The Journey to the Heaviside Layer

Work Release 
#1


 With her eyes closed, she could hear the rustling downstairs, the wish of the little plastic fibers of the broom as the hardwood entryway of the gallery was swept and the doors were locked and gated. Upstairs, it smelt like freshly brewed coffee and acrylic paints, the sharp tang of turpentine and the faint but ever present grit of dried clay tracked on shoes and forever underfoot. It all made for home, a few simplified notes that helped to paint a complete picture. They were a major part of it, of course, individual parts of a whole that made the tapestry of Belle Vista, one cheetah after the next.

 She opened her eyes, glanced around the already tidied classroom - the last painting class of the day finished up a couple of hours beforehand. Picking up her still hot mug of coffee, she sipped and waited for the sweeping to stop and the sound of feet trekking up the stairs. Waited for the metal legs of chairs to drag across the floor, for everyone to settle in their respective comfort zones before she would find her voice.

 "I hope everyone's faring well." There was a raspiness from the lack of use, she cleared it away with a cough. "We've called you all here to talk as a group and reach a final decision on a particularly sensitive topic. All I ask is that you allow me to bring you up to speed before we open the floor. Fair?" She glanced from one face to the next, some that she had found and others that had found her - level and professional for the time being.


@"Mathis De Luca" @"Etta Richards" @"Isolde Casarez" @"Jackie Cavanagh" @"Charlie Major"

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#2


Mathis had provided crackers and a cheese tray, though he hardly anticipated anyone partaking. Then again, no one could anticipate the gravity of the meeting. For his part, he did not. Instead, he took a place nearby Yana, though he hardly spoke more than a word of greeting to her. The others soon joined, and Mathis nodded to each in turn, glad to see Isolde back, and Etta attending her first group meeting. He did wish it was under better circumstance.

Soon enough, Yana addressed them as a whole. For now, he had nothing to add, so he resigned himself to gauging the room.
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#3


 Isolde had worn sunglasses to the meeting. She had colored contacts now to hide the blazing yellow of her irises when she needed to, but it was more trouble than it was worth in the company of her kin. So up they would go, resting on top of her head as she found her way into the privacy of a human-free space, breathing in all the smells that came with this familiar building. Briefly, she would touch Yana and Mathis each as she moved behind them, settling into a chair beside her Queen. Her eyes would seek Charlie whenever he arrived, beckoning him to the chair beside her without a word.

 It was nice to see them all. She remained quiet, attentive as Yana began to speak, giving a soft nod of affirmation of her own to signal she was ready for the topic at hand. A part of her was on edge for it, but she remained calm all the same.
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#4


Charlie had no idea what the fuss was about, but the nature of the meeting left him curious rather than eager, at least. It would be nice to see everyone--he did enjoy when they all got together. More than that, he took some solace at seeing Isolde back in the fold. Even if he'd been the one to find her, to harbor her, to... well, everything. Having her at something like this and have her not be the point of it all--or so he optimistically assumed--was good. Back to normal, in a way.

Everything but her eyes, really, but he had actually kind of gotten used to that when she'd been staying at his place.

Regardless. Newest face would be offered a wave and a smile from the man who was steadily becoming one of the regulars rather than the newbie himself, and though Mathis looked dour and Yana looked serious, they'd both get a smile, too. Not nearly the same one as Isolde, though, who he hadn't hesitated in sitting next to.

Rapt attention on the Queen as she spoke, he would be the one to vocally speak up. "Fair," he agreed, struggling to imagine anyone would not afford her anything less if she was asking.
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#5
 Jackie had barely been able to get off of work in time but she was here, she had made it, and that was what mattered. She parked her SUV somewhat haphazardly into a space — she was still between the lines! — and quickly shed her doctor's coat, dropping it into the back seat and grabbing her zip up hoodie instead. It was an old one, one that she had no issue with wearing over dirty, blood-spattered scrubs. It wasn't a lot of blood, just some spray from a IV line that had been ripped out, but it was dried and likely wouldn't be a problem for any of the other Cheetahs she was seeing today.

