B2 — 3. Strategic Mind

Rachel looked between Hughes and Bailey as they stared at the table in front of them.  They’re at least looking at us as people now and not dehumanizing us.  Hopefully, they will talk about this among other agents, but it won’t be easy to shift opinions.

Opinion is mostly turning in our favor from testimonials, but very little of the information the FBI has is currently public knowledge, it could be easily swayed against us with the improper leaks.  All it takes is one person feeling like the world needs to know something; he releases part of a video that paints us in a bad light, and our lives are over.

The tone of the agents she heard burned with negative emotion; the fear that Scarlet felt around them.  Scarlet’s image was ghastly, conflated with Jael, the Seattle Vampire. The recording of her mother’s cult had begun to circulate between parties; held aloft as her blood spiked through dozens of people, chanting her name.

The police raiding a damaged house of a murdered couple with kids, finding a dead Lizard-man inside with the same fatal wounds as the cultists.  It was clear that the Lizard-man had killed the family, but theories about the incident spun wildly. Why did she call the police and then run? The kids’ testimonies only made her look insane, screaming at her reflection and cowering in corners.

The footage they’d been able to recover of her Reaper form caused ripples of dread to circle smalltalk; her haunting figure wrapped in shadows as she floated between targets, not bound by gravity and utterly immune to dozens of spells Relica desperately cast upon her.  Several agents whispered, trying to convince themselves that this was all a nightmare, and asking themselves if Relica’s desperate attempts to escape and combat the wraith that left lifeless bodies in her wake reflected the streets of Seattle.

The horrors and devastation Fiona could create shook the analysts as they watched a massive ball of fire descend upon her enemies; clearing up the image to see the bright ball of light, the small outline of a human figure within.

The onsight videos being sent to the office of the terrifying ruin she left with the tortured bodies in the pool; the cracked, yellowed, and black scene, maimed and pierced bodies of the gang that had crossed her, and the search for the bodies of Terrell’s boys and missing gang members that were left to rot at sea.

Tensing muscles as agents followed her trail of carnage at the tank; blood, bone, and exploded corpses painted the streets and buildings in a visage of butchery, many chunks found atop the roofs or plastered against the higher floors of condo balconies.  The wreckage that she and Conner had caused, leading to the split body of her foe, painted across the street; repulsed mutters among the editing team as they rewatched the event from CCTV footage and several business security cameras.

Maria wasn’t even a topic; she was utterly overshadowed by the chilling evidence that kept flooding in that sent shivers down the office worker’s spines.

This is being spun wildly in the wrong direction.  We’re being treated as the monsters, not the girls that saved thousands.  If this continues and this opinion gets out; my parents will be forced to disown me … I need to shift this around, but how do I start?  We’re being dehumanized; there’s no debate or winning if you’re not even seen as human … we’re just the enemy, worthless, rabid, a disease to be eradicated.  I haven’t broken enough walls with Hughes and Bailey; we need agents on our side … we need them to see us as people, not monsters.

Hughes took a deep breath before smiling back.  “Rachel, I’m sorry if we’ve been stiff; I have no clue how this must be for you.  I wasn’t the one changed into a Lunar Hare and had her entire life pulled out from under her feet.”

No, it’s not enough, not nearly enough.  I need to keep looking for another angle to approach this negativity, but before that, I need these women on our sides and to have some authority into our lives.  It won’t be that easy though … I need more information. How do I advance their careers and increase our favorability in their eyes?

“Really?”  Rachel’s bright smile fell.  “Was everyone in your family unaffected by The Oscillation?”

Everyone’s focus centered on Hughes as she bit her lip, hands tightening against her thighs, black dress pants creasing with the pressure.  “I—haven’t been able to get in touch with all my family, but from what I’ve heard they haven’t gone through any changes.”

Maria huffed.  “Would it be bad if they had?”

The implication left both Hughes and Bailey speechless; they shifted a little, licking their lips.

