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A Picture of Sophisticated Grace (IC)

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July 1, 2015 

Project Freedom 

The sunlight streaming in the window woke Ackwareeaa from dreams of the sea. Opening her eyes, Aquaria smacked her green-white lips for a moment, taking stock of the day - before she realized what day it was. "We are getting out today!" She bounded out of her tub at those words, splashing just a few drops of water on the ground as she excitedly hopped around, legs bent and palms flat against the concrete floor of her room. "Woo-hoo!" She wanted to jump into the bathroom and yell to Jessie, but she couldn't hear her friend moving around and didn't want to scare her. Jessie didn't like to be scared. 

Leaping up onto the wall, she padded along the walls to her closet, carefully picking her way past her many art therapy pictures still stuck to the walls. Once at her her closet, she began sorting through her very small personal wardrobe for what she was going to wear, leaning into the tiny corner with her long, long arms. She needed to look like a Surfacer if she was going to go out among them - today especially! She settled on what she usually did - a white T-shirt that hung oddly on her triangular torso, Capri pants that fit her legs, and...she looked down at the bottom of the closet, where her enemies were waiting for her. 

A frown crossed her muzzle as she bent down to pick them up, holding one each between fingers and a thumb. They were long by Surfacer standards and bulgy at the ends; and too dry even when she put in the special moisturizing inserts. Shoes. She didn't really understand why Jessie had dubbed these "clown shoes" - her nose was green and white, not red, and she didn't look anything like those costumed Surfacers, but the name had stuck. "I'll put you things on last," she informed the shoes before returning them to her closet corner. 

Opening the door to her bathroom, she checked the shared clock in there. "It's only six-thirty! Jessie's probably still sleeping," she fretted, wriggling her tongue back and forth in her mouth against all those Ss. "I will get ready first and surprise her. Okay, Aquaria, time to get ready," she told the Deep One in the mirror, experimentally flexing her throat sacs as she spoke, bulging her neck out as big as a Surfacer's closed fist. "am a good member of society! am first! have a job  for the Hunter family in North Bay. am groundskeeper! am going to live in the DuTemps Building in Room 437 with my best friend, Jessie White." She raised two thumbs in front of the mirror, then realized her crest was sticking up!

Not wanting to embarrass herself, she reached up to begin patting it down. "<I am calm. I am cool,>" she told the face in the mirror. "<I am...speaking Lemurian.>" With an effort, she forced her mouth back to the odd shape of English. "Bre-ek-ek, coax, coax...bleah. I am somebody people want to live near. I am...awesome!" She picked up a towel and wrapped it around her head. "Ooh, look at me, I'm a Surfacer!" she said in a dry, growly voice that was her best imitation of the Surfacer accent. "I wear clothes and eat plants! I My skin is made of sand, I think I need some lotion, don't you! Hee-hee!" She turned and banged on the door to the other room. 

"Jessie!" she called. "It's this day!" 

Edited by Avenger Assembled
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There was no response from the other room, but if Jessie had been asleep, the banging on the door would've gotten at least a shout of surprise, and possibly a thud from Jessie falling out of bed, so it seemed safe to go in. Jessie rarely fastened the lock on her bathroom door. Inside, Aquaria found Jessie sitting on her bed with her legs drawn up and her arms wrapped around her knees, fully dressed and wide awake. She looked as though she'd probably been there awhile, possibly all night. The bed was perfectly made, hospital corners and everything, and all the drawings and paintings Jessie had stuck to the walls had been taken down and packed away. All the dimensional refugee's earthly possessions fit into the one black rolling suitcase that stood at the foot of the bed. 

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" she asked Aquaria. "I heard the weather is going to be lousy this week. Really hot and dry. That's not good for moving. We could wait till things are better."

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Aquaria hopped up on the bed and crouched near, but not next to, Jessie, her legs folded up beneath her and body weight resting on her hands. "Jessie, we gotta move out! We worked really hard for trusty housing  and now other people need our space over-much. Corvae will get to see her kids if she can be in here! So we've gotta move out - and quick!" Things like that were very important to the acrobatic amphibian. "And in addition to, we will have our _own_ place!" She gestured, spreading long, webbed fingers as far apart as they could go. "It'll be so amazing!" The truth was, she was a little nervous about leaving Project Freedom behind herself, but she knew she had to help her friend stay positive. "We can sleep as late as we want, and eat whenever we want, and go outside whenever we want! Who cares if it's hot and dry today?" she said bravely. "Remember the size of those bathtubs!? It's going to be so niiiice...

