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Ellen supposed it was nice that the doctor thought their reactions were all normal, and they had all done well, but it felt like a consolation trophy. Ellen missed the days when just the person who was the best got acknowledged and the rest took the loss as a sign they had something to work on. Losing made her work harder, and practice better than winning ever did, and felt quite...annoyed about being told they were all winners.

Dr. Cassar went on to ask about the most recent mission. He already knew about the technical details, but wanted to know more about it. Should she just repeat what she said in the debrief? Or was he looking for more...interpersonal sort of things. Ellen waited for a few moments, in case someone else wanted to jump in first. Looking around, it didn’t seem like anyone wanted to begin.

Ellen didn't mind taking the lead on that. She probably could have summarized everything that happened, but what came to her mind most was… well, the obvious. Besides, he already knew the technical details, so she didn't need to just repeat all of that.

"The house was all shot up when we got there." Ellen began. She didn't talk about the guy who was bleeding out inside, since it was really Angeline who had taken care of him. She had just helped. "And the supplies were gone. We followed the tracks and caught up to them a few hours later."

"We split up to try to get an idea of if there were more of them, their weapons, whatever. I used my magic to make another version of myself, to get closer and see where the supplies were, and if they had more weapons. Abigail came with me, and stayed close, watching over my actual body. I relayed what I saw to her and then she left to tell the others. I took a position behind the group with a spare gun. After the fog was cast, one of the guys who was already hurt ran out towards me. I shot him a few times. I didn’t mean to fire that many, but… I’m not used to firing a gun.” She felt the sudden urge to apologize for wasting ammunition, but she got the feeling that would come across heartless. She could be sad about the dead guy and also sad about being wasteful, right?

"He took a while to bleed out. I stayed… I don’t know if it was more out of concern that he might get up and try to get revenge, or if it was a guilt thing… but it took so much longer than I expected.” This part was hard to talk about. She knew this was getting into the feels of it all, and she had trouble navigating the desire to be matter-of-fact about it all with the fact that they’d likely label her a psychopath if she didn’t admit to at least some of the feelings she had.

“I went through his pockets and looked at his wallet. I probably didn't need to, but I wanted to know his name, and make sure he didn’t have the keys to their truck. It was different with him than it had been with the FOE agent. That had been… self-defense. I can't write this one off as the same. I know that and I’m not…” Ellen trailed off. “I don’t regret the choices I made, I just acknowledge that it was different.” That was enough of the touchy feely stuff, right?

"After that was done, I checked in with Hans, then returned to the van where Abigail and Angeline were waiting. That's about it on my end. We drove back and debriefed.”
Ellen wasn’t sure if she should believe Abi’s tale. She said things were easy and she mostly hid in the back of a car the whole time. Then again, Ellen’s actual Awakening wasn’t bad, either--though that was mostly because she knew what was coming.

“I… was expecting it, so I made sure to be shore-side. I went out with…” She paused, looking around the group for a moment before continuing. “A gentleman friend of mine and he was asleep when I Awoke. I was in his shower, and when I dried off, I had a message saying the FOE would be coming. I gathered my things, grabbed a few bottles of water and poptarts, and a medical kit from one of the nearby ships, and met up with my ride.”

“We ran into trouble later, with one of the other pick-ups.” Ellen added. The whole night had really been...something. “The FOE appeared at the end of the street. Hans jumped out of the car to start drawing their fire. The kid was still on the street so I jumped out of the car and tried to lead her down the alleys a few blocks away. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but I wasn’t going to sit in the car and do nothing. Not when everyone was risking their lives for us.” Ellen wasn’t trying to land a jab on Abi this time, she was just trying to explain why she was so...impulsive, in this particular instance.

“We ended up in an alley blocked by a dumpster and a fence, and the girl couldn’t climb. Three guys in riot gear came at us. The girl I was with froze one, and another… I am not sure what she did to him, but he fell down in pain. I rushed at the woman and we grappled a bit. She dislocated my shoulder in the process, and then the agent took out her gun. I didn’t have a plan--beyond trying not to die, but Hans showed up a short while later.” Ellen closed her eyes, trying to remember exactly how the gun had ended up in her hands.Some of the moments were a bit blurry. She remembered the pain of Ciara putting her arm back in place, she remembered thinking ‘Fuck ‘em.’

Opening her eyes, she took a deep breath and finished her story. “I grabbed the gun the FOE agent had dropped and shot her. Hans was hurt, so I carried Ciara to the car and took over driving for the group for a while. They were doing medical attention in the back for the ones who were worse off. But all of us made it to Goodnight.” Ellen was still holding her biscuit, but she took a few small bite snow that she had finished her tale. It was… a bit long-winded, but Cassar hadn’t put a cap on how long their stories were supposed to be.
The room was silent after Abi finished speaking. There was… a lot going on in the ramblings the girl made, from a history of burns to their apparent source- being forced to abandon any potential studies she had in order to repair a leak in a hot engine. If nothing else, there was a very strong suggestion that the girl didn’t have a lot of experience with having injuries treated appropriately and promptly.

Ellen let the silence linger for… perhaps five seconds or so before the compulsion to fill the silence took precedence. “Abi,” Ellen said, pausing for a moment as she realized she hadn’t actually planned out anything else to say. “Just because something bad happens a lot...that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t hurt anymore.” She seriously doubted those burns didn’t hurt. The kid looked like a walking disaster. Hell, Ellen wouldn’t be surprised if this whole thing was staged as an intervention for the kid, bringing together the people who… sadly probably knew her the best to try to form some sort of support group. The way she was roped in at the end with an errand was quite a strong piece of evidence towards this current theory, at least.

