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Selpharia

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  1. That was one of my favorite scenes to write as well Bridget imitating Val is so precious.
  2. Fixed, thanks for pointing that out. I’ll do what I can, but part of the difficulty in *writing* something like this is that it takes time, especially when life gets hectic.
  3. Hello again everyone! We're back on for more, this time with a nearly double-length chapter that will hopefully excite, entertain, and put rumors of this story's demise to rest for at least a little while. Thank you all for reading, and putting up with my schedule. And once again, questions and comments are very welcome. Chapter Four: Experimental Findings Getting past security was easy enough. All it took was a quick jump over a turnstile and past a bored-looking guard, and she was in. A brief rustling in one of the perfectly-manicured hedges stopped her for a moment, but when she didn't see anything sinister lurking, she continued her stealthy approach. It was also trivial to find a map of the city at the far side of the lobby. The six wings of Vector HQ were organized very pragmatically, each of them devoted to a general are of focus that the cartographer had helpfully labeled. The lower levels of the central hub was taken up by cafeterias, gyms, and other relaxation areas, below a gigantic area simply identified as “executive suites.” <<Let's avoid that, shall we? There's no doubt good information to be had there, but since Aria and Sonata can detect us, there remains a substantial chance of discovery,>> Bridget nodded affirmatively. <<This northeastern wing, however, looks quite promising.>> Bridget followed the shape of the building to a wing shaded in a pale blue, which upon closer inspection was devoted to research and development. <<It's remarkable what a careless researcher will reveal if their thoughts are consumed by scientific conundrums.>> Yeah, but would the Voidwalkers really do their most secret science where anyone could just walk in? I mean, what if someone like Isis or Overwatch got suspicious? <<Certainly not. I'm sure that the information we'd really want is on the flagship, but there's plenty of things that require a more...material environment.>> Right. We should get going. Bridget set off toward R&D, just shy of a run, each step full of purpose, ready to face whatever challenges awaited her. What she was unprepared for, however, was the frustration of searching for a needle in Vector's corporate research haystack. The research wing had looked so small on that very helpful diagram, but walking through the reality of the thing was another matter. There were so many labs and testing rooms, and even though her stealth kept her hidden from the researchers, waiting for one of them to open their electronically locked lab doors to exit was an exercise in tedium. To make matters worse, while the information she found about the computer chips, hyper-efficient batteries and high-tensile-strength materials that Vector was working on might have been valuable to a rival company, none of it had anything to do with a secret plan to conquer and devour the planet. After an hour of investigating, she'd only searched three of the eight floors of the research wing, and Val's dismissals of everything they found as pedestrian and irrelevant was long past grating. On top of that, the strain of keeping up her gravitic stealth was beginning to take its toll. The effort was like holding a small weight in her outstretched hand; easy at first, and simple enough to maintain for a little while. But she hadn't had all that much practice, and before long she found herself needing to take breaks, ducking into restrooms or the occasional convenient alcove to recover. And so she found herself trudging from testing room to testing room. Val theorized these were likely ballistics labs, and those were for material testing, with evident and undiminished contempt for science that dealt purely with the physical world. It had been a relief to discover a series of unlocked rooms, before it became apparent that the reason they were so easy to enter was because they contained nothing at all of interest. Bridget let out a frustrated sigh. “Hey there! Need help findin' something?” A man's voice rang out cheerfully behind her. Bridget let out a yelp of surprise, and very nearly took flight on the spot. <<Stars take us!>> Val spat. Bridget turned around to face the speaker, ready to throw him as far as she could and book it in the opposite direction at the first sign of danger. “You must be newly attuned, huh?” The man continued, offering a friendly smile in response to Bridget's battle stance. After a moment of confusion, Bridget realized that the Voidwalker in front of her had no idea who they were, and that they might just be able to use that to their advantage. “Oh, um... yes. Right. That is indeed the case.” Bridget said haltingly, doing her best impression of Val's clipped, imperious manner. “Thought so. It can be frustrating to get used to a vessel that has so little ability to orient itself in space-time. You have to remember that physical bodies make sound as they move. A generalized envelope like the one you got there won't match all the changes perfectly. That's how I could see ya, don'cha know.” “Of course. Thank you.” Bridget did her best to suppress the blush that spread across her cheeks at having an enemy correct her technique. “Oh, no trouble, miss...” Bridget stared for a moment before she realized that he was waiting for her name. “Sepulchral, um...Mezzopiano.” <<What? That's nothing like a real Voidwaker name! Mezzopiano doesn't make the slightest bit of sense!>> Give me a break! I had like a second to think of it and you weren't exactly brimming with suggestions. <<Even for a male, he would have to be a credulous fool to believe for a second that->> “Nice to meet you, Mezzopiano, I'm Empyrean Rondo-” <<Incredible,>> Val spat, voice dripping with contempt. “But my friends just call me Empy.” <<This disrespectful little whelp! A Voidwalker's name is a description of what they are in every sense. It's not to be abridged with such careless irreverence.>> I mean, it's his own name. And it doesn't seem to bother you when I do it. <<You're barely more than a baby, it's not reasonable to expect you to understand etiquette rules that date back centuries. <<This...>> She fumbled about for a word sufficient to express her derision. <<...male, by contrast, is a miserable disgrace who ought to know better.>> Oh...well, still, I'm sorry for giving you a nickname that you hate. I'll call you Cadenza from now on. <<No, don't!>> Val blurted, before quickly regaining her usual composure. <<I...I mean, you really don't have to do that, little one. I've -well- grown fond of the appellation. Consider it a singular exception.>> Okay. No problem space-mommy. “Well, um, it is pleasant to meet you, Empy.” Bridget replied, turning her attention from one Voidwalker to another, “I, well, like you said, I'm not quite used to this frail, pathetic human body yet, and I seem to have gotten myself lost. Could you direct me to the lab?” “Oh, it's not s'bad. I'm sure after a little experimentation, you'll find that a physical body comes with a few nice perks. Like touch, touch is great.” “What exactly do you mean?” Bridget said, trying to make conversation, but dreading where it would lead. “Look, just...” Empy was for a moment lost for words “If you encounter an earth tool called 'play-dough,' attempt to operate it for a few minutes. Anyways, which lab d'you mean? There's quite a few, as I'm sure you've noticed.” “I meant the secret one.” Please let there be a secret one, let there be a secret one, she thought to herself. “Oh, the main test chamber? Dimensional block 1134?” <<Ah, perfect. The 1100s are all reserved for special research projects; that's almost certain to be what we need. We should, it seems, be thankful the Warmistress employs such incompetents instead of jettisoning them into the nearest nebula.>> “Indeed, Empy, that is the one I am searching for. Lead on.” He seemed pretty nice though. <<Which is exactly the problem. He's also directly contravening every security protocol in the book, just because we appear to be a friendly Voidwalker-aligned entity.>> Well, hey, at least we got lucky for once. Not like we didn't need it. Empyreal Rondo led them to an elevator, but instead of selecting a floor, he merely placed his hand on the Vector logo that sat above the buttons for the top floors. His hand and the logo both glowed purple for a moment, and they began moving upward. But midway between the fourth and fifth floors, the numeric display went blank, and the elevator lurched to a halt. The door opened onto a hall that was in near total darkness, save for the green glow of an exit sign, by which Bridget could barely make out a paper note taped on a white door in front of them that read: UNDER RENNOVATION. Their guide pushed past it, unbothered by both the sign and the low light, and Bridget hastened along after him, hoping she wouldn't give herself away by stumbling in darkness that the Voidwalker didn't even seem to notice. Bridget tried to keep track of the turnings they took so she could retrace her steps later, but she lost track after the seventh one. Suddenly they turned a corner, and the darkness was broken by dim sunlight to filter through a large tinted window. Bridget halted for a moment while her eyes adjusted to the sudden change, and realized that her guide had stopped as well, in front of a large, plain metal door. He slid a card through a reader on the left side of the entrance, and waited for a reaction. The door began to whirr and click, then emit a strangely harmonic hum that built in a crescendo from a whisper to a full chorus. “I really don't know what he sees in this whole production. Only a human would be impressed by something as simple as a solid door, and they can't even get here. But, well, scientists. Y'know how they are.” <<Philistine,>> Val harrumphed indignantly as Empy turned to leave. “1134's just through the far door, ring the buzzer if you need anything!” he said cheerfully, walking back the way they had come. Bridget tried to think of a follow-up question, but before she got past “and what kind of-,” Empy had already rounded a