"You must be doing well for yourself if you got one of those."
"Well enough, that's for sure," Mia confirmed. "Maybe too well for some people. Hence why I'm here and not back in my penthouse."
Another girl came up, German based on her accent. She had heard enough accents at various tables to have a decent enough ear for them. She definitely was more to Mia's level in terms of dress compared to the others.
"I'm Dana. Nice to meet you all ... I guess."
The people weren't trying to kill her, but they definitely didn't earn the courtesy of knowing Mia's real name. So she pulled out one of her aliases. "Taylor McDavid," she said, giving a wave. "I guess it's nice to meet you too." Mia sighed. "Gotta admit, when I pulled up here I was sure I made a mistake. Nothing but kids and hobos. But I guess some other decent folk had to wander in at some time."
She was interrupted by the real Matron's call from the doorway. It seemed like the spider had attracted some of the other flies already into it's web. People started streaming into the building, but Mia wasn't sure she wanted to join them.
"So we gonna wait until we make sure there's no screaming from that place? Or we going to follow after those poor marks?"
"Well I mean it's that or start walking so I know what I'm doing," Enrique answered the woman with a smile and hiked up his jacket. Walking towards the Matron. The banging had unnerved him but he had his cigarette and sometimes all someone needed to let him go was a sharp burst of heat. It had gotten out of more than one scrap. It also helped that no one here knew what his Awakened power was. He didn't know theirs either, but he couldn't worry about the little things like that.
He approached the entrance to the house, nodding to the others as he walked by, approaching the Matron just as another was introducing himself, "And I am Enrique ma'am, it is an absolute pleasure."
Emil relaxed slightly as the woman approached, but still kept a close eye on the man "The Matron" identified as "Henry". The guy obviously wasn't in his right state of mind. After a moment (and seeing that Henry was leaving the room), he turned towards the door where the others were coming through.
He took a deep breath. "Guess I should introduce myself, then. My name's Emil, and if you don't mind me asking, why did you invite us all here?" Now that he was here, it was about time he got some answers.
"Wait, did anyone's letter have a time or date to show up? Cuz mine sure didn't." As the curator of this peculiar situation revealed herself, it became clear to Justin that the people standing around him were all new to this experiment as well. "Weird that we all showed up on the same day, and within minutes of one another..." He kept the coincidence to himself as he looked on. His attention was specifically gained once the Matron mentioned him and their registry dossiers. She said his name, only confirming that he was in the right place...much to his disappointment.
"Dammit." He could've slinked out of the crowd and did an 180 if she hadn't of done that. Now his curiosity was getting the best of him. Now he just had to see what this was all about.
The Matron simultaneously led the folks indoors while she herself began transitioning outdoors. Justin had meant to address her in that moment (or, at least he should've) but instead he proceeded further inside. It was a weird situation, to put it lightly, but considering how dusty and decrepit some of the cast looked, Justin could only consider that they might've been in the same situation as himself. At the ends of their respective ropes, out of money, and low on hope.
...Except for that one girl that rolled up in the Audi. She looked like she had everything figured out.
Justin stepped over the worn threshold of that house as the old housekeeper mentioned the parlor. Funneling out the side conversations and the cautious queries of his Awakened peers, Justin zeroed in on the girl that had walked up the wall a couple of moments ago. She was talking to the Hispanic looking dude about the surrealness of the situation. He made mental note of their names as they introduced themselves.
"...but the locals are telling me The Hills Have Eyes, and what she's saying says Island of Doctor Moreau." He heard her say.
"Give it time, we'll probably have more movie-specific cliches to add to the list. I'm anticipating hints of A Clockwork Orange and Doctor Dolittle. With some Little Rascals thrown in probably," His words were fast and distracted, as he addressed the Matron herself in less than a beat.
"Alright, so I guess I'll be the first to ask the real pressing questions:" Our rude little lamb bleated to her back, his voice bouncing between the tall walls of the house. "What's the status of wireless internet in this place? I'm guessing wi-fi? I mean, I know it's a little old-fashioned in this day and age, but my phone's gonna go off in a couple of days, and beggars can't be choosers. And I can't live without my Spotify." He elaborated. The old maid most likely didn't hear him at this point, but Justin continued talking anyway. He has a habit of doing that. "So if we could just get that password..." He purposely trailed off as he cycled through his phone's settings for the internet settings.
She smiled at being called 'decent folk' by 'Taylor'. Of course she was also smelling a lot better than the rest of the group, as well as being more careful. Which was a good thing in Dana's book.
"So we gonna wait until we make sure there's no screaming from that place? Or we going to follow after those poor marks?" she said. The spanish/mexican guy was less hesitant. "Well I mean it's that or start walking so I know what I'm doing," he said and walked away.
"Hmm ..." Dana made, and waited a second, before speaking up again. "I guess the screaming has stopped for now. I would be on guard, but it seems we are being invited in. I just hope this mansion always has a way to get out, again ... if this was a mistake, I want at least the chance to fix it sooner than later." She picked up her bags, created a few more of those clicking sounds before standing and waiting a bit behind the others who had gone in. There was a question from a young texan man she had not noticed before, of which the answer interested her as well:
"Why did you invite us all here?"
As the Matron moved down into the courtyard, she scanned the remaining folks. From what she could recall, everybody who she had invited had come, much to her joy. She couldn't really afford to be down any participants. They also seemed to be forming their own alliances quickly; Justin, Octavio and Vagari had quickly joined each other and begun to chat in the parlour, she noticed, but didn't catch any words in particular. She heard Justin calling out to her, but failed to catch what he had said. No matter, she would attend to him in time. As she descended with an ethereal ease, a swarthy fellow. He was the taller of the two near-eastern fellows, and so she assessed that she must be looking upon Mohammad Charmchi, and sure enough...
"I'm Mohammad Charmchi, ma'am."
He called her ma'am! He even did a little bow, bless his heart! Oh how adorable, how very sweet; Mohammad, quite against her desire to play favourites, immediately placed himself in her good books. With a kindly smile, she placed hand on his shoulder and proffered him her tea (She would need both hands to greet the others, after all).
