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Curious Key

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Kat wished Algebra 2000 was as simple as rupturing reality. But—apparently—disintegrating homework was frowned upon.

 

The FCU library remained sparsely decorated, even with Christmas looming near. It had the sleek, modern tint. Smooth and silver, with long bannisters and uncomfortable-looking benches lined the outside. Inside, on the lower two floors, was a coffee shop and rows of free-to-use computers and desks, partitioned from each other by glass walls.

 

Above that, the shelves the extensive FCU main library divided the building into discrete parts, with conference rooms ready for booking online (and schedules booked full of students clamoring for one last study session), stacks of books and recycled furniture from other parts of campus that decided they'd deserved something better.

 

Kat had staked her claim on one of the couches, plugged her laptop into the outlet beside it and curled up, too fed up with 'X's and 'Y's to care about her shoes on the cushions, laptop glinting blue light as the sun in the window across the room dipped a little closer to the city skyline, oranges and reds of the near-horizon fighting against the electric-white of the library's overhead lights.

 

She made a soft, distressed sound and pressed her hand into her cheek, looking up from her computer and, longingly, outside.

Edited by Freely Seek
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Mali walked towards one of the couches and was so distracted that she didn't even realize that someone had taken the area. While there was plenty of room in the area, there was also plenty of room everywhere else. She had just come in from outside and pushed her hood down. She had the books with her, but she wanted a relaxing corner in which to relax. 

 

She was wearing a black leather jacket with an attached hood, along with a striking red scarf that was nestled neatly along her neck. That was accompanied by a pair of blue jeans and a pair of boots. Her hair was short and stylishly messy. She winced as soon as she set her books down, having just realized they made a rather loud thump right next to a young woman buried in her studies.

 

"Oops, ouch, I'm so sorry." She said with an apologetic smile. "Ignore my disruption, I'll find a quieter corner to study in"

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Kat was so caught up in wishing to be just about anywhere else that the noise jolted her a bit. She turned, somewhat alarmed, and looked up to see . . . “Mali?

 

Pushing her laptop aside, Kat pushed herself up into a sitting position. She was wearing a pair of thick, dark-red leggings, brown boots and a white 'FCU' tee. A jacket, once draped over her torso like a blanket, had slid down into her lap. The young metahuman peered up at the not-stranger with bright red eyes, connecting a girl she knew with the woman who was standing in front of her. “Remember me?” Kat pointed a finger at her face as it slid into a half-smile. “Kat? From Claremont?"

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Mali's face broke into a wide smile. "Hey, Kat! Nice to see you! How are you doing? I mean, what are the odds." She sat down. "Huge city like this, more than one college, of course, just...how are you?" She unzipped her jacket to let it sit open, revealing a t-shirt underneath. "Run into a few people from high school, here and there. Small world." She relaxed a bit. "Studying is just about the most boring thing in the universe. To me, anyway." 

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Small world indeed! Kat had tried to limit how much contact she had with her old Claremont friends, since she took off the cape. Seeing them had sent an electric terror through her. Now, though . . . Just like that, they were comrades again. No fear, no worry. It was nice. Maybe that was why the school therapist had kept bringing up the possibility she might be ready to go back into hero work, during her last year. 

 

"I see what you mean. Normally, anyone who comes outta Claremont sticks around here," she made a vague, wide gesture. "No way to avoid seeing someone, we're pretty . . . conspicuous." Kat looked left and right . . . Nobody. "I think this is my first time seeing someone else from Claremont just . . ." She made a face as she tried to find the word for it. "Hanging out?" Kat held up her hands and shrugged, you know what I mean.

 

"Studying is the WORST." Kat played up her reaction as she whined, rolling her eyes hard. "Sometimes I wish Omega would come around and put my out of my misery so I won't have to write another essay."

