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Generated: May 17, 2019 6:11 AM
Post last updated: Jan 27, 2019 1:51 AM
Before the monsters caught up to you
summer camp!
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"I'm just saying you're going to make her miserable."

"I don't think so," Maedhros says.

"I wasn't accusing you of doing it on purpose." He turns and looks out the window. He doesn't like looking at Maedhros. Maedhros had dyed his hair so it looked like it was greying, or possibly deliberately greyed it, and surgically rounded his ears and wrinkled his skin. He looked a well-preserved forty. Everyone Maedhros worked with knew he was immortal. Celegorm couldn't think why he'd bothered. It made him uglier. 

"I won't learn anything if I make her miserable," Maedhros says. "I need to figure out how she's going to work with resources and allies that are less - romantic - than a devoted mysterious immortal tormented bodyguard, and if -"

"It's not romantic."

"I don't mean that she wants to marry you."

"She doesn't."

"No, she doesn't. I mean that - working with people is always easier than working with institutions, and working with intriguing, compelling, supernaturally gifted people who are training you to achieve your destiny is the easiest sort of arrangement. And if I want you out of that damned city I obviously need an adequate substitute, which means I need to figure out how she can interact with an organization as effectively as she interacts with you. I won't make any progress towards my goal if she's miserable, so I won't let her be miserable, so you can stop bristling at me."

This really shouldn't be reassuring but it is. Betting on Maedhros's competence is always much surer than betting on his compassion. And if Maedhros wants her to have a good summer vacation for reasons other than appeasing Celegorm then he doesn't have to worry that things will get worse if he lets himself be appeased. It's very clever and he resents it immensely. He walks to the window and turns around to scowl at Maedhros's ugly face. 

"I also think this is a good idea from Karen's perspective," Maedhros says peaceably. "She doesn't know much about us."

"She hasn't asked."

"She should care, a lot, about the motives and attitudes and competence of people who will be coming to join her in Sunnydale. She should care how they think about presently inactive vampires like her friend, she should care how they think about sixteen-year-olds with superpowers, she should care what their vision of success looks like, and whether they're competent to pull it off. I think if she spends the summer figuring that out she'll be happier than if she spends it roaming around the cemetery staking vampires you let her have because it's good for her self-esteem."

"Or," says Celegorm, "you could tell her, and then she would know, and then she could spend the summer doing whatever she likes."

"I don't know yet. Who I send and what they want and how they operate is going to depend on her, and what she works best with, and I need this summer to get that right."

"Fine."

Maedhros doesn't smile. Maedhros's smiles are all lies and Celegorm hates being lied to. "Thank you."

"I haven't done anything."

"You heard me out. I know you hate that."

"If I ever won an argument with you I wouldn't hate having them."

Maedhros looks mildly surprised. "That's not true. If it were -"

" - I mean, if I ever won an argument with you and it wasn't because you let me win in order to make me more willing to hear you out generally."

"Tyelco, sometimes you're right and I'm wrong, and sometimes we don't agree and you end up getting the thing you want, and sometimes I end up making a lot more concessions than I planned to and sometimes I end up getting nothing I want. The only sense in which you've never won an argument is that you've never walked away feeling like you're adequate. That's not what it looks like when I have conversational superpowers, it's what it looks like when you have a searing inferiority complex."

"I don't want to talk about this," he says, because the alternative is trying to come up with words in response to that and he doesn't have any. "I'll tell Karen to go to summer camp."

"Tell her why, too."

If this conversation were with someone else he'd end it by threatening them, but you can't threaten someone who wants, more than anything in the world, for everyone who loves him to stop so that if he ever finds a way to die he can pursue it guiltlessly. 

"Don't hurt her, Nelyo."

"She'll have a lovely time."

Permalink Eye

"They want to build a government installation in Sunnydale and conduct experiments on demons. They have an idea to make them harmless, or something. Doesn't work yet, but maybe with more research. If they ever got it to work, we'd be done killing them."

Permalink Eye

"That would be really good." She smiles, because dancing about it would be weird.

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, it's a great solution for vampires - possibly the only one. Gonna be a bit awkward with demons but maybe they'll handle that reasonably, I don't really know."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, a lot depends on the specific kind of demon. But it's better than a lot of possible alternatives."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Guy I know wants you to accept your summer camp invitation. He thinks it'll be a good chance to learn about the people doing this project, how they're thinking about demons and vampires, how annoying they're going to be to work with, how much we can trust them with - whether they'll look out for Zeke -"

Permalink Eye

She bites her lip.

She can't very well let Zeke outdo her on the heroic-defense-of-friends front. That would just be embarrassing. And it is, actually, important to know who they're dealing with.

"Yeah, OK. I can do that."

Permalink Eye

"I don't think it'll be dangerous or I'd keep you well clear of it. Just - lotsa being polite to people in uniform and figuring out how they work and what they want."

Permalink Eye

"I can be polite to people. Probably. As long as they don't have high expectations. What, uh, exactly do these people know about me right now, I assume they don't just invite random people to their... summer camp?"

Permalink Eye

"They know you're a new slayer who hasn't had your Watcher training. - word has gotten out, not through me, that there's a slayer in Sunnydale. I think it was all the slaying."

Permalink Eye

"Ahh. Yeah. I can see how that would happen. If magical dogs can find us then presumably at least a few other people have put two and two together."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Past time we talked about the Watcher's Council so you're prepared if they try to show up. Anyway, these people know you're a slayer."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Uh, Wishbone's told me some stuff, but I think his last contact with the Council was in the 1800s or so. It'd be good to know what they've been doing lately. Besides, uh, killing all of their slayers at eighteen."

Permalink Eye

"Technically not all of them. They do a 'coming of age' test where they drug the Slayer until she's weaker than a normal human, then lock her in with a vampire. To test her wits, or something. Our understanding is that they were finding the adult ones very hard to control, especially because they don't have that much to offer them - uh, training, but they're all unenhanced humans and there's really only so much an unenhanced human can teach you - access to a library, which is genuinely important, but which grates when it comes with a lot of conditions on who you fight and how and when..."

Permalink Eye

"Makes sense. The being drugged and locked up with a vampire sounds, uh, bad. ...these people are probably less likely to cause serious problems for us if we make friends with people like the summer camp people, aren't they. Conditional on the summer camp people being at least slightly less terrible."

Permalink Eye

"Seems like it, yeah. If you're affiliated with some humans who are doing.... legible human things... they might be less inclined to meddle than if your allies are all mysterious - I think the Watcher's Council also does not admit the existence of any categories other than 'demon' and 'human', or consider any of the former civilians."

Permalink Eye

"Figures. Be too simple if there were an uncomplicated good guy faction with only a couple shortcomings. All right. What do we know about what, uh, summer camp consists of?"

Permalink Eye

"The secret government agency that deals with supernatural stuff is called the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, in the Department of the Interior. It's based in Virginia. The director is one of us... our word for ourselves, the thing Michael and I are, is Quendi. It means 'user of words', because that was distinguishing, uh, way back when."

Permalink Eye

"Ahh." This is a more sensible and alien-sounding name than 'not-archangels', really. "So is the director, like, a sort of OK Quendi, or like a 'your mind is going to be being read a lot' Quendi?"

Permalink Eye

"We only do that to hostiles or in emergencies. I've been really pushing the line because Sunnydale has so many ways to randomly kill you but you don't need to worry about him reading your mind."

Permalink Eye

She adjusts down the odds of being mindread slightly.

"All right then. Anything else I need to be prepared for? Just, like, in general? List of items to pack?"

Permalink Eye

"I think there's...swimming? And hiking? And lectures on patriotism?"

Permalink Eye

"...It is at this point super unclear to me to what extent this is actually a summer camp."

Permalink Eye

"I think it will check all the summer camp boxes but, uh, some of the people involved are thinking of this in a 'superheroes are an asset to America' kind of way? Which is part of what - it'd be useful to know how many of those there are and whether they're reasonable about it -"

Permalink Eye

"Cool. I will, uh, pack with that in mind and take copious notes on our colleagues in the superhero business."

Permalink Eye

"All right. Take care. Page Matthew Carter if you get into any trouble that doesn't look like it can just be punched in the face."

Permalink Eye

- aw, man, Alex is gonna be out of range this whole time. Oh well. She got by for fifteen years without a person to page every time random terrible things happened, and she can probably do it again for however many weeks the camp is. Gotta be strong in the face of potential embarrassment.

"Will do. Oh, and can you take Wishbone, if it's gonna be a few weeks? Because he'll get super lonely if he doesn't have anybody to pay attention to him."

Permalink Eye

From his face this is a surprisingly complicated request but - 

"Yeah, yeah, of course."

Permalink Eye

"Cool. Thank you. - if it's not a problem? I just don't want him to be sad."

Permalink Eye

"Neither do I."

Permalink Eye

She nods. "I'll pack."

And she does. She packs normal, sensible essentials (clothes, toiletries, hair ties, notebooks, pens, wooden rods that don't look like stakes but can be snapped into them if needed, first aid kit with scissors, St. Benedict medal), morale-building materials (prayer cards, sci fi novels, game boy), and summer camp things (swimsuit, hiking boots, flashlight).

(She practices imagining that all of her thoughts are taking place behind a waterfall that plays the tune of 'Good King Wenceslas' on repeat. She assures Azalea that she will probably not be attacked by government assassins, and that if she is she can totally probably punch them in the face or something. She imagines being someone who is exactly the correct amount of competent.)

She decides that she's about as ready for superhero summer camp as she's going to be.

Permalink Eye

Superhero summer camp is held in the Appalachians. There are cabins and a cafeteria and a high ropes course and all of the counselors are clearly military but trying rather diligently to look like underpaid college students who got this job to get out of their parents' house. 

Her cabin contains a blind girl named Jasmine who uses a cane to get around objects but navigates people with no difficulty whatsoever, a tall girl named Callida who turns spiky when she sneezes, the invisible inhabitant of a bunk in the corner, who introduces herself as 'me', and a cheerful telekinetic named Rebecca who wears a floppy, wide-brimmed hat and warns the rest of them that sunburn will be terrible for their complexions. 

"Half-demon?" Callida asks Karen when they've all unpacked their possessions into the lockers at the foot of their bed.

Permalink Eye

"No, uh, I'm sort of a vampire slayer person. The spiky thing is cool, though."

Permalink Eye

"Wow," says Rebecca, "you're the Slayer? That's so cool, there's only one of those in the world, right? Did you know that once someone accused me of being a vampire? Me! - I'm not! I'll touch your cross if you want."

Permalink Eye

She offers one. "I mean, you can if you want, but I do sort of figure that we all got here during the day, so I'm not insanely worried about this." 

She is attempting to keep up musical waterfalls all the time now. But in a paranoid way, not in a worried way.

Permalink Eye

She pokes it. "Also one assumes that the government is competent enough to screen their summer camp for vampires, they're the government."

"How do we know that the government isn't mostly vampires?" Jasmine asks. "Because they're rich, you know, since they live forever, and if you wanted to eat people without getting in trouble you might try to be important..."

"I heard the Supreme Court justices are all vampires," Callida says. "I don't think it's true but I heard it. They just get to work early and leave late and no one asks any questions."

"Nonsense," Rebecca says firmly. "All politicians are sworn in on Bibles."

Permalink Eye

"Technically you don't have to use a Bible. Teddy Roosevelt didn't. But everybody's always asking how much longer the supreme court justices have to live, so I think they'd have about the hardest time of anyone being secretly vampires."

She's not at all sure how much she should bet on the government's competence. She's just not going to mention the mayor of Sunnydale.

Permalink Eye

Her cabinmates move on to debating which musicians and actors might be vampires. Callida sleeps with special fabrics because she rips through normal ones, apparently. Rebecca has an entire suitcase that's just skincare and makeup products. The invisible girl has a lot of boy band posters. "Can you see them?" she asks Jasmine.

"Uh, no."

"Oh. I thought you could see people, since you didn't need the cane -"

"I can see movement. Before it happens, actually. I can see people even if they're standing still because people can't really stand still. But not posters."

Permalink Eye

She's been here for three seconds and she already misses people. Mostly Wishbone. And Connor and Azalea. And Alex. And Zeke. And Dennis and Mercy. She doesn't even talk to all of these people every day, so it's kind of super illogical to miss all of them, but she does.

She determinedly writes down names and powers in one of her notebooks.

"So do you guys know when they're starting, uh - if there's a schedule I haven't seen it."

Permalink Eye

There's a schedule on the door, apparently. They have their choice of a climbing class and a survival class in the mornings and their choice of an obstacle course and a recognizing-demons class in the early afternoons and then free swimming and sports in the later afternoon.

Permalink Eye

She'll take survival and recognizing demons for now. She can probably survive swimming. (She hates swimming. Why does Zeke get to just get stabbed in the arm and hold up under torture and wow could she be any more self-involved.)

Permalink Eye

The survival classes take place just off the hiking trails up on the ridge; the soldier-counselors teach them how to start a fire and how to navigate at night and how to address an injury when far from medical care and how to react to various wild animals (some you hide from, some you yell at, some you fight). They're told that subsequent survival classes will also teach self-defense and self-defense against demons. The soldier-counselors are friendly; they come around to check out everyone's attempted fires and attempted injury dressings and declare "I'm a bear" or "I'm a moose" before charging. They might be a bit less friendly to Callida after she sneezes but it's not dramatic if so. 

Recognizing demons starts in the auditorium. "Most demons are animals," declares the leader, which technically has the unobjectionable meaning that there are lots of non-sapient demon species but is not the most promising of starts. They do have high-quality pictures of hundreds of species, though, and slime and excretions and footprints for the kids to look at. 

In the swimming pool kids play water polo and do flips off the diving board and hover in fascination around one boy who squirts ink out of his toes when he's frightened. Everyone wants Karen on their water polo team. 

Permalink Eye

It seems like one of the most important things to know about the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement is their stance on different kinds of demons and alien sapients. They're obviously not one hundred percent 'aliens bad, humans good', or they wouldn't be allowing Callida to take part in the summer camp, but there's a really large spectrum of opinions between 'kill or capture on sight' and Starfleet, and it's important to know where BSEE falls on it, both officially and unofficially. She takes copious notes and waits for opportunities to ask clarifying questions that aren't super suspicious.

She kind of hates water polo, because she kind of hates swimming, but she feels like she's doing a pretty good job of pretending this isn't the case.

After classes she approaches the invisible girl's bunk.

"Hi! Uh, you here right now?"

Permalink Eye

"Are you talking to me?" she asks even though there's no one else in the room.

Permalink Eye

"Yeah! Sorry. I just, uh, I feel like I forgot to say hi earlier. Neat posters."

Permalink Eye

"Everyone forgets to say hi - not even because of the invisibility, I mean, it was like that before."

Permalink Eye

"Gosh, I'm sorry. That sounds annoying."

Permalink Eye

"It was - I wasn't even sure when I went invisible, they asked later and I was like, dunno, probably sometime in February or March but it coulda been December really.... sorry, this is way too personal for summer camp. It's no biggie! How're you?"

Permalink Eye

"No, I mean - that sounds really hard, especially if you didn't have anyone to talk to or help you figure out what was going on. But, uh - I'm good so far, I think? I don't really know anyone yet, but, uh - working on that."

Permalink Eye

"Rebecca's friendly."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Everyone seems pretty friendly, I guess. Which is better than the alternative."

Permalink Eye

"The invisibility thing happens a lot, s'pposedly. Cause people just ignore people."

Permalink Eye

"...And that makes them invisible?"

Permalink Eye

Unhappy giggle. "I realize that doesn't actually make any sense."

Permalink Eye

"Lotsa things don't, it turns out. I know a kid who accidentally caused a bunch of people's dreams to become real because he was stuck in a coma. I'm more surprised that it keeps happening, I guess."

Permalink Eye

"There is a secret CIA invisible assassin program and as far as I can tell it's entirely high school students who got ignored until they were invisible. The lady who picked me up said that having parents who aren't home much was a risk factor. - I said no. I'm not a CIA assassin. I think if I were I'd go to the summer camp for the invisible CIA assassins. I said I didn't want to kill people - I don't even want to bother people -"

Permalink Eye

"...gosh. Same here, honestly, I think whatever process picks the slayer doesn't take into account whether someone wants to fight people or not. Uh - I'm Karen. If I forgot to say earlier."

