Crackle And Pop


alix_icon.gif squeaks4_icon.gif val_icon.gif

Scene Title Crackle and Pop
Synopsis Squeaks considers the best ways to test her newfound abilities and gets some unexpected help along the way.
Date January 18, 2020

Late afternoon sunlight filters through windows opened to a view of the bay. The gold-amber light catches the ambient flecks of dust and creates pockets of haze in the shafts that cut angular squares in the air and on the floor. It would be peaceful, the setting to an evening meant for lounging with a good book, if it weren't broken by the infrequent crackle and pop of an electrical charge.

Two days earlier

An electric chime announces every arrival and departure from the small pet shop and rescue shelter located on the ground floor commerce hub of the Praxis Heavy Industries Ziggurat, including Squeaks’ cautious step into the store. Her face isn't an unfamiliar one to the shop’s owner since she occasionally finds her way into the store to watch the lizards and small rodents with a child’s curiosity. He looks up as she slinks inside and offers her a smile, then returns to his business. They've hardly shared any words, but she doesn't cause trouble and is normally left to herself.

Today was different though. Today she has a real purpose for being in the store.

Usually her path would take her past the counter and store owner, and it almost does. But at the point Squeaks would need to turn to make her visit to a glass case with a pair of chameleons, she stops instead. Her hesitation is physical, easily noticeable in tense shoulders and eyes staring hard ahead. One second passes, and on the downstroke of the second she tilts her head and looks up at the shop owner.

“Mister Bái. Do you have any…”

Present day

Praxis Ziggurat
Praxia, California Safe Zone
January 18th
6:17 pm Local Time

Each time it happens, Squeaks blinks from one side of the spacious living room to the other. Each time she reappears, her eyes find the small cage with a half dozen tiny white mice resting on the coffee table.

“This is a bad idea,” she explains to the empty room. Small, jagged lines of charged ions race through the air as she disappears…

…and reappears directly opposite of where she's been less than a second ago. “But I need to know.”

She needs to know, but she still hesitates. Hands press against each, fingers interlocking tightly as she walks closer to the cage. Her tongue slides over her top lip then teeth catch her bottom one as she crouches down to be at eye level with the tiny creatures going about their tiny lives.

“Please work,” she whispers. Nervous fingers work the latch and Squeaks reaches in to gently pick up one of the mice.

“Please work.” Repeating herself, the cage is latched again and the teen slinks several steps away. Her hand lifts toward her eyes, which stare curiously, worriedly at the rodent. She takes a breath. It's now or never…

“What’re you doing?” The voice comes from behind Squeaks, eliciting a reflexive yelp and a flex of her hands that has the apprehended mouse slipping out, landing on the floor, and scurrying away as fast as tiny feet will take it. The mouse isn't Squeaks’ priority though but the intruder in her room.

The intruder is a young woman in an oversized wool sweater dyed a pastel rainbow color. The furry sweater looks sized for someone twice her height and with much broader shoulders. It hangs like a dress on her, sleeves going well past her hands. Her hair is cotton-candy pink and messy, dark eyes stare at Squeaks questions fly and an iridescent haze of prismatic light drifts around her like a slowly evaporating fog. Squeaks has seen her at a distance in the Ziggurat, usually somewhere in proximity to Adam.

“Hi,” the pink-haired woman says with a crease of her brows, one sleeve-shrouded hand raised in greeting. “You’re Jac, right?”

Heart hammering against her chest, Squeaks doesn't go after the mouse, but swivels to confront the owner of the voice. The loss is going to be a sore spot later on, especially if she can't find the creature again. The more immediate problem is the uninvited guest, whom she stares at with obvious suspicion once she's gotten over being startled.

“Yes I am.” It wouldn't make sense to lie about who she is anymore. Maybe if she were brand new to Praxia, but she's been here long enough. It's not a surprise to be known by someone she's only seen at a distance.

The question of what she's doing is ignored. It's no one's business but her own right now.

