The Big Apple Comes With Calamari (Part 3)
A Whateley Generation 2 Story
The Big Apple Comes with Calamari
With help from a new crew of guilty parties:
Elrod, Kristin Darken, MageOkhi, Malagua, Morpheus, Nagrij, NeoMagus, Soufflé Girl and Wasamon.
Monday September 5th 2016.
Japanese Consulate, New York City, Early Evening.
Kurenai's insistent beeping interrupted Hikaru as she stood talking with a mixed group of Japanese and American bankers; as she'd expected when the consulate had called, she was expected, by dint of her 'special role' in the Imperial Household, to attend the diplomatic function. Her presence lent a huge air of seriousness to the Japanese event, which the American bankers might have otherwise discounted as not really being important to the Japanese government.
"A moment, if you please," she said with a phony smile to the finance minister and the head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, who were chatting over cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.
"I suppose we can suffer without your charming company for a few minutes," one of the bank delegation said smoothly.
Hikaru suppressed a shudder that coursed up and down her spine; the man was like too many of the American big-wigs - egotistical and feeling entitled, including to female company. She strode confidently to the ladies' restroom, ignoring the sexy sway her high-heels gave her bottom, sighing with relief when the door had shut, cutting her off from the boorish, loud party she'd been drafted into attending.
"I really insist that you give me the name of your designer," one of the doyenne's of New York's social scene greeted Hikaru the moment she was in the restroom. "It is quite fabulous."
Hikaru smiled. "I will see to it," she said as she sat down on a luxurious small sofa.
The evening was a total bore - unlike the stereotypical feminist stuff, the women talked mostly about fashion and the social scene, while the men chatted about finance and world trade and other business-like things. She imagined that, for women of a certain stature, all the preachings of third-wave feminism were forgotten, or at least put aside in public so as to not upset the social pecking order. The expectations of the male-dominated Japanese business community, too, might have had something to do with the social conventions.
Hikaru touched her bangle, and the holographic image appeared in thin air. <What is it, Kurenai-chibi-chan?> she asked in clipped tones, fatigued by an evening of being on show and faking sincerity.
<Ms. Dennon of Whateley is calling you. It is marked as an important, but not urgent, call. Shall I connect your line, or just take a message?>
A sigh escaped Hikaru's much put-upon expression. <Connect the line, please.> A moment later, the image was replaced with a visual representation of Ms. Dennon, though it wasn't a holo-conference. Kurenai had stored Ms. Dennon's image from their earlier encounter and was using it to add an air of importance to the call. "Good evening, Ms. Dennon," Hikaru said formally. "What can I do for you?"
"I wanted to check on the group I left in your care," Ms. Dennon got right to the point. <Would you be more comfortable, dear, if I spoke in your language?> she asked in flawless Japanese.
Hikaru was startled by the older woman's display of manners. "There is no need, Ms. Dennon. Unlike Kenshin, I am quite fluent in English." She suspected - strongly - that Ms. Dennon's question was less about manners and more a demonstration that Hikaru was not going to sneak anything past her.
"Are you with the group in the hotel?"
Hikaru sighed. "No, unfortunately, I was called to duty in a state ... reception at the consulate." She tapped her bangle, knowing what was coming.
Kurenai interrupted. <Hikaru-sama, the cell phones are not at the hotel.> A holographic map was projected in the air, causing Hikaru to frown. "They are ... not at the hotel."
Ms. Dennon sighed, shaking her head. "Why does that not surprise me?"
"They are near a drug store," Hikaru continued.
The older instructor from Whateley nodded. "That would make sense. Ms. Samuels reported that one of her bags was stolen at the airport, and her body makeup was rather damaged in the ... scuffle. I would suspect that she's getting replacements and she convinced the group to all go."
Hikaru was torn - she could use responsibility for the kids to escape the boredom and ogling of the diplomatic function, but then she'd have to babysit a herd of teenagers. "I can excuse myself and meet them to escort them if you would like."
A pause was the reply before Ms. Dennon spoke again. "No need," she answered. "I think they've learned to stay out of trouble. But I do want you to personally ensure that they are fed and that they are on the train with you tomorrow morning."
"Hai!" Hikaru's response was automatic. "But I will be riding to Whateley in a limo furnished by the Consul General. He would not hear of a member of the Imperial Household traveling by train."
If there had been a holographic projection, Hikaru would have seen Ms. Dennon face-palm, shaking her head slowly as she massaged her temples with her fingers. "Oh, damn!" she swore softly. "Not another one!" It wasn't clear if those words were intended to be heard by Hikaru, but she did hear and she suspected that Whateley had, at some points in its past, suffered with 'entitled' students, either of wealth or offspring of countries like Karedonia.
"Just get them fed and get them on the train, then," Ms. Dennon finally said. "I'll arrange for a shuttle bus to take you from the hotel to the train station. Will you need an advance to pay for breakfast, or can you deal with reimbursement?"
The Japanese girl winced. She wasn't sure that she should press her luck with Ms. Dennon's patience. "I will be able to pay for breakfast and submit the receipts for reimbursement."
"Very well. If you need anything, please don't hesitate to call."
"No, ma'am," Hikaru said politely. With that, the line clicked dead. She thought a moment, and then touched her bangle. <Kurenai-chan, please monitor the positions of the cell phones I had you locate, and track police information signals. If there are any disturbances reported near where Tia or Kenshin are, notify me immediately.>
Hikaru touched the bangle, causing her virtual assistant's image to vanish. Steeling herself, she stood and prepared to rejoin the diplomatic function, no matter how dreadful it was to her.
New York City, Near Times Square, Early evening
"I still think we should have stayed in the hotel," Bianca said softly as the group neared their destination - a small drugstore of a well-known chain. Small was relative; to Laura and Tanya, cramming a drugstore into the bottom of a very tall building made it seem tiny in comparison to the stores they were used to in non-urban areas.
"It's no big deal," Morgana said. "We just avoid crowds and villains, let Laura get her stuff, get our food, and go back."
"The news didn't make that ... whatever it was ... in Central Park sound like no big deal!" Cally protested. "Did you see all the power suits and cops and MCO there? And they said there were the NY superheroes there too!"
Erica shrugged. "Uncle Adolf said it was some overly-eager bureaucrat making a big stink and stirring up the MCO and the cops. As long as we stay away from the park, we'll be okay."
