I realized I hadn’t called her Mommy since my first birthday the year she’d moved us to Oregon.  I didn’t realize I was crying until my tears fell into the water in front of me.  They flowed faster as I realized the woman I’d called Mommy had been buried under a stranger for over two years.  Sobs escaped me before I reeled it back in.  OK.  Deep breaths.  I still had Daddy and Grandma Alice and I would get to see them tomorrow (or was it today?).  
I sat watching my feet as I kicked the water and let my mind wander.  I realized my thinking was clearer now than it was before my breakthrough.  Not only was I remembering larger and more complex words, but I was learning new words easily-even from different languages.  I didn’t really feel smarter or more grown up but some of my former interests felt so shallow now.
I blinked as it registered that my feet were a different shape.  While I’d been distracted by my thoughts they’d elongated and grown a leathery webbing between the toes.  I’d grown my own swim fins!  I covered my mouth to muffle the giggles, sound carried over water easily and I didn’t want to wake Ruth.  I swung my legs over the next step down and looked at them.  I frowned when I realized my feet now pointed straight “down” from my legs.  Walking on them would be impossible.  As if triggered by the thought of walking my feet started shifting back; 30 seconds later and I had my land legs back.  OK, that was good but I was still dripping water.  Standing up I realized I could “see” the water, even where it was soaked under my fur.  I tried visualizing the water flowing out, and off, of my fur and a tremor shook my legs, spraying water everywhere.
I had to smother giggles again; I wasn’t perfectly dry but at least I wouldn’t drip on the rugs.  I went back up the steps and toward the main living area.  Padding in I could see the three clocks on the wall, one each for Chicago, New York and Munich, the one for Chicago was at 5:30 am.  A little further in I could hear Tokki working at a console.  She hadn’t moved so I was able to enter the area in full view, not that it mattered.  She was so focused on her work I still had to knock on the counter to get her attention.  
Tokki started. “Oh!  Good morning Sydney.  You’re up early.  Couldn’t sleep in?”
I shook my head,  “Not really.  Um, Tokki?  Have you done my swimsuit yet?”
Tokki’s eyes unfocused for a bit before she answered, “Yes we have.”  She pointed at a table set up next to a curtained area.  “It should be in that pile over there.  Thinking of going for a dip are you?”  She smiled, “I’m Maryanne by the way.”
I nodded, “Thank you Maryanne. Yes I’d like to. If it’s okay and if there is time?”  I walked over to the table and carefully sorted through until I found it.  I picked it up and blushed-they’d adjusted it from the one I’d had.  It was a modest suit that went all the way to my neck but they’d made it in the same dark blue as Astra’s costumes.  They hadn’t put stars on it but they had however left a small diamond shaped keyhole an inch below the neck that would let my fur show through.
Maryanne smiled as she answered.  “It should be fine.  Breakfast will be served between 7 and 8.  You can be damp but not dripping wet.  You also need to be ready to go to meet your family by 10.  
We set up a changing area for you behind those curtains.”  she continued, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.  Also there aren’t any fish so you won’t need to worry about scaring them, but Ruth will start doing laps at 6 and there are a few of me planting kelp fields.  You can look but save any questions for above water if you can? ”
“I’ll try ma’am.” My ears dipped at the half serious tease.  I’d asked a LOT of questions last night.  Stepping behind the curtain I looked closer at the suit.  Donna had put a lot of thought into the design.  A one piece, it covered me from just above mid-thigh to my neck and a swim skirt would hide the top of my tail and hang to just below the legs of the suit.  Fasteners Donna had labeled “zip” and “clip” (one on each leg and one on the back) let me put the suit on loose and then secure it without rubbing my fur the wrong way.  I managed the legs easily enough but I pulled fur as I fought with the back for a minute or two before thinking of “detaching” my hands and face so I could get a direct view instead of awkwardly reaching behind me.  The back fastener clipped just above my tail so I didn’t have to thread it through a hole and zipped to the second clip at the base of  my shoulders, and two more clips that closed the back in the pattern of a nine part star ending just below my neck.  So they had put one on.  It had central oval with eight spars radiating out from it.  Superficially it looked like Astra’s crest but even if the parts were connected the actual shape would be different.  I liked it.