“How did you get in here?” That's more important. Squeaks makes a note to check her door from now on. No more people just letting themselves in. “I've seen you before. Who are you?”

“Val,” she answers with a lopsided smile, “and I popped!” That's her other answer. “You know,” she says, sticking a finger in her mouth to press against her cheek, then flicks it out with an audible pop. “I've seen you do it but you're more of a crackle,” she notes with a wrinkle of her nose. “Lanny was very jealous when you got that before her.”

Val seems undeterred by her status as an intruder, ducking her head down and hunching her shoulders forward as she meanders around Squeaks’ room, funding her way over to the shinai resting by the door. She touches the handle, hand slipping out from hiding in her sleeve to do so, then turns on the heels of her glitter-gel hightops to look back at Squeaks. “The Director doesn't like pets in here. He says they're familiars and gets mad.”

Squeaks’ eyebrows pinch together, confused. Lanny? It isn't a name she recognizes immediately, but it and the nugget of information about her is tucked away. “So you teleported in here.” More a statement and less a guess. It makes sense too, given the descriptions.

Not that it makes her feel better about having an uninvited guest. That's another something she tucks away for later.

The teen looks down at the caged mice without noticeable guilt or concern. “They're not pets. I'm testing theories.” How likely is it that she'd catch trouble for trying things, learning the limits of what she can do?

Her head comes up again, and Squeaks watches Val with guarded curiosity. “Why… are you here? In my room?” Brows pinch together slightly as she considers the woman. Her head tilts slightly to one side. “Do… do you need something? Did… are you maybe lost?” The last question is voiced with a sense of doubt. If Val teleported, maybe she can just pop to wherever. Still, the girl does know her way around better than a lot of people.

Val shrugs, tucking her hands into the pouch at the front of her sweater. “I was bored,” she admits with a lopsided smile. “It’s boring here sometimes, then it’s not and it’s terrible. But my sisters are all here, together, m— mostly. So, it’s not so bad.” She continues wandering around the room, turning on her heel with a sneaker-squeak against the floor, settling her attention on the mice.

“I teleported,” Val confirms, “that’s the science-word for it.” She wrinkles her nose in distaste. “You teleport too, like I said, crackle.” She emphasizes the word with a crackling sound at the corners of her mouth. “Mice can’t teleport,” she says with laugh, shaking her head at the same time. “I mean, the electric mice can but that’s different.”

Wait, what?

Blue eyes follow Val. Squeaks’ mouth goes from vague concern to confusion, teeth pressing into her bottom lip. She wouldn't say it's boring here, even sometimes. But she's usually able to find ways to stay busy, whether it's by observing the people around her — often without them noticing — or practicing at one skill to find just how far her limits stretch then trying to make them go a tiny bit further.

Like teleporting.

“I know that.” The teen’s words carry a hint of defense. Animals aren't slice, everyone knows that. She looks at the caged mice, like they're somehow to blame. What they've done wrong is anyone’s guess though. “But since I can I wondered if…” Wait.

Squeaks looks up at Val, baffled. She continues explaining, words coming slowly. “If I could teleport them…” Electric mice. Worry writes itself in her eyes. “Um… With… with me. What. Electric mice. You know about them?”

“Sure!” Val says with a toss of her hands out to the side, followed by an impromptu pirouette on a sneakered toe, before wobbling and then swinging a hand out against the wall to steady herself. “They were all over the Safe Zone when my sisters and I were there, so we told the Director and he said he’d take care of it. No more electric rats!” She smiles cheerfully, rocking back and forth on her heels. “The Director’s stern, but when he says he’s going to do something he does it. He’s a lot nicer now a days than he used to be when we were younger.”

Sliding her tongue against the side of her cheek, Val meanders away from the wall and sweeps a lock of pink hair behind one ear. “It’s not safe to test crackling in here anyway,” she says in a sudden shift of conversational gears. “Even if your ability works one way, get too close to the outer walls,” she says with a motion toward the window, “and you could scramble yourself like an egg! That’s what the walls are for, to keep things out. But also to keep some stuff in.”