corner and was gone. Well, that was...Oh. “Oh, no.” The door guarding the entry had ceased making sound, save the creak of metal as it slowly lifted open, bathing the entryway in an all-too familiar purple glow. Bridget took a few hesitant steps forward, then nearly leapt out of her skin at the clanging report of her footfalls on the metal floor. Fortunately for her, there were no Voidwalkers to detect her invasion into their sanctum, so the only sound that greeted her was her own echo, and the eerie chorus of machines whirring, buzzing and beeping. She looked toward the opposite end of the gigantic room, and saw a sight that made her stomach turn. Against the far wall stood a quintet of hospital beds, each illuminated by the same harsh glow under which she once awoke, and each accompanied by a tangled thicket of wires, and a ring of silver machines that gleamed under the alien illumination. Bridget fought not to look directly at any of the beds for too long, resisting the horrible memory of her own attunement that desperately clawed at her mind and threatened to overwhelm her. But even so, she got a good enough look at the arrangements to see that while four of the beds were empty, the one closest to the door into the chamber beyond held a gown-clad humanoid figure. This was enough to spur Bridget into action, her own nightmare forgotten at the prospect of saving another. Without even pausing to consult with Val or to think of a way to mask the sound of her approach, she ran toward the Voidwalkers' latest unfortunate victim, and after a few clanging seconds, she was at the bedside, looking down at the captive. I know you probably think it's a waste of time, but we have to at least try to save the-huh? Bridget's eyes widened in surprise. Someone had covered the form of the new Voidwalker host in a thin white sheet, thick enough to occlude their features, but too thin to conceal the lurid purple glow emanating from the subject beneath. It was like looking down at a mannequin, or a morbid parody of a small child reading by flashlight under the blankets in the dead of night. <<Sweetie...>> Val said cautiously, <<I know you want to help, but I'm not sure->> Bridget didn't respond. She just grabbed a big handful of the white sheet and threw it aside. The Latina woman beneath was unassuming, wearing only a hospital gown in thin blue plaid, and appeared unhurt, save for the places where they'd put in the tubes and IV. She didn't move at all, even to open her eyes to look up at her rescuer. Two shining rivulets of tears ran down her face, saturated with the violet hue of the all-pervasive light. Bridget reached out gingerly with two fingers, and brushed the woman's bangs aside to wipe the tears away, hoping to offer whatever small comfort she could. But the moment she touched the liquid, it hissed and curled into vapor, its tendrils grasping weightlessly at Bridget's hand, like a last breath rising feebly into the frozen winter sky. <<The Nocturne has already begun, little one. Without immediate expert help, there's nothing to be done.>> Then we'll get her immediate expert help! If we can find Empy again, maybe we can convince him to bring a rescue team or something! She turned around to look back the way she had come, weighing how long it would take her to run for it, to find a paramedic. Her left hand traveled to the woman's wrist, looking for a pulse. At first, she couldn't feel anything but the cold of the woman's skin and her spirits fell. But then, after a few long moments, she felt a faint but unmistakable, beat against her fingers “Okay,” she whispered to herself, calming her frazzled nerves. “She's still alive. If we hurry, we can probably make it in time.” Bridget turned to leave, but before she'd had the chance to step back, she felt a clammy hand clutch at her wrist. She screamed and yanked her hand away. The woman offered no resistance; her grip had no strength in it. Horrified, Bridget clapped her hand to her mouth, trying vainly to hold back the sound that had already erupted from her lips, and now echoed, seemingly endlessly, around the vast, nearly-empty chamber. Whatthellwhatthehellwhatthehell, Bridget shrieked silently, looking down at the woman. Some part of her brain expected to see her slowly rising from the bed like a zombie. But there was no sudden reanimation under unholy power. The host's fingers twitched feebly as Bridget watched, but otherwise, she remained still. <<Don't worry, little one. When a host dies, the Voidwalker de-couples themselves from their nervous system. They leave the host through an available orifice and resume their normal form, as you saw. But their passing can cause random nerve impulses in their wake.>> So she's... Bridget didn't want to complete the sentence, as though saying it, even to herself, would be enough to make it so, collapsing even the small uncertainty that remained into a singular finality. <<Quite dead.>> Bridget could tell that Val was trying to be sensitive, but her artifice was obvious. <<I'm sorry, little one, but we have to get going. We've been fortunate so far, but that will not necessarily remain the case. Once whoever is in charge here realizes they've got uninvited guests, I suspect we'll receive a much more acrimonious welcome.>> What would you even know about sorry, you, you- Bridget wanted to say something truly awful, to force Val to feel some of the misery, to feel something of what it was like to know that if they had been quicker, bumbled around less, joked around less, this woman, who was once a person with her own hopes and dreams, her own life, would still be something more than a failed flesh-suit for a conquering alien. But her impotent fury consumed the part of her brain that could come up with something suitably cutting, and all she could think to do was swipe at the woman's lifeless tears, hoping that she could at least hurt the Voidwalker as it fled the corpse. If she could stop it from coalescing, make it suffer for what it had done, that would at least be something. She wasn't sure how long she stood there, slashing at purple steam with her hand, until it finally stopped leaking from the woman's glassy eyes. Finally, chest heaving with exertion, she stopped her attack and pulled the sheet back over the body. Already the purple light had begun to fade, so that when the sheet was replaced, only the palest nimbus escaped. Bridget stood for a moment, trying to think of something to say or do. She supposed that real heroines knew how to handle something like this, and would be able to soldier on, knowing that more remained to be done. But in that moment, all Bridget wanted to do was run and hide. Somewhere in the deeps of space or far beneath the earth, where she'd never have to see another Voidwalker, or any more of their awful work, ever again. <<I know, sweetie. It's awful, and scary, but this is all the more reason why we've got to put a stop to them.>> Yeah, but, but- Bridget's response was interrupted by the hiss of the interior door as it suddenly opened, and the light from the operating room spilled into the newly-revealed room beyond. A man stood on the other side, all harsh squares and steel-grey hair on his head and in the small goatee that clung to his sharp chin. His black boots clomped on the metal floor, and the matching black lab coat flowed like a cape around him as he swooped in. “Intruding in my laboratory and interrupting my beautiful work of creation, just to play with the rubbish. What unusual behavior.” He rested his chin on his right hand and studied Bridget intensely. His voice was a rumbling basso, tinged with the sharpness of an un-placeable eastern European accent. Bridget glared back and raised a hand, ready to fight. If this man was the one running all the attunement, and she killed him, maybe she could prevent anything like this from happening again. With a furious scream, she raised a hand, envisioning the purple void of her power reaching out to grab one of the empty beds, and a few of the free-standing machines. Her head pounded with the effort, but she heard the scrape of metal as her projectiles rose into the air and flew toward her target. The man's confidence wavered for a second as he saw the sheer size of what Bridget had hurled at him, but after a moment, he raised his own arm in response. Purple tendrils of power swiftly wove themselves around the objects, slowing their flight until they simply floated harmlessly a few feet in front of him. “That was quite uncalled-for,” he chided her. “Now, if you would cease this futile tantru-” [[Assassin! I won't let you harm Master Forzare!]] The psychic bellow was accompanied by a screeching roar, as a second figure emerged from the darkness behind Forzare and sailed through the air, crashing into and through the items Forzare and Bridget were levitating with a shriek of metal and a massive, slamming crash. It hit the floor with a clang, followed by a rain of sliced up bits of metal casing and splinters of bed-frame. The sheer impossibility of the beast before her thing broke Bridget's concentration, and she stumbled back a few paces in instinctive fear. The chimeric creature that now interposed itself between Bridget and Forzare could only be described as monstrous. At its most basic, it was something akin to a demented centaur. Its bottom half was a scorpion instead of a horse, and both its chitinous abdomen and its humanoid upper body were a bright blue. It stood almost twice as tall as Bridget and easily twice as wide on its six enormous insectoid legs. Its four-fingered hands ended in massive which were only surpassed by the gigantic sting arcing over its back, glistening with venom as the terrifying abomination swayed back and forth. Its neck and chest were armored with more chitin, but its head was like that of a hairless tiger. The beast looked down at Bridget through yellow, slitted eyes, and let out another psychic bellow, this time accompanied by a clipped roar that might almost have been a bark, revealing the huge fangs that dominated its jaws. Fozare seemed nearly as startled by the creature's sudden appearance as Bridget was, and he barely had time to collect himself and stammer out a hasty, “No, Mi'cha! Down, girl! You don't have to-” before the scorpion monster leapt straight at Bridget, claws, fangs and tail gleaming deadly in the eerie violet light.