"And avoid fights with badly-dressed squids," Laura dead-panned, and then she started giggling, unable to contain her mirth.
"Besides," Morgana observed, trying to calm Bianca's and Tia's cases of nerves, "there's nothing that unusual about how we look!"
"Speak for yourself," Tia grumbled, her head concealed beneath her ever-present hoodie.
"Well, I had to get makeup and toiletries!" Laura reminded them. "And I feel safer with all you guys than if I had to come out alone."
"And see, here we are, all ye prophets of doom!" Tanya feigned an important, philosophical, wise air as she spoke. She, too, broke into giggles when she was unable to maintain a fake somber attitude. "Nothing happened, right? Just a peaceful little walk, right?"
It was with a visible shudder of relief that Bianca and Tia followed the group into the small drugstore. Nothing unusual had happened on the walk from the hotel - no squids, no robberies, no muggings; instead, it was almost tranquil. Sure, a few people - probably tourists not used to kids with colorful hair - had gawked at them a little, which made Tia and Bianca quite nervous, but comparatively, it had been uneventful.
As the girls dispersed to shop, Laura couldn't help but notice that some of the girls seemed less confident than she thought they should be as they wandered among aisle-after-aisle of makeup and hair care and toiletries and feminine hygiene products. Perhaps, she thought to herself, she wasn't the only one with her particular problem. Then again, she figured she was just projecting, and the nervousness the others displayed stemmed from the afternoon fight and butt-chewing they'd received from Ms. Dennon. Of course, she wasn't the only girl buying things, and while her makeup and toiletries needs were the most acute because of the theft of her one carry-on bag, the others had obviously not planned on spending the evening in New York either. A few were availing themselves of the opportunity to supplement whatever 'in case' stuff they'd packed in their carry-on bags, and a couple were in the snack section of the store.
Despite her desire to help, Tanya didn't seem knowledgeable about makeup products as she tried to assist Laura, and Morgana was spending an undue amount of time reading the labels on the hair-care products. Laura found herself at the feminine hygiene section, looking it over as she tried to decide if she needed some or if she could wait. And what would be more suitable. Finally, she selected a couple and turned to the nearest girl, Tia.
"Tia, which of these do you think would work best? They don't mention which is better if you get into squid fights!"
Tia rolled her eyes at the joke, eyeing the two types of pads being presented. "Um, since we are definitely not getting into more fights, I don't think it matters." Behind her Kenshin glanced at what the girls were discussing, cringed, and rapidly made for a safer part of the drugstore.
As she looked at the stuff in her basket, Laura winced and began to mentally add up the total cost of her intended purchases. Tanya watched curiously as Laura opened her purse and rummaged around in the wallet inside. "Damn!" Laura swore softly.
"What's wrong?" Erica asked, concerned, as Laura began to pull things out of her basket.
Laura didn't look at her, feeling ashamed of her situation. "I ... I don't have enough," she said very softly. "They said we wouldn't need a lot of cash for traveling, so ...."
Erica's eyes widened with her realization of Laura's predicament. "I can lend you some money," she whispered to Laura, knowing the blue girl probably felt embarrassed enough by her situation. "You can pay me back when we get to the school."
"I can't ..." Laura began.
"Yes, you can," Erica said, smiling. "It's no big deal. Oma makes sure we're prepared for ... unusual situations wherever we go."
Laura goggled at the girl for a moment and then smiled gratefully. "Sheesh, you make it sound like you're a boy scout or something!" She started putting things back in her basket, but quite selectively - getting only those supplies that she deemed essential. As she was busy, she missed the startled look flit across Erica's face.
Watching Bianca taking care to keep herself as covered up as possible, Laura glanced into her basket and then looked at Bianca, thinking. Setting her jaw, she walked over to the white girl. "Excuse me, Bianca?"
While Laura had expected Bianca to be startled, she seemed uncannily aware of the approach of the blue-haired girl. "Yes?" she asked simply, turning gracefully toward Laura.
"Um," Laura said hesitantly, "I don't know if you've thought about it, but, um, you know what I do to hide my skin tone?"
"Yes," Bianca prompted.
"You know, you could do the same - use makeup, I mean," Laura babbled, anxious to get her idea out before the white girl could react. "I mean, just like me, it'd make your skin look a little more ... normal, you know."
Bianca's eyes widened in surprise. "I ... hadn't thought about that," she admitted softly. She got a hopeful expression. "If ... if I got some, could you help me with it?"
"Sure," Laura smiled, while inwardly, she was puzzling Bianca's lack of cosmetic knowledge and her request for help. Something about her didn't add up, but she quickly dismissed the thought, and then helped Bianca pick out a shade of base makeup that would make her appear normal, even covering the intricate tattoo-like designs on her arms.
"My eyes ... still are ... odd," Bianca noted sadly.
"Contact lenses!" Laura said. Seeing Bianca's confused expression, she explained. "My mom has tinted lenses to change the color of her eyes! Why can't you do the same?"
"That'd work!" Bianca said with delight.
"And hair color? With all that, no-one would ever notice you!" Laura added eagerly.
"Um," the white girl flinched, "I don't think we can get contact lenses tonight, and I'm not sure about coloring my hair."
Laura grimaced. "Yeah, it'd be a lot of work tonight, I think," she admitted, "but you could do that in the future to be incognito."
Bianca gave Laura a quick hug. "Great ideas! Thanks!"
"Ah, Bianca?" Bianca turned to face Morgana, who touched her mirror shades with a quick smile. "Why not use a pair of these? Easier to cope with than contacts."
Bianca nodded thoughtfully. "That's not a bad idea; I'll have a quick look. It's getting dark now, but they'd be useful tomorrow."
Morgana was still wearing an expression of faint horror when they left the drugstore.
"Scented Razors for shaving yourself..."
"Well, maybe that is a little over the top," Laura looked thoughtful. "Though I guess you'd smell nice after, in all those important places."
That idea didn't seem to make Morgana any happier. Laura slipped close enough to whisper, or at least not be overheard by the others. "What's the matter? I mean, you shave, right."
Morgana shook her head, blushing as she tried not to cringe too obviously. "Uh...no I don't!"
Laura gave her a puzzled look as they held back from the others a bit for privacy. "Er, Morgana? When you changed, I mean, I couldn't help noticing..."