 Zipping up the jacket, the blonde hurried inside, throwing her messy hair back into a bun so that she didn't look like a complete mess when she saw everyone else. She walked at a brisk pace to where the others were, greeting Yana first and foremost with a small wave and smile from across the room as she found an empty seat and settled, looking around at the others who had gathered so far. Unsure what she had missed so far (if anything), Jackie remained quiet, sure that she'd catch on fairly quickly.
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#6
outfit minus sunglasses
but with these glasses


It was her first ever meeting as a member of the coalition, ad Etta honestly had no idea what to expect. She'd decided to tone down her normal style for the night, going with a black and white outfit with a bright pink coat rather than a neon colored outfit underneath the bright pink coat. Though she did wear a darker yellow flat to better match her glasses to her outfit.

As she entered, she gave everyone a smile and took a seat and gave a smile to everyone else who entered after her. She was glad to see that there seemed to be a good number of other cheetahs, and she could feel her own staring at all the others. But once it seemed time for the meeting to start, Etta and her cat was all ears and eyes on Yana.
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#7
 She softened further once everyone was accounted for, at ease as she looked from one face to the next and nodded slowly. "Right." She glanced briefly to Mathis from the edge of her vision, cleared her throat and crossed her legs at the ankle as she held onto the lip of the desk she half perched herself on.

 "First of all, I regret to inform you that our partnership with the Jaguars seems to have wilted on the vine. In the interest of fairness to Asha, I will be taking over the winery and relieving her of that financial headache." She didn't wait too long, didn't want to risk that interruption. "Frank and all the rest that have made homes for themselves in Belle Vista are still welcomed to stay, they are not our enemies." As strained as those connections were, as brittle and damaged - she didn't wish the other woman dead.

 "I spoke with her just a few days ago - I voiced some concern about some information she neglected to tell me about Sayed and what the vampires in Lavender Heights know about us and our home. She requested to bow out, so that's what we're doing." Settled on that much as she drummed her fingers on the underside of the desk and approached the sharp bend in the road that could easily lead to the whole damn night toppling over.

"That's not the issue we're here for - but, any questions? Concerns?"
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#8
The members trickled in, and he offered a smile in kind to each. Etta was someone he knew of but had yet to interact directly with. Perhaps after the meeting, should things go well. Yana got into it quickly, and for now Mathis had no input to give.
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#9
Yana continued on to say that the partnership with the jaguars had fallen through. Etta frowned at that; it had been Abraham who'd brought her here and she'd been looking forward to getting to know him and his girlfriend better. Still, the cheetah queen mentioned that they weren't enemies- which was good because Etta didn't particularly enjoy the thought of having enemies- and came to the conclusion that, should she still want to cook dinner for Abraham and Asha, she would still be able to.

Finally, she brought up someone named Sayed and vampires in Lavender Heights. Etta's eyebrows hitched together in confusion at that. She had no idea who this Sayed was, or what problems he'd been possibly causing. She remembered that Yana said vampires weren't a threat to them, and she hoped that hadn't changed in the month or so since she'd last spoken to Yana. She'd been about to ask about the situation when the cheetah queen mentioned that they weren't there for that information, and she decided that it'd be better to maybe ask about that after the meeting. For now, she kept quiet and looked around the room to see if anyone else was planning on saying anything.
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#10
 Yana began with news about the jaguars, and Isolde pursed her lips some as she recalled their BBQ event, They had not been so bad, but all that fuss for nothing. She felt little about it one way or the other, until the vampire clutch was brought up. Her heart felt like it did a somersault in her chest, but that would be the extent of her reaction. There was no window for a snarl, for a snap of disgust or angry words, as much as that dark hatred brewed down in the core of her being. Those around her would see little beyond a blank face.

 "What do they know?" She asked evenly as a short silence stretched after the Queen's words, and with a sigh through her nose she would meet the woman's gaze.
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#11
 It was far from a goal to single anyone out, to make a single figure among their ranks feel pulled from the pack. Still, it would be a lie to say she hadn't glanced intentionally towards Isolde when she spoke of the Clutch. A part of her hoped the woman would react, that some sort of keystone to the mystery that was what happened to her would fall into place just like that. There was nothing, a curtain - she looked away just as quickly and nodded at the question.