  4. Bridget also has her gravitic stealth field up, so that unless someone is very close and focused on finding her, all they'll see is a shimmer in the air. But even if they did see her, it wouldn't be that unusual in this town to see someone doing gigantic leaps. A bit odd for a heroine to be out of uniform in public, but not remarkable. Sophie, there may be some good news for you in the not-too-distant future Also, Aries, I'm glad you're enjoying it! Thank you all so much for your compliments
  5. And we're back, after a shamefully long time! I hope you enjoy! I do hope to updage significantly more frequently than I have been. Thanks for being so patent! Comments and questions are, as ever, the best. Chapter Three: Leaps and Bounds “Okay,” Bridget said, exhaling a long steadying breath, steeling herself. “I can do this.” <<I have every confidence in you, little one. You've already displayed a particular aptitude for stopping things from falling; all that remains is for you to apply that technique to yourself rather than to other children.>> “Right.” She was too focused on the task ahead to notice the insinuation in Val's encouragement. For the third time in as many minutes, she looked left, right, and left again, eyes peeled for any potential observers. But neither the cars nor the occasional pedestrian passing by noticed the girl leaning surreptitiously against a faded brick wall in an alley just off the main road. Which only made sense, of course; Bridget could feel the warmth of the concealing sheath of Voidwalker energy she'd built around herself. But still, there were enough butterflies in her stomach to populate several insect sanctuaries. Closing her eyes and letting out a grunt of effort, Bridget lifted off. The wind of her movement whipped her hair into her face, and its rushing filled her ears. For the single glorious moment of liftoff, the feeling of rising into the grey sky overwhelmed everything. She was a swimmer leaping off the block at the start of a race, casting herself into the void without a care. <<You see, little one? My estimates of your capabilities were, once again, flawless. Being a good girl and practicing so assiduously has produced excellent results.>> A satisfied smile crossed Bridget's cheeks, which became a gleeful giggle before she could even think to stifle it. Practicing in Val's lab had been fun, but it felt so much more real to be out in the world. With the houses and people that surrounded her reduced to tiny ants far below, it was truly exhilarating. Unfortunately for Bridget, while her brain was perfectly content to rest on the laurels of her first successful foray into aviation, her stomach found the aerial view much less agreeable. A sudden rush of nausea broke Bridget's concentration. She clasped her hand to her mouth, her momentum broken as her focus turned from lifting herself into the air to preventing the imminent loss of her lunch. As the energy of her leap faded, gravity naturally asserted itself. Her fall was slow enough at first that she barely noticed it, but then the sensation of being on the world's worst free fall ride came on her with overwhelming force. This, of course, only magnified her discomfort, shattered what was left of her concentration, and kept her from arresting her fall. Val's mental voice echoed in her head, trying to cajole her back to the level of focus she needed. Butt as the ground approached and the soft touch showed no signs of working, Val reverted to the same method so often used by parents of teenagers, one that Bridget's own mother had employed as part of her driving education curriculum: Incoherent, terrified screaming. This, however, proved no more effective. Bridget barely slowed, and it looked for a moment like her budding superheroine career would crash and burn. But, as Bridget's primate instincts took over and she tried to shield herself from the impact with her outstretched hands, she inadvertently released a pulse of gravitic energy that sent her bouncing, mostly unharmed, off the pavement and back briefly into the air, as though she were a human-sized stone being skipped across town by a cosmic giant. The surprise of finding herself hurtling up into the air again rather than an unfortunate stain on the pavement jolted Bridget back to her senses, and she was able, with some hasty coaching from Val, to turn her second fall into a more controlled hover. She touched down in a half-kneel, scraped, shaken, battered, and breathless, but intact. “Owww,” Bridget hissed under her breath. She grimaced and blew on her hand, hoping to ease the sting from where she'd inadvertently pummeled the asphalt. Amazingly, the impact hadn't drawn blood, even though her arms felt like someone had set them ablaze. <<Are you all right, little one? The damage we've sustained appears superficial, but perhaps it would be best to borrow a little life energy from a nearby human? We don't want you getting hurt any further, after all.>> N-no, this is nothing, I'll be fine. I'm\ definitely not stealing someone's energy for something as- she scowled in renewed pain, -minor as this. <<Very well. But if we suffer damage any additional damage, we're going to get you some life energy, and I won't hear any argument. Understand, little miss?>> Val said, the steel in her tone making it very clear that she meant every word. Uh-huh. <<Good. Let's get aloft.>> Shaking herself one last time to renew her focus, Bridget shoved the burning feeling in her hand aside and took to the air again. Her next few attempt was certainly an improvement over her first; she kept altitude for a whole twenty seconds before her body's instinctive fear broke through her mental defenses, and sent her tumbling earthward again. It took every ounce of grit she had, but on her second fall, she managed to control the descent a little bit better, giving her crucial seconds to prepare a smaller pulse of gravitic power, large enough to stop her falling, but small enough that it only bounced he a foot or so, instead of sending her on another gigantic skyward arc. A sudden pulse of worry came from Val, but Bridget managed to catch herself much more gently this time, and to avoid further bodily injury. Her pride, however, was quite another matter. “Dammit!” she cursed, loud enough that a pair of passing joggers turned their heads for a confused moment. Why can't I fly? Everyone with powers flies! Sami flies, Leanne flies, even Phoebe can walk on air. All I can manage are these stupid little frog-jumps. <<Little one,>> Val interrupted, kindly but insistently <<You've had all of a few weeks to practice, while every one of the examples you listed has had years to become accustomed to their powers. Even a newly-split Voidwalker does not gain full control of their faculties in that short a time.>> I guess, Bridget admitted grudgingly. I still look like a doofus though. << I'm afraid I do not concur, little one. The resemblance of your motion to any one of this planet's large variety of jumping amphibians, or of their mammalian variants is rather, oh, what was the human expression? Ah, yes, adorable. And as I recall, many human children enjoy pretending to assume the aspect of various types of non-human fauna.>> Bridget's cheeks flushed. Listen Val, that's- Wait. <<What is it, princess?>> Did you just say that a rabbit is a kind of frog? <<Are they not? I don't see how this is->> But Val's impeccably reasoned scholastic inquiry was rendered useless as Bridget collapsed into a fit of giggles at the thought of her oh-so-erudite passenger making such an elementary error. <<Truly the height of humor>> she grumbled. <<I'd like to see you correctly identify the taxonomic relationship of the zell and the mendat of Cygnus V without any prior knowledge or a xenobiology degree, missy.>> Bridget simply stuck out her tongue in response. <<Yes, yes, very mature, sweetie. I see you're getting quite the start being a good little froggy. Hop along, now.