Chapter 5

It turns out that the group of vehicles that had so viciously attacked me were frontrunners of the Pagoe, sent forth in a very fast ship to get to Earth as quickly as possible, preceding the arrival of the mothership by a good many months. They had had one goal in mind: to kill me. They wanted to make it look somewhat-accidental, but obviously their definition of 'accidental' was a little flawed.

So, the Pagoe had somehow found out about my existence. I wasn't too surprised (I hear, nothing ever stays a secret when it comes to politics and shit). It hadn't been part of the plan, but thanks to my own innovation and inability to follow the rules, I'd saved the whole caboodle.

It was undeniable; the Corevette had saved my life. The Pagoe had been prepared with a weapon that had one use and one purpose: to hold me still and remove my defenses, and then run me into the ground with the cars they'd stolen from people as part of my tragic 'accident'. The fact that they knew how to drive a car meant they'd been on Earth for even longer than what was necessary to stage a sneak attack on me. From what I'd determined, they'd been here since the end of Christmas break. How else would they know with certainty that I always crossed the road on Fridays, if they hadn't seen me do so two or three times? Plus, it takes a few days to learn how to drive a car, and they needed to identify which vehicles they wanted to use.

The cars were chosen for their inconspicuous nature and good handling; they could start, stop, and turn quicker than most, making them ideal for confounding my movements and getting in my way, defending the heavier, more powerful trucks. The red truck was the smallest of the trucks, bright color a distraction from the other vehicles in the road. Then there was the groundskeeping truck, a heavy-hitter that could easily stun me with a solid hit. And the redneck's truck, a 3.5 ton beast with a lot of low-end torque, allowing it to get up to speed quickly and run me over with maximum force, breaking my bones and tearing apart my insides without the power of my shields to defend me. It would've gone, then the next car and the next, running me over and circling back around until I was a broken piece of Blue-goo with no chance of revival.

The Corevette had saved my life. Well, I'd saved my own life, calling the Corevette to my defense. The Pagoe's weapon created a forcefield around me, preventing me from moving, and jammed my shields by some sort of suppressor core. The energy needed was monumental, and the weapon had only one use, charged over the long journey from deep space to Earth. However, the weapon couldn't block my mental signals, but as Darlene soon brought up, I'd be cooked if it could've.

Yeah, Darlene started talking to me again. It took me almost dying for that to happen.

"The Corevette never would've come on its own," she told me. "That's why you need sentient beings fighting on your side."

"The answer is still no, Darlene," I replied flatly.

"Blue," Darlene said quietly, sounding urgent, "your value to this program is as a mother to the next generation of Guardians. That is your purpose."

"Don't tell me that," I replied, voice low, edging on a snarl. "My purpose is to save this damn world." I cut her from my mind before she could reply; she had been absent from my mind for the days since my fight, so I felt no inclination to be present in hers.

I went on my phone to distract myself from my anger and discomfort. I still felt bad about arguing with Darlene, but I wasn't about to shift my position, not for her, not for the other aliens, not for anyone. I would convince them of my rights, and present them with a better plan. Something that would compromise their needs with mine. There are still days where I lament over this, perhaps thinking I was too selfish. But I do know better.

Shit was going down in the news; the presidential race was red-hot and full of narrow-minded assholes. They seemed more heated than usual, but then again, the crop of candidates was getting worse every election. Just seeing their faces or hearing their voices brought me to sadness or anger. I sighed and put my phone down. I wanted some good news, but there was none. There was never any good news.

But I had been right in my ventures. Darlene had been so unsure of my plans for the Corevette, so nervous of them, wanting the approval of the ambassadors, almost as if they were sacred. Had I listened to them, and never built the Corevette, I would be dead. This only served to increase my stubborn determination to resist them and inflate my own ego.

Anyways, I'll let the narrator get back to their job. I'm getting glared at pretty hard right now.