Permalink Eye

"I was Margaret but I'm considering picking a new name. Since. What do you do, don't they make the Slayer kill vampires?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I gotta stop 'em from murdering people. It's sad, though. Especially because some of them are only - you know that statistic about how sixty or ninety or whatever percentage of people will commit fraud or steal from their employers under the right circumstances? Vampires are like that with torture and murder. Keep the circumstances wrong for them and some of them are sort of chill, though. - like, they'll totally try to kill you if they can, don't go trying to make friends by yourself, but - I dunno. They're people, and I don't like having to kill people, even the ones that aren't very nice."

Permalink Eye

"People are never very nice."

Permalink Eye

"I dunno. Some of them surprise you. None of them are nice all the time, I think."

Permalink Eye

"Some of them surprise you with how nice they areyou're pretty and thin and have superpowers."

Permalink Eye

"I guess that's fair. I guess it's hard to tell how pretty someone is when they're invisible. At least the government seems to think that counts as having superpowers?"

Permalink Eye

"I think they just didn't know what to do with me when I said I didn't want to go to assassin school. They made it sound like all invisible kids want to go to assassin school."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. Sorta didn't expect peer pressure to be a huge factor when deciding whether to be a government assassin, but then I guess I didn't expect a lot of things about high school. But invisibility is totally a power, I bet it has all kinds of useful applications."

Permalink Eye

"My dad said he figured I'd run off to be a whore which is funny because that's one of the jobs it doesn't really help with, I think."

Permalink Eye

" - wow, that sucks. I was thinking more, like, if you were a police officer then you could tail criminals without them noticing you? Or, ooh, if you were a wildlife biologist then I bet some kinds of animals wouldn't notice you, so it'd be way easier to tag them and get info on what they were doing."

Permalink Eye

"Animals mostly have good hearing and smell."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, it'd only work on specific kinds. ...maybe you could be a private investigator and people could pay you to get witness accounts of their abusive parents or boyfriends or whoever. - I'm just saying, I'm pretty sure invisibility is a known superpower. Martian Manhunter has it. Although I guess he can also fly. And it - it'd be a lot harder, if you didn't get any say in it and couldn't turn it off."

Permalink Eye

"No one cares about witness accounts of abusive parents or boyfriends anyway."

Permalink Eye

"I feel like someone somewhere must. But if not then I think people would need an invisible superhero helping them even more."

Permalink Eye

 

"What's the Martian Manhunter? That's a stupid name."

Permalink Eye

"Kinda is. He's one of the Justice League members. - I know it's dorky."

Permalink Eye

"Is that a real thing?"

Permalink Eye

She giggles. "No, no. Man, I wish. They're comic book people. Superman and Batman and people. I guess I don't have a ton of real-world superhero role models."

Permalink Eye

"Nah it's better they're not real, because, like, they'd ruin it."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, maybe so. ...tell me what you want me to call you, whenever you figure it out. No rush, though."

Permalink Eye

"Everyone's just going to call me the invisible girl anyway."

Permalink Eye

"Well, they will if you don't give them anything else."

Permalink Eye

"You gave them a name and they all call you Slayer."

Permalink Eye

"Being the slayer is all right. And anyway, even if it's gotta be a superhero name, if you make your move first then maybe you can make it something cool. More Phantom Girl than Miss Martian, you know?"

Permalink Eye

 

"I'll think about it."

Permalink Eye

"'Kay. See you around. Or. Well. You know."

So that's one point of contact, which is better than zero. She'll try making more if she has the chance (for Alex and for Zeke, even though it's hard). Next obvious order of business is to get more information on the government's current stance on demons.

Permalink Eye

There are three teachers of the demon identification class. Chris is tall and blond and talks them through slides of different kinds of demons, dead and alive; Jason handles physical samples of the goos and excretions they're supposed to learn to analyze; Jennifer wears her hair in a very tight bun and distributes the textbooks and wrangles the projector every time it stops working. All three of them like Karen quite a lot, for some reason. 

"Hey, Slayer," Chris will say with a big grin every time she has a question, in or out of class.

Permalink Eye

This is disconcerting and suspicious. Very suspicious. Margaret-Slash-Phantom-Girl is probably right about some of it being - not that she's thin and pretty per se, but that she's cute and knows some things about demons and has some kind of general aura of likableness around her. It's suspicious beyond that, though. She takes notes and smiles a lot and tries not to let on that she finds all of this being liked business vaguely alarming.

(Being "Slayer" is maybe not as OK with her as she imagined it might be. Maybe once she gets used to it. And people stop smiling at her and looking at her all the time.)

Karen wants to know whether all of the demons they're analyzing are uniformly hostile. She's especially going to ask this any time she recognizes a demon and knows that the answer is "usually" or "sometimes" or "nah".

Permalink Eye

The answer is usually "we've never encountered a peaceful one" but sometimes it's "not always, but if they're stalking young girls around the city at night, you'll get yourself killed if you assume they have good intentions" and sometimes it's "they're killers, but they're sometimes quite friendly if they're not hungry".

They're never exactly wrong but some of these things are things you could also say about humans.

Permalink Eye

Suuuure.

It's not exactly Starfleet, but it's not obviously a serious problem. She needs to come home with more, though. She watches everybody's reactions to Callida and the other half-demons a lot, which is hopefully less suspicious and less noticeable than just constantly staring at Callida. 

Permalink Eye

Varies! Some of the camp counselors are as friendly around them as around the human kids; some keep their distance, or make a point of keeping an eye on them. She might get the sense that inviting half-demons to this summer camp was controversial. Callida seems quite cheerful about it. "The last place they wouldn't let me have anything made out of fabric. Said I'd shred it. Which, to be fair, I would, but -"

Permalink Eye

Mhmm. Good to get a sense of the range of reactions, anyway.

She's not entirely sure what else she's supposed to be doing here. She doesn't like it here - one week she could take, no problem, but she's going to be really miserable spending ten like this, without her room or her sister or her nephew or her friends or her ancient magical dog or anyone she knows better than Margaret-Slash-Phantom-Girl. At night she imagines turning her waterfall up really loud so that maybe people can't hear that her prayers consist largely of childish complaints.

If she can focus on investigating then maybe she'll be too busy to be miserable, though.

Permalink Eye

"Why're you here?" Phantom/Margaret asks her at the end of the first week. She's eating potato salad. It looks super weird.  "You could make them send you anywhere probably. Disneyland."

Permalink Eye

"I hear Disneyland has really long lines in the summer. But nah, I'm like - I wanna be able to do my job well, I guess."

Permalink Eye

"So you're here for, like, the classes? Man, that'd suck, going to summer camp just to do more school."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I guess. Plus I thought maybe I could make some friends who weren't in Sunnydale. When weird stuff happens it's often pretty localized, so it can be good to get sanity checks from people who're in other places." Or something. Alex definitely said something about that at some point.

Permalink Eye

"Do you need us to be anywhere in particular? Or just, not Sunnydale."

Permalink Eye

"Just not Sunnydale. Where're you usually?"

Permalink Eye

"Hadn't really figured it out. If you wanted someplace I could probably go there. - I stay in furniture stores overnight. Did you know that there are mattresses that cost twelve hundred dollars?"

Permalink Eye

"That's - I mean I guess it's probably not super unsafe, if nobody knows you're there, but it doesn't sound like much fun."

Permalink Eye

"Well, life's not much fun. And they are cozier than normal mattresses, the twelve hundred dollar ones."

Permalink Eye

She nods solemnly; it doesn't seem like a good time to get into an argument about whether she really has to stay in furniture stores or not, especially since she actually doesn't have housing plans lined up for random teenage superheroes. "It probably would help, having someone who could take care of themselves and go investigate things in different places. - here." She tears out a piece of paper, writes her home phone number on it, and pushes it vaguely in the direction of the potato salad. "It's my home phone, so I can't answer while I'm here, obviously, but - if you ever need to reach a slayer."

Permalink Eye

The piece of paper disappears. "You could send emails to a secret email and I could go to places to investigate things for you. If you wanted."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. We probably could."

Permalink Eye

"No assassinations, though."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, no. If someone really really needs to die I can make it happen myself."

Permalink Eye

"Do you worry that something bad'd happen to you if you stopped?"

Permalink Eye

"...bad things'd happen to other people if I stopped. Not just with the killing specifically, just - I guess when there are problems, then there has to be someone at some point who doesn't run away from them, you know? And... I think if I want anything done the way I want it, then I sort of have to be one of the people getting things done."

Permalink Eye

 

"Man, I see why they picked you for the superhero thing."

Permalink Eye

"...well. I try."

Permalink Eye

That weekend they do a high ropes course with a bunch of challenges that everyone has to work together to win at, and camp for the night by the side of a mountain lake, and return home for laser tag and s'mores and religious services for those who want them. 

Permalink Eye

Karen wants. Rope courses are cool, camping is cool, mountain lakes are cool, laser tag and s'mores are cool. Honestly everything about this place would be pretty OK if her brain weren't about 30% sure that she's constantly being watched by government people. And if her brain weren't spending 40% of its mental effort on screaming a lot. And if Wishbone were here. But there's really no logical reason for it to be any less fun than high school, so she mostly tries to breathe the awful out and give everything they try about twelve fair shots. Sometimes she forgets that everything is sort of terrible. Sometimes she feels like she's maybe even making some friends. Maybe.

Permalink Eye

The services take place in a pretty stone interdenominational chapel about a quarter of a mile from camp. Catholic services are in the evening so she's a little bit late to dinner, which is pizza and a side of leafy vegetables everyone is ignoring.

"Hey," a girl she knows from Survival, Jennifer, whispers over dessert. "Are you in?"

Permalink Eye

"Hmm?" she asks, because her mouth is actually momentarily full of pizza. Pizza is very important.

Permalink Eye

"We're going to sneak out tonight and see if we can make it down the road to the secret facility."

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"What facility?" she asks, at the same whispery volume, 'cause if there are bugs then they can probably pick this up but she doesn't think she can get in trouble for asking. At least unless the high school students have already figured out something super secret, and really, you have to give the US government some credit.

Permalink Eye

"Some people wandered off that way during laser tag and there's this whole complex of buildings down in the valley, with the tops painted so they look like trees. There weren't 'keep out' signs or anything. We just want to go check it out. And you gotta do some ill-advised running around in the middle of the night in summer camp, right?"

Permalink Eye

She nods solemnly. "Kinda tired, though, actually. Lemme know how it goes?"

Permalink Eye

She nods eagerly. 

 

Four or five kids wander out about an hour later, giggling.

Permalink Eye

Hopefully they don't get in too much trouble. It'd be kind of a weird choice to toss all of your superpowered teenagers at anywhere where you've got other super  secret stuff; she has to assume that anyone involved in the project has ever met a teenager and considered this possibility.

Permalink Eye

A couple hours later the door to their cabin opens, then closes.

"Aaaah," says Rebecca, startling the rest of them awake. 

"What - is there anyone at the door -"

"Oh god."

"It's just me," says the invisible girl irritably. "I live here."

"Oh," Rebecca says. "Right. Sorry - I'm sorry."

"It's easy to forget."

"Well," Callida said, "did you see anything cool?"

"We got in! got in, everyone else had to wait outside because they tried crawling in through the vents but the vents are tiny actually. But I just walked in! We didn't discover the evil conspiracy yet."

Permalink Eye

"Any clues?"

Permalink Eye

Invisible girl's bed bounces. "So there are six floors according to the elevator buttons, but I only checked out the first one, the guards didn't go down to the bottom five. The top floor is mostly an office, it had filing cabinets and computers and stuff. And it had surveillance cameras. There are some in the trees. They're watching the camp. I figured out where they all had to be, from the angles -" bounce bounce bounce bounce - "and there are ten."

"That's unconstitutional," says Rebecca indignantly. "And - and it's child pornography. Since we were in bikinis, at the pool."

"I don't think it's child pornography for adults to see teenagers in bikinis or the counselors would be in trouble," says Callida. "If it were in a private space that'd be different."

"Well, you could ask me, since I was there, unlike you, whether it was in a private space or not," says the invisible girl. 

"- that's what I was doing, I was asking."

"Were not."

"Well, was it?"

"Nope. Only outdoors."

Permalink Eye

(Only outdoor ones on the first floor, anyway. But of course they're watching the camp. Walmart watches people.)

"Where were they?" she asks, trying to sound only very slightly interested. Which she is. Because there are probably more cameras anyway.

Permalink Eye

Invisible girl points out ten locations that give pretty good coverage of the outdoor areas of the camp - "but it means it's possible to sneak out without any of the cameras seeing you if you hide in the bathroom of the cafeteria and then go out an upstairs window and then go straight back towards the trail. Or if you're me."

"Did you guys do that tonight though?"

"No."

"So they might've seen - well, not you, but seen everyone else."

"No one else did anything wrong. They went exploring and they found the building and they might've taken one grate off but they put it back. And now we know."

Permalink Eye

Cafeteria bathroom, upstairs window, straight back towards the trail. Honestly probably not a useful thing to know, because if they were worrying sorts of surveillance people then they'd probably have that area covered too, such that it's actually less suspicious to just pretend to get lost if you're going somewhere, but she repeats it over and over behind her waterfall anyway. She doesn't write it down.

"Neat," she says, approvingly. "Not really very much higher than Walmart on the sketchiness spectrum, though."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah." Bounce bounce. "But what's in the other five floors?"

"Maybe it's a seed bank," says Callida. "There are seed banks all over the country, to restart agriculture if there's a disaster or something."

"It might be entirely innocent. But we've got to at least check."

"I'm going to wait and see if the kids who went today get in trouble," says Rebecca.

Permalink Eye

"Makes sense," says Karen, and she shoots a smile in the general direction of Invisible girl's bed.

Permalink Eye

Bounce bounce. 

The next week the class options are 'history of the supernatural' or archery, and then more of 'identifying demons' or advanced rock climbing, and then free sports time. On Monday at dinner one of the counselors makes an announcement reminding students not to wander at night. "I know that it's fun to explore, but there's a lot of bad stuff out there, as you all know. Stick to the camp."

This is the only apparent consequence of the late-night excursion.

Permalink Eye

Cool, then. She'll take history of the supernatural, on the grounds that she already knows archery and if she wants to know it better she can practice with Alex, and then more identifying demons.

Permalink Eye

Identifying demons has advice on shapeshifters and possession and various demon species that sometimes pass as human. You can do something like a DNA test to identify many kinds of demon, apparently. They've been building an encyclopedia of blood and tissue and hair and glowing ooze samples from crime scenes around the country, now that they know what to look for. There are demons with regenerating powers, and they're studying the regenerating heart tissue of one particularly dangerous species for possible medical applications.

History of the supernatural includes a guest lecture from a cheerful anthropologist who explains that humans and demons in some societies may have lived and worked together, and a lot of deciphering references in old books. Dracula is a real thing, apparently. 

One of the lecturers takes Karen aside after the second day. "Hey! I have a question, do you have a minute?"

Permalink Eye

"Sure, what can I do for you?"

Permalink Eye

"So, uh, this class usually includes a day covering the slayers. Most of them - well, all of them died in the line of duty, and mostly very young. If you'd like to skip the lecture, or read the notes in advance so it isn't surprising or upsetting, either of those things would be completely reasonable. The world's a better place now, you have more support than slayers used to, and better weapons... I don't think you should be scared or anything, it just seemed like it could be an upsetting lecture."

Permalink Eye

"Oh! That's really considerate, but I'm fine, actually? I can look at the notes anyway, but I sort of know about the dying part."

Permalink Eye

"Okay! It's up to you but I have a copy of the notes here if you decide you do want to read them."

Permalink Eye

"Sure, I can look at them. Thanks."

