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Every Choice We Make (IC)


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January 2020 

Claremont Academy 

Chemistry 102 

 

"I am Eira Katastroff Natt och Dag. I am from Sweden." Standing at the front of the class, Eira stared straight ahead and recited much the same speech she had in every single one of her classes that day, her calculatedly blank face belied by the anger burning in her words. When she was done, she walked back to her seat and sat down, crossing her arms over her chest and giving the teacher an unblinking blue-eyed stare. When their teacher stopped her lecture early to break the students up into lab partners, the new student smirked faintly before cracking open the handout to look at their assignment instructions.  There'd been some talk of picking lab partners for this activity, but the idea didn't seem to be on her mind even as the other students began the cautious reunification that comes with the first day of class. "Papper," she muttered she paged through the two-page handout. "Dum.

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"I mean, I don't blame it for being dumb, it got beaten to a pulp!"

 

A teenage girl slid into the chair next to Eira, short white hair flopping over one eye as she sat with her head in one hand, and the other offered for a shake. "Elizabeth Grey!" she said she said, smiling cheerfully. "I am from America, but it was originally England, so it's spelled the right way 'round, with an 'e'." She was wearing a smart white blouse over black pants and an absolute minimum of other decorations, save for a very odd little mask charm hanging from a silver bracelet. "I am probably going to do terrible things to the pronunciation of your full name if I try to use it, and I'm really very sorry about that in advance. Forgive me?"

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Eira gave Elizabeth a considering look. "Eira is acceptable," she sniffed, her expression shifting slightly without actually cracking into a smile. Her handshake was decidedly cold in Elizabeth's grip, closer to room temperature than the human norm, and given with the enthusiasm of a wet noodle. "Paper is ridiculous, she muttered, handing her copy of the handout to Elizabeth. "We could all have tablets as they do at Archetech, but instead they operate like dinosaurs." Scowling, she began cracking her knuckles with a faint "click-clack" as she did so. "And these sample experiments are better-suited for children. I could make a better one in a day.

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Elizabeth only grinned wider; she'd paused briefly at both the literal and metaphorical coldness of the handshake, but hadn't commented, instead pulling a coin out of what may as well have been thin air, rolling it across her fingers as they talked. "I'd love to have some fancy tablets, but I sure wouldn't want to pay for it! I bet half of 'em would be broken before class was out, you know? It'd be great, though, even then. Worth it."

 

She started leafing through the lab with her free hand, grimacing at the work asked of them. "We are in high school; the people who wrote these probably think we're children. But you're, what, the super-science type that could do this all without help, just to prove something?"

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"I should not even be in-" Eira's scowl deepened, and for a moment it looked like she was about to go off on a tangent that had nothing to do with the subject of Chemistry 102, before she placed her hand flat on the desk in front of her. She was dressed down for class, in a black sweater emblazoned with ARCH ENEMY and plaid skirt. After another moment, she said, "I am not interested in presenting here. But if I design, and build, and test, can you...?"  She didn't bother explaining further, fixing Elizabeth with wide blue eyes as she assessed her would-be-partner. 

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That was not the ideal reaction, but Elizabeth would take it. "I don't see why not!" she said, deliberately ignoring the reasons she could see why not. Her eyes were grey, suited to her name, and full of a distressing amount of mischief. "I would have to know what you've done, though, if I want to give a good presentation. So even if I'm just walking the mistress of science do her thing, you'll have to walk me through it as we go."

 

She dropped her head into one hand, the other waving their little lab pamphlet in mock enthusiasm. "Probably in paper-people words and not super-Swedish-science-tablet-people words, though. I do fine in my classes but chemistry's not really my thing."

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Eira fixed those wide blue eyes on Elizabeth, then seemed to unfocus as if she was looking at something internally. "Ice cream. I can make the chemicals here and on my desk, and talk you through the concepts of molecular weights and moles. It is a matter of solutes like salt affecting the behavior of a solvent - all very simple." She nodded to herself. "There is a dairy allergy in the class, but no nut allergies, so we can use nut milk." She actually smiled for a moment, even if it was tight around the edges. "Everyone likes ice cream." 