>> Part of Bridget wanted to protest Val's treatment, but she'd probably just get chastised again for wasting time. Besides, like Val said, there wasn't any way anyone would see her. And who knows, Val might even see how absurd an idea a nearly-grown girl pretending to be a frog was. Okay, space-mommy! “Ribbit!” Bridget launched herself into the air again for another gravitically-enhanced leap. She found it surprisingly easy and painless, without the need to worry about staying aloft, she was free to focus on softening her landing. It still took a bit for her stomach to get used to the constant ups and downs, but it was better than looking down at the ground and trying vainly not to think about how terribly far away it was, and how badly she could splatter on theasphalt if she lost control. It was just a simple, silly game, all to frustrate her passenger. <<You see? Remarkably effective.>> “Ribbit!” Bridget replied, landing once more in the middle of a small park before she launched herself again. <<Indeed. Now, we should discuss tactics for our approach. It's highly likely that Vector will have a number of devices in place to detect non-human or metahuman->> “Ribbit!” Bridget interrupted cheerfully, landing with a bounce and beginning another leap. <<-presence.>> <<As such, >> Val continued after a moment, <<it's probably our best option to investigate only the public-facing areas where security is likely to be most lax. If we avoid triggering any alarms or arousing suspicion, we should->> “Ribbit!” Val was silent, evidently uncertain how to react to having her lecture so summarily ignored in favor of silly animal noises. Bridget supposed that other Voidwalkers rarely interrupted the Chief Science Officer mid-exposition. Knowing them, there was probably some awful martial-law punishment for it or something. But Val couldn't very well punish her own host, so as Val described the sort of devices they might find to shed light on Voidwalker activities, she let out another “ribbit” with gusto. <<Well, I see someone is->> “Ribbit!” <<Really now, little one, there's->> “Ribbit!” <<Perhaps you'd like to stop->> “Ribbit!” Bridget objected. <<because we've arrived.>> “Ri-wait, what?” <<As I said, we've arrived. The primitive mapping program we consulted earlier indicated that the entrance to the Vector building is mere hundreds of meters from this location.>> A quick look around confirmed what Val had said. They had touched down at the edge of a lawn so impeccably manicured it might have been a golf course. A small, winding side street snaked its way from the main road, up a steep incline, and into the front entrance of a building that rested at the summit like a gigantic blocky white octopus, its wings splayed out like tentacles grasping the hillside. In front of the main building, a fountain burbled pleasingly, as clusters of casual-clad workers gathered at tables around it, taking advantage of the unusually warm day outside. Once again, Bridget was surprised that a secret stronghold of alien invaders looked so, well, boring, but there was no mistaking the place. The fountain was a circle surrounding a massive silver V, and the company motto hung in marble lettering above the front door. VECTOR.: TAKING THE WORLD IN A NEW DIRECTION. B-but how can we be here already? Bridget asked, now that there was no denying where they found themselves. We never even changed direction! <<Of course not, why would we? I pointed you properly at the outset, and we simply proceeded along a straight route. It would probably have been quicker if we could have simply passed through the rock below, but I suspect you'd find intangibility difficult to maintain along with cute frog-hopping.>> Still! That took, like no time at all? <<If you remember, I did suggest you'd find it easier to use our abilities if you stopped worrying and complaining, and let yourself have a little fun. It is gratifying that you heeded my advice.>> Bridget felt Val smile, a psychic expression of warm satisfaction, laced with just a touch of a smug smirk. <<I did, however, notice you were quite caught up in that little frog impression of yours. But then, I suppose I shouldn't be all that surprised. I recall Breanna was also quite focused when she was playing dinosaur. It seems that is merely a behavior common to all children.>> I-I'm not- Bridget began, but her protest was extinguished as a red blaze of embarrassment ignited in her cheeks. <<All right now, princess, playtime is over. Can you be serious for me?>> A small, defiant part of Bridget desperately wanted to reply with yet another ribbit, but she was sure Val would be furious, or just keep applying her scientific acumen to discovering hitherto unknown depths of human humiliation. But most annoyingly, she found that she couldn't deny that Val had been right. But there would be other times to consider how to win their argument. For now, there was infiltration to be done. Bridget closed her eyes, wrapped her gravitic stealth cocoon around herself again, and strode straight up the drive and toward the front door.
  6. It’s a Games Workshop miniature, but I painted and did a bit of modifying her myself
  7. Hi everyone! Good news, I finally finished the other project I’ve been working on this month, so I can get back to writing. But I thought I’d share what I’ve been working on, a painted miniature version of Uto, Devourer of Corruption, and now source of Kimmy Schaeffer’s sorcerous power, seen in from Interlude 3. This isn’t quite the same outfit Kimmy saw her in, it’s her purple robe and armor for special occasions and battles with heroes. The wings are, of course, an enchantment New chapter soon!
  8. You're quite welcome. Don't get used to it, though
  9. Ah! Yes, I thought I’d fixed that one! At any rate, I have now Thank you! Also, the language there isn’t the Voidwalker language, it’s something else : D
  10. Hello everyone! Apologies for the lateness of this, I've been working on a few other writing-related projects that slowed its production, and I wanted it to be as good as possible because it's a super important chapter. Two notes for this one: First, Val gets an interesting feature in this chapter, an inspiration from a story written by my wonderful editor, some derivative of which might be coming as my next piece after this. Second, what appears to be nonsense might just conceal secret meaning. Third, comments and questions are welcome as always. Enjoy! Chapter 2: Moonlit Echoes That night, Bridget's dreams were strange. She found herself on a bridge constructed of hard light, a monochrome arch, that bent off into the starry distance, so bright that she had to shield her eyes with her hand while sh staggered forward to keep its sharp luminescence from stabbing her eyes. As she dashed forward, she splayed her fingers just a bit to peek through. Through the tiny gap, she saw a figure standing at the summit of the arch, so far away that it was barely a speck. It turned toward her, and despite the distance between them, she heard it speak to her as easily as if she was standing a few paces away. But the words were all nonsense, distorted and warbly as though they were being spoken through the water. Emdo todan hatowt fenpo fuildell danteh skahu themorg, kind meht pebeas / fotinsel foi arvsintibo uyoru vies rens hat toteth loomnight. A grimace of concentration crossed Bridget's face: she could swear there were words in there somewhere. She felt like this woman, or creature or whatever was trying to tell her something incredibly important, but it was useless. Her heart began to beat faster. “I'm sorry, what did you say?” Bridget responded quizzically. Huh, reahem untacoy? Bridget said nothing, and cocked her head quizzically. Maybe she was just spoiled by being able to understand Val perfectly, but she couldn't make any sense of any part of that. Yaw, with meton tenlist wothis risking! The voice sounded distressed, but it was growing softer, as its owner flickered in and out of existence. Hograt, woneth sicone cenntio? The voice was suddenly cut off. More worrisome though, the arc bridge in front of her began to dim, unbinding into pale, wispy tendrils of nebular gas that faded into darkness with a hiss. For a moment, Bridget stood, transfixed, and then she realized that the outer edge of the darkness was moving swiftly in her direction, like the fuse of an old explosive, threatening to plunge her into the emptiness of space. Bridget turned on her heel and ran as fast as she could. If she'd had the presence of mind or time to contemplate, she might have realized that Val's power of flight could have saved her. But as is so often the case in dreams, the only solution she could see was also the least effective one. She turned and ran. But, the bright ground beneath her faded before she'd made it a hundred paces. The endless cosmic night yawned beneath her. She closed her eyes and screamed, the sound echoing impossibly though the airless void as she fell and fell and fell. <<Wake up, little one.