That just got a deep sigh from the redhead. "Laura...I don't shave. I just don't have any body hair, except on my head."
Laura blinked. Twice. "You don't? Wow, you really lucked out!"
Morgana opened her mouth to reply, and then realized she couldn't even begin to guess how to attempt to answer that. So she just closed her mouth again. After all, given Laura's GSD, anything she said about her own relatively minor issues would just come off as being rude.
To be less conspicuous, the group had decided not to let Erica, Morgana, and Tanya eat their fill at one place, but grazed as they walked back toward the hotel. At any eatery, they'd get what seemed like a reasonable quantity of food for the entire group, and then whoever didn't like that particular cuisine would pass their food to one of the bottomless pits. This process had repeated for three or four establishments before everyone had their fill, or in the case of the energizers, enough to stave off starvation until morning.
As Laura sat at a table with Morgana and Cally, eating a bowl of rice and sukiyaki they'd gotten from a small Japanese place while Morgana shoveled in three helpings like a stoker shoveling coal into a boiler, Kenshin approached and sat down with the girls.
"Is not ... um ... authentic," he said in his broken English.
"Huh?" Laura asked, perplexed. "What do you mean?"
Kenshin shook his head, frowning. "Food ... smell wrong, look wrong. Not cooked right."
Laura immediately got her snark on, but before she could do more than open her mouth, she realized who she was talking to. "Yeah, I suppose you would know, wouldn't you?"
"Tastes fine to me," Morgana said between bites.
"So what's wrong with it?" Laura asked, curious at Kenshin's comment. After all, she'd grown up around cooking, even if it was mostly barbecue.
"Hmm ... sauce? You say?" Cally and Laura nodded to Kenshin. "Too heavy. Smell ... too strong. Proper flavor ... delicate!" the Japanese boy tried to explain.
Once the food was gone and the group had left the eatery, Tanya spoke up. "I don't know about you," she said to Morgana and Erica, "but I think I'm good." She didn’t need to ask the others; none had eaten even a third as much.
"I smell pizza," Morgana commented, her nose slightly elevated and turned. "How about we get a slice or two, and then I'll be good."
"All up for pizza?" Erica asked as the small herd of teens strode down the sidewalk. When no-one objected, she smiled. "Next stop, pizza."
"Unless you're going to tell us why the pizza isn't actually authentic," Morgana chuckled to Cally.
"Why should I say what's obvious?" the Italian girl retorted immediately, smiling sardonically.
Tia smiled in satisfaction; so far, none of the food stops had served anything that appealed to her. "Ok, guys, let's get a table and order." She was looking forward to a decent veggie pizza. Perhaps because she was unwillingly forced to be a vegetarian by her mutation, she missed the old tastes, but, at least, a veggie pizza was a nice change from salad. Occasionally, like now, the alteration to her diet and food tolerance was almost painful.
Cally looked on as Morgana and Tanya ordered. "I really don't know where you put it all!"
Tanya ducked her head a bit in embarrassment, but Morgana just shrugged as she carved off an impressively-sized section of her laden pizza. "My change apparently really revved up my metabolism. And I'm still underweight. But I can still enjoy my food." She didn't see the expression on Tia's face as she scarfed the meat and cheese laden chunk, which was probably just as well.
After polishing off the pizza - another group-sized purchase that was primarily consumed by the three power-eaters, the group resumed their journey to the hotel.
Somewhere on the streets of NYC, not far from Times Square
Ryan Malcolm, sometimes known to the world as Steel Falcon, sulked as he threaded his way through the evening crowds. His attempt to keep watch on the situation at JFK for the afternoon had been nearly pointless. The MCO and FBI had been on scene with their power armor units by the time he'd even gotten there, so there had been little he could do other than wander around and try not to look suspicious. Basically, it had been a long day with nothing to show for it, so now he'd decided that he was going to take off for the night. As much as he wished he could stay out and try to do some more good, he knew from hard experience that if he pushed himself too hard all he'd end up doing was get himself hurt, and he really couldn't afford to break any more bones.
His phone beeped in his pocket, and with a sigh he pulled the beat up old thing out and flipped it open to see who was messaging him. Surprise, surprise, it was his brother.
<Going 2 club. Join us?>
Ryan groaned as he typed out his reply. How many times did he have to tell Johnny that he wasn't interested in clubbing? And that he DEFINITELY wasn't interested in his and Richie's attempts to hook him up with a boyfriend of all things, or even a girlfriend for that matter. A romance of any kind was really the last thing he needed right now. In fact, Ryan thought to himself with a chuckle, he'd probably take the broken bones over that at this point. A significant other would just get in the way of everything he was trying to do.
Stowing his phone back in his pocket again, Ryan looked up and took in his surrounding as he continued to make his way through the crowd. Being a holiday in New York, he knew they wouldn't be clearing any time soon, if they did at all. There were lots of people going out for an evening of fun, though many like him were just trying to get home to rest after a long day. One odd passerby did catch his attention though, a young girl who seemed to be having difficulty hailing a cab.
She looked to be in those awkward early teenage years, and seemed to have a bit of extra weight hidden beneath her bulky hoodie, which no doubt contributed to the shy, self-conscious demeanor she was exhibiting. Despite that, she had a pleasant face that looked like it would be quite beautiful once she'd done some growing up, and the two long pigtails in her chestnut hair gave her an air of youthful innocence.
Ryan frowned as he slowed his walk. This girl was a victim of the streets just waiting to happen, especially as she seemed to be alone. That just wouldn't do.
“Excuse me,” he said calmly as he came to a stop next to where she was standing on the edge of the sidewalk, “do you need some help?”
The girl flinched a bit as though startled, which told Ryan that she'd been rather too focused on trying to catch a cab and not enough on her surroundings. It wasn't as though he'd intentionally tried to sneak up on her. And when she turned to look at him he caught a glimpse of what she was holding in her hands, which was odd enough to necessitate a double-take. At first glance it appeared to be a slightly over-sized hamster ball, but it only took a moment to realize that was certainly far from the case. The round globe appeared to be filled with water, and to say that its occupant was rather unusual was a bit of an understatement.
It's not every day that you see a small, pale white squid being carried in a glass ball through the streets of New York.