Permalink Eye

The notes are scattered up through the 20th century and pretty good from then forward. Slayers often don't make it to their eighteenth birthday and those that do have a tendency to die on it. There's one who made it to 22 before being killed in a New York subway by the same vampire that killed a different slayer a century earlier.

Permalink Eye

This is not terribly new information, but she reads it with interest anyway. She likes history.

She writes home to Azalea and Alex and Wishbone, summing up the cool parts of summer camp and some of the neat things she's learned and some of the potential friends she is potentially making. She tries to go light on the complaints, and resists the urge to leave some kind of secret code in Alex's letter that works out to 'everything is terrible, can't wait for Deathtrap School to be in session again'. It's not that bad. Her brain is screaming a little less this week.

She is to all appearances moderately enthusiastic when it's time for the slayer lecture.

Permalink Eye

The Slayer lecture is exactly as promised! There's grainy surveillance video of the fight in the New York subway. They stop before the part where the Slayer dies, which means it's mostly just a really cool fight. A lot of the kids look fairly upset on Karen's behalf. 

"Isn't the test of the Slayer's abilities, uh, murder?"

"Yes," says the lecturer. "Prosecutions are complicated, though, and the last six incidents have not been in the United States."

"Do other countries have organizations like this one?"

"I wouldn't know."

Permalink Eye

She cheerfully takes notes on all of this. There's really nothing to be upset about. Maybe it's the whole already-having-died-twice thing.

Permalink Eye

Invisible girl picks a name. It's Trace. "I think it sounds cool."

Permalink Eye

"It's nice! Trace."

Permalink Eye

"I'm gonna go back to the facility during the daytime and see if I can get down to the lower floors."

Permalink Eye

"Makes sense. You don't think they'll catch you?"

Permalink Eye

"No one ever thinks about me. And they didn't last time."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Be careful, though, they have to remember that they have an invisible camper."

Permalink Eye

"I'll be careful."

Permalink Eye

Then she'll just have to wait to hear back. She feels a tiny bit guilty about wanting to know what exactly they're doing down there, especially since she hasn't been taking on any of the risk of finding out on her own, but such is life.

Permalink Eye

Her cabinmates do not seem to feel similarly guilty. They stay up playing Twenty Questions and this time when the door opens they don't freak out. 

"Hi!" says Trace. "I made it into the elevators, but the lower floors have locked doors. I don't think they're offices, though. The doors were reinforced."

Permalink Eye

"Could just be how they build military installations."

Permalink Eye

"I guess."

          "But the doors on the first floor weren't reinforced?" said Callida. 

"Nah, those ones seemed like normal doors."

          "There's got to be a way to get in."

"I might try to steal a keycard but I don't want to get in trouble."

Permalink Eye

Karen, too, doesn't really relish the thought of getting in trouble. She told Alex she would be polite. She's pretty sure that breaking into people's offices is traditionally considered impolite.

 

It takes about a week for letters to get to Sunnydale and for replies to get to the camp. Azalea's is half a page long, which is really pretty impressive for her. The other half of the page is taken up by Connor's drawing of her leading troops into battle against an army of what she supposes are vampires, judging from the fangs. Wishbone's letter is ten pages of typed text, because he's just like that as a person. She reads it all the day it arrives. Halfway through the third page, inserted apparently at random between unrelated anecdotes about how he's spending his summer, there's a note. 

I find it very interesting that the government claims to be using the regenerative properties of T'kelt demons in modern biomedical research. T'kelt regeneration is magical in nature, and stops working the moment the source demon dies. I suppose someone could separate a piece of the T'kelt demon's body while it lived, and perhaps make use of the separated parts, but it would require periodically harvesting tissue from a living captive, and ensuring that the captive remained alive. I've often found T'kelt demons very rude, myself, but if humans have been doing vivisections then I suppose I find that a bit more understandable.

 

She doesn't give any patently obvious outward sign that this bothers her. Maybe she fidgets more. Maybe she sleeps worse that night. She has a half-formed thought in her head that refuses to quite come together, and it bothers her, but it won't go away.

"D'you think the lecture materials from last week are still in the camp somewhere?" she asks Trace, the next day, idly picking at her macaroni and cheese.

Permalink Eye

"I think Melissa carries them around. Don't you take notes?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, there's just this thing I sort of half-remember and I'm not sure if I have it in my notes correctly? And - I dunno, it's bugging me."

Permalink Eye

"What?"

Permalink Eye

She bites her lip.

(They could be listening. They might not be on her side.)

"This thing about the regenerating demons that they're using in medical research or whatever? I just - I remembered something I think I might have heard about them that makes the thing not quite line up. And it's probably nothing, but it just - it smells weird."

Permalink Eye

"Ooooh," whispers Trace excitedly. "The thing they're hiding."

Permalink Eye

"It's probably nothing. But - yeah. Possibly."

Permalink Eye

"And you don't want to just ask Melissa because you don't want her to notice that anything's weird. I could check where she takes the notes and supplies after class."

Permalink Eye

" - yeah. That would be - kind of awesome, actually."

Permalink Eye

"Consider it done," she says with maybe entirely too much satisfaction in her voice.

 

Melissa, it transpires, takes the books and lecture notes and her computer to her car after the lecture, and then drives home with it after an afternoon meeting. "So you'd have about an hour, if you skipped swimming, to go look through the notes for whatever it was that bothered you," Trace reports solemnly.

Permalink Eye

"Computer's gotta be password protected," she notes. "Good work, though. Might be something in the paper notes."

Permalink Eye

"It turns out people just type their passwords sometimes and don't even check if there's someone looking over their shoulder."

Permalink Eye

She smiles, slowly and appreciatively. "You're very good at things, you know that? - there's also the matter of getting into the car, I guess."

Permalink Eye

"I don't have anything for that."

Permalink Eye

She nods. "I have an idea. I don't like my idea, but I have it. D'you think Rebecca's gonna run to the teachers if we ask her for help?"

Permalink Eye

"She hasn't said anything about me breaking into places."

Permalink Eye

"True. OK. There's a camera on the cars, so if I get caught, then - I guess I'm just really excessively into learning."

 

Permalink Eye

" - isn't that what you wanted Rebecca for? She can knock it around so it faces a different direction."

Permalink Eye

"Ohhh. That's smart. I'm dumb, I just wanted her to get into the car without resorting to obvious property damage."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, I guess she can unlock them from the inside. See, didn't think of that one."

Permalink Eye

"We make excellent partners in crime," smiles Karen.

She finds Rebecca afterwards. "Hi. I could use your help with a thing, but it's kind of a sketchy thing so I understand if you don't want to."

Permalink Eye

"Oooh, what?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm trying to get some demon info out of Melissa's car. It'd be a lot easier if someone could point the camera away and unlock it from inside. It's technically illegal, but I'm not gonna steal anything, just look at it."

Permalink Eye

"That's intense. What do you want to look at, do you think she's in on the conspiracy?"

Permalink Eye

- she's honestly super unclear on why everyone thinks there's a conspiracy now. "I dunno. It was something she said during lecture. Just didn't quite match up with other stuff I know. I don't wanna tar her good name until I know more, but it's plausibly kind of a big deal. I won't know until I double-check."

Permalink Eye

"All right. I got you."

Permalink Eye

"OK. Tomorrow, then. We'll have to skip swimming."

 

She can't sleep that night. Breaking into people's cars is way more illegal than - actually, going off the trails and checking out the outside of a secret government facility isn't really illegal at all. Maybe messing with the vents is. It's not very illegal. What she's doing is, like, an actual crime. Not that she hasn't committed actual crimes before - investigations at Sunnydale High require nonzero ethically and legally hazy snooping around, plus there's the whole serial killer killer thing - but it's still the sort of thing that could get her in actual real trouble.

On the other hand, she has this image of an alien strapped to an operating table, doctors shuffling through her organs and determining through trial and error which ones she doesn't need, and she doesn't know anyone's language and doesn't know whether the scary foreign doctors are trying to kill her or not. And maybe that's not what happened. Maybe they asked. Maybe they paid her. Maybe they told her 'ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country', and maybe that was enough.

But maybe it wasn't.

She tries paging Alex. She knows it won't work. She tries anyway.

Permalink Eye

Alex is out of range. 

Permalink Eye

Can you pass on to Tyelcormo that Karen's trying to reach him? Has he been writing her?

Permalink Eye

I am going to bet no. I'll tell him. 

 

 

He says to not read her mind, she was stressed about that.

Permalink Eye

Yes, he mentioned and I haven't been. Her counselors like her, say she has some friends. The kids are running around trying to figure out if there are more government conspiracies beneath the big government conspiracy that they already know of. I think she's actually too paranoid to work very well within the initiative once it's in Sunnydale, so it might make the most sense to embed one of her friends in it and give them permission to share information with her. 

Permalink Eye

Are there conspiracies for the kids to find?

Permalink Eye

Well, there's the thing where we overthrow Central American governments for being too Communist.

Permalink Eye

That's not your department! 

Permalink Eye

The office building is just an office building, but it's an ugly, bizarre, complicated world out there. I don't know what Karen is paging Tyelco about but I don't want to assume it's nothing. 

Permalink Eye

Rebecca knocks the camera off course and unlocks Melissa's car and then runs off to play volleyball, which everyone else plays in swimsuits and which she plays in a full-length robe to protect her skin.

Permalink Eye

Cool cool cool.

It's probably nothing, it's probably nothing, she just has to see the notes and confirm that she misread and then she can go back to being normal levels of miserable and not excessively concerned about the government being overrun by anti-alien nazis.

She turns so the camera can't see her face if it happens to be moved back, then checks whether Melissa has any of last week's lecture notes in her car.

Permalink Eye

Yep! 

 

She didn't misread the notes, they're doing research with the regenerative heart tissue of T'Kelt demons.

Permalink Eye

Ugh.

(Man, losing a piece of your heart sounds even worse than losing a piece of your kidney. Maybe if it was only a few cells or something - )

She opens up the computer and logs in. Maybe she can find - she doesn't even know. More lecture notes? Something that looks like sources to be integrated into lecture notes? Anything labeled 'TOP SECRET, KAREN DON'T READ'?

Permalink Eye

There's a big encyclopedia of files on demons. Some kinds of demons are even more classified and want an additional password, but many are available. The notes include records of experiments. The experiments seem to usually leave the demons comotose or with brain damage, though there are three marked SUCCESS.

Permalink Eye

("They have an idea to make them harmless." She is so stupid. Of course to make someone really harmless you'd have to destroy their ability to do basic things - )

Any details on the successes? Any details on the failures?

Permalink Eye

Failures are usually coded either failure-death or failure-nonresponsive or failure-sys or failure-max or failure-min or failure-no-effect. Successes aren't noted further. 

Permalink Eye

Ugh. OK. OK. She has - maybe forty minutes, tops, if she wants to get out of this car without arousing suspicions. They could obviously catch her, she's left fingerprints or whatever all over everything; if she wants to have a shot at safety then she needs to keep them from looking. So forty minutes at the outside, and thirty to be safe. She isn't super sure what happens if she gets caught, but the dead and lobotomized demons are definitely causing her to update in favor of 'bad things, probably'.

She writes down the specific types of demons operated on and looks the species up in the encyclopedia. Sapient? Non? Typically violent? 

Permalink Eye

A mix. All the 'successes' were non-sapients, looks like. All species that are marked typically violent or situationally violent.

Permalink Eye

Humans, she figures, are probably most accurately considered situationally violent critters.

Callida's half Bracken demon, she does remember that. What's the encyclopedia got on Bracken demons?

Permalink Eye

Pictures, habitat range, powers (a great sense of direction and the ability to smell magic), treaties and relationships, situationally violent.

Permalink Eye

Lovely. Of course the available data doesn't necessarily mean that they're hurting things just for being in the 'situationally violent' category. It could only be, like, convicted criminals who have gone through some kind of parallel justice system that doesn't feature juries of their peers. That's - still horrifying, actually, but less of a loose cannon swinging around.

(She wonders whether Amy's mom got experimented on. Whether the zookeeper is in a box somewhere with half of his brain cut out.)

(She is committing a crime right now. Carjacking's a federal crime or something now, right, can't you technically get life for it? Maybe it's only carjacking if you move the car?)

She should be looking for something. She's gonna think of something later and be really mad that she didn't think of it when she was in the car. She can't think of what it is right now.

She checks for entries on vampires, vampire slayers, and Quendi.

Permalink Eye

Quendi aren't in there. Vampire slayers aren't in there. Vampires are typically violent. Forty experiments failed-no-effect and twelve failed-max.

Permalink Eye

Well, right as far as it goes. Lots of experiments on vampires, but if you're gonna cut into anyone then nearly-obligate-evil people with regenerative healing powers are about the least bad ones you could go with.

Anything easily findable about the facilities where these experiments were performed? She doesn't need or expect a location. Maybe who runs it? Maybe names of researchers involved? Maybe dates of specific experiments?

Permalink Eye

Nope.

Permalink Eye

Darn government, being at all more competent about things than random high schools tend to be.

She's got a more-than-halfway-formed thought that goes something like this: the government is capturing demons and experimenting on them, presumably without their informed consent, given the lobotomies and deaths. They may be limiting themselves to criminals, but lobotomies are pretty cruel and unusual, as punishments go. The government also has a summer camp for special people with special powers, including those of demonic-as-in-alien origin. It's not a fake summer camp, which means it's not straightforwardly a ruse to capture them all and steal their kidneys or brains or whatever, but it could very plausibly be a way of sorting them into people who are more useful to the government whole vs people who are more useful in pieces.

Annnd she has no trustworthy backup apart from Trace, and she can't safely contact her other friends, and she's pretty sure the US military is smarter and better equipped and has her and her band of B-movie superheroes outnumbered like a thousand to one, and she could probably escape but she probably couldn't escape with everyone else, and she clearly has enough power to have great responsibility here, but she's not sure she has enough to actually do anything.

 

She needs to get out of this car. She neatly packs up the papers the way she found them, logs out of the laptop and puts it back where she found it, steps out, locks the door behind her, and walks back the way she came without turning to see whether the camera has turned back. They won't have any trouble identifying her from her clothes anyway, if the camera has moved back, but might as well make them put some investigative effort in.

She goes back to the cabin and flops mournfully on her bed.

Permalink Eye

Callida brings her chicken wings and pineapple kabobs. "Missed you at dinner. Everything okay?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I just got super tired. Maybe I'm coming down with something. Thanks for the food."

She's going to have to come up with something to tell Rebecca. If they're in danger then the rooms are almost definitely bugged, but everyone's going to say things the moment they walk in -

- they can't know that she looked at the computer files, not unless they're reading her mind, and if they're reading her mind then she can't win at anything anyway. They could be reading Trace, too, but Trace can't know that she looked at the computer - she can maybe still play it off as just looking at lecture notes, maybe claim she really was just confused - they'll know that she broke into the car but they maybe won't know that she suspects anything -

- if she does it'll be harder to mobilize people later, if she needs to convince people to leave the camp in a hurry -

- she hates this, it's scary and hard and very uncertain and she doesn't even have anyone else whose orders she can just follow -

 

She sits on her bed and very calmly takes a few bites of her chicken wings. 

She should probably find Rebecca, it's probably safest to try to head this off at the pass. "Actually I'm gonna go check on something. Back in a bit."

Permalink Eye

Rebecca is at the lake, apparently, where kids are shooting flare guns out over the water like they're fireworks.

Permalink Eye

Good, that's a lovely amount of background noise.

"Didn't find anything," she says, with an air of resigned disappointment. "Well, lecture notes, but it turns out I just wrote the thing down wrong. That was super cool, though, what you did. They can't all be real leads."

Permalink Eye

"Awww. I guess that's good, I like Melissa. Want a flare?"

Permalink Eye

"The counselors gave them to you?"

Permalink Eye

"Shawn said no and Jerry said 'dignity of risk, man' and I didn't even have to point out that it's not risky, I'm telekinetic."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, what the heck." And so she cautiously experiments with flare guns.

Permalink Eye

Rebecca helps people get extra lift on their flare gun throws and they make pretty fireworks out on the lake and eventually retreat back to their cabins to sleep.