>> Bridget's eyes snapped open. She woke in her own room, or what might have been her own room once, when she was much younger. The glowing stars that decorated her ceiling were gone, and the walls were a surprisingly cutesy lilac instead of the usual dark blue. Gabrielle the Unicorn was still in her place of pride on the pillow next to Bridget, but she had many other stuffed animals she hadn't seen in years: a pink bunny whose body doubled as a blanket, a soft brown bear with a heart on its chest, and a tiny green dragon with its lizard-like tongue sticking out, and so many others were piled up on the magenta comforter that someone had wrapped around her. Everything around her was soft, even her moon and cloud-pattern onesie was well-padded beneath. A vague shiver of horror ran down Bridget's spine at the thought, but she dismissed it easily; there were more important things to think about. Most of all though, she found herself transfixed by the sheer size of it all. It was definitely the same room, but everything was almost twice as big. Bridget's full-size bed might has well have been a soft boat floating on a sea of purple carpet. Bridget tossed off the covers with a crinkly rustle and crawled to the foot of the bed, peering with mingled excitement and nervousness down at the ground that was so much farther away than it should have been. In other circumstances, she would have tried to get down as carefully as possible, but even her smallest movements made big bounces in her giant mattress, and an absurdly reckless part of her brain wanted to see if she could do a bouncing jump instead. The carpet looked very plush, so it would probably be fine. Besides, Val would always be there to help her catch herself. Gabrielle went under Bridget's left arm, because she knew that there was no way the adventurous unicorn would want to miss out on such a daring feat. Bridget performed a few test bounces just to be sure, and then she made her big giant leap. A giggle burst from Bridget's lips as she the rush of launch. She splayed her hands, letting Gabby fall, so that she could land like a cat. But she dropped faster than she expected and the ground rushed up to meet her before she could brace for impact. <<Careful, there, princess. I'm glad that you want to fly so much, but we talked about how you have to wait for one of us to watch you, didn't we?>> Just as she's predicted, Voidwalker power encased her in a bubble, leaving her floating a scant inch from the carpet. But unlike every other tine Val spoke, her psychic voice didn't come from within Bridget's own head, but instead from just outside her door. Momentarily confused, Bridget looked for the source of the sound. Sure enough, Val was in the doorway, wearing her usual purple blouse over her favorite black dress and matching black flats as she floated above the floor. She beckoned gently with her outstretched index finger, and floated her little charge over to her, until Bridget was securely nestled in her arms. A half-formed thought ran through Bridget's mind – Val shouldn't even have a body, and especially not a humanoid one. Sure the purple-tinged skin and the outfit matched Val's usual color palette, but still, the Val she knew would have conniptions if she were stuck with a physical form and all of the attendant infirmities she so loathed. But Bridget's dreaming mind asserted itself again, and she knew without question that this had to be Val. And the most important thing in that moment was that space-mommy was unhappy. The realization that she must be the cause of that unhappiness was an avalanche in Bridget's now-little heart. She buried her face in Val's blouse, hiding her quivering lip. For a moment, Val said nothing, surprised by her little one's sudden change in mood. <<What- oh. Stars take me, I should have listened to Echo. She told me about how variance in human sleep cycles could affect mood,>> Val chided herself. <<It's all right, sweetie, I'm not angry.>> Val planted a kiss on the top of Bridget's head that made her scalp tickle. As the Voidwalker bent her head down, a sweep of her shoulder-length black hair brushed against Bridget's neck, and made her look up. When she did, she forgot all about how upset she was. Val's hair had looked black from a distance, but close up, it was full of far off stars, as though each strand were a tiny sliver of a window through which she could view the universe. The image shifted as Val's hair swayed with her floating steps, revealing and occluding stars, planets and galaxies as she moved. The display was entrancing, and Bridget grabbed excitedly at a lock of Val's hair to get a better view. Val grimaced at the sudden tug. <<Don->> she began, but immediately thought better of finishing her reprimand and facing the ensuing tears. <<Hey there, Bridget! Did mean old mommy Cadenza wake you up from your nap?>> The voice echoed like Val's did, but higher and more chipper. As its owner rounded the corner that led to the kitchen, Bridget saw that she was about a head shorter than Val, and her skin looked much more like Bridget's. Her soft pixie cut seemed almost to be composed of swirling pink nebular gas. <<She was already awake by the time I got here, I'll have you know,>> Val protested. <<A likely story. You probably woke her up just so she could do more training, even after I had to read her three stories before she finally closed her eyes.>> The woman's tone was stern, and she had her hands on her hips as she floated up to look Val in the eye, but a smile tugged at the corners of her theatrical frown. <<I have no idea what you're talking about,>> Val replied. <<But if it perturbs you so, you can have story duty again tonight.>> <<Deal! But no making her cry, and no flying outside the playpen for little humans. And no, little one,>> she cooed, looking down at Bridget. <<no matter how cute those rounded fat deposits framing your jaw are, there's no changing my mind.>> <<Of course, Echo darling,>> Val said, with mock irritation and a playful smirk. Bridget looked up at Val quizzically. <<Sorry, little one. You heard the lady.>> Val gave her another kiss on the forehead, and released her like a bird from her grasp, floating her toward the playpen, as she called it. The contraption resembled the gravitational alteration field that Bridget and Val used for practice, except that Voidwalker outside of dreams didn't generally decorate the pylons at the field's corners with unicorn motifs. Once she'd been plopped down inside the energy field of the futuristic playpen, she wiggled around a bit to watch Val and Echo. But it was quickly apparent that even her best puppy-dog eyes wouldn't get her any attention. Echo was clearly telling Val some really awesome secrets, her lips were right up against Val's ear, and every few moments, Val would let out a gasp of what must have been surprise. After a little while, Echo just lay her cloudy pink hair right up against the base of Val's neck, and then it was Val's turn to whisper secrets. Strain as she might, though, Bridget couldn't hear anything fun, so she turned to look at the toys piled up within the confines of the violet energy field. She dug through a few stuffed animals before her eyes lighted on an interesting little device, which she eagerly pulled out from beneath the soft blocks where it had been hidden. This toy looked vaguely familiar to her; it had five little hatches, each a different color, red, green, blue, yellow, and purple. In front of each hatch was a button in the same color, but each button was also a different shape: a red triangle, a blue square, a green circle, a yellow star, and a purple moon. Bridget pressed the red triangle, expecting the red hatch to open, but instead, a tinny voice, irrepressibly cheerful came from the machine. “Find the life energy!” A look of surprise crossed Bridget's face; this definitely wasn't how this toy usually worked. But she remembered how Val had shown her