She rolled over onto her back, falling onto the bare floor with a thump. "Your sister is gonna be here soon," she said, looking up at Jessie. "I'd better finish getting dressed and packing. Let's go downstairs and have breakfast" she suggested gently. 

Edited by Avenger Assembled
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This was a good offer, since no matter what else was going on, Jessie almost never turned down an opportunity for food. When that fact had been mentioned, Jessie had shrugged uncomfortably and muttered something about someday maybe there wouldn't be anything when she was hungry, a conviction probably born somewhere in the time she couldn't remember anymore. At any rate, Jessie unfolded herself and followed Aquaria down to the cafeteria, where breakfast was just being set out. Once Aquaria had her customary bowl of kippers and Jessie her fruit cup and oatmeal, they sat down at Jessie's favorite corner table, one with a good view of the whole room. "She might forget," Jessie suggested. "Or have to go save the world or something. We can't go by ourselves. We don't have a car." 

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That was a potential problem. Jessie's sister was, as far as Aquaria could tell, highly placed in the ranks of the heroes - which meant her support was valuable when it came to the two of them joining the society of Freedom City, a society in which heroes stood at the top. "It'll be okay," Aquaria reassured her friend, scooping up kippers with her fork so that she could talk and eat at the same time. "Mizz Wainwright says the heroes aren't busy now that the Song Wave is over. I'm sure she'll be here. Sisters always look out for each other. And she said she was going to tell me what I have to do at the Hunter mansion.." Aquaria had thoroughly enjoyed the Song Wave, mystical compulsion or nor, breaking into song while she was teaching the babies at the Aquarium and for once getting them to sing along with her. "If she doesn't make it, it can be like when the bus broke down in the State Forest, and I give you a ride! We'll bounce our way to the DuTemps Building." That had actually been an uncomfortable experience - Jessie had dug into her ribs hard enough to bruise, but there was no point in letting her friend worry about that. 

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"I can bounce by myself," Jessie muttered sullenly, pulling her elbows in tight to her body and stabbing a piece of watermelon with her fork. "Not like she can, but I can." Part of Jessie's rehabilitation had included training in controlling her strength and power in every circumstance, which meant measuring her athletic ability and fighting skills. In her forgotten prime, Singularity had been a match for her dimensional counterpart, but years of incarceration and the removal of much of her experience had taken a serious toll. Jessie was a pale shadow of her heroic doppelganger, and likely always would be. "She's not really my sister."

Another stab, and the piece of watermelon disintegrated beneath the tines of her fork. "Have you got all your stuff?"

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"Yes, it's all packed," said Aquaria. "Even my pictures." Her skin, front and back, flushed a darker shade of green at the memories of all the times she'd had to answer lots of questions about the pictures she'd made in art therapy, pictures of the world she'd left behind. Surfacers just didn't like looking at Deep One life, so she'd stopped those pictures and hadn't had to worry about it since. Like Jessie, her worldly possessions all fit into one rolling suitcase - the size of the box they'd had to keep their things in during room inspection. She scooped up the bowl and opened her mouth wide, licking the last of the salty kipper juice out of the metal. "Did you bring yours? We can make a shrine in our new place. Maybe around the window, so we can see it when we look outside." They both were the subject of some interest today, residents and friends they'd made coming over to shake their hand and congratulate them on getting out. Aquaria was happy to take all the attention here, letting Jessie duck out of the conversation while she promised to write to everybody! 

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Jessie took full advantage of both the distraction and the ducking, and was half under the table by the time they were both finished eating. By the time they'd bused their trays and cleaned the table, it was very nearly time to go. Jessie slumped down with her elbows on the damp tabletop and stared morosely at the large round clock on the wall. "She's going to be late," Jessie predicted glumly. "We may as well go back to the room." 