Permalink Eye

Everything is terrible. She goes to sleep without talking to Trace about it, because if she talks to Trace then she'll have to make decisions about whether to put her friend in danger or whether to lie to her friend or whether her friend is a necessary ally in - whatever it is that she's going to do about any of this, exactly.

If she wakes in the middle of the night and cries, she turns her face into the pillow and ignores it. Makes it harder to breathe, but nobody'll be able to see her, even if they do have night vision.

Permalink Eye

The next day Avi and Jake and Sarah are not at breakfast or in class.

Permalink Eye

Oh lovely.

She consults her notes for the relevant superpowers of Avi and Jake and Sarah, in case she had those written down somewhere.

Permalink Eye

Sarah is half Kwaini demon, Avi is half Frophla demon, and Jake lost his arm in a magical accident but can still grab and move stuff with it.

Permalink Eye

Well that's just super.

" - hey Trace? You seen Sarah and Avi around today?"

Permalink Eye

"Nah. Maybe they switched classes?"

Permalink Eye

"Maybe. - I dunno."

Permalink Eye

"You think something ate them?"

Permalink Eye

"I think - hm."

She gets out her notebook. Writes things down in ridiculously small letters that the best cameras maybe aren't good enough to pick up, if there are cameras.

This note needs to be thoroughly destroyed when we're done talking. There's something I want to talk to you about, but it could plausibly endanger you to know about it. And I don't mean expulsion, we're talking life and limb stuff, if that's not entirely too melodramatic.

She hands Trace her pen.

Permalink Eye

I think people are really just having fun, with the conspiracy stuff. You should just ignore them if it's making you actually really scared in real life. Not that I'm not happy to listen to whatever it is.

Permalink Eye

Yeah, I thought so, too. But now I think there's something there. 

Thing one - the government definitely has mind readers, so if I tell you the other stuff, then there's a chance that they'll find out what you know by reading your mind. I've been trying to keep them from doing it by, like, imagining that all of my thoughts are behind a waterfall that constantly plays music, but I don't actually know whether it's enough. It could be that the only way to meaningfully defend against it is to keep them from deciding to try.

Permalink Eye

Why do you think the government has mindreaders?

Permalink Eye

...promise not to tell anyone?

Permalink Eye

Well, yeah.

Permalink Eye

One of my friends is a mindreader. An OK one, one who doesn't read people unless it's OK with them or it's an emergency. They said there was one in government and at least one in range of the camp. They also said that the one in range of the camp wouldn't be reading people, and I mostly believed them, but I don't know how good their information is and I would really rather not bet lives on it.

Permalink Eye

Huh. Okay. Well, they can’t be paying very close attention - we’ve been doing lots of stuff that’s not allowed.

Permalink Eye

Either not paying attention or letting those things slide. Or taking it as information about us.

Permalink Eye

You're really good at this stuff.

Permalink Eye

I think I'm maybe just paranoid. Maybe not even paranoid in the right places.

If we are in danger - and we might not be, but if we are - then I think I have to tell you, because I don't think I can do what I'd have to do by myself. But since there are mindreaders in play, it's best not to tell anyone else anything that could get us caught. It might be worth it for you to try blocking them, but since I don't even know if that works, I think our first line of defense has to be having as few people in the know as possible until we have a plan.

Permalink Eye

That sounds pretty exhausting honestly, I don't think I'm going to do it.

Permalink Eye

It kind of is. I feel like we're probably screwed either way if they read us and aren't friendly, so that's pretty reasonable.

Permalink Eye

I bet they won't bother. No one wants to hear what a bunch of teenagers think.

Permalink Eye

Maybe.

She taps her pen irritably.

I'm worried about some stuff but I think I should probably talk about it later tonight.

Permalink Eye

Okay. 

 

Has anyone asked about the missing kids?

Permalink Eye

Nobody's said anything to me about it. Might be worth it to ask some of the counselors and see what they say.

Permalink Eye

 

The three of them snuck into town and into a bar and got drunk and have been expelled from camp.

Permalink Eye

This is totally plausible, but then she's been told that good liars try to tell plausible lies.

 

She makes it through the day. After dinner, she writes another note and passes it to Trace. 

So the thing is that the stuff I found in Melissa's computer included a lot of information about experiments that the government is running on demons. Lots of them are lobotomies, they leave the demons comatose or dead or with serious brain damage. At least one operation that involved cutting heart tissue from a living demon. A lot of cases on sapient demons. I don't know that it has anything to do with why the government decided to run a summer camp for superheroes, but I don't want to bet lives on it, especially with kids going missing. I'm going to head into town tonight and call for backup. You can decide whether you want to leave with me or stay here.

Permalink Eye

Wow. 


I'm with you.

Permalink Eye

Cool. 

She sort of thinks an at all competent evil summer camp would have the entire grounds covered, but it's possible they don't, so the cafeteria bathrooms are probably still their best bet. From there they can leave the camp and eventually circle around to the road, and from the road they can get back to the nearest small town. Towns mostly have payphones. She doesn't have a million quarters, but she thinks she has enough. 

She dials Dennis's number and asks his parents to put him on.

Permalink Eye

"Hey. Thought you were at summer camp."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, yeah, I am, but I think it might be an evil summer camp, so I snuck out, and conditional on it being an evil summer camp I think they might have my phone tapped? So I'm calling you instead of my sister, so that you can telepathically contact Alex."

Permalink Eye

" - so, uh, it sounds like you're keeping track of a lot of things right now, but I'm actually not telepathic."

Permalink Eye

"No, no, I know. He is. It'll work. Just - think the words 'paging Alex' at him, and then ask him, on a scale of one to ten, how sure he is that his Quendi friend in the government is not running an evil summer camp that exists to kidnap half-demons or figure out whether specific people are more useful as soldiers or as lobotomized lab rats, or whatever."

Permalink Eye

" - you know what, fine."

...paging Alex? Ugh, how would you even know if you were doing this right -

Permalink Eye

Cause I'll be like 'hey, what?'

Permalink Eye

Gah.

OK, uh, Karen wants to know how sure you are that your government Quendi friend isn't, quote, 'running an evil summer camp'? Sorting demon people into soldier types and lobotomized lab rat types? On a scale of one to ten. 

Permalink Eye

What's one and what's ten?

Permalink Eye

Man, I don't know.

"He wants to know what one and ten are."

Permalink Eye

"Um, I dunno, ten is 'I was actually my friend all along and am therefore as certain as one can be that their motivations are not that', and one is 'well, I know I told Karen that they were fine, but actually I met them once at a party a thousand years ago and they were giving off shifty vibes at the time, so come to think of it I actually know zero things.'"

Permalink Eye

Dennis attempts to think this at Alex.

Permalink Eye

Tell her ten. Does she want us to come out there?

Permalink Eye

She sighs when this is relayed. "No, not for a ten. Found some files about how the government is doing live dissections and lobotomies on sapient demons and stuff, which I'm pretty sure is unconstitutional or something on top of being really sketchy, but - "

Permalink Eye

"The government's doing what?"

Permalink Eye

" - but if he's really, really sure that the summer camp is safe and the kids who disappeared are gone for perfectly normal non-terrifying reasons, then - I guess I'll just head back before they notice I'm gone."

Permalink Eye

ugh. Can you hear all that, relaying both halves of this conversation is actually really annoying.

Permalink Eye

I can hear her. Tell her - ugh - staying at a camp run by demon lobotomy people is horrifying, learning about them doesn't matter that much, she should come home. 

Permalink Eye

"He says staying at a camp run by demon lobotomy people is horrifying, learning about them doesn't matter that much, and you should come home."

Permalink Eye

"Did he say 'horrifying' or 'dangerous', because those are different things."

Permalink Eye

It's entirely safe, but it sounds awful! There's no good reason to do it! 

Permalink Eye

I mean I feel like it actually kind of matters if the government is doing lobotomies on its citizens who happen to be other than strictly homo sapiens. 

"He says it's entirely safe, it just sounds awful and there's no good reason to do it."

Permalink Eye

" - OK, but see, the horrifying part is mostly the part where the demons get their organs stolen, and the part where people who are party to demon organ theft are currently in charge of a bunch of teenagers who also have some nifty demon organs, not so much the part where I have to play laser tag, and also yes, actually, if I have to work with the demon lobotomy people in the future then it actually kind of does matter how much I know about them?"

Permalink Eye

Tell her that while I am pretty sure everyone in that camp is safer there than anywhere in the world because in that sense I trust my friend ten, I am really pissed at him because I wanted her to be okay, not dealing with demon lobotomists and being scared for her friends, and the fact she is dealing with demon lobotomists makes me trust that he is trying to do right by her, uh, like, seven. At most. 

Permalink Eye

Dennis painstakingly relays this.

Permalink Eye

" - I mean I don't know that anyone here is personally a demon lobotomist. Just, when you learn that the government is capturing and hacking up demons, and has also collected a bunch of demons and other people likely to have interesting pieces and placed them in a summer camp thing, and some of the summer camp people have gone missing, there are certain possibilities that you have to phone home about and rule out."

Permalink Eye

Dennis, you are remarkably cool and if you want I will buy you an ice cream or something tomorrow. 

 

You're safe. Ten. I'd take it as a personal favor if you punched my friend in the face for putting you through hell summer camp when he all but promised not to but I bet you won't. Even though you should. It'd work really well. It's good for him.

Permalink Eye

Yeah at this point I feel like you kind of owe me. But thanks.

Permalink Eye

 

" - I think I have a personal policy against punching people in the face because I'm mad at them, and also even if I didn't, I haven't even seen your friend here, so it'd be kind of hard. Also I'm mostly upset about the lobotomies in the first place, but I don't really know if I should be, and in any case I feel like punching people is the wrong sort of response to that regardless."

Permalink Eye

I did know about that. We can talk about it sometime when we're not relaying through Dennis. Or you can ask my friend. He wants to meet you, he's just - 

 

- shy.

Permalink Eye

 

" - OK. Fine. If you think it's definitely not an evil summer camp. Thanks for the sanity check. And the caring."

Permalink Eye

Any time. Do feel free to run away and scavenge from dumpsters in the streets of Baltimore if that happens to beat staying. 

Permalink Eye

"I do know how to buy bus tickets. I'll keep it in mind, though."

She hangs up.

"OK. So. S'not an evil summer camp."

Permalink Eye

"Oh. That's good. - I mean, it's a kinda evil summer camp. Even if they didn't dissect our classmates for parts."

Permalink Eye

"I dunno. I think the government's probably doing evil stuff, but I feel like we kind of knew that? And it's like - I think probably the military can invade random places without it making NASA evil, or - something. So it could be that parts of the government are bad, but that the summer camp itself is mostly fine, in theory?"

Permalink Eye

"I guess. 

 

Kinda disappointing, though, isn't it? A superhero summer camp where nothing evil is happening?"

Permalink Eye

"I feel like it's gotta be bad practice to be disappointed about people being less shady than the most shady thing they could've been." She frowns. "They're still, like, profiting off of knowledge gained from the shady experiments, I guess that's kind of somewhere in the neighborhood of evil? It's like, evil's next door neighbor, or something?"

Permalink Eye

"I guess maybe that's close enough." They start walking back. "Are you gonna leave?"

Permalink Eye

"Nah. My friends thought I should, but I think just because they didn't want me to be sad about the demons that got hurt. And I think I'm gonna be sad anywhere, so might as well be sad at summer camp."

Permalink Eye

".... I guess it beats mattress stores. Mostly."

Permalink Eye

"I think I feel kinda better now that we don't have to stage a paramilitary uprising or anything. That would've sucked. - you know, I bet if you're like an investigator person then we could get you some kind of salary for it, and then you could stay in hotels and stuff? I guess there's the invisibility thing, but maybe if you wore enough clothes? Or like, wrapped yourself in bandages so people thought you were a burn victim or something. Maybe then you'd be able to check into hotels."

Permalink Eye

"The government suggested a personal assistant and had one on hand but - I don't like men."

Permalink Eye

"Ohh." So she actually can't just fling Alex at one hundred percent of her problems. "Did you ask them for one who wasn't a man?"

Permalink Eye

"No because I didn't want to tell them that."

Permalink Eye

"Fair. Well. I bet we could get you a salary, anyway. I do not have miraculous solutions to nearly as many problems as I wish I did, but I do have friends with money."

Permalink Eye

"That'd probably help. I could team up with some other girl who was homeless and she could do the interacting with society and stuff."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah! I bet that'd work. - thanks for helping with the investigating and stuff. I know it didn't turn out to be anything super dangerous to us personally, but I don't think we could've known that going in, really, and - I dunno. I was just cool of you."

Permalink Eye

"Anyone would've helped you out if you'd asked them."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe. I think most people wouldn't've been as good at it."

Permalink Eye

She doesn't say anything in response but she skips just a little.

Permalink Eye

She ducks her head and smiles.

(Maybe she is not completely hopeless at the making-friends-at-summer-camp thing.)

Permalink Eye

The next day they get a serious lecture about how, yes, they're able to get away with a lot here since it is a superhero summer camp after all, but really, if you sneak out and go into town and get drunk and get lost on the way back and Very Important people have to be called in to use magic to find you puking in the bushes, you will get sent home.

Permalink Eye

That's probably a vaguely sane policy to have.

She makes it through her classes and through afternoon sports without ever really approaching abject misery. She sort of has her waterfall stuck on now, out of habit, but she doesn't bother to make it play music, and this improves her mood a kind of substantial amount. She's able to go for as long as multiple hours at a time without irrationally worrying that all of the rooms are bugged and people are analyzing everything she does.

So now there's just that whole thing about how the government is maybe torturing tons of people.

She sneaks out at night, not because she can't sleep, but because she really doesn't even need eight hours anyway and staring at the ceiling is boring. She heads for the lake. She makes a little pile of rocks that are good for skipping, and then doesn't try to skip any of those, limiting herself to rocks that aren't shaped quite right to be skipped. This mostly results in rocks plopping disappointingly into the lake. She fails at skipping rocks for, like, an hour.

 

 

Paging Matt Carter. I guess. Actually maybe it's rude to do that at whatever hour this is.

Permalink Eye

That's very thoughtful of you but I just wouldn't hear you if I were sleeping. Everything all right?

Permalink Eye

I guess.

 

Tyelcormo said I should ask you about why the government lobotomizes demons.

Permalink Eye

Ah huh. We're not trying to. We're trying to figure out an implant for habitually violent species and for violent offenders in other species that'll let them go about their lives except that if they try to do serious harm to anyone they will fail. There's magic that is intent-triggered, that's the easy part, the hard part is something that immediately disables them without doing long-term damage. If it doesn't disable them instantaneously they can still murder people, they'll just have a headache afterwards, which isn't really the intent. The other hard part is that it has to be impossible to remove.

 

Permalink Eye

 

I guess that makes sense.

Permalink Eye

The alternative is killing them, so we're going to keep trying. We do kill them if they prefer that.

Permalink Eye

Ah.

She tries skipping one of her good rocks, and it plops right into the lake just like the others.

Permalink Eye

If you'd like, you can have your own clearance and read up on everything yourself.

Permalink Eye

I guess that'd be good. Probably won't help, but thanks.

Permalink Eye

It's pretty awful.

Permalink Eye

I guess.

Permalink Eye

You guess?

Permalink Eye

 

 

 

It's not like I'm in any position to take, like, a moral stand, or anything. I just kill people and then feel bad about it. 

I don't even super know what I thought the point of this conversation was going to be. It's not like it was going to go, 'hello, Mr. Carter, are you doing Nazi science things?' 'oh, yes, Karen, very astute, we thought that doing Nazi science things was a great idea.' 'oh, well you see Mr. Carter, you're probably like a million years old, and so I guess it makes sense that they didn't cover this when you were in sixth grade history, but actually the Nazis are the bad guys.' 'oh gosh, Karen, I had no idea, I'll inform the government right away that we should change our policy from doing Nazi things to helping blind orphans and teaching all of the vampires key kindergarten morality skills, like 'sharing is caring' and 'genocide is bad'.'