to detect the different types of energy around her. So she closed her eyes and concentrated, putting her hands over her eyes, playing a game of solitaire peek-a-boo. Sure enough, when she opened her eyes and looked down at herself, her body glowed a faint, familiar green. That toy in front of her, meanwhile, gave off five different colors. The red hatch pulsed and flickered like a flame; it housed heat energy. Within the blue hatch was what looked like a ghostly circuit board, it took Bridget a moment to realize that she was watching the flow of electrons from the blue hatch to the rest of the machine. The green hatch glowed the same color as Bridget's body, while the yellow and purple hatches concealed bits of the familiar signature of star warden and Voidwalker energy. She hit the green button, and giggled happily when the machine beeped a tinny little tune of congratulation. Of course it would work like that. Color coded for our convenience. The strange thought flitted wryly through Bridget's head, before it was totally subsumed by the pride she felt at having gotten such a difficult question right. Bridget turned and toddled excitedly toward Val and Echo, hoping to get some well-deserved praise. But when she looked at them sitting on the nearby sofa, instead of their humanoid forms, she saw their silhouettes, all bright star warden energy, but shot through with veins of Voidwalker violet, as though they were statues made of luminous marble. Doing her best not to cry out of sheer surprise, Bridget rubbed her eyes again to restore her normal human vision, and, in a moment, Val and Echo were back to normal. Which of course, meant that Bridget had very important news to deliver. “I did it!” she said happily, looking hopefully up at Echo, and pointing proudly back to the little toy. <<Good job, sweetie!>> Echo said kindly, <<I'm sure you'll be sensing every kind of energy in the galaxy in no time!>> Bridget excitedly nodded her assent. <<Certainly, with a good deal of practice.>> Val's voice was impassive, but she leaned down and kissed Bridget on the head just the same. <<Bridget, tell mommy Val not to be such a curmudgeon,>> Echo replied. “Yeah mommy, don' be a mudgin!” Bridget dutifully relayed Echo's request to Val, whose face formed an exaggerated frown, even as Echo bust into giggles at hearing her own insult repeated in Bridget's childish lisp. <<Truly, you two surpass the entire galaxy for sophisticated humor.>> Echo merely stuck out her tongue in response, and Bridget eagerly followed suit, realizing that if mommy Echo was doing it, she certainly wasn't going to get a time-out if she did it too. <<Remember, my dear Cadenza, there are other ways to learn besides through rigorous practice. Sometimes play is an easier method.>> <Oh, very well,>> Val relented. <<Get up here, little one.>> Val smiled, and reached through the field to gather Bridget into her arms. <<Get up, little one.>> <<Up>> <<It's time to get up.>> Val's voice resounded through her head, and Bridget's eyes slowly opened. Her room had returned to its usual hue, and all that remained of the horde of plushies was Gabby the Unicorn perched on her pillow. “All right, all right, I'm up!” Bridget mumbled, shaking off the last foggy remnants of the night's strange dreams <<Very good, little one. We have a whole day of educational opportunities ahead of us.>> Tired as she was, Bridget could only wonder at how Val managed such a perverse degree of enthusiasm so early in the morning. Gee, you never change do you? She thought back grumpily. There are other things in life, you know. <<Why would I alter a perfectly effective methodology? Does that make me a “'mudgin,” princess?>> Bridget flushed beet-red. Wait, you saw all that? Bridget asked, dreading the answer she already knew. <<Of course. Your nightly hallucinations happen in a different part of your brain than I'm used to interacting with, but viewing them is a fairly simple matter. They really are fascinating, you know; an interesting display of what could be if you'd just embrace things and complain a little less about our training regimen.>> ”You mean you could make me a baby. Truly, a thrilling prospect.” Bridget said dryly. << The dreams come from your psyche, not mine. Besides, isn't it more important that you'd have full mastery of our shared powers? It isn't as though you'd be required to wear that cute little outfit when we're on missions.>> “I guess,” Bridget said, unconvinced. A thought suddenly occurred to her. “Hey, wait a minute. If none of the things in my dreams are from you, where did that version of Echo come from?” Val was silent for several long seconds. <<A fair point. You couldn't possibly have formulated such an accurate picture of her personality without input from my memories. Our gestalt is truly odd.>> Bridget finished her morning routine, and endured a breakfast with her mother and sister. This included endless rounds of being peppered with parental questions about whether she had completed all of the assignments from her time out of school. Her mother had, of course, recorded each one meticulously in her day planner, and the list was so long. that Sami got up from the table in the middle of it; she ran out the door with a wave to her mom, and a gruff nod in Bridget's direction. Once that ordeal was finally over, Bridget was able to retreat to her room again. <<More importantly than Echo's verisimilitude,>> Val said, continuing their discussion as though there had been no interruption, <<the inclusion of my thoughts in your nightly visions suggests that there might also be some scientific validity in to the possibility of constructing an ersatz form of hard light that could act on the material world as though it were a physical creature.>> You mean, we could make you a body? <<With significant limitations, but yes.>> That's awesome! Bridget did her best to banish the memories of last night's dream in which Val carried her snuggled tightly in her arms that rose up unbidden, along with recollections of how easy it was to get lost in the swaying of the galaxies in Val's impossible hair. <<Indeed. However, that is a thought for another time. As I recall, tonight is your meeting with that Margot girl.>> Oh, um, yeah, that is today isn't it. Bridget's stomach was instantly one gigantic knot. At least I have a while until then, with mom out of the house all day. <<Precisely. You'll also have a long flight during which you can consider what you might wear, or any other frivolities you wish.>> Val said cheerfully. Right, that's true. Wait- what do you mean a flight? It took a moment for Bridget to register what Val had just said. <<Well, I suspect an active Vector office will be better guarded than an unmanned warehouse, so I don't think we can use the bike again. Besides, we need to put some of your training into practice.>> <<Don't worry, little one,>> Val said, after a few moments of silence from Bridget. <<We're just going to do some intelligence gathering. There's minimal risk of bodily harm.>> Val's self-assured, didactic manner could make almost anything seem safe and reasonable, but in this particular instance, even she couldn't quite quell Bridget's fear. Still, there was no denying that they had to do something, and this was the best lead they had. Bridget didn't trust herself to say anything that wouldn't sound like a fearful child trying to squirm out of getting a shot, so she stayed silent as she grabbed her coat from off the doorknob and slung it over her shoulder.
  11. I’m glad! Hopefully it was less jarring than the last time skip. It’s definitely taking its toll on Bridget, keeping silent like she is. New chapter should be up soon!
  12. I’m glad you enjoyed it!
  13. Oh also, Ellie, it’s interesting you mention the idea of Val being entirely imagined. The idea for this scene was one of the earliest that came to me, when I was thinking about having Val be more questionably real. Ultimately, it didn’t match the tone I wanted, and I don’t generally like stories with that sort of premise, so I nixed it in favor of this version. But I felt like this made a decent catch-up chapter for all the time away, and I wanted to remind everyone that Bridget still has a normal life to try to lead, even though she has to also fight very extraordinary threats.
