Project Sidus:
The Final Zodiac
Chapter #4: Don't judge by the cover

    It was just a perfect day to begin, but she didn't feel that way. Nothing was a great day for her anymore. She had to throw up so many illusions about herself that it was tiring her.  She didn't even try to come out of her room because she did not feel up to having to listen to her mother prattle off about trying to be the perfect cusp.  Whatever.  Like she could care less about being a cusp.  All she wanted was just to have sincere friends that cared about her for her... not just because her parents were rich. Ugh.  She wanted out of this lifestyle.
    Sure, it was nice being the "Queen" but at times, it drove her insane because people would be too afraid to speak to her at all.  It irritated her a lot when she was trying to be friendly.  Shanna scowled upon hearing her mother's voice outside of the door.
    "Shanna! Dear! You must come out of here and be ready for school! I wouldn't want my daughter to disappoint me."
    "I'm not feeling too well today..."
    "You still must attend school! You must make an impression on your fellow peers and show them that you are in charge. I couldn't expect less from my daughter. You MUST live up to the standards I've built in the past."
    Ugh. So what? Her mother was the most popular girl back then. Prom Queen. She never failed to hammer that into Shanna's head to get her to be the most respected woman in school.  At the same time, Shanna tried to rebel against the lifestyle but of course, that was not to be. Each attempt was only met with ignorance.
    "Fine, I'll get up! I will go to school. Are you happy now?"
    "Shanna, don't use that tone with me."
    Shanna fumed quietly under her breath as she got dressed while listening to her mother rattle off a list of things that Shanna had to do today... including the most dreaded chore of going to the mall with her "friends".  Shanna hated doing that! There was nothing worse than hanging out with several girls exaggerate about clothes and boys. The conversation could make her head bleed and explode in less than a second.  Somehow, she managed to tune it out with the years of training.
    Some day... she would break free from this torture. When would that day come...? When?
    Shanna sulked out of her bedroom as she made her way over to the dining room table.  The maid placed the food in front of her as she stared at it.
    Scrambled eggs, four strips of bacon, a toast, and a glass of orange juice.
    She sighed as she started to consume her breakfast as her brother, Eddy walked into the room.  Eddy noticed the glum look on Shanna's face and immediately knew what was bothering his sister.
    "Don't let her bug you."
    "...I wish she would chill out about this. I don't want to be the perfect child. I just want to be myself."
    This same old conversation that they've had countless times when their mother wasn't around to overhear.
    "I don't know why she's pushing you so much, but... why don't you tell her that you want to be yourself?"
    Shanna scoffed as she waved the bacon strip in the air. "It's NO use. She pretends that the conversation hasn't taken place! I swear I am going to tear my hair out. I'm at the breaking point of packing and leaving this miserable household if it wasn't for you and dad. You two only help keep me sane."
    "Yeah..." Eddy sighed. "I remember when Mom used to be so normal... she was just fine."
    "...when was that...?"
    "That was like, when you were in elementary school. When you graduated from fifth grade... she got a phone call that day. Ever since, she's been acting so odd."
    "...that day..." Shanna muttered quietly to herself.

    "Shanna, you're just a big girl! I'm so proud of you!" Her mother smiled upon her. "How do you feel about your graduation day?"
    "...weird... and scared..." Shanna answered quietly.
    "Don't worry! You'll just be fine! Middle school won't scare you. It's just another school."
    The phone rang as Eddy ran over to answer it.  He turned around and yelled, "Hey, ma! It's for you!"
    The minute Eddy handed the phone to her, Shanna felt some kind of fear nag at her.  She suddenly cowered behind the couch as Eddy blinked, puzzled.
    "Hey, Shanna! Why are you so nervous?"
    They peered up at their mother who looked deadly pale.  She was nodding as she was talking on the phone and sighed.
They could only hear her side of the conversation while this was going on.
    "Yes... I understand. I'll do my duty." She sounded lifeless as she was speaking. "I will start the training. Thank you for giving me the honor."