Squeaks stares at Val, blank faced but wide eyed. Adam made the rats disappear? “The rats that… they were electric and eating people.” Just to confirm they're talking about the same rats. If that's true, then that's just more proof. “Primal,” she breathes, tucking away that knowledge for later.

“I'm careful,” she goes on mildly, the shift in conversation accepted easily enough. She was warned about trying to port into and out of the Ziggurat. Splinching is definitely not something she wants to experience. “Usually I'm outside. Or someplace with more space. But…”

Her eyes go to the mice. “I wanted to try first. Without other people watching. Because…” Because if it goes wrong, then Squeaks can pretend it never happened and no one would know. Her eyes lift to Val, eyebrows raised with vague guilt.

Pursing her lips, Val comes up to Squeaks and looks down to the floor, then up to her with dark brows raised. “I’m thinkin’ the mice didn’t get a vote in this, did they?” She smiles, wryly, then walks backwards on her heels toward the door. “My sister Violet, she… her ability required a lot of testing too. Before it moved on to animals,” her nose wrinkles, “they tested it on something else that was also kinda’ alive.”

Val’s eyeline shifts to the bonsai tree sitting on a shelf above where her shinai leans, then back to Squeaks. “Plants.” She offers Squeaks a supportive smile, clasping her hands behind her back. “You’ll feel less bad about a dumb old tree than a bunch of cute mice.”

Plants? Squeaks follows the look to the miniature tree. Her eyebrows draw down a little, and a second later she darts a look to Val then returns to the bonsai. They are technically alive. So it might be better than discovering that she can teleport with other living things.

But with unfortunate outcomes.

Like inside out mice.

No one wants that to happen, even though she was almost not entirely willing to try. Another suggestion is cautiously welcomed, and the girl steps around the low table to join Val by the shelf. She walks this time, instead of crackling. Her eyes stay on the plant, hands reaching to lift it from the shelf, but her question is definitely for the pink-haired woman. “Do you think it would work? I mean since it's not a… not like us?”

“Plants aren’t that different from people,” Val says like that’s an obvious fact rather than a somewhat unconventional opinion. “They need food n’water, they like it when people sing t’them, they live and die…” Shrugging, Val offers a look back over to Squeaks. “They just aren’t jerks. I mean, except cactuses,” she notes with a purse of her lips while also pluralizing cacti incorrectly, “they’re jerks.”

Val’s energy seems remarkably youthful, though Squeaks can tell she’s several years older than her. There’s a look in Val’s eyes, something small and distant, the look Squeaks had seen in other children her age that survived the war and lost family. There’s something wounded in Val, something hidden behind a bubbly and soft facade. But it also belies a strength Val possesses, to overcome whatever it is she’s keeping down. But all the pink-haired woman does is flash a smile at Squeaks, and motion with both hands to the middle of the room like a magician’s stage assistant.

“How…” The question begins, but Squeaks stops herself to consider. Cacti have stickers, just like rose bushes and other plants. It makes sense, although she probably wouldn’t attribute a personality trait to a thing that doesn’t actually have a personality. Cactuses can’t help having stickers anymore than she can help having red hair. “I guess that’s true,” she settles on easily, no need to argue about small details and disagreements of perception.

She weighs the tiny tree in her hands while she watches Val. Her mouth tugs slightly to one side, not in a returning grin but thoughtful. Like the lid on a kettle rattling with steam, it isn’t a stretch to imagine questions percolating the same way.

Her eyes lift to the center of the room after a moment, to the low table with its caged mice visitors. Her teeth catch the inside of her cheek. At least, with the bonsai there’s no chance of anything bad happening.

At least not to anything or anyone except herself.

Squeaks takes a step away from the shelf. Another look flicks to Val, nervous. Probably like the very first time she’d tried teleporting at all. “If this works,” she begins, her attention returning to the table, the top of the table. “If this works, could you tell me why you’re really here?” Fair trade, right? Hopefully it is, because she doesn’t wait for an answer, immediately following her words she crackles — or tries to — to the coffee table.

