Alexandra Chambers

Interlude 20C – Jae And The Chambers Twins (Summus Proelium)

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The following is the missing voter-decided interlude that was supposed to come out after Interlude 20B. After a week or so, once everyone has had a chance to read it, the chapters will be rearranged so that this fits where it belongs.

“Check the oven, check the oven! Don’t let the lasagna burn!” With that frantic cry, the bleached-blonde woman, whose drivers license would heavily disagree with her commonly stated age, bounded into the kitchen with her phone held in one hand and frantically tried to shove the other hand into an oven mitt that was sitting on the counter. “Jae?! Jae, where are you?!” Her voice grew louder and slightly more shrill. “J–

“Here,” Jae Baek announced, rising from behind the island counter with the cookie sheet with one oven mitt-covered hand holding the formerly-frozen lasagna that she had just taken from the oven. 

With a surprised shriek as the girl abruptly showed herself, Kella pitched her phone and oven mitt toward Jae defensively while jerking away and shielding her face. “Don’t shoot!” 

Before either the phone or mitt could hit her, Jae took advantage of the fact that the woman wasn’t looking to use her power. She pulled both into a quick orbit around herself before letting them land on the counter. She then quietly informed her stepmother, “Don’t worry, it’s not loaded.” 

“What–” Finally belatedly realizing who was talking, Kella focused on her. “For goodness sake, Jae, don’t skulk like that. What were you–” Seeing the tray as the girl put it down on top of the stove, she coughed. “Oh, you… ahh, you got it. Good. G–my phone!” 

Reaching down, Jae picked up the device, turned it over, then offered it back to the woman with a shrug. “I think it’s okay.” 

Quickly taking her phone back, Kella checked it over in a rush before holding it up to her ear. “Dana? Dana are you–oh thank God. Yeah? He did? Oh no. Oh no. Oh–” Abruptly, she started to laugh. “Tell me. What did he say–wait, no, what did she say? How did–you’re kidding.” 

For the next couple of minutes, Jae stood there waiting while Kella went through an entire conversation with her friend, seemingly having completely forgotten the younger girl was even in the room, let alone what she had actually gone in there for. Finally, she shook her head. “Oh no,  I couldn’t possibly. Not tonight. Yes, I know who he is. Ohhh don’t do this to me. Don’t tell me that! Maybe I can– No, of course not. It’s the girl. Yes, Jae. What? No. No, she’s having some friends over. Just a nice little party, nothing too wild. Yes, that Jae. What other–oh no. Well of course not. Yes, and I’m here to keep it rocking. Haha, you know it. Yes, I–wait, the lasagna!” 

Having worked her way back around to the reason she’d come into the room in the first place yet again (her first realization apparently not having stuck), the woman hit the disconnect button and looked up just in time to see Jae taking the foil off the pan. “Oh, right, you took it out before. What–is it…” 

“It’s not burnt,” Jae informed her before gesturing to the cheesy, tomatoey treat. “See? What did Dana want?” she asked politely. 

Making a brave face that was entirely unconvincing, Kella waved that off. “Oh, just some director who’s looking for some faces for a project, he’s down at the club on Greenfield.” 

“You should go see him,” Jae replied, reaching up into the nearby cupboard to take down a few plates. “If he might have a part for you.” 

“What? Oh, no, no, this is your night.” Kella insisted, though her voice faltered a little. “You’ve got friends coming over. Do you have any idea how seldom that–I mean–” Blanching as the realization of what she had just said came to mind, she quickly backtracked. “I promised I’d be here to help–” 

“It’s okay, Kella.” Jae gestured. “Dinner’s ready, see? They’ll be here in a few minutes and we’ll eat. There won’t be… it’s just the two of them. Nothing to worry about. I’m fine.” 

Squirming a little guiltily, unable to disguise just how much she truly wanted to leave, Kella managed one last, “Are you sure? I know what a big deal it is to have your first real party. I mean, not that this is what I would have called a party when I was your age–but… but you’re not me, and if you want me to stay–” 

“Kella, I promise, it’s fine.” Jae offered her a small smile of encouragement. “It’s not the first time they’ve visited, remember? They came for dinner a couple weeks ago.” She didn’t bother to point out that this wasn’t a party, not with only two other people. 

“Yes, and then you had to leave suddenly for your… school emergency,” Kella replied with a shake of her head. “Which, for the record, I still don’t understand how you could have a school emergency in the middle of the night. But–” Shrugging that off, she added, “You didn’t get to finish the party. They left fifteen minutes after they got here. I just… I just want to help you make sure this one goes right.” 