    Shanna gripped the table cloth as she gritted her teeth. "...that call! It changed her so dramatically..."
    "I don't really remember what she talked about on the phone, but sounded like she had some kind of job."
    "She's training me for something. I... I'm too afraid to know what she's training me for..."
    "Relax, Shanna. It's probably nothing."
    "No, it's not... Eddy... please... can we go to school now?"
    Eddy was puzzled as to why Shanna seemed so scared. "Well... okay, I guess."
    "Thank you!" She bolted over to her room and grabbed her backpack and her purse as she waited at the front door for Eddy to get his things.
    I hope the card reading was wrong...

    "Yeesh." Gabriel scowled as they were sitting at the table along with the other teens. "So, let's get this straight. What do we do now?"
    "I guess... we'll have to find the others. It's not going to be easy." Lillian took a deep breath. "Is there anything else we can do about finding the other zodiac?"
    "Not much. There's really nowhere to go."
    Gabriel turned around, still annoyed about the situation.  He blinked as he saw his former crush talking with the other cheerleaders and giggling.  Sadness stabbed him in the heart as he lowered his head.  He had tried to ask her out only to get shooed away from the other cheerleaders who didn't believe that mere students should mingle with their clique.  He muttered as he remembered the other attempt to ask her out when she wasn't around and ALMOST got mauled by a football player who was with her.
    He glanced over at Celesta who was engrossed in a conversation with Taliesin.  That made Gabriel feel EVEN worse.  He just had to have the wonderful luck of attracting girls.  He shouldn't be Gemini if his charms weren't working very effectively.
    "...I hate my life."
    "What's wrong now, Gabe?" Vanessa eyed the boy with blue streaks in his hair. "Having problems in class?"
    "...more like I shouldn't be Gemini. Gabrielle would be better at it."
    "...OH, COME ON! You have to deal with who you are!"
    He shot a glare at her. "Explain to me why I can't even use my powers effectively!"
    "You don't have enough charisma."
    "...I hate you."
    Gabriel stood up and threw his arms out. "Why don't you tell me why I couldn't get a girlfriend!"
    Unfortunately, he hit Shanna who did not look too happy as her clique started crowding around Gabriel for abusing their queen.
    "Oh good god. Get away from me, you slut wannabes!" He yelled at the girls.
    "...and lacks tact too." Angelo observed dryly.
    "Eh, that's him." Vanessa sighed, rolling her eyes.
    "ENOUGH. Leave him alone!"  Everyone looked at Shanna who just did the impossible by snapping at her groupies. "He's not worth your time."
    Gabriel flared at Shanna, offended by that remark. "WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!"
    Shanna ignored him as she commanded her group, "Please go and get a table. I will be there." Once her group left, she turned around to Gabriel. "You better be grateful that I saved your ass."
    "Yeah, by insulting my ego?! That must be one of your wonderful things to do. Save people's asses so you can be even more popular."
    " don't know the real me. You don't." Shanna tried to choke back her tears as she stormed off to the bathroom.
    Gabriel looked confused as he rubbed his cheek. "...the hell?"
    "...well." Chaos shook her head. "That was unexpected."

    Shanna was hiding in the stall of the bathroom in the C hall as she struggled to regain her composure. " one really knows me... why do I have to keep this illusion? Why?"
    She stared at the ceiling with tears running down her cheeks. "Why...?"

    Nellie was busy reviewing paperwork in her office.  She frowned to herself as she shook her head at some of these requests that the clients were asking! How could they ever think of suing a company for something that they screwed up on their own? Pathetic.
    The phone rang as she picked it up. "This is Nellie."
    "I have come to report on the actives of your daughter. She has been freaking out again."
    "Shanna will deal with it. She will understand her powers."
    "She seems to be resisting the training as far as I have seen at school."
    "Teenagers want to be themselves, but I have to shape her for her mission... the leadership of The Cusp."
    "Of course. She will make a good leader if she will stop rebelling."
    "I'll make sure of that."