“Honestly … I don’t know,” Hughes muttered.  “It’s not something I can just answer.”

Fiona growled lowly as she glared at the table before looking up at her.  “Why not? I love my family; it doesn’t matter what they look like.”

Bailey crossed her legs, short heels bouncing a little with her foot.  She looked away, swallowing a little before clearing her throat. Her arms were folded tightly, but Rachel could hear the shakes that rippled through her body.

“I—my boyfriend told me he could suddenly make all sorts of food … like, special food that has healing properties.  It was just something he instantly knew; it’s like he knew these things all his life, but he didn’t.”

“Wait.  What?” Hughes shifted to face her.  “You didn’t tell me Jonas had changed.”

“Well,” Bailey shifted uncomfortably, using her elbow to pull herself against the left side of the chair to face Hughes.  “It’s just—a lot to take in. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“Food,” Maria muttered.  She sucked on her lower lip for a moment before shaking her head.  “You’re worried about your boyfriend what … having food magic that helps people.”  She rolled her eyes. “Wow … melodramatic much; estoy aquí con jodidas orejas de elfo y una boca que no puede mentir.”

“I am worried,” Bailey whispered, bending forward to glare at the floor.  “What if it’s something more?”

Rachel’s lips turned soft and understanding.  Finally, something to connect us; now I need a segue.  “I don’t think it’s wrong that she’s concerned, Maria.”

Maria’s eyebrow lifted.  “Huh? Well, not wrong—just dramatic compared to everything else.”

She hummed, leaning back as Bailey looked up at her, trying to hide the fact she was biting her cheek.  “Perhaps to you or I, but we only have so much concern or attention that we can give to something. Naturally, we’d be more focused on things that directly affect us or what is important to us.  I’d consider Scarlet’s circumstance far more pressing than my own, but I can’t help but worry my parents will disown me.”

Scarlet frowned as she looked at her.  “You have enough to worry about; you don’t have to be worried about me … and—and you shouldn’t worry about what your parents think.  I mean … I think you’re amazing.” She whispered, looking down at her lap. “You’re the first person that actually saw me as something more than just a monster—a monster to be watched and feared … you saw me as—as just me.”

“Well, I think you’re freaking awesome!”  Fiona piped up. “If it wasn’t for you … I don’t even want to think about it.  I’m here … not—not back there,” her tone fell. “That’s all because of you … you saved Erica and me.”

Scarlet blushed; holding her left elbow, she looked at the wall before turning to Rachel.  “I guess, but—it’s thanks to Rachel that I’m here. I didn’t know what to think … I was—so numb.  Emotions were everywhere, but I just couldn’t feel anything; I was a monster—in a nightmare with people trying to hurt me.  Someone came to kill me—cut me up into—into pieces, but she saved me … you saved me.” Red tears fell down her cheeks to absorb back into her skin.

Maria scratched her hairline, looking at the elevator with bunched cheeks.  “We doing emotions now? I guess—thanks to Rachel and you, my little brother’s safe now … so, yeah, thanks.”  She whispered.

I didn’t realize Scarlet felt so strongly about that, but I can understand why.  She’s surprisingly pure; I like her, Maria, and Fiona. I know I’m experiencing the emotions, but why am I so detached from it?  This is good for our image, and I can express the persona needed to reflect on the situation, but I don’t feel it. I’m sure Scarlet can sense them; I know they’re real, but I don’t connect to them.

Do I have an ability that makes my mind like this?  Ah, so I do … a chain ability. Risk Assessment is the first of the chain, but I’ve unlocked the second skill, Strategic Mind.  When did I unlock it? No response; the knowledge is so fickle and sparse, but what it does give is so clear and understandable.  Why am I feeling so different about this now?

The knowledge came as she pondered the question.  Risk Assessment recently reached max rank; it unlocked a ranked skill, Emotional Detachment.  An active ability that I can use to split my conscious thought from my emotional state, giving me the ability to think clearly while also being aware of my emotional side.  It’s good to know I can turn it off when needed.