  14. Well, we haven’t seen Sami yet since the event. Violet was only mentioned once, so it’s understandable not to remember. Daniel is new, he’s not Bridget’s friend or anything, they just happen to have adjacent appointment time. We’ll get to why Bridget, Sami, and Stell got their powers in this issue
  15. And here we are, finally starting Issue 3, which I have a sneaking suspicion will be the longest Issue in the whole series. hankss again to everyone reading, and especially to everyone commenting, it's wonderful motivation to keep going and improving. Issue 3, Chapter 1: Coming Home Everything about Dr. Lee's waiting room seemed designed to grind Bridget down. The lights were a dim yellow that might have been calming in other circumstances, but just emphasized to Bridget that she was sealed off from the outside world, with no physical company other than her mother. Violet Winston was making a show of being engrossed in an out-of date lifestyle magazine article, but it didn't take Phoebe-level perception to notice the unsubtle glances she kept sending Bridget's way. It's like she thinks I'll break if she looks away for too long, Bridget thought bitterly. Or maybe she's more worried that I'll explode. The thick carpeting muffled the sound her foot made as she kicked idly at it, but her mother's mouth formed into a thin red line of unmistakable annoyance. Bridget stopped, and inspected the carpet to avoid her mother's reproachful gaze. The carpet was a dull brown, and had clearly just been cleaned, judging from the acrid smell that wafted up from it. That awful odor was poorly masked by a pungent cinnamon scent so repulsive that it ought to have been classified as a chemical weapon. <<The human sense of smell is so utterly useless, it's a travesty. Anything you smell is either distractingly awful, or excessively enticing, and if neither is true, then it's providing no meaningful data,>> Val groused. Sorry we're not optimized to your liking, space-mommy. Bridget would normally have grumbled at Val's complaining, but her passenger had lent an unusually sympathetic ear to Bridget's unhappiness over the events of the last few days, so she couldn't really object to Val getting a turn. She was a source of solace during the doctors' poking and prodding, during their night spent beneath heartlessly hygienic hospital lighting. But she was also an endless reserve of complaints about the irritation of upkeep on a physical body, to the point where Bridget wondered if Val did it just to have something to talk about with her. Still, it wasn't like she was wrong, and Bridget would take the kvetching over silence any day. Val? The fearful primate part of Bridget's brain ran wild in the second it took for Val to answer. It wasn't that she had been silent for a long time, or really any time at all, but her brain built a momentary silence into a mountain of potential catastrophe faster than thoughts could cross the mental bridge that connected the two of them. <<Yes, little one?>> came Val's reply, bringing with it a wave of relief. Oh, nothing really, Bridget thought, realizing belatedly that she couldn't think of anything to say. I just, well... she trailed off awkwardly. She knew vaguely what she was trying to say, but the words were like Play-doh: she knew they could be formed into the shape she wanted, but when she actually tried to make something out of them, the end result was just a sloppy, disjointed mess. <<I see,>> Val said, making it plain that she most definitely did not. Um, could we maybe...do some more flying practice later? <<Certainly, sweetie,>> Val said, in a cheery tone that for her might as well have been full-blown elation. <<And don't worry, I'll be sure to keep you within the proper boundaries during practice. You've improved greatly, but it seems like you still need some guidance on occasion.>> Okay. It was so hard to complain when Val laid things out so analytically; her confidence in her own processes and conclusions was contagious, and only made more so by their empathic link. <<What an assiduous little worker you are,>> Val cooed, as Bridget flushed a little at the praise. <<Once we're finished with this so-called doctor's futile attempt to comprehend something that exceeds his feeble understanding, we'll get to it. But if his atomic model is any indication, we have a long hour of utter failure to endure.>> Atomic model? Bridget looked around, trying to figure out what Val was referring to. <<That,>> Val said, as Bridget's gaze fell on a plastic contraption on a miniature table near the far wall, perched next to a stack of Highlights! Magazines. Oh! That's, well, it's not an atomic model. It's a children's' toy for the younger kids who come here. You slide the different shapes of wooden blocks along the rail. But I don't think it's got any scientific value. Bridget said, trying to suppress a snort of laughter at Val's ensuing harrumph. “Bridget?” Her mother tried to keep her tone neutral when the noise of her daughter's stifled chuckle roused her from contemplating what was no doubt a thrilling treatise on the relative merits of eggshell and mauve drapes in a dining room. But Bridget didn't miss the way her eyes widened a little, and how her voice quivered as she voiced the question. “Are you all right?” For a scant second, all the myriad way in which the answer to that question was “no” rushed to the tip of Bridget's tongue. Accounts of all the things that kept her mind whirring from the mundane worries piled on top of one another: her parents endless gushing over Sami and her bright future, Margot's uncharacteristic niceness, the way she felt like an alien around pretty much everyone except Maya; to the impossible: that she actually kind of was an alien now, how close she's come to being murdered by Val's enemies, Val herself and everything utterly unbelievable that had flowed from that. She even almost said something about the totally embarrassing warmth she felt when Val taught her something impossible or doted on her in her own alien way, or how a single word of praise from the Voidwalker could send Bridget soaring over the moon. But all those things just piled up and got in each other's way; the words that actually left her lips were “Yeah. I'm fine.” “All right, dear. Just asking because I love you, you know.” Bridget wasn't really sure what to say in response. It wasn't that she didn't love her mom, but it was hard to find a response that wasn't a surrender; it felt like her mom had cast her for a role in a stilted play that she wasn't sure she wanted to be in. For an alien species that didn't seem to have sight as humans understood it, Val demonstrated a stellar example of a mental eye-roll in response to Violet's question. However, Bridget was saved deciding how to respond by the sudden opening of the white office door. A diminutive teenage boy, a few years younger than Bridget and a few inches shorter, nodded his head toward her in greeting as he rushed out of Dr. Lee's treatment room. He had a mop of bright blue hair, and a pair of node rings on his left nostril, and wore a pair of distressed jeans that matched his similarly well-used vest. Bridget's mother took half a step back as he approached, and her nose noticeably wrinkled despite her attempts to maintain the bland agreeableness she'd honed so well in the PTA. Bridget gave the boy a mumbled “Hey Daniel,” and received a grunt and half a wave in return. Bridget's mother clicked her tongue and sighed of relief once the unwelcome sight of Daniel was occluded from her view when the outer office door closed behind him. But by the time she turned to inform Bridget of her feelings about that miscreant and his evident woeful disregard for his future, Bridget had already escaped into the session room where Dr. Lee was waiting. Before he got halfway through his usual soft-voiced greeting, she'd thrown off her purple cardigan and sat down in the over-sized grey patient's chair. Usually, it felt like whoever designed the thing had somehow replicated quicksand through the medium of cushions, but today, their immense softness was a barricade. “Oh!” Her mother's voice came from outside. “Right, I'll be back in about an hour to pick you up. Will you be okay waiting here until then?” “Yes moooom!” she called back, annoyed. “Don't worry about it, Mrs. Winston,” Dr. Lee said, his voice polite but firm in a way that calmly shut down any further attempts at conversation. He shut the door, and turned back to Bridget. “Now then. Shall we begin with the usual meditation, or do you know what you want us to talk about today?” “Oh, um, that's fine, I guess.” Bridget tried to follow Dr. Lee's instructions, to slow her breathing and be mindful of her surroundings. But instead of becoming more present in the moment, when she closed her eyes, she found herself drawn into the familiar warmth of the purple void. Bridget knew this wasn't quite what she was supposed to be doing, but it was pleasant and relaxing, which, she supposed, was close enough to what the meditation was intended to do that it probably technically counted. She hadn't done any of her customary practice with Val since she ended up in the hospital, and coming back to find this mental place the same way she left it was like coming home after a long and arduous journey and enjoying a long soak in a hot bath. Oh, thank god you still- I mean, I was kind of worried after, well... <<I know, little one, I was...wholly unprepared for Quantum Sonata to be as strong as she was. When she overrode our link from so great a distance, I realized the magnitude of my error. You did some quick thinking under trying conditions though. Quite impressive.>> Bridget felt her cheeks flush. Oh, well, I kind of totally ruined everything in the process though. <<I'm certain we can manage. If you need more time before we talk about our next step, however, I understand.>> Bridget was very fortunate that Dr. Lee was focused on leading their meditation, and his eyes were firmly closed, because she was wide-eyed and open mouthed at Val's sudden gentleness. Val not wanting to push as hard as she could was like Sami sitting back with a soda in hand and just watching a bank robbery happen. Are...are you sure? she asked incredulously. <<Yes. Given the strategic error that led to the previous incident, it's the least... or well, at least a reasonable compromise. Especially given that that you'd very likely reject the far safer option, as usual.