A/N – The new Summus Proelium non-canon, continuing the story of Flea and Cassidy running into each other during the events of Project Owl and then teaming up with Paige, can be found and read by EVERYONE right here
We didn’t go immediately, of course. There were still a few things that needed to be done. First of all, we needed shovels, pick-axes, that sort of thing. Sure, once we got closer to the base itself, we were going to have to be a lot more careful and quiet (likely using my black paint as much as possible), but at least early on, we could use ordinary tools to move faster. Wren initially said she was going to look into putting together some sort of quiet debris mover/digging device, but I told her that she should focus on ways to protect everyone once we eventually got through to the base, so we didn’t have to use our powers quite as much. Protective equipment, especially for those who didn’t have any powers like Murphy and Roald, was the priority. For the moment, we could just dig the old-fashioned way. Well, as ‘old-fashioned’ as it could get while I was literally using pink paint to make the dirt and rocks easy to move.
Yeah, I was trying to psych myself up. This was going to be long, hard work. Even I knew that much, inexperienced as I was. It was going to take us a long time to dig a tunnel all the way through to the mall. But it was the best plan we had. There wasn’t really a better option, aside from the crazy thought I’d had about finding a way to bribe or trick Undermine into digging the tunnel for us. But somehow, I didn’t think that would work out very well.
So, Fred and Pack were both going to get tools. Separately, that was. They both had their own ideas about where to get the stuff we needed. Alloy ended up going with Fred to help carry stuff. Meanwhile, Amber and Izzy were going to get other supplies. Lights so we could see what we were doing down there, chains to hang them off of through the tunnel once it got going, a generator for those lights, and anything else they could think of. Not all of it was super necessary right at this second, given how long it was going to take to actually get far enough into the tunnel for it to be relevant, but still. Better to have it.
Meanwhile, I went upstairs to see Paige and Raige. After everything else that had happened, I still needed to get answers from them about what was going on with her sister. Their sister? I wasn’t sure. The point was, I needed to find out more about how to deal with the Irelyn situation.
So, I grabbed the control box thing, sending the word ‘aardvark’ as Raige had requested. Then I sat back and waited for a few minutes, gazing out the nearby window while thinking about everything that was going on. Fortunately, I didn’t have to be left to my own thoughts for very long before Paige’s voice abruptly spoke up. “Paintball?”
Quickly, I shoved everything else out of my mind and turned that way. “Paige?”
Just as before, her eyes were still closed. She was just lying there, completely motionless on the couch aside from moving her mouth to speak. “Yeah,” she replied flatly. “It’s me. And her. Both of us.”
Immediately, her mouth moved again, and I knew it was Raige this time. “We both want to know what’s going on. Had any more encounters with the Banners’ real daughter?”
Reflexively, I started to insist that Paige was their real daughter too if they had adopted her. Then I rethought. I had no idea what sort of relationship they’d had. They’d literally bought her, so maybe I shouldn’t insist that she was their daughter. Maybe I should just leave it alone for now. Instead, I replied, “No, I haven’t seen her since that one time. But I did hear at…” Pausing, I looked around a bit to make sure we were still alone, then sat next to her (them) and lowered my voice. “I heard she’s been at the school asking about you. Trying to find out if anyone there knows where you or your parents went. I’m pretty sure she’s doing the same at their offices or whatever. She’s talking to anyone who might know anything.” Swallowing, I quietly murmured, “She’s not just going to let this go.”
There was no response from either of them for a few seconds. But I could see her mouth open and shut a couple times without any sound, as though she was repeatedly starting to say something before stopping. Finally, Paige very hesitantly spoke with a somewhat weak, “But I’m not her sister. I never was. Everything she did was just playing a role, like they did. She came around once in awhile and took me to dinner or a show, but it didn’t really mean anything.”
Biting my lip, I offered a hesitant, “Maybe it meant more to her than you thought?”
“No,” came the quick response, almost too quick. Like she was telling herself the same thing and had to quickly quash it before her hopes rose too much. “No, she’s probably just looking for her parents. That’s… the important thing, finding out where her parents are.”
