[Breathe in. Breathe out.]

Taylor could hear a soft giggle behind her, no doubt Madison readying for whatever minor prank she was going to pull today. She kept her gaze forward, ostensibly watching Mr. Gladly as he explained the day's assignment to the class.

[In, out. Ignore the idiot and focus on that feeling. Focus on the air filling your lungs, the minuscule specks of life floating in and out of you.]

The period had started out being more about how parahumans affected the day-to-day life of the common citizenry, how certain groups rising into and falling out of power had changed Brockton Bay for the better and the worse. But the group assignment being put forth was framed as "imagine what might happen in the future, given who's around right now and how their powers might interact", which was just a roundabout way of putting the class into small groups that could have fun arguing versus debates under the guise of classwork.

[In, out. Expand your senses beyond the self. Feel those specks everywhere around you. Feel them swirling within the other students.]

Taylor heard a small box being opened, felt something touch her hair ever so lightly and start to move. As her awareness expanded, she felt it in its entirety: a small roach was currently making its way up towards her scalp, no doubt an intended reminder of the infested hell she'd been stuck in. Madison wasn't getting points for creativity, that was for sure.

[In, out. Control is excessive with such simple creatures. A light touch...]

Steeling herself as she felt it crawl further, Taylor brushed her awareness against the rudimentary insect's mind. A brief touch, but enough to stick a bit of fear into it, an understanding that it was in peril and needed to retreat. Just enough for it to scurry back down her back and away from her, back towards the person behind her.

[...and watch as the pond ripples in response.]

Madison shrieked and tried to both back away and stand up entirely too fast, and wound up tipping her desk over on top of her in her haste to escape the skittering roach. Taylor half-turned in her seat to take in the sight, reacting as if she hadn't known what was coming just as those around her reacted similarly. All eyes were drawn to the prone girl, and in just a few moments Mr. Gladly had rushed over to see what was the matter. "What happened? Is everything alright?"

[In, out. Feel her mind, shaken by the unexpected turn of events. Build upon it, ever so lightly...]

Taylor spread her awareness to Madison's mind. It was more complex than the bug, but in many ways was still far too simple to be beyond her reach. She brushed her consciousness against the girl's own, briefly gaining flashes of insight into her thought process - and with but a touch, she withdrew, for the damage was done.

Madison started hyperventilating, eyes darting around frantically. "R-r-roach!" she squeaked out in reply to Mr. Gladly's question. Gladly visibly restrained a sigh as he understood the situation better, and while he tried to assuage her that it was gone now, her focused remained absolute just long enough for the other students' concern to shift into amusement. A small wave of snickers broke out around the class - look at how quickly Madison loses her cool around a simple bug! Only Taylor knew the truth.

[In, out. Once more, this time making fear to anger.]

Taylor focused, touching Madison's inhibitions just a little bit, using the snickers as fuel to make her a bit more defensive than she'd usually be.

The girl glanced at Taylor and her features twisted a bit before she raised an accusatory finger. "Taylor put it on my desk!"

The snickers grew louder, from those around them who'd noticed no such thing, but Mr. Gladly ignored them. "Taylor, that's very immature, you gave Madison quite the fright," he scolded her.

"I didn't do it," Taylor insisted, even as she knew her insistence would fall on deaf ears. She glanced away, knowing the lack of eye contact would convince him of her guilt, and uses the opportunity to make sure Madison's phone was - yup, Greg had already spotted it and picked it up out of curiosity. Shame it was unlocked, too; he'd probably take longer than he should to return it to its rightful owner, but that was fine by Taylor.

Sure enough, Gladly wasn't buying it. "I won't tolerate you lying to my face, Ms. Hebert," he scolded her as he helped Madison to her feet. Once she was up, he lead Taylor to the front of the class and started writing a note. "Take this to the office," he told her once he'd finished. "I trust you know the way." She accepted the note silently and took a quick circle to collect her backpack before leaving the room. He made a fuss, trying to insist she leave it there so that if the office processed her quickly she could return in time to finish the lesson, but by then she'd be stuck with whatever group she was put into and wouldn't be able to participate anyway, so why bother pretending she was going to return today? His protests died off as she crossed the threshold, giving it up as a lost cause.

[Distract him enough times, and he'll eventually stop remembering to follow up on that disciplinary action. With just a few small touches, you've gained twenty minutes' peace.]

Taylor nodded, clenching the note within her fist and feeling it slowly disintegrate in her grip, torn apart at the molecular level by her will until nothing remained. The rhythmic click-clack of her shoes on the hallway floor seemed almost thunderous to her enhanced senses...but as with everything else, this was an opportunity to practice. She focused once more, and the sharp sounds of her steps became more and more muffled the further she traveled. She'd slip in among the first lunch period, get a quick bite to eat, then head up to the roof to spend her actual lunch period training while the Trio hunted for her.