On a whim I “dismissed” my body so I was left looking at just my head in the mirror.  Giggles mixed with laughter as I went through the poses I could remember from the stories and shows that grandma had shared with me.  
I was on “eyes over wide toothy grin” when the curtain opened.  “Someone in here is having way too much fu...HOLY SHIT!!!” Maryanne yelled as she stumbled backwards and fell to the floor gasping.
“I’m sorry.I’m sorry.I’m sorry.I’m sorry. Maryanne I didn’t mean to scare you.”  My apology rushed out as I faded all the way back in. “Please don’t be mad.”  My ears and tail were tight to my body as I watched her lay back on the floor and shudder.  Confusion added to my misery when I when I realized she was laughing.  “What?”
Maryanne managed to gasp out, “Oh oh oh crap.  A-a-apparently another me seeing that wasn’t enough to prepare me for seeing it in person.”  She raised her arms and weakly waved me over.  “Come here you unintentional rascal.  Hugs.” She wrapped me up as I buried my face in her shoulder.  Deep breath, “Whew. Hush now.  You didn’t do anything wrong or bad.  It’s my own fault for not knocking first.” She said while kissing my forehead and stroking my hair and ears.  “I don’t know if I’d call that fun but.  Wow!  What a rush.”
A rumble came from the direction of the sleeping area.  “Couldn’t you get your ‘rush’ a little more quietly?”
Oops, we’d woken Ruth.  I exchanged looks with Maryanne before checking the clock,  “Do we get any leniency for it only being 5 minutes early?”
Maryanne gave me another hug and a kiss to the cheek before answering, “We can hope but keep your cute handy.”  She gave a wink, “Just in case.  Now help me up.”
We were on our feet by the time Ruth came around the corner in her human shape while doing what looked like warm up stretches.  She took one look at us and grunted, “Maryanne you should be ashamed.  Hiding behind Sydney like that.”  She turned to me, “And you, your giggling cuteness, are you planning to join me this morning?”  She walked over and hugged me.
I hugged her back hard.  Even in human shape Ruth was solid as a rock it felt good to not hold back.  “If you don’t mind.” I blushed.
Ruth nuzzled my ear and let me go. “Well we wouldn’t want Donna to have wasted her time.  She did a good job.  You look very pretty in that suit.”
I blushed, “Thank you.  Oh!  Do you know if Donna intended the shape on the back to be a crest?”  I held my hair to the side and turned so Ruth could see.
Ruth looked at Maryanne before answering, “It’s possible.  Are you saying you’re thinking of picking a name?”
I looked at them and shifted on my feet, “Yes.  Since I don’t look human anymore I think I’d feel better with a ‘cape’ name.  And since Donna already put a fitting symbol on this it feels right if the world knows me as my Grandma’s little star.  Her Rionnagh.”
Maryanne took my face in her hands and gave me a kiss on the bridge of my nose before letting me go and saying.  “That was from Donna.  She’s very happy you like the pattern and wants to know if you want it on any of the other clothing?”  I picked three outfits so I’d have options for different situations.  Then they had me pose and took pictures to send to Donna.  After that Maryanne chased us off, telling us to go swim.
Ruth watched with amusement as I ran ahead and jumped out over the water.  I drifted in the air while I thought about what I wanted.  The flippers from before reformed quickly and I felt something on my neck.  I touched it tentatively.  Gills?  Finally my fur altered to be water repellent.
Ruth called from shore,  “Are you just going to hover there pequeña or are you going to get in?”
I looked over my shoulder at her and giggled like a furry imp before dropping into the water.  Transparent lids closed over my eyes as I swam in circles and got the hang of breathing water.  Finally I couldn’t contain myself.  I shot up out of the water, did a flip and then dove down at full speed, swimming as fast as I could through the channels with my laughter echoing off of the walls around me.
I heard a splash as Ruth jumped in after me.  I circled a pillar as I waited for her to catch up and then took off again.  Her laugh was a subsonic rumble as she gave chase.  I managed to stay ahead of her for a few minutes until I tumbled after a wrong move and she caught me up and attacked me with hugs and nuzzles.
