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High Society

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Date: March 9th, 2009 (Monday)

Sunset 6:59pm. Waxing gibbous with 97% of the Moon's visible disk illuminated. Temp high 64/low 41. Clear in the morning, clear during the afternoon, mostly cloudy in the afternoon, overcast during the evening hours. Winds calm in the morning, whipping up to 10mph at 11am, 30mph around 2pm, then dying down to about 10mph at 6pm and staying there throughout the night.


Emma leaned over the edge of the balcony, looking out into the bay. She hated parties like these. For one, it was was just a way for the rich and well off to show of to one another. A complex series of interactions and manuverse designed to test who was worthy to be a member of the upper crust. It annoyed her. Why couldnt these people be happy being wealthy? Why was it so important to them that everyone else know they were rich? She wanted to leave, but that would only alienate her from the other party memebers, many of whom either owned, or had a controling stake in dozens of major corperations throuht freedom. And it was these people whom she needed. Her company was well off, but the real big players in this capilistic society could crush her under their heels if they so wanted. So she was forced to attented these annoying gatherings and pretend to have a good time. Gathering her whits, she left the balcony and headed back into the main atrium of the manion, ready to endure the trials of mannerisams and the judging eye of the wealthy.

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The small cluster of socialites stood at one edge of the party, watching the beautiful people with covetous eyes. "Thank you for inviting me," Jack murmured softly to Melinda as he stood by her right hand. She was ravishing in a blood-red dress that contrasted perfectly with her pale skin, her black hair piled up above her head. For his part, Jack was in an old-fashioned black suit that clung to his muscular body in all the right places. The good looks of the undead, and Melinda's tailor, had helped with that.

"You should thank me, darling," said Melinda with a tight little smile as she looked up at Jack. She had her men standing on either side of her as bodyguards, Jack and the African-American vampire Dave, reclining herself in a red velvet chair. Here she was Melinda Davenport, the wealthy investor, and all around her would do to give her her due. "Though you've paid me back well for that...incident with the fighter," she murmured, running a red-painted fingernail up along the back of Jack's hand, "you still owe me."

"You have but to ask, and I will answer," replied Jack, smiling at her warmly. This was part of the life; this was what it meant to be a vampire. If he was going to live in the world of his people, he had to make and try to keep promises like that...even if he didn't always mean them. Melinda smiled warmly at him and set down her untouched glass, looking up at him with heavy-lidded eyes.

"Freshen Mama's drink, darling," she replied with a warm smile. "And after that, you can find something for yourself."

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Elena Guerrero didn't smile as she walked slowly through the ballroom. Her relaxed posture and slow pace contrasted with the look of intense concentration upon her face, which was angled slightly downward, resulting in some shadows cast upon her features. She wondered idly if any observers realized that aforementioned concentration was split equally between reading the minds of her fellow partygoers, and making sure she didn't trip and fall in her high-heeled shoes.

The $800 pair of gold Versace sandals combined with her $50 asymetric halter dress to both create a brain-ripping contrast for the fashionistas in the crowd, and act as a private joke for Elena, a nod to her "heraldry" as The Scarab. The arrangement of her long dark hair could barely be called a "style" - it was simply pulled back with an elegant but understated butterfly clip. The fact that she wore no makeup, and no jewelry aside from a pair of dangling earrings, also raised some eyebrows.

Admittedly, the schizophrenic nature of her outfit had far less to do with making people uncomfortable, and more to do with the conflicting voices in her own mind.

I am royalty. There is nothing wrong with vestments worthy of my station.

This is a ridiculous waste of money. Every single individual article of clothing these people are wearing could pay an entire month's rent for 90% of the families in this city.

But the occasional confused and aghast look from a socialite at Elena's patchwork ensemble just triggered a momentary grin she couldn't hope to suppress or conceal.

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Elena sighed as she mused to herself. I still can't believe Sofia convinced me to actually show up here. I maintain that my patented 'send them a cheque' method of social interaction would have been perfectly adequate. But she's right - the more time I spend at these little shindigs, the less questions people ask. And it is a potential gold mine of information pertinent to my...'extra-curricular activities.' As she scanned the crowd, the stray thoughts of a certain pink-haired partygoer caught her attention.