The words made Jae smile very faintly. Honestly, her stepmother would never be anything like Andrea Mars, the woman who had adopted Jae and several other ‘ethnic’ children over the years in the first place. But the fact that she cared at all, that she had even initially refused to leave to go see this director, no matter how reluctantly, meant… a lot, actually. Kella wasn’t a bad person, she just never intended to be a mother, and at best saw herself as a fun aunt or older sister. Being left in charge of Jae after all of the girl’s older adopted siblings had moved out, and her husband/Jae’s adopted father’s director career had been reinvigorated to run a television show all the way up in Canada, had never been on her to-do list. 

“It’ll be fine, Kella,” she repeated in a firm voice. “I promise.” 

Hemming and hawing just a little bit more, Kella finally thanked Jae and kissed her forehead. With a quick promise to bring her back something fun and a reminder not to turn the music up so loud it attracted the police, she was back on the phone to let Dana know she was coming after all, and out the door. 

Which left Jae waiting alone when the doorbell rang. She quickly looked over the lasagna one more time before heading for the entranceway. Despite her words to Kella before, she was nervous about this whole thing. As the older woman had pointed out (without knowing the whole story), the last time she had tried to have a night with Lexi Chambers and her brother, she’d ended up being called in to help out as Carousel and was forced to cancel. Hopefully no one would need her tonight and she could actually get through a full evening off. 

With that silent wish, Jae took a breath before opening the front door. She immediately saw the two in question. Lexi, the girl she knew from several other online games, was a fourteen-year-old with long dark hair, wearing baggy jeans and a hooded jacket over a tee shirt with a picture of a heavily-armed and armored female knight from one of their games. 

Her twin brother Zed, meanwhile, had blond hair that was clearly a labor of love and effort. It was spiked up with plenty of gel, and he wore black slacks, a white button-up shirt, and black vest. 

“Jae!” Lexi stepped in, embracing the slightly older girl. “It’s so cool to see you again!” 

With a tiny smirk, Zed gave a short nod. “Yeah, hope we make it longer than fifteen minutes this ti–oof.” The last bit was from his sister elbowing him in the gut. 

“You don’t have to worry about that,” Jae quietly replied, crossing her fingers behind her back that she wouldn’t be proven wrong. “I like to let people meet me just long enough to find out how much of a freak I look like, then decide if they want to come back later after all.” 

“Oh stop,” Lexi insisted. “Believe me, Zed’s a bigger freak than you are. Do you have any idea how long he spends working on his hair every day? Hint, it’s more than ten minutes. Hence, freak.” 

“C’mon, Lex, you can just admit you’re jealous and get it over with,” Zed informed her while posturing. That immediately turned to a yelp and wildly flailing arms as his twin reached over with both hands to try to muss up his beloved locks. “Stop, stop, I’ve gotta keep this for–stop–hey!” 

With a small smile, Jae gestured for them to come the rest of the way in and then shut the door after them before leaving the two over to the kitchen. On the way, Zed sniffed several times. “Mmm, lasagna? We haven’t had that since we spent that weekend with Gramps and Gran a couple months ago.” 

“Sure you don’t need a bib?” Lexi teased. “After all, you might spill cheese or tomato sauce on your fancy clothes and spontaneously combust.”  

With an affronted huffing sound, the boy retorted, “Oh please, if I didn’t know how to get food into my mouth without spilling it all over, I’d never survive in a house with you and Dad. If I can dodge the two of you, I can sure as hell handle my own food.” 

Lexi, in turn, narrowed her eyes at him. “Are you sure you can dodge me?” 

Jae, reminded of bantering between her older adopted siblings before they had moved out, smiled to herself before speaking up. “If you want, we can load up the plates here and take them to the den to watch a movie or something. Or two. Or… I uhh, don’t know how long your parents are cool with you staying. I mean, this extra meeting they had to come back to Detroit for, is it gonna keep them busy for very long?” 

The twins exchanged glances before Lexi shrugged. “Eh, don’t worry. We’re staying in town for the weekend, so it’s no big deal. We can stay until you get sick of us. Unless that’s right now?” She offered a wink. “I know we can be a lot. I mean, that’s what Mom and Dad say, and they’re pretty smart about that sort of thing. After all, they have to do a lot.” 

“Oh yeah, your mom’s a cop?” Jae asked. “And your dad’s a reporter.” 

“She’s a homicide detective,” Zed clarified, pride evident in his voice. “And a–” He coughed. “A damn good one. So’s Dad. I mean, a good reporter. He pisses people off all the time, which I’m pretty sure means he’s great at his job. He always says that if everyone likes you, you’re a shitty reporter.”