After one last hug Ruth let me go and had me swim next to her as she did “laps”.  They were a (mostly) underwater race course that included slaloms that could go any direction, jumps that took us through the air,  and they were long.  She started with the speed we’d been going and raised it from there.  Not far into the first lap I realized I’d formed a water version of my flying wings and the faster we went the brighter they glowed and the more “attached” they were to my body.  By the third lap they were shining as bright as the sun and I was enveloped in light from my nose to the tip of my tail.
Partway through the forth lap Ruth suddenly slowed down and stopped.  As my glow faded I noticed an orb floating on the other side of her.  It followed us as we surfaced.  
Ruth turned to me,  “Apparently time got away from us lucecita.  It’s almost seven.”  She kissed my forehead. “You’re going to need to go on ahead, just follow the orb.  It will take you through a shortcut.  I need to feed the real big me before I join you.”
I gave her a hug before asking,  “Does the shortcut go through water at all?”
Ruth tilted her head to the side before answering,  “Dr. Brock assures me it doesn’t.  I’ll see you soon.”  After one last squeeze she let me go.  
I rose clear of the water and followed the orb toward shore.  Part way there I shook the water off and started shifting back to land form.  I heard a snort and turned to see Ruth’s eyes twinkling back at me.  My ears dipped in a blush and not for the first time I wondered if the feline traits I was displaying were just part of my breakthrough or if they were affectations I used because others found them adorable and made them (and by extension me) feel better.  I shrugged shyly and gave Ruth one last wave before stepping on shore and letting gravity reassert itself.  I almost started flying again when my legs wobbled beneath me.  I giggled.  Ooops. Right. I’d forgotten I needed to walk on the “balls” of my feet now as I didn’t really have heels anymore.
After a few shakey steps I found my center and followed the orb up a short path to a door hidden in the wall.  It opened to admit me and I found myself in a long, arched hallway lined with alcoves containing doors, hundreds of them in many different shapes and sizes.  The orb led me through a short series of them until one opened into a large cafeteria type space.  Dozens of Tokki were sitting at different tables, gathered in groups of similar dress and hair color.  Could one person be different cliques?  Reduxes were weird.
The orb led me to a table where Kim sat with Dr. Harte and a man I didn’t know.  He stood and greeted me.  “Good morning Ms. Scott.  Allow me to introduce myself.  I am Dr. Adam Brock, a professor of  Physics and Extra-reality theory.  What you see around you is the result of my studies coming to fruition.  Would you be so kind as to join us?”  He asked and gestured to an empty space at the table.  
“Thank you Dr. Brock.  I’d like that.”  I threaded my tail through the open back of the chair as I sat.
A Tokki who introduced herself as Ginger came up at that moment pushing a cart containing covered trays.  Scents began wafting to me as she started removing lids.  I was hungry enough after my swim that the smells started my tail lashing back and forth of its own accord in agitation beneath my chair.  Then my stomach growled even louder than it had last night.  My ears went flat and I tried to sink into the chair from embarrassment.  
Ginger smiled and, at a nod from Dr. Brock, served me first.  She made a breakfast burrito starting with over a pound of steak and adding plenty of eggs, beans and a few vegetables.  My eyes boggled when she set it in front of me and began serving the others.  It had to weigh almost three pounds!  My shyness only kept my hunger in check in that I managed to chew and swallow each bite before taking the next one.  I’d found out last night that the Tokkis that cooked took their jobs seriously.  The flavors were good enough that, despite my resolve to eat slowly it was still gone before Ginger had finished serving the others.
I sipped my drink and nibbled at the fruit and cream she’d set by me while she whipped me up a second burrito as big as the first one.  I took a bite and curled my feet around the legs of my chair at the flavor.  If anything the taste was even better than the first one.
Dr. Harte smiled at me,  “Well young lady, your morning workout seems to have given you quite the appetite.”  I felt my ears droop.  “Easy.  No need for that child.  After Ruth’s arrival two weeks ago I spent several days studying up on transformative breakthroughs and those with Darwin powers such as those the Young Sentinel Grendel has displayed.  The one thing many of them have in common is the need for food to ‘power up’ as it were.”
I looked at her,  “Darwin? Isn’t that shapechanging?”
