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Good, Old-Fashioned Snooping

Good, Old Fashioned Snooping Mike’s first few weeks at St. Adelaide’s had been a little hectic, to say the least. First, there was the fact that he had to abruptly adjust to an entirely different lifestyle. Then there were the classes, which were much more difficult than their public school equivalents; he’d just coasted through those with solid Bs. But most taxing of all were the numerous mysteries of the school. At first, he’d just done some casual research, looked some stuff up on the internet, asked teachers for info, that kinda thing. But as he learned more, more and more questions began to appear in the inner folds of his brain. So then he’d moved to “real research”. He’d actually convinced Jilli to go to the library with him, survived an encounter with Abigail “four-eyes” Hodge, and gathered several old, dusty tomes to peruse. He’d learned a lot of interesting things from those books. St. Adelaide’s had been a mental ward back in the 1800s, before finally being shut down for good in the ‘40s, he’d known that much already. The official story was that it had been abandoned for years afterward, but Mike had found several sources—only one of which had been a shitty site that hadn’t been updated since 2002—that pointed to the buildings being used as a government research facility of some kind in the ‘50s, presumably to combat the Soviets. He read some crazy ramblings by a conspiracy theorist about creating “Paragons of the Future,” but that seemed way too farfetched, whatever it even meant. Regardless, the land was finally reopened as a school for Gifted Youth in the ‘70s, and had remained so to this day. Unfortunately, every source he’d found had failed to mention the founder of the school beyond a few off-handed references, which wouldn’t have seemed odd except that every article, website, and book avoided the subject like clockwork. Searching for the Director directly did nothing either, and this only made his thirst for knowledge worse. And then, one afternoon, Doug stumbled into the room without warning practically carrying Jilli. Something was clearly wrong. She looked just like Doug did when he returned from his sessions. But of course Doug didn’t tell him anything, just shut them both in his room and locked the door. Though Mike couldn’t hear any specifics, he couldn’t miss the sound of sobs that reached his ear through the thin wall. Mike had known for a while that he had no shot with Jilli. That had been made abundantly clear the morning he opened his door to use the sink only to see Jilli brushing her hair with only a striped bra to cover her thin waist. And she certainly hadn’t spent the night in his room. He was pretty sure he would have noticed. But still, he cared about her, as a friend, as a person. And so he worried. That worry quickly turned into obsession. There was something going on at this school, and now it had been made personal. It wasn’t just about solving a mystery now, it was about saving his friend. Correction: friends. Doug was neck-deep in it too, whatever it was, and Mike was the only one who could save them. He was the only one that they didn’t expect. Doug later confirmed that Jilli had indeed been subjected to a session, but he refused to say more. “It doesn’t matter, Mike.” “But it does!” he argued. “We can help her!” “I said, it doesn’t matter!” Doug nearly shook with anger, or was it fear? “I hate it just as much as you, but there’s nothing we can do, okay? Nothing unless you want to end up dead, or worse.” But Mike found himself increasingly undisturbed by that idea. He hardly slept, staring at his computer screen until the wee hours of the morning as he ventured into increasingly sketchy parts of the internet to find anything at all that could help him. It was difficult work. Many sites were just mad ramblings by unstable individuals, or conspiracies about Atlantis and the lizardmen who had taken over the government. But gradually, a bigger picture began to emerge. The more he looked, the more plausible it seemed that St. Adelaide’s had in fact, actually been a government facility all those years ago, at the height of the Cold War. Info on what really went on in there was thin, most of the recovered documents had been highly redacted. The facility had been dedicated to something called “Project Paragon”. There had been many experiments, but it seemed as if only one had been successful: a singular flower, a Buttercup, and had received the codename “Paragon Alpha”. Why they were experimenting on flowers of all things, Mike had no idea. He thought that maybe he’d understand more if he had any knowledge about the Cold War. So he wandered out of Dunsany and down to the library, which he was surprised to find was locked. The problem was that Mike was so distracted by his thoughts that he didn’t actually realize this fact until about two minutes of pulling at it. Just when he was about to turn around and go back to the dorm, the handle turned and the door creaked open. Abigail peeked her head out, and blinked at him, glasses eschew. “Mike?” she asked. “What are you doing here? It’s two o’clock in the morning.” Mike blinked. He hadn’t even realized it was dark out. “Is it?” Abigail nodded hesitantly. “Are you alright? You... don’t look so good.” Running a hand through his tangled hair, Mike couldn’t answer. He had no idea how alright he was on a scale of alrightness. The world seemed like a big confusing box with a bunch of colored squares. What in the world were they called? “I... I’m fine,” he answered instead. “I need-n-need a book.” “A book?” she raised an eyebrow. “At this time of night?” Rubix cube! That’s what it was. Wait, no, Mike, focus. “Wait,” he realized a second later. “What are you doing here at this ti—“ but he was cut off as she opened the door. Victor was standing in front of Abigail’s desk, cheeks flushed, hair disheveled, tie undone. “Oh,” he said. “Hello, Mike.” Though he opened his mouth to question this whole situation, Mike decided that he didn’t really want to know the answer. “Hi.” “Now, you’ll forgive me for getting you on your way as quickly as possible,” she sighed, before turning from Mike to Victor and then winking. “Duty calls. What sort of book are you looking for?” Mike had to force himself to not just keep looking back and forth between the two like a bobblehead. Man, was he the only one who wasn’t getting any? No, focus, whoa he was tired. “Uh... the Cold War,” he finally got out. “Scientific advances during the Cold War.” Thinking for a moment, Abigail nodded. A strange look crossed her face for a moment, but was gone before Mike even knew if it had actually been there at all. “Yes, that’ll be in the history section, over here.” She began leading him by the arm to the back side of one of the looming shelves. “That’s a very specific topic, you know.” “It’s for class,” he said, a little too quickly. “It’s due tomorrow.” “Hence the all-nighter,” Abigail nodded. “Well, let me know when you find what you’re looking—” Again, she was interrupted by a pounding at the door. “Goodness gracious, it’s like no one ever sleeps around here. Please forgive me.” She meandered off through the shelves, and Mike began to skim the titles of the books, trying to find something that might help him, something that wasn’t written by a conspiracy theorist nutcase. No, he didn’t want communist or capitalist propaganda either. A vein in his temple was beginning to pulse from lack of sleep, but sleep would just get in his way. “Jilli?” Abigail’s voice reached him. “What are you doing here?” “I need to talk to you about something.” Mike froze. What was Jilli doing here? She should be asleep. He peeked around the corner of the bookshelf, and there she was in the doorway, her multi-colored hair was unmistakable. Oddly enough, she looked fine, composed even, even though she had just undergone a session less than forty-eight hours ago. He thought he saw her head turning towards him, and Mike skittered back behind the bookcase. If she saw him like this she’d ask a lot of questions. “I need your help,” she continued. “Yours and Vic—oh that’s convenient.” “Hello,” said Victor sheepishly. Jilli looked back and forth across the cluttered room. “We’re alone, right?” His heart clenched, Mike didn’t breathe. “Well—” Victor began before Abigail quickly cut him off. “Yep. It is 2 AM, after all.” Mike relaxed, though now he was confused. Why would Abigail lie about that? She had no motive for doing so, unless she... wanted him to hear this? "Alright,” Jilli began, breathing deeply. “This is going to sound crazy, but bear with me.” The silence in the room was almost palpable. “I’m going to overthrow the Director.” No one spoke for a moment, and Mike had to stop himself from interjecting. Finally, Victor did it for him. “What?” he asked. “What do you mean ‘Overthrow the Director?’ She’s not a dictator, she’s a principle!” “You of all people know that this isn’t a simple school,” Jilli scoffed. “Why do you keep that project of yours under a sheet? Because she and her lackeys are always watching you. We’re constantly overworked with classes and made to maintain a strict regimen so we can’t stop to think, and we all know someone who’d gotten fucked up by one of her psychotic sessions. We all live in fear that we might be next. This is the very definition of a fascist dictatorship.” “But... but this is a school,” Victor replied weakly. “We chose to be here.” Again, the room was quiet, and the others looked at each other warily. “I didn’t choose to be here.” Jilli broke the silence. “My agent forced me on a plane here and I haven’t heard a word since. Did you?” “My parents found my projects and almost sent me to a mental ward before St. Adelaide’s contacted them,” Victor admitted. “It’s the same for me,” Abigail whispered. Jilli nodded. “So none of us are here of our own freewill, but we just assumed everyone else was.” She turned to Victor. “Still convinced this is just a school?” “I...” he began, before hanging his head. “No.” “We’ve been abandoned, but we don’t need to continue living in this hell.” Jilli gritted her teeth. “Se we’ve gotta fight back. But I can’t do it alone. I need your help, both of you. Are you with me?”

