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.”