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This story arc has been published as a novel!

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Watch for that Left Turn at Albuquerque

"So I have to go to New Mexico," Nereid said, shoving some more t-shirts in her suitcase and sweeping her hair back behind her ear.

"Because you're at the maximum that the local test facility can handle?" X asked. X was wearing an impeccable pinstriped suit with a dark blue tie covered in tiny yellow and white infinity symbols.

"Yeah," Nereid said, pausing to hand over a thick manila folder. "That puts me at Class 7 or above, which is kind of freaking me out. At least they let me stick around for Christmas -- my parents would've had a whole herd of water-generating cows if they'd sent me off immediately."

X, sitting in the one easy chair in Nereid's apartment with legs elegantly crossed, took the folder and flipped through it aimlessly. X then stopped and stared at one particular page. "You really stopped all the water mains in the entire city?"

Nereid shrugged and hooked her hair behind her ear again. "I don't know. I mean, people at the edges of town weren't getting any water during the fight and cleanup. But that could've been because the system was messed up."

"Mmmhm." X paged through the folder more carefully. "I wonder what pushed your power level up."

"Yeah, I thought I was too old for that to happen." She finally stomped over to the dresser and used a hair clip to pinion her hair at the nape of her neck. "But they said it's not unusual for apparent power levels to go up when you practice enough to get really fine control. The Fat Lady said it happened to her."

"Really?" X closed the folder and set it aside. "So what is the team doing about Sophie?"

Nereid threw herself into the straight chair against the wall and leaned her head back. "Mercury says that it's up to the Ultimate. The Ultimate has brought in all sorts of brain specialists and things and they can't find anything actually wrong with her except she won't wake up." She rubbed her eyes with the heel of one hand.

X examined the blue-green upholstery of the chair arm. "What if I told you that he didn't do anything physical to her at all?"

Nereid leaned forward eagerly. "Madame got something from the Oracle?"

X's lips compressed. "It's vague and cryptic as hell. Something about sending her on a vacation, or retreat from the world, or something." X clenched a fist in shining black hair, mussing the effect and somehow being more picturesque than ever. "It's the only piece of information I've been able to get out of that damned Oracle. Fucking thing."

Nereid stared at X for a long moment. Then she said, cautiously, "Did Sophie ever tell you about the Dream Party?"

X looked at her from under long, dark lashes. "Ye-es. A couple of times. But I never went."

Nereid pursed her lips thoughtfully. "When I get to New Mexico -- they say I'll be there a week or so -- I'll see if I can find my way there again. And if I can, I'll ask Lucid if she can pull you in too. Maybe we can ask around, see if anyone's seen Sophie."

The smile X gave Nereid nearly liquefied her knees with its radiance. "You, my dear, are fucking brilliant," X said, standing up gracefully. "I'll hold you to that. And now, I think, I should let you finish packing."

X pecked her on the cheek and slid away through the door. "See you next year," X said in parting.

Nereid packed the rest of her clothes and her kit bag and managed to zip up the suitcase. Then she sat on the bed, looking around her room, which was really hers now. She could feel the line of the permanent membership card in the front pocket of her jeans.

Her gaze fell on a photo of Sophie that stood in a cheap frame on the dresser. She'd printed it from candids she found on the Cosmics' shared photo server. In it, Sophie was playing her electric guitar, grinning madly at the photographer -- probably Wire, Nereid thought wryly. She was wearing a t-shirt and jeans and none of her accoutrements of mad science, and looked very much like a teenager. Her eyes were full of what she was doing, rather than their accustomed calculation.

Nereid reopened her suitcase and packed the photo carefully under her jeans.


---

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Date: 2010-09-06 09:12 pm (UTC)
sythyry: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sythyry
I should try to take a nap too, and see if I run into her...

Date: 2012-05-09 11:40 pm (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
I was simultaneously disappointed and pleased for Nereid upon finding out that she accepted the permanent membership.

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