“Um...yeah, kind of, I guess,” came the girl's nervous and faint reply as she shifted a bit uncomfortably, drawing Ryan's eyes away from sphere in her hands. “I'm just trying to get a cab so I can get home before my mom worries, but none of them are stopping for me.” The girl shuffled her feet a bit and didn't lift her eyes to meet Ryan's gaze. He had to assume that she was probably intimidated by talking to a stranger on the side of the road.
“Well, if you just need to catch a cab, I think I can help with that,” he replied as he stepped past her and almost into the line of traffic. “It's the busiest part of the day for them right now,” he tried to explain as he turned to look back up the street and watch for the next cab to approach, “so it's possible that most of them just see you as a kid and don't want to risk wasting time on you when there are better fares out there. It sucks and it's not right, but that's just how it is sometimes.”
The girl's reply was faint, but even if it hadn't been Ryan would have missed as he his eyes caught sight of what he was looking for. One of the familiar yellow cabs of the city was coming up and it looked to be empty, so he stepped out just a bit further into the street and waved it down. When the driver flicked on his turning signal to indicate he was pulling over, Ryan quickly stepped back to the sidewalk and instinctively pulled the girl with him, just to make sure she wasn't in the way.
“So where do you need a ride to?”
“Umm...just over to West Village...”
“Okay.” Ryan's reply was prompt and businesslike. He refused to show his surprise that the girl lived in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the country. The hoodie and somewhat baggy jeans didn't really give the impression that she was THAT well off. Thankfully he was saved from having to say anything else as the cabby pulled up to the curb, already lowering his passenger window which Ryan eagerly leaned into.
“Thank you, sir. This young lady needs a ride to West Village.”
The cabby grunted his acknowledgment and motioned for her to get in.
“Umm...thank you, sir,” the girl replied as Ryan opened up the back door for her. “I really appreciate the help...”
“Eh, don't mention it. Let's just say I personally find it hard to not help people who need it, and you looked like you could definitely use the help.” As he spoke he pulled out his wallet and retrieved two bills, a ten and a twenty, which he then immediately offered the girl whose name he still didn't know. “Here, that should be more than enough to get you home.”
“What, no! I couldn't take that!” The girl's face flushed bright red as she nearly dropped the squid-bearing globe. “I have plenty to get home with; you really don't have to do that...”
“No, I insist,” Ryan responded firmly. “I wouldn't feel right walking away without knowing for certain that you'd get home, and this is my way of making certain you can. If you really don't need it, then either think of it as a gift or save it to pass along to someone else. Goodness knows we could do with more people helping each other out around this city.”
For a long moment the girl didn't respond. She seemed to be processing some mixed emotions about the situation, which Ryan honestly couldn't blame her for. Finally, she nervously shifted the weight of her squid-ball to one arm so that accept the offered funds with other.
“Umm...thanks again, I guess...”
Ryan couldn't help smiling a bit at her shyness and timidity as he responded with just a nod. And he also couldn't hold back his curiosity any longer as the girl turned and stepped up into the car, situating herself with the small white cephalopod on her lap.
“Uh...if you don't mind, can I ask you one last question?”
The girl actually raised an eyebrow in confusion at that but nodded for him to continue.
“Why is a girl like you carrying a squid through the streets of New York?”
“Oh, that,” the girl replied with a bit of a wry chuckle. “I guess it is a bit odd.” She paused for a moment and stared down at her tentacled charge before looking back up to meet Ryan's gaze with a pair of pale blue eyes. “Would you believe me if I said he belongs to my dad, who is a really terrible supervillain, and that I had to come and get him because dad got himself arrested earlier today and so won't be able to take care of the little guy?”
Ryan was glad he'd spent so much time schooling himself to control his visible emotions, otherwise he was sure his jaw would have dropped. A supervillain? With a pet squid? He actually knew of a villain with enough of a squid obsession that he actually COULD believe such a statement. And why would this girl come up with such a specific response if she was just joking? On the other hand of course, if she WAS the daughter of a villain, why would she be so brazen with such a secret?
A vision of a short man laughing maniacally while wearing a garishly colored suit with rubbery looking tentacles flashed through Ryan's mind, and the thought of this girl standing next to that figure almost made him groan. Okay, so he could see why someone in her shoes might not be too happy about her father's line of business. And why she might disparagingly joke about it while not really expecting anyone to believe her.
As Ryan's thoughts cascaded through his head, the girl gave an exasperated sigh.
“Didn't think you would. I guess you could say I'm just taking care of him for a friend. Sure he's kind of an odd pet, but that's not his fault...”
“Ah, okay, I guess that makes sense...” Ryan quickly replied, as he wasn't really able to think of anything else to say. The dejection in the girl's tone spoke volumes to him however, and he suddenly felt certain that this was no joke. He had no way of knowing for sure if what the girl had said about her father was true, but his gut told him it was. Once he came to that conclusion his first thought was to consider how he could take advantage of this sudden stroke of luck, but he quickly slammed the brakes on that line of thinking. He couldn't just take advantage of this girl like that to get at her father. She apparently didn't have the highest opinion of her dad, but if she was picking up his pet to take care of then they were obviously at least in touch, which meant there was some kind of relationship there, however complicated it might be. He couldn't bring himself to ruin that for her, not when this whole conversation had started because he was trying to help her out.
Gosh dangit, sometimes trying to be a superhero REALLY sucked.
As the awkward silence between the two continued, the cabby decided to make his impatience known.
“Hey look, I'm trying to make money here, so can we get this show on the road?”
“Oh, yes, certainly,” Ryan quickly replied as he was startled out of his reverie. Then he gave the young girl a sheepish grin. “Sorry for holding you up, but it was nice meeting you. Good luck with your squid, and your dad I suppose.”
The girl appeared a bit startled by that last part, but nodded all the same. “Thank you, sir. And thanks again for the help with the cab too.”
“It was entirely my pleasure,” Ryan responded with smile as he started to shut the door for her. “You take care now.”
The girl gave a genuine smile and nod of her own as the door closed, which of course was the cabby's signal to be under way. Ryan watched briefly as the cab pulled away from the curb. She'd been a charming young girl, for all that she was timid and self-conscious, and she honestly reminded him of why he still kept donning his wings as often as he could. He sincerely hoped she wouldn't come to any trouble, especially given her apparent family situation, and that she'd be able to make something good of herself someday.
As he finally turned away from the curb to continue his trek home, his phone beeped once again, with another message from his brother.