“But,” Lexi put in, “they can’t all hate you either. It’s about balance.” For a brief moment, it looked as though she was going to say something else. Then the girl shook that off and gestured. “Anyway, I’m starving. Let’s grub.” 

The three of them had just loaded their plates, and were on their way to the den to set up the first movie, when the doorbell rang once more. Hearing that, Zed asked, “What, did you invite more people?” 

“No,” Jae replied, setting her plate down before heading that way. “Ah, I’ll see who it is, you guys can go right down that hall and turn left into the second door.” With that, she continued to the front entrance and checked through the peephole. There was a man in a delivery uniform standing there, holding a tablet computer with one hand and a package tucked under his other arm. Beyond him, out on the street, was the delivery truck itself with the familiar logo over it. 

Right, obviously Kella had ordered something. That wasn’t exactly unheard of. The woman did most of her shopping online, and was always trying to find the latest thing that would keep her in-fashion, so they had packages come practically every other day. 

Wondering briefly what this latest delivery was, Jae opened the door. “Package for Kella Song?”  This particular delivery guy was unfamiliar, so she braced herself slightly for the inevitable reaction that came whenever a stranger saw an Albino Asian girl standing in front of them. 

But the man didn’t react to that at all. Instead, he simply turned the package around to offer it. “That’s right, if you could take this and then sign for it, Miss.” 

Jae went to accept the box, before everything seemed to fall into slow motion. She saw the complete lack of any surprise on the man’s face at the way she looked. She saw the very subtle hole in the front of the package, near the lid. It was too small to make out details, but at a glance (she had been trained within the Minority to pick up details very quickly) it looked as though there was a tiny hose or something similar there, the end barely visible. And the way he was offering it to her basically forced Jae to take it from both sides, as his hand was already underneath it. The sides, one of which seemed to bulge very slightly right where she would put her hand. It bulged not as though the package itself was full, but as though there was something stuck inside the cardboard. Something that would be pushed when she put her hands on it to take the package. 

All of that passed through the girl’s mind in the brief second as she went to take the box. At the very last instant, she grabbed the side that wasn’t bulging out, pushing hard to twist the box around in the man’s hand while simultaneously slapping her hand against the bulging part. 

As expected, there was a pressure sensor there. As soon as it depressed, a spray of dark green gas burst out of the hole in the front. The hole which would have been pointed directly at her face, had she taken it the way the man was trying to get her to. Instead, it was sent into his face, and the man recoiled with a yelped curse before abruptly collapsing right there on the porch, where he immediately began to snore. 

Any pride that the girl might have felt in that moment that having realized the trap was completely covered by confusion and worry. Who was that guy? Why would he–wait, did people know who she was? Was this an attack against Carousel? Because if so, that was really bad. 

Before she had time to think about that any further, the back door of the delivery truck slid open and several men hopped out. Several heavily armed men. Seeing them, Jae quickly shoved the door shut, though she still heard one of them shout, “Spread out, cover the back. Don’t give a shit what happens to that girl, but we need the twins alive!”

Twins? They were here for Zed and Lexi, not her? What the hell? 

Even as that burst of confusion filled her, Jae heard a noise and spun to find Zed standing there in the hall, his face grim. “What happened? What–” 

That was as far as he got before something heavy hit the door hard enough to make it shake. It was followed immediately by another hard slam, and a shouted, “Get the fuck out here, kids! Make it easy on yourselves!” 

Lexi had run into the hall beside her brother by that point. “What the hell is–” 

“They’re after you,” Jae informed them, already pulling her phone from her pocket to call the authorities. Only to frown at what she saw. “No signal. They’re blocking it.” Her eyes snapped up then, taking in the two. “Why? Who are they?” Her mind was already racing, thinking of how to get out of this without exposing her secret. These people were here for the Chambers kids, so they clearly had no idea that Jae was Touched. And certainly didn’t know she was part of the Minority. Unfortunately, she couldn’t take advantage of that without exposing her powers. And with the phones jammed, she couldn’t call the others for help. 

Even as those thoughts rushed through her mind, the door was hit yet again. That time, it nearly came off its hinges. The door was heavily reinforced, but it couldn’t hold under that sort of sustained abuse. But far more pressingly, from the back area of the house came the sound of breaking glass. Someone somewhere had shattered a window. They could get inside. 