Edited by Freely Seek
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Mali nodded. "Yeah, just, kids being kids. Normal stuff like gossiping and snacking on junk food while watching movies, or whatever the hell it is people do." She shrugged. "I mean, what do normal teenagers even do? I never knew, I was never invited to any reindeer games. I just found a whole school of Rudolfs" She chuckled at her own little holiday appropriate joke. 

 

"Maybe it's because I'm a gym rat, though, rather be running or lifting or doing squats or literally anything else. It's not even that I dislike reading, just, studying. Specifically. It's like trying to punch yourself in the face with a book until you just know the stuff inside it."

Edited by Thunder King
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When Mali mentioned Rudolf, Kat grinned insidiously, lifted a thumb—now glittering in black-red haze—over her nose. “You can say that again.” She said, voice raised to an obnoxious pitch. “We're just a bunch of useful freaks and weirdos who never learned to play nice with anybody normal.

 

Beat.

 

Kat's face fell, sighed. “Too real.” She shook her hand, and the 'light' went out. “It's just so . . .” She waved her hands as she struggled to find the word. Snapped her fingers! “Jarring! We go straight from somewhere where weird and crazy was the normal, and then we're done and get sent out into . . . This.

 

Claremont did a good job. It prepared them as well as it could. They could fight off a super team, they could control their powers, they could operating with a secret identity. But adjusting to reality. That was hard to get. “So yeah!” She clapped, mouth curling into a half-smile. “It's great to see you. I mean it. What have you been up to?

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"School, mostly, just, I think I'm going to go into sports medicine, but I'm kind of on the fence about it. I've never been that good of a student, you know? My parents though, whew, will not accept me not trying to be a success. Haven't had a lot of time to do much else, and haven't had that much of a social life, you know? After all that, this partying junk most of the people around here do just doesn't appeal to me."

 

She shrugged. "The short version is; study, work out, and....study and work out. How about you?"

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"Partying just, doesn't sound like my thing, either?" Kat shrugged and leaned back into the sofa. "My roommate is determined to try to drag me out somewhere.” Her mouth shifted into something sly and insidious. “And she's welcome to try all she wants.

 

I know what you mean. It's all studying and maintaining.” She rubbed at her wrist. “By the time all that's done, I just want to lay done, put on some headphones and forget the world exists for a little bit.

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"Because the only way to enjoy your youth is to get drunk and stupid, right? Just pound back the booze and murder the crap out of your liver. But, that's how it works, you know? Work hard, party hard, get boring later. Blah." She looked around, almost conspiratorially. "You wanna get out of here? I mean, I've got studying to do, but, I'm doing fine. Look at me, always the competitor."

 

She leaned back. "I mean, maybe get a bite to eat, run off somewhere quiet, reminisce about high school?" It was obvious what her tone intended. She didn't feel quite so comfortable discussing their school endorsed extracurricular activities. "I mean, if not, that's cool, but you seem kinda antsy."

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Yeah!” Kat hesitated. “And besides, getting drunk can be a LOT more dangerous when you're . . .” While Mali was one of the rare unpowered individuals at Claremont, it had been no secret that Kat was not.. . . You know.

 

Antsy?” Kat feigned ignorance, putting on her best 'innocent' face. “I don't know what you mean.” For answer, she clapped her laptop abruptly shut and tucking it into her pack and bolting upright. Pulling her jacket back on, she moved her shoulders to let it fall naturally over her body.

 

Got anywhere in mind?” Kat tugged at her jacket as she met Mali's eyes.

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Mali chuckled. "Uh, not really, but, I have a car, and, there's a lot of nice places to eat, and I'm honestly pretty hungry. In the mood for anything particular? It's a bit too cold to snatch up some takeout and sit by ourselves in the park, unfortunately. I just wanna, I don't know, not be stuck in the library. Hmm..." She pulled out her phone and started tapping. "Well, there are some nice places just outside the campus, but, eh, do you wanna stick around the area, or...I'm open to anywhere that isn't here."

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That's good,” Kat said easily, “because I am totally self-propelling.” She had never bothered to get a license. Which normally worked out pretty well.