[Or setting up more ripples.]

Taylor pursed her lips as she entered the cafeteria. The lines were short since this lunch period was almost over, but a few stragglers were still ahead of her so she had a bit of a wait. She spent the time practicing expanding her awareness further, as far as she could without giving any outward signs of her actions. Taylor grimaced as her mental faculties strained to engulf the whole of the cafeteria, filled with juniors and seniors and the odd janitor, filled with tables and trays and backpacks and trash. Maintaining absolute awareness of everything over such a large area taxed her concentration, enough that she doubted she could affect much of anything while her awareness was so broad.

[Broader than it was yesterday. And less so than it shall be tomorrow. Don't be impatient.]

Taylor got her food, ignoring a weird look from the lunchlady, and exited the cafeteria quickly. The new lunch period would be starting any minute, meaning the three of them would be loose from class and on the hunt once more. A touch here, a distraction there, and the few hall monitors she couldn't avoid didn't notice her using the roof access. She sat down to enjoy her meal and the lovely weather Winslow had today. Shame most of the students spent the whole day inside. Once her fuel was consumed, she sat down in a meditative position, closed her eyes, and felt everything.

Her breathing slowed to a crawl, her body doing the bare minimum to maintain itself as she focused on expanding her awareness once more, this time without any fear of discovery. Foot by foot, the whole of the school and all its inhabitants became known to her - their dimensions, their minds...their pasts and futures, to an extent.

[Breathe in, breathe out. Action, reaction, consequence. Feel the event, and predict the echo. A small touch at the right time, in the right way, can have far-reaching results.]

Taylor saw a substitute, tormented and frustrated by children who could care less for their education, who saw them as an authority figure with no real authority who could be trolled for a brief moment of amusement in an otherwise dreary existence. Taylor saw her love of teaching withering away as her patience frayed, but a small touch elsewhere in the school made the bell ring 30 seconds before it was supposed to...and ten seconds before the substitute snapped at them and set herself down a path towards the same lack of concern or care that plagued the staff of this school.

Taylor saw a young boy with a crutch struggling to load his backpack up one-handed while a small group of guys guffawed at his predicament a few lockers down. Taylor saw his mounting frustration boiling over in the weeks to come, dealing with this every day, until one last straw broke the camel's back and he borrowed his cousin's firearm. Just a few lockers down in the other direction, a small touch to a larger senior boy, and memories of his own ridicule resurfaced. Without any further prompting, he moved to assist the freshman with his books while glaring at the other group, and they backed off. The boy would think of this himself for the next week or so - just enough care to divert the path away from violence.

[Apathy is death.]

Taylor saw a first-time user being pressured by his friends into partaking in a harder drug behind the gym bleachers; a deeper look, and his path led to flashing lights and a broken home. a light touch, and his friend became a little over-enthusiastic in sharing, causing the bag of powder to spill all over the floor. The thought of doing coke off dirty linoleum was enough to shift the boy's path elsewhere...for now.

She saw an aspiring athlete, a freshman track runner, frustrated with his own mediocrity. Further down the path, shaved heads, tattoos, and bad influences awaited him; after a moment's hesitation, a light touch brought his sense of fair play to the forefront of his mind. His shame for the path he'd briefly considered mirrored Taylor's own.

[A moral high ground that nobody both knows you possess and respects you for possessing holds no advantage. You are so invested in this path of negative peace that you willfully blind yourself to the possibility for achieving true justice without the need for intermediaries.]

{I'm not having this argument again,} Taylor bit back mentally, as her awareness of the school receded. Once it was small enough for her concentration to include moving her own body, she started idly stretching in preparation for a real workout. {Maintaining integrity might be a logical fallacy, but doing the right thing isn't always logical.}

[You refuse to have it again because you know I'm right. Mucking about with the minds of others to make another's life better is okay, but doing so to improve your own lot is somehow selfish? If you found those three had treated another in the manner they treat you, you wouldn't be so hesitant to leap to that victim's defense.]

Taylor, true to her word, didn't reply, doing push-ups while straining her telekinesis to push and pull the foundation along with her body. It was inordinately difficult to move the entire building even a tiny bit, so her efforts probably weren't even noticeable, but it was getting her used to the strain if nothing else. She could accomplish more tomorrow.

The minutes of silence filling her mind as she exercised her body and powers were more awkward than usual, a resolution from two stubborn people unwilling to back down from their respective positions. Not for the first time, Taylor wondered if there was actually a voice in her head guiding her in the use of her powers or if she really had gone crazy being locked in there for hours on end.

After a little while longer, Taylor's patience was rewarded: While the voice was just as stubborn as she was, and in some ways was far more patient, they couldn't stand to be accomplishing nothing. Wasting time spinning wheels abhorred them.