Dr. Harte’s eyes twinkled,  “Not quite.  A Darwin shifts to adapt to situations and environments.  A shape changer often has just one or two forms they can change to, though not always.  She shook her head, “It can get quite confusing.  Especially when it’s not known if a specific breakthrough has Darwin abilities or is a ‘supernatural’ shapechanger, such as a werebeast, vampire or a Kami to give a few examples.”
“Oh.” I looked down at my food and frowned.  I was half finished with this one already. “Does that mean I’ll end up eating like this every day?”
Dr. Harte shook her head.  “I don’t think so.  Ruth is only feeding her full Tygeara form twice a day now.  When she first came here it was every 2-3 hours.  The caloric demand seemed to lessen as her body became used to the changes.  If your adaptations are similar to hers your appetite will dwindle in a day or two.”
I relaxed a bit.  If I couldn’t stay here I didn’t want to eat daddy out of house and home.  Wait.  “Ruth feeds at full size as Tygeara doesn’t she?  How do you find enough food to feed a grown Kaiju twice a day?”
Dr. Brock smiled,  “I cheated of course.” and gave a wink at my questioning look. “While Ruth is technically a transforming Ajax she does have a very large reservoir of what could be considered Psychic energy or (if you prefer) Mana, that self regenerates.  Normally she uses it for her breath-weapon but each use needs a relatively small amount of it.  With her consent I was able to bind part of it to our little realm and form the sea that now serves as her ‘apartment’ as well as add more features and expand some of the existing ones.  One of the features I expanded was the ability to create food.  I placed a ‘larder’ in a sea cave that provides enough food to  satisfy a hungry Kaiju.  It renews within an hour and won’t spoil.” A sad look crossed his face.  “Unfortunately any food made here evaporates like a dream if you try to take it outside of our boundaries.”
Oh.  So that meant no miracle cure for world hunger but, “OH! Is that why Tokki is planting kelp?  Is she planting other crops?”
Ginger smiled at me,  “Yes it is and yes.  Anything we grow here is real and can be used outside of our boundaries.  My agricultural corp has become by far the most numerous of me.” She gestured at my plate, “Do you have room for another?”
I blinked and looked down.  I was down to my last bite and my mouth still watered when I looked at the tray of steak.  I managed a meek,  “Yes please.” as my ears dipped.
A human sized Ruth joined us as Ginger was putting it together, “My word cachorra.  Did you leave anything for me?”  she teased.
My ears dipped further when I looked at the trays and realized that, as far as the steak and eggs went, I hadn’t.
“Well Ruth what do you expect?  You’re late.” Ginger teased her in my defense.  “You’ll just have be satisfied with fruit and cream until I can bring you something else.” She handed me my third burrito before asking Ruth, “Your usual then?”
Ruth rolled her eyes theatrically, “Fine.”  She took a seat and looked at me.  “Now that Rionnagh has a grip on hers I might lose a finger if I tried to take it.”  She said as she reached towards me.
I intended to just grumble at her for teasing me but my ears went flat back against my head and I started growling at her through my food.  “What am I doing?!!”  
I think Ruth could see how startled I was at my reaction because she relented.  “Oh I’m sorry pequeña.  I couldn’t help myself.  You’re still on your first day of fuzzy cuteness and far too adorable to do anything to help my self control.”
My ears shifted to their “bashful” position and I relaxed again.  After a few bites I felt calm enough to converse.  We talked more about New Underland and Dr. Brock explained how he’d taken inspiration from the artist M. C. Escher.  Since Dr. Brock could write some of his own “rules” He’d used the concepts presented in the artist’s “impossible” works to create what amounted to a wide open labyrinth.  He showed me pictures of fields where the “sky” was more fields and where a light directed through an arch didn’t shine out the other side but out of one miles away.  He’d even made it so that if you traveled in a straight line you would end up where you started.
At that I looked up from the yogurt I was ending my breakfast with.  “Dr. Brock?  If you can travel in any direction and not reach an edge inside, doesn’t that mean that if you’re outside and don’t know what you’re looking for, everything here would occupy the same pinpoint?  And you could walk past or even through it without knowing it’s here?”
Everyone at the table looked back at me with stunned expressions.  They were quiet so long I started wondering what I’d said wrong.