 "I ran into Sayed again in Avondale some time ago - he knew my name, Levka's, Asha's - we did not personally tell him all of that. He knew species and territories, and he informed me that Beauregard is the one who told him all that he knew about us. It feels safe to assume that Beauregard probably knows more than he mentioned to his newest pet." She shrugged her shoulders, shifted her weight a bit.

 "I mentioned it to Asha, she informed me that she knew Beauregard knew all of these things but didn't think it pertinent to share." A soft tacked on addition.
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#12
The news that the jaguars were out of Belle Vista was a surprise, and one Charlie couldn't exactly keep from his face. They had all seemed to get on well enough, really, and it had seemed more or less a done deal. Asha had been downright nice, in fact... Though while he had enjoyed the novelty of the jungle felines to a proper extent, he had to admit that he'd been struggling to consider Belle Vista anything but... theirs.

Well, now he'd never learn, and for good reason, it seemed, if Yana and Asha hadn't been on the same page. He nearly asked the question Isolde did, but he was beaten to it. She put it a bit nicer than he might have? Honestly, he was just curious as to what could have been overlooked to such a point that the jaguars were a thing of the past so quickly.

Names. Species. Territories. Well, that did it. He found himself sitting up a little straighter and angled a little closer to Isolde with these revelations. This wasn't commonplace information--or at least it shouldn't have been, right?

"So Beauregard is one of these vampires in the Heights?"

Sorry, it was a lot of information, and he wanted to be completely certain he had all these ducks in a row. He didn't like messing around too much with vampires, largely because he felt deeply out of his depth where they were concerned.
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#13
 She appreciated Charlie for what he was, kind and considerate and a good friend to Isolde. Appreciated him, but still sighed heavily as they broached the issue of who Beauregard was in the context of their predicament. "You could say that, he's in charge of them." Maybe it was some form of cowardice, but she made a point to not linger into looking Isolde in the eye for that one.
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#14
It did feel wrong, not participating. But these were things he knew, and things they had discussed. It was something he had thought over, and ultimately had wished for a fuller understanding. Had Asha simply thrown in the towel at the first sign of questioning? Had Yana asked her the right questions? He would likely never know, unless he asked Asha directly. It would feel awfully like betraying Yana if he did.
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#15
That was. Huh.

"Oh, so... they all know?" Like, if the leader knew and was worth his salt, then all his followers--hopefully not many, please--would surely know anything that seemed... relevant.

Surely who they were, where they were located, and the names of their own leaders were among that sort of pertinent information.

To say the least, Charlie felt a little unsettled by this, but at the same time he wasn't sure... if they could avoid things like this. It wasn't like they were off the grid. They were out living their lives, in the world. Eventually, if someone cared to know, all their names could end up on a board somewhere. But if Asha knew they knew and hadn't told Yana, well. He could see why there was something of a falling out. Even he would have been taken aback by such a realization.
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#16
 "Presumably." She shrugged her shoulders, shifted and uncrossed her legs as she turned from Charlie to assess the rest of them calmly. "What it comes down to is that we don't know a lot - we're outside looking in. And while there's a chance that anything we could imagine would be worse than the truth, there's something to be said for being prepared." Two sides of the same coin, both of which their own merits.

 "And that brings you up to speed with what we know. As for why you're here ..." It took effort to keep calm and casual whenever her eyes skirted over Isolde as she scanned the room. "There is a vampire living in Belle Vista - an old one with a business that endears our community. He has been seemingly forthcoming and polite with me, claims to operate as a rogue - asked to stay in Belle Vista."

