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Danica was not a fast walker under the best of circumstances, but she did have a way of getting a crowd to part effortlessly for her, even without anyone noticing it happening. She walked with Elena out of the crowded Valentine's Day party and into the deserted hallway outside the gym. From here the music of the party was still faintly audible but the noise level was much reduced and the air was cooler and fresher. Most students entering and leaving the party were using the outside doors, so they weren't likely to be disturbed here. "How are you doing?" Danica asked, all friendly concern. 

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"I'm, uh. This party is really good! I met a lot of really nice people who were, uh, well very nice." She laughed nervously. "And I actually made plans with some of them, so that will be fun." Her palms were sweaty, and as she sighed deeply, she felt the extent of her discomfort: her dress felt too tight, the lights overhead were too bright, and her knees started to knock together. She quickly straightened herself up. You've fought Omegadrones! Pull it together.

 

Tears started to form in her eyes, and she ground them away with her fist, hoping Danica wouldn't notice. Stupid! Stop that. "Umm. It was kind of overwhelming. Not in a bad way, I just - there's a lot to learn about living here that I just don't know yet. So many things are new to me, and..." She paused, trying to find the right words, and taking that time to pull herself together, pushing her emotions back down. "There is a lot to learn, but I will learn from this occasion. It will go better next time. Sorry if I caused any inconvenience," she said in a near-monotone. 

 

 

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"Hey, hey, it's all right," Danica assured her, putting calm into her voice and quietcalmokay into the atmosphere around them. She didn't reach out to touch Elena; she'd had enough peer counseling training to know not to do that when somebody who was used to fighting a lot got upset. Danica didn't think Elena would try to hurt her, or even that she'd be able to hurt her, but accidentally lashing out would probably make Elena feel worse even if most things just bounced right off Danica's tough shell. "You were doing great in there! Parties can be super-overwhelming, especially when there are lots of people! It's totally cool and normal to need a break." 

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El didn't notice Danica's powers influencing her, but her mind resisted them. El became suddenly very aware of herself - and she knew that everyone saw her leave. In fact, they were probably talking about her right now! She stuck out in the room, El just knew it. Why did I think coming to the party was a good idea??

 

"Thank you, Danica, it's just - I shouldn't take breaks from parties, I shouldn't need to..." she said, dangerously close to short-circuiting.

 

Then, it happened. All of the emotion she had been keeping bottled up exploded outward. She turned away from Danica and punched the wall with all her might, which left a sizable dent in the brick. It hurt, but didn't make her feel any better. El clutched her hand, already embarrassed that she had turned her frustration into a destructive act. The tears now flowed from her eyes, unabated. "It's just - I used to fight Omegadrones on a daily basis. Why should talking to people be so damned hard for me?"

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Danica flinched at the sudden violence but didn't back away, instead looking toward Elena's hand for any sign she'd hurt herself. "I think because it's hard in a different way," she offered, keeping her voice quiet and even. It was hard to resist the urge to babble, to recite all the things she'd learned about social anxiety and the way it messed with peoples' brains, or maybe just tell all the stories about all the people she'd seen punching the walls around here over the years. Danica liked to talk, and getting nervous or excited just made her more talky. But talking a lot didn't seem like the right answer for right now.  "You practiced for a long time and got really good at fighting Omegadrones. I watched you fighting that one when you got here, and it was cool. But you don't have to be good at everything right away." 

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She was turned away, still staring at the hole she made in the wall. What did I just do?

 

"I'm sorry Danica. I didn't - I didn't mean to explode like that. That wasn't called for, nor did it really help. I think maybe talking to you has helped the most." She unclenched her fist. Though it hurt, she was unharmed. She wiped tears away from her eyes, and smiled a little. "Thank you. It was great fighting with you, really. I'm glad you and the other students were there to help. There were too many to take without..." She let her sister's name go unsaid. That was a problem for another day.

 

"And you're right. It's a different challenge altogether. For all the time I've been here I've approached making friends the same way I would a fight - as a hurdle to be jumped. But that's not the way it is. Sometimes its okay to learn."