"I had reasoned as much, but I appreciate your introduction nonetheless; I will not assume to shake your hand, if you have a preferred method of greeting you may tell me and I shall perform it. I may even curtsy, if you so request it," she chattered rather excitably, her warmth now overflowing despite herself. While she chattered, from behind her came a voice, the slight accent of which informed her she would be turning to find Enrique; and sure enough, there he was.
"And I am Enrique ma'am, it is an absolute pleasure."
Such polite boys! Her heart was melting faster than she could freeze it. She removed her hand from Mohammad's shoulder (though she still proferred the tea) and she reached out to shake Enrique's hand.
"The pleasure is all mine, Enrique, I assure you. Thank you for making the trip out here; I know it couldn't've been easy. If you step inside, the parlour's on the right, you may find some refreshment. I request that you refrain from raiding my bar until the meeting is over," she said, ending with a knowing wink, "and please, no smoking in the house, not least because I know that it will make Henry nervous."
"Guess I should introduce myself. My name's Emil, and if you don't mind me asking, why did you invite us all here?"
A new voice was calling to her from the hallway, while she was in the courtyard, which was rude enough on its own, but the caller was also rather impertinent in his tone, which came as an additional disappointment to Cassandra as she came down from the joy she felt from her polite boys. With only a slight awkwardness, she turned around again, opposite to the direction she had turned to greet Enrique, so that she now faced the Manor while still being capable of proferring the tea and her hand. She steeled her face and hid her distaste with the same attempt at a warm smile she had put on for Octavio.
"Hello there, Emil!" she called out, "If you will enter the parlour, on the left, and wait a moment, I shall reveal all! A mite more patience, if you please!"
"Octavio, right? Vagari."
"Yeah, that's meet, nice to meet you, but you can call me Otto, it's a bit easier to say without an accent," Octavio, or Otto rather, was starting to enter full etiquette mode, just hiding behind a series of smiles and hand shakes while he was sizing up the place.
"I'm trying to decide what horror movie we're in. The House says the second-rate Oregon-based remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but the locals are telling me The Hills Have Eyes, and what she's saying says Island of Doctor Moreau."
"Give it time, we'll probably have more movie-specific cliches to add to the list. I'm anticipating hints of A Clockwork Orange and Doctor Dolittle. With some Little Rascals thrown in probably,"
"Never saw any of those frankly, they all before my time, but yeah, actually this is my first time inside of a Residential School since I was a kid, looks like this one was nicer than mine, though heavy emphasis on was." He responded, while he found the route to the parlor. Spying a table in the room with a tea pot and a kettle and wondered if it would be rude to pour himself a cup. Instead he grabbed a pitcher of chilled water and poured himself a glass. It's probably less likely to be poisoned. He was acting uncharacteristically paranoid but this situation was hardly normal. He kept telling himself to calm down and expect the best but kept imagining himself taking a sip of tea, falling asleep, and waking up on the dissection table of whoever this Josef person was. Which seemed like something that would only happen in a comic book, and if the last decade of his life had taught him anything, it was that he did not live in a comic book.
"Hello there, Emil! If you will enter the parlour, in the left, and wait a moment, I shall reveal all! A mite more patience if you please!"
Emil frowned, but obliged with a quiet, "Thanks."
He dropped down on a tattered sofa and started taking in the rest of the group. They were a varied bunch, obviously from different walks of life. The whole thing kinda reminded him of the comic books he read as a kid. Even if superhero comics had gone out of style once real superhuman powers had become a thing, they were still old issues floating around.
What was that old saying? Truth was stranger than fiction?
Shalim clearly saw that there was no point hanging about like a loose end, and had now composed himself for being sociable. Introductions were easy enough, being polite and respectful had a flow to it that he could grasp much more easily than casual which was far too reactive to get the point across.
He could hear other people wondering about whether this place was some sort of trap or horror waiting to happen, but that kind of thing was never on his mind to begin with: he'd lived through both and come out the other side alive. He'd grown since then too. He wasn't going to let anything get the drop on him like the last time and there wasn't anyone here that he'd be compelled to stay behind for- not yet at least.
Shalim had been eyeing up his new compatriots, and it was becoming clear to him that there were going to be some people difficult to deal with- their brazen attitudes and weakly disguised insecurities meant that before long he was going to have confrontation- not something he wanted to do. He liked people who would let the situation deescalate rather than making a point of ending it concretely. No matter where you go however, you get all kinds of people. He didn't catch their names and even if he had remembering them was not his strong suit- most of the jobs he'd worked at for only a month or so he'd learned none of their names. Getting on despite this fact had become an art that he was shamefully proficient in.
In either case his first priority was to meet with the Matron- both because she was the most important person here and because she'd be the easiest to talk to. He pushed himself off of the tree he had been leading against with his back, and strode with a confident energy up to the fountain. The Matron had begun to amass a small crowd- not wanting to be a nuisance he decided to hang back and look open for interjection should her eyes wander.
"Guess I should introduce myself. My name's Emil, and if you don't mind me asking, why did you invite us all here?"
Oh this guy was going to wear on him for sure. What sort of person shows up to this setup without being sure either of what they're getting into or without options enough for it to matter. I guess there would be some people here who would venture out here out of sheer curiosity, but do those people give that much of a damn? 'People are confusing' Shalim was left to conclude allowing himself a little roll of the eyes. She clearly had her hands full.
Mohammad smiled at the Matron. There was something charming about her. Reminded him of his mother, in a way, especially the tea. He gingerly took the mug from her. "Thank you very much, ma'am." He adds before heading to the parlor. He took a sip from the mug, and the flavor strikes him of two things: the chai they brewed in the mountains, and a selection of mint candies the psychiatrists gave him to try to get him to calm down on first arrival. It's a weird mix, but the memories quickly push to the back of his mind as he goes in.
He's surprised to see the place in such good repair, given the outside. But, then again, he saw someone fly in here, so it's not like all that much was impossible. He examines the room finding that it looked like, well, an old lady's parlor. Hard candies, plants of various shapes and sizes, overstuffed furniture. Sadly, no rock candy, so he couldn't enjoy his tea properly, so he instead grabbed one of the sticks of Brighton Rock, undid the wrapper, and used it as a stirring stick to get the sugar in the drink. He leaned against a wall, deciding he'd let the others have the seats. Most were old women, kids, or... well, whatever was wrong with Henry.