She hated parties like these. For one, it was was just a way for the rich and well off to show of to one another. A complex series of interactions and manuverse designed to test who was worthy to be a member of the upper crust. It annoyed her. Why couldnt these people be happy being wealthy? Why was it so important to them that everyone else know they were rich? She wanted to leave, but that would only alienate her from the other party memebers, many of whom either owned, or had a controling stake in dozens of major corperations throuht freedom. And it was these people whom she needed. Her company was well off, but the real big players in this capilistic society could crush her under their heels if they so wanted. So she was forced to attented these annoying gatherings and pretend to have a good time.

Heh. That sentiment sounds familiar. And she looks stunning. That dress is fighting to contain her, and losing. This party just got a lot more interesting...

Elena had intended to strike up a conversation with the candy-haired businesswoman, regarding their mutual discomfort. But her plan was derailed at the sight of a familiar face: Jack. Or "Avenger," as he preferred to be called on "the mean streets of Freedom City." A smile overtook her features, easy and wide.

I never would have expected to see Jack at one of these things. He's looking rather dashing tonight. And that's quite the looker he's chatting with. At least this shindig isn't short on eye-candy. Weird. He's usually so strong-willed and independent, but she's got him wrapped around her little finger. She's pretty and all, but I wonder what's so special about her... Elena couldn't resist. She gently peeled back the layers of the pale beauty's mind...and she did not like what she found. She did not like it at all.

...Oh. The smile collapsed off of Elena's face. She glared at the floor.

"Freshen Mama's drink, darling," she replied with a warm smile. "And after that, you can find something for yourself."

Elena leaned back on one foot, crossed her arms, tilted her head slightly, and raised an eyebrow as she reached out to make mental contact. Really, Jack?

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Jack swore in Old Slavonic at the touch of Scarab's mind on his, and again when Melinda reached up and grabbed his hand hard enough to break a normal man's bones. "Someone's here," she whispered in that same language, too quietly for anyone but nearby ears to hear. Jack and Dave exchanged a look, then looked at their mistress as she rose to her feet as gracefully and delicately as a spider retreating to its web. "I'm going onto the balcony. Find them. Punish them." Melinda licked her ruby-red lips, a predatory look on her eyes, before she took her leave of the room.

For his part, Jack let Dave go off on his own before seeking out Elena. In that outfit, he thought peevishly, she wasn't hard to miss. Elena was a telepath, but he himself certainly wasn't. "What are you doing here?" he whispered to her sharply, his tone like that of a man who'd stumbled across his ex at a party.

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Elena shot a glare toward Jack that could melt steel, then looked off to the side. What am I doing here? Giving money to charity, and making sure these twits spend more time gossiping and less time asking serious questions about what I do with my time when I'm not showing up to these farces. What are you doing here? I mean, other than playing lapdog to that monster over there?

She sighed. I get it, Jack. You're trying to play both sides of the fence. You're trying to undermine 'Vampire Society' from within, pump them for information. It's as noble as it is foolish. Do you have any idea what a dangerous game you're playing? Because she was playing that game hundreds of years before the dinner, movie, and broken condom that brought you into existence. She has centuries of blood on her hands, and shedding it has only gotten easier with time.

And to think, for a second there, I was actually happy to see you...dammit, did that one slip through? CONCENTRATE! Elena closed her eyes for a moment as her fingertips rubbed the bridge of her nose.

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Jack's mental response was a mental shout as his eyes narrowed, real anger flashing across his face. DON'T YOU TALK ABOUT MY MOTHER THAT WAY! Out loud, he said, "Nothing to say, huh? Well, then I'll do the talking. I don't need your judgment and I don't need your mind games. This is not what our relationship is about. Stay out of my business, and I'll stay out of yours."

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You want me to speak up? You really want Mistress to hear what I have to say? Elena's glare of disappointed and self-righteous anger gradually morphed into just-plain-sad anger as he spoke. When he finished his ultimatum and turned to walk away, Elena turned down to the ground again. Then her arm shot out and caught Jack's shoulder at the last second. Her glare softened and her eyes widened a little. "Jack...just...look, just be careful, OK? And don't be afraid to ask for help. That's what comrades are for, remember?"

