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Avenger Assembled

Silence Like A Cancer Grows (IC)

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May 2019 

Claremont Academy Dorms 

Night-time 

 

For once, Ashley was the one who was asleep - stretched out flat in her bed, wearing the fluffy flannel pajamas that Judy had bought her for her birthday, gun tucked under her pillow. The lights were dim, but that was no matter to Judy, who'd been able to see in the dark ever since the terrible day when her powers had developed. She had a heat-blocking sleep shield when she needed it, but she didn't need it right now - didn't want it, anyway. So Judy was awake, leaning back in her desk chair, listening to the noises of the city. There was a lot to hear. Freedom Cityians always seemed to have something to say to each other... 

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Lulu couldn't sleep, because a thought was worrying at her like a dog chewing on a pork chop bone. She was a very observant girl, but also a caring one. Over time she noted the peculiar relationship between Ashley and Judy; how they didn't act at all like sisters, how protective Ash was of her 'little sis'. The young telepath could also tell that Judy was under tremendous stress nearly all the time, her brittle smile ready to crack. She didn't know all the details, and frankly didn't want to, but the young girl was clearly suffering, and Lulu couldn't abide that.

 

More than likely the Southern twang they shared, even though they hailed from different states, made her more sympathetic to Judy's plight. She'd seen elements of that Sunday school/beauty pageant pressure for perfection in her hometown, and it always made her sick to her stomach. And Lulu couldn't abide that either.

 

After months of debating with herself, weighing the pros and cons of various approaches, a frustrated Lulu stared up at the ceiling and let out a sigh.

 

"F### it."

 

- - - -

 

A piece of notepaper suddenly appeared on Judy's desk; on it was written a note in Lulu's handwriting.

 

Hi Judy, it's Lulu. Do you want to talk?

I worry about you. I don't know your

life story, and that's your business,

but I know what a girl whose carrying

a burden looks like, and I want to help.

 

We can talk telepathically, and I won't

see anything you don't want me to see.

I'm sure you've got your secrets (we all

do); I've got things I'm not proud of, and

I wouldn't want you to know them, either.

 

If you want to 'talk', hold your right hand up

for a moment or two, then I'll 'knock'. If

you don't want to talk, which is fine, hold

your left hand up the same way, and I'll

leave you be.

 

your friend,

Lulu XOXO

 

p.s. this letter doesn't actually exist,

and only you can see it - L

Edited by Heritage

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Judy tensed, jerking upright in her chair. She read the note in front of her, brow furrowing, and then had a realization. Wait - she can see me?!  She'd always known that was possible, which was why she and Ashley typically kept up their masquerade even in private, but the thought was still a little unnerving. Not too unnerving, since people had been doing that her whole life and Lulu was another girl...but still. She shot a glance at Ashley, seriously considering awakening her bodyguard, before she raised her right hand. If she was being psychically spied on, she needed to know about it before she said anything. The first thought that came through the connection was a firm Are you spying on people, Louise Beaumont? She realized, to some annoyance, that she sounded exactly like her own mother in her head. 

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Lulu snorted with laughter at Judy's righteous indignation, because her response was so Southern; of course, she had every reason to be upset, which quickly sobered her.

 

-Hi Judy! My voice sounds a little different this way, but it's still me. And I've never looked in your room before tonight, and I only did it to send you that note. I know you and Ash are very private, and I respect that.-

 

-So no, I'm not looking at you anymore.-

 

-As far as spying goes, um, I maaaay have peeped in the boy's locker room once or twice. Just for a few seconds, I swear!-

 

-You can't see me, but I just crossed my heart.-

Edited by Heritage

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I see and hear things I don't want to see all the time, she admitted, more honest inside her head than she'd ever have been out loud. A cacophony seemed to leak through as she 'spoke' to Lulu, half-heard music, voices, and other things. I'd turn it all off if I could. But in the cold logic of the universe, or maybe as part of God's wonderful plan for her life that she just yet didn't fully understand, she'd never be able to do that for more than a few hours at a time for the rest of her life. How do you stand it? 

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Lulu sighed as she sat up a bit in her bed.

