The remainder of the assembly seemed to pass with unnatural swiftness, as the Guardians below dispatched the gathered Delegates to their respective tasks - to observe, to investigate, and in some cases, to interrogate. The Circle had many resources - after untold centuries in existence, it was almost inevitable - most of them in the form of human beings in convenient positions, and in situations such as this one, they all but demanded exploitation. The Hall emptied quickly, leaving only a few dozen stragglers, who drifted toward the main table and were bent quickly in conversation with two of the Guardians, both men, whom Annie did not recognize. Shortly, the only boxes still occupied were the one where the Phillipses and Annie were seated, and the one in which Tilia Bico sat, staring, into space.
Annie herself remained seated, albeit uncomfortably - this was her first Assembly and she was unsure of what was appropriate. Molly hadn't moved a muscle since Areahannah had uttered the words "Aislinn Park" - Jack was staring now at his lap, and Fiona's eyes were riveted on Areahannah herself, far below them. Annie had shielded, and so she could not sense Fiona's state of mind - and still uncertain as to what was appropriate, she didn't unshield to find out. Instead, she merely sat and stared at her hands, glancing up every now and then to look down at the table.
Only a few minutes passed, however, before her discomfort was interrupted. She glanced someone approaching out of the corner of her eye, and when she looked, spotted Terren making his way up the stairs toward them. Fiona must have seen him too, because she stood even as Annie did, and moved out to meet him. Molly and Jack remained in their seats.
"Great way to be woken up, huh?" he said with a careful smile, and Annie noticed that Terren looked just as exhausted as Areahannah - which only made sense, she realized. He looked a mess - red-blond hair askew, dark eyes tired, and his normally olive complexion a bit pale. Though if Annie hadn't known Terren, she never would have guessed that this was him at half energy. He was expert at holding up under far worse than this - though he tended to keep going at full strength until he simply collapsed. Annie had seen that happen at least once. It was sobering proof of just how trying this life really was.
Next to her, Fiona shrugged and smiled back - she seemed to have recovered rather quickly, or at least, had put her shock to one side. "You get used to it," she replied, looking at Annie.
"Well," Terren said, looking over Fiona's shoulder to where Molly and Jack were still sitting, "I came to rescue you to a more civilised environment." He grinned. "There's tea and coffee. Breakfast, even."
At the word "coffee", even Molly looked up.
Annie was surprised to learn just how long the Assembly had lasted - when they'd left the house it had been just barely past three in the morning. But when they entered the comfortable room that served as a dining room, the light coming in through the window told her that it was now nearly eight or nine o'clock - though she wasn't altogether certain of just how reliable her own judgement of time was, given her present location. With the realization came renewed fatigue as well as a gnawing hunger that demanded immediate attention. The fatigue could not be helped at the moment, but judging by the dishes of food arranged along the table... her stomach began growling with renewed vigour.
The rectangular table took up most of the space in the long, narrow room, nearly flush against the far wall, most of which was occupied by the rectangular window. The room was lit entirely by the light coming in from outside - most of Crystallis was full of natural light. Annie realized, absently, that every room she'd seen of the Island thus far seemed lit by window-light or skylight. She'd yet to see an artificial light - incandescent, fluorescent, or otherwise. She wondered how they lit the rooms deeper within, the ones with no windows. Then she realized that it was probably over her head at present and stopped wondering.
Right after the food registered the fact that she, the Phillipses and Terren were not alone in the room. There were several other people already seated along the table - right under the window at the far end was a woman in her late twenties. She sat with her legs folded beneath her, perching on the chair with what to Annie was enviable ease. Her dark blonde hair curled softly to her shoulders, and some of it fell into merry eyes of a strangely muddied blue. Annie recognized her, at least, as Katia - one of the Guardians, and a doctor. Which meant that the man next to her - the tall, sandy-haired, bespectacled man Annie had seen earlier - must be Matt Hamilton, another doctor and Katia's not-husband (Fiona's word - she'd said that "boyfriend" sounded too silly and "significant other" too melodramatic. Matt and Katia had been together more than eight years, and were what Fiona had called "Bonded": she'd said it with a very sober and mysterious air that Annie had chosen not to question, though she'd decided that it was something very serious and a form of relationship with which she was previously unfamaliar. Something like Soulmates. Whatever Matt was to Katia, Terren was to Areahannah. But that, Annie had decided before ever either seeing the two of them together or knowing what such a relationship was - based solely on the way Terren said Areahannah's name.).
Across from them was seated the dark-eyed, athletic young woman with the curly hair whom had been with Matt and Terren earlier. She was noticably younger than any of the Guardians - probably by five or six years, at least. This was Jeri Minnister, a member of the more trusted Inner Circle, an informal delination but very much a reality. The Phillipses had once - and still did, at least in the form of Fiona - been considered a part of it, as one of the oldest Delegate families.