[-]

Blue came in school on Monday, rolling up in the Corevette, to stares and glances that were quite different than they had been before. She knew those glances. From the rednecks, it was "you destroyed a truck of our brethren; you are dead to us". From others, it was "you should've died on that road".

By now, all the videos and photos of her almost dying to a squad of possessed vehicles had been deleted, their filmers quite disappointed when they tried to go upload the video, only to find it a black, soundless film. Darlene and the aliens of the Alliance had been fast to act, confining the identity outbreak to the school's grounds.

So, it spread by word-of-mouth. The police knew; the fire department knew; the town hall was in the process of being informed. As soon as the mess was over, Blue had fled the scene, but there were plenty of bystanders around to tell her story. And Darlene had promised Blue that they were on their way, their first order of business to figure out some way to contain the breach. Blue's identity was to be protected.

Her friends were very worried about her, relieved to see her alive and in one piece. Even Hannah seemed to show some concern, which was about 50% fake and 50% genuine. She came up to her in the hallway, eyes wide and mouth open slightly, putting a hand on her arm as if to support her.

"I'm so happy to see you, Blue!" she said. "I was so worried about you!"

"Aw, thanks, Hannah," Blue replied, smiling. "I'm alright, don't be concerned."

Hannah drew closer to her. "What happened out there, Blue? It was so strange! And...and you're a superhero! That's wild!"

"I wouldn't call myself that," she replied, deflecting the superhero title. "And I can't really explain to you what happened...All I can say is that the universe is about to get a whole lot more personal."

"What does that mean?" Hannah pestered, squeezing her arm. "Come on, Blue, you can tell me. I'm your best friend!"

Blue hadn't been expected that response, and she stiffened without really meaning to. She quickly relaxed, but could tell Hannah had felt it. Her hand dropped from her arm.

"It's alright, you don't have to tell me," she pouted. "I don't care about your superhero secrets anyways."

"Then I'll take my leave of you," Blue replied cooly. "Have a good day, Hannah." she cut into the hallway, slipping through a gap in the crowd and vanishing. She was glad to leave the other girl behind.

She was jumped by the twins, Jessica and her sister Terry, not thirty seconds later, crowing the same questions; what had happened, if she was ok, whoa she's a superhero, blah blah blah. When she gave them the answer she'd given Hannah, they backed off. They were just glad she was alright.

"That was crazy, what you did out there," Terry said. "I mean, something had taken possession of those cars. Like, they had no drivers!"

"Not that we could see," Blue replied. "Look, if you think about it long enough, you'd probably figure it out on your own. It's not that difficult to guess what happened."

Terry's brown eyes widened. "Oh her god," she breathed. "It's -"

Blue cut her off, lifting her hand. "Don't say. I won't tell you if you're right or wrong."

Terry shut her mouth. "Alright. I got you."

Jessica's eyes were really wide. They both wanted to shout out their ideas, desperate to see if they were correct. Even if they said nothing to her, they'd be talking it up to all their friends later on. Rumors would spread through the school like wildfire.

It was getting close to the time where Blue would need to start publicly addressing the impending issue of an alien attack anyways. But she didn't want to start, not yet. Too much information had already been released…

People respected and followed what she said and created on her YouTube channel. Hopefully, they would follow her next statement, even though it was going to sound insane and otherworldly. (If they listened to the amount of shit the presidential candidates had been putting out, they should've been fine with listening to her talk about an impending alien attack). As long as it wasn't received like War of the Worlds had been, everything would be fine…

"I've talked with the ambassadors," Darlene contacted her late Monday night. "They've approved of your plan to use this You-Tube platform to spread the world of the Pagoe. I have shown them the statistics of your other videos, and they are impressed."

"That's fantastic," Blue replied, not looking up from her computer. "I'll start working on the video over this weekend."

"We're going to be in orbit around Earth by tomorrow," Darlene continued. "We will not reveal ourselves immediately, but soon we will contact your Earth's government."