 

-Well at first, of course, we tried drugs, because that's what doctors always do; if a pill can't handle it, they're useless. Then I saw a few shrinks, which didn't help with the voices, but I did pick their brains and learn a little psychology. That at least allowed me to understand what I was hearing; you know, gave me some context.-

 

Then she shrugged.

 

-Believe it or not, the only thing that really helped me was meditation. Like genuine, Buddhist meditation.-

 

She chuckled and waved a hand, anticipating Judy's reaction.

 

-I know, you're a good Christian girl; you don't want to stray from the path. But I'm telling you, it worked. I'd be happy to teach you. Heck, the Bible is full of people going off into the desert to pray! Maybe we can find some Bible passages we can adapt, to take the place of the chakras...-

Edited by Heritage

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I know about doctors

 

The four words conveyed a lot. 

 

I'm not my mother, I- 

 

Judy stumbled over the thoughts, hands gripping her desk, and a distinct image of someone equal parts loving and stern came flashing across the link. For a moment, Judy almost quieted entirely, guilt and grief at the edges of her thoughts, before she thought back, I know things aren't bad just because they're not Christian. But you ask me, people around here should be a little more careful about what they believe in. I used to think it was crazy to say that demons had horns on their head and pitchforks, but you saw what they taught us in class! Indeed, Hell was real and had invaded Freedom City at least once already. 

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Lulu felt like a dentist who just probed a tooth and nearly got his finger bitten off; clearly Mom and Christianity were sore spots, and the cheerful facade of the 'sweet Christian girl' had a few cracks in it. She'd known a few girls who left the Bible Belt and came back changed.

 

-Oh, I know that Hell is real; I saw a boy right here at Claremont get possessed last Halloween! And I would never tell you not to have faith. I'm not sure exactly where I stand with the Lord anymore, after all I've seen.-

 

She paused for a moment.

 

-I guess my personal philosophy is never trust someone who turns to Jesus out of fear: fear of death, fear of sex, fear of other people. If they turn to Jesus out of love, they're usually alright. Always check their motives; most of the bad people I've met who were Christians were cowards, thieves or hypocrites, pointing fingers and reaching into wallets. They give the good Christians, the ones genuinely doing the Lord's work, a bad name. Which is a shame, because Jesus is beautiful.-

Edited by Heritage

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A boy got possessed?There was a time not that long ago when Judy would have thought the words with terror in her mind, but now she just found herself feeling more fatigued than anything else. Well that's fit. I suppose somebody came in and blasted the demon with space powers or something, and nobody thought to tell us that the forces of Hell were bubbling up again right here in Freedom City. She wondered if Ashley had known, and if so why exactly she hadn't been told. She sighed out loud, moving slowly back to her bed so she wouldn't awaken Ashley. Ash really did sleep too lightly, which probably didn't help her mood most of the time. You should come to youth group, she offered. I think the only person I actually got to come with me to that was Leroy, and I don't think he's really interested in what we do besides helping. Sitting on the bed, she raised her legs and began untying her shoes. 

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Lulu cringed at Judy's reaction to the events of last Halloween; she was an idiot to speak so cavalierly about a subject the poor girl clearly took much more seriously than herself.

 

-I'm sorry. I know it's no excuse, but after a while, everything  seems normal here. Alien invasions, demonic possession...it all starts to blur together. I think the school doesn't advertise this stuff because they're afraid of causing a panic everytime something weird happens.

 

She folded her hands on her lap and sighed.

 

-Yeah, youth group might be a good idea. I miss going to church, too; it would be nice to go somewhere where I don't know everyone's dirty secrets. It was hard to hear our preacher talk about sin when I knew he was having an affair with the sheriff's wife.-

Edited by Heritage

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A lot of people say one thing but mean another, thought Judy unhappily. She felt herself twist internally, for just a moment, before she put a smile on her face even as she got back to dressing for bed. She knew that smiling outside could help you smile inside; and that was true, most of the time. Before we came here, I didn't even know there were places like Claremont. I thought superpeople just sort of...popped out of the ground, or something. I guess I never really thought about it. Of course her own origins, her actual origins, were a dangerous enough subject even when guilt wasn't blackly gilding the edges of her thoughts. You know, it's funny, I expected there to be lots of, you know...dating and drugs and stuff when I came here, but you and I are the only two girls I know with a regular boyfriend! 