Taylor snorted, and pushed harder at her body to make the workout more strenuous on her physical form. {I am not debuting against Lung.}

[If you would just listen to reason for a moment-]

{Fighting Lung in general is stupid. Having my first fight be with Lung as opposed to somebody else is suicidal,} Taylor shot back as she hopped to her feet. She began darting around the roof in a simulated beep test, straining her control over her own body with constant back and forths intended to get her used to resisting the excessive Gs her maneuvers might cause during a real battle.

[If you aren't properly prepared, then yes, fighting any parahuman is risking your life. But there is time yet to prepare for such an altercation. But that's not the issue. You doubt your power, doubt the power of-]

{Enough. Sophia's coming up here to check,} Taylor cut them off, alarm seeping into her mental tone. She cursed herself for shrinking her awareness so much, she barely had any warning before the roof access door swung open and Sophia strode out. Taylor pushed at the track star's mind to cause her attention to focus everywhere except Taylor, to notice everything except her, and held her mind in that state.

Sophia glanced at the roof and saw the remains of Taylor's meal, as well as her bookbag. She smirked and closed the door behind her. "I know you're here, Hebert," she called out casually, picking up the bag. "The roof's not that big, and it's a long way to the ground. It'll be harder on you if I have to hunt you down." Taylor cursed knowing it was too late to distract Sophia from the bag now that she was focused on it - and holding it, for that matter. Stealing it away was possible, but would be too obvious, she was bound to notice.

[Erasing this from her mind would not be that difficult if you were to try. A push here, a touch there, and her short-term memory is reset thirty seconds.] Taylor didn't bother responding, too focused on maintaining stealth at the moment. [Since you are in no position to make protests, I shall make my position known then: of the factions within this city, there is only one that will never accept you as a member. Your debut will set the standard for your reputation, and aiming for the biggest fish in the pond will at least establish in the minds of others that you thought it was feasible. Which it is.]

Taylor took up a position hiding behind a vent, keeping Sophia within her awareness as she released her hold on the Stranger effect. {Unless I die!} she shot back. {Reputation does me no good if I'm dead.}

[You're already more than skilled enough to escape if he grows beyond your ability to overpower,] they continued, unconcerned. [And I am convinced that you'll walk away victorious, which will only aid your reputation. Lung is straightforward and often fights alone, which makes him an ideal opponent: facing him instead of some other cape minimizes the factors you must account for, and his power is one that makes him difficult to defeat in a straightforward manner. Defeating him will tell those that hear that you managed to cheat your way to victory over Lung, but not how exactly you did so. That will make them cautious around you, which can be exploited.]

"I guess if you're really not up here, then there's nothing stopping me from dumping this bag out over the ledge," Sophia called out, striding close to Taylor's hiding place and leaning over the roof edge. Taylor watched, ready to catch the falling objects and divert Sophia's attention away from them so she wouldn't notice the blatant telekinesis.

[It would be so easy. Just a small push.]

Taylor grimaced and didn't reply. She felt more than heard the door banged open once again as Emma emerged. "Is she up here?"

"I think so. This is definitely her stuff...or, it was, anyway," Sophia chuckled as the bag spilled its contents over the edge. Taylor managed to catch it all, but Emma was already occupying the girl's attention. "She didn't emerge though...hiding like usual, I guess."

Taylor felt Emma's thoughts whirling and withdrew her awareness, assuredly to the silent scorn of the voice in her head. "Maybe we should head back downstairs, help Madison find her phone," Emma replied after a few moments, but Taylor saw through her deception: Madison's phone was already located, and there was only one easy way back down into the school from here. Once they were down there, Sophia would guard the door while Emma fetched a teacher and they'd get Taylor in even more trouble for being where she shouldn't be.

Sophia chuckled and, after tossing the bookbag over the edge as well, followed Emma back down the stairs. Taylor breathed a sigh of relief before floating her belongings back up to her. She glanced over the edge of the roof.

[Your mercy towards the Barnes girl is especially vexing.]

Taylor didn't reply, glancing around with her extended senses to ensure nobody was watching, before she leaped off the roof. She pulled herself upwards with her power, just enough weaker than gravity that she still fell, while strong enough that it was a light landing. She rolled to her feet as she'd practiced a hundred times at home and head for the cafeteria to hide among the throngs feasting there.

[Head out tonight regardless. You have the weekend to sort out your sleeping schedule after ruining it, and your true debut will be your first cape fight. Even if you don't agree with me about Lung, you must at least admit that your first encounter with another cape will be what sets your reputation. And you must agree that it is better to choose that fight for yourself than it is to have it chosen for you.]

Taylor nodded to herself, but didn't reply. She'd held back long enough; if she didn't start soon, she might very well end up waiting forever.

[Good...good...] the voice replied to her unspoken agreement, tone tinged with something approaching satisfaction more than approval. [We can discuss such things more tonight then. For now, let's test out your telekinesis a bit further, see if we can get you controlling more light objects at once...]