>> Of course I would, there's no way I'd just run off to space after getting this far! We can get right back to missions whenever you want, Bridget replied, putting as much bravado into her declaration as she could muster. She tried not to listen to the cowardly primate part of her brain that saw nothing wrong with putting a few million miles of distance between her and the monster who had almost killed her with a thought. <<Of course you wouldn't little one,>> Val said, with a wry psychic smile sent across their link. <<But are you sure you're not putting on just a little bit of a show to convince me how tough you are?>> Bridget coughed suddenly, and the sound ripped the contemplative quiet of her meditation to tatters. Dammit, Val! “Don't worry about it, Bridget,” Dr. Lee said, mistaking the reason for Bridget's visible discomfort. “The meditation is only intended as a focusing tool. But it seems like you already have some idea of what you want to talk about, and that's fine too.” “Well, it's kind of been a lot, but...” She proceeded to tell Dr. Lee the parts she could about the last few days, how she felt like she was always treated either as an annoying pest that had the nerve to interrupt the important things that other people were doing, or like a glass sculpture that had to be securely locked away for its own safety. She thought she made a pretty coherent account of it, considering she had to paper over why exactly she'd interrupted the Stalwart Six's big moment, just as she had with the doctors at the hospital. “I see, “Dr. Lee said when she finally finished, running a hand through his short-cropped grey hair. “Well, that must have been very hard for you.” He certainly has a gift for stating the obvious, Bridget thought. <<Indeed. Whereas you, little one, possess a talent for avoiding answering questions.>> Look you... Bridget began grumpily, but her search for a truly cutting reply came up empty. Bridget tightened her lips into a grimace, but made sure to nod along as Dr. Lee reviewed the same old strategies for managing her stress. Getting time alone, doing things she enjoyed, trying to remember that her parents obviously loved her and were trying their best. <<I note that you still haven't told me what you're really worried about, little one. Our link works both ways, you know.>> Ugh, I don't want to talk about it, okay? Why can't you just be happy that I want to do what you want? Val attempted more pressing and cajoling, but she pointedly ignored her. “Does that make sense, Bridget?” Dr. Lee had evidently made some useless suggestion or other while Bridget was distracted by her insufferable passenger. “What? Oh, um, sure.” she stammered, trying to think of what he would likely have suggested. Probably the same old claptrap about having the wisdom to accept what you can't change. What a pitiful old coward, Bridget thought. But as soon as the invective formeed in her head, a memory bubbled up unbidden. <<Pitiful>> <<Pitiful>> <<Pitiful.>> The Warmistress, declaring her oncoming death with the exact same words of condemnation. Even in memory, Quantum Sonata's voice echoed ceaselessly, filling her mind with a tidal wave of sound that drowned out the world around her. Val's comforting voice was gone, replaced by cold, dead silence. Bridget shut her eyes and shook her head, trying desperately to find solid mental ground to stand on. Then as swiftly as it had gone, the world returned. <<Little one?>> “Bridget?” Dr. Lee asked, concerned. With a jolt, Bridget found herself in the present. She was panting, and her palms were slick with sweat, her knuckles white as they gripped the arms of her chair. “Oh, sorry. It's just been a rough day.” “I understand. Remember to take care of yourself, alright? Once you're feeling better, see about signing up for that St. Rose's summer program visit day. I really think it'll help to remind you that you're quite impressive yourself. See you in two weeks?” Without answering Bridget rushed out the door into the cold air outside. She stared intently at her phone, scrolling through any mindless content she could find, doing her best to think about nothing at all, and especially not about the fact that she'd apparently just agreed to do something that got her exactly the last thing she wanted: more time near her unbearably-golden elder sister, next to whom she was less than a shadow. She stood in the cold wind outside, alternately cursing herself for being stupid, and casting about for anything else to think about that wasn't the memory that sent her fleeing from Dr. Lee's office in the first place. When her mother finally returned to pick her up a few minutes later, she climbed in the back, just so she didn't have to look her in the face. It didn't even bother her when her mother went in “to schedule the next appointment,” her usual code word for wheedling a summary of what had happened in session from Dr. Lee. Bridget mostly ignored her mother's chatter about some new important assignment Sami had been given as part of the Stalwart Six without even her customary eye roll, and dashed upstairs as soon as they got home. Throughout the hours that followed, Bridget did her best to distract herself with some combination of games, twiddling on the web, and, when she got really desperate, chipping away at the slowly piling-up mountain of homework that Maya had brought the second day she'd been absent from school. Throughout it all, Val was uncharacteristically silent. Finally, long after the sun had sunk and the moon had risen outside her bedroom window, she mentally mumbled a query at her passenger. Val? <<Yes, sweetie?>> If Val was annoyed at being dismissed and ignored for so long, she didn't show it. Can we do flying practice now? <<Absolutely.>> Bridget used the ring to enter Val's interdimensional lab. She made her way through the many piles of equipment using a path she'd cleared out. Val hadn't seen the point, since they could simply walk or float over and around it, but some little piece of her mother in Bridget had refused to let such a mess stand. As a result, there was an easily walkable path to the power switch. When she turned it on, a hum filled the air, and the violet field enveloped her. For a while, she just enjoyed the peace of floating freely within the field, keeping herself in that purple void that brought her together with Val. After she'd done a few 3-D laps, Val issued her a challenge. <<Okay, little one. How many loops do you think you can do?>> “Um, maybe three? They make me kinda dizzy.” It was nice to be able to talk to Val with her own voice, without worrying that other people would hear. It made Val feel closer and more real, and was one of the best things about the lab, even better than flight. <<I don't know, princess, I expect you'll manage two at most.>> Bridget was almost offended, but she heard the gentleness behind the teasing in Val's voice. “Pfft, watch me!” she boasted, and streaked upward. Once she was a few inches from the ceiling, she began a steep dive, closing her eyes to shut out the image of how far away the ground was. She curled herself around to start a loop, and felt blood rush to her head as she climbed into her first revolution. This was always her least favorite maneuver, it made her stomach flip, flop, and heave. But she wasn't about to give up, so she gritted her teeth and held tightly to her concentration, refusing to let her body break her will. She managed a second loop, but as she did, her stomach rebelled. Bridget felt the force keeping her on her trajectory waver; it took all of her effort just to stop herself from losing her lunch. <<Don't worry, little one. Keep going, and I'll help you.>> A renewed wave of warmth ran through Bridget, overwhelming her nausea, and she felt a force keeping her on her path through the air, guiding her like firm, sure hands. Bridget couldn't help but laugh as she finished her third loop, feeling the thrill of victory as her hair whipped into her face. <<You did it! Well, you certainly showed me, didn't you>> Val congratulated her. “Hehe. Yeah, I did!” Bridget knew it was childish to feel so giddy after winning such a silly bet, but she couldn't avoid getting caught up in the moment. “But that was just because you helped me.” <<Of course. I'll always be there to help you. It's my role to make sure you learn what you need.>> “You're not going to disappear again?” Bridget's voice quavered as she asked the question. <<Was that what you were worried about before, sweetie?>> Bridget blushed a little and nodded. realizing in that moment how futile it was to try to hide anything from Val. She was so old, and so smart, and could understand so much just from their psychic connection. The Voidwalker really was on a whole different level of being. <<Don't worry. One day, you'll learn much of what I know, and learn to use our powers as well as any attuned in the whole cosmos.>> Oh, come on. As much as Bridget believed in Val's incredible abilities, she was laying it on a bit thick. <<I am quite serious, little one. Have I ever misled you?>> I guess not. <<Exactly. I swear on my title as Chief Science Officer that the next time we face Warmistress Sonata, we'll have a plan to take her apart, and she can try all she wants, but I'll never you fall into her grip again.>> Okay, space-mommy <<Whenever you're ready, I'll tell you the first part of my plan.>> Sure, but I should probably shower first. I haven't gotten one in since I came back from the hospital, and winning bets with you is gross, sweaty work. Bridget hummed a little song to herself all through her evening ablutions. So improved was her mood that she barely even noticed when she used her mom's shampoo instead of her own, until she smelled the mint scent that usually wafted after her mother when she ran down the stairs in the morning. “Ugh, dammit, I smell like an old lady.” <<Well, now do you see what I mean about how useless human smell is? Regardless of what you smell like, you're exactly the opposite of old, princess.>> Bridget held her face in her face in her hands in embarrassment, but couldn't quite muster the will to tell Val off.