Before I could even say anything to that, she spoke again. Or rather, her voice spoke again. It was Raige this time. “That’s bullshit and you know it. They disowned her, threw her out because she wouldn’t be their obedient little puppet, the thing they were literally gonna turn us into. Yeah, she might try to find out what happened to them, cuz that’s just the sort of person she is. But going to the school, asking people like… Paintball over there about it? That’s for you. She’s looking for you, cuz she like… gives a flying fuck about you or something.”
“I think she’s right,” I put in. “Seriously, Paige, that was the impression I got. She wants to find you because she’s worried that something bad happened. I mean, I think she’s worried about her parents, of course, at least somewhat. But it’s you too. Or you mainly. I dunno. The point is, she’s not gonna let it go. She’s going to keep looking and asking around. And even if she doesn’t find out the truth, if she keeps pushing…”
“She might get into something dangerous,” Paige finished for me, voice grim. “She can–” There was a pause as she considered her next words. “She can take care of herself, but she doesn’t know what she’s walking into. She could turn over the wrong stone and find a snake under it.”
Hesitating, I quietly asked, “What do you want me to do?” God, this whole situation was so weird. I was trying to help Paige Banners, who was really one of my oldest friends, after having spent years as the girl who treated me like shit because her Tech-Touched father forced her to in a long-term plan to get himself out of Breakwater and take down my parents’ supervillain organi–yeah. If I sat there and thought about it for too long, my head was going to explode.
Paige was already answering. “I don’t know. I don’t–we have to make her slow down and…” She paused. “I have to talk to her. I have to call her, video chat, something she can look at and hear me and let me… tell her… something.”
“What?” Raige put in. “You really think I’m just going to hand over control of the body so you can make a video call and then shove me down into a dark pit? The second I hand you that much control, you’ll make me disappear.”
“No, I won’t,” Paige insisted. Which, yeah, it was really weird to sit here and watch what appeared from the outside to be a girl literally arguing with herself. If I didn’t actually know better already, I might have thought she was doing a skit or something. “I’m–you don’t want anything bad to happen to Irelyn either. I know you don’t. We–we both know how it could go, what sort of trouble she could get into. She–we have to stop her.”
“Yeah, we. We have to stop her,” came the response immediately.
“But we can’t both control the body at the same time. We can barely manage this much,” Paige insisted. “We have to let one of us talk to her. Otherwise we’re going to screw something up and she’ll notice something’s wrong. Which is just going to make things worse.”
They were both silent for a few seconds then. It felt like I should say something, but I had no idea what. This felt like something they were going to have to work out with each other while I just sat there and listened. It made the whole thing pretty awkward.
Finally, Paige spoke. “Raige, listen. I’m saying this in front of Paintball so… he hears it too. I am not going to abandon you. I’m not going to shove you away. I’m not going to make you disappear. Let me talk to Irelyn and try to calm her down. Then I’ll let go of the body until they bring us a second one for you. I swear to you. I swear on…” There was a brief pause before, “I swear on Anthony. I swear on our memories of Anthony, I will not try to get rid of you and I will not shove you away. Let me help Irelyn so she doesn’t get in trouble, please. Then we can go back to this.”
Her words were met with silence, while I felt a twisting in my stomach when Anthony’s name was brought up. I still didn’t actually have my memories of him, but that didn’t stop my emotions entirely just based on what I did know. Which… really raised the question of how bad this would be if I ever did get my memories of him back fully. Hell, just seeing his house–or rather, a virtual replica of it, had hit me really hard back when we went into Paige’s computer. So if I ever got my actual memories back, it was… it wasn’t going to be fun. And yet, I wanted them. They were my memories. I knew it was going to hurt, that it was going to suck. I knew it would be incredibly painful. But he was my friend. I wanted… I wanted to remember him. I wanted the pain. Because it was mine. Was that selfish? Was it dumb? Was it stupid to want the pain of losing my best friend back just because it was mine?
Finally, I was drawn out of my own thoughts when Raige spoke up. “Okay, fine. I’ll give you the time to talk to her. But don’t make me regret it. I seem to recall the last person I trusted and tried to help immediately tried to erase me.” Her voice was hard, but I could hear a bit of vulnerability behind it too. She really had been loyal to their father. She thought he cared about her because she was… because she was doing what he wanted. She had been all-in on his side, and he destroyed that. No wonder she was hesitant to actually trust anyone else right now, no matter what we said.