"Are the ambassadors still bent on forcing me to have kids?" Blue asked, twirling a pen in her fingers.

"Yes," Darlene said impatiently. "Have you reconsiders your pregnancy?"

Blue narrowed her eyes. "No," she said flatly.

"Just thought I'd ask," Darlene replied quickly, sounding embarrassed. "I'm...I'm worried about you, Blue. Once we're in orbit, I'm no longer going to be the only one able to interact with you. And, well, even if I maybe sort of agree with your opinion on this, a lot of more powerful people don't. And they can be hard to convince."

"I can deal with whatever comes up whenever it comes up," Blue responded sternly. "It won't be a problem."

"I'm not so sure about that," Darlene's voice was quiet.

"I'll deal," she repeated, louder this time. "The Alliance won't need more of me by the time I'm done completing the Corevette's core design, and nobody will be able to argue with me."

"I hope you're right," Darlene murmured. "I hope you're right." but she didn't sound like that hope was very strong.

"Don't doomsday preach at me, Darlene," Blue warned. "We're getting enough of that with all the Republican candidates yapping off about illegal immigrants taking our jobs and the unstoppable tide of Islam."

"And the Democrats yapping off about illegal Republicans and the unstoppable tide of conservatism," she replied.

"They're both shit," Blue said flatly. "It's not fun, especially when we're all going to be expected to vote for these assholes next November."

"I don't understand your Earthling politics," Darlene admitted. "They're so strange...instead of involving collaboration and teamwork, they're centering around fighting and power dominance. It just seems so...inefficient."

"You may call it fighting and power dominance," Blue replied, "but we call it progress."

"But it tears you apart," Darlene protested.

Blue rolled her eyes. "Do you think I don't know that?"

The advisor was quiet. Then, "I didn't mean it that way."

"Don't worry, Darlene, I got you," Blue reassured her. "But everyone's got a different way of dealing with things, and this is what's been working for us for years. Does it need to change? Yes. But it can't and won't happen overnight. Most people here see it as the only system. They don't know much else."

"The Planetary Alliance will have so much to offer this planet," Darlene mused. "Advice, resources, technology…"

"We may not want any of that," Blue replied, seriously. "A lot of our culture paints aliens in a very bad light, like they're all part of the Pagoe. It's rare to find a popular display of aliens as good people. But I'll convince them otherwise. I'll be the best, nicest alien ever, and they'll know that there's no way you guys are evil."

Darlene barely withheld her laughter.

[-]

"We've got trouble."

Blue crumpled up the note in her hand, tossing it into the passing crowd in the hallway. Morgan and Jessica looked at her worriedly, eyes wide.

"What'd it say?" Jessica asked.

"It said, 'You looked a lot nicer ground into the pavement, freak'," she growled, feeling the angry tremors running across her shoulders. "Someone's got big balls to put that on my locker."

"Can you tell who?" Morgan asked. "You should go teach them a lesson!"

"They obviously don't want to be found," she replied. "They wrote this with their non-dominant hand."

Jessica's brown eyes got even larger. "How can you tell?"

"The letters are very messy, but slowly written so they're legible," she explained. "It's either a non-dominant hand or a well-done disguise of a dominant one. Either way, I can't tell whose it is."

"You gotta find these people," Morgan urged. "They might do something bad!"

"They can't hurt me," Blue drawled, waving her hand.

"What if they try to hurt us?" Jessica asked quietly.

Blue froze, head snapping to her friend. Inside, a fire started to boil, anger creeping through her chest.

"They wouldn't dare," she growled, voice low. "If they did, they wouldn't last a second before I got to them." She wasn't thinking of the other students at school, though.

Some of her friends had begun to behave a little differently around her, now that her identity was revealed. It was as if she'd become their boss, and they were her supporters and followers. They stuck close to her, and looked to her for ideas and opinions. But the rest seemed even more distant, alienated by her reveal. As if she was some sort of unstable weapon, dangerous to be around.