“What. What?” Abigail looked up, blinking. Her gaze briefly flickered behind herself to the door. “Something bad? Lady, y’ain’t never touched a hot griddle or sommin’? Or uh, got a papercut. Smart ladies like you prob’ly get papercuts all the time, right?” Even with the burnt hand, she gesticulated a lot with her hands and fingers - the scaly skin stretching and wrinkling with each movement. “First time you had one probably scared the bejesus outta’ you, pain like nothing else. But now it’s…well, it’s just annoyin’. ‘Ah Jeez, I got another papercut’ kinda annoyin’. And it don’t affect my movement or nothin’ so I ain’t that worried about it.” She shrugged.

Papercuts… She thought these burns were like papercuts. Abi wasn’t exactly a master of a poker face, she legitimately didn’t see the problem with her mini-autobiography. Ellen would have snickered at the suggestion of being called a Smart Lady, if not for the fact that everything Abi said was so… absurd. “Abi, I…” Ellen paused, looking around the room. “I can understand that reaction to papercuts, or bruises on your shin from hitting a coffee table that you could have sworn was not in that spot yesterday. But I don’t think those...kinds of burns are anything like papercuts. And the fact that you are so nonchalant--” Ellen paused, substituting in a word she thought the youth would understand better. “so un-bothered-- Makes me worried for you.”

The concern threw her off. Abigail looked around the room as well, suddenly aware of all the people looking at her - watching her. Her fingers curled up tightly. "Ma'am," she collected herself and levelled her voice, "I ain't sure what kinda life you lived, but my family were salt-of-the-earth Americans. We were proud n' dignified folk but we didn't get much in the way of luxuries, an' hospital bills were out of the question. What you're lookin' at here is a run of the mill, standard procedure injury which - frankly - you can't let get in the way of day to day life." She grabbed the conversation, leaning in. "What concerns me more is why you're so worked up over a lil' burn. If this is how anxious you get over something I ain't able to avoid, what with my power n' all - then I dread to think about how you're gonna handle yourself when one of us gets shot."

"I know you are just trying to turn things around so the focus is off of you, I get it. And I'm happy to talk about myself. But nothing about you seems run of the mill. It isn't just the burns, you look like shit. I mean… come on--" Ellen paused and looked around the room for someone she felt was more 'typical' American. "What about you, Brooks, does her salt-licking/bootstrap-pulling or whatever it is story sound typical to you?" She asked, putting him on the spot whether he liked it or not.

Brooks' eyebrows raised. She leant back a little, stammering out a couple "uhhhs" before gesturing vaguely at Abigail and going "y-yeah. Good kid. Strong girl." The military-esque woman stared him down flatly. Brooks looked back then gestured to the room again with exasperation. She rolled her eyes and folded her arms, Continuing to observe the session.

Ellen looked between Brooks and Abi with shock and annoyance. Was he even listening to the discussion they were having? Ugh. So much for having That support. "Typical aside, I call bullshit on how this is just going to happen because of your powers and you can't get control of it. You didn't read about Jesus turning an entire river to wine and then complaining that he couldn't do anything about it because it was just unavoidable." Ellen retorted. It was a bit of a weird jab, but she hoped that bringing in the big J would help her make her point. Which was currently that Abi needed to get her own shit under control.

“Ok!” Interjected Dr. Cassar, just as soon as he found a gap to push into. “That maybe didn’t go in the direction I thought it would. Look, we all come from different parts of the world and different backgrounds, it’s normal for us to have disagreements about what is and is not normal - and that’s all fine, of course. Ellen, I think perhaps that was quite… accusatory. I don’t like it when people tell me I look like crap, you don’t, nobody does, you know?” He gave Ellen a slightly pointed look. “Abi, it can also be true that something that is very normal for us still isn’t good for us, you know what I mean? Like hospital bills, for example - where I come from, there is no such thing as a hospital bill. If you need to see a doctor, you just make an appointment, so that when you do get a nasty burn, you don’t have to risk it getting an infection or something nasty like that.” Cassar continued, weighing up each of the metaphorical options in each hand, and carefully trying to avoid sounding too critical.

He turned and frowned at Brooks.

“And you… don’t talk a lot.”

A moment passed in an awkward silence - an awkward silence that was, in fact, the direct descendant of the first one, a sort of newborn first-kid awkward silence of the original.

“What was your normal like? Obviously Abi has told us a bit about her life before all this stress happened, would you be willing to talk about yours too?” Cassar eventually asked, turning back towards Ellen.

Ellen wasn’t thrilled when Dr. Cassar suggested she was being a bit confrontational. It was true, but that didn’t mean she had to like it. Still, she let him finish, and was overall pleased with how Cassar described how different normal could look to different people. She probably should have gone with something more like that, but…. Being tactful often came with thinking about your words before you said them, and Ellen wasn’t terribly good at that.

After Cassar finished addressing Abi and Brooks, he turned back to Ellen, asking if she was willing to talk about her life before all of this. “Sure.” Ellen replied. “I was raised in Milano, Italy.” She added for the benefit of Abi. She nearly remarked that it was the boot-shaped one for the youth’s benefit, but managed to restrain herself. “We vacationed frequently, but never the whole family. My mother or father, one of them was always busy with work while the other took us out. Me and my twin sister, Chiara.