 

She proceeded to give Elizabeth a rundown of exactly what she'd be doing, which mostly sounded like reading the results of Eira's experiments with different solutes and then talking everyone through making their own ice cream in a bag. She was speaking now with considerably more animation than the flat-eyed stare she'd been giving the wall before they'd started, albeit still quietly. 

 

"Did your parents come here for this? The school?" she asked suddenly. 

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Aside from a single joke about how one could possibly get milk from a nut, Elizabeth proved a decent understudy...even if the math behind moles and weights started to make her eyes glaze over. Edible chemistry, it seemed, was good chemistry, even for the less super of the scientists. "Everyone does like ice cream," she'd agreed.

 

Eira's inquiry was odd enough to pop a white eyebrow, but she shrugged and answered easily enough. "No, we were already here," Liz said, eyeing the ice cream bag as if she could will it to be ready faster. "They were pretty happy to send me here, but before that I got a mix of other schools and home school. They came over for work and some medical stuff, mostly. You?"

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Eira twitched at the mention of where her parents were and what they were doing, her cheeks flushing. "N-no." She paused a moment, then looked at Elizabeth. "What was it?" she asked, her voice a soft whisper as she peered over at the gregarious girl. As she spoke, she rested a hand on her chest, where a electro-chemical battery hummed with power. 

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Elizabeth's face was impassive for a moment as she processed the question. "What was...?" Then her eyebrows raised and her body slumped, sinking toward the desk like someone had taken all the air out of her. "Aahh. I need to be careful what I say. Come on, Elizabeth...."

 

Her hand was no longer really supporting her head, so it was free to make a fist and tap her skull in some kind of self-recrimination. "It's a bunch of obnoxious medical sciencey words that were basically 'Elizabeth Grey syndrome'," she said, voice quiet and bored and a little bit bitter. "Mostly an auto-immune thing that caused a lot of other problems too, because when your body's really busy eating itself it's not good for things like, you know, bone density, and healthy organs, and whatever. I don't think most people know. What gave me away?"

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"One knows another." Eira reached into the pocket of her jeans and pulled out a pair of odd glasses, black mirrorshades without frames that looked more steampunk than science. "Cardiomyopathy. Heart failure. Slow, degenerative, and genetic." She polished the glasses with a cloth, then placed them on her nose, hiding her big blue eyes. "They actually named the disease after my doctor. My parents thought it would be inappropriate to tie our name to such a thing.

 

She hesitated a barely perceptible moment, then opened up their case of modular parts and began to work assembling the ice cream maker, not quite looking at Elizabeth. 

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Elizabeth made a vague gesture with her head-knuckling hand. "I mean, they weren't wrong," she said, sighing her way back into an upright seated position, only to immediately flop backwards. She was keeping at least one eye on Eira's tinkering, but no more than that. "I joked about 'Elizabeth Grey syndrome', but I can't imagine having it actually named after you. Because, you know, clearly it didn't control enough of your life, right? That sounds awful and I think any parents who'd allow it would be awful too."

 

She was silent, for a moment, before holding out a hand and conjuring a pair of blue circle-lensed sunglasses that had either come from thin air or John Lennon's wardrobe; she flicked them open and slid them on in some kind of strange solidarity. "You're doing pretty good, for heart failure. Scienced it out?"

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"I am powered by a compressed amalgam of magnesium and lithium...a battery developed by Miss Americana, Dragonfly, and the Fenriswulf. I-" Eira peered at Elizabeth over her glasses for a moment, pushing them down her nose. "...magic. What is your tradition?" It was not an unfriendly question from the tone, but it was a frank one, and one that she could evidently ask without so much as looking down at the machine she was assembling. 