"We aren't like you," Jessica responded. "We can't jump over cars or lap the entire track team. We can't even outsmart people like you can. We're vulnerable."

"Well, if you're asking me to stop drawing attention to myself, I wish I could," Blue replied tersely.

Jessica crossed her arms. "What should we do, then, if someone approaches us?" Her voice put her on edge. It had a familiar goading quality to it.

"You fucking defend yourself," Blue snarled, eyes burning. "You don't sit there and scream like a little bitch. You kick, you punch, you fight, and you scream. I'll hear you."

Jessica's eyes were cool. "You really are self-righteous." She turned on her heel and walked away, hair swinging over her back.

"Hannah," Blue growled under her breath. "Hannah's gotten to her."

"Well, you weren't very nice," Morgan reasoned, giving her a look. "And just because she's disagreeing with you doesn't mean Hannah's behind it."

Blue sighed and rolled her eyes. "I'm under a lot of pressure, ok? It'll all become clear-"

"In a few days," Morgan completed her sentence, arms crossed. "Yea, I got it."

They were interrupted by a sudden noise down the hall, two underclassmen diving into a tussle, started over something unknown but now escalated to extreme heights. They rolled right into a pack of seniors (bad move) and broke apart. Clawing to get at each other, they were attempting to bust through the seniors (another bad move), and the seniors weren't having it. A fist swung, and the poor underclassman went reeling. His opponent, seeing the opportunity, dove for him, only to be intercepted by a friend.

"I'll be back," Blue said, striding away and leaving Morgan behind, glad for the excuse to end the conversation. The seniors, being the very testosterone-driven type, were very happy to have a reason to be swinging fists. The poor underclassmen wouldn't stand a chance.

"Whoa, whoa whoa!" Blue jumped in between the two grades, holding her hands out, silver claws curling over her fingers as the metal ran up her arms, struts crossing over her back and chest. The armor braced for impact, in case one of the seniors rushed her.

"Get out the way, Blue," one of the seniors ordered. "This is our fight."

"I'm telling you to break it up and scram before a teacher shows up and y'all get in trouble," she snapped back. "I don't give a fuck who's fight it is. And it definitely isn't yours."

"He called me a job stealer and a rapist," one of the underclassmen, a Hispanic kid, was pointing his finger at the kid he'd been fighting, Underclassman 1.

Blue heard that and froze, gaze locking onto Underclassman 1 and his friend. She dropped her arms. "Do as you wish, boys," she said.

Underclassman 1's terrified face vanished beneath the tidal wave of Underclassman 2 plus the seniors (one of the seniors was of Puerto Rican background; the stereotype shot against the Hispanic kid was offensive enough for him too; he was swinging pretty hard). Blue stood back against the lockers, leaning casually, arms crossed over her chest. Underclassman 1 and his friend put up a pretty vicious fight, and by no means were their opponents skilled, but they still went down beneath the weight of numbers.

"WHAT'S GOING ON HERE?" two hall monitors appeared with a teacher, thunderous voices startling the brawl to a stop. Blue looked up casually, knowing that she was clearly going to be part of the guilty party. She could've left the scene far behind, but someone would've ratted on her, and she wasn't about to go slithering away like a coward from something as trivial as this.

The hall monitors were prying the students apart. They stopped swinging pretty quickly, realizing their efforts would only get them in more trouble. A few of the seniors in the pack that hadn't been in the fight slipped away into the crowd, but their friends would undoubtedly sell them out later, and they'd all be seeing the disciplinarian later today.

One of the hall monitors, holding onto Underclassman 1 and his friend, looked over and made eye contact with Blue. "Did you do this, Blue?" he asked. His voice made it sound like he was already convinced that the answer was yes.

Blue tilted her head back and resting it against the wall, chin to the ceiling as a coy, innocent smile crept across her face. She put her hands behind her head. "Aw, I was just observing the rumble. Y'know, front-row seats and all."