<Your loss. Guess we'll just have fun without you.>
Ryan just shook his head with a sigh, wondering how people's priorities could be so different.
New York City, Close to Times Square, Late Evening
Standing on a sidewalk corner waiting for the light to turn so they could cross the street, Erica was surprised when an oriental man approached the group. He had his eye in particular on Kenshin and Laura. "Excuse, please," he said politely to them in accented English. "You are heroes?"
Tia and Bianca raced to see who could frown the deepest the fastest; Tia won by a tiny bit. They realized slightly faster than the others that a small group of young and middle-aged Japanese people was standing looking at them, talking among themselves.
"Um," Erica eased herself into the discussion, "why would you say we're heroes?" she asked cautiously, making sure she spoke before anyone else in the gang could say something they shouldn't.
"You ... fight squid villain today?" the man said slightly more. He turned and bowed to Kenshin. < Are you from Japan?>
<Yes Sir> Kenshin answered immediately.
<You and your friends, you fought against the squid villain today, no?> the man asked. Realizing that a conversation in their native tongue was now ensuing, a couple of the others - very obviously tourists - came closer, crowding around Kenshin and looking admiringly at the group.
<Yes,> Kenshin replied. <Forgive me, but how do you know about that? It was not on the news.>
<Ah,> the man replied with a grin. <We saw you heroically subdue the evil villain! We were walking to a restaurant when the Squid-villain attacked, so we watched. You all fought bravely and well.> The man glanced at Tia and Cally. <Those of you who fought, that is.>
"What's he saying?" Erica asked with a frown, tugging on the sleeve of Kenshin's poet-shirt.
"They ... saw fight," Kenshin tried to explain. "They think ... we heroes."
"Hai!" the man agreed, beaming. "Super-powered heroes."
<We should get pictures with the heroes,> a woman said to the man.
<Hai!> The man turned to Kenshin. <Would be an imposition to get our photos with your hero group?> To emphasize his point, he held up a rather fancy digital SLR camera. The other Japanese nodded enthusiastically. The group was slowly herding around the teens.
"Uh, we'd rather not," Erica and Cally both noted simultaneously. "It's ... we'd rather not."
Bianca, too, looked at the overenthusiastic Japanese tourists with deep mistrust, doing her best to edge away without trying to make it too obvious. It was bad enough she'd been involved in a public fight, although Ms. Dennon had assured her that there wouldn't be any clear pictures - and how that was managed she had no idea - but posing for some tourists who would no doubt plaster their images all over the internet was just downright crazy.
She wasn't the only one to place common sense above publicity. As she finally got clear of the group and looked for something to at least conceal her, she realized Morgana was doing the same thing. The tall girl nudged her and pointed to. "We need to hide behind something, so at least they won't get pictures of our faces."
Bianca nodded, although she didn't feel that a sign or a stoplight post were going to be enough cover. The two girls edged sideways, trying to casually pull their hoodies down to conceal more of their faces without it being blatantly obvious what they were up to.
"Don't they realize this is going to end up with the pictures plastered all over the internet?" Bianca asked incredulously. "Even if they're really Japanese tourists, at least one of them will post their pictures on FaceWatch or something like that!"
Morgana shrugged as she eyed up the camouflage potential of items around them. "I don't think they've thought that far ahead. Or maybe they just don't care if they get seen."
Bianca shivered slightly. "I really don't want to be in any pictures. And there isn't much to hide behind!" The only cover they could find was a small ornamental tree sticking up somewhat pitifully from the sidewalk.
Morgana nodded. "Here..." she tugged Bianca's hoodie a little, making sure it gave her the maximum concealment. For her own protection, she had already pulled her hair forward under her hoodie, making it difficult to see her face. "Now we just hide behind this tree and ignore them when they try and get them to join us. With any luck, we'll just look like part of the background." Bianca eyed the slender tree-trunk with a highly dubious expression then shrugged. Anything was better than nothing.
Ahead of the other, more reluctant heroes, Laura found herself being urged toward Kenshin by one of the women, accompanied by excited chatter in Japanese.
"What's she saying?" she demanded of the Japanese boy.
"Want picture ... you and me," he replied awkwardly.
"Why?" Laura demanded, a little upset at the request.
<Excuse me,> Kenshin asked the twenty-something woman, <my friend wants to know why you want a picture of us?>
<Ah, I want a picture of a Nihonjin hero with his American girlfriend!> the woman replied with a smile as if it was obvious. <She is cute, yes?>
Kenshin's eyes bulged noticeably. <Girlfriend?>
The woman smiled, nodding. <Yes! You are a cute couple. It is good that a Nihon hero has a cute girlfriend,> she continued as she pushed Kenshin beside Laura and stood next to him as her husband or boyfriend began to snap pictures.
"Hey!" Laura protested. "Why are they taking pictures of just the two of us?"
Kenshin winced visibly. "Ah, think you ... girlfriend," he said hesitantly.
"Girlfriend?!?" Laura practically screamed. "I am NOT your girlfriend! You tell them that! No way in HELL am I your girlfriend!" She was in Kenshin's face, angry, glaring at the boy. "Why the hell would they think I'm your girlfriend?!?"
<Excuse me,> Kenshin interrupted the woman, turning away from the excitedly-agitated Laura, <she asked why you think she is my girlfriend?> The woman's husband kept taking pictures of the pair while the other kids, cautioned by Tia and Erica, backed away from Kenshin and Laura and their coterie of Japanese fans,
<Ah,> one of the older women said with a smile, <while you fight villains, you argue like a married couple!> she said with definitive logic. <She must be your girlfriend!>
"What did she say?" Laura demanded, noticing the blush on Kenshin's features.
"She say ... during fight, we argue ... like couple," he said, wincing at the expected volcanic response from the blue-haired girl.
Laura didn't disappoint. "Aaarghhh!' she screamed at the sky in frustration. "I am NOT your girlfriend!"
One of the other men in the group came to her, interrupting what would have been a truly stupendous rant directed at Kenshin. "Excuse - you make ...?" He puzzled, then turned to Kenshin. <How do you say - she is gadgeteer? A genius of Engineering?>
<Yes,> Kenshin replied, grateful for the distraction from the infuriated girl whose cheeks burned with anger - a strange light purplish color due to her normal pigment and the makeup.