Paige spoke then. “It’s a deal. But we need to come up with a good excuse that will make her back off until we can… until we get you a body.” Something in the way she paused there made me think she had been about to suggest that they meet her in person, but she stopped. Whether that was because she didn’t believe the other girl would go for that after how reluctant she was to even allow a few minutes for a video call, or because she was afraid of meeting Irelyn face-to-face like that, I wasn’t sure. Maybe a bit of both.
Realizing they were waiting for me to say something on the whole ‘how to explain things to Irelyn’ front, I coughed. “Uhh, I’m not sure. You guys know her better than I do. Wait, would it be better to try to tell her that you’re completely okay and just busy with something, or to send her on a wild goose chase for a few days?”
There was a brief pause before Paige asked, “What sort of wild goose chase?”
Oh boy. Wincing, I offered a helpless shrug before remembering that her eyes were closed. They couldn’t see me. So, I spoke up. “I don’t know. Just something that can take her out of the city for a few days so she isn’t poking the hornets’ nest too much. You know, convince her to go look somewhere else where she won’t get in trouble. Though…” I sighed. “It’s gonna take longer than a few days to actually get into that base so we can find your new body. And I’m pretty sure there’s nothing we could say that would send her somewhere for a couple weeks.”
“No,” Raige put in. “But maybe we can convince her that Paige is somewhere else for those couple weeks, looking into something else. Come on, the whole point is that we want her to stop digging around here, right? If she thinks Paige is hundreds or thousands of miles away, then she’s got no reason to keep poking around Detroit.”
“Keep it vague,” Paige added thoughtfully. “Maybe give her a reason to start trying to figure out exactly where I am, so she puts all her energy into that instead of pushing over potential snake-rocks here. But it has to be enough of a push to make her focus on it, without being an obvious trick. Irelyn isn’t stupid. And…” There was another pause before she admitted somewhat more quietly, “And I don’t want to lie to her too much. But it’s too dangerous to let her keep digging around here. Between our father and your parents, it’s… we have to distract her.”
“Fair enough,” I agreed. “But what exactly do we say to give her that distraction? What’s gonna make her think you’re somewhere else but not know exactly where? It has to be something pretty convincing, you know?”
None of us had an immediate answer to that. We sat there in silence, trying to think of the exact right thing. If we screwed this up, we’d just be putting Irelyn in even more danger. And while I was sure she was plenty capable for who she was, this was the Touched sort of danger. Not something she was exactly prepared for.
Raige started to speak up slowly, obviously still considering. “What if we tell her that you think her parents got into something dangerous. They disappeared, but you think you can find them.”
“And,” Paige took over (how I could tell the difference between them that easily when it was the same mouth speaking, I wasn’t sure), “we promise to keep checking in, but refuse to tell her exactly where we are because it’s too dangerous. We could set up a whole thing of… a whole story of trying to find our–no. No, that’s lying to her. It’s lying too much.”
“Do we have a choice?” Raige insisted. “I mean, it’s a lie to stop her from getting herself between the rock of Daddy dearest and the hard place of the Ministry. Neither of them would hesitate to get rid of her if she was a problem, and you know it. If she keeps poking around like she is, she’s going to say the wrong thing to the wrong person and they’ll put a stop to it. Either permanently, or by fucking with her memories. They could go as far as making her forget about any feelings she might have for you enti–”
Abruptly, the mouth stopped moving, contorting slightly as Paige yanked control back to interrupt. “No, we won’t let that happen. Okay. We can lie to her, as long as it keeps her out of their crosshairs. Just… let me think of the best thing to say. I mean, let… us think.”
So, the three of us sat there for a while longer, batting ideas back and forth as we planned out exactly what to say. Eventually, I went downstairs and asked Wren if she still had one of those untraceable phones, like the one Fred had sold to Ashton. When I explained the general idea of why we needed it, she went digging in a box and found an upgraded version. Apparently this one was supposed to make it look like your call was coming from anywhere you wanted. Something about moving the signal or whatever. The point was, it would look completely convincing if Irelyn tried to have it traced.