His expression told her he didn't buy her story, not that she had expected him too. It was just banter, and maybe she'd be lucky to get away from this without anyone spilling the beans that she'd tried to break up the fight and then let them do it anyways, which was essentially her instigating it, as far as the school cared.

They got escorted to the assistant principal's in a big group, the parade of shame past all the other people in the hallway. She walked out in front, parting the crowds before them. People raised their heads to jeer, saw her, and turned away.

She would not being escorted like a common brawler; she was escorting a group that had, in her mind, enacted upon a villain swift and righteous justice. Those words, calling a young kid of Mexican heritage a rapist and job-stealer were coming right out of the mouth of yours truly, the frontrunning Republican candidate, Rex Dwingeland, a senator from Kentucky. And Blue was not a fan of his words.

Dwingeland was, admittedly, an intelligent and eloquent public speaker who could captivate a crowd. His followers were dedicated, intense, and capable of violence. He was even more so, preaching military action against anything he saw as a threat, illegal immigrants to the south, Chinese corruption to the west, and vicious terrorism from the east. Bomb them to the ground, he said. Strong words, so easily spoken for such consequential actions.

"Blue!" they'd reached the assistant principal's office, and the hall monitor was yelling at her again. She'd completely zoned out, lost in her own thoughts.

She jumped back to reality, starting and shaking her eye, eyes widening. She ducked apologetically, trying to push the image of a sky full of warheads from her mind.

Of course, the visit to the assistant principal's was lengthy (he was not very happy with Blue - this was her second incident of fighting this year, first her knocking over kids in the parking lot and now this). She'd served her detention for that incident, and now she was to get another one.

"You present me with a strange situation," he said to her. "But I must treat you like any other student. There are no exceptions to the rules."

She would serve that detention like she served the other one, quick and easy. It wasn't much of a bother to her, a few hours of boredom to contrast with her life of apocalypse-prevention. Even while they sentenced her, she was already thinking about the upgrades she'd be giving the Corevette, installing circular fans in the wings and undercarriage that would let the car hover. All her parts and inventions were beginning to get a little cramped on the poor car.

The kids who'd done the actual fighting got more than she had, since they'd been the ones actually fighting and she was just a sneaky instigator. Even though nobody had ratted her out, the assistant principal still knew she was guilty. Assistant principals have a way of knowing these things.

She had another speech given to her from her parents that night, and even though she tried to justify her actions by explaining that the kid had made racist and unjust comments, they still didn't approve of her social justice warrior behavior.

"That Democratic candidate has just as many flaws as Dwingeland, or more, in some people's opinions," her father said sternly. "That boy was justified to having his own point of view based upon the candidate he follows."

"But it was wrong!" she protested, waving her hands. "It was a racist comment!"

"That behavior is surely not appropriate for school," her mother replied. "But, it is no excuse for fighting."

"You've been getting yourself into more trouble than usual lately," Doug continued. "And, well, your mother and I worry about you sometimes. We know you have a lot to juggle, but we still want to see you be safe. You're our daughter."

She sighed, rolling her eyes. "Yes, dad, I understand."

"You going to the band concert Friday?" her father asked, trying to turn the conversation to more jovial matters.

She nodded. "I'm meeting Hannah and Morgan there. We're cheering for Natalie and the flutes."

He nodded as well. "That should be fun. Hopefully you won't need to beat anyone with their own trumpet."

"Please don't," her mother added worriedly.

"I won't," she promised. "Don't worry, nothing will happen. It's a band concert, for goodness' sakes. Nothing strange happens at those."

[-]

She strode in just on time, entering to the sound of the orchestra warming up. They'd go first, and then the band. In between, they had a short halftime show where student bands or local artists could come and perform. Just last year, they'd seen the graduation of one of the greatest student bands to ever rock the school, a group of four guys with a love for classic rock and an undeniable talent for it as well. Blue had been acquainted with the group, especially the drummer, who worked at the same summer camp she worked every summer. Countless times, Hannah had tried to get at the band members through Blue's connection to them, but the girl had stalwartly resisted her efforts to use her as a facade introduction.