"What?" Laura demanded of the Japanese boy.
"He ask ... you ... gadgeteer?" Kenshin translated roughly.
Laura frowned; her verbal flaying of Kenshin for the 'girlfriend' misunderstanding was shunted aside. "Yes."
The eyes of two of the men lit up like they were standing in the presence of a rock superstar; their expressions were thoroughly awestruck. "Ah! Famous, no?" The men and women crowded even more tightly around Laura, taking pictures individually and couples with her. In the midst of the mad rush, she was somehow crowded to Kenshin's side, and more pictures were taken.
<Does she have any of her gadgets?> one of the Japanese men excitedly asked Kenshin. <Perhaps the device she used to knock out the one assistant villain, or the one she used to immobilize the squid villain?>
Kenshin nodded. <Hai.> Turning to Cerulea, who was very close at that point due to being crowded by the tourists, he winced. "Excuse. Man like to see ... gadgets."
Laura turned to Kenshin, a little startled, and then she fully digested his broken English. Her angry frown melted when she saw the looks of admiration, even adoration, from the Japanese - both men and women. "Oh, what the heck!" she said, and then began to rummage around in her purse.
"Um, Laura," Tanya leaned in closer to the gadgeteer, her voice an insistent whisper, "Do you really want to do that?"
Laura shrugged nonchalantly. "What harm is there?" She was clearly reveling in being considered somewhat of a celebrity way out of proportion to her actions in the fight. In moments, she'd assembled her bastard stepchild gadget that had taken down Squidley. The interest from the men increased exponentially, fawning over both the girl and the unusual device that looked like a mishmash of parts from a drill, an iPhone, and kitchen hand appliance.
As she posed with a tourist, holding her unusual gadget, one of the Japanese women pushed Kenshin to her side, and then physically placed the boy's arm around Laura's waist. The look of surprise on her face was total, but that didn't deter the people from snapping pictures.
"Would you tell them that I am NOT your girlfriend?" Laura hissed at the boy, still trying to look pleasant for the photos being taken.
<I told you she is his girlfriend!> one of the women beamed at her husband. <She argues with him even when they're together!>
<She's a good catch!> the man chuckled. <A pretty girl, and a gadgeteer!>
<No doubt there will be many girls and women in Nihon disappointed that she landed him!> another of the women said, a hint of regret in her voice as she made moon-eyes at the pretty boy.
<What?> Kenshin asked, astonished at the conversation. <Why do you insist she's my girlfriend?>
<What's wrong with her?> the woman who'd posed Kenshin with Laura demanded. <She's pretty, she's a gadgeteer! Men would kill to have a girlfriend like her!>
"What are they saying?" Laura whispered insistently at Kenshin, still trying to smile for the group.
"You not ... want to know," Kenshin stammered, blushing and wincing simultaneously.
Eventually, the collective curiosity of the Japanese group was satisfied, and the teens turned back to their goal - their hotel.
"That wasn't a good idea, Laura," Bianca echoed what Tanya had advised the girl earlier.
"Why?" Laura asked naively. In her hand, she had two business cards, which she held up. "They were really nice, and two of them gave me cards from their companies!"
"Your pictures are going to end up on the internet," Tia said bluntly. "Did you think of that?"
"But we weren't fighting or anything!" Laura protested. "And Ms. Dennon said they wouldn't have any pictures of the battle, so it's kind of a ... a tourist thing!"
Erica suddenly giggled, causing Laura to turn toward her. "What?"
"It was pretty funny that that one woman thought you were Kenshin's girlfriend," Erica said, trying and failing to control her laughter.
Laura glared at her, which caused Morgana and Cally to join the teasing and laughter. After half a block of that, Laura ignored them, and slowly the giggling faded away. She was not about to let these kids, no matter that they'd quickly become friends, know her secret, why it was impossible that she could be Kenshin's girlfriend. The knowledge that she had once been a boy was dangerous enough. The other thing could be deadly.
New York City, close to the Comfort Inn Hotel, Late Evening
"Hey, you guys mind if we make one last stop before we head back?" Erica asked. The blonde was looking down the street, where a bookstore had taken residence within an office building. "Passed that way every day this week, but never got the opportunity to stop by. This might be my last chance," she explained, "and I've got nothing but history books to tide me over for the rest of the trip."
"I don't know..." said Laura. The gadgeteer was looking tired, not to mention a little blue around the gills. "I'm straight out of spending money, but I guess I could browse a bit. Anyone else?"
Morgana looked at the store with interest . "I have most of my books on my tablet, but I can always use a few more."
Bianca just shrugged, while Tia tugged nervously at the edge of her hoodie.
"Would it be crowded, you think?" the girl said. "I'd like to keep a low profile."
Calliope craned her neck around the corner to inspect. "It does not look too crowded," she reported.
"And I was thinking to get something for our man Taka, here," Erica added, clapping Kenshin on the shoulder. "You know, as a thank you for putting up with our tour of the make-up and feminine hygiene aisle earlier."
"Ugh, don't remind me." Morgana groaned at the memory.
"So, Taka!" said Tanya. "Whatcha into?"
"Er, nani? What?" The Japanese boy blinked drowsily as they walked into the bookstore.
"What are you in to?" Erica repeated. "What do you like to do? Interests? Hobbies?"
"Ah, hobbies are kendo, listen to music, watch movies..." Kenshin rattled off the words like he'd learned them by rote. Perhaps he had. She didn't know anything about how English class worked in Japanese schools, but it obviously wasn't enough.
"I think he's getting tired," said Cally.
"He's not the only one." Morgana yawned. "Jet-lag is a bitch."
Wobbling as a group, they wandered by the fantasy and science-fiction section, dropping off Tia and Bianca to look at a few paperbacks en-route, before arriving at the manga and graphic novels. There was a surprisingly large selection available, and not just from Japan and the US.
Calliope squealed with delight when she found a set of translated Italian comics on one shelf, while Morgana leafed through an Asterix omnibus.
"What manga do you like?" Laura asked Kenshin.
"Eto... Bakumatsu Dai-Panikku, Kurenai Buta ga Umakana~, Monkii de Go-Saru, NaNa, Ucchare! Goshogawara..."
"I don't know any of those," Erica admitted.
