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Pan smiled down at the little boy with his mouth full of strawberry-like things. "Maybe I am! Perhaps you could tell me what the sindcut is first, yes?"


They were left alone with the children and Lon? Oh, the fun they could have here.


After receiving his response, Pan threw some glowing Pixie Dust around, scattering the kids a bit from around him. He stared directly at Ashley, suddenly speaking Vietnamese, that language that he had learned about during some of Ashley's wonderfully creative curses. "Do we have a plan? Perhaps a mutiny is in order? I am sure I can convince Lon to look the other way."

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"I think he means syndicate," Danica offered helpfully. "These guys are trying to get into some space criminal organization and have to steal enough of Earth's gold to impress the leaders so they can get into the gang. I saw a plot like this on Miami Vice once." She took another bite of giant strawberry and flipped open the phone. "I used to have a phone like this! I wonder if this gets signal all the way to Earth." She tapped in the country code and area code, then her mom's phone number.


"Hi, Mom? Yeah, I'm still on the field trip but we kind of got stuck on a detour and I can't remember the phone number for the school. Can you get hold of the headmaster and ask her to call the Freedom League so they can negotiate with some space pirates for us? They're treating us fine, they put us in their daycare, but I want to get home so we can watch The Voice tonight." 

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Danica's mom was an old hand at this, and promised to call the school with no more than a faint tremor in her voice, though the line was awfully staticky. "Are you sure you don't need to worry about where you are?" 


"My daddy's gonna be in the sindcut," said the boy who'd spoken to Pan helpfully. "We'll eat fruit every day." 


"Wait, you can just call people from space!?" demanded Judy, who looked to be going from one shock to another. 


"Yeah, uh, Earth is hooked into the Lor communciations network," said Ashley, putting a hand on the back of her neck for a moment before she looked away. 


"Should we-" Judy started to ask.


"No," said Ashley firmly without actually raising her voice. "No, we need to think...we can't start shooting here, not with so many civilians around. I can probably get us out of this room. What's your plan?" 


"Hmph," said Lon suddenly, looking in the general direction of the students without actually making eye contact. "Magic, is it?" He studied his clawed fingertips diffidently before commenting, "I have a few tricks of my own. You kids wouldn't be planning to cause trouble here around all our younglings, wouldja?" Most of the kids, though, not all, seemed to be spreading out cots and blankets and big warm rocks (for the lizardy among them) for naptime. 

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"We sit tight," Danica said firmly, keeping her voice low. "We don't know the layout of this ship, we don't know how to work their transporter or whatever, or how to pilot their ships. Even if we got loose, we don't have a way to get out of space, right? As far as they're concerned, we're civilian noncombatants and they've put us in what's probably the safest place on their ship. I mean, situations like this are why we _have_ the Freedom League, right?" 


She turned to Lon and gave him a smile that showed no teeth. "We don't want to cause any trouble," she promised. "But I don't need a nap right now. Are there any educational computer games I could play?" 

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Just... waiting? Letting others come to their rescue? Was that really what they wanted to do?


No. No, that would not do at all. The others might be fine with staying still, just waiting for a rescue, but not Pan, no.


"No, no, not magic," he reassured, as he began to approach Lon, holding his hands out to the side, showing them to the man. "Just a little trick that I picked up some time ago."


He smiled, slowly moving closer. "Tell me a bit more about all of you! I am sure we can work something out if you just tell us a bit about yourselves. Why do you come to the Earth, of all places? Where is this Admiral of yours?"

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Judy glanced at Danica, briefly confused - then her glowing eyes widened as she seemed to catch the turtle-girl's play. "Yeah," she offered, before she concentrated and went back to her usual self, shooting Ashley a shrug and gesturing to the aliens around them before she said to the teacher, "we'll stay out of the way, Ah promise," she said winningly. Between her and Danica there wasn't much anyone could to stop them, and so as the motley crew of alien kids around them mostly settled in for a nap (outside the ones obviously peeking at the very interesting novelty that was the teen heroes), Danica and Judy were given access to a flat-panel screen that looked a little bit like an iPad - albeit an old, battered one.


Reluctantly, Ashley sat down to join them, and seemed to surprise Judy by showing them exactly how the space technology worked. "Here, it has a holographc keyboard, or you can manipulate what you see by hand - here, turn this far enough and it'll display in English, at least for things it can translate. It looks like they're using standard Lor tech," she murmured to the two teens, "so it picks up the local language from information broadcasts. Tetchy as hell, though, especially something this old." 


The display did turn out to be for children; it appeared to be a smiling face of indeterminate species that was asking WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY? in letters that appeared over its head. 