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"My life is mine. I know how to live it." Jack folded his arms, unable to stop the surge of grief and images of death and loss that came to mind at the thought of his dead parents. That was one wound he'd kept very, very far away from his vampire friends. I know what Melinda is. Just make sure you don't forget what I am.

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Elena heard the rustle of silk and skin behind her before she heard Melinda's voice, a noise that kept her from being surprised as Melinda drifted up behind her. "Why, hello there," she said with a dangerous smile on her red-lipped face. "Jack, I don't think I know your friend." She turned that smile on Elena, her eyes shining with promises of unspeakable pleasures and wicked delights.

"This is Elena," said Jack evenly, trying to keep his emotions off his face and away from both women. Especially Elena. But especially Melinda. "She was just leaving."

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Elena just stood there, eyes open a little wider than they should have been, staring in awe at Melinda. Her mouth hung open slightly. Her voice felt stuck, caught halfway through her throat. ...like a Monet...but in reverse...nothing special from far away, but up-close...my gods...Jack's words seemed to fly in one ear and straight out the other.

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Ooooh! A small, unworthy part of Jack wanted to let nature take its course. But that was a bad idea for a vast number of reasons. If Scarab was bitten and Elena turned on him. If Melinda found out who was the telepath who'd been scanning her. If Melinda found out what he'd been doing! On the other hand, keeping Melinda from her toy would be equally dangerous. He leaned close to Melinda, kissing her cheek decorously, and whispered in the vampire's tongue, "She's no good. Tastes terrible. I think it's her diet."

"Oh, really?" Melinda murmured back, her red-painted nails trailing along Elena's arms as she stepped close to the other woman, their eyes still locked together. "So why does she care about you so much?"

"Because I did things to her," Jack whispered back, his voice honeyed and sweet as he whispered to the dark queen. "You know the ones I mean."

"Oh yes..." Melinda smiled wickedly at the memory, speaking in English now. "I do seem to remember that. Well, I suppose I can hardly blame her then for succumbing to your charms." She cast an eye on the crowd to make sure no one was watching, then leaned close and kissed Elena on the lips. "Too bad. I was in the mood for Mexican." She took Jack by the arm, then, and led him away, Jack shooting a glance back at Elena. Melinda told him with dangerous sweetness, "Now, if you want an opportunity to do those things again, you will help me find you-know-who..."

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Elena's lips moved reflexively, returning Melinda's kiss with one of her own. Her conscious mind fully intended to object to this course of action, but her "baser" instincts left the "higher" thoughts in the dust. By the time Elena remembered the utterly repugnant nature of the entire situation, Melinda was already retreating.

Well, she can be charming when she wants to be. No doubt about that. If she could ensnare me like that, even momentarily, then Jack wouldn't stand a chance. Still, so much for my high horse. Jack must be loving this.

Elena closed her eyes tight, slapped her forehead, then vigorously rubbed her lips off against her the back of her forearm.

Then she wandered out to one of the balconies and leaned forward against the railing, lost in thought. I could just crack her head open like a walnut and erase her memory of this incident...No, I can't. That would raise more questions than it would put to rest. Even if she doesn't remember this, other people would. And even I couldn't be sure I got to them all.

She grinned wryly to herself. Well, worst-case scenario, we just have to kill the blood-sucking b****. I'm OK with that.

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Tell me, again, why are we coming here?

Because while we know how important it is to occasionally let you out, we've let you keep us cooped up in the laboratory for far too long of late, and we need to get out and mingle.

Feh.

Besides, the change in scenery may help us come up with an idea for our next lecture.

Look, I already told you what we should present!

We are not showing die Angstigator or der Hungermacher!

"Careful now, Miss Guerrero, ve vouldn't vant to lose von of our cities shining lights!" a voice came from below, though far too close to be coming from the ground floor. Looking down, Elena saw Dr. Archeville, rising as if on an invisible elevator.

Elena at first thought he was wearing his usual rumpled pants and shirt, and his always-spotless labcoat. As he approached, though, she could see that, while his outfit was largely the same, there were certain differences. His black lab work boots were shined to a mirror finish, and his black khaki pants and blue silk shirt actually looked pressed. At his neck was a red silk bowtie, which looked oddly appropriate for him. Contrarily, his alabaster skin and free-flowing shoulder-length golden blonde hair made him, in the light of the nearly-full moon, look quite ethereal, an effect aided by the soft blue glow of his Gravimetric Belt.