He looked back at the others in the room and extends a hand out to the man on the couch, keeping the mug in his unextended hand "Hey, pleasure to meet you." He said, trying his best to be friendly.
I request that you refrain from raiding my bar until the meeting is over..."
Well at least it meant she had a bar, maybe even had something fancy for him to try.
"...and please, no smoking in the house, not least because I know that it will make Henry nervous."
That part wasn't as exciting. He was only about halfway through his cigarette and it was such a waste to throw it all away. But he didn't have to, though it might mean someone would spot what he was doing, "Absolutely Ma'am, house rules after all."
He took a deep pull of the cigarette, but the cherry didn't ignite the way it normally would. Instead of drawing the air through the filter, he pulled the heat from the cigarette instead. It was always quick with a small source such as his cigarette, but the sensation never changed. He could feel his insides warm, his blood a little hotter, his organs aflame, oh how wonderful it all felt to a man who didn't feel the temperature change anymore.
The cigarette was now out and cold to the touch. He took the extinguished cigarette and stuffed it back in the pack and went to join the others who had entered the house. While normally he would introduce himself once entering a room, he saw the middle eastern looking man doing that already.
He decided to sit and wait until more formal introductions were allowed.
With Dana now making her way into the house, it left Mia without any support in the court yard. Already she figured herself a target considering the looks she got from some of the other riff raff that had been attracted to the school, and now she was going to be left out in the wind.
Ugh. Guess I have to go into the web too. Maybe since I'm last that will give me a chance to escape if things go sour.
Mia slowly walked towards the door, looking around to make sure there weren't any other traps waiting to be sprung, before crossing the threshold and entering in. Most of the people had gathered off to the left of the entryway, taking from the various treats and goodies that had been left out. The "Veggie Burger" from Wendy's in the Box wasn't sitting as well as she would have liked so Mia decided to skip the refreshments. Instead, she leaned against the doorframe. Her sunglasses didn't budge an inch, and she softly tapped the to of her flat on the somewhat sturdy floor.
Years of invading casino floors had given her a good read on most people, and what she saw was a familiar sight at the roulette tables. Desperation, and a fair amount of confusion. So clearly I'm the most well off. All the other sods, even the Matron herself, they'd probably have to double up through me thrice before even touching my reserves. If I can get at them. Fuck. Gonna have to get new contacts for the Alexis get up too. Damn it. That podunk Spokane town better have a place I can get them...
Anyway, at least things are relatively civil. No one looks like they are going to go crazy yet...The weird looking dude with the Arkansas sweat shirt on looks pretty far gone. Mia shifted her position to make sure at least one other person was between her and the one she guessed was called Henry, putting her more towards the bay window. She took a seat on the sill, wanting to get the information on what was going on and then potentially get out.
As the other were walking to the left, Dana stopped next to the mature voice of Matron Thurgood, put down a bag and extended a hand. "I'm Dana Roth. It is nice to meet you." She smiled. "If you do not mind me asking, is there a place I could put my bags?"
She heard footsteps behind her and going past her. Apparently Taylor had decided to follow her lead somewhat, though not waiting to introduce herself to the matron. How many people did arrive her now, anyways? It seemed to be quite a bunch of young people. Like an older version of her awakened class in germany. Surely difficult to remember all their names. And there was still the question nagging at her, though she did her best trying to hide it before official introductions were over: Why?
She glanced over at the new guy who had piped into her little movie reference extravaganza. "God, I hope not. Being strapped to a chair with my eyes forced open and brainwashed until a squirrel tells me the solution is ultraviolence does not sound like the ideal summer home I was expecting when I came here."
"I managed to avoid residential schools entirely. Lucky me, I guess. Then again, I was in a cult at the time, so I'd say it's a wash." She said with a bland expression on her face. People always got real interested wen you mentioned you were in a cult, so -this- should be fun.
The Matron said something about having a bar, and she really hoped she meant that in the literal rather than euphemistic sense. The smoking restriction was fine, she wasn't so enamored of her smokes that she couldn't jump out the window to go use them, but she hadn't had a drink in like, three days, and she was starting to get edgy. She liked to manage life in a rockstar fashion, stinking like cigarettes and drunk off her ass, and this whole northern sojourn had been a big pain in the neck to both of them. But in the interest of good manners she restrained herself for the moment from going to find the bar and digging out what they had. She was hoping for whisky, but at this point she'd settle for just about anything short of a bottle of Liquid Heet. She slipped into a seat, eyeballing the teapot. Rule of thumb: Never drink anything until your host has drunk it first.
The others occupying the Matron's attention had dissipated, leaving Shalim the opportunity to make his greeting. He stepped forward a mite, and bowed ever so slightly reflexively. His body language became vastly more open and inviting, with a pleasant natural smile and good eye contact he outstretched his hand saying. "It is a pleasure to meet you , I am most grateful for your invitation. I am Shalim Amarappi."
The Matron smiled broadly and warmly, but her eyes were piercing, grey behind her little spectacles, grey as daggers.
"Of course you are, my dear, I'm sorry to say I rather noticed by your height compared to Mohammad. It is a pleasure to meet you too, and I am glad to see you've got more than your share of manners! I gave Mohammad my tea, but if you look inside the parlour you'll find some wonderful Maghrebi tea I procured for just this occasion; take as much as you like as my treat, and help yourself to the sweets." She says as she takes Shalim's hand.
"Oh excellent, I'll certainly take you up on your superb hospitality. Well I do hope we will get on well together- I will do my utmost to ensure that we do." Shalim replied while shaking the hand of his employer. The piercing grey from the depths of her retina set him on edge slightly, but not superficially. His heart rate increased just enough for him to hear the blood rush past his ears, reminding him that he was not invincible and needed his flight reflexes at their best depending on how the situation turned out.
"Oh I know that you will, my dearest, I know that you will, inshallah" the Matron replied, releasing his hand, taking him by the shoulder, and directing him inside, all in one fluid motion that pushed him toward the manor's great steps.