Lon was looking at Pan, an interested look on his face. "Maybe you're not magic - or maybe you don't know as much as you think, hm?" He sniffed the air, then added, "Personally I just came here for the fun of it, but lots of the other crew are here so they can eat. Not a lot of pickings out there these days, you know what I mean, hmmm?" He sniffed, baring pointed teeth, and said, "He's not _my_ admiral, kid. Just the boss." 

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Danica touched a button that showed a person with sound lines coming out of his mouth, not too dissimilar from a symbol that might be on a human computer. "Can you show me a list of all the things you can do?" she asked politely, then watched as her words turned to symbols on the screen. "It does seem to know at least simple English," she agreed. "That's helpful, I don't know any Lor at all. How come you know how to use this?" she asked Ashley. Noticing Pan over by the minder, she tried to get his attention by jerking her head in a "come here" sort of way. 

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"Maybe I do, maybe I do not! It is always so fun to find out!" Pan grinned widely at Lon. He opened his mouth to say something more, before he noticed Danica. He held up a finger, grinned at Lon, then slid across the floor with a trail of golden dust behind his feet, keeping his front to Lon the entire time, before finally turning when he reached the others.


"Interesting. Lon does not like the admiral," he mused with a thoughtful tone, before turning to Danica. "What do we have here?"

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The computer showed Danica a fairly lengthy list, one that it was only indifferently able to translate - though Ashley was able to fill in most of the blanks. Danica had seen Ashley lie with the smoothness of a pond on a windless day when it suited her but she noticeably blushed even through her tan complexion, muttering only "Oh, well, you see a lot in the Service." Judy didn't seem to buy that from the confused expression she shot her sister, but didn't comment as Ashley helped the teens run through the list. 


There was ART, MUSIC, GALACTIC STUDIES, and SCIENCE, all of it pitched on a late elementary level based on Ashley's translations. "Which makes sense, there's not going to be anything tactical in a kid's computer," commented Ashley. They were able to find a drawing of what was probably the interior of the ship in the ART section, a wide range of stories about the Lor in their GALACTIC STUDIES database, scientific stuff that was way over everyone's head, and there was a picture of a pirate. 


There was really no other way to describe him - Pan certainly recognized the type, a tall fellow in a costume straight out of Central Casting, open V-neck shirt and jacket, tight pants and a glowing laser sword at his belt, and even a tricorn hat on his head. The face was new, though; a squid humanoid with tentacles on his face and big bulging eyes, looking for all the world as if someone had taken Cthulu and cast him as Captain Jack Sparrow. 

"I know him!" said Ashley suddenly. "That's, oh, what the hell is his name, Captain Kraken? There was a picture of him in the Raven's lair. And now he's an admiral?" 


"No, Ah don't..." Judy frowned, hard, and said to the others, "I don't suppose...suppose y'all can hear that?" she asked nervously. "That person, um, talking to me? He says if Ah don't do something soon, he's gonna shake things up around here." 

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"He seems familiar. Squiggly and with clothes like that? Of course he is in charge, yes? I take it he is somewhat well known?" 


He smiled, moving a hand up to rub his chin, pausing when Judy brought up the voice.


"I have heard nothing, but maybe you should let the voice shake something up. And then let us find this Kraken, yes?"

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Did he say what he wants you to do?" Danica asked nervously. She was still keeping one eye on Lon and the kids, all of whom would be very vulnerable if things started getting shaken. "And are you sure he's talking to you? Could you maybe be overhearing somebody else's radio conversation? Or, like, maybe a space TV show?" She poked the picture on the computer. "Computer, can you tell me more about this person?" 

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The computer beeped, flashed, and began playing a tinny version of a theme song before the schoolteacher scuttled over and quickly turned off the sound with a gesture from a long, segmented finger. She shot the human-and-demihuman students a glare, then went back to tapping away at her own screen with at least a dozen of those long, segmented digits. Even with patchy English subtitles the Claremont students got the story of the brave Admiral Kraken - the hero who fought the Lor, the Grue, and the Communion all in the name of Freedom! and Adventure! Ashley looked deeply skeptical of the whole thing as she watched, shaking her head a few times - it certainly seemed like a propaganda history, anyway. 


When the students looked up, Lon had moved to sit across the table from them, a friendly smile on his canine face as his voice deepened into a distinctly Southern drawl. "Kraken's come up in the world since y'all may have heard of him last. Freebooters always do better when the government of the day is just a little bit distracted." 


Judy frowned, staring at Lon, and asked, "Why are you talking like that?" 


"Ah thought Ah might make you more comfortable - Sister." And then the wolfman's eyes flashed a distinct, iridescent rainbow - so fast that the teacher didn't seem to notice. "You see it was quite a haul we caught, wasn't it? One of my own cast away among apes, her loyal and trusted bodyguard, a creature of infinite jest, and of course the god herself," he added with a nod to Danica. "What do you think?" he asked, rising to his feet. "Should Ah go tell Captain Rex what we're really hauling, or can you young people make me an offer that's a little more...interesting?" 