In an instant, before even thinking about anything else, Jae was lunging to grab the other two by the hands. Everything else was forgotten aside from getting them to safety. While they yelped, she pulled them to the stairs and practically dragged the pair up them. If they could get to one of the rooms there and out a window, they might be able to escape this situation without–

A man was there, right at the top of the stairs. He’d clearly climbed up and broken in through one of the higher windows, just as Jae had been intending to break out. Worse, he was armed, his gun already pointed down at the trio, who were halfway up the steps. “Right, kids, why don’t you just-aaahhh!” 

He wasn’t ordering them to scream, much as it might have appeared otherwise. In mid-sentence, the man had recoiled as something flew past Jae’s shoulder. It looked like a bright silver egg that was glowing from the inside. As it struck the man, the ‘egg’ shattered. But instead of getting yolk over him, the man actually turned translucent. Like a ghost. Flailing, he had just enough time for his eyes to widen before he was abruptly catapulted through the nearby wall. His scream lingered as he was launched straight sideways, vanishing right through the painting of a sailing boat that was affixed there. All without doing any actual damage. It was like he had been turned into a ghost and was then sent flying. 

“What th–” Jae pivoted, her eyes snapping to where the twins were. Even as she did so, the front door finally gave up its fight, crashing inward. The man who had been slamming his way into it repeatedly burst through, shouting a violent threat. 

That time, Jae saw what happened. Lexi cocked her hand back, another of those glowing silver eggs appearing in her palm before she chucked it that way. Again, when the egg struck the man, it shattered and he began to glow while turning instangible. An instant later, his scream filled the foyer as he was launched backward the way he had come. Through the small, circular window above the door, Jae saw his glowing form crash down in the grass across the street before returning to normal. 

“Lexi,” Jae managed, staring at the girl even as the sound of other people rushing through the house reached them. 

“Jae, we gotta go!” That was Zed, grabbing her by the hand and yanking before adding, “Lex!” 

Lexi too began to move then, pivoting back toward them before grabbing Jae’s other hand. “We’ll explain later, come on! Zed, keep them off us, I’ve gotta have more time to cook!”

“I’m working on it!” the boy insisted. Releasing Jae, he pivoted on the stairs and held both hands up flat in front of himself, like a mime in a box. After a moment of obvious concentration, the air in front of him, from the edge of the step about halfway up, all the way to the ceiling, began to glow faintly. Forcefield. He had created a forcefield. That much was obvious as a man came around out of the nearby room, gun in hand, and ran face-first into it before rebounding backward with a broken, bleeding nose. 

“Go, go, go!” Zed blurted, pivoting to usher the other two onward. “Lex, you better cook faster!” 

“Like I don’t know that!” she retorted, pulling Jae as they raced upstairs. Behind them, the sound of more men arriving and hitting that forcefield filled the air. As did their shouts and threats. 

At the top of the stairs, Lexi pivoted to the other girl. “Where’s the nearest window? I’ve gotta see where we’re going!” 

Taken aback by all of this, Jae mutely raised a hand to point to the door they were in front of. It was actually her eldest brother’s room, or had been before he had gone off to college. Nothing had been done with it, however. The room was still just as he had left it. 

As the men below shouted that ‘this Tech shield shit’ wouldn’t stop them, the trio went through the door. Jae could hear a man who seemed to be in charge shouting for other men to get outside and block the exit out there, and to make sure ‘those little fucks’ didn’t attract anyone’s attention.

Once they were in the room, Lexi pulled away and stood with her arms folded, eyes squeezed shut and brow furrowed. 

“We’ll explain in a minute, promise,” Zed informed her, checking through the door before shutting it. As he did so, the boy pressed both hands against the door for a moment. Abruptly, a second door, this one made of solid energy like the forcefield below, appeared right there. “That should hold them for a second if they get this far. But Lex–” 

“I know, I know,” she insisted. “Just gimme a second.” A moment later, she finally opened her eyes. “Okay, that should be good.” Focusing on Jae, she hesitated before offering a weak, “I–trust me, okay? Please?” 

Jae, in turn, gave a short nod. She honestly had no idea what to say to that, clueless as to how to respond to being on this side of the situation. 

Holding both hands out, cupped together Lexi created another of those eggs. No, three of them. “Take one, break it on yourself. Now, now, now!” 

Quickly, Jae grabbed one of the glowing silver eggs. Zed took the second, leaving one for Lexi. Together, all three of them broke the eggs against themselves. Instantly, Jae felt herself turn insubstantial. She felt weightless, and her body was glowing. 

And then… then she was moving. No, moving. The entire world turned into a blur, as she shot sideways through the window that Lexi had just been looking at. There was a rush of shapes and colors, before the ground just as suddenly came up to smack into her. 