 

El started to cry openly, and sort of flung herself at Danica, throwing her into a massive bear hug.

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Danica saw the move coming just in time to poof her shell away, making her a much easier target for a hug. Elena was so big that getting a hug from her really was kind of like a bear hug, but Danica was pretty good in the hugging department herself. "I'm really glad you're here at school with us!" she told Elena. "I know things are really hard where you came from and it's gotta seem super-weird living here sometimes." She patted the taller girl's back comfortingly. "You're doing so good, and people here like you a lot! It was brave to come to the party when you didn't know what to expect. And you can talk to me anytime you want!"

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The hug felt really good. It was, in fact, exactly was El needed at that very moment. Having received very little in the way of affection for most of her life, a hug from a friend was the perfect thing. I didn't know this was so...nice. Hope Danica doesn't think this is weird.

 

But she didn't, and that was wonderful. "Thank you, I'm glad to be here too. It'll be really fun to have classes with you and everyone else!" she said, breaking the long hug and wiping away her tears. "There are some really good people here. It's so nice to be among people that really care. And thank you, I will."

 

She straightened herself up a bit. It felt a little better in her rather awkward dress, but for future events, she would try to dress herself more comfortably. More like Astrid...she had style! "So while you're here - and don't get me wrong, I really like it here, but who would I talk to about getting home?"

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Danica's shell popped back into place when she stepped back, complete with all its festive decorations. She rummaged inside it for a moment, then withdrew a box of tissues for Elena. The question was enough to set her back on her heels for a moment. "Back... to your home dimension?" she hazarded. "Um, I guess the first person I would talk to would be Headmaster Summers. She's not magical herself, far as I know, but she knows a lot of people, plus she probably has your guardianship, maybe?"

 

She drummed her fingers against her lips, thinking. "But for like, dimensional travel, I guess maybe the Master Mage? Mr Eldritch got killed a couple years ago and it was really sad," she explained, "but the new master mage is called Phantom and I guess she's supposed to be, like, a portal specialist. Or there's Fleur de Joie, she lives on her own alternate Earth and lets people go on field trips there, so I know she can make portals! Or, um, maybe some of the super-scientists at the Lab, they're always doing crazy things with travel and somebody there can probably help you. Do you know if your world is one the Freedom League already catalogued, or is it new?" 

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El blew her nose loudly, and wiped her nose. She listened as Danica told her about all the people that could help. Guess I figured this would be a little easier. They always said the old world was full of wonders - but this will be a start.

 

"I see. There are quite a few that will be able to help or offer advice. Thank you. I don't know if my world has been 'catalogued'. Do you mean to say you keep track of other worlds like my own? Many of these terms, 'Master Mage' and 'super-scientist' are familiar to me, but I may need your help to gain an audience with them. From what you've said, it seems my situation is not unique." She smiled at Danica. "And that means there is hope. Hope that I can see my clan again, and my sister."

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"Oh yeah!" Danica assured her. "It's kind of weird nobody talked to you about this stuff already, but that maybe just means they're trying to figure some stuff out before they get someone in here for you. But there's at least a couple kids from other dimensions enrolled almost all the time. Dr. Marquez keeps an eye on that, he has kind of a support group for kids who are living outside their dimensions so they can talk about what it's like and stuff. Some of them don't even have powers, but they come to Claremont anyway because it's easier here than at a regular high school where everybody's basically from one place." 

 

She cocked her head to the side, obviously thinking how best to address Elena's questions. "Okay, the Master Mage, that's like, the central contact point for all the magic-users on Earth. He or she doesn't have to be the strongest, like, they don't hold a competition or anything, but they have to be super strong in magic and really, really smart, and willing to devote their whole life to basically making sure the world is not going to fall apart magically. Every world with magic has one, and for big huge threats, sometimes they can work together and sort of bring all their magic users with them. I've never seen it, but I hear it's pretty intense. And a super scientist is just like, a scientist with superpowers!" She beamed. "They're super smart or super fast, so they can do stuff in ways that normal scientists probably couldn't. It's super-science if the things they invent can be reproduced by other people using the same plans, even if the plans are so complicated only other super-scientists can use them. If it's only usable by the inventor, it's called magi-tech instead. And the Freedom League has a whole system for noting down any other universe anybody goes to, and there's a database you can use if you get permission from the school! Anybody who falls into a new dimension is supposed to report what it's like and what they saw there and how they got there and back, so they can have as much info as possible during an invasion or if someone gets lost." 