Permalink Eye

That's why Alex is always wanting to punch me in the face, see, he doesn't think I'm wrong and he doesn't think he could convince me if I was and he doesn't even think he has any grounds to have an opinion about it but if he got himself into a fistfight over it then, well, at least he did something about it. I don't think that works for people who aren't Alex, though if it does you're welcome to it.

Permalink Eye

Nah. He did ask me to punch you in the face, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't help.

 

I guess it's just, like, if you're sixteen and your friends are getting eaten by demons and your independent resources are, like, wooden sticks and a dog and some superpowers that are mostly only good for punching things, then you have to try to do things right, but if you mess it all up then what did anybody really expect, it wasn't like you ever really had a shot at finding whatever one ideal answer was out there, no matter how hard you thought about it. And if you throw your lot in with the government, and the government has all of the resources and all of the cards and all of the brainpower to get things just right, and they decide to do super evil things, and nobody ever stops to think about whether you could do fewer evil things, then I think maybe you all end up at Nuremberg or something, and also a bunch of other people end up dead.

And I guess you still have to do your best? But I guess I was hoping people's real best would be less... terrible.

Permalink Eye

If stopping is less terrible, we'll do that.

Permalink Eye

She throws a rock into the lake without even trying to skip it. It makes a satisfying little plunk noise.

I guess.

Permalink Eye

Do you?

Permalink Eye

She thinks of a bunch of different things she could say to that and dumps them all out behind her waterfall, which may or may not even actually be doing anything.

 

Maybe she should just throw ALL of the rocks into the lake. Fly, rocks. Be free. Plunk plunk plunk plunk plunk.

Permalink Eye

Karen, do you think I'm talking to you because you're the Slayer?

Permalink Eye

 

I dunno.

Probably not exclusively, but you definitely wouldn't be talking to me if I weren't, so kind of, I guess.

Permalink Eye

I guess technically everyone in Sunnydale would be dead if you weren't the Slayer. 

Permalink Eye

 

Yeah. I guess.

Permalink Eye

But setting that aside, I'm talking to you to figure out which stuff you can fix, and most of the people who want to figure that out don't have any superpowers, and it doesn't change the conversation much. I want to know how you're thinking about this because I want to direct you at problems you can actually fix and resources you can actually use. I am talking to you because it matters a lot what you want to do about this.

Permalink Eye

Plunk.

Permalink Eye

Have you thought about what you want, aside from 'no war crimes trials'?

Permalink Eye

 

 

I guess I don't like it when people die?

Permalink Eye

What things that you did last year seemed like the right things to be doing?

Permalink Eye

...I guess, uh. Saving the city was probably better than not that. Tranquilizing the hyena kids was useful, I guess. I was probably at all helpful for keeping the murder rate down. I guess I helped Daryl and Chris? And - I didn't really have anything to do with the Tucker thing. Training has probably been good in the sense that, like, if I hadn't done it then I wouldn't've been the sort of person who could save the city?

Permalink Eye

Alex's account of last year was that you independently discovered what Slayers were and what vampires were, saved a dozen lives, befriended a vampire who is now a reliable information source and ally, joined the school newspaper to provide cover for investigation into mysterious happenings at the school, alerted him to eight different instances of such mysterious happenings at the school, six of which turns out to be supernatural in origin and requiring immediate action, made several close friends, passed all your classes, learned archery, hand-to-hand unarmed combat, hand-to-hand combat with a stake, hand-to-hand combat with a knife, and safe use of half a dozen other weapons, tracked and tranquilized five students possessed by a demon, won the assistance and loyalty of an immortal knight knowledgeable about demons, disarmed your zombie classmate and successfully deterred him from bringing a knife to school again, helped other students with supernatural and naturally-occurring problems, ran nightly patrols for six months, drove the murder rate down by a factor of seven, saved the city and took time off from lessons a total of twice.

Permalink Eye

 

 

I guess that all technically happened. Except that a lot of the murder rate was him.

Permalink Eye

He usually needs backup to handle a city, even one less complicated than Sunnydale. We would've had to assign a bunch more people.

Permalink Eye

Oh.

Permalink Eye

I'm kind of curious if you could walk me through one of those events from your perspective. It seems like a lot to stumble into entirely accidentally without any guiding principles.

Permalink Eye

I mean it wasn't an accident, but -

 

I mean, like - I started doing this stuff because a vampire attacked me, and it didn't work out for her because apparently I had superpowers, and then a different vampire approached me and told me about vampires and slayers, because apparently he thought he'd live longer if he made friends, and so I looked stuff up about it because who wouldn't, you know, and I put together some basic information, and I started going out at night looking to learn more, and I ran into vampires trying to kill people, and so I stopped them, because that's what you do, when you run into people in the middle of murdering other people, and after I did that for a while I figured I should talk to someone to see if I could do any better, and I ran into a priest who was also one of you guys, and he called in Tyelcormo, and once I had someone who knew what they were doing, it was simple enough to improve at what I was doing, and then he pointed out other stuff that it made sense for us to be doing, and -

- I don't know what you want me to say. 

Permalink Eye

I'm getting that sense, yes. 

 

Maybe it's not fair to ask a question without answering it yourself. I want to end all of the suffering in all of the universes. I want to send off teams of scientists and diplomats into newly safe and peaceful worlds, to send back messages and pictures and poetry and to make promises, to everyone, about the people of Earth. I want every person in every world to have a place somewhere that'll take them in and I want us to be that place, for most of them, as far as we can. I want all the children in your summer camp to be able to walk down the street the way they are, without anyone blinking. I want the radio to have better sound quality and play better songs. I want humans to have a bit more time before they need to grow up. I want to stop being threatened with the apocalypse once a month. I want to make schools prettier. I want to replace prisons with this elaborate system that shuttles people off to dimensions where they're around kinds of people they won't or can't hurt. I want to find a nice young man for my executive assistant to settle down with. I want Alex to stop telling people state secrets such as his name.

Permalink Eye

 

I think he only gives it to dogs. And only before it occurs to him that some dogs might be able to figure out how to type.

 

 

 

 

I wanna stop having to kill vampires. I want people to stop dying in high school, and I want to find some way to make it happen that doesn't consist of murdering a bunch of other people. I want my sister and my nephew to be safe and well and OK, and I guess when I'm feeling idealistic I kind of want everyone to be safe and well and OK, even the people who don't deserve it at all. I want - I think I want to finish high school, just to say I did, and I want my teachers to think that I'm a sort of OK student and not the literal laziest person they've ever met. I wanna be a better person who doesn't have to confess the same sins over and over again. I wanna be the sort of responsible person who does the dishes and the laundry without being asked, and who keeps my room clean and doesn't let it be a disaster all the time, and who's able to cook real dinners when my sister doesn't want to. Maybe I wanna be sainted, except I think if you go around trying to be sainted then it kind of messes with your odds because your heart's not really in the right place. I kinda want everyone to think I'm the best writer for the school paper even though I probably actually can't be. I want to be really good at being the Slayer, and be good at all of the things a Slayer should be good at and then maybe some extra ones, too, and I want Alex and Wishbone to be really impressed with me all the time, and I want Alex to stop feeling like he's a terrible person, and I want Wishbone to be able to turn back into a human someday if that's what he wants, and I want all of my other friends to finish high school and most of them to be able to go to college. Except Zeke. I guess I just want Zeke to keep being really chill and not killing people and maybe figure out a way of earning money legitimately so he doesn't end up stealing blood all the time. 

I wanna find a way to become immune to bullets, so people can't just learn who I am and hire a sniper to take me out during fifth period English. I wanna kill Lurconis the baby-eater, even though I guess that conflicts with wanting everyone to be safe and well and OK, because I kind of think he sucks. I wanna know whether I should prioritize literally everyone being safe and well and OK or killing Lurconis the baby-eater. I want to - I want to go to Yellowstone someday, I think, and take my sister and my nephew camping and go with them to see the geysers and the weird bubbly hot springs and the buffalo or whatever, and if I live long enough and feel like I've done enough things then maybe I want to go to Alaska sometime and see the aurora and the seals and the icebergs and - I don't even know, the caribou, or the moose, or whatever they even have there. And if I live for a really absurd amount of time then I wanna go to Mars, and maybe Titan and Triton and Io and Europa, and I want someone to found Starfleet, and to call it that, just because they can, and for us to have replicators so nobody's ever hungry or sick or so poor that they don't know how they're going to provide for their kids, or whatever, although I kind of hope we don't give up money altogether because I don't really think the Federation has a sensible way of allocating scarce resources like specific vineyards in rural France.

I wanna learn Old English well enough to read Beowulf the way it was originally written down, so I can have really legitimate Beowulf opinions. I wanna beat Zeke at every game the arcade has, even the really stupid ones that aren't actually any fun. If I ever get to heaven then I wanna read every book that's ever been written in chronological order of composition, which I guess will also involve learning every language that's ever existed, and then when I'm done I wanna go back and do it again and see if I appreciate any of them more with the benefit of all of the literary context in the entire universe. I wanna finish the Ender books before that. I wanna see how The X-Files ends. I think maybe I wanna learn to knit someday. I wanna, I dunno, be a responsible enough person that I can take care of a venus flytrap or something without killing it. I wanna go to prom, the year after next, even though I'll probably have to go by myself and I'll probably end up standing in a corner with one my friends all night talking about how nonsensical the entire concept of high school prom is. I wanna learn to make those really good grilled cheese sandwiches that have bacon and onions in them, except I guess I also sort of want to be vegetarian because I sort of want everyone to stop killing animals so that Alex doesn't have to be sad about it, except I also kind of want Wishbone to have all the bacon he wants, and I don't really know how to resolve all of this. I want people to stop killing babies. I wanna have a real useful job someday, and know that I'm, like, part of the rest of society, or something, and maybe if I'm really good at it I wanna have enough money that I can buy fruit smoothies and cinnamon rolls whenever I want, and I wanna eat the fruit smoothies and cinnamon rolls on like a covered patio outside some house in the midwest somewhere, in one of those little towns where after it rains everything smells like dirt, but in a really good and wholesome way?

I wanna learn how to drive, and I wanna buy some beat-up old pickup truck that still runs OK from some nice old man who thought he'd give it to his kids before he realized his kids were going to want cooler cars that would be better for taking people on dates, and I wanna fill it with weapons and toolboxes and dog food, I guess, and drive it from city to city putting out fires and documenting weird happenings and punching demons until I magically earn their respect and we become unshakeable friends who would never betray each other. And I wanna go home often enough that I can still run D&D campaigns for part of the year, because I wanna learn to be a dungeon master, and I want everyone to say that my campaigns are the coolest, even though I think they probably won't be. I wanna finish writing stories, even if they're not any good at all. I guess I wanna write a novel someday, just to do it. I guess maybe I wanna write some nonfiction books about weird stuff, too, because I feel like the state of weird stuff research and documentation is maybe not as good as it could be, is maybe even sad enough that I might ever possibly have anything to contribute to it. I wanna do whatever's the best use of a vaguely competent Slayer's time, even if it's in practice slightly less awesome-sounding than driving a pickup truck through random towns and hunting ghosts and doing supernatural detective work with the aid of an immortal dog.

And I wanna make it to thirty, but I don't really think I will, so I'll take twenty-two.

- and I don't think I can actually have very many of those things, really, so mostly I want - when I get to the end of my life and I have to account for everything I did with it, I want the account to make any sort of logical sense at all, and when I'm giving it I want to feel like - like maybe I didn't do everything right, because no one ever does, but like I was at least the sort of person who occasionally tried to reach towards things that were good and useful and helped other people. Like at least some of the time I was actually trying to run the race marked out for me as well as I could, even if it was hard and confusing and I couldn't always see where the path was.

  

I dunno. Something like that.

Permalink Eye

That name is not spectacularly safe to repeat. That's on him, not you, but you should be careful anyway. 

 

A thing about the Slayer is that everyone knows about the Slayer, and a lot of bad people are very afraid of the Slayer, and so it actually sounds pretty spectacularly useful to have a network of allies everywhere who can benefit in the work they do from the fact everyone knows that your allies will call in the Slayer if it's actually needed. 

I think you'd have an awful lot of very cool material for your D&D campaigns.

Permalink Eye

Possibly.

Permalink Eye

Anyway, I think it's a reasonable list of ambitions. Do you think you're making progress on them here?

Permalink Eye

 

I don't know if they're mostly the sorts of things that you ever actually make progress on.

Permalink Eye

They sound like the kinds of things that you make progress on. People pass classes and buy trucks and make friends in lots of different places and kill baby-eating demons and visit Yellowstone and write books and get better at doing the laundry.

Permalink Eye

I guess some people have in theory done some of those things at some points in human history.

Permalink Eye

The great heroes of legend have even done two or three of them in the same lifetime.

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

I think I don't think about it that much because a lot of things are things that I can't get very much closer to for a long time, and some of them don't make very much sense anyway. And also I have this sense that it'll get depressing.

Permalink Eye

It is possible that humans are different this way but I find it really helpful to have some things on my to-do list that are a thousand years out. It helps with - hmmm, one thing it helps with is that when you're tempted to ask yourself 'who am I to be doing this' you can answer 'the kind of person I'll need to be to do these important things eventually'.

Permalink Eye

I think maybe that only works if you think you're ever going to do anything really important.

- and it's not even like I don't do that, OK, I don't think I'm gonna go kill Lurconis next Thursday, but knowing that I wanna lets me at least imagine that doing hard stuff is maybe getting me ready to do harder things someday, if I ever actually get that far, which I probably won't, but - if I thought about life in terms of figuring out how to actually kill Lurconis, or whether I was getting any closer to it, I'd crash and burn and give up in two weeks, and then I wouldn't be anywhere. 

Permalink Eye

That's interesting. Because there wouldn't be enough days where it felt like you'd made enough progress?

Permalink Eye

Because I wouldn't be accomplishing anything. And because - you'd have to -

I don't know how to say it.

Alex does this thing for the other kids in gym class where if they run farther than they've ever run before, or if they run a whole lap faster than they've ever run one before, then they get a cookie. And that's not easy to do it on any given day, not if you haven't been gaming it the whole time, but it's manageable, it's a thing you can theoretically do. You don't have to be a person who can run a mile in six minutes, you don't even have to aim for it, you just have to be pushing yourself in that moment and trying to do better than you've done before. And if he just gave cookies to people who ran a mile in six minutes, or whatever, then almost nobody would ever get a cookie, even at the end of the year when they've had all year to train for it, because it'd be so far away and so difficult and there'd be nothing to sustain anybody on their way there, so they'd give up before they started.

And - the thing about Sunnydale is that, like, it's sort of a terrible place, but it's always got all of these little problems lying around to be solved, if you can find them? And so even if you can't do anything really transformational, there are lots of chances to stretch the limits of your abilities just a little. And - man, I feel like even telling you this is going to break it, but - if I only thought about really big things then I feel like I'd never get to any of them, and then I wouldn't be getting anything done at all.

I don't even know if any of that is right, just -

Permalink Eye

You don't have to defend it to me. We're not trying to make you change plans here. We're - I've got a bunch of people who are not quite as good as you at arresting demons but capable of doing it at all, and we're trying to figure out where they will do the most good, and it seems like it's important to have some of them in Sunnydale, but it also seems like you've done a tremendous amount of good in Sunnydale and need the space to keep doing that, both for the sake of the city and for the sake of letting you keep getting stronger. So the challenging thing - and I'm sorry about putting you through all of this, but we need to know you to get anywhere on any of it - is figuring out where people should be so that you have more leverage on the problems where more leverage is helpful without having people overlapping you enough that it makes your work harder.

Permalink Eye

I guess that makes sense.

I don't know if I really have plans. 

Permalink Eye

Can I suggest some? If they're small and attainable?

Permalink Eye

You can suggest them even if they're not, I just get to veto them if I think they'll wreck everything.

Permalink Eye

Kara Wilitzer, the climbing coach, wants an assignment in Sunnydale next year. I know the climbing class is a bit of a waste of your time - I know the whole camp is - but it'd be good to know if you get along with her. Zach Befton in cabin 8 hasn't made any friends and has been eating dinner in his cabin so it's not obvious he's not sitting with anyone, you could intercept him. Emmy Sandovol hasn't been going to Mass because no one else in her cabin does and she doesn't want to go alone.