And just like that, Squeaks erupts in a burst of static electricity and jumps the short distance to the coffee table. Immediately she can see an effect the movement had on the bonsai tree, its bark has small singe marks in some places, the pot has tiny scorch marks along its side. It’s weird — disconcerting — because that doesn’t happen to her clothes. Maybe it’s a weight issue? Maybe it’s mass? There’s probably some kind of science behind it, but those books are heavy and frustrating.

Val’s brows pinch together as she sidles up to Squeaks from behind, one hand on her shoulder, peering over her to look at the tree. Thin wisps of smoke waft off of some of the greenery. “I think you’re maybe not cut out for gardening?” Val notes with a lopsided smile and a gentle, encouraging squeeze of Squeaks’ shoulder.

The tree might be scorched and sort of smoking, and to some the attempt might appear like a failure, but Squeaks lets out a breathy laugh of triumph. Her head swivels at Val’s voice over her shoulder and she looks up at the pink-haired woman, excitement at the discovery brightening her eyes.

“No, but this could work.” She's definitely not a gardener, and she never considered herself to be a scientist of any sort, but she's always looking for answers. “I just…” Her head ducks a little bit, and she raises the tree to be at eye level so she can study the scoring on the bark.

Her own skin doesn't do that. Except for that one time she's never actually experienced anything terrible when teleporting. So maybe it's because she causes the crackle — the electricity. Squeaks chews on the corner of her lip as she wonders about her findings. “Wires that carry electricity are covered… So I think maybe it needs protecting.” With her tone lifting the theory into a question, she looks up at Val again.

Val purses her lips, inspecting the tree, then quietly takes the potted bonsai out of Squeaks’ hands and brings it back over to the shelf it was on. “It’s ok, I think you’ll make it,” she says to the tree quietly. “I’ll come back and water you later,” seems like a promise for more invasion of privacy, but when you’ve lived your whole life with a teleportation ability perhaps those boundaries are hard to find.

“I used t’be afraid to practice my ability,” Val adds, turning back to Squeaks from the bookshelf. “When I first popped out of somewhere, the scientists were really mad. I also popped into traffic and got kinda hit by a car and was in the hospital for a long time. I got better, but everyone was really mad…” She tucks her hands behind herself, lips pursed to the side and eyes scanning the floor. “Once I could walk again, they wouldn’t let me go far and then when they wanted me to practice… I was too scared. I kept thinking ‘bout the car.”

Val throws herself down on the small sofa in Squeaks’ room, kicking her sneakered feet up on the nearby coffee table. “My sisters helped me get over my fears…” Val says almost as an afterthought. "Inga and Victoria were so nice to me.” Her gaze wanders down to her lap, and Val goes quiet.

Squeaks’ mouth opens to protest, but closes again without forming any words. How likely is it to convince another teleporter to stay out unless invited? The thought brings forward another puzzle, has Val popped her way into the apartment before? She huffs softly and shrugs at her own questions.

“I don't mind practicing so much,” she replies to fill the silence. Her eyes flick toward the caged mice then dart away. Trying new things might be another issue. “Thank you. For telling me to try with the plant. It… that's really helpful since… because I don't know a lot about this power.”

Sliding the small cage aside, Squeaks takes its place in the middle of the table. There's obviously no issue from her about shoes on the furniture, because she even tucks her legs up to sit criss-cross. “I had an accident too, but I don't know what happened exactly. It's kind of scary because I really don't want it to happen again.”

Val watches Squeaks at an angle, sitting forward to close the distance between herself and Squeaks. “What h— ”

The unexpected sound of a knock on Squeaks door cuts Val off.

Val?” Comes… Val’s voice from the other side of the door. “Hey sorry uh, Jac right? Is Val bugging you?” Val blows a sharp breath out and pushes a lock of pink hair from her face.