Seated next to Katia was another person that Annie recognized - Beilenya, another Guardian, whose bizarre violet eyes looked nearly black in the sunlight flooding the room. Beilenya's eyes were bizarre only because she was clearly of Japanese descent, and the colour seemed out-of-place, though quite striking, especially framed by the Guardian's straight, jet-black hair.
It was Beilenya who looked up and greeted them. "Look who's here!" she said, smiling easily and gesturing to empty chairs. The others looked up and smiled as well. "Haven't seen Fiona in a while, and she's brought friends! Who's..." Beilenya's voice trailed off as she sighted Molly, standing just behind Terren's right shoulder, regarding the seated Guardians and Delegates with no expression on her face whatsoever. That was when Annie remembered that this was the first time that Molly had been to the Island since Rick's death, over fifteen years ago.
Fiona momentarily cursed her brother's ability to put on a stoic expression with a moment's notice. She was quite sure that her own apprehension showed clear on her face. She'd almost forgotten herself, until a few seconds ago, the terms under which Molly had last left the Island. Until the two Guardians seated at the table realised just who was in the room with them.
Fiona then, for a moment, resented Arrah - for Fiona was no Empath, and could only rely on her impressions to tell her mother's mood and her likeliest reaction. Katia and Belle, to their credit, sat silent and unmoving, Belle rather like a cornered mouse in the eyes of an owl who hasn't decided on lunch. Katia, Fiona knew, was the more diplomatic - being a doctor she could scarcely help it - and merely watched Molly with mild apprehension.
Her mother, Fiona saw then, was afraid.
She was not sure whether anyone else had noted it - certainly Matt and Jeri could not have done so, as Jeri was even less an Empath than Fi and Matt was barely Gifted at all. Not to mention that neither of those two had been around when Molly had left. Jeri would have been barely ten at the time and certainly unaware of the Circle.
It seemed that Molly's eyes were on the Guardians only, though - watching them almost warily. The silence stretched on - Fi ground her teeth.
Again, Terren came to the rescue. He cleared his throat and stepped aside, no longer blocking the light from the window and Molly was suddenly at the full mercy of the morning sun. She blinked in surprise - Terren took the opportunity to end the silence.
"Molly Phillips - I don't think you've met..." he gestured and Jeri got gracefully to her feet - *very* gracefully, Fiona noted for the umpteenth time with vague envy. Jeri was a mutant, and had abilities ranging from sporadic - though violent - precognition to an unusually heightened sense of hand-eye co-ordination, as well as reflexes far superior to any normal human. She practically flowed across the intervening space and presented her hand to Molly without any sign of unease - which meant that either Jeri was not entirely aware of the situation (which Fiona doubted), or that she simply didn't care. Jeri had never been anything but direct, even brash - and frequently scoffed at the vaguaries of politics. Which was probably why she was very rarely assigned to anything political. She was too honest for it.
"This is Jeri Minnister," Terren said cheerfully, and Fiona couldn't tell whether it was forced or not - with Terren it was often difficult to tell. He had a very dark sense of humour.
And then her mother seemed to wake up, and took the offered hand. "Nice to meet you," she said uncertainly, apparently taken off-balance.
"Me, too. I've heard a lot about you," Jeri answered with a smile that could only be described as impudent. Terren gave her a warning look and turned to the Guardians. Beilenya was standing with her hands folded before her, face carefully composed.
"Hello, Molly," she said. "It's good to see you again."
Any response on Molly's part was interrupted by Katia bullying Matt out of his chair and around the table. "Molly," she said, "This is Matt."
"Matt Hamilton," Matt himself supplied, sticking out a hand. He seemed more flustered than did Katia, but that was hardly a surprise. Matt tended to fling about bravado far less than she did, and was even sometimes shy - but then he had been a Watcher far longer than he'd been a Delegate, part of a secret society of historians even older than the Guardians, a discipline that, apart from his medical career, lent itself to mostly solitary pursuits. Jeri had once described the older man as having a "low blush factor". Fiona had laughed, especially after seeing it proven true. Right now, though, Matt seemed to be holding up well enough.
Katia herself watched the exchange with arms crossed. "I'm glad you're back, Molly," she said, without pretense or politic, and smiled. "It's about damned time." Jeri laughed.
"I've got to go, I'm afraid," she apologised then. "I only stopped in for a quick breakfast. Arrah called a meeting in Salem - the East coast group is meeting at the Academy. Later!" With that, she edged her way past the group in the door and headed off down the hall. Molly watched her go, then turned back to Katia.