Thanking the girl, I went back upstairs and we talked a little bit more about exactly what would be said. Then it was time. We couldn’t delay any longer. Any minute now, Irelyn might ask the wrong question to the wrong person and see the wrong reaction. It could be bad.
Instead of moving immediately when I held out the phone, however, Paige was silent and still. Belatedly, I realized she and Raige were having their own private conversation, one that I wasn’t privy to. That was fair. I had felt a bit like an eavesdropper earlier. So, I just sat there and waited. They had their own issues to work through. Obviously, Raige still wasn’t eager to let go of the death grip she had on stopping Paige from controlling the body. Not even for a few minutes. She had been burned so hard by their father that even a little bit of trust was almost impossible now. She was still afraid that Paige was going to use that control to shove her into a hole for good. And could I really blame her for having those worries after everything Paige had–no. No, that wasn’t her. She had no choice. Paige had only acted that way toward me because of her father. I had to keep telling myself that. And yet, that by itself proved my point. After Raige had been burned so hard by the man she had clearly trusted the most, no wonder she was hesitant to trust the girl she had literally been sent to replace. Yeah, that was a whole thing.
Finally, Paige’s eyes opened. She met my gaze while slowly pushing herself into a sitting position. “We’re ready.”
Handing over the phone, I murmured, “Good luck.” Then I stood back and watched.
Paige held the phone in one hand, taking a breath before letting it out as she brushed her finger over the screen a couple times to select where she wanted the call to appear to be coming from. Florida, in this case. Then she dialed the number for the video call as I made sure that neither I, nor any windows could be seen from the camera’s point of view. It would have been pretty bad to go through all of this trouble of pretending Paige was somewhere else, only to have her sitting right in front of a window showing the Detroit skyline.
The phone rang a couple times before I heard Irelyn’s voice answer. “Hey, what–Paige!” She sounded completely shocked. Which was fair.
“Hey, Irelyn,” Paige replied tiredly. “Heard you’ve been looking for us. I mean, your parents.”
“And you. I–where are you? Paige, what’s going on?” the woman demanded. “Are you okay? What–”
“I’m fine. I mean, I…” There was a brief pause before Paige pushed on. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before, but there’s something going on. Your parents were… they were looking into something in one of your father’s businesses somewhere in–” Cutting herself off with a very convincing look of nervousness, she shook her head. “I can’t–I don’t want to–”
“Paige, you know who I am. You know what I do,” Irelyn put in. “If you’re in some sort of trouble, I can help. I mean, I’m–”
“It’s okay!” the other girl blurted quickly. “I mean, it’s not–you should focus on what you’re doing. I don’t know what’s going on with your parents, but I’m pretty sure they got in over their heads.”
“Your parents too, Paige,” Irelyn insisted. “And what do you mean, in over their heads? What business were they looking into? Where are you? Where are they?”
“I’m sorry, I–I can’t say anything else,” Paige informed her, stumbling a bit over the words. “I’ll call you later, I promise. Just… I’ll find your parents, okay? I’ll find out what happened and call you.”
With that, she disconnected the call and sat back with a heavy sigh. It wasn’t much at all, but then, we had decided that not saying very much was the right way to go. Now if Irelyn traced that call, she’d get a result of somewhere in Florida. Which, quite intentionally, was nowhere near Detroit. So, with any luck, she would start poking around there instead of here.
“Are you okay?” I finally managed to ask after a few moments of silence.
Paige, in answer, slowly laid back on the couch. Her hand moved toward mine, and I accepted it. Squeezing firmly, she looked to me. “Find Raige a body, please. And be careful, okay?”
“We will,” I promised, returning the squeeze before straightening up once more. “We’ll get you both in your own bodies.”
With that, I said goodbye to both of them, released her hand, and turned to walk out of the room. On the way, my phone buzzed. It was Amber, who spoke as soon as I answered. “We’ve got the stuff on our end, how’s it going over there?”
Glancing back toward Paige’s motionless form, I replied, “We’re good. And…” Checking the texts on my phone, I confirmed, “The others have their stuff. So I guess I’ll meet you guys over by the mall.
“Time to start digging.”