Oct 23, 2018 8:56 PM
ultimate twin sacrifice motion, set up!
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Bella spends much of the flight from Phoenix wishing that she had not been able to convince Lexi to come with her.

Of course it would have been pointless if they didn't both go; the idea is to give Renée freedom of movement, and she'd be nearly as likely to stay home with one daughter as with both. So Bella worked on Lexi, and Lexi agreed, and they presented a united front, and now Bella has to actually move to Forks. At least there's only another year and a half before she can abscond to college and go wherever she wants. (She hopes Lexi will come too, but of course there's no guarantee they'll go to the same college, even though their school grades are about comparable.)

They're in all the same classes here even though they weren't in Phoenix. This is just as well; they naturally divide introduction duties between themselves, explaining each other's nicknames as need be to anyone who refers to the one of them while addressing the other ("No, she goes by Bella." "It's not Alexandra, it's Lexi.") and swap interlocutors when one of them has an interest that matches better up with the other sister. They're going to wind up sharing the same circle of friends, but by the end of the day it's clear that Jessica and Mike are going to be mostly Lexi's, and Angela and Eric are going to be mostly Bella's, and that's assuming they stick to the people who most friendly-like introduced themselves on day one. They aren't allowed to pair up in bio with each other ("you should make friends here!" the teacher encourages), so Bella gets Angela and Lexi gets a random boy who doesn't seem to want to be friends outside of class. In gym, Lexi makes Bella's excuses for her, and Bella is allowed to sit out. Bella wouldn't have wanted to try to explain her issues with gravity and her own limbs without an obviously un-self-interested twin to run interference. She probably would have had to bring in her freaking medical records. Bella spends gym class on a mat stretching and doing bodyweight exercises while Lexi plays basketball. Lexi's not exactly an athlete, but she's not an ambulance ride waiting to happen either.

At the end of class, Bella offers to run both of their paperwork to the office when Lexi says she wants to catch a ride to Jessica's house and get caught up in Government. Bella prefers to work out of the textbook and doesn't want to accompany her; she'll hit the office then drive their shared beat-up old-new station wagon (thanks, Charlie!) home and Lexi can get a ride home in time for dinner from Jessica's mom.

Bella folds up the mat, and a pair of scuffed old playing cards falls out. She picks them up - what, did someone play Go Fish on this mat and never bother collecting their jokers? - pockets them to toss later, and puts away the mat.
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As she is putting away the mat, a voice says, "Hey! You!"

There is no one else in the gym.

Also, the voice is coming from her pocket.
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Well, hold on just a second, ventriloquists exist and Bella doesn't have magic person-sensing powers. She looks around for likely hiding spots. "What?" she asks.

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There are probably places in this gym that a person could be hiding.

Her pocket sighs.

"Where do I even start," it says musingly. "Um, if you don't help me out somebody's going to blow up your planet, and it might be soon? Actually, before I get into that, you should probably go somewhere that nobody's going to overhear us."
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"Where are you?" Bella asks, peering behind the rack where the mats hang out and finding no one.

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"Right here!" the voice snaps, and the jokers wiggle impatiently in her pocket.

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Bella's hand slaps down over her pocket in startlement. She waves the hand around, looking for strings. She doesn't find any.

She says, "I need to drop some things off at the office. Then I'm going to sit in my car and figure out if there's any reason I should be having a psychotic break right now."
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"Great," the voice sighs. "Sure, okay."

And it shuts up.
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Bella drops off her and Lexi's papers at the office, doing an admirable job of sounding like she is not concerned about her mental health.

She picks her way across the icy parking lot. She sits in her car. She pulls out her notebook, and confirms her memories of the day.

There's - really nothing. She didn't even make a note to tell somebody about suspicious black mold in a bathroom or anything. She supposes lunch could have been poisoned, but she's otherwise completely fine, not even dizzy.

"I'm tentatively going to operate under the assumption that some playing cards I picked up are talking to me," Bella says, taking them out of her pocket and setting them on the dashboard. "What, under this hypothesis, do those playing cards have to say?"
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"Believe me," the voice sighs, "I know it must sound crazy. But I swear it's true. I'm a small part of an ancient magical weapon forged on another world. The rest of the weapon is under orders to destroy any planet it finds that doesn't belong to the people who made it, and the people who made it are all dead. If it can convince somebody with magical potential to pick it up and use it, it'll crack this place like an egg."

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"Okay," says Bella. "What does this have to do with me specifically - is it just that I picked you up? Why aren't you on board with the program if you're part of the same weapon? How did you split up? How did you and it get here? How common is magical potential? Where is it? If I pick it up and continue to adamantly not want Earth destroyed will that do the trick or can it get around that?"

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"Magical potential is rare on this planet," says the pair of jokers, "but you have it, and I think somebody else around here does. I'm talking to you because you have it, and I know you do because you picked me up. I can feel it. Do you really want storytime or do you want me to tell you how to stop the rest of me from blowing up your planet?"

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"...Tell me what that would consist of," Bella says. "But the hypothesis that some cards I picked up in gym are talking to me doesn't logically imply that those cards aren't liars - a liar? - a fraction of a liar? - and it also isn't a hypothesis I totally buy, so if the steps involve, like, smothering kittens, that's not happening without extremely convincing storytime."

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"Okay," says the pair of jokers. "It's simple. You pick me up and hold me and accept me as your weapon, there's some snazzy special effects, then I do a search spell and we go find the rest of me and overwhelm it with magical damage until it shuts down. I'm pretty sure if I reintegrate at that point, I can rip the program out by the roots, and then there's no more problem and you can go back to whatever you were doing when I said hey."

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"Can I get my sister to sanity-check me - will she be able to see the special effects?"

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"Anybody can see the special effects."

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"Okay. What's the approximate percent risk per hour of someone else finding the rest of you?"

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"I have no idea," the voice says promptly. "I think I felt another magical signature around here somewhere today, and last I saw it about a year ago, the rest of the deck was still in this town; it doesn't move around as easily as I do. So there's somebody wandering around that it might be able to use, and they might find each other any minute, but as to when that'll be or if it'll even happen, your guess is just about as good as mine."

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"This doesn't, like run in families or anything, does it?"

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"Man, do I look like a genetics expert?" it demands.

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"You look like the discard pile for a game of gin rummy," Bella says. "How the hell should I know what you're an expert on? I'm calling my sister, I'll pick her up, we'll do special effects, if they happen we'll go from there." She pulls out her phone and starts dialing.

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The pair of jokers laughs good-naturedly.

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The phone rings, and rings, and Lexi doesn't pick up. Bella flips her phone closed. "She must be busy. Or she let it die again. Homeward, I think. Have you got a name?" she asks, buckling her seatbelt and turning the keys in the ignition.

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"Yeah," it says, in dare-you-to-comment tones. "Brilliance."

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"I'm Bella," says Bella. She has no idea why he'd use that tone of voice; it's not like she has any idea what constitutes a normal name for a deck of cards. She pulls out of the parking lot. "If you can rip out the program that destroys planets, why didn't you do it before?"

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"...I honestly have no idea how to explain," says Brilliance. "Your language doesn't have words for it. I'm not sure there's a language that does. Uh, let's try... it was supposed to be a part of me I could never remove. Until we split apart, it was. Now that we're apart, I can't take back the part of me that it stole unless I beat it up a whole lot first, but once I do it should be weak enough for me to wipe it out."

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