 She glanced over to Mathis, stood up when it felt worthwhile to move. "I informed Mathis of his presence earlier and he's voiced concerns about the vampire's honesty and the possibility that he's a mole." She exhaled slowly, level. "I see both sides - the value of having an ace up our sleeve, the possibility that it's really a snake. As such, we've come to you all to see where you stand on this. The majority rule will be what we will enact. Speak freely, we're family."
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#17
 They knew names. Species. Territories. That was not great. Isolde wore no expression on her face, lifting one hand to rest her mouth against her fist. Yellow eyes stayed on the table, unblinking, as the gears rolled in her head. What were the odds that the woman who had declawed her had some sort of connection to this Beauregard and his pet? She inhaled and exhaled slowly, wordlessly. None of the things she would like to say would come out.

 She was useless.

 Outwardly calm, Isolde remained quiet, resting against her folded hand. The cherry on top was an old dust ball of a bloodsucker living right here in their proverbial nest. The one place she would most like to feel safe. Her beast pressed anxiously against her brain; at least she could relay her feelings with it.

 Isolde remained silent.
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#18
Charlie literally didn't know what to think.

He took all this information in stride well enough. The idea of a polite or even nice vampire didn't seem completely insane to him, even if all his experiences pointed towards less than amazing reputations for a reason. It was hard to feel entirely comfortable around something that inherently preyed on people. Even if they didn't want to, they still had to, yeah? There wasn't some weird vegan blood substitute?

A weird little thought, spurred by a few nerves as he tried to find some ground to stand on. A glance at Isolde, kind of inclined to hear her mind... didn't help. She was silent, almost passive, though her cat seemed... uneasy. Charlie frowned, somehow more concerned about that, and he reached over and placed a gentle hand on her back.

"Don't much trust a group," he decided to speak up, essentially sorting his thoughts out loud. "Especially not a bunch who know too much. Not sure how much I like the idea of a single dude, either. But I guess it's kinda... shitty..." he trailed off and the word that was unusually strong for him. It was really rude to blame one guy who seemed to Yana to be forthcoming for the errors of his species at large, but even as he was saying it loud, he didn't see a way around it.

"Can't stay friendly with the dude and still ask him to bounce, can we?"

Have one's cake--eat it, too.
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#19
Etta sat still, listening patiently as everyone spoke about the topics Yana brought up. She frowned a little, since she'd been told previously that the vampires were not a threat, though she supposed that maybe this was before she'd learned that Asha- the little girlfriend of Abraham- hadbeen in some sort of cahoots with vampires and that maybe now they were a threat.

She didn't really know what to say to everything, or even if she say anything. The idea that a vampire was living in Belle Vista and might be a spy for vampires intent on hurting them didn't sit too well with her either. Her plan was to move to Belle Vista over the summer, but now she wondered if it would be safer to stay in Crestview. True, she wouldn't have the protection of the rest of the coalition there, but if the fight was in Belle Vista, then surely she'd be better off in Crestview.

"Is there a way to investigate the vampire who wants to stay in Belle Vista?" she finally squeaked out. "And should we be concerned about the vampires in general?"
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#20
Yana continued on with it then. He stayed quiet as she laid it out on the table, and furthermore as Isolde's cat shifted uncomfortably, and Charlie and Etta spoke their concerns. "Vampires are dangerous. There should always be some caution around them..." He started, glancing to Yana briefly before he continued. "I do not think that they are all out to murder us, but I do know that they are incredibly strong and have the ability to manipulate anyone's mind. The fact is that as it stands, there is really little trust between the Coalition and this Clutch." He paused a moment, but supposed it was best to speak his piece and let it be debated upon.

"Given that this vampire could easily lie to any one of us, there is no real way of knowing if he is or is not feeding Beauregard any information he learns. Thus far... the only other option we have is to speak directly with Beauregard, and attempt to reach some sort of entente..." He trailed off, sighing as he waved a hand. It was not a sound idea. There was little they knew about the vampires, and yet so much the vampires knew about them. The Clutch would have an upper hand.
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#21
 She closed her eyes for a moment, took a selfish and vain second to run her fingers over all her personal accomplishments before she answered from a place of frustration. A source of security, keystone, lighthouse, pillar - whatever flowery and emotional way one wanted to paint a leader, she reminded herself she needed to be it. "At this time, we will not be speaking with Beauregard." A firm tone as she didn't spare a sideways glance.