"My father like manga much. Old series, fighting series, nado. Eto... nani kore..." the boy muttered as he looked over the shelves. He pulled a manga from the shelf. The paperback featured an angel girl, mostly naked in that odd way that Japanese illustrations had. Her six wings were all metallic grey and sharp-looking. "Hagane no Tsubasa. Good series."
"Let's get that, then," said Erica. "You could use it for English practice, even... huh?"
Calliope was tugging on her sleeve. "What's up?"
The Italian girl had a thick little graphic novel in her hands, an English translation of a German book: Secrets of the Shadow Wars, True Stories of the Fight Against the Fourth Reich.
The cover showed a broken swastika against a background of flames.
"Um, I thought there were only three Reichs?" Laura said. She and Morgana peeked over Tanya's shoulders as Erica cracked open the book.
"I've heard of this book," the blonde girl explained. "The German government declassified a lot of documents from the 50s, 60s, and 70s a few years back, and some guys in Berlin decided to play connect-the-plots with the stuff that wasn't completely redacted into nonsense. There were a lot of Nazi theme agents who escaped capture after World War II, and they took to calling themselves the Fourth Reich. All gone now, but there are still some second- and third-gen villains from that group. Hmm... I wonder..." She flipped through the pages. "Ha! There she is!"
Erica pointed to a picture of a young blonde woman, perhaps twenty years of age, who was being shown in a firefight with Nazi henchmen.
"There who is?" asked Morgana.
"That's my grandmother, or at least the character they based on her. See?" She tapped a line of text. "Eisenmädel. That was her codename, and now it's mine. And there's Opa there next to her." The young man in the picture was readying some sort of mechanical contraption. In the next panel, he fired gas grenades at the Nazis, stunning them all.
"E 'vero?" Calliope stared at the page. "I mean, I have heard them talk about the old days..."
"At length." Erica rolled her eyes.
"... but this is really them?"
"Yup. See?" She turned the page. "Got Uncle Adolf and Aunt Margit coming to the rescue." Another pair of agents, a blond man and an auburn woman, were blowing things up with a tank in that picture.
"Your grandparents are superspies?" Tanya finally blurted out.
"Were. They retired almost forty years ago. Oh, I just have to get this for them! Maybe I can send it for Oma's birthday. They don't need to know when I bought it..."
"Um, what time were they supposed to come back from their night out?" Calliope asked.
Erica checked her watch. "In about half an hour... scheisse. We gotta get back to the hotel before they do!"
Comfort Inn Hotel, Late Evening
Erica and Calliope were back in their suite and arranged like they'd had a perfectly uneventful evening. They'd dialed up a movie-on-demand before they left, so the big battle versus Ultron was just concluding by the time Oma and Opa arrived back from their dinner date. Erica's grandfather was much like his wife in that he hardly showed his age at all. Hans von Abendritter kept his silvering hair a little shaggy and affected a pair of spectacles over bright blue eyes that did not require them in the least. He resembled little more than the biochemistry professor he'd been for much of the past four decades, though his granddaughter knew first-hand how deviously clever he could get when presented with the right materials.
"Hello, girls!" Oma said as they entered.
"Hello!" they chimed back.
"You kept busy, I hope?" her grandfather asked.
"Yup!" Erica waved to the TV. "Got a movie on."
"So I notice. One which I know you have both seen at least a dozen times."
Oma nodded with approval. "Good idea. Easy to fake answers to questions. Now, what did you two actually do this evening?"
"Oma, I don't know what... -" "Signora Winifred, what do you ...."
Erica's grandfather sat down in the suite's chair and chuckled. "So, liebchen. How would you rate that performance?"
"Nine-point-five for the protestations of innocence, six for the overall evening. Erica, pop quiz. How would we know you were out of the hotel tonight?" Oma took her place next to her husband and smiled in that way that let Erica know that she was not going to worm her way out of this one.
"Um... tracking device in our bags, clothes, or shoes?"
"Good idea, but no."
"Traced our cell phones by GPS?" guessed Calliope.
"Also good, but not necessary tonight." That grin was getting wider by the second. "Erica," Cally whispered theatrically, "your grandmother, she cannot read minds, can she?"
"No, Calliope dear, I cannot. I can, however, bribe the young woman at the front desk to send me a text if, when, and how she saw you leave the hotel. Now, I am not angry, nor am I disappointed. I am simply annoyed." With a dramatic sigh, she pulled a ten-dollar bill from her purse and handed it to Opa. "Really, girls. Couldn't you have left five minutes sooner? I had money riding on this."
Teenagers and grandparents shared a good laugh over that. This quickly turned to girlish groans as Oma announced it was time for a quick lesson in how properly to exit a hotel without being seen. After thirty minutes of notes and diagrams on napkins, followed by a practical demonstration of how to jimmy a window without setting off alarms, they were allowed to wash up and get to bed.
"Oh, I almost forgot," Oma said as they brushed their teeth. "Ms. Dennon called, from Whateley. They've arranged transport for just before 6:.30 am tomorrow morning, so don't unpack too much!"
Looking at their bags, now partly unstuffed to make room for the evening's purchases, the granddaughter and not-granddaughter let out perfectly synchronized sighs.
Comfort Inn Hotel, late evening
Tia made it to the door first, slotting her card in the lock before Bianca could reach it. She held the door open, scanning the hall as the bone white girl went past her. Aside from the other girls, (mutants all!) the hall was empty because of course it was far too late for any sane traveler to be up and awake. She turned to see Bianca push her hood back, even as her eyebrow rose.
With a sigh, she dropped her own hood, and perked her ears up, massaging them with her hands.
“Do you mind if I use the bathroom first?”
“No,” Bianca answered with a faint shake of her head as she slid the deadbolt on the door. “Go ahead.” Then Bianca slowly began to walk around the room, checking the closet, looking under the bed and making sure the window was locked securely.
Tia watched Bianca for a few seconds, wondering what she had to worry about since she could probably just blow up any trouble. Hopefully, Bianca couldn't draw any of those strange symbols while she was asleep, or even more importantly, draw them around sleeping people, such as Tia, without waking them up. This was better luck than she usually had, since any of the girls who went toe to toe with the squid guy, joke that he was, could squash her like a bug.
There she was again, borrowing worry. Mom wouldn't be happy. Oh God, mom could never know what happened here…!
Tia realized she was standing there, thinking very dark thoughts, while Bianca watched her quietly.