This highly passive-authoritative manner was starting to really put him on edge; he was starting to come to terms with the idea that both the Matron's looks and her house could be a massive facade. He'd certainly entertained the idea, but now the odds were tipping in the favour of this being dangerous rather than there simply being a catch. But he wanted to keep an open mind. He wanted to believe this could go well- not enough that he'd let it get him killed though. "I'll be getting on then" He responded turning around to face her briefly and slinging his pack. "You don't need me to do anything for you do you- I'd be more than happy to help" he continued. He wanted to get across his willingness properly, if not to disguise his anxiety and not have to sit around awkwardly. 'damn, you're such a hypocrite' he thought to himself, making a quick frowning expression he wasn't aware of.
"Nothing is required of you, it's quite alright; you are a guest, make yourself at home."
"As you wish" Shalim said a little coyly and turned around to make for the entrance. Something didn't sit quite right with him though. He didn't come here under the pretence of being a guest but an employee. His best case scenarios were seemingly crumbling away. 'I can get halfway to the nearest town without having to reveal myself I'm sure'. With that thought he hopped up the steps and sharpened his wits as he passed through the doorway.
"Hey, pleasure to meet you."
Emil blinked, and turned to face the guy sitting next to him, one hand outstretched in a friendly gesture. Personally, he wasn't the friendliest guy, but he got the sense that they were all in the same boat here.
"Same." He muttered, hoping the guy would go back to whatever he was doing. But curiosity got the better of him and he had to ask, "So what brings you here anyway?"
Ryan hung back hesitantly as the others began to filter past the Matron and into the ragged old house. Some were more reluctant than others. A few confident souls marched brashly through the portal; most stepped more quietly and paid their host respect before entering. Ryan watched each in turn as their names were spoken aloud; Dana and Taylor. Octavio, Mohammad, Enrique, Emil. Shalim. The old woman welcomed each of them with gracious words and a warm smile.
Soon they had all gone inside, leaving the old man alone at the edge of the courtyard, shifting uncomfortably. He eyed the forest, and the manor, and the sleek Audi that looked as out of place in its surroundings as a campfire in a swimming pool. A chill wind dragged pine needles and damp leaves across the worn cobbles at his feet as he lingered.
Finally Ryan approached the Matron, slowly and purposefully, not taking his eyes off of her. He held the straps of his backpack tightly. "Ryan." he mumbled as he came to a stop before her. His voice was low and rough. She gave him a questioning look, and he cleared his throat and spoke more clearly. "Ryan Strias."
"Oh I know that much dear," she said with a soft smile. "You rather stick out like a sore thumb. Would you be comfortable with shaking my hand? I know you've been through a lot already."
He regarded her for a moment, then extended his hand. They shook, his movements stiff.
"I really do appreciate the distance you've come. If there's anything I can do to make you more at home, more comfortable; you let me know, alright?" She spoke encouragingly. He dipped his head slightly in response, then headed for the entryway.
As he passed into the foyer Ryan pushed a few silver strands from his face and looked around. The inside of the manor was shockingly clean and well-maintained, such that he stopped and looked back at the door in doubt. An art-deco style chandelier hanging high above cast light on the grand staircase directly across from the front door. A full bar with all the modern amenities was to his right; to his left was the parlor, and the sound of many voices talking at once. He listened for a moment, then went in, quietly finding a place to stand against the wall.
"Same reason you were." Mohammad said before taking a sip of tea, having to hold the candy stick to stop it from falling on his face. He let the tea rest in his mouth for a moment, then swallowed. "At least, I think. I got a letter from the Matron asking me to come out here. I didn't have any more orders at my shop, and I had enough to get out here and back, so I figured I'd come by." He motioned towards the teapot. "You really should try some, it's excellent." He added on.
He stirs his tea again, surveying the boy closer. Torn clothes, disheveled, unwashed. It was weird for Mohammad to be among the more successful people in a room, yet, next to the woman in the Audi, he was the closest to living a normal life. Even the boy he was looking at was doing better than some, given the rather disgusting man waiting in the corner. He wore a suit, sure, but his hair was a matted mess, and he stunk horribly. Mohammad thinks he remembers his name being Enrique. Either way, he stunk. The perfume of the house was really just barely covering the mass of unwashed bodies in the room. In truth, Mohammad hadn't had a really proper shower since he left Canada, either, but hot water and something resembling soap at least. He held the cup of tea close to his nose, hoping it would help cover what the perfume did not.
"...Then again, I was in a cult at the time, so I'd say it's a wash." Huh. That was definitely an interesting little tidbit. "Dammit, that old lady didn't hear me." Justin, however, was far too focused on his own dilemmas to immediately make mention of such a peculiar raising. Instead, he could spy the Matron patron from the parlour, out in the yard and still conversing with one of the old guys that was most likely lumped in with this group. The window he looked from jutted out just enough to have a series of cushions and pillows under its sill. "Huh. Cozy little window here." Justin thought, growing distracted. Bay windows are great and were something the boy wasn't accustomed to, given his old Harlem apartment.
But, he shook off the thought. "So, a cult, huh?" He brought himself back into the present. He wanted his own answers, but that was just too wonderful of a detail to pass up. "What, was it like a religious cult? I'm guessing you didn't drink too much of the kool-aid since you're...y'know, alive." The nosy little nerd squawked, transitioning over to the table of refreshments.
"...Or maybe that's like your superpower? You immune to poisons...?" He was beginning to ramble. "Wait, no, you walked up the wall a couple'a minutes ago..." He wasn't even addressing the girl directly at this point, succumbing to inquisitive mumbles as he helped himself to the still-warm tea on the table. "Maybe you can do more than one thing...like they say I can do...wow, using the fine China for guests? That's a pretty bold move, grandma." He used one of the dainty little cups (complete with saucer) for his hot drink.
By this point, the house was beginning to fill up. More of the folk brought about by the invitation were finding their way indoors. People were beginning to lurk and meander about the parlour, interjecting themselves into conversations. It would only be but a matter of time before the estate's elderly owner showed her face once more. "Finally! Maybe we'll get some fucking answers about this place...and maybe I'll get some fucking answers about the fucking internet!" He pondered, taking obnoxious sips from his cup.
Octavio finished his cup of water and accepted a cup of tea. Enough people had been drinking it that he was reasonable sure it wasn't laced with anything. He took a moment to add some sugar, then some more, and before he knew it there was a small pile of undissolved sugar at the bottom of his cup. Crap I hoped no one noticed. He took his cup and approached the Emil and Mohammad. The two seemed to be talking about what brought them here.