Permalink Eye

She doesn't really feel like making friends is one of her core competency areas, but she said she'd be nice. And she really doesn't have anything better to do now that the summer camp isn't evil.

I can try. And I think tend to reserve the phrase 'waste of my time' for things that don't result in learning several government secrets and making at least one friend.

Permalink Eye

Oh good. In the future if you want to learn government secrets you can try less felonious channels, not that I'm upset. Alex doesn't tell you everything you're allowed to know because he associates telling people things with giving them homework and figures you'll ask if you're curious.

Permalink Eye

Oh. Huh.

I mostly only commit felonies when I think someone might be trying to murder a bunch of people, though.

Permalink Eye

That's good. I could get you out of trouble regardless but I'd be awfully concerned if I was routinely springing you for grand theft auto.

Permalink Eye

I mean I do tend to have 'someone is trying to murder a bunch of people' as a live hypothesis. But I will try to avoid actually stealing cars unless I really really have to.

Permalink Eye

You have my undying gratitude. - we're not any kind of dead, we're just immortal. In case you were wondering.

Permalink Eye

I just kinda figured you guys were aliens.

Is your age a state secret?

Permalink Eye

I was born about thirty five thousand years ago but was in the dimension we go to when we die for much of the interim. Alex is 480 years younger than me.

Permalink Eye

Huh.

OK.

Permalink Eye

Our species is actually native to Earth, but most of us have left. There's - somewhere nicer - and we can go anytime we want.

Permalink Eye

Ah.

Weren't you ever in the nicer place, then?

Permalink Eye

Born there, actually. My grandparents left Earth.

Permalink Eye

Why'd you come back?

Permalink Eye

 

Before God created the universe he created the Ainur, his servants, and he charged them with creating and shaping and protecting the Earth, and one of them rebelled against him - you've heard this story, though some of the details got a little distorted somewhere along the way. We called him Melkor. God had said that even Melkor's designs would resound to the greater glory of the whole thing, and so they weren't very afraid of him...and it made sense, at first. They'd craft valleys and he'd fill them in with mudslides, they'd build mountains and he'd chew through them with glaciers, and it all made the world closer to the original vision for it. But they - they were tired of conflict, they don't like it, they don't really understand it, and they left Earth for Valinor, the realm of the Valar, and they made it perfect and temperate and beautiful and a haven, in different places, for every animal that has ever lived here or ever will. 

When the Quendi awoke on Earth the other Ainur weren't there. Melkor was, and he captured and tortured us and bred his captives into a race of monstrous slaves and sent them back to prey on the survivors, and they invented weapons and stopped travelling alone and retreated towards the waters of the lake where we first awakened and they didn't understand what was happening. One of the Ainur, Oromë, the Vala of hunting, had returned to Earth to hunt, and he ran across a tribe of Quendi, and that was how the Ainur learned we'd arrived in the world. They went to war with Melkor. They imprisoned him. They invited us to come to Valinor with them. A few people agrees to go as scouts. They went. It was - so peaceful, and so beautiful, and free of war and violence and hunger and every affliction of the body. Some stayed. Some went. For three thousand years they flourished, in both worlds. And then the Ainur decided to release Melkor. 

They weren't - it sounds like a stupid mistake to a human but Melkor was the only evil in the universe, and we didn't know what evil was, and he said he was so very sorry and that he wanted only to walk free among the peoples of Valinor as our humble servant. They released him. He arranged through some elaborate machinations to ensure the King's eldest sons believed each other to be plotting to usurp him, murdered the King, triggered a civil war, and fled to Earth to scour it of all life.

People in Valinor were uncertain what to do about this. The factions were 'wait and see if we get more direct divine guidance', or 'something other than that'. Second faction left.

Permalink Eye

Ah.

She's sort of beginning to see why Alex might have the sense that telling her things would constitute homework. Also she probably should have brought her flashlight out here so that she could plausibly take any notes during this conversation.

So you were in the second faction, then?

Permalink Eye

Yes.

Permalink Eye

And how did that go for you?

Permalink Eye

Very badly.

Permalink Eye

But you didn't go home?

Permalink Eye

No.

Permalink Eye

I see.

Permalink Eye

Some people did. 

Permalink Eye

Probably sensible of them.

Permalink Eye

I expect they're much happier.

Permalink Eye

Sounds likely.

Permalink Eye

I'm not really clear on how much sleep you need, but am I keeping you from it?

Permalink Eye

Not really. I was mostly out here pretending that I knew how to skip rocks.

Permalink Eye

It's a bit of a - it turns out you can send a sense-memory, sort of.

Permalink Eye

Huh.

She gives it a few more tries, eventually with somewhat more success.

Thanks.

Permalink Eye

Any time.

Permalink Eye

Eventually she heads back to her cabin and slips into bed and resolves to at least try to have a passable time at not-actually-evil summer camp. 

Mass and changing classes are things that happen at the end of the week, so the only quest she can get started on immediately is Zach, which is not really a quest that she expects to go very well but maybe she can at least avoid making anything worse. 

"Hey!" she says, the first time she passes him. "I haven't been seeing you at lunch. I heard it's gonna be pizza today."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, I'm allergic. Not to pizza, to the cafeteria. Not allergic."

Permalink Eye

"Oh. That sounds rough." Why would anyone ever give her this mission. Poor Zach. He doesn't deserve to pay the price for her incompetent attempts to prove that she's a sane and cooperative person to telepathic ancient not-aliens embedded in sketchy corners of the government. "Is it like a specific thing?"

Permalink Eye

He squints at her a bit bemusedly.  "Oh. No. It's, uh, the noise, and the smell, and the - people - cafeterias all smell the same no matter what food they're serving, don't they?"

Permalink Eye

She considers various cafeterias that she's eaten in over the course of her life. "...yeah. Well, not the one at home, the one at home kind of on and off smells like slime monsters went through it, which is I think kind of a different thing, but in general, yeah."

Permalink Eye

"Slime monsters?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, you know. I mean, there are different varieties of slimy things that have different official names, but I feel like my high school cafeteria just attracts an inordinate number of things that leave slime around? Not even all supernatural things, either, one time a bunch of slugs migrated into the kitchen for some reason, and then all of the trays smelled kind of like slugs for a while."

Permalink Eye

He giggles, weakly. "If that happened at my school my father would call the board of supervisors and yell about child abuse until they promised him I wouldn't have to eat with the other kids anymore. - I'm sorry, I'm not, like, I'm not trying to be all 'you know what my father will do', I never tell him anything, I promise, just, when I was eight they thought I had a dairy allergy and that's what he did so I can't even think what he'd do if there were slugs. Or slime monsters."

Permalink Eye

"No, yeah, that's not even unreasonable. Sunnydale High is a very special place. And by that I mostly mean that they should shut the place down because it is built on fundamentally unholy ground that causes problems for all who set foot there."

Permalink Eye

"Why'd they, uh, do that?"

Permalink Eye

"I kind of assume they didn't know at the time? Although I haven't nailed all the history down yet, and if you told me that Sunnydale High existed specifically because some very evil entities thought it would be funny to throw a bunch of high schoolers into the most dangerous possible environment within suburban America then I wouldn't really be very surprised."

Permalink Eye

Nodnodnod. Smile. Awkward foot-shuffling. "Uh, sorry, I forgot, what'd you need from me?"

Permalink Eye

Oh no.

Why did the not-aliens ever think she was qualified for this.

She probably has to say a thing here.

" - oh, yeah, you caught me. I don't need a thing. I just wanted to see how you were doing."

Permalink Eye

"Uh. Fine, aside from the allergy. The not-allergy. I - are you sure you aren't mixing me up with someone more interesting?"

Permalink Eye

"I kinda think everyone is interesting?" 

Augh.

 

Permalink Eye

"Um, they could be and that'd still be - it would still be pretty weird objectively speaking that you would want to talk with me. ...anyway I'm okay. I don't like summer camp but I don't really see how anyone likes summer camp and I don't dislike this summer camp more than last year's summer camp or the year before that's summer camp and nothing awful happened either of those years. Summer camp is the kind of thing that feels like the worst thing in the world, but doesn't actually kill you, you know? Sometimes I tell myself it's practice at doing things that feel like the worst thing in the world over and over and over again - I'm sorry, you have real problems -"

Permalink Eye

 

" - that is the most relatable thing I've ever heard in my entire life."

Permalink Eye

"I, uh, I don't think it's my original opinion or anything, probably someone else has said it before and I just read it."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, I don't even mean that it's necessarily super profound or anything, just - I think I'm bad at summer camps? I've never been to one that was ten whole weeks before, the last one I went to was two, but at the end of it I still wanted to go home more than anything else in the world? And I figured, you know, I'm older now, and I've seen dead bodies and learned how to do my own laundry, so probably summer camp will be fine? And - it's not literally the worst thing in the world, there are a couple things that're worse, but it's still pretty terrible, even though there's actually absolutely nothing wrong with it and it's supposed to be - fun."

Permalink Eye

"No it's not! It's supposed to get kids out of the way for ten weeks so their parents don't have to deal with them while school's out, except school isn't all day and all night so it has to be less superficially terrible than school so people don't riot."

Permalink Eye

"Oh." She frowns. "I mean I think this one is to give the US government information on budding superheroes and keep the budding superheroes from doing anything really stupid that'll get them killed before they can vote, but you could be right about the general case."

Permalink Eye

"- right, I guess there's that for this one.

But, uh, for parents to not feel bad about themselves for sending their kids to summer camp they have to sorta believe, or at least have enough grounds that they feel like a reasonable adult judging them would think they believed, that the camp was nice, so it has to contain nice things. But, if it was really about making kids happy, there'd be summer camps where you play video games the entire time. And there's not one of them. I looked this year. I don't even like video games that much but it seemed like the other kids would be distracted a lot."

Permalink Eye

"...I think that's probably because you can play video games at home, so the kids who want to play video games all summer don't have to go to summer camp to do it? And you can't, like, do proper wilderness survival training without a wilderness."

Permalink Eye

" - I guess. You could still have, you know, lots more games and way better computers but I guess at least your market would be smaller. There could be LARP camps. There aren't LARP camps. .... I still don't think there're millions of kids who want wilderness survival training, I think there're millions of parents who want to send their kids to wilderness survival training."

Permalink Eye

"This is possible. ...I'm, uh, I'm not here because my parents couldn't stand me, I'm here because my friend thought it'd be a good idea to meet people who were in the know about weird stuff but who didn't live in Sunnydale, in case there are local effects such that we'd benefit from having friends who were in other places. Also then I thought the summer camp might be evil and he thought I should come home, except he only thought that because I sounded like I wasn't having a good time, and I was like, no, if it's important for me to be here then it's still important for me to be here if I don't happen to like it all the time, and now I sort of regret it and sort of want to go home, but I also feel like I have to stick it out now for reasons of honor. Or something. And it really would be better to have friends who weren't in Sunnydale."

Permalink Eye

"Why does it matter where your friends are? And isn't it a lot more useful to have friends where you live?"

Permalink Eye

"Well, normally, but Sunnydale has this problem where it's a hub of crazy and evil for weird mystical reasons. As a result, there are sometimes mystical phenomena that affect everyone who you can easily reach, but which don't affect people who are far away, so faraway people are really good for, like, reality checks and things, or for getting data on whether you're even always able to contact people outside the area. Also some of the evil things are migratory or have friends in other places, and so it's good for the good guys to be connected, too, so that we have more resources and can work together better, instead of just being a bunch of scattered individual people who can't do very much on our own."

Permalink Eye

"Oh. Huh. ....well I don't have any useful superpowers or I'd offer to help, I'm sorry."

Permalink Eye

"Superpowers aren't as be-all end-all as you might think, really. ...what is your thing?"

Permalink Eye

"I have the worst superpower ever. I'm not even sure it counts but they haven't sent me home yet, so." Shrug. "Uh, I get these really awful headaches and then I see something bad happening to someone somewhere. I, uh, I'd call the cops, and pretend I was near where it was happening and I'd seen it, only one time my dad overheard and figured I was making fake 911 calls..."

Permalink Eye

"- woah, you're a seer? That's like the best power! Well, except for the headaches, that sounds kind of horrible. But other than that. Especially if they're clear visions. I think I get prophetic dreams sometimes but they're mostly pretty useless. Not completely useless, but like - not the most straightforward way to learn things."

Permalink Eye

"It really isn't. It's, like, once a month, and usually I collapse in front of people, and the police are almost always too late."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, that is a lot worse than it could be. But maybe if you had better communication lines then people would be able to get there in time more consistently?"

Permalink Eye

"I - yeah, probably. The government people also thought it'd happen more if I was in a big city, thought it might have a range limit."

Permalink Eye

"Do you think it does? Like, is it always in your area?"

Permalink Eye

"I've never had one that was too far away."

Permalink Eye

"That makes sense. Maybe you should move to New York or someplace. Except for how you're a minor and can't do that and also might not want to do that because of the headaches."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. I dunno if I'd ever have enough time between headaches to call 911, in New York."

Permalink Eye

"Ah. ...maybe someplace medium-sized. I hear Cleveland has problems. Or, uh, alternatively maybe a remote village in Alaska, if you don't wanna keep dealing with it. Except I guess you still can't. Although if you wanted to I bet the government could help you."

Permalink Eye

"My dad would be so mad. It's - 

 

- I guess this isn't very superheroic but I just wish it'd stop, I just wish it'd happen to someone else."

Permalink Eye

"No, that makes sense. Uh - in comics it always seems like everyone with superpowers ends up either a hero or a villain, but I feel like most of life is actually not criminals and crime-fighting. So, uh, I think it's OK if you wanna do other stuff. I'd take it if I could but I guess that's not how these things work."

Permalink Eye

"I can't - I feel how scared they are. I can't do other stuff. I just wish I could. You can have it, if they ever figure out how. It hurts really bad."

Permalink Eye

"Ah. I'm sorry."

Permalink Eye


"Uh. Anyway, there's. That. Sorry to be a downer."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, no, depressing things are sort of weirdly - I feel kind of better now. Thanks. ...do you maybe wanna grab some pizza? We don't have to stay in the cafeteria to eat it if you don't want to."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. That sounds ... good."

Permalink Eye

Well, that could have gone worse. Zach probably doesn't totally hate her or anything.

When Sunday rolls around she goes to find Emmy and see if Emmy is at all interested in attending Mass with her.

Permalink Eye

Emmy is kind of startled by this. "I - yeah. Um, how'd you know?"

Permalink Eye

"Oh, uh, I don't know any other Catholic people here and it's kind of lonely going alone? I guess someone must have said something at some point."

Permalink Eye

"I, uh, haven't been. Going. Specifically because I thought people'd think it was weird which is even worse I think."

Permalink Eye

"It's not ideal. I can't receive either this week, though, so, y'know. But we can still go if you want?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. I do want. Karen, right?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah! You're Emmy?"

Permalink Eye

"Mmhmm. I was in survival with you the first week before I decided to take mornings off."

Permalink Eye

"Ohhh, right, I remember. - we can take mornings off?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. I think kind of unofficially. One of the girls in my cabin kept nodding off during morning classes so Melissa said she might have more fun if she just slept in and I asked if that was just her or everyone and Melissa said 'this isn't Bible camp, we're not going to yell at you for anything short of arson' which I think she meant in a friendly way but which actually just made me feel worse, because."

Permalink Eye

" - right, yeah. I think I'd naively expect a government-run summer camp staffed by military personnel to be stricter than Bible camp, but - well I'm sure she didn't mean anything by it. Maybe when she was our age her summer camp experiences were less than ideal, or something."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah I think that's how she meant it. And - I think they're trying hard not to have it be a military camp just because the military people are the only people who are supposed to know about us. And I appreciate that. But - I mean I did a Bible camp last summer and it was actually really nice. It was before, uh - before anything went wrong and - they weren't actually strict about anything that I'd want to do so even if I guess technically it was strict it wasn't?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. - 'We're not gonna yell at you' doesn't even really tell you what the rules are anyway. But I guess they are trying pretty hard not to make it...... stifling."