At that exact moment, the cafeteria door opened and Wander strode in, looking slightly disheveled and more than a little harried. She immediately zeroed in on Jessie's table. "There was a car accident," she said by way of explanation, if not quite apology. "Nobody died, but it was a hell of a mess. My truck's outside. You ready to go?" Jessie nodded hesitantly, then looked toward Aquaria for confirmaton. 

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"Yes!" exclaimed Aquaria, excitedly, a big smile on her face - bigger than any human face could have handled. "I'm so glad you're here. Jessie, I'll go get our bags!" she told Jessie, not wanting to give her friend an opportunity to 'get stuck' on the way there. Excited as she was (and still not wearing her shoes), she scrambled her way out of the cafeteria and bounded her way upstairs to their rooms. Strong and flexible as she was, she could easily carry both suitcases down to rejoin Jessie and her sister. "C'mon, Jessie," she said excitedly from the door. "We gotta go sign out! Bye, everybody! I promise to write letters!" she said, waving her big, half-webbed hand at the group still in the cafeteria. She let Wander manage Jessie on the way down the corridor to the entrance-exit doors, tough steel reinforced by bulletproof glass on the nearby windows. Still looking very pleased with herself, she went through the familiar ritual of signing herself out on the clipboard for the very last time.

Stan the guard, an elderly ex-policeman, gave her his usual smile. "Good luck out there, kid. You too, Ms White," he went on, offering the clipboard to Jessie. 

Aquaria was practically bouncing in place still, obviously ready to spring right out the door. "Thanks! Kuo-kuo! Tell Mizz Wainwright she can come by our apartment any time!"

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Signing out today was streamlined very much by the reams of paperwork Aquaria and Jessie had filled out and signed in the days before their release, but Erin was still finishing up her share by the time Aquaria came back down with the bags. Jessie stood nearby, her face and the messy blonde bob of her hair all but lost in the hoodie she'd insisted on wearing to match her friend. She and Erin appeared to be ignoring each other for the moment. Erin picked up the bags as though they weighed nothing, then all but body-checked Jessie out the front door and down the steps of Project Freedom. "All right, here we go. Jessie, you're in the middle, Aquaria, you've got the window seat." 

"Maybe we should wait till after lunch," Jessie suggested, blinking in the bright sunlight. "We haven't had a chance to buy any groceries, and we'll need food-" 

"Already taken care of," Erin interrupted as she tossed the bags into the bed of the truck. "I talked to the dietitian here, got you a pantry full. You're all stocked up for the next little while. You'll like the DuTemps Building,"  she told Aquaria, nudging Jessie into the truck even as the other girl obviously struggled to find another objection. "It's cool-looking, got a castle built right on top of it. There's a museum and stuff that you can tour. And once you're settled in, you can meet some of the other heroes who live there." 

"I forgot Doctor Baxter's phone number!" Jessie burst out, suddenly struggling to get out of the truck. "I need that if I need to talk to him!" 

"It's in your phone!" Erin retorted, extending an arm to bar her double from leaving. 

"What phone?" Jessie demanded. "I don't have a phone!" 

"Trevor thought you should both have phones in case people need to get in touch with you. The apartment has a phone, but you'll each have a cell phone with the important numbers programmed in." As soon as Jessie stopped struggling and Aquaria was buckled in, Erin started the truck and drove away as hastily as decorum allowed. "Really, Jess, it's gonna be okay. It's not going to be that different from Project Freedom, except you get to pick your own meals and bedtime," she said, obviously trying to be supportive. Jessie did not look convinced. 

Edited by Electra
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Aquaria had watched Erin and Jessie struggle with her hands carefully in her lap, avoiding the urge to intervene. She knew the two Surfacer women were both much stronger than she was, and getting in the way would only make Jessie upset, and possibly lead to an injury that would spoil their day of freedom. And as sad as it was, Erin was experienced with this by now. Figuring that Jessie had heard enough of her about how awesome moving out was going to be (even though it really was), she took out her phone and fiddled with it. Her big, slightly damp fingers weren't perfectly suited for most phones she'd seen, but this one seemed to be specially modified. "Ooh, neat! It's got games on it!" Aquaria didn't really know anything about that - but games for phones were advertised a lot on TV, so they had to be important. "I can put recipes in here, too. We can have tilapia, and flouder, and imitation crab...and stuff that isn't fish," she added. 