“I did a lot of sports, competitive skiing, fencing, rugby, whatever I could get into, really. In 2016, my sister and I were in university and she awakened. They never found her body. After that, it was really hard to stay home. People would see me do a double-take. And my parents… I couldn’t keep going through the motions and pretending it was all just going to be normal-feeling again one day. I eventually left home, traveled for a while, and picked up odd jobs here or there. I sort of… always had a feeling that I might be affected one day, so I think I was just biding my time until then. The last few years I spent working on an Alaskan King Crab Fishing vessel. It’s dangerous work, but I made good money and had a lot of free time in the off-season.” Ellen felt like it was pretty on-point. She didn’t go into much detail about anything in particular, and she certainly didn’t seem to be talking about the same “normal upbringing" that Abi discussed.

“So yea, that’s about it from the before, I guess.”
The chapel was… literally the worst attempt she had ever seen at a prayer space. Granted, Ellen hadn’t spent that much time looking for chapels over the last few years. She saw Brooks, Billy, and Zephyr there, as well as the woman who broke up the fight, another man that she recognized, but probably only from seeing him in passing.

The newcomer stood up, introducing himself with a name and an accent that sounded… Sicilian, perhaps?

Ellen introduced herself after Zephyr, which wasn’t at all a veiled attempt to take the currently open seat next to the most attractive man in the room. She reached out and shook Cassar’s hand. “I’m Ellen.” She introduced herself. “Nice to meet you. So what kind of doctor are you?” Ellen asked.

Dr. Cassar’s smile broadened at the question.

“I am an ophthalmologist. An eye doctor, that is. Not what you might expect, perhaps, but we all do the best we can with what we are given.”

“I’m just glad you aren’t a therapist.” Ellen grinned. She definitely got the vibe when coming in that this was some sort of intervention. “And besides, now I know who to bother when I need my brainy specks fixed.” Ellen wasn’t wearing her contacts today. She had been trying to save them for when she was on missions and the glasses were the most likely to get damaged/get in the way.

After the brief introduction, Ellen moved to the conveniently open seat next to Zephyr.
The rest of the mission passed without much of consequence. The professionals or at least the folks who were more experienced, took care of acquiring the actual medical supplies, and anything else they felt was of value. Then they made their way back to the rendezvous point for their return to Goodnight. Everyone was pretty quiet during the debrief. They were thanked for getting the supplies, and Angie’s work with Peter was enough to keep him alive.

Ellen went to visit him a few days later. It wasn’t like a normal hospital visit, where she would have brought a card or balloons, or flowers that would die a short while later. But she brought her sense of humor and a granola bar she had won in a card game, which was better in her opinion.

Even in the rundown makeshift ‘hospital’ area they had set up, Peter looked a lot better here than he had the last time she saw him. “Hey, Peter..right?” There weren’t chairs next to each of the beds, but she grabbed a folding one on her way over and opened it up before sitting down.

“You are looking a lot less pale now. And I prefer the look with blood on the inside.” She grinned. “How are you holding up?”

She liked to think he was better with a little company, especially after losing people in the Outback. Hell, they had all lost people. “You gotta keep getting better, so you can tell me about that one weird night, like you promised.” She teased. “But for now, I think you’d probably traumatize some folks.” She said a bit more softly.

The pair conversed for a short while longer. Ellen confirmed that her group made it back without any casualties and were able to recover the coolbox. She didn’t have any answers for him about exactly why or how these guys had found out about the drop. Ellen asked him if he had plans to stick around. She knew some people without magic could go back to their lives as if none of this had ever happened, but she wasn’t sure how much Peter really had to go back to. Either way, she wished him luck and a speedy recovery.

It was a nice conversation. People in Goodnight were getting so… worked up and stressed out. It was like a powder keg, if the powder keg was in a building with fireworks and cartoon crates of nitro. Everyone was hungry. Everyone felt trapped. Everyone was missing their creature comforts from home. Ellen felt like she was coping better than most. On the boats, there were times when they didn’t pack enough food, or something spoiled, and everyone ended up rationing a bit more than they wanted. She was also used to people getting tense and explosive when they weren’t sleeping well and couldn’t get a moment of peace or tranquility. And Ellen didn’t really have a home to miss.

Like most others, Ellen missed before she awakened. When she knew it was coming but was still able to do whatever the fuck she wanted. She could go places, do things, meet people… she took those parts for granted.

Ellen caught up with Hans one afternoon, telling him she wanted lessons with a handgun. She knew ammo was sparse, but before he could protest, she was justifying to him why she thought it was a good idea. “These situations aren’t going to get less dangerous. I’ve already shown I’m willing to use one if it is needed. And there are others who aren’t. There is no point in pretending we live in a world where it won’t be necessary to use a weapon...and my magic isn’t great unless we are already like--right next to one another.”

Perhaps she shouldn't have been surprised when Hans didn't have any concerns about teaching her these skills. He suggested simply that they wait until things had cooled off a bit, which was fine by Ellen. She just didn't like the idea of sitting around until the next mission popped up, only to realize she was just as unprepared--albeit a bit more experienced.

A few evenings later, Ellen was sitting with Angie eating their rather meager portions. Ellen was just coming up with another ‘would you rather’ conversation starter for Angie when Billy came over and invited them to come to a sort therapy session to talk about the last job they did. Ellen glanced over at Angie, wondering if Angeline was ready to actually talk. She hadn’t asked the former ballerina yet, and figured the girl would bring it up if she wanted when she was ready.