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The young telepath could almost feel the effort Judy put into switching gears, like a car going up on two wheels in a sharp turn. But she chose to respect the other girl's wishes; if she wanted to help her out and be friends, she had to resist the old desire to burrow deep into her mind and unearth all her secrets. That was the old Lulu, the little girl whose parents taught her to think of other people's minds as her personal playground. And was not that girl anymore.

 

-It's only our first year; things will probably get crazy in the fall. And I bet you by senior year, Claremont will be nuts!-

 

Then Lulu bit her lip, and she dared to ask a rather sensitive question.

 

-So, if it's not too personal, what's Leroy really like? Because he kind of comes off as a jerk sometimes.- 

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He is not a jerk, thought Judy in the firm tones of someone who'd had this discussion before. He is just foreign, and doesn't always know how things are supposed to be. He's a lot less frustrating once you get to know him. She pulled her fluffy pink pajama top down. He's very sweet to me, and he likes to listen to me talk. He's even nice to Ashley, and you know how some people get around her, she thought loyally. What about you and Adam? Does he have...you know, is he different because of where he came from? 

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The redhead sighed and sank down into her bed, and put the pillow over her face; don't ever try to get between a Southern gal and her man.

 

-Adam's not like most boys; he was basically home schooled by two doctors, and didn't have a lot of contact with the outside world. He mostly reads books on science and philosophy, which is what we talk about. Well, he talks more; I'm still learning.-

 

She set the pillow aside and looked up at the ceiling.

 

-He doesn't really know much about girls and dating, so he's a bit shy. I'm...a bit more experinced than he is. We're taking it slow.-

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Well that's good, said Judy sociably. I know they told us that sex is natural and everything but if you ask me, that sex ed class they have here is just an excuse to talk to people about all kinds of nonsense. You should go exactly as fast with Adam as you want to. She smiled as she sat up in bed, reaching over to her nightstand to get her copy of Aimee Semple McPherson, thinking about Lulu's thoughts. Growing up homeschooled can make things tough, she admitted, especially if your parents don't take you out and socialize with people. I knew people like that from our church growing up, and I don't think it did them any good at all. She smiled. You could always talk to him about that Dungeons and Dragons game of his - he's real nice about letting me come up with stuff for my character. 

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Lulu rolled her eyes a bit at Judy's comments about sex ed, but said nothing; after all, it was the party line in most of Alabama and much of the South, so it was hardly surprising. 

 

-Yeah, I knew a few homeschooled kids growing up. Some of them were basically normal, a few we hardly saw outside of church, and one family were basically survivalists, like on that 'Doomsday Preppers' show? We all called their house 'the Bunker', and our parents told us not to talk to them.-

 

She remembered a funny story about them, and decided to share it; Judy could probably use a laugh.

 

-One Halloween, by brother Caleb dared me to go trick or treating to their house; I think I was dressed as Ariel. The mom came to the door, kind of stared at me, then gave me a chocolate ration bar and a pocket-sized botte of hand sanitizer. I said thank you, then ran all the way home!-

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She felt Judy smile through the link. Oh that's not so bad! My momma used to fight with my daddy all the time about giving out candy to the neighbor kids on Halloween, she said we should give them toothbrushes and tracts to make sure they got something good out of being out on Halloween, but daddy always said that kids have parents, and you know... She swallowed, a surge of guilt around her thoughts, then went on, I didn't even go trick-or-treating where I was from, with all the problems we had. My favorite holiday was always Thanksgiving, because there was always so much good food at our house. 

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As always, Lulu had to fight the urge to go deeper into Judy's mind; there were tantalizing lie and half-truths swimming around down there! But they were none of her damn beeswax. Instead she focused on their shared experience.

 

-Oh, Thanksgiving was always the best! Turkey with cornbread stuffing, sweet potato casserole, buttermilk biscuits and mashed potatoes--

 

Then she stopped herself, and sent a few waves of guilt of her own.