“Oogh,” Jae groaned. She was lying on the grass, and when she looked up, the girl saw the park around them. A park that was four blocks away from where they had started only a few seconds earlier. 

“Sorry, sorry. I had to make sure I cooked them long enough to get us out of the neighborhood,” Lexi was saying. She and Zed had landed on their feet, apparently more accustomed to that. The dark-haired girl was reaching down to help Jae to her feet. “Zed, call Mom and Dad. We should be out of range of those jammers now. And… and…” She stared at Jae for a moment before blanching. “Hi.” Her voice was weak. “About… what just happened. It’s a long story.” 

“We have powers,” Zed put in. “She makes those egg things that turn people or objects into light and yeets them off in a single direction really fast for a really short time. Lasts longer if she takes more time to ‘cook’ the eggs. I make solid-light copies of things I touch. Including air, like back there on the steps to make that forcefield thing. Those guys probably hate either our mom or dad, or maybe both, for cop or reporter-related things.” To Lexi, he added, “See, not that long.” 

Shooting a look at her brother, the girl retorted, “Just call Mom and Dad.” To Jae, she offered a hesitant, “I know this is probably way too much to deal with right now. And I know–I know that’s not enough and we need to talk about a lot more of it. We will, I swear. But are you okay?” 

After a brief hesitation, Jae slowly replied, “Actually, I can deal with it better than you might think. You’re right, though. 

“We do need to talk.” 

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New Deals 13-10 (Summus Proelium)

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Izzy needed help getting ready. She was nervous about going to dinner with this reporter guy, obviously afraid that she was going to say or do something to embarrass my parents. I tried to reassure her while helping the girl get dressed and put her hair up, but I wasn’t sure how much good it did. That probably wasn’t helped by the fact that the poor kid seemed pretty tired. She kept yawning while we were getting our hair taken care of in the bathroom. Watching her open mouth in the mirror for the third time, I gently asked, “Are you still having nightmares?” 

Immediately, the poor kid flinched, mouth snapping shut as she looked down at the sink before shaking her head. “Not as much,” she murmured quietly. “It’s getting better.” 

“It’s okay, either way,” I hurriedly assured her. “I just mean, you know, if you need umm… anything.” This was realthly awkward and I finally shrugged helplessly. “Whatever I can do.” 

What I really wanted to do, of course, was tell her that she should talk to me about what was actually going on, what had happened to traumatize her, why my parents were putting her up, what… all of it. I wanted to know what her whole deal was, if I was right about at least one of her parents being a supervillain or what. I was really leaning heavily on that assumption, but I couldn’t be positive. Not without more information, but I was pretty sure pushing her would backfire. 

So, instead, I just helped her get ready and the two of us started out. On the way to the stairs, Izzy glanced at me. “Have you ever met these people? Your mom is, um, really intense about making a good impression.” Clearly afraid she had said something wrong, the girl quickly amended, “I mean, she didn’t do anything bad, or–or say anything, it was just–she’s umm…” 

“Intense, yeah.” Giving the poor kid a small smile (while inwardly lamenting that we were basically the same size) I assured her, “Don’t worry, I get it. She gets it too. And no, we haven’t met this reporter guy, or his family. Mom just always gets really into these kinds of dinner plans, especially when it’s someone who could hurt the family name, like… well, like a fancy reporter.”

Silently, I thought again about what kind of impression I could make on this guy if I wanted to make that kind of insane, family-ending leap. But how stupid would that be? If this guy was on my parents’ payroll, he wouldn’t do anything useful or helpful at all. And if he wasn’t, they’d kill him, and probably his family too, before they could even get up from the table. Either way, I wouldn’t accomplish anything at all other than blowing the fact that I knew the truth. Which would put both Izzy and me in danger. I didn’t believe for a second that I could take my dad in a fight if it came right down to it. Either physically or emotionally, come to think of it. I had no idea what would happen, but it would be bad. Nothing good could possibly come from taking that leap right now. 

Mentally pushing that aside, I reached out to touch the other girl lightly on the arm. “It’ll be okay. Trust me, we just have to play nice through dinner, be polite and all that. Then, after dessert, Mom will excuse us so they can talk business. We’ll probably have to entertain their kids, and I’m not sure how old they are. Either way, it’s bound to be more exciting than listening to the adults blab on and on, you know?” 