 

Kat circled around the side and tried to peer at Mali's phone held up her hand and counted on fingers. “There's a pizza place a little south of town that's pretty decent . . . that's a burger place that my roommate keeps trying to drag me to . . . And they sell custard there, or . . ."

 

Beat.

 

. . . I mean,” Kat rubbed at the back of her neck. “Technically, we could get pretty much anywhere.

Edited by Freely Seek
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Mali laughed a bit, just realizing that transportation was not really an issue. "Alright, well, heh..." Her shoulders slumped a bit as she thought. "I...honestly have no idea. I mean, how far...are you able and willing to go?" She ruminated on that. She knew some people could go a few feet, others, several miles, and some people, well they could go anywhere. 

 

"And, how exotic do you want to go? I mean, total stereotype, but I know all the best places in town for Thai, Korean, Japanese, Chinese...a girl gets cravings, you know? There's also some really nice Italian places out there, or, you know, burgers, whatever." She smiled.

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The smaller scale of Mali's request went right over Kat's head as her ears caught on 'how far' and the rest of her went about finding the answer to that question. Her eyes turned up and her brows furrowed. “I mean, give me a map of almost anywhere in North America and I can go there.” She said. “Anywhere else, and I'd need to do two slips instead of just one, but we'd be crossing borders and I think they usually get kind of picky about that.

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"Oh." Mali said, chuckling. "I totally understand, didn't know what you could do, and I didn't want to pressure you. I'm thinking...stick near the east coast so we keep the same time zone or so? Hmm, someplace warm, maybe? Get out of these winter clothes? If you don't mind a quick trip somewhere, I mean. What do you think? You're the transport."

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Kat raised her hands carelessly. “It's not a problem, and it'd be nice to get out of the cold for a bit anyway.“ She'd been able to cross continents with a thought for longer than most people her age had been able to drive. Her powers had a lot of treacherous aspects, but slips had always been the simplest one, and tearing only a little more complicated. “I can get changed on my own, just let me know where you need to go.

 

 

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"Parents house, they've met some of my other friends and it's easy to explain what's up. Plus, I stored most of my warm weather clothes there. They shouldn't be home right now anyway. Slip in, change into something appropriate to the weather, and pop out. Should be quick and easy. Then what?" She said. "Just gotta figure out where." She looked outside and was grateful for the break from the cold.

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Kat did a lot of her exercise running. Freerunning, actually. She didn't like machines, much, and maybe it wasn't the most balanced or wise way to do it, but it was how she liked to do it. And if the weather wasn't great for it, all she had to do was go elsewhere and try to move across those streets, the same way she would elsewhere . . ."Miami is pretty nice right now," Kat said, almost to herself. "Go down somewhere like that, warm, for a bite to eat . . . some ice cream, maybe. Just . . . Don't think about it too much. When you can do anything, it's easy to get lost. Just . . . First thing that comes to mind, we can find somewhere for it on a GPS and go there." She punched a fist into her open palm. "Bam."

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"Ooo, Miami sounds awesome. I know just the outfit, and it'll be great being in the sun, so..." She grinned and thought. "My house, Miami, lunch, ice cream. You provide the transport, I'll cover the food. Got a deal?" She grinned, honestly excited for their little spontaneous trip. Mali could afford a lot, but she couldn't teleport. Some luxuries she missed when she was at Claremont

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"Miami it is, then!"

_________________________________

 

A Park, Somewhere - Miami, Florida

 

Muffled by the walls, the distant rumble and growl of cars running through the passing freeway made counterpoint with the slow drip-drop of water from a leaky faucet no one had fixed in a week. The linoleum tiles were clean enough in the center, but near the edges where the stalls gathered grim had begun to accumulate, and the metal had begun to yellow. It needed a plumber, but if it didn't get help, it was going to need a demolition crew instead.