“I don’t mind.” Ellen said with a shrug, turning back to Billy. She didn’t have anything else going on, and she imagined that even if she wasn’t going to say much for herself, it might be nice and supportive of her friends if she went along, too. “Is Abi there?” That kid had a lot to unpack, and if anyone was hanging out at a makeshift hospital, it was probably her.
Collab with Jessikka

When Ellen reached the campsite, she saw Hans and Mark looking around. She approached Hans, knowing him better of the two, and ‘checked in.’ “Do you have this… all handled, or do you need me to help with something?” Ellen might have been a bit pale in the face, and unenthusiastic about offering to help, and shaking from having shot a man just a few minutes prior, but she sure as hell wasn’t going to be a burden on someone else. Whether it was her appearance, or Hans’ own confidence in his handling, Ellen didn’t know--but in any case, Hans suggested she head back to the van and he would wrap up here.

“Okay. There’s another body over...there, just to let you know.” Ellen pointed back in the direction from whence she came. “I’ll head up to the bus.”

She walked the rest of the way to the van on her own, the gun still heavy in her hand. Between every breath, she vacillated between feeling numb and feeling overwrought with emotion. For some reason, one of the concerns at the forefront of her mind was what the others would think about what she had done. She didn’t even notice the body that was dead or still dying on the ground near the van, preoccupied with her own thoughts.

Ellen paused at the side door, one hand on the handle. The other was still on the gun. The gun with it’s safety off. Ellen took the time to turn the safety back on, and then opened the door and got in, placing it on the seat beside her. She looked at Abi and Angeline, noticing that they...seemed rattled.

“Hey...You guys okay?” She asked.

Angeline was sitting in the van, very pale and her head in her hands, she frankly looked like she was going to be sick and she was covered in dust from being kicked to the floor. “Um-...” How would one even describe what had happened without sounding hysterical. “Well I think we got attacked… But Brooks dealt with it.” she finished, bluntly. To even utter the idea of him being shot might cause her to be sick. “Just trying to forget about it to be honest…” She leaned back, bouncing against the back of the chair, trying to distract herself. Her eyes examined Ellen for a rather long time, a welcome distraction from thinking about the bleeding corpse just outside the van. She stared until a thought came to her mind.

“Is everyone alright? No one got hurt?” Angeline probed, cautiously.

“I understand.” Ellen replied to her initial statement of trying to forget about the whole event. “Everyone looked fine.” She confirmed, knowing that Angeline was asking only about their group, and not about the well-being of the people they had attacked. “Guess you’re off the hook for healing, for now.” Ellen said, grinning lightly.

It was a good thing no one had gotten hurt. Angeline did not look well enough to take care of anyone but herself.

“So….Very Important Question. Would you rather have an extra toe or an extra finger?” Ellen asked. It was a change in subject. Drastic and unimportant. And hopefully exactly what Angeline needed. And who knew, maybe she needed to be distracted, too.

Angeline smoothed down the stray hairs of her ponytail, although after the fiasco of today, most of her hair was stray and had slipped out of the neat style it was at the beginning. She sighed in relief hearing there were no difficulties with anything. “I hope there are still some good supplies in there…” ...Otherwise this would have all been in vain, although she didn’t want to say that part out-loud. Angeline looked up and blinked a couple times at Ellen, making sure she’d heard her correctly. “Um… Odd time to play would you rather but I guess I’d say extra toe? I don’t think I’d be allowed on stage with an extra finger.” The ballet world was cut-throat enough about appearances, an extra finger would have exiled her from all performances for sure.

“What about you? I mean... The benefit of the toe is it’s easier hidden…” Angie speculated.

“You said you were trying to forget about it all…” Ellen mentioned with a shrug. “I don’t know, I mean… Are you going to be able to get shoes to fit an extra toe?” She supposed she could cut it off, but Ellen felt like it was more important to embrace her weirdness, rather than trying to remove that part of her entirely. Hmm...

Ellen glanced over at Abi. That girl seemed like she would cut off an extra appendage. Remove herself from what made her outside of the norm so she could fit in better.

“I think I’d go with an extra finger. I never played piano, but it would be cool to get good at that and play songs that only sound that good because of an extra finger.” Ellen imagined there were ways to make songs like this, but couldn’t think of a cool way to make something special out of an extra toe. “I mean, getting gloves in the winter might be a pain, but at least you still have mittens!” Ellen said brightly.

“You sure you don’t wanna play, Abi?” Ellen asked, looking over at the kid again.

Abi didn’t want to play. No matter, it was just a tool to help them stay distracted, anyway. Ellen asked a few more before Brooks and the others made their way back to the billy bus. She asked if Angeline would rather explore space or the ocean, and then if Angeline would rather eat breakfast food for every meal or dinner food for every meal.

Of those questions, Ellen preferred the idea of exploring the depths of the ocean, and learning what kinds of creatures were there--over going off into space. She was also more comfortable with the ocean and knew of some of its dangers, compared to space. Ellen also answered that she was more of a dinner fan than breakfast, and didn’t usually eat much for breakfast, if she had any at all. She grew up with “breakfast” in Italy, which was perhaps a pastry...certainly not the multiple-platter filled ensemble she knew Americans ate at places like IHOP and Denny’s.

And by what was perhaps some minor miracle, Ellen managed to keep the entire conversation rated G.

The Outback Camp


The first bullet struck him in his right side, piercing his chest and lung - but it seemed as though he barely noticed, apart from a twitch in his arm and a lapse in his stride. The next shot was a miss, from over correcting her aim for her attacker's centre mass, but then he got within fifteen feet of her and a little switch in the back of her mind flipped - the lights didn't go out, but the thought of letting him get any closer dimmed them.

