A Breath of Fresh Air: Holding It
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Audio Log, 14:25, ██/██/2011, Foundation front "Sunny Coast Productions"

M███ S████, Switchboard Operator: Thank you for calling Sunny Coast Productions, how may I direct your call?

Agent Debra Michaels: Yes, can I speak with Jackson in the casting department?

M███ S████: … One moment, please.

[MS places Agent Michaels on hold while reaching Site Security Director V████]

Director V████: You've reached casting. Who are you and what do you want?

Agent Michaels: Hi, Jackson, this is Deb Michaels, one of the stunt doubles. I was calling to see if you'd started casting for "Does the Black Moon Howl".

Director V████: Not until the midnight sun bleeds. Are you free to talk about the movie?

Agent Michaels: Well, I'm in a clinic with my family at the moment, so there might be some background noise. I wanted to know if you'd finished getting together the extras, because there's some beautiful scenery up here that I think the location scout might be interested in.

Director V████: Understood. Where are you? How many people do you think ought to visit? Are there any special considerations they should be aware of?

Agent Michaels: I'm up-state in Spring, visiting family. And, oh, I think you could get away with no more than 10 or 20. And bring some cameras, you might be able to get some preliminary shooting done. A warning though, if anyone has any allergies, they ought to bring something to help them breathe. I think there's something in the air like a high pollen count and I feel like I've had a mind-bending headache for a few hours. Also, the local wildlife is a little excitable, so try not to run over anything when you're scouting out the woods.

Director V████: Oh, I think we could handle a few wild animals. Would you like us to meet up with you when we come into town or should we scout out the area first?

Agent Michaels: If I can get away from my family I could probably show you a few interesting spots, but you might want to do some scouting on your own.

Director V████: Understood. The location scout will make the decision whether or not to contact you before they arrive. We can reach you on the company phone?

Agent Michaels: Yeah, I'll keep it on vibrate. Don't want to disturb anyone up here, after all. They're just all so nice that I wouldn't want to bother them.

Director V████: Good luck out there, Deb.

Agent Michaels: Thanks, Jackson! You have a good day, too.

One of Debra's selling points as a movie stunt-double was that she could lose herself into a role to the point that it was almost impossible to tell her from the actress she replaced in the shot. This skill had helped her both on-camera and when she was out in the field, but she was getting taxed now. It was difficult to hide the rage and fear when her 14 year-old son cried heaving sobs into her chest, desperately heartbroken that he was "too old to grow up." Her husband was no help; he was too busy arguing with his brother, trying to find some way of getting that… thing to reconsider.

She watched the small clinic from over the top of her son's head, murmuring comforting noises as she kept a sympathetic look on her face. They had come straight here after that meeting in the clearing, ostensibly to treat her "migraine". In reality, Debra wanted to keep an eye on the other children that that creature had interacted with. They were, to a child, grossly overweight and somehow their skins looked tight over their faces. That doctor had escorted three of them and their parents to the clinic, and another two had shown up shortly afterwards.

Doctor Shivaji had forgotten to close the door all the way when she went in to see the last child, so Debra was able to overhear her talking with the parents.

"Mary is looking quite well, based on what the adult has led me to expect. I expect that she'll put on about another 10 pounds before the end of the week and she's further along than any of the other boys and girls. In fact, she might actually be ready in the next day or so. I recommend that you take her over to Marcia Brody's B&B downtown; Mrs. Brody has agreed to let the kids stay there when they're almost ready. I already have some monitoring equipment over there and it'll be easier for the adult to come in and help the kids when it's time."

The unfamiliar voice of a woman, presumably Mary's mother, responded, "Is Mrs. Brody charging anything? We've already been spending a lot to feed Mary's hunger, not that we mind, and money's a little tight until the next paycheck. I do want the best for Mary, especially if the adult is going to come personally to help her, but if it costs too much I just don't know what we're going to do."