 

It had no company except the angry murmur of outside traffic and the sound of its own disrepair . . . But wait—

 

The world whimpered as a thin, sickly line the color of skin under pried-off fingernails cut through the middle of the bathroom. The whimper became a wail as it ripped apart, tearing open space along a vertical line into a wide, festering world-wound within which squirmed bloody redness and absolute black.

 

The impossible chaos of red in the tear became a swirl, became a silhouette, became a shape, became a person.

 

Kat stepped out of her Tear and gave a quick paranoid glance around. No one. She sighed her relief and stepped back away from her Tear to give Mali plenty of room.

 

Unlike Mali, Kat didn't really need to go home to change. A little perk of having a dimensional pocket was always having options. She'd swapped out what she had in the library for a pair of shorts that went halfway down her thigh and a close-fitting tanktop cut above her stomach, both dark-slanted gray, put together with a sleeveless red vest that fell past her waist that was too thin to keep heat in, and was far more useful for show and pockets than anything else.

Edited by Freely Seek
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Mali blinked. The experience was certainly interesting. She stepped through what she could really only call a hole torn out of space-time and into Miami Florida. She had traded her warm clothes for warm weather gear, a pair of denim shorts and a plain black tank top, Mali knew Kat could spot the tattoo on her back, now. It felt good to dress for warm weather for once, less confining, more free.

 

She had been teleported before, but Kat's was somehow different, more raw. She didn't have the education or the experience to truly explain what was different about it, just that there was.

 

"Well, what's nearby that's good for lunch?" She said with a grin.

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With Mali through, Kat choked off the Tear's connection with her heart. It reacted immediately, irising shut with a relieved whine as the red in Kat's eyes ever-so-slightly dimmed.

 

Pulling out her phone, Kat waited for it to overcome the shock of crossing the country and update its map. “Well, we actually could get some takeout, now.” She pawed at her phone this way and that, trying to tease a little more information out of it. “Looks like there's a burger place pretty close by we can grab something from? Right here, a few blocks down. I mean, I've never heard of it, but I don't go to Miami to eat real often.” She preferred stealing off to Chicago for some pizza, when she had the time. And the money. Ah, college.

 

I'm not feeling real picky, so unless you have something else you'd like to give a try . . .

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"Actually after all the cold and that huge snow storm? I could go for a burger and some sun." Sitting outdoors in sunny Miami eating burgers and just enjoying the day seemed like a great plan. She stretched a bit. "Alright, let's go. Maybe some ice cream afterwards? This feels like an ice cream kinda day." She walked towards the door and into the sunshine, which felt a little like a total shock to her senses. She realized she had to do some studying later, and a little more cardio to keep her calories balanced, but, eh, a little break was needed now and then.

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The feeling of stepping from cold into sudden warmth was super familiar for Kat, and not necessarily in a good way. Walking out into the sun felt like pushing her hand into warm water after being stuck out in the cold. Cringingly hot on the skin at first, then slowly full of a luxurious, deeper warmth while her body adjusted to the new default temperature. She rubbed her hands together, closed her eyes and barked a little laugh to distract herself from the shock to her system.

 

The takeout place wasn't all that far away, a little shop built into the corner of a larger mall, advertising itself with striped streamers as loudly as they could to passersby. A perpetually apologetic woman in a long apron prepared their food for them, and then they were back in the park, holding bags heavy with their orders.

 

Honestly, Kat had been surprised enough that there was a park in Miami at all. Though they'd done their best to try to hide the city behind carefully grown shrugs and trees, you could still hear the noise of the city, all honks and growling engines, from the bench they found in the middle of the park overlooking a little artificial pond.

 

Kat found herself suddenly shy. She scratched at her waist and found looking Mali in the eye to be a little harder than she thought. “So, have you been keeping up with anyone from Claremont?” Kat grimaced. “I took, uh, a little bit of a break from hero stuff for a while. Lost contact with a lot of people.” She dared an embarrassed sideways glance at Mali.

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