A smile on my face, I set forth trying to be predator, not prey. That's how Rusty always defined fancy parties. For obvious reasons, what I know about parties, I know about from Rusty. So this isn't quite what I was expecting when we were called here to League Tower. I was envisioning more of a Star Chamber, crossed with one of those Dad Lectures, crossed with a police line-up, crossed with a WWII Caught-By-The-Gestapo Movie Scene, crossed with -- Yeah, I'm maybe a little tense. The party, though, is not making me less tense. A man in a purple body suit and no face walks past me. He glances (?) in my direction, does a half-step to the side (it's hard to read emotional reaction without a face) -- and suddenly color flares around the figure, spiky blues and greens, the spikes aimed at me, his physical move away from me. Am I reading his emotions? His attention? His fear? His power? Nobody else in the area is reacting -- so I'm the only one who sees it, but -- Even as whoever it is continues on his way (Out of town visitor? I should know any meta in Halcyon who'd be invited here, by name and rep, at least), I begin to see a similar, or comparable, flares of light around others. I edge around the main floor of the party, past high tables of people in tuxes and people in long black dresses and people in unstable molecule sheathes (I hate that stuff, it creeps up something awful) and people in armor both powered and medieval. If I let my eyes drift, unfocus, it's like the whole room is bathed in color, swirling in different shapes around people's bodies. (Amir once dared me to lick a brightly-colored toad on our visit to that lost civilization in the Amazon. I saw colors like those then, too. Hopefully this will not also turn into three days of vomiting and dehydration.) Many of the colors and patterns are the same, but those span both civilians and capes. I try to focus on the League, and get the same variation -- maybe a bit brighter, a little more jagged, but Silver Streak and the mayor, for example, are mostly kinda the same. There are some exceptions, though. Transcendent is a dead zone. He's shielded from whatever energy it is that I'm reading with this ghostly Heads Up Display. Or maybe he doesn't exude it. Is it because he's alien? He's always more of a watcher than a watched -- except when he's toppling interstellar realms, by golly. Oya and Nautilus catch my eye, dull blue-greens poking at each other -- is that hostility, or rivalry, or friendship, or what? What does this all mean? Worse, those colors, those shapes ... they feel like I can reach out and ... touch them. Would that affect those people? How? Would it hurt them? Are the psychic emanations (to give them a nice pseudoscientific name) of these people so fragile? Are mine? Does Charlotte deal with such potential power around others all the time? What have I gotten myself into? Charlotte Palmer's body, duh. A dead body -- or, more properly, an ectoplasmic (?) and largely insubstantial body. A female body (do not go there). Charlotte. Ghost Girl. Hey, if I kiss my own hand, does that qualify as kissing Charlotte, something I once decided I really wanted to do for reasons that even I'm uncomfortable thinking about? (Do not go there.) I'm across the room, now, faded into the shadows past the downlights. I catch my reflection in the window I'm walking toward, and almost scare myself. I ease the smile up from a rictus that would be more suited for Halloween to a polite ... something. It's hard to read my own face when I'm doing the driving but it's not me. I turn to the crowd, and try again to correlate the colors to the people, to what they are doing, to what they are saying, to whether they are politicians or metahumans (or in one case I know of, both), or media stars, or deep-pocket donors (I recognize a few from Foundation fetes), or other glitterati. I continue to try to focus mostly on the HHL. If I can understand what I'm seeing, I might be able to use it as a tool, as a power, as a weapon, as some sort of leverage. I could ask Charlotte. She's on the telepathic comms. But, then, she started all this, and is busy over in Leo's body. I should be able to figure this out. It's -- hard . I feel -- weird. Well, herp-derp, I'm a freaking ghost. I should feel weird, right? But it's more than that. I feel ... muddled. Slow . Like my brain is wading through chocolate pudding, like my thoughts are brightly colored marbles on a tilt-board, rolling in the wrong direction, falling down into the low-scoring holes instead of the ones I'm aiming at. Does Charlotte always feel this way? Is this part of why the dead moan and wander and generally seem slow and disorganized? Or ... Crap . Am I stupid? Or ... I don't even have any idea of what caused this. I mean, besides magic. Rrg . Magic . Even if I'm in a magic body now. (Differently vibrational -- dimensional -- things -- sub-atomic quanticles in -- rrg.) But it's all phenomena that present in the physical world, therefore it's something physical . Something that can be detected, analyzed, explained. But my brain isn't working. Because I'm not thinking with my brain. With my brain. I'm thinking with Charlotte's. Charlotte isn't stupid. A little ditzy at the time (the Ponies? really?) , but not stupid. But she's not the son of (woo-woo) Byron Quill, and a guy who pegged out the GA IQ placement tests last year. People have long speculated on how the mind and the body interact -- is the former simply a complex expression of the latter with pretensions of self-awareness? Are my thoughts, my memories, my self simply neurochemical pathways and reactions