Ellen meant to fire one more shot, hit him in the chest, and conserve her ammo. Consciously, she'd meant to do nothing more than protect herself, do no more damage than absolutely necessary.

Instead she fired three.

One round found its home just above his stomach, one hit him in the dead centre of his chest, and one struck just to the left of his Adam's apple.

He made it a few more stumbling steps, powered mostly by his own inertia, before losing focus and clutching desperately at his wounds, not quite realising that he didn't have - and would never have - enough hands. He wound up face down in the sand, chest heaving against the incredible finality of his injuries, body movements gradually slowing.

It was slower than she expected, not that Ellen had spent a lot of time thinking about how long someone took to die. But when she had told herself that she would be alright with this, she imagined it being a moment--something filled with adrenaline that would pass quickly, and she would process the event later.

Instead, she stood and watched the man fall to the ground, his movements slow. He was dying. There was no way the shots she fired weren’t fatal, but she had expected something much more...instantaneous.

Ellen sunk to the ground a few feet away from the man, painfully aware with each breath she took that the man dying in front of her would not continue to do the same. After about a minute, she straightened, remembering that there were other people around and someone else could be coming her way--or her friends could be dead/dying. She should go and make sure they were okay.

But frankly, what could she do if they were dying? Ellen looked at the man on the ground in front of her, feeling powerless when perhaps she should have felt more powerful than she ever had before. Either her friends were fine and they had been successful, or they were dead and all was lost. Ellen wasn’t quite ready to find out which.

She flicked the safety on, not wanting to be startled into shooting a friend.

And then she flicked it off again, worried that one of the thieves might be the one to stumble upon her.

Ellen needed to know what was going on. She stood up and took a few steps away from the body on the ground. When she looked closely, she could see he was still breathing, barely. He didn’t even have a weapon. Maybe she had made a mistake.

Maybe he had the keys to the caravan. Maybe he had a wallet. Could Goodnight use a credit card for a short while until this guy was reported dead? Could they use cash? Was it heartless of her to wonder? Or was it practical?

Ellen probably should take his wallet and check his pocket for keys at least. She knew she should.

But the act of actually doing it seemed so wrong...and it took another minute for her to muster up the courage. Well… maybe she was just trying to wait to be sure he was fully dead.

Ellen was getting a much better idea of why video games often had the bodies disappear and just the loot remain after combat.

Whether he was in too much pain, or had already slipped beyond the realms of sensibility and consciousness, he put up no resistance to the young woman as she rifled through his pockets. He did indeed have a wallet, containing about $7.50 in cash, along with a debit card reading “Mr Joseph Barrow”, and a couple of old, out of date McDonald’s coupons. He also had ID - full name Joseph Leslie Barrow, age 39 - and an organ donor card, plus a photo tucked behind the little plastic window he’d put the ID card behind.

It was him, though younger, with his arm around another young man that looked a great deal like him - so much like him, in fact, that they were more or less identical.

Like twins.

They were standing in front of some ratty old building that looked like a pub, holding dark brown glass bottles, grinning like absolute idiots - as though they knew they were doing something they weren’t meant to be, and were just daring the world to let them get caught.

On the reverse of the polaroid, written in stunningly neat biro pen, was a little message.

“I know things have been hard, but I want you to never forget that I love you, and that I believe in you. Growing up I knew you could do anything you put your mind to, and I know that still. Please come stay some time, please let me help you, please just let me be your brother, Joe.”

“ - love, Harry.”

As Ellen opened the wallet, her attention shifted to his license. More specifically, his name and his picture. She stared at them for a few moments before noticing the picture of the sibling behind the identification. Ellen could tell instantly that the men were likely twins. She felt a stab in her chest at the thought of tearing someone’s sibling away like hers had been taken from her. Ellen forced herself to read the entire note on the back, feeling like she knew these brothers more than she should. Perhaps it would have been better not to look in the wallet at all. It certainly would have been easier.

Ellen shoved the card and picture back in the wallet, closed it, and brought it with her as she walked away from Joe, towards where her friends were hopefully gathering what they needed from the campsite. She shoved the wallet in a pocket, and carried the gun at her side--finger outside of the trigger guard--unsure exactly who she would encounter there.
Ellen took up a position where she could see the thieves around their campfire. It was mildly disorienting to see them from this location versus where she had been before, but Ellen was able to take a few moments leaning against a tree to re-orient herself to the situation, and the gun in her hand. Would she actually use it?

She thought that she would, if she needed it. After all, she had used a gun before and fired at a person.The fog began to set in and Ellen saw the men seem to argue with each other. One fell to the ground. They disappeared from her view before she heard the gunshots. The shots came quickly, and Ellen expected to hear shouting, and an exchange of gunfire perhaps, but there was nothing. Had they really taken care of everyone?

A few seconds passed and then it was over--or nearly so. The fog lifted, and Ellen went from straining to see anything to realizing there was a man running at a near full-sprint right at her. She straightened, aiming her gun for the man.

It was only in that instant she knew how different this was. This wasn’t defending herself and her friend from someone who had already tried to kill her. This wasn’t adrenaline fueled--it was fueled by a more complicated fear. One she would have to process later.

Ellen fired her gun, and if the man did not halt in his steps, she would level the gun again and fire twice more, aiming for his center of mass.