She kept her hoodie pulled up as the truck pulled into traffic, not wanting to cause a panic. She knew what Surfacers did when she walked around with her face exposed - and thinking about that was enough to make her want to think about something else. "And if I want to get to the Hunter mansion to work as a groundskeeper, I take the subway Red Line and get off at the fourth station," she said, repeating instructions she had carefully memorized. "Because it's dark down there, and damp, and nobody looks at anybody." She looked up at the sky, as best she could, hemmed in by the many, many tall buildings here. "I hope it rains tonight."

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"Probably not for a few days," Erin replied apologetically, "it's kind of the middle of summer. But there's a little pond at the manor, and a bunch of sprinklers, you'll probably like it pretty well. Just remember you've still got to keep taking classes too, that's part of the whole groundskeeper deal. You don't want to have to work outdoors in hot weather and snow all your life, it's not good for you. You get your GED and take some classes, we can teach you how to be a mechanic or a security guard and you'll be better off." 

"What about me?" Jessie asked suddenly, her arms still folded tight over her breasts, her chin tucked almost to her chest. "What do you have lined up for me to do?" 

Erin took a long and very modulated deep breath, pressing her lips together for a moment before speaking. "We talked about this already," she reminded Jessie. "You're going to go to Freedom City University and get a degree in something. Whatever you want, I don't even care. Underwater basket-weaving. You've got an opportunity to do something not everybody gets to have." 

"If it's such a good opportunity, why didn't you do it instead?" Jessie retorted sullenly. In private, on previous days, Jessie had confided to Aquaria that she was happy about the opportunity to go to school, and a little overwhelmed that everything was being provided for her to make that happen, so this was something of an abrupt attitude shift. "You've got money and a rich boyfriend. There wasn't anything stopping you." 

There was a beat of silence while Erin's fingers tightened around the steering wheel, hard enough to make visible divots. "Because," she said very carefully, very clearly, "I wanted to prove to myself that I could make it on my own, without needing help or anybody propping me up. You obviously can't, so there's nothing for you to prove. You may as well take the opportunity." Jessie flinched but did not reply, and the drive continued in thick silence. 

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"...is there really a degree in underwater basket-weaving?" asked Aquaria, her jutting chin briefly bobbing up from her phone. The look on Erin's face suggested that there probably was not, though, and Aquaria decided to move on. "I like the outside," she offered. "Freedom City is never as hot as the island was, and even on dry days it feels better than air conditioning." She scrubbed her hands against her arms, thinking painfully about her introduction to that particular piece of Surfacer technology. Her skin had itched for days after her time in Blackstone. But thinking about air conditioning also brought forth thoughts about snow - terrible, terrible snow. "It does get cold. I still hope I can get a job at the aquarium. I can clean the tanks, talk to the animals..." She had been a little surprised Surfacers had been so interested in that power - talking to animal spirits had been part of her spiritual training as a young girl, but she'd assumed Surfacers, who scoured the sea with giant nets, had no interest in the spirits of those who lived below. 

"And just think,  Jessie," she said to her friend, "if I get a job at the aquarium, I can see the babies whenever I want!" The young Deep Ones at the Freedom City aquarium, now being educated by volunteer teachers, were one of Aquaria's favorite topics. "Maybe you can get a job there moving the heavy stuff, or painting all the art there and we can be work buddies who don't have to wear orange!

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Jessie did not seem inclined to respond to that line of conversation at all, or indeed to any line of conversation Aquaria could come up with as they drove through the crowded streets of Freedom City. Erin mustered herself to tell Aquaria that she would be able to close the vents in her room and there was a humidifier waiting for her at the apartment, but she also did not seem to be feeling particularly chatty. It was something of a relief when they pulled into the parking garage beneath the DuTemps building, using a keycard Erin pulled from a cubby in the dashboard, and navigated into one of the two spots reserved for Apartment 906. "And here we are," Erin told her two passengers as she hopped out of the truck. "Home sweet home." 