Dr. Brock chuckled, “Young lady do you know how many fourth year students I’ve had that didn’t realize what you just did?  I have to wonder how much is insight granted by your breakthrough and how much is just you being so delightfully bright and open minded.  Did you have any other questions?”
I found myself blushing again, “Yes I did.  I was wondering why you have so many doors?”
He looked at me. “With so much territory, especially after the expansion, it saves time to have multiple access points to a smaller hub area.”
I fidgeted a bit “Well. Yes but do you have to have a door on the hub end for each access?  Could you give the doors on the far end a ‘tick’ so that a single door on the hub side could be set to access different doors by entering a code to ‘tune’ it to match different ticks?”
My question caught Dr. Brock finishing his coffee.  He stopped, put his cup down and stared off into space.  Finally looked at me with a thoughtful expression on his face.   Dr. Harte looked at him,  “Well Adam?  We’re all waiting for your answer.”
Dr. Brock pulled a device out of his pocket and pointed it at me.  After pressing a few points on it his face was lit by a glow and his eyebrows raised in startlement.  After seeming to repeat the process he put the device down and turned to Ginger.  “Does Sif have the design for the apiary and arboretum she wanted mapped yet?”
Ginger tilted her head as if listening before nodding.  “Yes she does.  She has rendered three versions for your perusal.”
Dr. Brock turned to me and tapped his device.  “This reads an individual’s Psychic energy capacity and can tell if that amount is static or can be grown further through experience and training.  You, Rionnagh, appear to have substantial capacity already and even greater potential.  Would you like to help me test your theory?”
Dr. Harte fixed him with a stern look, “Adam.  Are you proposing what I think you are?”
Dr. Brock looked taken aback, “Yes my dear.  I am.  Could you have Kim contact Rionnagh’s father and grandmother and see if it would be acceptable for us to create accommodations for her here should she want them?”
Feeling stunned I managed to stammer out,  “A- accommodations?  D-do you mean rooms of my own?  I won’t stay with Ruth while I’m here?”  
Dr. Brock,  “While I don’t think Ruth would mind a sleepover or three, her grotto was designed with her needs in mind.” He smiled at me,  “And considering that you would be supplying the energy to make the pocket it would be remiss of me to not offer at least a ‘small’ part of it for you to consider your own to share with others.  Though I can think of a few people that may put restrictions on that.” He finished with a wink.
I squirmed.  Ruth looked as conflicted as I felt.  It had been wonderful to wake up being held by someone who cared about me but once I was safe would I want that all of the time?  I looked at Dr. Brock, “Would someone be just the right doorway away?  At least for a little while?”
Dr.  Harte answered for him. “That can be easily arranged my dear.  Although Ruth might take the tiger’s share of those nights.  At least at first.”  and smiled at us.
I was both surprised and pleased to see Ruth blush at that.  I smiled back, “I’d like that.” I looked at Dr. Brock, “You said arboretum.  Does that mean I can have a tree tree house?” I felt my own blush rise as I heard Ginger giggle.
I’d lowered my eyes so I didn’t see the twinkle in Dr. Brock’s when he answered in a serious tone, “I’m sure Sif will be able to come up with something.”  He looked down at his watch, “Now if I’m not mistaken you and Ruth have a little under two hours to finish cleaning up, decide what to wear and get to our Chicago office to meet your family.  While you are doing that I will consult with Sif and begin preparations to shape the new pocket.”  He stood and bowed slightly to me and more deeply to Dr. Harte.  “Of course pending her family’s approval.  I will leave the details in your capable and discerning hands my dear.”  He handed his device to her and turned to walk off through a door that led to what looked like a study.
My new ears caught Dr. Harte’s sigh as she watched him go.  She caught sight of them perked in her direction and grimaced, “With everything you’re dealing with now I don’t know that you need an eccentric uncle added into the mix.”  She turned the device to look at it and did a double take.  She set it down and came around the table to me.  Kneeling next to me she took my face in her hands and looked me in the eyes.  Then she chanted something and pulled her hands away just enough that she could pass them down my body without touching me.  Finishing she sat on a chair next to me and looked…. annoyed?
I felt my ears dip as I looked at her, “Is something wrong Dr. Harte?”