Permalink Eye

"They're trying very hard. And they're soldiers, their first expertise is at keeping us alive and fighting the bad stuff out there and following orders when things are complicated, running a summer camp is not easy for them and they're doing it so we're all a little less alone." But she says this a little by rote. "I just miss being normal and not scared all the time."

Permalink Eye

" - I mean I think the military does actually run military summer camps, too. But, uh, yeah. D'you - I don't know if it's rude to ask what happened last year - ?"

Permalink Eye

"I lay eggs. 

 

They said it's because I'm half demon but I d-d-don't think so, I really don't."

Permalink Eye

" - gosh. That sounds super rough."

Permalink Eye

She stops walking and nods and trembles a little bit. "The - the first ones died because I didn't know what was going on, I didn't know, I told someone eventually but I could've told them seven months sooner and -

 

- they figured out an incubator and only one of them has died since then but they're - they're little lizards I don't know what I'm supposed to feel I don't know what I'm supposed to do I don't know if they're people and there's one every month and the only people who can possibly -" she gestures at the camp - "but they keep saying 'demons' and maybe they're right -"

Permalink Eye

" - I gotta explain the demon thing in a second but do you want a hug first?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes."

Permalink Eye

She hugs her. For a pretty long time. They have time before Mass, she planned ahead like a responsible person.

"I don't think I'd know how to deal with something like that at all. It sounds - really hard."

Permalink Eye

"I'm okay," she says, while crying pretty hard actually. "It's not that bad really."

Permalink Eye

"Shh," she whispers, sort of reflexively. "It sounds bad. I don't even - man, I'll never complain about my destiny again."

Permalink Eye

She clings a bit. "Everyone's - everyone's been really good - I mean - they figured out the incubators and the food and they promised, they'll take care of all of them, whatever they, uh, need, it's more than - more than I would have expected the government to do really if you'd asked me what the government would do but -"

Permalink Eye

She hugs her tighter. "How many do you have now?"

Permalink Eye

"Eight died, the first seven and one in the incubator that seemed fine we don't know what happened. Three hatched. One'll hatch next week - I go to visit them but I hate it, I feel so sick -"

Permalink Eye

"Of course you do. It's - I keep wanting to say 'it's OK' but it's not, really, it's a totally completely unfair thing that's been asked of you. Um - I do think I'd better explain about how demons work, but we can hold off if you want - "

Permalink Eye

"I'm not going to hurt them no matter what you say but you can explain if you want -"

Permalink Eye

"Shh, shh, no, of course not. The thing is that - when people noticed weird stuff happening, it was a really long time ago, before the scientific revolution and stuff, you know? And they didn't always have good words to talk about what they were seeing. So a lot of the texts we have just use the word 'demon' in English, but most of the things we're dealing with aren't demons, not in the religious sense. I don't have a hundred percent of the details all worked out, but I know for sure that real demons are spiritual entities - they don't have their own bodies like you and me do. They're spiritual entities that are ordered towards doing as much evil as they can, like, you know, twisted reversed angels. And some of the things I deal with are that. But your lizard babies, and you, and a bunch of other people inside and outside this camp - people call them demons because that's what they've been called for a long time, and because they don't know or care about how any of it works on a theological level. But they're not. They're just, like, aliens and stuff, some of them animals and some of them people and some from other worlds and some from the weirder corners of ours. And some of them are just bad news all the time, but a lot of them - maybe most of them aren't, they're just... different. Sometimes really different, sometimes in ways that make them really hard to coexist with or do right by. But they're not just evil the way demons in the Bible are, and if you try to think of them as the same class of thing then you'll get a bunch of things wrong all the time."

Permalink Eye

Sniffle. Hug.

Permalink Eye

Hug.

"Also I got a mindreader friend and I can ask him to mind read your lizard babies if you want and see if they're people. But he might not be able to distinguish really new babies from animals, I haven't asked him to mind read any babies before."

Permalink Eye

"It'd - it'd be good to know."

Permalink Eye

"Mhmm. I'll ask him later and see if he can tell anything."

Permalink Eye

"They're - they're not baptized because I didn't know what to do or if water's even safe for them and -"

Permalink Eye

" - oh gosh, yeah. You can do it yourself but I don't know about the water thing - it doesn't take very much but I wouldn't want to hurt any of them - "

Permalink Eye

"It's probably fine I just didn't know what I was doing and I felt like - I killed most of them already what do I think I'm doing -"

Permalink Eye

"You didn't mean to. It was so - I have no idea what I'd do if something like that happened to me, especially if it'd happened when I was still living with my parents - probably panicked and run away or something, I don't even know. But it's - you had no idea what was even happening."

Permalink Eye

"I didn't - I'm not sure it was a sin but they're not less dead."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

Permalink Eye

Hug. Hug hug hug. 

Permalink Eye

Many, many hugs.

 

Paging Matt Carter.

Permalink Eye

Hey, Karen.

Permalink Eye

I'm kind of in the middle of a thing so I might randomly stop answering in a bit here. Also if this is a bad time on your end you can of course tell me to call back later. I assume you know all about Emmy's thing.

Permalink Eye

Yes, I'm sorry I didn't tell you but that was up to her.

Permalink Eye

No, no, I get that, I just want to check whether your telepathy is any good for distinguishing baby people from baby not-people, and also ask whether you know Alex's brother and have contact with him such that you can ask him about - man, I don't even know, whether there's anything a person should know about baptizing alien lizard babies. If you don't then I can ask Alex to ask him but if I do it that way it'll take a while.

Permalink Eye

We can't tell baby people and baby not-people apart, unfortunately. I know Alex's brother and I can ask him about baptizing alien lizard babies - you know, it should be possible to check if it was in retrospect a valid baptism, if nothing else that'll be some information about whether they are people-lizards.

Permalink Eye

Oooh, yeah, that should be possible. We might need a vampire or something, though, unless you have other ways of telling. ...I guess you have vampires.

Permalink Eye

Yes. We tried breeding vampire mice for this but we didn't get anywhere.

Permalink Eye

I mean that's not surprising, animals don't have the same kinds of spirits that people do. It's good that you checked, though. Thanks.

Permalink Eye

Of course. Do you think Michael should come out here?

Permalink Eye

I'll ask Emmy later. Thanks.

 

"OK. It's gonna be OK. You still wanna go to mass? I think we should, it's really even more important when things are going terribly."

Permalink Eye

Nodnod.

Permalink Eye

So they go to Mass. Mass is pretty good even when she can't receive. 

After Mass she grabs a bulletin and looks up confession times, just in case Emmy wants to do that before next week. Their options are early Monday and Wednesday morning or Saturday afternoon.

"Maybe we could go together? I'm kinda bad at going places by myself sometimes."

Permalink Eye

"That'd be good." Slightly suspicious sniffle. "Are you really?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. I can do it if I have momentum or if someone's depending on me or if I have, like, a sacred duty or something, but sometimes if I just have to do a thing for me I get stuck."

Permalink Eye

"I used to be pretty good at doing stuff if it was important." Sigh.

Permalink Eye

"I don't know that I do stuff because it's important, exactly. It's - I'm not sure what it is, exactly. Some kinds of things are just easier than others."

Permalink Eye

"My mom was really excited about this camp because she wanted me to meet other people like me but - there aren't, really, there's people with superpowers."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. - well, I mean, sort of? I think of the people I know so far there's - there's one girl who got made invisible because people ignored her, and she can't turn it off and it's got a lot of upsides but it's also kind of rough in a lot of ways. And there's a boy who gets horrible splitting headaches every time someone nearby is in trouble, and he wishes it would stop but he also can't just ignore it, you know? And Callida rips her sheets on her spines a lot and Jasmine is blind but can see movement but there are still a lot of things she can't see, and - I think everybody else's powers at least come with something good attached to them, yeah, and your thing is - from here it just looks scary and confusing and it's not even clear how to really classify something like that. And it does sound really really hard, I don't want to minimize that for like a second. But - I think a lot of kids here can probably kind of relate to it at least a really little bit? Because their scary confusing things are more, uh, obviously useful, but they're still kind of scary and confusing sometimes. ...I dunno if that helps any."

Permalink Eye

 

"It does a little bit, yeah. I was - maybe I was just expecting everyone to be exactly like me and then when their trials were shaped differently I decided I wasn't going to get along with them, and I shouldn't have."

Permalink Eye

"That makes sense. - um, so, I did think of a thing, when I was thinking about how you'd do a baptism? And that's, um - so, the water that gets used in a baptism counts as holy water, and holy water burns vampires, so that means that if you do a baptism with otherwise normal water and you save the water, then, uh, you can maybe check whether it turned into holy water and then I think that would tell you whether the baptism you did was valid, and therefore in this case whether the person you tried to baptize is, uh, a person? At least I think if you can be baptized then that probably means that you're a person. I think it'd have to. Uh - I'm just saying if the mindreading doesn't pan out then there's still another thing we can do to check. Uh, I wanna run the logic by my priest friend and see if it checks out and if there's anything else we should know before we do it, but I think it makes sense?"

Technically she didn't think of this but it would be super awkward to pause here to explain that she's been having telepathic conversations with the camp director.

Permalink Eye

"That's - huh - but can you validly baptize someone who isn't human even if they're a person -"

Permalink Eye

She considers.

"I don't know. But I bet my priest does. He's very good at knowing things."

Permalink Eye

"Oh. Okay. Does he know about - I guess he'd have to -"

Permalink Eye

"Hm?"

Permalink Eye

"When I tried telling my priest about the egg-laying and then about there being a secret world of all this stuff he was really concerned I was crazy so I mostly stopped mentioning it but I guess if you were the Slayer you'd have a lot more related to it to confess probably."

Permalink Eye

"Ohhh. Yeah, he knows about weird stuff. I could ask him to come down here, if you wanna talk to him about stuff. I dunno if he's busy or not, but if you wanted?"

Permalink Eye

"Aren't you from far away from here?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I don't know if he'll be able to come. But I can ask. Tiny maybe-people lizard babies that nobody knows how to deal with are, like, important and stuff."

Permalink Eye

She swallows and nods. "You're really good."

Permalink Eye

"I try! I don't always succeed, but the trying is important."

Permalink Eye

"If you want to skip mornings Sarah and me take waffles back to our cabin and play Pokemon."

Permalink Eye

"I think I better not. I have this thing I said I'd do next week. But maybe sometime? Waffles and Pokemon are good."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Thank you."

Permalink Eye

"Mhm!"

 

Paging Matt Carter. Emmy'd like to see Father Michael, if you can pass that along.

Permalink Eye

Will do.

Permalink Eye

Cool. 

 

So that's one and a half out of three. And on Monday she shows up at climbing class.

Permalink Eye

The climbing instructor is serious and short-haired and calls her "Karen" rather than "Slayer" and sets everybody up with belaying equipment.

Permalink Eye

Promising. She listens to see what they're learning today.

Permalink Eye

They're mostly practicing, with pointers given out as appropriate. Once everyone's set up she finds Karen. "I'm thinking that we're probably going to want to customize your lessons a little. Have you been climbing before?"

Permalink Eye

"Not, um, the real way, where you have equipment and stuff. Actually not so much the other way for a long time, either. Let's go with no."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. This is pretty much all 'how to not get killed', and I think it's probably too conservative to be very useful to you - I mean, if you're climbing for fun, then please follow the same rules as everyone else so anyone who sees you doesn't panic, but if you're ever climbing because you need to get somewhere, these precautions are probably going to make you less safe because they're going to slow you down. I've never actually worked with someone with your abilities before, though, so if you're willing to start with all the precautions that's probably the best way to start figuring out which ones are necessary."

Permalink Eye

"Sounds good!"

Permalink Eye

Then she can try climbing things with the same belaying setup as everyone else!

Permalink Eye

Karen is totally capable of doing this and diligently follows all rules given to her.

Climbing is a lot easier than it used to be. Admittedly the last time she gave it a serious try she was like nine and got yelled at for trying to climb trees with a skirt on, but still.

Permalink Eye

There are additional challenge courses for kids who've gotten competent with the regular course. There are additional even-more-challenge courses beyond that.

Permalink Eye

Oooh.

When she's got the rules down she would like to try the challenge courses. And the even-more-challenge courses. She'll do them all in order, but she does want to just keep going until she gets stuck.

Permalink Eye

She probably won't get stuck. Her belayer looks delighted. "Tomorrow we can drive out to the mountains. I'm sorry there's not enough time to do that today."

Permalink Eye

"No no it's cool! I mean we have lots of time."

Permalink Eye

"We do! But it took us this long to poach you from the survival classes, I want to make sure we make the most of it."

Permalink Eye

"This makes sense. Tomorrow, then."

That is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of two out of three. She writes a long report that night to Wishbone about her various quests, and also things about summer camp that suck and things that are mostly OK. She is beginning to suspect that it's a better use of everyone's time to write super-long letters to Wishbone and not inflict super-long letters on Alex and Azalea, even though she misses both of them kind of a lot.

Also she has to check how Trace is doing. Because Trace is important and her friend and stuff. "Classes go OK today?"

Permalink Eye

"In survival we actually just hiked into town and got milkshakes, it was pretty good. I know some ways to tell if people are possessed by demons, now. There's really way too many things that can possess you. How's climbing?"

Permalink Eye

"Pretty good! I have graduated from all of the courses and so tomorrow we are going to the mountains. How do you tell if people are possessed by demons? Besides eating people, I think eating people is typically best taken as a warning sign."

Permalink Eye

"Uh, changed memories or personalities, inhuman strength, fainting, jolty weird movement..." A notebook shuffles. "Ethros demons leave this residue around the foundations of any building they spend a lot of time in, Sluks are incredibly thirsty all the time and make you drink, like, gallons and gallons of water, Haxil demon babies mindcontrol the women pregnant with them..."

Permalink Eye

"Eugh." She looks over notes and copies them.

She doesn't have a hard time sleeping that night. Tomorrow she's ready to go to the mountains.

Permalink Eye

There's a big cliff face with hooks in it for advanced climbers; her instructor talks her through the safe route to the top. "This takes even experienced climbers a couple of hours, typically; I don't know how quickly to expect it to go for you, and it's wise to stop if you get too tired."

Permalink Eye

"OK!"

 

She remembers being really tired just before Billy woke up. She thought, at one point, that she might collapse in the snow. That was after climbing up a mountain for several hours, barefoot. It was after breaking one of her hands on the ugly man. It was after carrying Billy all the way back down the same mountain, again without shoes. At the end of that, yeah, she was something in the neighborhood of exhausted, though she's not sure whether it even counts if your body is literally freezing as you move it.

Apart from that? She doesn't actually remember having been purely physically tired out by anything since before she became the Slayer.

She doesn't want to show off or take any undue risks, so she doesn't optimize for speed. She reaches the top in just under two hours.

She's not tired.

Permalink Eye

They drive up behind her. "Wow, that was impressive! Did you have fun out there?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah! It was neat. It was very, like, I was doing something that I had to put a little bit of effort into? But I had the effort. So it was nice."

Permalink Eye

"Cool! There's, uh, other courses designed for humans at that skill level out here, but there aren't really harder ones. So I guess we'll just drive you out to those, as often as you'd like to do them."

Permalink Eye

"OK! Maybe I can try going a little faster next time, or something."

Permalink Eye

"If you'd like. We can also think about a curriculum for less secured climbing - up walls or around buildings or something - but I'd need to consult with some people, I don't want to assume that just because you're supernaturally good at this it wouldn't be as dangerous for you to fall off a roof as anyone."

Permalink Eye

"I think it's a little less dangerous." Citation: one time a fake magic silmaril spat her out of hell like thirty feet above the ground, and she managed to walk away from the impact. "But I can also definitely be hurt by stuff, so it makes sense to want to be really sure."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, ultimately it's your call. If we don't throw anything dangerous at you and you're doing it for the first time in an emergency, that's no good either. Boot camp is a bit dangerous. But - well, you haven't enlisted, you're a kid, for one thing, and secondly, we know how dangerous it is. I think my big hesitation right now is that I'm not super sure how dangerous various stuff is."