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"Obstinate reckless rebellion," Elizabeth declared in a posh British accent too real to not be an impression, too parodic to not be her own parents, and too proud to not be a teenager. She was, at least, grinning again. "It's...not that kind of magic. am powered by a lovely old mask that lets me do a bunch of things, and apparently has the side-effect of saving me from illness - even if my own body's the one doing the illing. So, you know, upside is that I get to run and play with the other kids for about the first time in my life. Downside is that nobody knows how it works and we're pretty sure that if I get cut off or it runs out or something I just go back to being sick again."

 

She shrugged, a cartoonishly exaggerated gesture that also saw her tip back into a normal seated position for normal human students. "Your super-battery is probably more reliable, but I'll take what I've got with a smile. How's the ice cream machine?"

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"Hm." was Eira's response as she pushed her glasses back up on her face. "The machine in ten minutes, the test batch in five," she said. Click-click-click, her fingers worked over the machine, putting together something that she didn't take the time to explain to Elizabeth - whose only real job was making sure the sugar, almond milk, and other ingredients would be inside the bags they were going to distribute for the actual presentation the next day. She didn't seem to actually have superhuman speed, but the design for the machine was certainly coming together faster than any normal person could do. "If there are surprises, would you be troubled?"

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"Probably not, surprises can be pretty great," said Elizabeth. Somehow maneuvering someone else into doing all the work had led to Elizabeth doing some of the work, but at this point she probably couldn't complain. At least it saved her from spending too much time being envious of Eira's hand-eye coordination - she didn't know what Eira's arms and hands were made out of, but oh the things she could do with a deck of cards and that speed. "But I guess it depends on the surprise? If the ice cream comes out tasking like rowan berries that'll be pretty neat, but you have to explain it in the presentation. If the ice cream comes out tasting like the downfall of modern civilization, that's not as neat and you still have to explain it in the presentation."

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"How do you know they don't taste like the downfall of civilization?" smirked Eira. She was dancing as she worked, bopping her head to the beat of music that Elizabeth couldn't hear. "We have many possibilities," she said, "I could add liquid nitrogen to the mix, I could introduce selective chemicals to give it variable flavors, I could install magnetic flight so as to have ice cream on the go..." She grinned. "Go beyond just the kid stuff they told us. What kind of music do you like?

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Elizabeth wagged a recriminating finger, unswayed by the argument. "You have never had my mom's rowan berry jelly, or you wouldn't even think that. That jam would save the world, not doom it."

 

The options were a larger consideration, and drew the full power of a furrowed white brow over the out-of-place sunglasses. "...probably flavors," she decided, shrugging. "Hovering's awesome and nitrogen's fancy but neither one makes the ice cream itself better? I am here to eat tasty ice cream. While listening to electro-swing," she added, wagging that finger again, "because I like a lot of things but I love that one so, so much. You?"

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She paused her bopping for a barely perceptible moment, her head cocked as if she'd heard a sound Elizabeth hadn't. She then admitted, "I have never heard that before, but it's not bad. Peppy." She grinned as she got back to work. "I like metal. Mostly Swedish sludge metal like Agrimonia. The old stuff jams but it is just, you know, lots of greasy old men now, not really interesting." She was bopping again as she worked, then said, "You know, we are not supposed to have ear buds, but I _could_ make you something that would let you listen whenever you wanted..." There was a brief pause in this part of the conversation as both the teacher passed by _and_ as Eira actually finished assembling the machine; they were able to resume once the instructor had left and once they'd filled it with what it needed to make their test batch. 

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"Ooh." That sounded like mischief, which sounded like fun. "I'm not going to say no to that, as long as it's not too hard. I can hide things myself, but it's kind of...."

 

She made a gesture that would have been unhelpfully vague if it didn't legerdemain the coin from earlier back between her fingers. "You can't really sleight of hand with your ears, you know, and the magic's just...." The coin, now flat in her palm, shimmered and disappeared...as did a small portion of her palm. "....I'm working on it. A more high-tech way to listen to music when I'm really not supposed to would be pretty great!"