She continued to look at him for a while after he fell. She probably should have re-grouped with the team and made sure everyone was alright, but she was likely in her own state of shock. She took the life of a person who...might not have meant her any harm. She didn’t know for sure, and now she never would.
The first to okay the plan was Abigail, who seemed thrilled that her job was to run around and then stay in the bus. “Sort of.” Ellen replied. “You shouldn’t have to high-tail it back to the van to tell people because I should be able to do that more quickly.” She held up her hand for a moment to pause the youth, anticipating that Abigail would remind her that she was faster than Ellen. “What I mean is, my body won’t be running down to scout. Since it is staying here, I should be able to tell everyone faster. Instead, I want us to split up and peek into the windows of their different vehicles. You take the farther white one and I’ll take the closer, but we’ll both do wide loops.” Even with her power, Ellen wasn’t going to be faster than Abigail, so it made sense to her to tell the youth to take the farther vehicle, though it meant she would have to run farther to get back to the bus, as well.

“You’ll have to try to stay quiet. I can’t make noise in that form… But if you have any difficulty or get spotted, just blast some of that purple fire at them and then run like hell.”

Abigail's smile dropped. "Now hang on, missy-" she said, sitting bolt upright. "I'm fast, but I ain't faster than a bullet. I thought that the plan was...well, I ain't too sure about the particulars of yer ability, but I thought I'd just be lookin' after your body while you go on ahead."

Of course it couldn't go that smoothly. Ellen frowned as Abi elaborated and clearly misunderstood what Ellen was planning for them to do. "Sorry for not being clear. I think you and my eyes will go around and try to peak in through their windows. If you find it first, you wave at me. My body will stay up here and I can then tell people what I've seen and anything you can pantomime with me. When we've gotten the info we can, you come back and hide out." Ellen paused to give Abi time to process and follow up with any additional questions.

Abigail stared at Ellen, then back at Brooks and Billy. She rubbed her nose on the back of her arm. "I mean...if everyone else is okay with it…?"

"Hey, what you do isn't up to everyone else. If you don't want to, then don't. Stay here and I'll go scope things out myself." Ellen did not want to force anyone to do something against their will, especially something dangerous.

"Sure, but I ain't no pussy. But I also ain't stupid." Abigail pulled a face. "I'll keep an eye on your real body while you go take a look around, how's that sound?"

Ellen considered the proposal for a few moments before nodding. She had intended to leave her body all the way up here, but she honestly wasn't sure about how far she could go with this ability anyway. If she went down further before using the magic, she would be more likely to actually be able to scope out the vehicles. And if they didn't need to put the kid in danger, they probably shouldn't.

"Sure. Yeah. I should probably get closer before using this anyway. We will go down together to a spot closer to them but with hopefully decent cover. I'll tell you the important stuff and you get back up here to these guys." Ellen recapped. At least she would have that extra gun, since no one else had claimed it.

Angeline had some suggestions about Zephyr’s ability use, and it was a fair point. Ellen had been hoping to save his abilities for other things, but she didn’t know how much he was capable of, or if he was willing to call Time Out for the express purpose of getting the edge to snipe them. “We can leave it up to Zephyr, then.” Ellen suggested. She didn’t love the idea of sending him in just to get attacked. She hoped instead that she and Abi could be sneaky, and then the fog would make it difficult for them to attack any of the party. She wasn’t intending to make anyone in the party into cannon fodder, and everyone had a say in what they did.

On the plus side, Angeline wasn’t complaining about her own role in any of this.

Brooks was the final one to weigh in. He declared that they weren’t FOE, and agreed that using Abigail and herself as scouts might be a good way to get information on the coolbox. Maybe Ellen could even spot their weapons, and whether or not they were being carried.

"Well, no point in waiting any longer. Abi, you ready to head on down there? Ellen asked. She threw her hair up in a ponytail and looked over the group. She did NOT feel ready for this, but people needed these supplies, and no one else was going to swoop in and save the day. They only had each other… so she would just have to fake it until they made it. When Abi was ready, Ellen set off in a direction a bit off front the camp down the hill. After all, they didn't want to be spotted before they could do any scouting.

The trail they made down towards the camp was a reasonably straight one, cutting between shrub and brush to conceal their movements until they eventually came to rest between one especially dry dead tree and another. At their first look up towards the bandits, however, it became apparent that circumstances had already changed.

Two of the criminals - a short, stocky woman carrying a hunting rifle over her back, and a man with a slightly bizarre ratty face - had turned and started walking towards the defunct red van. Their comrades, one of them carrying a pistol in a holster, and the other carrying a pistol tucked into the front of his pants, were otherwise still occupied standing around the final member of the gang, who was lying still on the floor.

The thieves split up while Ellen and Abigail were getting into a nice spot, which would make it harder for Ellen to keep an eye on them without being spotted. She had to make a choice of where to focus. For now, she wanted to try to check the two white campers, since the coolbox wasn't in either the green or blue pickup truck. It could have been in the broken down red van, but if they pulled medical supplies out of it, Abigail might spot it before Ellen could.

"This is precisely why I ain't going in," Abigail pointed out the two going to the van. "Seemed to me your plan involved 'em standing still, and not having eyes. If any of 'em spotted your... double, big whoop. But if any of 'em spotted me..." She trailed off, grimacing.

Ellen sat down against one of the trees, her attempt at keeping cover for her body. She hadn't ever used this ability when it really mattered, but now was as good of a time as any. Ellen took the gun that she had gotten from Hans and lay it on the ground beside her right hand. She wanted to know where it was in case they were in danger as soon as she returned. Silently, Ellen looked at Abigail, gave her a nod, and then closed her eyes to focus.

A few moments later, a figure appeared beside the sitting woman. She looked identical. Abigail scratched the back of her neck and went for an awkward "howdy," unable to muster up a more appropriate response. Ellen looked down at her sitting body, smiled at Abigail, and then moved towards the hideout, checking for the positions of the thieves as she silently moved towards the white camper on the far side of their position.