What level, grade and rank are they?  Risk Assessment is level four, Novice, and max rank, meaning it’s ten  Strategic Mind is level three, Novice, and rank one. They’re different in how they function; Risk Assessment only handles direct threats during stressful situations, while Strategic Mind is more centered on the goals I wish to achieve and helping me determine the best course of action to get there.

Both are used differently, but Emotional Detachment can be useful with the Strategic Mind passive, and when combined with Mental Acceleration, gives me a massive advantage; it’s no surprise that I developed this skill set.  I’m sure there’s more that could be examined with this, but I need to save it for when we discuss our abilities as a group. I need more information to map out this system accurately, and there are more pressing issues to address.  The direction of the conversation needs to shift a little.

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It’s good that we’ve been able to show them our emotions; we’re not creatures beyond remorse, fears, and pain.  We also found a link to Bailey that can easily be connected to us.

Rachel waited a moment, letting Scarlet’s emotional display strike Hughes and Bailey; voice touched with compassion, Rachel scooted forward to smile at the tearful vampire, vision shifting between her three companions.

“Thank you, and Scarlet, I shouldn’t worry about you?  Were you listening to yourself?” Scarlet choked a laugh, wiping at her bloody cheeks with her sleeve as Rachel continued.  “You are just you; a scared girl that should have never had to go through those things, and I’m just a girl trying to work out her family issues, but here we are,” she motioned between them.

“We have the tiny internet-famous Fairy-girl, the artist Vampire-girl, and the foul-mouthed gorgeous Unicorn gangster-girl.”

Fiona and Scarlet giggled at her theatrics; Bailey and Hughes following the conversation silently, guard dropping as they watched their banter.  Good, let them get an idea that we’re just normal girls with problems, fears, hopes, dreams.  Once their guard drops, then I’ll have my opening.

Maria shifted toward her, nose twisted with irritation.  “Whoa, why am I the only one that sounds bad? What about you, huh?  The clumsy liebre blanca that trips and smashes into walls!”

“That was pretty embarrassing,” Rachel sighed, using her pain to elicit a wince.  “Although—what do you think your boys would find more funny? A girl falling on her face, or their fearless leader being princess carried to a helicopter, by said clumsy girl, because, wait for it—she couldn’t even walk?”

Her smirk dropped like a brick.  “Wait—what?”

Fiona leaned back to stare up at Maria with a raised eyebrow as Scarlet hid her lips, dark eyebrows rising.

Rachel clicked her tongue.  “Yeah, that’d be my reaction too.  By the way, how many buildings were you thrown through again?  Because—I was thrown through three.” She paused, watching Maria’s eyes narrow as she glanced up at the ceiling, trying to work through what was happening.  “None? Huh, and I had to carry you?”

 Maria’s eyes widened with horror as Fiona and Scarlet giggled.  “Hey, hey, what are you saying, huh? My boys aren’t going to hear crap about that!”

Rachel feigned astonishment.  “What—are you saying you’re going to lie to them?”

“Seriously, que mierda!  That’s blackmail!”

“Blackmail,” Rachel hummed thoughtfully.  “Is it really? I thought they’d love hearing about the daring acts of their leader saving a bunch of kids.  I mean, it’s a part of the story; we can’t leave out the minor details, right? Cherry-pick events.”

“That’s—that’s different,” Maria mumbled.  “You’re painting a picture of me!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Rachel smiled.  “Scarlet’s the artist, I’m just a clumsy hare, right?”

Maria folded her arms before sullenly dropping back into the couch.  “Fine … threat received; I won’t bring up you tripping ever again.”

“Oh, that’s nice.  Thank you,” she beamed.

“What are we watching?”  Bailey muttered.

Hughes nodded, leaning back to cup her chin.  “Yeah … I thought we were talking about Jonas.”