"I don't know whether or not Mrs. Brody is charging anything; you'd have to check with her. But if you can't take Mary over there, at least bring her here if she starts to feel strange. It'll take longer for the adult to get here, but at least I should be able to keep Mary stable in the meantime."

Debra kept a concerned look on her face, but made a mental note to recommend a certain bed-and-breakfast to her coworkers, as a nice place to visit.

Gunnar Deathrage lay at the edge of a ridge and looked down at the town with a pair of binoculars, wondering when him and his cell were going to finally see some action. They'd been staking out this podunk little town for over a week on the orders of The Teacher, but with nothing to show for it. There weren't any flying dudes or sexy glow-in-the-dark tree spirits (Were those nymphs or dryads? Eh, what's the difference. It'd be fun to fuck both) or exploding cars or ANYTHING. Just some dumb-ass little shit-hole of a backwoods town that they were supposed to watch because "one of ours is there". Whatever.

"Ralph!" someone whispered behind him, and Gunnar shifted a little to get more comfortable (He didn't startle me at all. I knew Sgt. Dave was behind me the whole time.) and looked over his shoulder. He said back, "I told you, my name is Gunnar Deathrage now. If all the other weird-ass people get to be out in the open, then so do I. And my true name is Deathrage, Gunnar Deathrage. And dude, why're you whispering? There's no-one else around."

Sgt. Dave rolled his eyes (Fucker. I'm gonna zap you when my powers kick in. I just know I can throw lightning. And fire guns with endless ammo. Yeah. That'd be cool.) and pointed back down the ridge. "Fine, 'Gunnar', but I'm whispering because we don't know how good our brother's hearing is and we don't want to scare him off. Plus, it's hunting season and I don't want one of those townsfolk taking a potshot at me because I made a sound like a deer or something.

"Also, we just got a call that the kumiho is coming to visit us. Apparently she's making a tour of the watch-camps near the Liberation Point and we're next. She should be here in a couple of hours max and I need you to go back and help clean up the camp for her. I'll take over your watch here."

Gunnar grunted as he scooted back from the edge and handed the binoculars to Sgt Dave. "Whatever, dude. I haven't seen anything exciting anyway. Hey, is Moonbeam back at camp?" (Fuck, that girl's a damn fine piece of ass, even if she is some kind of trippy flower-power chick. I'll give it another shot and see if I can get in her pants before we clean up.)

Sgt. Dave low-crawled into the spot where Gunnar had been, rustling slightly as he pushed aside fallen leaves, and whispered back, "Nah, she's still on the other side of town, trying to find wherever it was they all went yesterday. She said she could smell the magic on the wind and was going to go track it down."

"Cool." (shit) "I'll straighten up and wait for you then. Things gotta look nice for our visitor. Hey, do you know if this kumiho chick is hot? I heard she was hot."

Sgt. Dave sighed softly and whispered back, "I'm sure I don't know. Just be nice to her when she gets here."

Sgt. Dave Mastromarino listened as Ral-Gunnar started walking back to camp, dry leaves and twigs crunching loudly beneath his feet with every step. He briefly contemplated the difference between that boy and his squad mates back in Iraq and wondered again whether he could get transferred to another cell. One that was more serious about The Cause, that had more discipline. Moonbeam meant well, and was actually able to be useful on occasion with her paranormal intuition, but that boy was just useless trash. At least "Gunnar" didn't know about the guns and grenades in the truck's lockbox. Mastromarino doubted that that boy had ever held an actual gun before and didn't want to have to be constantly pestered by the boy to let him have one. They were only for a last-ditch effort, if the townsfolk interfered or those oppressive Foundation fucks showed up.

Mastromarino watched the town and nearby woods for another 90 minutes, switching to night-vision as the light waned. He didn't see or hear anything out of the ordinary, just a deer and a small horde of squirrels. There wasn't even much activity in town, just a few cars driving in and out. Mostly SUVs and pickup trucks like his, but there was a string of four panel vans right at dusk. The light wasn't good, but he thought they had the same logo: some kind of beach scene. A little weird to see that many all in a row, but probably just a coincidence.