    It seemed like time was moving slow for Shanna as she tried to figure out what to do.  She lowered her eyes as she pulled out her tarot cards from her jacket as she started to shuffle the deck.  Before she could draw the first card, a white-hot pain shot through her head as she screamed and blacked out.

    "...what happened to me...?" She stared in the darkness that was surrounding her. "Where is this place?"
    White columns of light shone through the darkness... six of them on each side.  When her eyes were able to focus clearly on the spotlights.
    She gasped as she saw the Zodiac symbols etched on the ground.  She began to count the ones that were already lit... seven?
    What did this mean?
    Then she looked over to the sign that was glowing with such intensity that she couldn't really move her legs.  She gasped quietly as she tried to make out the sign but couldn't.
    A scorpion crawled up her leg as she tried to brush it off.  It wouldn't even let go as it crawled up to her chest.  Was it going to kill her...?! When she tried to grab it, she found out that it had melted into her body.
    Suddenly, she was enlightened for the first time.
    This was who she was.
    A Zodiac.

    Shanna groaned as she opened her eyes and saw that the tarot card in front of her was The Moon in the right-side up position.  She sat up as she held the tarot card, wondering why the card had fallen in front of her.  She replaced it in the deck and shoved it in her jacket.
    " can I be a Scorpio if I was born on the cusp?"  The vision was fascinating and yet, it made sense. That was the truth... the only truth she'll ever know and remember for a long time.
    She blinked, gasping. Of course! That day when she had a headache and was heading to the nurse's office. What she felt... was that a summon for her? The others in that office... were they The Zodiac?
    Shanna bit her lips and started to cry again. This wasn't fair! She wanted to befriend them and let them know that she's awake... but... her mother! Her mother would be very angry and disappointed to learn that she was never Ophiuchus all along.

    Gabriel was still annoyed with being slapped as he stormed through the hall with Vanessa besides him. "You don't have to hang around me. My ego is fine."
"I doubt it." Vanessa rolled her eyes.
    He could be such a jerk sometimes! Even jerks need friends. Ugh.
    "I think you hit a really bad nerve."
    "Hah. If I really had hit a bad nerve, I would be holding my crotch, howling in a high-pitched voice."
    "Well... when people are upset, they never think of kicking the crotch. It's usually a slap."
    "That's nice. Abuse Gabe! Let's Abuse Gabe!"
    "Why were you all upset back there?"
    "Face it, Vanessa, I'm not good as Gemini. I've been abused countless times when I tried to charm women."
    "Laurie didn't abuse you."
    "Yeah... but her friends and boyfriend did!"
    "He wasn't really her boyfriend. Just some goon who was after her."
    "It's true. I've heard that Laurie's grandmother is really anal about her having boyfriends."
    "Oh?" Gabriel suddenly looked interested. "Then how is she related to Laurie if she's so anal about men?"
    Vanessa stopped walking and rolled her eyes. "Gabriel, you ask her if she doesn't rip your balls off first."
    "...note to self: buy lots of crotch guards." She laughed as Gabriel semi-decently managed to pull off a joke. "I don't like the thought of my family jewels being viciously ripped off."
    "You better buy some. Shanna's heading this way."
    Gabriel sweatdropped as Shanna walked past them.  He blinked and stared.
    "Hey! Aren't you going to harm me?"
    "No." She muttered. "You don't need the pain."
    She was gone as Vanessa and Gabriel stared.  What was that?
    "Uh... I think I'm just going to drag myself to my next class. See you, Ness."
    "See you, Gabe."