“Nothing you did young lady.” She reassured me with a pat on the knee.  “I was hesitant to agree to Adam’s proposal as it might limit your abilities.  But the energy you used to help me last night is not what you seem to use to power your abilities.  He can be insufferable when he’s right.”  She stroked my cheek and became serious, “But I must warn you if you do allow us to bind a portion of your power to add to our home you will always be a part of it.”
Ginger popped over my shoulder startling me, “Yeah.  You’ll be stuck with us forever and there are a LOT of me to take turns being the annoying sister.”
“And even more of you to be the embarrassing one.”  Ruth snarked from her place as she rose from her chair.
Dr. Harte looked at me with concern as I started crying. “Rionnagh what’s wrong?”
The tears kept coming but I started laughing, “Nothing is w-wrong.  I’m h-happy b-but I can’t decide w-who to h-hug f-first.”
Dr. Harte smiled,  “If that’s the case I’ll make it easier….  I’m pulling rank.”  I was a soggy mess but she handed me a napkin before pulling me into her arms as Ginger and Ruth looked on.  Then I had to giggle as Ginger stuck her tongue out at Ruth when she beat her to me after Dr. Harte let me go.
When Ruth finally got her turn she shifted to her rest form and grabbed me up.  Dr. Harte smiled and Ginger laughed.   She didn’t put me down again until we were back to her grotto so we could shower and get ready.  
A little over an hour later we were dressed.  Donna had come down to supervise and had bullied Ruth into an outfit that coordinated with mine.  Dr. Harte had gotten in touch with Daddy and Grandma and they’d given their approval for Dr. Brock to begin so before we left we stopped by his workshop so I could “charge” the matrix he’d prepared.  He assured me there wouldn’t be anything to see for a day or two and shooed us away so he could concentrate.
With no more delays I found myself in front of the door that led to the NU office in Chicago.  Looking at it I pressed into Ruth’s side as I started trembling.  She put her arm around me and held me close.  “Easy pequeña.  Kim just welcomed your family to our office and they’re waiting for you.”
“I’m s-sorry Ruth.” I apologized as I started shaking.  “I-I’m just af-fraid that w-when we open that door I’ll wake up back in Oregon and all of this will h-have been a dream.”
“It’s okay cachorra.  I’m here.”  She intertwined her fingers with mine and placed our hands on the handle. “Together now.”
At her gentle urging I turned the handle and pushed the door open.  Stepping through I found myself in a short hall with the sound of voices coming around a corner to our right.  It was four steps but it felt like miles as I forced myself to walk that direction.  The talking stopped as they heard the door close behind us.  Stepping around the corner I could see Daddy and grandma Alice standing with Malcom.  Behind them were Kim and another Tokki I didn’t know standing next to a man in a rumpled coat that smelled of cigarettes.  My brother broke the silence first.
“Sydney?  Is that really you?”  I nodded and he took a step forward and opened his arms.  “Well Squirt, are you just going to stand there or are you going to give your brother a hug?”  His voice choked a bit but he was smiling.  
The next thing I knew I had my arms around his neck and we were both crying.  He wasn’t as strong as Ruth but he took my hug while Daddy and Grandma Alice reached around to hug us both.  I didn’t care if I cried enough to take  Donna an hour to dry me back out.  I was HOME.

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fhwrege
Frank Wrege
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:iconcalendria:
Calendria Featured By Owner Edited Mar 16, 2019  Hobbyist General Artist
Llama by Calendria  
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Bebe-Emerald Featured By Owner Jul 13, 2018  Student Digital Artist
Hi!
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PressurizedPleasure Featured By Owner Feb 23, 2017  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks for the :+devwatch:
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MADMANMIKE Featured By Owner Apr 30, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
And the watch!
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MADMANMIKE Featured By Owner Aug 28, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks for the fave!
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MADMANMIKE Featured By Owner Mar 17, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks for the comment.
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JWiesner Featured By Owner Oct 23, 2011  Professional
Thank you very much for the watch!! :heart:
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blw7920 Featured By Owner Oct 20, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks for visiting my page!!! :)
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HerculeHunt Featured By Owner May 25, 2011
Thanks for watching
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chainedknee Featured By Owner May 24, 2011
thanks for the watch!
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