 "One disaster at a time - let's figure out what the collective would like to do with a rogue before we say in for a penny, in for a pound." A little softer this time. Hours, days, and still amazed at the concept of wanting to skirt the threat of one vampire but entertain the notion of a whole clutch of them. "All things in our time."
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#22
One single vampire was one thing. A vampire with an agenda--which a group would always have, even if that agenda was benign--struck Charlie as inherently worse. Even though he didn't say anything to it, he found himself shaking his head. He'd rather be quiet neighbors with that sort. The name's on the mailbox but maybe that was all they needed to know about each other. Keep out of each other's yards and mind the property lines.

He wondered if they should meet this vampire as a group... Surely he couldn't control them all. Lie to them all. But it almost seemed too absurd an idea to voice, so for the moment Charlie sat on it.
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#23
Mathis sighed sharply. Then what was left to suggest? Make the vampire leave, or make it to where they did not have to worry about the rogue feeding information to a leader they were not on good terms with. He sat back in his seat some. "Alright. Then tell us what benefits there are in keeping the rogue here. If there isn't any... we can agree that it's a poor choice to let him stay, yes?" There was little room for more patience. A decision had to be made, and it seemed there were only two choices. Let Yana have her way in her poor decision, or send the vampire out. He looked to the largely silent group for their input.
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#24
 Isolde was leaning heavily into the words spoken by both Charlie and Mathis, and yet somehow she could not voice her agreement. Her teeth clenched together in silence, but she moved her eyes to glue onto Mathis. Keep talking, Second. Yana should know good and well where she probably stood on this issue, right? Was there any need for her to speak up even if she could? She folded both hands together in front of her mouth. She hated this shit.
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#25
 "The benefit, should they want to entertain the notion, is that he's a telepath." She glanced over to Mathis, returned to the group and shrugged again. "Takes the form of a bird - can do it even then. It could be viable, as a tap when we need it." She leaned back as well, settled on that argument of sorts.

 "It's a gamble, but it's one I am willing to take, personally - at the same time it's not just me, personally, on the line." It was the whole reason they were there, after all, a begrudging sort of personal growth, she imagined. "One way or the other, let's just hear where you stand." She glanced to Isolde, an apologetic sort of stare, deciding not to omit her out loud and put her on the spot - that was one voice she wasn't in the dark about.
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#26
Charlie heard them all out, but he was no more certain about anything.

"I dunno. I guess if he's really as friendly as you think, he'd be pretty willing to take his leave just to make us feel better."

It was a simple enough opinion, and his idea of harassing the dude as a group to get to the bottom of it died simply because he wasn't sure if Isolde was up for it--and if she wasn't, he wasn't.
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#27
How did that, at all, make any of this better? A vampire that could shift into the form of a bird, whom could read minds. So that at any moment, the vampire could be roosted nearby and pick up the inner thoughts of any of the members. Mathis' jaw clenched tight enough that it was near painful. He did catch Isolde's gaze, and he held it for a long beat. There were many words there that went unspoken, and he tilted his head in confirmation that he heard her. Charlie was audibly opposed, the others looking perplexed and noncommittal. "Precisely. If he is well mannered, he would understand our discomfort. A telepathic vampire whom can disguise as a bird, who's affiliations we are not aware of... Yana," He sought to meet the Queen's gaze. "He has no place in Belle Vista."
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#28
 It wasn't surprising to see that Charlie would go to Isolde, would defer with her even in the absence of words. A chain reaction that she had anticipated but had hoped would surprise her, all the same, if nothing else she took comfort in involving them. That she had allowed them the courtesy of taking a measure of control rather than stirring a ship without input. And while she wanted to push - half the battle was knowing when to accept that you were shoving an agenda and not the good of the many.

 "Very well." She glanced to Mathis, met his gaze with the tiniest little flicker of a grin before looking back to the rest. "I'll see to it that he's out by the end of the month. Politely, first of all - I'd prefer not to escalate unless he forces our hand." A courtesy she would afford any of the Vampires left living in the surrounding areas. "I appreciate your time, as always."
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