“This is insane.” Victor shook his head. “But alright.” “I’m with you too,” Abigail smiled. “Oh, this will be fun. I’ve never been part of a revolution before.” Behind the bookshelf, Mike was near panicking. What had the Director done to Jilli? This wasn’t like her at all! This plan was absolutely ludicrous! It could never work. But most of all: what would convince her to even try?” But one question sat the heaviest in his mind: what was he going to do about it? ~~ o ~~ In the cold night air, just beyond the boundary of St. Adelaide’s, someone else was watching. Or rather, two someones, on the back of a flying motorbike. “You know,” Lilith said, frowning as she watched Buttercup’s intense stare, “this is the fourth night we’ve done this. What exactly are you looking for?” “I’m not looking,” Buttercup replied simply. “I’m waiting.” “Okay, what are you waiting for, then?” And if you say Christmas, I swear to god...” “I’m waiting for her to make a move.” Lilith sighed. “I’m tired of waiting. Why don’t we just go trash the place now?” “Because our goal isn’t just to ‘trash the place’,” Buttercup rolled her eyes. “We have a very specific target. And besides, the utter destruction of a school without provocation would draw unnecessary attention to us. And there’s a lot of kids in there. I’d rather not waste life unless I have to. You must admit, the school is the perfect cover.” Once again, the small, pigtailed child juxtaposed with her grim war general speech momentarily weirded Lilith the fuck out, and she wondered for the umpteenth time just what this kid could have gone through to make her like this. The Talons, much to her chagrin, had been kept on a strictly need-to-know basis. She hadn’t ever been told why exactly they had been undertaking these “reconnaissance” missions for the last four nights. “She’s going to do it soon,” Buttercup muttered. “She’ll use a distraction to disappear, complete the experiment. She’s so close, I can feel it.” “And that’s when we strike!” “No, then we keep waiting.” The motorbike dropped a centimeter in Lilith’s confusion. “What? Why?” “Because that’s when our allies will emerge.” “But we don’t need allies. Let’s just go destroy the place now.” “No.” Buttercup put her foot down. Metaphorically. Because they were in the air. “The three of you couldn’t beat me. You won’t stand a chance against what’s in there. And it’s not all about strength. So we wait.” “But waiting’s boooorrring.” “I know, my friend.” Buttercup nodded. “I know.”

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