"How long has she been around?" she asked. "She seems barely older than Jack."
Jack, who had until now been standing to Annie's right with his arms crossed, started as he heard his name mentioned.
"She's just twenty-three, I think," Katia told her, and Molly's eyes widened. "But then, Jeri's a mutant - prescience and lots of grace, mostly, which I'm sure you've noticed. Jen, Arrah and I have known her since she was just a little - about nine. She joined us when she was about eighteen. Now she heads up most of the co-ordination of the mutant groups along both coasts of the Americas. Better that than politics, anyway - I'm sure you noticed she's not much for diplomacy." The Guardian grinned, and Molly gave her a faint smile.
And Fiona breathed.
"Jen" was Jenaya, the fourth female Guardian - and was at the moment away from the Island. She'd departed immediately after the Assembly had been dismissed - other things to attend, jobs to do. Jack was disappointed. Jenaya of all the Guardians had always seemed the most sensible, and seemed to enjoy nothing more than stroking Jack's ego only to deflate him a moment later - frustrating, but entertaining. Strange that he should enjoy a game he could never win - Jenaya had trained as a psychologist.
Instead he settled for being led through the labrynthine corridors by Katia and Belle, Annie at his side, his mother behind. Fiona walked between the two Guardians, involved in some conversation that seemed to have been continued from the last time they'd seen each other. Molly walked lost in her own thoughts.
Beside him, Annie yawned. "I know I should be used to it by now, but I'm exhausted," she told him. "Plus I never realized that sitting still is more tiring than actually *doing* stuff."
Jack only nodded - at least when he was moving, there was adrenaline to keep him awake. Instead they'd sat still for five hours, then sat for another hour eating. Now they walked, though that was better than being motionless again. He felt more restless than tired, though he was tired. He longed for Ailean Mor and its open green spaces. He longed mostly for the sky. He hadn't seen it undiluted for nearly six hours now and it was making him edgy. Annie seemed unperturbed - but then, she was more easily distracted. She seemed quite content to be more fascinated with the situation than concerned by it - at least for now.
"I do wish I could have gone with Jeri, though," she continued wistfully. Jack rolled his eyes and smiled to himself. Annie was more than a little interested in the genetics of mutancy - with two scientists as parents she could hardly help it. And nearly fifty percent of the Delegates were mutants. Annie had never met a mutant in person before the Circle (Fiona and Jack certainly had, but that had been years before either of them could remember), and for several weeks after meeting Jeri, she had followed the older girl around like a tagalong younger sibling, nearly driving Jeri mad with questions. Fortunately, Jeri was good-natured enough not to mind it - even enjoyed it, especially after a childhood of being hated for her differences, to suddenly be revered and idolized for it.
They'd since become friends, though, and although Annie wasn't allowed yet to take part in real missions like the ones for which Jeri was responsible, it was generally agreed (though Annie was unaware of it) that when Annie were trained well enough, she would, indeed, be working under Jeri. Jack had only learned of this plan by accident, overhearing a conversation once between Fi and Arrah, and knew that it would please Annie. Jeri, too - she was still quite young despite her responsibilities. She would probably enjoy the company.
The flow of converstion ahead of them ceased suddenly as they came to an intersection in corridors. Jack looked up to see the reason they'd stopped - a young man stood with his head bent in conversation with the two Guardians. Jack took a second look, and blinked, as he realized that this man was a Guardian, as well, judging by the ovular red stone set in silver that hung about his neck. The man was tall and muscular, but lean - his hair was dark brown with a hint of red, and his eyes were a familiar shade of green. He also wore a seemingly permanent frown and looked about him with a faintly menacing air. Jack found himself immediately intimidated, which brought just as quickly a wave of resentment. He didn't like being intimidated.
This had to be Presskin, Areahannah's brother. The resemblance was unmistakable. This was the same man to whom Tilia had compared him. Jack found himself resenting the comparison as well. He found himself scowling, and quickly set his face into neutral as Katia looked up, at them, and then beyond them to Molly. Jack looked back, and saw his mother stiffen when she noticed Presskin. Presskin merely nodded respectfully, his face unreadable save for the frown.
"Ms. Phillips," he greeted her evenly. "Areahannah needs you - in her... office." There was a moment of uncertain silence before Molly nodded, slowly.
"I trust you remember where it is?" Presskin added, and only this time did Jack catch a hint of real animosity. But his mother merely held his gaze, and nodded again.
"I can manage," she told him. She turned to her son and daughter and Annie. "I'll see you later," she said, and proceeded back the way they'd come. Fi and Annie looked at each other, shrugged, and then Katia and Belle led them on down the hall. Presskin gave them a parting nod as they passed him. Jack could not quite qualify the look in the older man's eyes.