That’s one of my sisters,” Val says with a look to the door, then an expectant look to Squeaks. “She can’t teleport.”

Squeaks’ head swivels to the sound. Knocking isn't uncommon, people visit and they knock if they want to enter — if she hasn't already met them at the door or told them to let themselves in. But the voice is something unexpected. Her eyes dart to Val then back again. If that's ventriloquism it's very good.

“Which sister,” she asks as she scoots to the edge of the table. How many does Val have? Careful footsteps carry her to the door. She half wonders if she should open it or…

“No,” Squeaks calls back as she gets closer to the door. “I mean. I'm Jac but…” Slender fingers fuss with the lock until it's turned, speaking still as she does, and then she opens the door enough to look out at the new visitor. “She isn't. Val’s just… we were talking. She helped me try something.”

The woman on the other side of the door is Val’s spitting image, an identical twin save that her hair is brown instead of bubblegum pink, and she has a few less freckles across her nose and cheeks. “Hey, sorry to meet like this,” she says with an awkward smile. Even their voices are the same. “I’m uh, Alix, Val’s sister. She’s supposed to be at a meeting right now, she— said she was going to go to the bathroom,” Alix stresses, looking past Squeaks into the apartment, “and never came back.”

I got distracted!” Val shouts from the couch to the door, vanishing with a soft pop before reappearing in the hall behind Alix. “Jac needed me to help her with some important training, and I couldn’t say no.”

That’s not even a little true.

Alix angles a look over her shoulder at Val, then back to Jac with one brow raised.

Some of it must be near enough to true, because Squeaks doesn't even blink at the story Val tells. She opens the door a little wider when the teleporter appears in the hallway, and places herself all the way into its opening.

“See I'm new at teleporting. And Val’s… she isn't so new.” At least as far as she knows, that's all accurate. “We port different, but she was helping me figure some parts out that are kind of the same.” Okay, that's only half true. Her brows furrow slightly over widening eyes. Squeaks darts a look to Val then back to Alix.

“Don't get her in trouble. Meetings are… she really was helping me.”

Alix’s expression softens as Squeaks stands up for Val, and in that moment the two siblings look even more alike. “Alright,” she concedes, hooking an arm around Val’s shoulders to pull her into an awkward, one-armed hug/playful chokehold. Val grimaces and flickers away in motes of rainbow-colored light, appearing on Alix’s other side.

“She can come back when we’re done with our briefing,” Alix says with a look to Val, then back to Squeaks. “I'm glad she's helping you,” she adds, flashing a quick but earnest smile to Val. “She could use a few better friends.”

Val’s own smile is undefeatable, to which she clasps her hands behind her back and offers a look over Alix’s shoulder to Squeaks. “I'll be back,” she promises enthusiastically, “with some food for your pet mice too!”

Relief draws tension away from her shoulders, and Squeaks nods with restrained enthusiasm. “Okay good. Good because I could definitely use more help. And friends.” A hopeful look is cast at Alix briefly, then darts away to be replaced by short-lived confusion.

Oh, right. The mice.

“That's okay. Um.” She looks over her shoulder. The cage is still where she left it with it's tiny little inhabitants. Minus one. She really needs to find it before someone else does. “I mean if you want to, I bet they would love food. But I'm probably not keeping them forever.”

“You buy a pet, it’s your responsibility,” Alix says without full context of the situation, jokingly wagging a finger at Squeaks. “Or that’s the excuse Luther gave me for why I couldn’t get a snake,” she adds under her breath before jerking her head to the side and motioning for Val to follow.

“I’ll come back!” Val promises with a level of heartfelt earnesty that seems almost dangerous to have in a place like this. But as Alix starts off down the hall and angles a look back to perhaps say goodbye to Squeaks, Val just leaps at her and wraps her arms around Alix’s shoulders and both women disappear in a soft pop and a flourish of rainbow hued light.

Leaving Squeaks alone in the hallway outside of her small flat…

…with new pet mice to take care of.

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