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Driven to Distraction

Posted on Mon Jul 8th, 2024 @ 6:04 by Liana Zhao & Alastair Temple

Chapter: Besieged
Location: On the road
Timeline: 0730 hours, Saturday 30th January
1963 words - 3.9 OF Standard Post Measure

"As it stands, it's difficult to know what to tell them. There's not a great deal to be optimistic about but they deserve to know what's going on. This is setting the stage for the rest of their life, after all."

About half an hour into the nearly two-hour car ride and Liana had just about started to warm up. The travel had necessitated an early start that was altogether too cruel given the current cold snap and there had been so much appeal to huddling under her covers, and then lingering in the steamy warmth of her shower, that Liana had very nearly succumbed to the unthinkable and been late for a prearranged breakfast. It had mostly included brewing coffee for the road and half-heartedly contemplating a slice of toast, but her appetite would likely emerge in time for brunch, at which point her care-team meeting would be over and there would be time for a proper Saturday's exploration.

The large town over was far more urbanised than New Cresthill, closer to a city than a rural village, and since it was several years now since she'd last visited, there were places Liana normally would have been very pleased to browse had the world not flipped quite so suddenly and left them all struggling to remain buoyant against a tide intent on turning against them. Driving herself had been a possibility but not a tempting one, and had been promptly snuffed out as an option by Claire's insistence that nobody, staff nor student, go out into the general public alone at the moment. The bus route was practically non-existent and certainly wouldn't matched her itinerary, and also didn't address the problem of solitude. Liana had been loathe to ask Jess to give up a Saturday and was equally as reluctant to impose on anyone else, until Alastair Temple had swept in and solved things for her, as was his wont of late. If she was honest, he'd been top of her list of preferences, Liana just hadn't wanted to impose.

And yet, there they both were, at her father's favourite time of day, peering out through Omen's windshield at the bleak landscape ahead, trying to piece together their private thoughts on how best to handle recent events. Liana hadn't realised until she was in a quiet space with just Alastair for company just how much she'd been holding in regarding her own fears and concerns, too focused on scrambling together systems to support the student body and working alongside Claire to keep the lines between moral and legal obligation from blurring too much. As always, her worries didn't centre so much around her own well-being but rather the ramifications if she was pushed to defend herself, coupled with the understanding that she was not the only mutant in the world that could destroy a city block if pushed over the edge.

"The kids, you mean?" Al glanced over, as he drove. Now that it was just Liana in the car with him and she was securely strapped in, his driving had been a bit (just a bit) more spirited, without going overboard. Now that the topic of conversation was becoming more serious though, his driving calmed down to allow the conversation to have space. He considered this very thoughtful of himself and hoped that Liana would think similarly. "I think they're all mature enough to just have an open and honest conversation with. Class this morning was all about the legislation, too. They feel - ... uncomfortable. And I don't blame them."

"It was complex enough when self-identification was voluntary."

With her gaze still fixed firmly at a point directly ahead, it had been a somewhat unintentional lapse that had allowed Liana to unload her own worries so easily. She wasn't quite sure exactly when Alastair had become one of the scant few people she would allow her guard to drop around to that extent but it felt like it hadn't taken more than a simple introduction to completely obliterate any sense of professional distance and discretion. It hadn't been her intention to give voice to the knot of fear in her stomach but pretending it wasn't dominating her thoughts would have been doing the man a disservice. She felt better just for being with him; that was something she was becoming increasingly more obliged to consider.

She didn't finish her thought, however, which was less about any reservation in sharing it with him than it was a lack of preparation in articulating how she felt. On a personal level, she was already a somewhat known entity, that had come with the professional territory and what had been required to specialize the way she had. Her powers would likely be flagged somewhere in this process as alarming enough to monitor and, for that reason, it was difficult to know what to expect in terms of interference and oppressive restriction but she didn't feel threatened, as such. There was always the pragmatic realization in the back of her mind that she was not an easy hostage to take, nor an easy target to neutralize, if forced to defend herself. For the time being, Liana found herself more concerned for mutants already rendered vulnerable by lack of familial support or those whose powers made them an easy target without much capacity for self-defense.

And then there were those just itching to see the world burn.

With a sigh, she glanced across at the driver and offered him a tired smile. "And here I had promised myself I was going to enjoy today and not spend it fretting. I'm sorry, it's been a hell of a week."

