"So, what did you need my help with?" Dawnie asked, cheerfully perching at the bar. She glanced around everywhere like a cheepy little bird.
"I need you to taste something for me," Aarti explained. She forced the comparison out of her head. She knew that Dawnie kept up an act for pretty much everyone, and judging from the reactions she'd seen, the act was still working. "I just need you to tell me what it is."
"Sure!" Dawnie said. She focused her attention on Aarti who stiffened just a little. Having all of Dawnie's attention was really unnerving.
Aarti examined the strange chip in her hand. It clearly wasn't a potato chip. She'd eaten more than enough of those before Liberation Day while she'd waited for the adults to get their acts together. This chip was something else.
She'd filched it from San when he wasn't paying attention. That bothered her more than it should. San was just as fast as she was—at least in her memories. They'd been squabbling for nearly forever. He was the only one able to stand toe-to-toe with her when she got serious.
Now it was like he was a cotton candy version of himself. Everything seemed to be muted somehow. She'd thought that perhaps he'd acquired more Quell, but the symptoms she was seeing wasn't really Quell. He was more laidback and not as worried about hurting anyone.
She broke off a tiny bit of the chip and passed it to Dawnie. She didn't know what it was, but Dawnie's metabolism was off the charts lately. If anyone needed a new Quell, it was probably her friend.
"What is this?" Dawnie asked, frowning at the yellowish white crumb in the palm of her hand. Clearly someone wanted people to think it was some sort of potato chip at first glance.
"This is what's making San so weird," Aarti replied. She leaned forward on the barstool. "We're just going to test this little bit just in case it's poisonous."
"How can it be poisonous? San's been eating these things since he got here," Dawnie said. She studied the small crumb again and then popped it into her mouth.
"Then how—Dawnie!" Aarti jumped off the stool as Dawnie fell off hers and started convulsing. She grabbed her arms in an attempt to still her. "What's wrong? Answer me!" Aarti's brain short-circuited as the convulsions started to slow and stop.
"I should get you a medic," Aarti said, standing up.
She was stopped as Dawnie grabbed her calf. Dawnie's strength was remarkably strong.
"Don't. I'm fine," Dawnie said. Her eyes started filling with tears. "I know what this stuff is, I think. We need to talk to Lucy."
"And this is what again?" Lucy asked, staring at the half-chip in Aarti's hand.
"This is a new party drug making the rounds in the hottest of hot clubs in every city I know of," Dawnie said.
"And why does San have it? And shouldn't he be dead by now? He's eating them like potato chips!" Lucy visibly calmed herself down. "How is he eating them like potato chips?"
Dawnie flopped down on the one sofa not facing either a television screen or Court's rig. She ran her hands through her hair, disheveling it. Aarti watched her for a second before turning to Lucy.
"I think it's because he's half-Kryptonian. Maybe their body chemistry is just enough like ours to be compatible but also a little bit off?" Aarti summoned up the familiar and yet unfamiliar terms from the depths of her memory. Biology hadn't been her favorite subject pre-Liberation.
"It would explain why the only symptoms he's showing is that laidback attitude," Don said, appearing on the sofa next to Dawnie. He offered her an already opened bar. "Stashed the wrapper already."
Aarti puzzled over that cryptic sentence even as Lucy started pacing again. Dawnie took the bar and started eating it as if she hadn't had anything to eat all day.
"Then it's not working as well as it was when he first got here a few days ago," Lucy said. She stopped and glanced at Court's rig. Court had decamped to get supplies a few hours earlier, dragging San along as 'hired muscle.' "He's been eating more and more each day."
"Then he's building up a tolerance to them," Dawnie said in relief. She grinned at them; the grin started to fade as Don and Lucy slowly shook their heads.
"If it's not working for him, he might try something else," Don said. He sighed. "This is like a gateway drug."
"A gateway drug?" Lucy repeated. She twirled one of her ponytails around her finger, staring at the faraway ceiling of the warehouse. "Are you serious? Why would San, of all people, do this?"
"Because he's San," Dawnie answered, leaning back and joining Lucy in staring at the ceiling. "It's not really affecting him, so he thinks it's safe. Maybe he wants more Quell. You remember, right? He was always so scared of hurting one of us unintentionally."
"This stuff does seem to act like a version of Quell in his system. A really, really, really weak version," Aarti added when the others turned to stare at her. "What's more important is that we fix this somehow before we go after Ella."
"Well, he only had a couple of chips left in the tube when he went with Court. This is probably something that's going to fix itself without our help?" Aarti ventured with no conviction.
"You really think it's going to just resolve itself?" Lucy asked, rolling her eyes.
"It could. Whatever effect it has on him is shrinking, and he can't have an unending supply of those things." Aarti stood up and pointed at the television. "It's something that isn't even being reported on the news. How easy is it to get more of them, especially when he's here and not wherever it is he calls home?"
"She has a point," Dawnie said. She glanced at Court's rig and frowned. "Is that the outside of this warehouse?"
Lucy followed her look. One of the screens was active, showing the outside of the warehouse. San staggered into frame, stopping when he braced one arm against the wall. There was a shopping bag on one arm, up near his shoulder. From San's actions, it could be seen that he'd forgotten it was there.
"What on earth?" Aarti started.
"No, this doesn't seem all that bad," Don said doubtfully.
They stood in a little huddle, staring in the direction of the entrance. A few moments later, San stumbled in, nearly falling.
"San?" Dawnie asked, rushing up to him.
"I-I-I didn't mean it. I really didn't!" San protested.
"What didn't you mean?" Lucy asked, her voice becoming quieter and quieter.
"It's Court. He's been arrested!"
"And you're high as a kite," Don muttered under his breath.
Aarti doubted anyone else heard him.
Have you ever wanted chocolate and yet had no chocolate? Sigh...I really don't feel like baking because I'm the only one who'd eat any, and I'd just wind up throwing away 80% of a chocolate layer cake...
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