"Well I was hiking the Pacific Crest trail at the time," Octavio interjected, he didn't know if he was being rude or not, but he felt the need to be talking to someone, " The matron's letter got forwarded to me by a friend of mine, so I figured I might as well make this my stop. For now at least. And he's right you should try the tea." While Octavio said this he tried to stir his tea to get more of the sugar to dissolve but to no avail.
Before Shalim made his introductions, the matron had introduced herself somewhat to Dana, giving Dana thoughts if she had made the right impression after she heard him speak. Though technically, there should have been no problem. The matron had spoken to her in the same pleasant tone of voice which seemed to welcome at least most of her guests:
"Oh hello Dana, I'm sorry, pardon my rudeness. If you drop your bags in the Hallway, Henry will take them to your room after the introductions are done. Welcome to my home! I am proffering my hand, if you can't tell, you can click to find out where it is and I wont find it rude."
Dana was a bit confused about the manner of speech the matron used. She did not know this manner of politeness, and she had trouble finding the right words to answer in kind. So she hesitated a second before deciding to use her echolocation to find the hand, before shaking it. "Thank you." she said. "I hope this can be my home as well for a while, if everything works out. You should not have to worry about me more than the others, I should be able to find my way around once I have learned where everything is."
The matron answered her in the same manner of speech, giving Dana the question if it was condescension, or if the matron was honest. "I have no doubt my dear; please, head inside, and drink some tea, I will be in shortly."
"Alright. Please tell me if there are any low obstacles like steps or the like." Annoying to ask, but stumbling around would just make her feel more embarrassed. "Grand staircase, but I'm sure you can sense it."
Dana gave another smile, then walked into the hallway and put her bags down near the staircase, before following the voices of the others into the parlor. She was not taking off her sunglasses, but she ceased the clicking inside, rather standing near the entrance, trying to find a trail in a conversation she could join, or waiting on the matron to make her own great introduction.
The Matron finished with the greetings and introductions, accounting for all who had arrived. She went over the list in her head; had she missed anyone? She was not certain, and could not be certain. She took one last look over the evergreen forest that surrounded her home. If anyone were to show up late, she thought, then she would just have to put on a similar show for them, as best she could. She breathed in the Spokane air; pine and smoke, both the acrimonious scent her boy had been producing and the purer thing from further off in the woods; some camping trip, some visitors, some teens out for an adventure, any one of which would know well to stay away from the creepy, old abandoned Residential School; it was rumoured, didn't you know, that the place was haunted by the ghost of the old School Mistress, who still sought to torment and experiment as she had been known to in life, and given half a chance, she would snap you up and carry you off down to her lab. The Matron chuckled to herself softly, then headed back inside, pulling the shawl to herself, clenching something in the fist of her right hand.
Henry Thurgood crept down the slick basement steps, into the temple of beast who lived below, his sacrificial offering grasped tightly in one hand. It stank, but the stench was quickly overpowered by the collective stench that had already gathered in the basement; the smell of carrion, copper and formaldehyde, that hung so heavy in the air that in mingled with the sweat on the moist skin of Henry, the basement unpleasantly humid at the best of times and at present suffocatingly so; it seemed that Josef was playing with the furnace again. Into the near darkness of the oversized basement, Henry called out (Why did he call out? Josef had no ears with which to hear his calls).
"Josef? Josef! I have a specimen for you! Mother wants you upstairs."
As Henry crept through the basement, he stepped in something. He shuddered, and tried not to think about what exactly it was, but it stuck to his foot; it squelched with every successive step. His skin crawled; his senses screamed. Every primordial instinct cried out, and was desperately silence, as Henry could not deny his mother's commands at the behest of such base things. Finally, mercifully, Henry heard it; the groaning pumps of rusted Chlorine tanks, barely functioning at an acceptable level. Raising his free hand, Henry sparked off, careful not to cause a chain reaction; one, two, three times, hopefully enough to get Josef's attention.
BEGONE, UNFINISHED THING
Well he had his attention alright. Obstinately, Henry sparked off another three times, hoping to bother Josef into turning around.
IS MY SYNTHESISER BROKEN? I SAID LEAVE
Josef was getting angy now but so was Henry. In his frustration, Henry did the first thing that came to mind. He threw the splattered opossum at the back of the heaving crustacean in front of him. Almost immediately, Josef dropped the tools they were working away with, scuttled around, and charged at Henry, pinning him against the far wall. The wind was knocked out of Henry, who cried out. Two hands around his ankles pinned his legs to the wall, two around his wrists held his arms to the wall. One hand was pressed against his forehead, viciously, and he cried out in pain as his head was slammed against the brickwork. A hand at his throat held his gaze to the blue spotlights either side of Josef's head.
Henry fought back tears, and took a moment to compose himself. The containment suit made Josef freakishly strong, even if Henry knew that without it Josef would snap like a twig under Earth's gravity. When he had readied himself, he spoke slowly and clearly, allowing his lips to be read easily.
"Mother wants you upstairs to meet the guests," Henry mouthed, relaxing into Josef's grip. When he had finished relaying the message, Josef regarded him for a moment, and dropped him to the floor.
TELL MOTHER I WILL BE WITH HER SHORTLY. GET OUT
Skittering to his feet, Henry did not need to be told twice, and he bolted up the steps, slipping and recovering desperately as he did so.
The Matron drifted into the parlour, regarded her guests, and sat in the withered armchair at the head the room (she had organised the furniture so as to make it a focal point). She waited for them to finish their conversations, then lifted the pot and poured herself a cup of Madame Gris' Maghrebi, drinking from it obviously; to put at ease the paranoias of any who had refused the tea, or the nagging doubts of those who had already indulged themselves. She stirred her sugar in and, with a forceful delicacy, tapped the side of the pot with her teaspoon until she had the attention of all assembled. When all eyes were on her, she took a sip, and set it down beside her, then folding her hands in her lap and regarding the assembled with her same, practiced, warm smile.