Permalink Eye

"That makes sense. Is there, uh, freeclimbing stuff we can do not very far off the ground? I kinda feel like endurance is not gonna be the sticking point, so maybe it's not as important to practice long climbs as it might be otherwise?"

Permalink Eye

"Absolutely!"

Permalink Eye

"OK! Looking forward to it."

Permalink Eye

There's bouldering for her to do all week. Father Michael arrives on Friday, escorted in by slightly discomfited soldiers who seem to be trying to figure out what species he is without, you know, rudely staring.

Permalink Eye

Oh good! Then she'll go find him as soon as she has any free time.

"Hi Father! Thanks for coming."

Permalink Eye

"Hi, Karen. Are you achieving the things you wanted to, here?"

Permalink Eye

" - I think so? I made some friends and learned some things and discovered that I have really insane endurance and ruled out the possibility of certain specific government conspiracies. So I think that's all good."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, good. Alex has worried."

Permalink Eye

"The first couple weeks were rough. It turns out it helps when you've ruled out the possibility that summer camp is secretly evil, though."

Permalink Eye

"I am terribly sorry. We should have been clearer from the start that we were really quite sure of that."

Permalink Eye

"I think it's not really the sort of thing people normally think to clarify beforehand. But I think I am gonna ask Alex for general confidence levels in various people more in the future."

Permalink Eye

"If you were to ask all of the Quendi who the evilest Quendi in the universe are, they'd say it's us, and they'd be ...pretty much just uncontroversially right unless you really, really penalize not doing things. So you can have that, as sort of a maximum theoretical evilness level when dealing with Quendi."

Permalink Eye

Karen looks like she is thinking very hard about this.

"I don't know how much that clarifies things," she says, eventually.

Permalink Eye

"Sadly I am not sure I can clarify much further. What did you need from me here?"

Permalink Eye

"Ohh, did they not tell you about the lizard babies? You should talk to Emmy about the lizard babies. We haven't baptized them yet, because I'm pretty sure I know how to do it but I'm not a hundred percent sure, and if we get it wrong it'll mess up the science and we won't be able to tell whether they're people or not. Also Emmy needs to make a confession."

Permalink Eye

"I'm familiar with the case but not the person. I'd be happy to try."

Permalink Eye

"OK! I'll go find Emmy."

And she goes and does that.

Permalink Eye

Emmy looks conflicted but mostly happy. "Can we baptize them now - only, if something happened -"

"Yes, of course."

Permalink Eye

Karen doesn't super have a reason to be here anymore, but she's kind of invested in the lizard babies now, so she's just gonna sort of follow people around until her presence becomes awkward and not just irrelevant. 

Permalink Eye

The soldiers escort them back out, not-staring at Father Michael again. Father Michael hums quietly in the car. It seems like there can't really be such a thing as a beautiful humming voice but he has one. 

 

Emmy's lizard babies are kept in a military installation thirty miles from the camp. Their guards are replaced by more serious guards who don't seem in doubt about what Michael is. They do side-eye Karen. 

"She's my friend," says Emmy.

"Carter cleared it," says Father Michael.

 

They baptize the little lizard babies with just a little bit of water, distilled and unblessed.

Permalink Eye

"Are you gonna - figure out how to do the thing to find out?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes." He carefully removes the tray in which the water collected. "I can witness personally, if that'll help you feel more confident in the results, but I think they don't want you two in the sector for prisoners."

"Prisoners?"

         "You need a vampire to check whether it's holy water."

"Oh. ...is that .....okay?"

         "It doesn't hurt them very badly, it's like running your hand under water and realizing it's much hotter than you wanted and pulling it out. We'll be able to get a volunteer."

"Right, okay."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I'd feel better if you were there. Thanks for this."

Permalink Eye

"Of course. It's good to see you. I will tell Alex that you're not dwindling away in misery."

Permalink Eye

She is maybe a little excessively pleased about the fact that this is a concern. 

"Yeah, I'm mostly good. I did break into a car at one point, but that was like a week and a half ago, and I feel like I've really matured as a person since then."

Permalink Eye

"A week and a half of a lot of personal growth?"

Permalink Eye

"It was a good week and a half! Also I have decided to talk to people more before I resort to juvenile delinquency in the future."

It occurs to her, belatedly, that she should possibly not admit to having committed crimes a week and a half ago in the middle of an ultra-secure military base where everything probably is in fact being recorded, even if some of the relevant people already know about this. No takebacks, though, so she might as well not worry about it. This time. Maybe she should do a little more worrying before she says things. There's gotta be a correct balance of saying things and not saying things to be found in here somewhere.

Permalink Eye

"Based on the limited context I have that sounds like a smart plan. Are you two okay waiting in the foyer upstairs while we check if the baptism was successful?"

"Yeah," says Emmy.

Permalink Eye

"Yep."

And they wait. 

Permalink Eye

"Is he human?" Emmy whispers quietly while they wait. "Only -"

Permalink Eye

"Nah. He is a priest, though."

Permalink Eye

"I'm glad you don't have to be human to be a priest, I didn't know that."

Permalink Eye

"I don't think the hierarchy's ruled on it, but his holy water works, so I'm taking that as a ruling from God."

Permalink Eye

She nods fervently. And then sits fairly still rubbing her hands together and looking miserable.

Permalink Eye

Karen hugs her.

 

Hey Father Michael?

Permalink Eye

Yes?

Permalink Eye

How do they get volunteer vampires for something like this?

Permalink Eye

They offer them extra blood. 

Permalink Eye

Oh. OK.

 

Do they give them enough blood normally?

Permalink Eye

Every one I've seen has been in good health, which starving vampires are not.

Permalink Eye

OK.

Thanks.

Permalink Eye

I think it's the right call for you to be diligent here, and I'm proud of you for it. 

Permalink Eye

Thanks.

We're - not gonna get everything right, 'cause we never do, but - I don't wanna be more wrong than we have to be.

Permalink Eye

I disapprove of torture. He sends some kind of emotion along with the words, maybe not entirely intentionally, and it makes them come across as terrifyingly weighty. 

Permalink Eye

 

OK.

Permalink Eye

Emmy sits there trembling.

Permalink Eye

Hugs. Hugs hugs hugs.

Permalink Eye

He comes back a little while later. "Emmy?"

"Yeah."

            "That was a valid baptism."

"Oh. Oh."

Permalink Eye

Hugs?

Permalink Eye

Yeah she's just going to cry a lot for the next while but hugs are good.

Permalink Eye

This is a pretty sensible reaction. Karen will keep offering hugs for as long as that seems like a good thing to do.

Permalink Eye

She doesn't really stop crying but eventually she sniffles that they should go back to camp.

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. OK."

 

So do you know anything about what one does when one's friend finds out that she's gonna keep having lizard babies every month for who knows how long? Because they didn't cover this in confirmation classes either.

Permalink Eye

I like to sing people songs, personally, but I don't know how it works as a general strategy.

 

Some things just take time.

Permalink Eye

Yeah. OK. Thanks again.

Permalink Eye

Of course. We'll do everything we can.

Permalink Eye

OK.

Permalink Eye

The climbing instructor finds her lots and lots of tricky short climbs, and eventually comes up with a tolerably safe way for her to practice urban climbing and jumping between rooftops and so on. Trace and Zach are both very intrigued by the morning Pokemon games when they hear about them and end up dropping out of morning classes in favor of those. There's a movie marathon and a dance which Karen's friends all skip and two more baby lizards, both hatched safely.

Permalink Eye

Summer camp is perhaps not the worst thing in the world. It is maybe actually pretty good sometimes. But all good things come to an end at some point.

"So you know where you're going after this?" she asks, in the general direction of Trace's bed, a couple days before it's time to go home.

Permalink Eye

"Not really. You want me somewhere?"

Permalink Eye

"Not specifically right now. Maybe at some point? Make sure you keep checking your email."

Permalink Eye

"Well, I'll try."

Permalink Eye

"OK. I'll keep checking mine too."

 

So that's that. Azalea and Connor come to pick her up when the camp ends, because Azalea is slightly insane and decided to drive for three days instead of buying Karen another plane ticket, and then they have to drive alllll the way back to California. Azalea complains a lot about how it is deeply and cosmically unfair that they've both made choices that mean that Karen still can't drive and Azalea has to drive the whole way. They spend a day in Arkansas at a farm that raises alligators and at Maxwell Blade's Odditorium and Curiosities Museum, because these are just obviously correct things to do in Arkansas. They pass through Oklahoma and Texas without stopping, then spend a day in Albuquerque at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, because Connor wanted to see the dinosaurs. They spend a day in Colorado at Mesa Verde looking at ancient ruins, because Karen thinks that ancient ruins are very very cool. They briefly stop by the Grand Canyon, per Azalea's request, but they decide that they are all much too lazy to hike the thing, and then gracefully decide to allow Azalea to change her major stop to a day at the Six Flags park near Los Angeles. 

("Mom and dad would have planned this at all," says Azalea, at one point, when Connor is asleep in the back seat because they've been looking for a hotel for too long and have no idea what they're doing.

"Yeah. Well. Mom and dad would have picked worse places," says Karen.)

It's about a hundred miles from Los Angeles to Sunnydale, so when the park closes they decide to just drive home. Karen diligently watches road signs to see how far out they are. She simultaneously pages Alex about once a minute, just to see what the maximum distance she can get a response from is.

Permalink Eye

It's about forty miles out. 

Karen! Everything okay?

Permalink Eye

Yeah, I'm good! Sorry. I was testing the range. For science.

 

Did you miss me?

- it's OK if you didn't! Eleven weeks probably seems like way less time when you're like thirty thousand. I missed you, though? I am not thirty thousand. Actually.

Permalink Eye

 

 

 

Yeah, kid, I missed you. I hope you had fun.

Permalink Eye

Eeee.

I did! I made a bunch of friends and I learned some stuff and today I went to Magic Mountain. The first couple weeks were super rough. I think after I called you I was mostly good, though.

Permalink Eye

Oh good. I won't have to go punch important government officials.

Permalink Eye

You will not.

(Probably the fact that she's sort of happy that he might want to if she were miserable all summer is a major character flaw or something.)

I didn't really talk to your friend very much? But I guess if you know him really well that probably doesn't matter that much. He seems OK, I guess.

Permalink Eye

Yeah, I wasn't expecting you to get a useful character assessment of him, that'd, uh -

- if you said you had a way to do that I'd be very surprised and I'd advise you to not.

It's just important to know if the people they might move into Sunnydale are decent people you can work with, or not.

Permalink Eye

(She has no idea what that is supposed to mean, so she just pulls out a notebook and scribbles it down to be added to her Notes On Not-Archangels and analyzed later.)

That makes sense. I think I met a lot of pretty cool people? So that should be OK.

Permalink Eye

Good.

Permalink Eye

I met a girl who's invisible and can't become un-invisble. She's really cool. Also a girl who lays eggs every month and lizard babies hatch from them and we didn't know whether the babies were people at first but it turns out they are. She's also really cool. And kind of overwhelmed. But really cool.

Permalink Eye

Oh no. That's - oh.

Permalink Eye

Yeah. They're hard to keep alive when they're small, too. It's rough. They're working on it, though.

I think most people who have weird stuff and powers have it, like..... way harder than I do. I just get to be strong and fast and weirdly durable and have apparently nearly boundless endurance and sometimes have prophetic dreams and stuff. And I guess for most people it's.... way more complicated.

 

Permalink Eye

Most Slayers have a pretty bad hand, I think. But that's partially the lack of support.

Permalink Eye

Yeah. We had a class about them at one point! Most of them died before they even hit eighteen. We read about, like, two who made it past eighteen? But neither one past twenty-two.

Permalink Eye

When their current not-you Slayer gets near eighteen I'm gonna go interfere with her murdertest, I figure.

Permalink Eye

 

Wait, they have one now? - Or do you just mean, like, after I die and stuff - ?

Permalink Eye

Nah, apparently the reason they left you alone is that another one was called and they didn't realize they should be looking. I'm sorry, I mentioned it to Wishbone but maybe after he'd mailed your last letter. It's weird. They think there's never been two before but it's conceivable that they missed it then, too.

Permalink Eye

Oh. - I mean I guess I sort of died, but - I guess I didn't expect that to count. Since I'm. Y'know. Here and stuff.

Permalink Eye

I wouldn't have expected it to count either, and we're not entirely sure that's the cause, but it does seem like the likeliest. Anyway, two Slayers is nothing but good news.

Permalink Eye

Yeah, that makes sense. All right. At least it means the council probably won't bother us.

Anything we have to do over the last few weeks of summer?

 

Permalink Eye

Well, an apocalyptic cult of Maltese fire demons is planning to drown the world in blood tomorrow afternoon and they've kidnapped a couple hundred people to ritually sacrifice to kick the thing off, so I figured we'd start with that.

Permalink Eye

 

Is that sarcasm? Because my first thought was 'oh boy!', but then I remembered that sarcasm existed, and also that that's a terrible reaction to have to people kidnapping hundreds of people to end the world, and also that if there were an actual really serious emergency you would maybe not be waiting until the eleventh hour for me to happen to get back from Magic Mountain today to do anything about it.

I will totally fight stuff if it's not, though.

Permalink Eye

I know you would. No, Sunnydale's had a very quiet summer and the world will keep spinning without any heroics on our part. Sorry.

Permalink Eye

I suppose I will just have to content myself with reading and hanging out with friends, then.

Oh! At some point you have to tell me how secret any secret things I may or may not know are, so that I don't accidentally get you in trouble for treason or something. Also I have written up a list of several questions that I have, because it has come to my attention that I should try just asking more questions of people I trust, with like, words, before I resort to breaking into the cars and computers of government employees to learn classified information.

Permalink Eye

Oh! Yeah, you can ask questions. I haven't told you anything you're not allowed to know, but, my name, Father Michael's name, those are a secret, and then stuff like how many Quendi there are and where we all are and at what range we read minds and so on are all .... things to be judicious with, since our enemies do not presently know them. 

Permalink Eye

OK! Maybe give your secrets to dogs less. And sorry if I got you in trouble. But cool, got it.

Permalink Eye

It's not about getting in trouble, there's not really - there's not really anyone whose authority I respect enough they can get me in trouble, I guess. It's just not super safe.

Permalink Eye

I'm pretty sure there's a definition of 'trouble' that makes that stop making sense, but OK.

So. Questions. How do you block telepathy?

Permalink Eye

There are different kinds. Some are mostly of surface thoughts, and you can train the skill of making those misleading; some are much harder to misdirect than that. I'm not allowed to say how to block osanwë but I won't read you if you don't want, and neither will anyone else.

Permalink Eye

Osanwë's what you call yours?

Permalink Eye

Yeah. I'm sorry. I'd tell you if I was allowed.

Permalink Eye

No, it's OK! 'I can't tell you' is much better than you being like 'oh, there's no way' and me being like, 'roll to disbelieve, you said the Mayor might be blocking you and also that he keeps being boring and therefore you don't have anything, which implies that there's some kind of limit on what you can do, and I wasn't born yesterday, I was born like three cosmic weeks ago'.

- oh, speaking of which, do we have anything on the Mayor?

Permalink Eye

Got better at blocking me. We're set up so we can blow up his mansion any time that seems like the best move but we do not presently have great options short of that. 

Permalink Eye

Ah. Guess we still need to be focusing on that, then. Didn't come up with any brilliant ideas while I was away, though.

I had some more things but my notebook's in the trunk and I forget them now. So, uh... do you want me to swing by wherever you are and pick up Wishbone?

Permalink Eye

Sounds good. I've been staying at Michael's.

Permalink Eye

Cool. - is Michael still at Michael's house? 

Permalink Eye

Yeah, they're having a bit of a time finding anyone who wants to replace him. Apparently it's even more dangerous to be a priest in Sunnydale than it is to be a random civilian in Sunnydale, who'd have thought?

Permalink Eye

Depressing, but unsuprising. I'll see you in a bit?

Permalink Eye

Sounds good.