The parking garage was clean and well-lit, but otherwise not particularly exciting as far as these things went. As they headed for the elevator with suitcases in tow, Erin handed each of them a small ring of keys. "Here's front door, storage area, laundry room, and mailbox," she explained. "Use your door key for the elevator. There's a doorman in the lobby, so you don't have to worry about coming in on foot. And there are some superheroes in this building, but most of the tenants are just normal, so keep that in mind." 

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"But the windows open?" That was an important point for Aquaria, who had been vaguely horrified to find the way Surfacers lived, like they were all in the same glass cages they liked to put animals in. Inside the elevator, she folded her long arms, keeping one gold and black eye on each of the two women she was riding with. As chatty as she was, she knew better than to pressure Jessie - and she knew how Jessie and Erin together could be! She resisted the urge to hop along as they made their way through the corridor, instead carefully padding along despite the itchy carpet under her feet. "It's not so bad in here," she commented, referring to the gentle hiss of air conditioning. Maybe it really had just been Blackstone's foul dry air that had been so unpleasant for her. "I bet the room will be awesome!

The apartment, which of course was more than just one room, made her gasp with surprise as she walked in just behind the two Surfacers. "It's huge!" She bounded forward, scampering past a bedroom, a kitchen, another bedroom and a living room, and two bathrooms, both of which had the giant bathtubs she'd been promised. Excited as she was, she'd run right along the walls, spreading long fingers and toes wide. "Oh, I'm, uh, sorry," she apologized, jumping down to her feet after she'd run back to rejoin her companions. "It's just so big! And it's all ours!

Edited by Avenger Assembled
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"The windows open," Erin assured Aquaria, "they're locked from the inside but every window except the bathroom windows can open. Just try not to run over other peoples' windows unless it's an emergency, so you don't get them dirty or startle somebody." While Aquaria was exploring and Erin was checking the thermostat and the warm-air humidifier in the living room, Jessie had disappeared into her bedroom. It was slightly smaller than Aquaria's, since she didn't need a massive bathtub-bed, just a pleasantly soft full-size bed done up in inoffensive blue and gray linens. That, a night table with lamp, a dresser and a desk were the only furnishings in the room. It was bigger, but otherwise not at all dissimilar to her room at Project Freedom. At the moment, though, Jessie didn't seem to be taking any of it in, rather she was sitting on the bed with her suitcase next to her, staring at the wall and looking a million miles away. "You okay in there, Jess?" 

Jessie didn't answer, obviously completely lost in whatever thought or memory had popped into her head. Erin frowned and took a half-step forward, as though about to go into the bedroom, then checked herself. "She, um, probably needs a minute," she told Aquaria awkwardly. I can show you the kitchen, all the food and dishes and stuff if you want." 

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In the kitchen, Aquaria watched Erin talk her through the kitchen and its equipment. The endless world of Surfacer cooking was diverting enough that she let herself focus despite her worries about Jessie. "But no real fires," she repeated in response to the instructions she'd just gotten from Erin. "Electric ranges will be okay, that's what they used in the test kitchen at Project Freedom. They didn't want us getting any ideas, hah-hah-hah," she said, her voice in that awkward register that said she was repeating a joke she'd heard from someone else there. "A whole set of pots...and all the spices!" She looked at the spice rack and smiled with just the front of her face, trying not to look weird to her Surfacer...friend? Patron? Pod-sister? She was never sure of the exact words. "Back in the tribe, all we had was salt and sometimes mushrooms. This looks very good." Lowering her voice to a whisper, a strange, almost sibilant sound in her mouth, shooting a bulgy-eyed glance at Jessie's door, she murmured, "Jesssie iss actually really happy about thisss." 

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Erin sighed, and for a moment looked very much older than her doppelganger. "No, she's not, and I can't really blame her," she corrected, her shoulders slumping a bit as she closed the cupboards. "It's a really big change, and that's bad. I don't like change, and she hates change. She's scared, and there's nothing anybody can do to make it better, because even if I tell her that Pathos is never going to find her here, it won't help any because she doesn't even know what I mean!" Erin smacked one hand against the counter in frustration, but luckily it was granite and did no more than shudder a little bit. When she spoke again, her voice was so soft it was hard to hear at all. "I don't know if we did the right thing, trying to fix her. Maybe she was happier the way she was when she was in Blackstone, even if she wasn't ever going to get out. Maybe I just made things worse." 