Rachel lifted her left hand to her brow.  “Oh, I’m sorry, Bailey, I stole the floor from you.  I’m really sorry; we’ve been a little stressed, but so have you.  Tell us, what’s on your mind about Jonas and these abilities he has.  Maybe we can help; we do have first-hand experience with this change. I’m sure he’s pretty worried about things too.”

“I—no, I don’t think it would be appropriate.”  Bailey rubbed her mouth, smearing a bit of her light pink lipstick.  “Dang-it,” she muttered, looking down at her fingers.

A rumble resonated in Hughes’ throat.  “You okay, Bailey?”

“Yeah—sorry, it just slipped out with the stress … I don’t think talking about my personal life is appropriate.”

“Slipped?”  Fiona rose into the air to level with her brown eyes.  “You shouldn’t bury it; it’ll only hurt you more. I used to think I had to put on a show for everyone on YouTube; I had to be this perfect entertainer, and educational resource or people wouldn’t like me—but it’s so exhausting!”

Maria arched her back, releasing a short yawn.  “Yeah—if you’re worried about something, then you should say the dang thing.  You don’t have to talk to us, but you should talk to your man.”

Scarlet nodded, shifting her skirt a little; the blood on her sleeves was gone, drawn back into her body.  “I’m with Fiona and Maria, but,” she glanced at Maria with a meaningful look, “talk to her man?”

“The heck’s wrong with that?”

She shook her head.  “Is that like—nevermind.”  She turned back to Bailey. “If there’s anything I’ve learned from sensing emotions; people are hurting themselves … a lot.  Holding back the dark feelings in their hearts instead of addressing them. Oh,” her eyes popped, “I’m not saying you should say everything on your mind, like Maria.”

“Dang-it, why do you all pick on me?”  Maria’s head dropped back to the couch as she shook her head, staring up at the ceiling.

Scarlet chuckled, lifting her hands defensively.  “No, no, Maria, you’re great. It’s just; not everyone has the same emotions as—well, you do … like Mr. Kennedy.”  She mumbled, rubbing her shoulder nervously.

“Mr. Kennedy?”  Hughes asked, muscles stiffening.  “Who’s Mr. Kennedy?”

This could be good.  We moved from monsters to random strangers, from random strangers to stressed victims, from stressed victims to normal people, and now they’ve put up a professional wall, trying to close off attachment, which is natural.

Now that we’ve reached a sense of normal with them and a professional attitude has appeared, if we can break past this barrier, then we’re almost guaranteed a deeper relationship.  They’re digging for more information, and the Kennedy event is a great story to elicit more pressure to break past this final professional wall. If Scarlet can put the right emotion into it…

Swallowing, Scarlet’s tongue played with her left fang for a second.  “Umm, he was a child predator in my neighborhood that—that turned into a Lizard-man, and he—he killed two kid’s parents—I saw it…”

“What?”  Fiona, Bailey, and Hughes gasped.

“Oh?”  Maria growled.  “We don’t tolerate that in our neighborhood; sounds like something happened to the dude though.  If you know about him turning into a Lizard-man.”

Scarlet played with her skirt again.  “He—it was when I’d just changed … I’d rather not—it just isn’t…”

This is important.  “Take your time,” Rachel soothed.

Smiling at her, Scarlet nodded, still fidgeting nervously.  “… He—he killed the mother, and—I wanted to protect them, but it was hard—I was scared and confused—I teleported into the kids’ room with just a thought, but—I froze.  I watched him—he came upstairs and tried … he wanted the kids to go with him.”

“You stopped him though, right?”  Fiona asked, darting up to hover in front of Scarlet, fists pressed against her chest.

Everyone else waited silently; Rachel could feel the tension in the air as Scarlet recounted the events, fear reflected in her blue eyes as she looked into the past.

“I—I was too scared; he thought I was trying to kill—to have the kids to myself, but I couldn’t speak … he was so tall and intimidating,” she swallowed nervously.  “He opened his mouth—it was so big … he was going to swallow me whole, and I was paralyzed. I closed my eyes, and I could feel the pounding of his footsteps vibrate the floor as he … then it stopped.”