And the fact that he was still hovering out there.

"By de vay, dat is a lovely dress you're vearing."

Ah, good, I was hoping she would be here.

Dammit!

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Elena leaned down onto the railing with her elbow, her chin supported on her palm as she lost herself in thought.

"Careful now, Miss Guerrero, ve vouldn't vant to lose von of our cities shining lights!"

Elena stood straight back up and smiled. "Viktor!" She ran to the edge of the balcony, reached out her arms, and gave him an enthusiastic hug. "I have to admit, you know how to make an entrance."

"By de vay, dat is a lovely dress you're vearing."

Elena stepped back, rested her hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow. "Very funny. Seems I'm not the only one who decided to make a fashion statement tonight."

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Hey, was that a disparaging comment on our outfit?

No, it wasn't, you id-iot.

"Vhat, dis old ding?" Archeville replied. "Just because it's a lab coat doesn't mean it must be a drab coat!" He chuckled a bit at his own joke.

"As for mein entrance," he continued, offering an arm to Elena and gesturing towards the door, silently asking if she were ready to return to the party, "I actually did mean to arrive at de beginning of de event, make a subdued entrance. But some vork in de laboratory got avay from me, und I vas only just now able to get out. Don't vorry, it's safely back in its cage. So I figured, 'If I am fashionably late, I may as vell make a splashy entrance.' I had planned to come in through dat big vindow dere," he said, pointing towards a larger balcony, "but den I saw you here, so I changed mein plans."

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"Maybe they left already," said Dave good-naturedly, ever the peacemaker when it came to pleasing his mistress, the three vampires having formed up together in a tight little knot in a far corner of the ballroom, far away from the superheroes outside. "If they saw what you were thinking, maybe they ran away."

"Oh, there's a wonderful idea," hissed Melinda quietly. "Straight to a witch-hunter, no doubt." She squeezed the bridge of her pert little nose, murder in her lovely eyes. "All right, here's what we'll do. Much as it...wounds me to be driven away, it is too dangerous for me to be where someone has already read my mind. I will return to the nest." She meant the local one, the bolthole Melinda had set aside for the city's vampires in the region. She looked up at Jack, and went on in Slavonic. "Jack, your place is higher than Dave's. You will take charge of him and find the telepath. And then you will kill them."

"But I-"

"Don't." Melinda replied. "I am aware of your twee feelings on human life, but they are less than adorable now that we are faced with a crisis. If you do lack the stomach to kill the telepath at this party, then you may let Dave do it. If either of you fail me, I shall see to it that you both suffer the peine fort et dure. Do you understand?"

They did, and the two vampires watched as she left. Jack couldn't read Dave's mind, but he could certainly read his own. What am I going to do?

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"Vhat, dis old ding?" Archeville replied. "Just because it's a lab coat doesn't mean it must be a drab coat!" He chuckled a bit at his own joke.

Elena coughed up a laugh despite herself, clearly astonished at her own response. "Did you stay up all night thinking that one up?" She took his arm with one hand, and punched his shoulder playfully with the other.

"As for mein entrance, I actually did mean to arrive at de beginning of de event, make a subdued entrance. But some vork in de laboratory got avay from me, und I vas only just now able to get out. Don't vorry, it's safely back in its cage. So I figured, 'If I am fashionably late, I may as vell make a splashy entrance.' I had planned to come in through dat big vindow dere," he said, pointing towards a larger balcony, "but den I saw you here, so I changed mein plans."

Elena glanced over at the balcony Viktor indicated, then hurriedly looked away. "It's a good thing you didn't. The company over there is...somewhat lacking." Her face went pale for a moment, then she composed herself and forced a smile. "Shall we dance?" She pulled him out onto the floor.

Elena glared over his shoulder at Jack, then grinned smugly and focused on Viktor.

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"Only part of de night. I do think very fast, you know," he said with a wink.

Whoah, what's she doing?

It's called "dancing".

Hurm... y'know, this feels kinda nice. She feels kinda nice...

Hey!

"I take it dere are some patrons here mit whom you take issue, ja?" he said softly as he lead them into a waltz. "Harpies or Jackals? Are dey here to be snide und rude, or are dey casing de place for some future criminal activity?"