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Aquaria's thick, bulbous neck didn't really allow for a headshake - but she rocked her shoulders back and forth in what Erin knew was the closest equivalent, the thick sacks in the front of her throat pulsing for a moment. "It'sss better for Jesssie to be free than in jail. Nobody should be in Blackstone unlesss they are very bad people." Her own nightmarish time in Blackstone had nearly ended her life - and just the thought of being trapped there forever was enough to make her bounce on her big feet. "And ssshe is happy to go to ssschool. She will find a way to be happy here, once she has gotten over being scared. We will be happy together. I...I don't know who Pathos is," she admitted, speaking a little more loudly so she could make herself better understood. "Is that a supervillain? Somebody from her home dimension?" Her voice stretched tight over the unfamiliar words. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Yeah," Erin confirmed without elaborating. "You ever meet somebody using that name, you get the hell away and call for backup," she advised. "Just don't bring it up to Jess, okay? She doesn't need any more stuff to be upset about. Nobody from there is going to be able to find her, and there's no real reason they'd come looking after all this time. But no reason to borrow trouble." She yanked the door to the pantry open. "Anyway, here's your dry and canned food, they said you could eat beans and stuff for protein in a pinch, so there's a bunch of cans of pintos and garbanzos in there. Buncha mac and cheese for Jessie, some spaghetti and tomato sauce and other easy stuff. You'll be able to get your own stuff whenever you get out to the store." 

"I like macaroni and cheese," Jessie's voice came suddenly from the doorway. When Erin and Aquaria turned to look, she ventured a tentative half-smile. "Thanks for getting it for me." 

"You... you're welcome," Erin replied, looking surprised, but also rather gratified. "Um, the dietician said you liked strawberry ice cream too, so that's in the freezer. Just don't get it mixed up with the frozen crickets." 

"I'll be careful," Jessie assured her, deadpan. "You've really done a lot to help us. This place is very nice, bigger than I expected." 

"You have Eve to thank for the apartment," Erin told her. "I just asked her to help find a place, and she arranged for this one at a really good price. She'll probably stop by soon to see how you guys are doing. She asks about you." Erin raked her left hand through her hair, a gesture Aquaria had seen Jessie make a hundred times. When Erin did it, the light glinted off the ring on her finger. 

Jessie blinked. "You have a new ring," she observed, her voice expressionless. 

Erin's hand automatically closed over the ring. "Yeah," she said, a thread of pleasure breaking through the evenness of her tone. "Trevor asked me to marry him. We haven't set a date yet." 

"Congratulations," Jessie told her, running a hand through her own hair. "That's very exciting." 

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For her part, Aquaria's mind fell far, far back, to the pods and spawning of her youth; her mind's eye swarming with clouds of young Deep Ones in the waters of the Caribbean, hunting fish and each other in the grand dance of youth. She thought of the mothers and fathers of the tribe, raising their young together as one, and how lonely the idea of mating with one being forever seemed - not to mention the way all Surfacers rutted with each other like it was dry season! But she had taken enough life skills classes to know that this was a big moment for Erin and her mate; and probably a hard one for Jessie, who had never mated with anybody. 

"Oh my!" She put her big hands over her mouth, big gold eyes bulging wide, and bobbed up and down on her long toes, carefully keeping her throat sacs from bulging. "That's amazing, Erin! You will be happy together and have many healthy offspring," she predicted confidently. She smiled with just the front of her mouth, fighting the urge to stuff her face with some delicious frozen crickets - probably her favorite treat here, especially when soaked with honey. But this was no time to be eating, especially when Jessie hardly looked to be in the mood. Sensing Jessie's unease, she went on, bringing her long hands down over her stomach. "Jessie and I should go swim around a little and see more of this place."

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  • 3 weeks later...