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Pan leaned closer as the propaganda video played, a look of awe in his eyes.


"Freedom and adventure?" he asked. "Where do we sign up?"


He sounded genuine, at least, but then grew silent for a moment when Lon approached and talked to them, his lips splitting into his just slightly too wide grin.


"A deal, you say?" If Pan knew what Lon refered to with Judy, then he didn't let it show. "And what do you find interesting, then?"

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  • 3 weeks later...

"Well," said Lon companionably, "Ah could take you all up to see the Captain, and he can jump us out to Kraken's ship at the edge of the system. Ah think he'd appreciate knowing what he's caught. It's all right with me if you want to take him down," he added with a not-quite-human smirk on her furred face, "Ah know how you lawful types are when it comes to freebooters like him. Or maybe you all could just fool me with your powers and Ah could sit a spell with my sister here," he added with a nod at Judy. 


"You are not my brother," said Judy suddenly, fixing her gaze on the alien. "Ah don't...ah don't know what you are, but don't act like you know me because we have something in common." 


"You're what, sired? Grandsired? Isn't that a treat." Lon smiled again. "Ah didn't even know we'd come out this far. Ah envy you, little sister. You're like one of these baby reptiles, just poking at your shell, about to find out about the big universe beyond-" 


"The only reason I haven't shot you right now is so we don't frighten those kids over there," said Ashley, her voice cold and hard as ice. "So get out of her face." 


"All right, all right," said Lon, spreading his clawed hands, a look of great interest in his yellow eyes. "So what's it to be? Who's gonna come see Captain Rex, and who's gonna stay down here where it's safe with the little ones?" 

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"Mr Lon," Danica began, and suddenly her entire demeanor seemed to shift a little. The put-on childlike air was gone, and now her hands were folded neatly across her shell, her face calm as she looked at him. "You're a person who sees a whole lot. You've seen more about us in five minutes than anybody else on this ship knows. I think that means you're also somebody who can make a lot of connections very quickly, and work the angles just as fast. If you take us up to see the captain, it's not going to end up going well for anybody, but especially for you." 


She went on without giving him a chance to comment or object. "If you take us up to the captain, there are two options. One, we're going to take control of the ship, but we're going to have to do it by fighting. That's going to be dangerous for us, for the crew, and for the ship itself. You've got a pretty nice ship here, and you've got innocents on board. We'd do whatever we could to make sure that people didn't get hurt, but we couldn't promise anything. See, we can't just allow ourselves to be taken the way maybe some other metahumans would if it would save lives. Which sort of leads to the other option, incidentally." 


Danica shrugged and spread her hands. "Humans value their kids really highly. Any threat to a kid is taken more seriously than a threat to an adult. Metahuman kids, like us, that's even another level up. See, human heroes tend to have metahuman children. If they don't make it totally clear that messing with their kids is out of bounds, their kids would be constantly under threat. So any threat to a metahuman kid by any villain is going to be met with instant overkill force, so nobody ever wants to do it again. If we don't get back to Earth pronto, a lot of very powerful superheroes are going to hear about it and they're going to get really worried. They already know we are here and who has us. If they get a call from Captain Kraken saying that he wants to ransom us like some two-bit villain of the week who got a super bad idea, they are going to come down like the wrath of a way angrier god than me, you know? Like, no brick left standing on top of another brick sort of situation."


Her look was level, her eyes older than her purported age in this moment. "There is no situation where you take us to the captain and things turn out good for you. Even if we won easily and nothing got destroyed, your ship is in the hands of a bunch of teenagers who are super mad at you for blackmailing us. But if you help us get back to Earth before anything bad can happen, you've got some powerful people who suddenly like you a whole lot more than we did." 



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"You should listen," Pan added to Danica's speech, while he leaned closer, speaking in a slightly hushed voice. "I am not from quite around this place, and let me be the one to tell you, this world's heroes? They will be vicious if you harm children."


"Us especially. A lot of their children attend the same school as us. Imagine how they react to seeing some of their children's friends being taken away like this? Oh, that sounds like quite a grim outcome, does it not?"

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  • 2 weeks later...

Lon seemed to consider their words carefully, listening not the way an adult listened to a teenager but the way a peer listened to another - well, more than one. By the time Danica and Pan were done, his clawed hands were steepled before him and a smile was on his fanged face. "Well. Aren't the two of you a persuasive pair? All right, Ah'll play the cards your way. No word to the captain about our unusual cargo, not even any secret messages to his high and mighty master the admiral. But Ah have to warn you, children, Ah did come here expecting to see some excitement and that is exactly what I intend to get." His smile turned - not exactly mocking, but decidedly unpleasant. "You're right about the dangers to these good people from those very powerful people that some of you are kin to - but what's that to me, then, hmm? See y'all around." He rose to his feet and bowed, then turned and left the room, tail twitching behind him. 