Speaking of the devil, Hannah and Morgan were already in the auditorium, up in the back. Blue wandered to them, exchanging greetings with many of the people she walked by.

"Wow, you're popular tonight," Hannah commented. "You performing at the halftime show or something?"

Or maybe it's because everyone knows I'm actually not human? But that was besides the point; Hannah knew that was the real reason.

Blue snorted and shook her head. "I don't want to ruin the school's film of the concert."

"Like you ruined everyone's snapchats of you fighting those cars?" Morgan asked.

"Security is my top priority," Blue replied curtly. She sat down next to Morgan, putting her feet up on the back of the chair in front of her (it was empty, of course). Her friend gave her a look before turning away.

The band director walked out onto the stage and brought the crowd to quiet. He expertly lifted his hands and the orchestra struck up their first piece, the sound prim and pretty in the auditorium. It was a delicate song, quiet and lighthearted. The violins played beautifully, and even had a solo, where a senior Blue knew to be a very talented musician stood up and let the notes flow off her strings, entrancing the crowd. The applause for the song was thunderous.

"I love the orchestra," Morgan commented between songs. "They're so good this year."

"Yeah, I remember sophomore year when that one guy messed up the intro to whatever song they were playing," Hannah snorted. "That was a disaster."

"He's playing professionally now," Blue told her. "He wasn't going to let something as trivial as that discourage him from his goals."

"Well, aren't you so motivational," Hannah muttered in response.

The orchestra struck up their next song, a lively Celtic jig of sorts. The song filled the auditorium, the strings playing loud to capture the mood of the piece. Part of the section put down their instruments and started clapping to the beat; soon, the audience joined in. Blue was clapping right along; she enjoyed music like this. Morgan was getting into it too, but Hannah was trying to maintain her air of uncaring.

Phooey to her, then. She's missing out.

The orchestra would play three songs, the last one being an adapted mix of some recent pop songs. The crowd applauded for them greatly, once again impressed by their talent and dedication. Blue was happily singing along to herself; one of the pop songs had been one she'd covered in a recent music video. Done with their performance, the orchestra stood and gathered themselves, exiting offstage. The lights were brought back up, and the crowd was invited to stretch for a few minutes before the student performers came onstage for the halftime show.

Blue leaned back, curving her spine over her seat and stretching her arms. She removed her feet from the seat in front of her and stood up, seeking to find some sort of candy from the concessions table in the lobby.

"Want to come?" she asked Morgan and Hannah. "Or want me to bring you something?"

"I'm not giving you my money," Hannah said, standing up. "I'll buy my own food."

The three of them walked into the lobby, encountering a very large line for the concessions. Hannah groaned, slumping and rolling her eyes.

"I don't wanna wait in this," she complained. "We're going to miss the start of the halftime show!"

"It'll be fine," Morgan consoled her. "We're not going to miss much."

"Maybe it'll go quick," Blue said positively.

"Yea right," Hannah grumbled. "Could you, like, wave your hands and make them move faster or something?"

"No," Blue replied, somewhat offended. "I am not going to wave my hands and make them move faster."

"It was worth asking," Hannah muttered, crossing her arms.

The line did not go quick; it went deplorably slow. Behind them, they heard the sound of the emcee announcing the student performers. Someone in the lobby was having a loud coughing fit, so Blue didn't hear their names.

"Did anyone grab a pamphlet to know who they are?" she asked. Both her friends shook their heads.

They could hear the group warming up as the line slowly crept onwards. Blue slitted her eyes and started tapping her foot along with the music, entertaining herself in the long and boring line.

"We're going to miss them," Hannah moaned dramatically, hand to her face. Morgan tried to console her, but the drama continued.