And boy, what I wouldn’t give to go back to a time when I actually believed that, when I really didn’t want to know everything my parents were talking about. Well, no. Even as I had that thought, I realized it was wrong. I didn’t actually want to go back to a time when I was completely clueless. I’d like to slide into a time when it was the truth, if that had been an actual option. But I did not want to be ignorant about what my family was really up to. I wanted my parents to stop being supervillains, yet I didn’t want to forget that they actually were. Complicated as this entire situation was, I would always choose to know the truth and move on from that, not erase my memories. 

The truth was a painful thing to stand on, but lies crumbled under your feet. 

Simon was waiting at the bottom of the stairs, all dressed up as well. He grinned at the two of us as we descended. “Well, well, someone looks all fancy and nice now. Oh, and I guess you’ll do in a pinch too, Booster.” He reached out to poke me in the forehead, laughing as I swatted his hand away before turning. “Come on, they got here a little early, so everyone’s in the dining room already.” Glancing over his shoulder, he teased, “Guess it was my job to make sure you didn’t go skateboarding into the room or something equally likely to make Mom’s head explode.” 

Scoffing at him, I retorted, “As if that’s the only way I could be embarrassing at this dinner. Please, give me a second and I’ll come up with something really good.” It was nothing but light banter, the kind my brother and I would have had at any time. But it brought a hard lump to my throat and a deep knot to my stomach. It hurt. It hurt because I could tease back and forth with him like this while knowing what he was really capable of, what he had really done. Hell, I didn’t even actually know all the things he had done, not for certain. I just knew some of what he was capable of. Even that was enough to make a shudder run through me at the thought. 

Simon didn’t notice, of course. By that point we had reached the doors to the dining room, and he stepped up, pulled the door open, and grandly gestured for the two of us to enter. “Presenting the princesses of the kingdom!” he announced in a loud voice, “Miss Izzy and Miss Cassidy.” 

Rolling my eyes at him, I gently took the other girl’s hand and stepped through into the dining room. We were still using the smaller one, with the table that sat ten (rather than the full-sized room suitable for thirty people), but for once we would actually be using the whole thing. Almost, anyway. There were supposed to be nine of us, between both my parents, Simon, Izzy, Lincoln Chambers, his wife, their twins, and me. 

Immediately after stepping into the room, I saw Mom and Dad sitting at their usual spots, with Dad at the end chair and Mom to his right. Simon’s chair was next to Dad, while mine was next to Mom. Izzy would sit next to me. 

But this time, of course, there were other people here. The first of whom drew my attention immediately. It looked like an old mountain man or lumberjack had wandered into our house. Seriously, he was a huge guy, taller than Dad, with long hair and a very thick beard. It looked like he should be galavanting around with a big blue ox or something. Was this the reporter? 

Apparently so, because the man turned to us and smiled. Any intimidation I might have felt at his initial appearance disappeared as I saw how gentle his eyes were. I didn’t know how else to explain it other than he looked kind and intelligent. Wow, no wonder he was such a good reporter. He was big enough to intimidate the people he needed to, and yet somehow immediately made me feel like I could trust him with that single look.

I couldn’t, of course, for all the reasons I’d already thought of. But still, that was really effective. If he really was on my parents’ payroll, they’d done an excellent job when they recruited him.  

Dad was already standing up. “Ah, Lincoln, this is my daughter, Cassidy. And this is the girl I told you about, Izzy Amor. Girls, this is Lincoln Chambers, and his wife, Joselyn.” 

My eyes moved then, finally looking away from the enormous figure to see the smaller woman seated next to him. She was blonde, with her hair cut short, and a slim yet athletic build. Her eyes seemed to evaluate me quickly, looking me up and down as though assessing… something, before she smiled. Just like her husband, it looked incredibly genuine and inviting. 

“Hello, Cassidy, Izzy,” Mrs. Chambers greeted us, rising immediately to extend her hand. “It’s nice to finally meet you. I feel as though half of my husband’s articles about your father have been little details about his son and daughter.” To Izzy, she added, “And then we end up visiting at the perfect time to meet you too.” 

The two of us shook her hand, then her husband’s, before the latter gestured. “And, lest we forget about our own kids long enough for them to make a break for the nearest pizza place…” 

My attention was drawn to the twins. A boy and a girl. They looked to be between Izzy and me in age, maybe fourteen or so. The boy had blond hair like his mother, though it was kind of spiked up with what had to be a lot of gel. His sister’s hair was more like their father’s, dark and full, falling a little past her shoulders. 

“Cassidy, Izzy,” Mrs. Chambers announced, “this is Zed and Lexi. Kids, come say hi.” 