"That's a good idea," Erin agreed with a nod. Something in Aquaria's effusive congratulations seemed to have made her a little uneasy as well, to judge by the way she'd blanched and begun heading for the door, but she smiled at both the new residents. "Um, if you guys need anything or if anything happens, my number's on both your phones, and so is Trevor's and Eve's. All the banking information is in that desk and on that laptop, and the lease and insurance and your identification documents and asylum papers are all in the desk too, so keep good track of that. So, um, have fun," she offered, then headed for the door. 

"Thank you, we will," Jessie said politely, still expressionless as she watched her counterpart leave. As soon as the door closed behind Erin, she sank down on one of the kitchen stools with a little sigh. "This place is big," she observed. "We don't have nearly enough stuff to fill it. We should lay in some supplies." 

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Aquaria breathed a sigh of relief when Erin was gone, her bulging neck the only hint of her emotions. Jessie and her sister-cousin sharing a room was like sharks and dolphins sharing the same patch of ocean - creatures manageable enough on their own became liable to put blood in the water when they were together. "Okay!" she said, clapping her big hands together, long fingers wrapping around each other. "You should make a list of everything we need and find the money." Jessie had much better handwriting than she did; and was better at counting and remembering lots of numbers, too. "I'm going to take a shower and get dressed again, and then we can go shopping and meet people and get things. It'll be so exciting!

Inside the bathroom, she efficiently slipped out of the clothes that never fit her frame just right, then turned on the water in the shower, manipulating the knobs until it came in temperatures a few degrees warmer than the Caribbean Sea where she'd grown up. When that was done, she stepped inside and pulled the plain white curtains, luxuriating in the feel of hot, steamy water against her green and white skin. The shower felt good, very, very good, and she let her head rest under the spray, closing her eyes and imagining... 

Jessie's tentative rap at the door told her she was taking too long - the tentative rap that was better than letting an attendant come in to check on her. "Sorry!" she called, hastily turning off the water, scrambling with long green fingers before jumping out and yanking her jeans and T-shirt back on. "All done!" She looked at Jessie expectantly. "Are you ready?" 

Edited by Avenger Assembled
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Jessie had obviously made good use of the time Aquaria had been showering, that or she'd made her list out ahead of time before the move. She had a list three pages long, two columns per page in neat, angular cursive, divided into sections like "Canned Goods," "Medical Equipment," "Batteries," "Emergency Kit," and "Bathroom Stuff." She'd also gotten hold of their checkbook and credit card, tucking both into the brown macrame purse that had been a birthday present from one of the other residents during her stay. She hesitated at Aquaria's question, but then nodded decisively. "Yes, I'm ready. We should go while it's still early." 

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Of course, it wasn't as easy as that - not when they didn't want a panicking crowd to interrupt the occasion of their first shopping expedition. After a firm noise from Jessie, Aquaria reluctantly put on her Freedom City Heroes hoodie and pulled up the grey fabric over her head - and put on her big, wide sunglasses to match. As long as she kept her head down, and her hands in the front pocket of the hoodie (or in the big gloves that were already in the pocket, courtesy of Jessie's sister-cousin), she would probably be okay. With one more look from her friend, Aquaria even consented to the most unpleasant fact of life on the Surface. Shoes. Muttering to herself, she sat down on the floor and began wrestling her feet into the big, bulky, clunky shoes that were all her oversized (by tiny-feeted unwebbed Surfacer standards, anyway) feet could fit into. "I saw a foot massager on television," she said as they made their way back out into the hallway. "We should get one of those." 

Downstairs, the underground shopping mall was crowded! Aquaria stayed close to Jessie, feeling nervous at the presence of so many Surfacers with their staring eyes, and bone-dry skin like a corpse, and tiny, shrunken eyes. Stay positive! She told herself - there were still plenty of things to see down here and lots she wanted to do, and if she freaked out, Jessie would never come this way again. Her head jerked automatically as she caught sight of a Surfacer child, running ahead of its, no, his parents and giggling, and Aquaria swallowed hard as she stepped close to Jessie, the two of them just past the big elevators that led down from the levels above. Her eyes flicked around behind her glasses, but luckily for her masquerade there wasn't anything to eat around here. "Let's hunt for food first. I want to get some sardines." She led the way towards the grocery store that anchored one end of the mall, slowly. 

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