The band began to play a classic rock song, hailing the crowd back to the days of the greatest student band of Norton High. It was a nice tribute, really. Blue smiled to herself as she listened to the beat; hopefully Sean would still be working the camp during the summer. It would be nice to see him, and the rest of her coworkers, before the Pagoe attacked.

"They sound like they're really good," Morgan commented looking over her shoulder. "That singing is on point."

"They'll never be as good as Evan," Hannah said dreamily. Blue narrowed her eyes at her; Evan had been the lead singer for the band that had graduated last year, whom Hannah had stalked excessively on social media. There were rumors that she'd tried to break Evan and his girlfriend up so she could date him, but she had never found hard evidence for this.

Finally, after such a long wait, they got to the table where they could purchase their food. Blue was so absorbed in the music she almost didn't notice; Morgan elbowed her to snap her out of her trance.

"Oh, sorry," she jumped slightly, opening her eyes. "Yea, I'd like a Swedish Fish, please."

Candy acquired, they wandered back towards the auditorium.

"Hey, let's go through the back way so we don't have to walk across all the peoples' view," Morgan suggested, pointing down the hallway that curved around the back of the auditorium, where there were doors leading into the room.

"Sure," Hannah agreed. Blue nodded, getting lost in the music again. These kids were admirable. Her YouTube channel didn't have a lot of representation for older music...perhaps she should reconsider that policy. If a ragtag band of students could capture this much interest, so could she.

She grimaced, feeling an ache developing in her shoulders. That was strange...maybe she shouldn't have sat so slumped in her seat during the orchestra's performance.

They walked to the door, Blue bringing up the rear. Morgan opened the door and they were flooded by the music, drumline and guitar vibrating the air, and the voice of whoever was singing filling her ears. A sudden pain shot across her chest.

It was like her gaze zoomed in, sweeping over the crowd below them, over the multiple gangs of girls that were going absolutely fucking wild, screaming and waving their hands in the air. She didn't know what on earth they were screaming at, but then she saw the stage and could harry a guess.

She knew three of the kids; one played drums for the band, and the other two were good friends of his (they played guitar; who knew?), but she didn't know the fourth one. All she knew is that she felt like she'd been punched in the gut, all the air sucked from her lungs, metal crawling across her skin in an automatic reaction, a feeling like claws down her back sending her to the brink of panic, unable to tell what was attacking her.

What's going on?

"That's the new guy!" Hannah said, pointing. "That's Jesse!"

The dragon turned and fled, pulling back from the door before anyone saw her in her armored form. Morgan's confused voice echoed after her, but she was gone in a flash, distance torn away beneath her strides.

There was a door in front of her; she turned her head and lowered her shoulder, bulling right through it. The hinges barely held together, straining under the extreme force put on by the fleeing dragon. Pain flared up in her head, like someone was hammering her skull.

Blue! Blue! Darlene's panicked voice entered her mind.

"What's going on?" the girl cried, stumbling across the parking lot, clutching her head. She made it to the end of the asphalt, stepping into the treeline beyond the school grounds.

Your… Darlene sounded terrified and perplexed. One of your silenced neural pathways is trying to reboot itself.

"Reboot?" Blue cried. Her heart was hammering; she came to a stop in the shelter of a large tree and sank to her knees. "What am I, a computer or something?"

There is a certain theoretical point in the programming of computers, where they become as if alive, Darlene replied. Controlling the systems of the body can be inversely related back to said programming. Oh dear...

"Can you fix it?" Blue yelped, still clutching her splitting head. She was beginning to feel nauseous…

I'm trying! Her advisor yelled back. I don't want to have to put you in shutdown, but if the malfunction doesn't settle, I'm going to have to. Oh, the ambassadors will be most displeased if that happens...Not that I care!

"Yeah, I would hope my health came first," Blue moaned, curling up into a little ball. She wrapped her twitching tail around herself, covering her face.

Hold on! Darlene yelled, and then suddenly, the nausea calmed. Her headache began to fade and her tremors stopped, but her heart was still racing. She cautiously uncurled, reminding herself to breathe. Unsteadily, she returned to her knees, one hand grasping the bark of the tree next to her. Her claws dug long marks in the wood.