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"Support group?" Images of people sitting in a circle came to mind. Perhaps this would be helpful. Other people who are in the same situation, dealing with being outside their home dimensions - yes. That would be very good to do. "I had no idea there were others like me. Well, I mean...there were students in the party who were from other worlds, but..." It suddenly occurred to El that she was not as along as she had initially thought. "Yes. That would be very good, Danica."

 

El listened carefully. There was really very little she learned from books about this world - to actually experience it was completely different! "Master Mage, yes. That sounds like what we've read of the time before. The one who leads the others, and protects the world from magical threats. And super-science - like my battlesuit? If there are any on campus, it would be very useful to get it in working orders. As you said, some super-science can only be really understood by other super-scientists! As far as what you said about cataloging my dimension - in time, perhaps I can speak about it. Definitely before I go back home."

 

 

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"I'm sure we could find somebody to work on your suit," Danica told her, looking thoughtful. "I mean, here on campus there's Eira, but she can be kind of, um, a lot?" She grinned, half-apologetically. "Don't get me wrong, I like her but she can be a little aggressive with people she doesn't know and maybe just a teensy bit high-handed?" She held up pinched fingers to describe the teensy bit. "But there's lots of super-science people at the Lab, and some of them are going to help me get a new scooter because my old one got kidnapped by space pirates. If I meet any super-scientists there, I can get their phone number and put you in touch! Somebody in town definitely does battlesuits, I'm sure."

 

 

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El smiled, nodding. "In my clan, there were also those like that. They felt as though their skills made them superior to everyone else - that the community would fall apart without them. In truth, people simply knew that they acted that way and only asked for their help when it was truly needed."

 

"And thank you! There is only so much that reading old Popular Mechanics and Haynes Repair Manual will go. It works, in a very basic way. But there is so much more to learn. Kind of like life here. But that's okay, too." She gave Danica another quick hug. "There are good people to teach you along the way. Should we get back to the party soon? Think I'm ready now."

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"Yeah, definitely!" Danica agreed, returning the hug with another quick poof of her shell. She gave Elena a conspiratorial grin. "Actually, if you can wait just a couple more minutes, you can help me with this surprise I've got arranged! It's a good surprise, a totally awesome surprise," she assured her, "and I think it's gonna be super fun. I need help carrying a big heavy box though. My mom was gonna do it, but if you can help, that'll be awesome! We just have to go out to the parking lot. Ready?" She gave Elena a good looking over, obviously trying to make sure the tall girl was really feeling good enough to go back. 

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El grinned widely. "Yes! I mean, yes. That sounds most agreeable. And don't worry, I am quite ready to return to the party."  El sighed contentedly. It was just a matter of time before all of the feelings she had bottled up inside just came out on their own. Much better to get these worked out with friends! Still, there would be other things she would have to deal with in the future, and it wasn't fair to unload on Danica all the time...perhaps she should find a 'counselor'?

 

"So what surprise do you have planned? I do believe whatever box you have, I can help with lifting it. Without my suit, I can only lift about 460 pounds, so unless it is larger than that it shouldn't be a problem." What could it be? I hope it's more candy. 460 pounds of candy?!

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"It doesn't weight 460 pounds!" Danica laughed. "That would be... that would be a lot!" She put her shell back on and began heading down the hall towards the gym building's back door. "From what my mom was saying, it's like ten pounds, times six, plus the weight of the box... it'll be fine!" Danica walked very slowly, but she made up for her lack of speed with enthusiasm. "I'm really glad you're feeling better, El. This is going to be so much fun! 

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