    Shanna bit her lips. She would have liked to talk to them more, but... they were in danger.  She didn't want to expose them to The Cusp. Whoever they were. She hoped that Eddy would understand a lot... of course, he wasn't a cusp, but a pure zodiac... with no powers.  She suddenly stopped and wondered about her father.  Would he be trustworthy?
    ...Not the group. Time to be the Queen.
    "We were so worried about you! Where were you?"
    "I'm fine. Really. I'm so sorry about that. I had... a nasty case of cramps."
    The group nodded in unison. "Are you alright?"
    "Yes. I am fine. Thank you. I believe that we need to get to class soon."
    "Of course!" The group broke up and went away in their own direction.  Shanna rolled her eyes as she headed to the next class.
    She froze for a second. How long had she been out cold? She took a glance at the clock and gasped. Longer than she thought... because she was about to be late for the last class of the day.
    So, she was out cold but no one came after her?  Must've ran into the Teacher's lounge by mistake or experienced something unexplainable. Tch.

    Once school was out for the day, Shanna wasted no time in trying to find Eddy.  He was leaning against the car and looked up at her.
    "Ready to go?"
    He froze and read the anguish on her face. "What's wrong?"
    "I... I need to confide in you... could we go somewhere else?"
    The siblings went over to the court yard and stood behind the pop machine that was standing right next to the door.  Eddy tried to think up of worse-case scenarios: stalker... cruel friends... sexual assault...
    "I want you to be quiet about this."
    "I..." Shanna fumbled with the words. "I'm Scorpio."
    Eddy stared and laughed. "Shanna! You worried me for a moment there!"
    "No, I mean it. I'm not the cusp like mother believes I am."
    "Well..." Eddy looked at the ground, avoiding eye contact. "I've kind of knew this for a long time."
    Shanna's temper instantly raged out of control as she glared at her own brother. "You knew this?! Why didn't you tell me!?"
    "I wanted to tell you, but I was afraid that our mother would find out somehow. She's going to lose it."
    "I... I want to get out of the house!"
    "I feel the same way. It's not safe for you anymore... I wonder if I can talk to father about it."
    "Don't talk to him! He's probably on her side!"
    "You don't know that."
    "Better be safe than... sorry." Shanna whispered. "I'm also afraid that if I try to leave... that I'll somehow reveal rest of the other Zodiacs to her."
    Eddy nodded. He wanted to persist in telling Shanna that her father was okay because he had warned him about this. "For now... what do you want to do?"
    "I'll have to put up with the act... I don't want the others to suffer because of me. This feels so odd... to sacrifice myself for people I don't know..."
    Eddy smiled sadly. That was the real Shanna... always putting herself first.
    "Come on, let's hit Southeast Carryout for burgers?"
    Shanna nodded. "Good idea... I think I missed lunch when I passed out."
    "Passed out!?"
    "Well... that was when I found out about being Scorpio."
    "A vision? Or your cards?"
    "Well... both."
    "Ahah. Let's go."

    Few hours later, Gabriel was slumping over his homework, scribbling equations and such.  He tilted his head and slammed the book, throwing it over his shoulder.  He grabbed a piece of paper and scribbled out his own equation.
    Gabe + Laurie = mauled by those peppies.
    Gabe + Celesta = When hell freezes over.
    Gabe + any female = A stunning miracle.
"Oh hell. Why am I bothering with this?" He scowled as he scrunched up the paper into a wad and slammed it against the wall.
    The phone rang as the wad of the paper fell into the can.
    "Score--ergggg..." Gabe slid over to the phone and grabbed it off the receiver. "Yo."
    Gabriel's jaw smashed into his desk. "Laurie! Why are you calling me?"
    "I need to hang out with you for a bit, please."
    "What's wrong?"
    "My grandmother's driving me crazy. I told her that I'd be at the library... so..."
    "I see." Gabriel blinked, puzzled as to why she would outright call him.