She was staring out of the woods, back towards where the school was. Her mind was churning stormily, and out of the mix of emotions came something novel, animalistic.

She wanted him. She wanted him bad.

As soon as the feeling had came, she snapped out of it. She shook her head, horrified, all traces gone. She stumbled back, lifting her hands up in front of her to ward off some invisible evil.

Get home, Darlene ordered. Somewhere we can talk and assess this situation in private.

She didn't need to be told twice. She turned on a foot and was gone in a heartbeat.

[-]

You weren't supposed to feel attraction like that, Darlene said. We shut of those neural pathways before you were even born!

"That was attraction?" Blue questioned incredulously. "It felt more like having a seizure and dying."

The reactivation of the pathway involved the failure of its repression system, her advisor told her. That process in itself creates a lot of biological stress, and the resurgence of emotions overloaded your senses. Your reaction wasn't completely human...each of the client species that makes up your genome is emotionally different. In particular, the Lupa are known to have intense attractions to their mate, and the Deonkra are known to regularly engage in aromantic relationships. As strange as that seems to the rest of us…

"I don't care about them being strange!" Blue yelled. She was laying on her back on the floor; she still hadn't taken her armor off, and her wings were all strewn about her room, threatening to knock things over. "And what do you mean you shut off my neural pathways before I was even born?"

We modified your growing nervous system so the pathways handling things like romantic and seuxal attractions were shut off, Darlene explained. Modifying emotional pathways in such a way is usually highly illegal and unethical, but Project Guardian was allowed to file for an exception...they believed, if you were able to form strong relationships with people, it would endanger your ability to defend the world as a whole. That the Pagoe could neutralize you by threatening a significant other or some such person.

Blue was in shock. All this time, she was living her life with parts of her brain literally shut off. Inactive. Full emotions, she had been unable to feel. And now she could, and she didn't like it.

But at the same time, it all made sense. How she viewed other people, her relationships. Casual. Off-the-cuff. Playful but never serious. Arguments, fallouts, they never got to her. She didn't really care if she lost friends; maybe she'd care for a few days, but then it would fade away. Towards everyone, she was...ambivalent.

And that thought was slowing beginning to horrify her.

"Can you...fix this?" she asked quietly.

No, Darlene said resolutely. That would require a recalibration of your entire brain, which is much too dangerous to do to someone as complicated at you, at your age.

"Is this…reaction going to happen every time I see him?" the girl moaned with dread, covering her face. "I won't be able to go to school!"

No, this reaction shouldn't happen again, Darlene reassured her. But...you may have a permanent attraction to him. Your reaction was very intense.

Blue groaned again and rolled over, throwing a wing over her head. "Whyyyyyy…"

Her brain had been calm enough for a while that she could somewhat-rationally process what had happened. She had seen the band on stage long enough to remember them. And the singer, the center of her current problems, was that new kid. Jesse. Dark hair, brown eyes, a pretty typical looking kid. Hannah had been right about his hair looking like Ted Foster's, that curly-ish dark mess that was also somehow neat. She didn't want to think about it too much because it was making her uncomfortable. She was embarrassed, simply put. Embarrassed that such an animalistic, instinctive emotion had bubbled up inside her somehow.

It hadn't been some cute, innocent feeling.

You'll have to work to control this new set of emotions, should they continue, Darlene instructed her. It shouldn't be impossible, seeing how you're usually so brusque.

"Thanks, Darlene," Blue responded sarcastically. "That makes me feel so much better."

Distract yourself with your work, her advisor continued. There's plenty to be done, and you'll keep your mind occupied that way. Over time, the intensity of the reaction should fade...Oh dear, I hope this doesn't have any more side effects…

"Thank goodness it's Friday," Blue muttered. She was not looking forwards to Monday.

[-]

End Part 1