"Now the question that has been asked incessantly today is 'why?', and the simple answer is 'because I have an offer I feel you will find rather hard to refuse,"
"We are at the turning point of an era; the rise of the Awakened human was stunted by those who were afraid, who could not see past their own fear to the golden future that awaited; a future where every human is awakened. It is possible, I'm sure you are not aware. Research in the early years of the Awakening proved that every human has the potential to awaken or produce awakened offspring: whether or not they do is a matter of chance. This fact was covered up to keep the public calm, and to keep a united front against the new invaders, the new enemy. My objective is to undo that cover, and to lead the Awakened to where they should be; the forefront of humanity,"
The Matron watched the room for responses, and not finding anyone outwardly immediately disgusted by what she was saying, she elected to continue.
"What I am offering is that you come to live here with me, Henry and Josef. This house has been thoroughly debugged; no government agency can hear us in here, we are completely isolated from the rest of the world, and no one would think to look for the start of an Awakened revolution in the burnt out symbol of Awakened oppression. As a reward for your servicen to the revolution I am offering three things; pay, room and board, and power,"
"As the revolution goes on, we will be acquiring funds, through some legal means and some extra-legal means. These funds will be used to set up networks of revolutionary awakened and to build up our home base here, as my own personal funds from my retirement are running out. As the founders of our revolution, you will benefit in both a cut of what we take back from society, and the growth of this place as a home for those Awakened betrayed by the world's people and government; I dream of every floor of this manor bearing the warmth and splendour of my living quarters here,"
"Finally, another tidbit kept from the American populace; 'Awakened' are in truth, partially awakened. The common belief that your abilities can be increased by flexing them like a muscle is hogwash; the truth is that your body has put limiters on your trigger mechanisms. I can offer you the full extent of your abilities through experimentation by myself and my research partner, Josef, if you just agree to the experiments and participate. This is part of the revolution; the more we can prove the government is lying to the populace about, the more we can bring people to understand the Awakened as a necessary, irrepressible step in human evolution."
She said the last bit with a grandiose smile, all throughout her speech her voice had been building in speed and excitement, til she was chittering and chattering like her son. When she finished, she gazed out expectantly at the assembled.
"So," she finished, with a newly assumed meekness, "are you on board?"
Emil leaned forward, hands clasped and eyes gleaming with interest. It all sounded like a good deal, a safe haven for him and others like him (plus some money to hopefully buy whatever he wanted), a chance to strike back at the humans who had hounded him for years... and possibly even a chance to hone his powers more.
He didn't want to admit it, but that last part made him a bit nervous, the idea of being experimented on was not a pleasant one... then again, it could make him stronger, able to go beyond everything he thought he was capable of... The idea for a world for Awakened where they didn't have to live in fear was a pretty sweet deal too.
It didn't take long for Emil to make his decision.
"Okay, I'm in."
Ryan's probing stare darted around the room at first, scrutinizing each of his fellow Awakened in turn. Several were gathered around the coffee table, seated on the couch or one of several armchairs. A few, like himself, kept to the periphery and waited. The blind woman, Dana, came in quietly and stood near the door. There was no sign of the gangly fellow they'd briefly witnessed before.
The matron took a seat at the head of the room to make her welcoming speech, and Ryan's attention shifted to her. She began innocently enough, but as she went on his mouth tightened, the muscles of his jaw working beneath his beard. At the mention of revolution he blanched, and looked quickly at the other faces in the room. One hand gripped the strap of his backpack until the knuckles were white, while the other slowly came to rest in his jacket pocket.
As the final part of the Matron's plan was revealed a low noise growled through Ryan's throat. He turned away and, as her speech came to a close, began walking briskly towards the exit.
Ari managed a smirk at Justin. "No, they never managed to get to the Flavor-Aid part." Her smirk faded. "It was a small cult. The Soldiers of God and Christ - maybe a hundred, hundred and fifty members tops. They - we, I guess - believed that the return of God was imminent, and we would be the core of his army when he returned. We had a lot of that right wing paranoiac militia thing going, too. And our leader had this whole mystery where he pretended to be the Apostle Paul, who had wandered the Earth since the time of the New Testament as some kind of eternal witness." Her grin returned, this time full of satisfied malice. "That sick son of a bitch is rotting in prison now, for one hell of a combination - sexual abuse of a child, trafficking in illegal arms, and conspiracy to overthrow the government."
"My power? I control my own gravity. It's a little too complicated to explain in detail, hold on..."
She trailed off as the Matron made her proposal, her goosebumps rising at what she heard. Son of a -bitch-...
"Nope. Noooope. I've had enough of creepy cults that want to overthrow the government for one lifetime. The way they treat Awakened now isn't okay, but you start war against the government and there will be pogroms. They're not wrong to be scared of us."
Mohammad was excited to hear the speech start. At first, it seemed like they'd be making a home for Awakened, something he was more than happy to lend his technological know-how to. Sure, immigrating would be a hassle, and he'd miss Marimichi, and getting a Hawks game would be hard, but he could deal with it.
Then she started the second part of the speech, and he remembered men with beards and Kalashnikovs saying the same thing, the weeks spent in caves, the training, the circling helicopters, and the fire... He seemed to glaze over the for last part, but snapped out of it when he heard the others speak. His face seemed to light up, a mixture of righteous anger and horror coming over him. He was stunned for a moment, not sure what to say, then he opened his mouth and just let whatever came out come out.
"Go fuck yourself, hag." He blurted. He didn't quite regret it, but he felt his words could have been used better. "I mean... I'm not joining. I've seen what happens to people who do these things, and I've seen what they do. I won't be your little bomb factory." He puts the tea cup on the edge of the couch, then starts for the door. If she locked it, he could undo the lock in about a second, run to his motorcycle in half a minute, be gone in a minute and a half, at a police station within the hour.
If she was skeptical before of this misguided plan of hers to seek out some refuge in the Washington wilderness while the Vegas heat died down, the speech that the Matron unleashed upon the room all but killed the faith Mia had left that she made a wise decision.
Revolution? She serious? ...Yep. She's too old to not be serious. She really wants to go to war with the human race.
That's so stupid! Humanity pays for my hotel rooms! Pays for my burner phones! Pays for my new car!
Plus they were my friends...at before I started moving around all the time.
And she wants my money to do it! And she wants people to live in this decrepit monument to McMansions and bay windows to do it! This is just...no. No no no no no. Nope!