dependent on oxygenation and nutrition? I've always assumed yes, rather than get into metaphysical handwaving about souls and self and qualia and the like. It's a reason I can accept that Leo has built "people" for company, because people are just biological robots, so why not carbon-poly-silicate-metal ones? That doesn't explain (or dismiss) issues about morality and ethics, but those in turn don't require squishy thinking about souls and other metaphysical bullshit. But ... here I am. Jason Quill. My thoughts. My self . But I'm in someone else's body, somehow. And someone else (Leo, eye-rolling) in mine. And Charlotte in (yikes) Leo's. Et cetera. How does that even work? Did all the actual physical memory links and networks and chemicals get transposed between the bodies? I'm in a freaking ghost head, for God's sake. She doesn't even have the sorts of chemicals and brain meat that humans do, just something that (presumably) looks like them. Even if her brain is an expression of her belief that she's the (handwaving) spirit of a human being and therefore should have a brain, she doesn't understand enough about cellular neurobiology to actually build a brain out of ectoplasm, or whatever she's made of. It would be just a blob that looks like a brain. But she talks. She speaks and has memory and remembered skills and all that. So something is happening there. And now I'm inside of it. And even if my memories are intact (as intact as they ever were, which, given what Li'lycia said this afternoon, is like praising the structural integrity of swiss cheese, and now that's yet another crisis that's on one of my ever-growing number of back burners, thankyouverymuch), even if I'm thinking I'm Jason Quill (or maybe I'm just Charlotte deluded into thinking she's Jason ... maybe with some leak-over of memories from the telepathic connection from the "spell," enough to pass as me, or as Jason -- is that an Occam's Razor approach that actually explains anything?), I'm still ... processing, creating memories, making connections, forming hypotheses and explanations and cogitations all with Charlotte's "wetware." My processor has been clocked down to her speed. I'm using her processor. She, on the other hand, is clocked up to Leo. And Leo's clocked up to me. (Okay, that's a cheap shot. I will simply let my ego assume that Leo isn't similarly sitting in my head and bemoaning being stoooopid now.) So figuring out these powers is going to be problematic. But I need to, to protect us from the star chamber yet to come (assuming that's where this is all headed), or in case something else improbable happens like, y'know, a metahuman attack. I need to know what Charlotte -- what Ghost Girl -- can do. And, yes, I should ask her, but -- I'm used to figuring stuff out myself, dammit! I'm Jason Quill, science hero, right? I'm -- "I know what you're doing. And I know what you did." The voice is, impossibly, beside me, and it comes with an abrupt awareness of the speaker's presence. How did she sneak up on me? Hecate. "Do tell." Is that my Southern accent when I talk? I don't sound like Charlotte in my head -- but people's voices never sound like their own. Sound resonates through ectoplasmic bone and flesh, just like protoplasmic. Who knew? But is that my Southern accent? Or Charlotte's? Is accent muscle memory, resident in the body, or something in the brain, or in the memory? Am I sounding "Southern" because I just can't help myself? Hecate smirks. She does that, a lot. Or so I'm told. I've never met her before (in fact Dad seemed to go out of his way to avoid it happening), but she was one of the bigger (though not by any means sole) reasons that Dad hated working with the HHL. "Crazy-assed bitch" was one of the least unpleasant things he said regarding her. "Harpy" and "Ball-busting feminazi" also might have been mentioned. It was language that sounded more like it should have been said by Rush Limbaugh (or, hell, Rusty) than Byron Quill, and it's nothing like how he talked about any other woman, but he also told me (or ranted at the dinner table when I was present) about some of the things she actually said, that she did, that she claimed to believe in. Are misogynistic slurs wrong when they actually describe the object of them? Do they stop being slurs? I mean, Dad was a lot of things, but being called a "Goebbelesque Hierophant of the Phallocentric Western Science Hegemony seeking to Enslave and Soul-Rape All Womyn [the "y" was apparently quite audible]" sort of balances a "feminazi" or two, I think. Dad is a lot of things. Including "phallocentric" (though maybe not the way she meant it -- or maybe she meant that way, too). But what she was saying was -- well, just crazy talk. And mean and insulting crazy talk at that. And it makes me want to punch her with the memory of it, which would be a really, really dumb thing to do. Her voice is lower than I expected when she continues. "You've taken up a mask. You've veiled your psychic activity from any who would be scanning for it. You're warding off eavesdroppers. And ... quite effectively." I am? And how do you know that, Hecate, unless you were trying to scan me? Or us? Does she see things that way I'm seeing them? All that colored aura stuff? Or this this something more intrusive she's talking about? I mean, it's one thing to watch and see auras around folk, quite another actually poke into their heads. Isn't it? "A girl wants to keep her secrets," I demur. I try not to throw in a "Fiddle-dee-dee." It's tough not Scarlett O'Hara leak into my speaking style right now. "A woman's secrets are powerful, young one. The mysteries and