What followed, of course, was the always awkward forced meeting between teenagers in front of their parents. It was obvious that none of us really knew what to say, but I tried to push past that by telling them we could go check out the game room once dinner was over. That usually did the trick as far as breaking the ice went. This time was no different, though it was Lexi who seemed more interested in the games. Zed, on the other hand, asked about the full-sized basketball court he’d heard about. Which Simon took great joy in confirming the existence of and promised to take him to check out while ‘the girls played with the kid games.’ 

Leaning closer to Lexi, I stage-whispered, “He’s just jealous because he can’t beat Izzy or me in any of those ‘kid games’ no matter how much he tries.”

“And you can’t beat Izzy yourself,” Simon shot back pointedly. 

We bantered a little bit more, before sitting down to have dinner. Lexi, who was seated across from Izzy, started asking both of us if we’d ever played the competitive mode of one of those online first-person shooter/survival games. We hadn’t, but apparently she was really into it. She went on for a little bit about how she really wanted to join this tournament but they only allowed people who were at least sixteen. Apparently, she was afraid that the game would be out of style by that point. But she was still practicing all the time. Aaaalll the time, according to her mother’s teasing interjection. 

So yeah, between us talking about games, Simon and Zed having their whole sports discussion, and our parents talking back and forth from one end of the table to the other about other things, the dinner actually went pretty quickly. It was delicious, of course. My parents wouldn’t have stood for anything less in this kind of situation. But even disregarding that, Chef Claudio, Ethan, and Christiana had outdone themselves. They’d really pulled out all the stops, making me wonder just how much Mom and Dad had impressed on them how important this dinner was. 

Either way, we had dessert and then our parents dismissed us for the time being. They needed to talk about their own things. Simon took Zed off to check out all the gym stuff, while Izzy and I headed upstairs to play some games with Lexi. 

The girl wasn’t exactly exaggerating about training to join a professional e-sports team. She really was that good. I couldn’t touch her if my life had depended on it. Izzy had more luck, but even she only managed to win one out of every three games or so. 

Eventually, I told the other two that I was going to step out for some air for a minute, and that I’d bring back some drinks. I left them in the middle of their latest, even more intense match and headed into the hall. Being around my family like this, seeing the Chambers and having no idea if they were actually this nice and just being used by my family, or if they were secretly part of this whole thing… it was too much. I had to step outside, had to clear my head. 

In this case, going outside just meant walking to the end of the hallway and stepping out onto one of the many balconies overlooking the grounds. Letting the cooler evening air wash over me, I put my hands on the railing and leaned over to glance down before exhaling long and hard. So many thoughts, worries, and questions were running through my head, and I didn’t have a real answer for any of them. Honestly, what I wanted to do in that moment was fall into my bed and sleep for a good long while. Maybe a month or so. Not that it would help, though. I’d still have the same problems to deal with whenever I finally woke up. Closing my eyes and waiting, astonishingly, wasn’t going to make everything better. 

Hearing someone behind me, I turned to see Mr. Chambers stepping up to the sliding door. He offered me a smile, tapping the side of the door as though knocking. “Hey, mind if I join you for a minute? Your dad took a phone call and the women are busy.” 

“Oh, uhh, no, go ahead, sir.” Stepping back to give him room to step out onto the balcony, I asked, “How’s your trip so far? Getting any good stories?” 

“Working on it,” was his casual response, before the man put his own hands on the railing with an added, “Very nice place your family has here. You’re probably too young to really remember, but Detroit… it used to be a lot worse.” 

“Yeah, I’ve… you’re right,” I confirmed, “I’m too young, I never knew that Detroit. But we’ve learned about it in class, and some older people talk about what the city used to be like.” 

That earned me a raised eyebrow from the man, as he turned slightly. “You listen to older people? What kind of kid are you?” 

Flushing a little at that, I shrugged. “The kind who likes getting better than failing grades in history class and who doesn’t want my mom to throw a shoe at me for ignoring people.” 

Mr. Chambers chuckled, though it was almost more of a groan. “Don’t tell me that hard times Detroit is something you learn about in History. It makes me feel old, and that’s not fair. My own kids do that to me enough as it is.” 

“Okay,” I found myself teasing, “it was totally in current events class.” 

“Better.” With a small smile, the man looked at me a bit more seriously. “Your dad tells me you’re really into a lot of this extreme sport stuff.” When I nodded, he grimaced. “See, I’m safe with Lexi. The most dangerous thing she’s aiming toward is carpal tunnel. But I don’t know what I’d do if Zed was into that stuff instead of his precious basketball.” He winked at me, adding, “Guess that means you’ve got a pretty cool dad.”