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Eventually the machine was done and had processed its first batch of nut milk - a vanilla flavor of a few ounces that their teacher approved and that Eira nodded as she ate, looking to Elizabeth for her approval. "If you come to my room tonight," she whispered once she'd tried the ice cream, "I can give you the receiver." She pulled back her blue hair to point to a spot on her skull behind her pierced ears. "If I put it there, you will be able to hear the music - but no one else.

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"Ooh, so fast." Elizabeth was genuinely impressed; she'd clearly thought it would take more time than that, audio devices presumably being more complicated than high school ice cream machines. "It's a date, then." She'd leaned over to her bag and come back with a spoon, now utilized to sample their crafted confection. Well, Eira's crafted confection. Elizabeth had helped?

 

She mulled that over for a moment, spoon handle bouncing in her mouth as she judged their work. "....A+," she said, finally, going for a second helping. "I don't think it's as good as ice cream with milk-milk, but nut-milk's pretty interesting and it's not as different as I thought it'd be. It kinda brings out the vanilla."

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Eira nodded, looking satisfied as well. "It is acceptable. And less likely to sicken our classmates." She smiled at Elizabeth, looking pleased to have met a new friend. "I will see you at six." Bopping her head to an invisible beat, she began packing things up. 

 

Eira turned out to be Lulu's new roommate, a spot with which Elizabeth was at least a little familiar. Lulu didn't seem to be home when she knocked on the door, though, not from the vibrations she felt through the wood when she knocked. After a moment, the door flew open and Eira greeted her with a secret smile. "Come in, come in!" Eira was wearing her round-eyed frameless shades again, a brown leather apron wrapped around her midsection that gave her a vaguely steampunk air - if you didn't mind the blue hair she'd wrapped up in a ponytail. 

 

It was easy to tell which side of the room was Eira's; it was the one that looked distinctly cast in silver and gold, as if the walls, floor, and scanty furniture had been infiltrated by thin strips of metal. "Lulu is away with her boyfriend. Come on, I made this today." What she had made, resting on a desk that looked more like a lab table than anything else, looked a bit like a black quarter, albeit thin and sticky to the touch on one side, and run through with the same metals as Eira's side of the room. "Get it set how you want," Eira said, "and I'll turn on the signal.

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Elizabeth gave a low whistle as she entered, peering at the walls and floor with open interest. "Ooh. Two years and I didn't know you could decorate like all of this. I really need to see if Abby and I can spruce our room up!"

 

The little circle of science she regarded for a moment, reaching up to push her hair out of the way and feel the skin behind her ear. "It seems like the kind of thing you'd get good at with practice," she said to no one in particular...and then, disconcertingly, she stepped out of herself. One Elizabeth dropped her hand as another moved to the side, and the two Elizabeths wordlessly turned to each other and played a quick game of rock-paper-scissors for the right to science, or be scienced.

 

"Always good to have a helping hand!" quipped the winner (?), while the other made a good-natured grumbling noise, picked up the quarter, and set about applying it to her more victorious self just below and behind her ear. "We'll be ready in just a second."

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"It's non-regulation but not actually banned; it lets me-" Elizabeth's transformation got her a flat, featureless stare from her cybernetic friend - before Eira broke into a smile. "You're _that_ Elizabeth!" Eira stared at the Elizabethes, surprise on her face and the two of them reflected in the polished black lenses of her glasses. "That is...delightful!" she added after a momentary pause, an odd smile on her face. "But, ah, first let us do this!" She waited until the two Elizabeths had the patch fixed, then made a little gesture in the air. Immediately a peppy electro-swing began to play from no particular source, though it was clear enough to the device-wearing Elizabeth. "It has twenty-five hours of songs onboard," she said, still looking quite pleased with herself as she seemed to address the two of them at once. "And you can add more if you put it against a computer with Bluetooth. Do-do you like it?

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