"Don't worry about it," Al countered easily. Truth be told, it'd been on his mind as well. How couldn't it? It affected his very future, and that of most everyone he knew in his new life as teacher. He couldn't help but be reminded of what he knew about the 1930s, in Germany. That also began with one subset of people being identified from everyone else. What followed was something the thought of it happening again terrified him. As it should anybody.

Well, anybody who didn't stand to gain from the oppression of a minority, that was.

"Would you like a change of topic? We can also just drive in silence if you think you would prefer that."

The offer earned him a warmer smile. "I've had quite enough of being alone with my thoughts. Present company sounds far more appealing." Liana dropped her gaze then towards the dials on the car's sound system and sat thoughtfully for a moment before continuing. "Tell me about this track." It was a simple request guided by the understanding that her conversations about music with Alastair had been some of the most creatively inspiring input she'd experienced in years.

"Metal Church, Watch The Children Pray," was Alastair's easy and ready reply. The music was at first glance simple, with a deep, slumbering aggression. He reached down to turn the music up slightly, so it could be heard better over the sounds of driving, the revving rumble of the two-liter engine up front and the noise of the tires.

"We hold our fate and make the choice but we'll not listen to that still small voice. Are we just crazy, out of our minds? Wish this were someplace, another time," The vocals were sharp, cutting through the simplistic, seemingly basic, melodic backing. Then the guitars kicked in, adding a layer of aggression as the vocals took on a rasp and a deep, slumbering anger. "We watch the children praaaaaaay, save us God todaaaaaaay, come whatever maaaaaay." Obviously the chorus.

"Mostly I figure it's a protest song," Alastair explained. "When politicians wage their wars and spew their propaganda, when adults, parents fight, children pray. It's all they can do, really. It's not a pretty song. But then, not all music is supposed to be. And even though this song is like seven years old now, it's subject is still topical, don't you think?" he spoke soberly, glancing over at Liana with a sad almost-a-smile on his features.

Like bathwater down the drain, they circled back around to the topic that seemed inescapable. Liana's expression was thoughtful, tinged with a sadness for the necessity of considering the lyrics relevant. With each passing hour, it seemed more and more likely that responsibility for those childish prayers would fall to her, though she hadn't spoken about Claire's plans with anyone outside of the meeting the pair had conducted with Phoebe. "All too apt," she agreed, her head turned towards her window to consider the bleakness of the moment against a befitting backdrop of muted greys.

"Sorry," Al replied quietly. He wasn't even sure what he was apologizing for. He didn't write that song, that music, those lyrics. But he had been the one who put that CD in for the drive. He hadn't even considered the lyrics and subject. So maybe that was what he felt guilty about. Or maybe he just felt bad for the fact that Liana did. After another moment or two and without another word he reached over to the radio and turned the CD off, setting it to radio. Whitney Houston sounded, her hit song 'I will always love you'. Al made a face and turned the volume down. "Blech. Dolly Parton did it much better. She kept the song small and intimate, instead of yelling it from the rooftops."

"It's very impressive yelling," Liana countered, having at least a passing admiration for Ms. Dion's talent even if the music did tend to be overhyped and overplayed. The change in music had dragged her attention away from the scrolling landscape and she realised then why he'd made the switch. "You don't need to stop playing your music, Alastair. Any more than you need to be sorry for the state of things right now. There's a school of thought that suggests we should seek ways to stay angry, as uncomfortable as it might seem, to avoid becoming complacent. I don't know if I have the energy for it but I won't fault you for pursuing it." Reaching across, she smiled wearily as she gave his shoulder a gentle rub. "Maybe it'll motivate me to move off the fence." A difficult concept when it felt like Claire was relying on her to straddle the line.

Part of Al wanted to explain that just because he didn't think the yelling fit the song that did not mean he thought Whitney Houston a bad singer. To the contrary, he recognized she was a great talent with a great, powerful voice and the skill and knowledge to use it. He just felt that she was a power singer, and this particular song worked best when kept small and intimate. Same as with most of Dolly Parton's songs that he knew, really. Her charm was that she was this unassuming country girl with simple country girl problems and issues that she sang about. He'd heard covers of arguably Dolly's most famous song, Jolene, but all of them made the song big and a showcase for impressive musicality and vocals, more glamorous, more fit for broadway, while missing the very point of the song; a simple woman's lament about the actions of a glamorous one.

But all these thoughts remained just that, unspoken. He didn't feel it would add to the situation. He couldn't think of anything really that would. So he said nothing. The touch on his shoulder elicited a smile, albeit a sad one, and he found comfort in just driving in silence, with what passed for popular music playing on the radio.


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