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"I take it dere are some patrons here mit whom you take issue, ja?" he said softly as he lead them into a waltz.

Viktor felt the familiar resonance of Elena's voice in his mind. "Take issue" doesn't do it justice. You know as well as I do that Evil finds its way with equal frequency in the loftiest towers as it does in the deepest gutters.

"Harpies or Jackals? Are dey here to be snide und rude, or are dey casing de place for some future criminal activity?"

I'm pretty sure it's a little of both.

As they danced, Elena stepped on Viktor's feet a few times. "Sorry." Once or twice, she forgot who was leading, and accidentally head-butted him. "Sorry." She tried to laugh it off, but Viktor could easily see that she was blushing. After a few minutes, Elena stopped moving as the music died down. She alternated for a few seconds between rubbing her head and her feet. "There. I managed to make it through an entire song without killing either one of us. Mission accomplished. Now I'm going to go sit down."

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"All right." Jack rubbed his eyes, thinking fast. "Dave, here's what I want you to do." He leaned close to the other vampire, whispering quietly and intimately. "I want you to check the servants. That's the perfect way to infiltrate a party like this, especially if you have telepathic powers. Check them out as best you can, see if any of them react differently to you. Find me if you find anything, and we'll deal with it. Together." He squeezed Dave's shoulder and added in Slavonic, "No rack for us."

When Dave was off, looking quietly fearful behind his mask of vampiric control and detachment, Jack was left with the still-thorny problem of what on Earth he was going to do to get them out of this situation. He leaned against the wall, all sleek detachment, watching as the humans moved. He certainly couldn't kill Elena, but he certainly couldn't go back to Melinda without blood on his hands. HEY ELENA! he 'thought' loudly, wondering if mental connections actually worked like this. Well, if it didn't, at least he'd be no worse off. CAN YOU HEAR ME!?! He moved as he thought, cutting his way through the crowd like a shark through seaweed as he made his way towards Elena and Archeville.

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HEY ELENA! he 'thought' loudly, wondering if mental connections actually worked like this. Well, if it didn't, at least he'd be no worse off. CAN YOU HEAR ME!?!

Yes, Jack, I can "hear you." You caught me. I haven't broken the connection yet. No need to shout. She glared past Viktor at Jack, but he could tell that she looked more hurt than angry. Now what do you want? Can't you see I'm trying to salvage something from this mess of an evening?

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Oh. I didn't know if that would work. Jack hmmed mentally as he stepped through the crowd, circling Elena as he kept a careful distance from her and her Aryan escort. Listen, I know you're on the outs with me right now, but I need your help with something. I need you to make a friend of mine think I've killed you. He paused, his eyebrows furrowing as tension crossed his lovely, chiseled face. Wait, that sounded bad. Mental conversations aren't easy, are they? OK, it's like this. I need to kill the person who read my mis...boss's mind earlier, but of course that's not actually going to work. But if you make my friend think I did find and kill the telepath who read Melinda's mind, it'll all be good.

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Say, don't we have that, y'know, thing at the... place?

We're not leaving.

"No worries at all, Elena, I haff faced far vorse," he says as he escorts her to a chair, snagging two glasses of champagne from a passing server.

"By de vay, I do still haff some investment matters to disc-" He cut himself off as he realized her attention was elsewhere.

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Elena's stare was indeed focused across the room. Viktor's words passed in one ear and out the other.

Oh. I didn't know if that would work. Jack hmmed mentally as he stepped through the crowd, circling Elena as he kept a careful distance from her and her Aryan escort. Listen, I know you're on the outs with me right now, but I need your help with something. I need you to make a friend of mine think I've killed you. He paused, his eyebrows furrowing as tension crossed his lovely, chiseled face. Wait, that sounded bad. Mental conversations aren't easy, are they? OK, it's like this. I need to kill the person who read my mis...boss's mind earlier, but of course that's not actually going to work. But if you make my friend think I did find and kill the telepath who read Melinda's mind, it'll all be good.

...That's actually a really good idea, Jack. I'm in. We should probably get him alone and unconscious or restrained first.

And you're not "on the outs" with me. It's my fault for toppling your precarious house of cards, and your fault for building it in the first place.

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