“And?”  Maria pressed.

“My blood—it attacks anything that attacks me.  So…” She trailed off.

“Serves him right,” Fiona huffed, arms folded as she hovered in place, radiating a soft white glow.  “He should have been castrated first.”

Rachel breathed a sigh of relief.  “I was a little scared, Scarlet.”

“What—do you mean?”  She looked at Rachel with concern; every eye was locked on her.

She pressed the conversation; already knowing many of the details from the gossip circulating the building.  “I was afraid for the children; are they alright? What happened when you saved them?”

“Carter … I called the police; I didn’t know what to do … I was scared.  Carter got there first; he … I left, and he chased me. Mateo told me later—he said the kids were safe with relatives that lived nearby when he found me.”

 “At least the kids are safe,” Fiona moved to Scarlet’s hand, gripping her shoulders, and rubbed it comfortingly.  “See, how many people can say they’ve saved as many kids as you have in their entire lives?”

“Thanks,” Scarlet smiled, lifting her finger as Fiona hugged it.  Her voice cracked. “Lately, I just—I feel like running … like I just—I don’t belong here.”  She seemed to try repressing her tears, but they fell despite her efforts. “I don’t belong in this world.”

Rachel wanted to smile, but she suppressed it.  Her emotions swirled inside her to run to Scarlet’s side, but they were kept at arm’s length from her consciousness; she heard Hughes and Bailey’s bodies quiver, hands pressed against their stomachs, tears cascading down their own cheeks as they watched the scene.

Everyone goes through times where they feel like they don’t belong; connecting on that level breaks a lot of barriers, and using the Kennedy event that most agents at least know a surface level about is brilliant.  They knew a little about what happened, but having Scarlet’s emotional display of events paints a different tone. They were a bit more cautious than I anticipated, but we’re finally getting there.

“Don’t think like that,” Fiona sniffed.

“Yeah,” Maria said, clearing her throat.  “Screw anyone that says you don’t belong. Screw‘em.”

“I can’t help it,” Scarlet babbled, breaking down.  “I have—there’s so much—everywhere—everyone. They don’t,” she swallowed, “they don’t say it, but I feel it … fear—hate … why am I the monster?  What did I do to deserve it? I tried to be good—I try so hard to control myself, but they don’t—they don’t…”

Rachel got up, letting soft tears leak from her eyes, and walked around the couch to hug Scarlet’s back; still fighting the pain throughout her body but completely in emotional control.  Scarlet’s chilled blood dripped down her cold hands as Fiona hovered before her with concern.

“I know it’s hard, but you have us.  I hear it,” she whispered. “The fear and hate you feel; it’s everywhere—I know, but they don’t define you.  Remember what you told me about my parents?”

Scarlet gripped her arms, draped around her chest.  “I—I know—but it’s hard … knowing so many people hate you for something—I can’t change that I’m a Vampire.  I can’t … I can’t…”

“You don’t need to change,” Rachel soothed.  “You won’t be hated forever; they’re just hurt like you are.”

“Hurt?”  Scarlet choked.  “You’re hurt! I know you’re—you’re in pain.  Why aren’t you screaming? You were—thrown through buildings.”

Rachel sighed.  “I am hurting … a lot, but look how strong you’ve been.  How could I cry when I see you fighting to keep it together?”

“I’m not—not together at all … I was so scared—Relica—she’s still out there … I was—she was going to make me a slave … make me hurt people…”  Her lips trembled. “Why … why me? Why…”

Hughes cleared her throat, wiping away her tears.  “Scarlet, I—I don’t know everything that you’ve gone through, but I’ve heard a little.  You can’t ask yourself why … we don’t know. The Oscillation, the change—no one knows.”

“You’re supposed to know!”  Scarlet cried. “You’re supposed to protect us.”