Mia moved from the bay window as a chorus of rejections rained out from the chorus of people in the room, save for one guy misguided enough to agree to the plot. Because that's what it was in her mind. A plot. At least most of these people are sane. Should I be nice and give some of these people a ride away from this lunatic?...Nah. Don't need stink in the interior.
"There is no way I'm living here, giving up my money, my car and my internet, to try and extinguish humanity. They happen to be stupid enough to make those other things possible. So I'mma go right back to doing that." Mia stopped for a second to remember which alias she had given to the German-sounding woman, then continued her dramatic exit. "Taylor out."
Maybe I can sneak into Canada or Mexico. Start seeing the world a little bit more.
Justin's guise could only twist into a grimace that fought between utter disbelief and intense frustration. He wanted to continue the conversation with the gravity girl but got so caught up in the Matron's crazy ass rhetoric that he couldn't even remember what she was talking about.
"So, are you on board?" The old lady looked on, her expression laid sweet and sheepish like she didn't just say she wanted to start a revolution. "No?! Fuck no!" Justin exclaimed. "The fuck is your problem, old lady?! It's bad enough y'all don't have the Internet, but you're also trying to get us killed?!" Seemed he wasn't the only one disagreeing with the elder's radical outlook. "Yeah, nah, fuck it. Imma walk back into town. Would probably have a better chance being homeless than being drugged up around this raggedy-ass institution." His little teacup and saucer clattered as he casually returned them to the table he picked them up from.
"Thanks for the shit tea, Magneto. I'm out." He began towards the exit himself, grumbling an extra "Fuck outta here, fam" for emphasis. He could worry about everything else later, he just needed to get out of this house first. The girl that rode up in the Audi said something like "Least someone has their priorities straight," to his back, most likely in response to his outburst.
And what a grand introduction it was. Dana did not know about the Awakened research, she mostly had tried to stay away as far as possible from it, as far as possible away from what she was. Now, not having to hide what she was, she felt different, but conflicted. She had not even considered the possibility of some kind of revolution. She had always been just one, and it was hard enough to just keep around.
Power was not something she felt she required, but a job. She had looked so long for a job, and nobody would take her. Now, talking of a revolution, she did not know if she had any choice in the matter. This would provide her with what she wanted, though ... others did not feel the same way, and were already starting to shuffle around and leave.
"What kind of revolution are we speaking about? I would only want a peaceful one.
And the experimentation is completely voluntary, right?" she asked. "It is a lot to consider."
Dana scratched her head, wondering why others were deciding so fast without hesitation, without getting more information.
As the speech had gone on Shalim's natural placid expression began to turn subtly more and more stern. Talk of revolution and experimentation sounded both wholly unethical and counter-productive as soon as he heard of the proposition.
'A revolution; how would a head on confrontation with the vast majority of all people do anything but affirm their preconceptions. The forefront of Humanity? Such views were that of only the narrow minded and intolerant, our abilities do not give us the right to be subjugators, no aspect could possibly do that. Does she think that such things make us deities?' these thoughts fuelled a mounting rage quelled only enough to stay hidden by the cool sea of self discipline he had taught himself over the years dealing with somewhat similar minded people. This kind of uprising did not sound at all peaceful either, if that were the case she would not have chosen to be secretive. Everything about this was screaming guerrilla warfare and insurgency- something he was not willing to be a part of.
'And what's more she talks of experimenting on us- that is just a world of red flags I daren't even consider; Giving up my personal liberties to a perfect stranger and a lunatic by all impressions; the fact that she did not even bring up the issue of credentials, she could be untrained for all I know; not to mention that the idea of being experimented on is abhorrent in itself.' The mounting issues were sending shivers down his spine and making clutch and fiddle with his own hands behind his back. Then another thought hit him she talked of messing with limiters in his body. He could not help feeling affronted by the idea that he needed someone else to push through his limits for him. His entire being was saying a vehement 'No' to this preposterous notion.
He took a long exale that flared his nostrils, staring listlessly at the floor in front of him- 'I didn't expect it to go well, but I can't say that I'm not disappointed.' he thought to himself 'Hopefully she won't pull anything that would try us to stop us from leaving- well even if she did I doubt she could stop me.'
He debated whether such an outlandish proposition even elicited a response from him- but judging by everyone else's rather firm response he elected to speak. He turned his head to lock eyes with the Matron. "I cannot abide this" was simply all he said- his voice was far deeper and monotone, carrying only the faint smoke of the rage inside. He chose to stay in place and wait to see what happened rather than seeming overemotional and close minded.
Octavio had to think. Revolution seemed unthinkable, they'd be killed just for trying. Octavio thought about joining the others and storming out of the room in disgust but that seemed wrong too, it seemed like cowardice. It wasn't that he disagreed with the Madame, he was afraid of the cost. However he believed she was right; the current government was an abomination. When Octavio thought about his own life he considered how the Government's actions had destroyed it. First they tore apart his family by deporting his father; then they took him from his mother; stuck him in a residential home where he was beaten; and turned him into a criminal just for trying to use his powers to help people. They took what should have been a gift, something that should have given his life purpose and turned it into a curse, that would weight him down and made him a pariah.
What she suggested still seemed extreme, putting Awakened at the fore front didn't sound like a utopia. Testing sounded insane but what if it could make him better? Able to finally become the kind of hero he'd seen on the news and read about? Maybe if he stayed he could he keep this from going too far and then the ends could justify the means. Once his mind was made he spoke, "Alright, I'll join you, I've seen too many people suffer under this government, I've had friends killed just because they wanted to fulfill their purpose and help people. Something needs to change, and they've made it impossible for us to do it from within the government, so we've got to do it from without."
The Matron listened placidly, mostly staring into and stirring her tea as the children spoke their piece. Emil and Octavio were on board immediately; that was encouraging. Dana had questions, which was only too reasonable. But Enrique remained in an uncomfortable silence, and the rest had turned quickly to insults. She sighed. She had expected this, though, as children lacked the vision that comes with age. They also lack some of the right information. With a smile, she turned to Dana.
"I will answer your questions shortly, my sweet, but allow me to attempt to change the mind of those who are slightly less open-minded first," she spoke with a gentle gravitas, before once more tapping her cup until some level of order was once again established.