A lot of thoughts running through my head at that point. But I pushed them all down, with some effort, and simply offered the man a small smile that I hoped looked genuine enough. “Don’t worry, he gets a little crazy at some of the risks I take too.”

“Oh yeah? Are you the one that’s the bad influence around here?” Mr. Chambers teased before adding, “Believe me, I don’t need the kids adding more gray hairs to my head. Their mother does that plenty enough on her own working for the LAPD.”

That made me do a quick double take, looking at the man suddenly. “Your wife’s a cop?”

“Why,” Mr. Chambers retorted, “you got active warrants?” He grinned at that before watching me, squinting very slightly. “You okay?”

Now I had even more thoughts running through my head. If his wife was a cop, did that make it more or less likely that they were working for my parents? Or that one of them was. Could she be working for them without him knowing? Or the other way around? What did it mean?

Somehow, I forced all of that down and focused on shrugging at the man. “Sure, I was just wondering how you could worry about one of your kids getting into extreme sports when your wife has a job like that. Seems like you’d be inoculated against it.”

There was a very brief pause where I felt like the man was examining me more thoroughly. Then he seemed to shake away whatever he’d been thinking and chuckled. “Yeah, you’d think so. Guess I’m just a worrywart.”

“Well, while you’re warting,” I very hesitantly asked, “do you ever worry about something happening to your kids because of what you and your wife do? I mean, with all the criminals you piss off.” 

That, obviously, made the man give a doubletake. “Well, damn, Miss Evans,” he managed, “you don’t go for the easy, weather and traffic-type questions, do you?” 

Blanching a bit, I shook my head. “Sorry. You don’t have to answer. It’s just… my parents don’t do anything dangerous like that and even I get worried about them, like when they go on long trips. It sounds like you and your wife do some dangerous things.” 

For a moment, Mr. Chambers just looked at me. It seemed like he was sorting through his thoughts and also trying to decide just how real to be. Finally, the man exhaled. “Believe me, we take precautions. But when it comes down to it, we help people. People who wouldn’t have that help. We look at our kids and yeah, it scares us to think about something happening to them. But it also makes us think about all the other kids out there who don’t have someone looking out for them, and all the parents who can’t. We’re lucky. A lot of people aren’t. Every time I worry about what might happen to my children or wife, it reminds me of all the stuff that has happened to other children and wives. Stuff that won’t get dragged into the light if someone doesn’t do the dragging.” 

“He’s right.” That was Joselyn Chambers, his wife. She stood in the doorway to the balcony, offering me a small, yet genuine smile. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. I was just looking to see where my husband wandered off to.” Focusing on me after reaching up to affectionately rub the man’s shoulder, she added, “We do worry about our children, just as yours do when they have to leave you to go on their business trips. Or even just when they send you off to school in the morning. Watching you walk out there while they know the kind of things that can happen, even with all their money and protection… I promise, it’s one of the hardest things in the world. And seeking out so many of those terrible things, seeing them with our own eyes? It’s terrifying. But we can’t leave it alone. Because leaving it alone wouldn’t make it better. When you see that someone is in danger, turning your back and walking away doesn’t solve anything. Turning off the light so you don’t have to watch only gives evil the ability to work in the dark. I didn’t become a cop to put my family in danger. I did it because that danger exists, regardless of what or where I am. It’ll always be there, lurking in the shadows. So you take away the shadows. You turn on the lights. You expose the evil. You face it. And you deal with it.” 

A long, silent moment passed then, before Mr. Chambers coughed. “Little heavy for the sixteen-year-old, babe.” 

Blinking twice, with a look that made it seem as though she had forgotten just who she was talking to, Mrs. Chambers gave a short nod. “Ah, sorry. Got lost in my own head there.” Offering me a slightly self-conscious smile, she amended, “The point is, we’re working to make the world better for our kids. Just like yours are.” 

“Well,” I murmured while turning to look away, staring up at the sky while her words about exposing evil rang through my head. “Not just like…” Belatedly, I added, “My dad’s not a reporter. And my mom is definitely not a cop.” 

The three of us stayed out there for another minute or two, just watching the grounds. Then Dad came to find them so they could finish their conversation, and I headed down to get the drinks I had promised the others.

Before long, this whole thing would be over and I would take a little nap before heading out to meet Murphy and Roald so I could tell them about working for Wren. 

Wait, did that technically make them minions? Was… was I press-ganging a couple desperate teenagers into being my minions?

I might be a worse hero than I thought. 

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