Bailey looked away.  “I know … I’m sorry.”

Perfect; guilt is a massive step.  They’re supposed to protect us citizens, but all the tragedy that we’ve gone through, and the things we’ve had to do; they were supposed to be the ones making those decisions, but we were forced to.

Maria took a deep breath, closing her eyes to lean back.  “Blaming everyone isn’t going to solve anything. This sucks—it freaking sucks,” she ran her left hand through her hair, “but we just got to knuckle down and live.”

“How?”  Fiona asked, teary-eyed.  “I’m three inches tall … I couldn’t even open a door or—or turn the shower off—a spider could have killed me!”  She rubbed her wet cheeks. “I probably can’t have kids or—or anything like that. This isn’t fair … it’s not … I can’t even … I don’t even know anymore!”

Rachel squeezed Scarlet, smiling softly down at Fiona as she buried her face in her hands, tucked into a ball in the air.  “Whatever happens, I’ll be here for you guys. I’m sure Bailey and Hughes are here for us too; they’re here to protect us.”  She looked up to see them both nod.

“I’m sorry—if we were insensitive,” Bailey cleared her throat.  “There’s been—a lot to take in, but I didn’t—I didn’t think how it affected you, and you’re right….”

Hughes took a shuddering breath.  “You’re whole life fell apart … I felt like that for a bit, but—I can’t even imagine…”

Vision sliding to Maria, she watched her nod at the two women.  “At least someone else gets it; I mean, I’m white … it changes everything.”

“Huh?”  Fiona swallowed, brow creased in bewilderment.  “What do you mean, I’m white, and it changes everything?”

“You serious?”  Maria’s mouth dropped open for a moment as she stared at the floating woman.  “I’m Mexican, but now I’m like cream cheese … you have no idea how big of a change that is culturally.”

“Change … culturally,” Fiona mumbled.  “I’m three inches tall!”

Rachel giggled with Scarlet before saying, “Maria, are you aware of the horn that appears at your head, the pointed ears, the hair that grows back when cut, basically killing you in the process?”

“What kind of question is that?”  Maria grunted.

Fiona nodded, rubbing her red face.  “She’s right; white skin seems like a small thing compared to healing lost limbs with a snap of your fingers.”

“Well, to be fair, she is killing herself every time she does heal someone,” Rachel hummed.  “What do you call that? I mean, is it like autoerotic asphyxiation? People enjoy dying in a lot of ways, but dying to heal people?”

Maria’s face turned pink.  “Huh? Autoerotic … what the heck does that mean?”

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Rachel suppressed a grin as she caught Hughes and Bailey’s faces turn red.  We’ve broken the walls, and now we need to make them like us.  “I just heard about it in one of my psychology courses; a girl was talking about it.  Basically, it turns you on when you’re suffocating, but for you, it’d be healing, right … or am I conflating something?”

“Whoa,” Maria scooted back to the armrest, holding up her hands.  “Qué mierda! No, joder! I’m not turned on by healing people or dying!  I just die when I heal people, crap!” She folded her arms uncomfortably, turning away to mumble under her breath

Rachel made careful note that everyone’s mood had lightened as they either smiled or giggled at Maria’s rosy cheeks.  We now have two people that will back us up.

Smile completely innocent, Rachel released Scarlet, watching the blood across her arms float back into Scarlet’s body.  “Alright, let’s go to lock-up, find some clothes, and get cleaned up. I’d really like to hear more about this magical food, Bailey; you might have yourself a wonderful catch!  You could live like a queen, eating amazing new food every day.”

“I didn’t think about it like that,” Bailey whispered.  “He was excited about a new type of dessert, but … would it be safe?”

“I don’t see why not—by the way, what were your first names?  If possible, I’d like to work more with you two; I’ll mention it to David.”

“Thanks,” Bailey smiled.  “My name is Serah.”

Hughes nodded as she rose, stretching, “I’m Bree.”

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