As full darkness descended, Mastromarino decided to head back to their little campsite and see just how badly that boy had botched the cleanup job. He wanted to be there before the kumiho showed up, anyway. After all, as the leader, he needed to greet their guest. He scooted down the ridge until he was below the sight-line to the town and slowly stood up, making a minimum of noise. As he turned to walk back, he was startled to see an attractive Asian woman standing only a dozen feet behind him. She was easily the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen and he almost felt like kneeling at Her feet. He wasn't even sure how She was dressed; the darkness made Her form somewhat indistinct.

“Oh! You startled me, Miss. Are you lost?”

She gently drifted forward like a mist on the breeze as She replied in a soft, sweet voice. “Why no, I'm not. You are the leader of this group of the Teacher's, are you not? I'm here to see what progress you've made in locating that poor unfortunate freed from the Foundation's clutches. I'm quite interested in seeing what it's capable of.”

Mastromarino was captivated by Her eyes until he humbly lowered them so as not to profane Her beauty. “You must be the Lady Kumiho. I am indeed the squad leader. If you'll allow me to escort you, Lady, I can fill you in on what we've found so far.”

She placed a delicate hand pale as fine porcelain on his arm and murmured, “How kind of you. You are so sweet I could just eat you up. Please lead on.” She smiled a secret little smile while she said this, and Mastromarino felt honored that she would indulge in a little joke with him like that.

Dr. Shivaji pulled up to the curb along Marcia Brody's place, parking behind a rather impressive-looking black sedan. Even though she'd supervised the placement of all the medical equipment just yesterday, she wanted to check it again. Although she was doing her best to hide it from everyone, she was really nervous about this whole thing. Even with the adult on hand, she was worried about all the things that could go wrong: one of the children could start changing away from a safe place, one of them could have a bad reaction to the IV supplement during the change, some of the monitoring equipment could malfunction… There were a thousand ways that something could go wrong and as much as she didn't want to disappoint the adult, she was more worried about something bad happening to the kids.

As she walked up to the door, it opened and a couple of large men walked out. Marcia stood behind them, telling them “And again, I'm sorry but we're booked full right now, gentlemen. I think that we might be able to squeeze you in next month if you're still interested then.”

One of the men, a short, muscular black man, replied, “We'll keep that in mind, Ms. Brody. We heard a lot of interesting things about this town and wanted to just get away from it all. Can you recommend anywhere else in town we could stay overnight?”

“Well, there's the Ramada across town. I can give them a call and let them know you're coming, if you like.”

“Thank you, Ms. Brody, we would appreciate that. You have a good night, now!”

Dr. Shivaji watched them climb into the black sedan, then drive off. "Who was that, Marcia?"

"Oh, those were some nice homosexual gentlemen on their honeymoon or antiquing or some such. It's always so nice having the homosexuals stay; they're always so cordial." Marcia laughed gently. "But there's no room at the inn tonight, is there?"

Dr. Shivaji smiled. "I suppose there isn't. How many children have already arrived?"

Marcia waved Dr. Shivaji in, and started to lead her upstairs. "Oh, only three so far. I have room for five more, if they don't mind being two to a room. I was going to call you in a few minutes anyway, so you could make sure that all the medical doo-dads were attached right."

As they entered the first bedroom, Dr. Shivaji's eyes quickly took in the bloated body of the 10 year-old laying on the bed. He had to weigh 250 pounds if he weighed an ounce, and resembled an over-ripe tomato about to burst. "Well, Donnie here looks to be progressing on schedule, and in fine shape, too. Let's just make sure all the leads are placed, then I'll check the others."

Dr. Shivaji snapped on a pair of gloves and went to work, happy in the knowledge that everything would be just perfect when the adult arrived.

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