    Ah, the freshman year when he was trying to be more open for the first time in his life.  Of course, love had hammered him in the face when he saw Laurie's smiling face... the cute blonde streaks in her brown hair... her unusually colored eyes.  Unfortunately, she seemed to be distant, surrounded by preppies who were cheerleaders-in-training.
    He sighed, shaking his head, deciding to be brave for once as he approached Laurie.
    "Hey. I'm Gabriel--"
    Gabriel was rudely interrupted by a bulky looking football player who glared at him menacingly. "Back off from her, geek."
    "Who asked you? She's not your property! I was just being nice... which is something that a moron like you wouldn't understand." Gabriel glowered back at the jock. "If it's anything, you're the one who should back off. If she wanted to talk to you, it's her choice!"
    He turned to try to resume the introduction but he saw the horror on Laurie's face and instant black-out.

    He sighed at the memory.  The stupid jock had punched him in the back of his head.  Fortunately for him, a teacher witnessed the altercation and immediately reported it.  The next thing he remembered was waking up in the nurse's office with ice on his head and quite few concerned friends.  Vanessa was yelling at him, relieved that he was alive and wanting to know what he did to piss off the jock.
    The thing that bugged him the most was that Laurie didn't come.
    There was that note that a friend of hers had slipped into his bag.
    It was a simple note of apology for the incident and the fact that she hoped that he was okay.
    That almost made up for the lack of her presence, but he knew he was hoping for too much that day.
    "So, where do we meet?"
    "Food court at Towne East... um... Subway's?"
    "Sounds good to me."
    "Ok! See you then."
    "Same." He hung up the phone and froze.
    Wait. When the hell did Laurie get his number?
    Well, it's not like it wasn't unlisted or anything.  Not to mention that the idiot forgot all about the student directory! Of course, anyone who bought a student directory would have easy access to the phone numbers.
    Gabriel shrugged away the thought and grabbed his keys, leaving his bedroom.  He passed by the hallway and stopped in front of a family picture that was taken a year before Gabrielle died.
    "Rie, I'm gonna try my best to be happier."

    "Back again?" Citan rose his eyebrow at the woman.
    "I can't help it! The strawberry pocky is addictive!"
    "You know, if you're going to hang around here long enough, they'll find out who you are..."
    "I suppose it'll happen. Secrets are impossible to keep." She muttered as she glanced at a volume of Bleach. "Each day that passes, I've noticed that your shop is becoming more of an anime store than a hobby store."
    "It is getting popular, don't you think?"
    "Speaking of which... I can't wait for February! Xenosaga 2!"
    "Soon as I get the word, I'm reserving my copy." He smiled. "Though, I can't imagine what the cynics will say about this."
    "The usual. How they're never happy with it. What's the point of buying a game if you're going to bitch about it like with the first? If the first was that bad, wouldn't that have turned them off of the second? Sometimes I wonder if they have expectations that are just too damned high."
    "It does look that way. You've complained to me about the FF7 fanboys."
    "UGH. OH GOD. Let's not mention them again. Bad enough that I annoyed some of them in high school when I thought FF7 was an anime. Go me, for not having a playstation console and having lived under a rock!" The woman mused at the memory of having been a clueless teenager in 1997.
    "How's your brother doing?"
    "I'm amazed that he passed ninth grade." She took another bite of the pocky. "Of course, I'm also amazed that he's got three friends to depend on now."
    "Why are you always surprised when it comes to him?"
    "He's quiet. It drives me nuts, I swear. I'm the loudest compared to him and my older sister. It almost makes me feel like I'm adopted. HA HA HA." She threw her head back, laughing manically as Lillian walked into the room, staring at the two.
    "Oh. Hi. Did you finish your homework?" Citan turned to Lillian.
    "Yeah." Lillian turned her head over to the woman who was no longer there. "...Where'd she go?"
    "She's quick. Must be all the Dr. Pepper and the vodka."
    "I DON'T DRINK VODKA!" The yell came from the aisle.
    "Uncle, you have bizarre customers." Lillian sweat dropped at the voice as she shuffled out of sight.
    "It's safe now." Citan sighed.
    "Jeez. I'm not going to risk this again. Seeya!"
    Citan rose his eyebrow as he watched the woman make a hasty retreat out of the store.  He sighed and started cleaning the counter, idly wondering what else was going to happen today.