 

-I'm sorry. I've noticed...you don't eat anymore, do you? And you obviously miss it.-

Edited by Heritage

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I have what they call a adolescent-onset expression of extraterrestrial DNA, said Judy with pain tinging the edges of her mental voice. My human digestive system has been replaced by a system that absorbs energy from radio waves. I can technically eat solid food but I just puke it up anyway, since there's nowhere for it to go. The doctors are pretty sure my lungs and brain will be the next things to change - but nobody's exactly sure how, on account of nobody's even sure how the DNA got into my family or what the original alien was like. She smiled tightly to herself, then admitted, That's why I can't do as much planning for the future as some of the other girls in our class do. I don't even know what I'm gonna look like by the time I'm twenty. 

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For several seconds, Lulu said nothing; she just gripped her covers tightly in her hands as she stared straight up at the ceiling. Suddenly Judy's  overly-cheerful front make perfect sense; this was a girl who was desperate to cling to a normal life as it slipped through her fingers. Finally the telepath worked up the strength to press forward.

 

 -I am...so sorry, Judy. That must be terrifying. I'm glad you have your faith.-

 

Lulu gnawed on a fingernail, wanting to do or say something to help, but knowing there was nothing she could do. Unless...

 

Judy, I want to try something. If you don't like it or it doesn't work, just say so and I'll make it stop. I'm not going into your head beyond projecting; your memories and your thoughts are safe, I promise.

 

A bedside table gradually faded into view next to Judy's bed; on it were several plates, utensils and napkins, and a pitcher of homemade lemonade. The plates were piled high with a traditional Southern Thanksgiving dinner: roast turkey, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, biscuits and pecan pie. It looked amazing and smelled even better.

 

-There! That's as real as I can make it; sorry it's my grandma's cooking and not yours. Take a bite and see how it tastes. Oh, and only you can sense it, so...don't wake up Ashley.-

Edited by Heritage

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Judy looked at the illusory table before her and cautiously reached out a hand to the sweet potato casserole, scooping up a bite with a nearby spoon. She didn't really react except in curiosity until she'd actually put the bite in her mouth. Lulu felt her little mental 'jump', and a surge of both sadness and gratitude. Wow! That's really good. You're good at this, Lulu. And so was your nana. She took a few more bites, dumping gravy on the turkey, scooping cranberry onto the bread, then when she'd eaten a bite or two of several things on the table she sighed softly, summoned up her willpower, and set down the spoon. I think that's about all I'd better eat. That was very good. She crossed her hands on her lap, looking over at her sleeping bodyguard, and thought, Ashley's not really that bad, Lulu. I was pretty worried when we came here together, but she's actually really nice. She's just very protective. 

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The food and table faded away as Lulu stopped maintaining the illusion; it was taxing, pushing her powers like that, but totally worth it.

 

-I'm glad you like it. I know it's not the same as eating real food, but...if you're ever in the mood for a hot fudge sundae or anything else, just let me know, okay?-

 

The telepath reached up and felt tears on her cheek, which she quickly wiped away. Judy didn't need her pity; she needed her friendship and someone to talk to now and then.

 

-I'm sure she's fine if you get to know her; most people are. It's obvious she worries about you, and wants to keep you safe. I wish had a big sister like that; I just have big brothers, and most of them are drunken idiots.-

Edited by Heritage

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It's hard when there's trouble with family. She wanted to tell Lulu other things; about how you should cling to family as long as you had, but how sometimes you found family outside your blood even when you didn't expect it. But those thoughts stayed safely inside her head, where they belonged. Like a lot of truths, the were dangerous. Judy looked down at where she was fiddling with the fuzzy edge of her blanket. Do you go back to them for summer? 

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Lulu scoffed and shook her head.

 

-Uh, no! Why would I...oh, I'm sorry; why would you know? Child Protective Services took me out of my home over a year ago. My daddy's in the Houston County Jail, awaiting trial on multiple charges of wire fraud and extortion.-

 

She sighed.

 

-And I helped put him there; I'm living with a foster family here in Freedom while I'm at Claremont.-

Edited by Heritage

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Oh, Lulu, I...I'm sorry, Judy stumbled inside her head. That must be hard. Ashley really wouldn't want me talking to you like this! But that's all right. She smiled a little, then hazarded. Are the fosters nice? I know there's supposed to be lots of foster parents out there who really want kids, but I know things are different in Freedom. 

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