mystique of the female are her greatest strengths against the patriarchy, who are mired in the flashy, the fleshy, the stink of androgen, the masculine peacock preening and strutting and making a rampant show of their ... powers." She takes a deep breath. Her garb is gray and wispy, showing off her body beneath, just marginally less than the deep veedown to her navel does. Preening, right. I studiously keep my eyes on her eyes; ogling Hecate (and she is ogleable) is not good tradecraft when trying to be Charlotte, I don't think. And the last thing I want is for her to even suspect about our little secret. On second thought, I focus on a spot just above and between her eyes. I mean, it's only vampires you're not supposed to meet their gaze, I think, but I don't want to take any chances with ... well, with whatever she is. Even Dad didn't quite know where her magical powers came from. Yeah, I laugh and poke fun at the magic stuff -- or, rather, at those who worship it as some sort of special artsy-fartsy New Age dweam-wiffin-a-dweam tarot-card-and-crystals hippy-happy thing. Actual, tangible magic, the exercise of paranormal powers, I "simply" assign it to "science not understood" and grumble about it. Even in the face of someone like Charlotte on the team, I've sort of shied away from examining such things, even scientifically, which maybe seems odd for a science guy, but it's not like there isn't real science to do in the meantime. But standing beside and looking at Hecate, I realize there's something there. Some sense of power that has as much an aura about it (and not just in my vision, but in my very -- well, self) as Thunderstrike's lightning or King Winter's chill. I can feel it to my very essence, and the scientist in me wonders if that's because I'm a ghost, or in a woman's body, or a man, or if anyone under her attention would feel it. And then her brows narrow, her gaze grows hard, and I actually feel a flip-flop in my metaphysical stomach before I realize she's not looking at me, but past me. I turn, slowly (almost reluctant to have my back to her), and, after a moment, see who she's looking at, several conversations away. The person who would catch my eye, too. Jason Quill. Or Leo, operating Jason Quill's -- my -- body. Chatting with Harry's dad, enduring punches in the arm and the other sort of "dad" stuff that Mr. Gale does and my Dad didn't. A breath of whisper, too soft for me to understand, then she continues, softly, "I recognize you're carrying their weight. I know how much pressure they place on you, a handservant to their little boys club, their cute magical pixie dream girl, eye candy for their possessive, grasping eyes. They have no idea what you can do, for they are just men." I can almost see the daggers flying over my shoulder at Leo. I'm amazed he isn't turning and staring to meet that gaze, and it's probably just as well, but -- Who the hell does she think she is? I want to slap her. I want to tell her she's full of shit. I want to grab a drink from a waitstaff and throw it in her face. I want to take every thing my father said about her and repeat it verbatim. I want to unhinge my jaw and ghost-bite off her head. The anger feels hollow, just in my head, not in my body. Do ghost get angry? Do they fly into a rage? They do in ghost stories, but my ghost body isn't cooperating. And that's almost certainly a good thing, I realize, even as I feel (in my head) horrible frustration at it. Rusty whispers in my memory's ear: The point of these sort of soirees isn't to stuff yourself with canapes and cheap champagne. Or even good champagne. That's better done in private, with a smaller group of friends. People go to these things to see, and be seen, and to build alliances. To learn secrets. To gather debts, and pay them off. People's tongues are loose, their emotions on parade -- if you know what to look for. If you have open ears and a ready smile, you can learn a hell of a lot. So I swallow the words. I hide the anger and outrage and injustice at being accused of feeling that way about Charlotte, or about anyone. Time enough for that, some other time. Instead, I play along. It seems to come naturally for Charlotte. I nod, and sigh. "It's hard sometimes. They -- well, sometimes I think it's because they're a little scared of me." "They should be. They're just men ," she repeats, and there's a tanker truck of vitriol in that last word, a match for anything I ever heard Dad say about her. She pauses, and I turn back to face her. She reaches out, then stops before actually touching, shifting it to a casual throw-away gesture. "If you ever -- well, need someone to talk with ... someone who understand ... someone who can support you in the face of that ..." For a moment I wonder offering to mentor me, or maybe wanting me as a ghostly familiar, or even maybe hitting on me. All sound -- dire, even if her tits are right in my -- Eyes up there , Jason. "Thank you kindly. These shoulders are a bit ... insubstantial to carry that much weight." "They're stronger than you give yourself credit for." I decide on a bob rather than a curtsey. "I appreciate your confidence." She smiles, but only with her mouth. "Don't let them steamroll you, little sister. It's far too easy." A nod. "We'll talk more, later. After." And then she is gone. What the hell was that about? Then I hear Adam (in Harry's body) calling telepathically for help as A-10 starts to flirt with him (I've no idea whether he or Harry are more clueless about the situation), and I move to assist. I know I'll be seeing Hecate later. However that scene ends, I'm not looking forward to it.