Abigail hunkered down into a squat, watching the second Ellen wander off. Her expression twisted into one of disgust - borderline contempt - at the sight of a mage in action, but she knew better than to start complaining about it.

There was silence for a long minute, then a brief chuckle. "Y'know," Abigail muttered, "when I didn't wanna go to school, my folks used to sometimes have me sit out on this rise all day and keep an eye on our generator - make sure nobody's stealin' our 'lectricity." Abigail shifted her weight. "Basically the same idea here, 'cept the stakes are higher, and we're the ones doing the stealin'."

"We only stealing back what was already ours." Ellen replied to Abi, perhaps surprising the youth. Granted, Ellen had no idea how 'legally' Goodnight bootleggers had acquired the goods in the first place, but she doubted they came from these guys.

"A sin's a sin, no matter which way you wanna sugar coat it. 'Thou shalt not steal' n' all that." Abigail lifted the brim of her cap, watching the two furthest from Ellen's double with the belief that the woman was keeping an eye on the more immediate threat.

The other thing Abigail had said was that she preferred watching a generator over going to school. She wasn't old enough to be talking about college, and Ellen was stuck with the sudden realization that this poor kid would never be able to finish high school… not that it sounded like she had stellar attendance before all this anyway. "Why did you stop going to school?" She asked. Yes, it probably wasn't the ideal time for chit chat, but it was sort of nice to keep her mind split on two different things instead of solely focused on the dangerous mission.

Ellen approached the farthest white vehicle, looking for uncovered windows on that side to peak through.

"Started shootin' purple fire n' hid in the back of a truck," Abigail responded flatly. After a moment, she decided to actually answer. "School wasn't an obligation. We moved around too much for it to matter…'sides, some of the stuff the government wants you to believe is bullshit. I'm keeping an eye on the fellers furthest from you, by the way."

“I can’t hear them, so if you can let me know if any start getting close, that’d be great.” Ellen said, addressing what was definitely the more important part first. “The truth is often determined by the victor, I agree. But at least if you learn the stuff, you can make up your own mind about what you believe.”

Ellen knew that sort of mindset. She heard it loads of times on the boat. Mostly it was people pissed about regulations on what size crabs they kept and the laws about tossing back pregnant female crabs. They said how could men who hadn’t ever caught a crab say which ones the fishermen could keep? They’d rant and rave and complain about regulations--but were the same ones to take the tax breaks and discounts when offered.

She paused for a few moments, wondering if she wanted to voice the next thought on her mind. If nothing else, it was good to hear Abi to know that the kid hadn’t abandoned her body. “Who was it that made up your mind about the government’s bullshit?” She asked.

"I did. There's three people you should always trust - God, yerself n' yer family." Abigail decided against telling Ellen she wasn't on speaking terms with two of them. "Math n' geometry...I got all that. There's proof of that. But I tuned out when they started tellin' me we used to be monkeys, lizards n' fish."

As Ellen's double made its way over to the far camper, the two thieves who had made their way over to the red van produced a shovel from somewhere inside it, and one of the others who'd stayed around the fire turned to head back towards the trucks.

"I see, well I was raised Catholic so if you ever want to-- Shit." Ellen interrupted her train of thought with a curse as she investigated all of the windows on the outside and found that they were covered from the inside with something shiny and metallic looking. Aluminum foil, maybe?

"I can't see inside at all. The windows are all covered." She got down to the ground and looked for the feet of the thieves. When she was sure they were all looking away, she shifted over to the back of the caravan and peaked around the corner to the back door. It was shut. "I can't open doors like this." Ellen said to Abi, and started to crawl under the caravan. She inched forward to get a better view of where the thieves were, and hopefully the front of the other caravan.

Abigail cocked her head to the side. "Well don't get caught tryin' to open it," she responded. "Just figure out where everybody's at n' come back. Once the others gun 'em down we'll have all the time in the world to open doors n' shit."

"Got it." Ellen replied and shifted to a play by play of what she could see them doing. She said she saw two get shovels from the red van, and looked at the one laying on the ground, wondering if she could see any movement of his chest to indicate breathing.

The guy who’d wandered over to the pickup trucks opened one of the passenger doors and began rummaging inside - though neither Abigail nor Ellen could see precisely what he was doing - and the two who’d gone to grab shovels paused by the open slide-door of the red van to talk. Even at the distance she was, Abi could just about make out the words “... fucking idiot…” being used more than once in that conversation. If it weren’t for the weird accent, it might even have made her feel more at home.

As Ellen focused more on the laid out body, it became gradually clear that she wasn’t quite close enough to get a good bead on whether or not they were breathing - but their eyes were closed and they didn’t seem to be moving even slightly. Ellen felt the beginnings of dread starting to pool in her stomach - the instinctual response to looking at what you think is a dead body.

After another moment they were both roused by the sound of a car door slamming shut, as the bandit who’d gone to the trucks returned with a four pack of beer and started to distribute it.

Ellen watched the group for a few moments before reporting back to Abigail. "I think the guy on the ground is dead and they are about to bury him." She voiced. One less guy they had to take care of…And it was less likely that he was some advanced magic user doing something similar to Ellen. Still didn't explain how their supplies were found, though.

"We need to get moving, and with them shoveling, they won't be hearing as well… hopefully. Do you think you should report back to the group?"

Ellen probably wouldn't go back up behind her. Her body was already close. She could instead try to flank with the weapon from the same location her presence was currently. She didn't have a lot of ammunition, or great experience, but with them focused on digging instead of on their weapons, it was going to be their best chance… maybe.