"Christ, what an asshole," spat Ashley, her hand on top of Judy's. 


"Ah can't believe Ah finally meet somebody like me and he's...he's like _that_," said Judy, staring daggers after the departing wolf-man. "At least the two of you talked him out of turning us all in just...just to see what would happen." 


There was at this juncture a faint rumble inside the ship, and discreet flashing yellow lights in the corners of their room where they were being held. A soft voice began repeating a  few words in Lor that Ashley reluctantly translated. "It's...it's a message asking the civilians to shelter in place."


(Pan's magic let him get the literal translation - "batten down the hatches!")

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"Well that's... not fantastic," Danica decided, looking up towards the speaker. "Both because yeah, definitely a buttface, and because what are we supposed to do with these kids?" She waved an arm at the nursery. "The babysitter just took off, and also he was apparently not a great guy to start with." She turned her attention to the children remaining in the space with them. "I don't suppose any or all of you are also actually adults just pretending to be kids and could take charge of this whole situation?"

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"No, that is not quite right," Pan added to Ashley, as he looked up. "There is trouble coming. They are telling everyone to get ready. But is it trouble from the outside, or from us? Has our friend betrayed his word, perhaps?" 


He looked to the children, then to Danica.


"I do not think I want to stay in this place any longer, but we cannot leave children on their own to be hurt. How many can you carry in your shell?"

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Danica grimaced, looking around at the kids, most of whom were pretty small for their respective species. "I mean, theoretically they'd all fit just fine. I've got lots of room in my shell, but I can't just put them in there unsupervised! They could wreck things! What if they break my laptop or flood the bathroom or something? Somebody would have to be in there to watch them."

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"Well, we all know that Ashley is great at keeping an eye on children, is she not?" Pan looked over at their older companion, a very hopeful expression in his eyes as he rocked back and forth on his feet. "After all, we have to keep the children safe, yes? And the rest of us can obviously keep them safe outside the shell while you keep the safe inside?"

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"Then Ah have to go too," said Judy softly. "Ashley's the only one who can talk to them, but Ah'm the only one of us that has any experience taking care of little kids, and Ashley's not going to leave me out here as long as she's taking care of me. Ah'm not gonna leave them in there." 


"But what about-?" Ashley wasn't sure how to ask the question, so she didn't finish; she could tell Judy got it. 


"If that's what...if that's what people like me are like..." Her eyes glowing, Judy looked down at her left hand, where a ball of glowing rainbow fire had formed. "Ah don't want any part of it." She closed her hand, snuffing the flame and the rainbow light in her eyes, and looked at the others with determination in her eyes. 


"We'll talk in there," said Ashley, "let's get these kids going. Danica," she said urgently, "I need you to let me out of there the minute there's trouble, okay? I need to make sure Judy is safe, then I can come out and help you." Meanwhile, Judy was going around and gently gathering up some of the items from the classroom, careful not to disturb either the sleeping students or their napping teacher. 

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Danica slid out of her shell, always a slightly odd thing to see, then opened it up very large indeed, big enough that Ashley and Judy could both walk in while bending over instead of having to crawl. Judy had been in Danica's little shell bedroom enough to know where the snacks and drinks and extra blankets were kept, so they'd be snug as bugs in rugs during the escape. She helped carry in some of the little kids, tucking them into her bed and turning down the light to comfy dimness. "Don't worry Ashley," she assured her friend in a murmur, "any trouble at all and I'll get you." It did occur to her to wonder how complicated it would be to let somebody out of her shell while she was actually trying to wear it, but hopefully that wouldn't happen. "Okay, that's everybody, I think. We ready?"

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Up, up and away," Pan muttered to no one in particular. Just him and Danica, then. Everyone else safe within her shell. Yes, this should do well.


Pan paused briefly, looking around. Where to start? What would be the best place to go? "Back to where we started!" he finally exclaimed, flying off leaving just a trail of dust behind, before returning for Danica. "Shall we?"


He would have to wait for Danica, of course. Oh well, they would get there soon enough.

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"Could be worse," Danica pointed out cheerfully, "I could be walking." She slid back into her shell and climbed onto the Segway, glancing around first to make sure they hadn't forgotten any particularly alien-shaped kids. Everything looked clear. Once they were out in the corridors, flat and broad and smooth-floored, she hit the gas! It still wasn't super-impressive by hero standards, but they made pretty good time as they retraced their steps through the ship. "We know they have some kind of transporter beam, but how do we get them to send us back to Earth with it? It doesn't sound like the sort of thing where we should just start pressing buttons."

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