"There is another reason you may wish to join me here. Another thing the government has kept from you. You will not remember this, for they would have drugged you beforehand, but each of you was given an injection while being registered. The injection was a solution of nanomachines that was programmed to entrench itself in your body. The desired effect would be achieved within approximately one year. That desired effect is called 'The Nanolytic Killswitch',"
"In case you do not understand what 'lytic' means as a suffix, it relates to the rupturing of cell membranes. With the press of a button, every Awakened, the world over, can be instantly killed, in what I am informed is an excruciatingly painful way to die; torn apart at a microscopic level, from the inside out. My sources inform me that the Killswitch will be activated in three years. The effect will be blamed on the Voyagers, who will leave when they are no longer welcome. Humanity will be galvanised against the invaders, and the emergency powers will be once more instated. It seems that dictatorships are rather intoxicating. The awakened will be treated better in the future; it will just require the death of every living awakened, and the surrender of every liberty."
She paused a moment, allowing this information sink in, attempting not to overwhelm them. She imagined it would be pretty horrifying to hear for the first time, if she had not heard it for the first time when it was nought but an embryonic idea within the mind of a government official. She allowed an appropriate amount of consideration to pass, before continuing.
"My research partner and I, we have developed a purifying cocktail. It is a miscible electro-magnetic intravenous cocktail, which, using the body's natural electricity, pulses throughout the entire body, kill nanomachines. It will make you sick; very sick. The worst sickness of your entire life, and then it will pass. It takes a week; a week you must be under my constant care, or else it will fail to work. A week to consider my offer. A week in my care. A week to learn to trust me."
She looked about the room, scanning their reactions, then smiled to herself, placing her cup by her side.
"So either you join me, and assist me in preventing the most widespread genocide ever conceived, or you go home, live mediocre lives for three years, and then die in agony. Justin, you compared me to Magneto; an aged reference, especially for you, but also an unfair one. I am not talking of the supremacy of Awakening; I am talking of its inevitability. They do not know it, but every human being is an awakened in waiting. The sooner we bring this fact to light, the sooner we are able to save the world from the lies built around hiding it. Also, since you're so dependent on it, I have internet; it's just encrypted and running out of a private VPN with several obfuscation layers."
The Matron turned to Dana.
"Dana, my goal is never to harm anyone, and I promise you; any violence enacted in the name of this revolution will only be in self defense; only to keep those we act as caretakers for safe. The experimentation is entirely voluntary, I would never force such a commitment on someone. My days of using science as a mask for cruelty are behind me; I am trying to atone for all I have done wrong in my life," she turned her focus from Dana to the assembled, "I assure you, I would never do anything to bring you to harm. I seek only to protect you, to save you from a world that seeks to destroy you. Will you not give me a chance to prove as much?"
"Prove it." Ari leaned on the table. She'd been willing to hear the lady out, but her patience was running out. "Nanomachine killswitches implanted in our bodies? A pre-ordained kill time, and a random death to be blamed on an outside group so we can institute a dictatorship? I've heard more plausible stories listening to AM radio at three in the morning. What next, gonna tell me that the CIA killed JFK?"
She pressed her lips tightly together. "You want us to give you a chance to let your creepy scientist guy give us a cocktail of -electromagnetism-. And then we have to stick around for a week, because if you're not there to constantly watch us it'll fail? Don't piss on my shoe and tell me it's raining."
The Matron blinked at Ari.
"JFK? You went for JFK before George Bush doing nine-eleven? That's an extremely dated reference, especially for someone of your age. Additionally, I do actually have the means to prove it."
From inside her dress, she produced the device she had been holding onto tightly. It was a small, black cylinder with two outward components; an antenna and a round button, seemingly locked into place by a catch. She displayed it for all gathered to see.
"This is a local Killswitch activator; they are kept on site at the SNASS, designed by me. They transmit a shortwave of encoded information that activates a relay sequence between the nanomachines inside of prisoners, thus causing their death. Effective range ten meters, design specs are classified; I stole this one before 'dying'."
She put air quotes around dying, before producing an apple from her dress pocket, and setting it on the table in front of her. With a certain grace, like a wizard casting a spell, she pointed the antenna at the apple, carefully unlocked the button, and then depressed it. The sequence of events that followed was curious.
First, the apple seemed to rapidly oxidise and rot, folding in on itself; then it melted into a rapidly shrinking puddle, before disappearing entirely. The Matron looked at it grimly.
"I've never seen it actually used on a human being, fortunately, but if it was really so necessary to prove that it could work on a human being, this device could do the same to any one of you," she chattered, a disturbingly detached tone setting in. Her eyes widened, as if she had caught herself doing something, before she locked the button once more and interred it back into her dress.
"So if my intent was to hurt you, I could've killed one of you and held the rest of you to ransom already. my intentions are pure, I assure you. The cocktail isn't of electromagnetism; it's electromagnetic, when electricity is run through it, it produces electromagnetic pulses. I could get into the specifics of it, but considering you don't even have a highschool education, I think it'd be a wasted effort. You need be under my care while in the course of purification because you will be bedridden, and this cocktail only exists in my house."
The Matron rubbed her eyes, sighing weakly.
"You're an extremely rude guest, Miss Vagari, and my patience is wearing rather thin. My research assistant will be upstairs shortly; you may decide whether he is creepy when you have met him yourself. Until then, I would suggest some manners are in order. I am not some senile old woman, and I am not some predatory villain hoping to exploit and defile you; I am a benefactor, and I am a devil, attempting to re-earn her feathers."
"They're both before my time, and JFK conspiracies are a little more enduring in the popular consciousness. That doesn't prove anything except that you've rigged up an imploding apple, and now you're claiming you have the power to kill us at will. Give me a good reason I -should- believe you, ma'am, beyond your doomsaying. You're making a lot of very large claims and with only some very dubious evidence to back it up. Even if this technology is real, how are we to know you aren't the one creating it, and this whole production isn't a charade to get us to -take- this little death serum. If this really is true why are you keeping it a secret? Broadcast this to the world, tell everyone you can find. The greatest weapon you'd have against the government - if this were true - is the mere existence of this within the Awakened."
"But there's a reason you -can't-, isn't there?"