"Not until you're whole again, sunshine." Abi picked her teeth with her nail. "Last thing I wanna do is turn my back on ya and find out you got spotted. What'll you do from here when the guns start firin'?"

Ellen began to crawl back from her position and head quickly back the way she came to rejoin Abigail and her body. "I going to take my gun and head back to where I was. Even if I don't hit anything, I will be on the opposite side as the rest of our guys and that might spook them." She figured if they turned two different directions to fire, Hans and the other competent marksman would be much more likely to hit their targets quickly.

Ellen made it back to her body relatively quickly. She actually wasn't sure if she HAD to make it back or if she could just 'shut off' the power, but it was jarring enough even without extra physical distance. She took a few deep breaths and began to stretch and roll her shoulders.

"Sounds sensible," Abi agreed. Once Ellen was back in her real body she could see that Abigail's expression was...strange, slightly angry. She clapped her hands together once and stood up, stretching. "I'll get back to the others."

Abigail couldn't do much, but by god.

The kid can run.

After a careful glance down the rise to make sure she wouldn't take a bullet, Abigail took off in a dead sprint. Her gangly legs hit the grit and sand, shifted, twisted her foot slightly and pushed off like a professional and closed the gap in a startling amount of time. "Ellen says they're burying one of their dead buddies," she said, still stumbling to a halt behind the Billy bus. "There's two of them coming back from the red van, can't see into the trailers though. She's staying where she is and shooting from behind. Says you should advance when they start diggin'." She pushed a clump of greasy hair out of her face, looking up at Brooks for an answer.
The drive took hours. Over that time, most of the group chatted with each other between bouts of silence and assisting the kombi. Taking a cue, perhaps, from Ellen and Angeline, they spoke of the things they had learned about their abilities, none of them entirely sure how it would become relevant when they arrived at their destination. Ellen told a few stories from her time working as a crab fisher, mostly the dramatic stories and that would have made for their own reality show episode--with only some embellishments.

The plume of smoke was a welcome sight, despite the fact that it meant they would actually have to act soon. The first time Ellen had faced someone with her magic, it was something she had done suddenly and without thought. She vastly preferred that method to this one, stewing for hours and considering all of the possible ways it could go horribly wrong and end in death.

When they departed from the van, the group made their way up the hill enough to get a look at the set-up being used by the thieves. Something about their whole set-up didn’t make a lot of sense to Ellen. She didn’t mind the old caravans, newer trucks, and obviously broken-down red van. But the whole… fact that a group whose home base was here had found their way 5 hours away to a deserted house just as it had medical supplies delivered… It didn’t make sense.

Were these guys mercenaries for hire? If so, did the FOE or some Aussie equivalent organization hire them?

Ellen had initially thought the attack was carried out by the FOE, something targeted towards them--and she wasn’t entirely sure that was wrong yet. Who else could have had such… luck?

She was too cynical to believe it was luck, so either these guys were hired for this particular job (which meant someone else knew about this pick up) or these guys had magic of their own, the kind that perhaps told them where to go to relieve people of their supplies. In either case, there was a strong chance they were expecting someone to come after the coolbox, which… unfortunately, was nowhere in sight.

There were four or five people they could make out from their vantage point. Numbers were perhaps the only advantage Ellen and the others had. She watched them for a few moments, and tried to see if she could make out any other movement before she backed away from the hill and turned to the group, speaking softly.

“We need to find the coolbox. Here’s what I think. Abi, you and I are going to do a wide pass, use the trees for cover, to try to get behind these guys and see inside of the caravans. I’ll use my doubling ability, so I won’t make any sound. But we should get cover anyway. Matt, cast your fog thing centered at their fire, obscure their view. They can’t shoot what they can’t see.” And maybe they would waste some of their ammunition shooting at the fog, or each other. Maybe they would fall into the fire and take care of themselves. A gal could dream, right?

“I’ll convey to folks up here where the coolbox is so the others can have a more focused approach. Matt probably won’t be able to hold that for too long, so once it dissipates and they start shooting in earnest at us, use your Time Out to make everyone down there stop fighting. You can certainly try to persuade people towards peace.” Ellen couldn’t speak to Zephyr's ability to make people actually want a ceasefire. And she didn’t want him wearing himself out, they might need his strength later, if the coolbox was still intact.

“But that leaves Hans, Brooks, Mark, and maybe me depending on my recovery, outside of Zephyr’s range, able to take them down, or whatever you can manage based on how close you can get. Angeline, you can stay with Billy and the bus, so when it all gets fucked up, you can ride in and fix our shit. Maybe start scoping out plants now.”

Ellen looked over each of the members of the group. She had included all of them, and those with magic had some sort of magic to do to contribute to the group. She was well-aware she had suggested putting the youngest kid in the most danger--but none of them had run alongside Abigail. That kid was fast. Zephyr would have to get down there as well, hopefully using Matt’s fog as cover.

In truth, not all of Ellen’s “plan” made the most sense-- but this was why Ellen had tried to insist someone else take the reins and control of the plan-making.. If they were going to assassinate these thieves, then they really didn’t need to rush to find the coolbox at the same time. But Ellen wasn’t planning for just one thing...well, she wasn’t sure she would consider it a plan at all. It was more of a series of things they could do with their magic that MIGHT be able to help them get the shit they needed and MAYBE not die in the process.

Ellen looked at Hans with a helpless shrug. “Hey, it’s a helluva lot better than my plan last time.” She said.
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