“Weren't you going to use the bathroom?” Bianca asked her wryly.
“Oh! Sorry, be right out.”
She grabbed her carry on and bolted into the bathroom, and shut the door. Digging her travel toiletry set out, she brushed her teeth. Carefully counting out her thirty seconds was calming. Another thirty seconds with mouthwash and that was one chore down.
She used her own washcloth and soap to scrub her face; the stuff was expensive, and Ibby would want to see it used. Two down.
Another sigh, and the combination sonic wand and small brush came out. She put her back to the full-length mirror on the door and carefully brushed her tail with the device; then turned around and brushed her ears. The clips were supposed to keep bugs and such out of her furry bits too, but they seemed too small to trust with such an important job.
She wanted to take a shower, but the other girl was waiting, and just the idea of another twenty minutes awake, then sleeping on wet hair, was shudder worthy. Tia packed everything up, and carefully opened the door; it didn't explode. She hadn't heard anyone on the other side of it, but one could never be too careful.
There were no strange markings anywhere in the room that she could see, just Bianca sitting on her bed, the one farthest from the door and covering both entryways. Staring at her in that quietly intense way Tia thought might be normal for her; a story there, for sure.
She went in and shut the door as Tia set to work. She took her charger out and unlocked her ear clips, setting them on it with her phone. Then she carefully moved the entire bundle from her bed to the nightstand and plugged it in. Next she took out the items Ibby had gifted her with when her mom had been getting the tickets and plugged it in.
A gift from Blotter, it was a larger version of the technology in her ear clips, it would kick any creepy crawlies that could be in her bed out of it and keep them away. And she would just carefully not look under the bed. At all. One setting caused the pulse to force the pests to move or kill them, and then the other setting and smaller periodic pulses would keep them out. A quick trip snagged all the extra towels and sheets she could find.
Bianca came out as she finished, as hesitant as she had been earlier. She hadn't showered either. Tia snorted; this was ridiculous.
“Look, I'm not going to do anything to you. Truce, okay?”
Bianca nodded. “I didn't think you were” Then she glanced to the door and frowned slightly, before giving a faint smile. “I'm just not used to sharing a room. I suppose I'll have to get used to having a roommate sooner or later.”
“Alright. It's my intention to go to bed. I have very sensitive ears, yes for obvious reasons, so I would very much appreciate if you could be quiet, please.”
“That shouldn't be a problem,” Bianca responded with a faint look of amusement as she held up a leather-bound book.
Tia rolled up the towels and sheets into a crude body pillow that, even lumpy as it was, would be a thousand times better than trying to sleep on her back here. She missed her bed already.
Hyatt Regency, Boston, Late evening
Broggy and the guys at the station had arranged for a full tour of the Boston Police Museum. The Boston PD was only the third oldest in the US, with Philly's own department frequently boasting its history as first. But the Museum went back further than the foundation of the Police Department itself, to the days when it was just the Boston Watch... just a few men who patrolled the streets in the day or night to avert fire and ward against criminal activity and lawless behavior.
After staying past the normal closing time at the Museum, Jimmy was treated to a hearty dinner at a pub not far from the precinct where his Boston tour guides were stationed. It was clearly a Cop place... more than a few officers were present, in uniform or otherwise; some even with their families. He took the recommendation to get the fish and chips, which were great, but also plowed his way through a large bowl of really hearty fish chowder. It wasn't something he'd ever had before, but he just wanted more of it. It might just have been his new favorite food.
By the time they got him to his hotel, he was wiped out. He face planted on the bed and didn't even try to change out of his clothes. He had money for the morning for breakfast, which was going to be at some tiny little diner near the station that was so popular that even pulling strings had taken a while for Broggy to get the reservation. He had a physical map to the restaurant and the train station, and both were in walking distance. As long as he got up early enough...
"Tavi" he mumbled into his pillow. Even with the distortion, the speech recognition in his GridGear was more than up to the task of waking his VI for him. The device chirped at him as an explosion of pixelated shards assembled themselves into the form of his personal assistant.
"Yes Jimmy?" the ferret shaped VI was sporting ninja garb as it chased itself around his arm.
"Don't let me sleep past 8:30 ... the reservation for the diner for breakfast is at 10 and if we're not on time, we might lose the seat."
"Wakey and into the shower by eightsy..."
"Eightsy." It dived off the armpiece and over the side of the bed. Jimmy groaned.
Tavi poked its head back up and watched him for a moment before, just as he started to drift off, "Crazy mutant stuff in New York all day. Show vids?"
"No Tavi. Show me tomorrow."
"Show vids at 7:30, shower by eightsy?"
"Ug ... no. Wake by 8:30 ... show me the vids while we're walking to breakfast ... or the station, maybe?"
"Ok. Tavi gots."
Jimmy was nearly asleep again when the hair on his neck stood up. He cracked one eye open to find the VI ferret frozen mid ninja sneaking step away from his nose. "Tavi, if you pounce me when I'm sleeping, I'm replacing you with a kitten VI."
"Aw... Tavi gots."
Before the VI managed to completely sneak around the pillow and up the headrest to make the pounce, Jimmy's vitals registered that he was asleep and his GridGear deactivated projection mode. The ferret blew apart in an explosion of hard light pixel shards.
A bit later...
Comfort Inn Hotel, New York, very late
Thump, thump, giggle.
Oh, you have got to be kidding me, Tia thought. She wrapped her pillow tighter around her head in the hope that, despite all prior experience, it would allow her to fall back asleep.
They said something again; it was muffled, but she could clearly hear them talking, if not make out what they were talking about. The hotel walls lacked both insulation and sound baffling, apparently. Tia looked to her clips; they should have enough of a charge… but no, it hadn't been that long, they weren't recharged yet. If she used them now, they would run out of power by tomorrow afternoon at the latest.
No, the line had to be drawn somewhere. She had been accommodating all day. She had been nice! It was time for someone else to give a little ground for a change. Mind made up, she stormed out.
Tanya was halfway to the bathroom, stuck between actually getting ready for bed and listening as Laura regaled her about the group she had seen that had somehow been even more colorful than them; Morgana was already asleep; no mean feat considering the girl had just gotten out of the bathroom and flopped on the bed. Tanya herself wanted nothing more than to join her in dreamland.
There was a knock at the door.
Who could it be at this hour, she thought as Laura fell silent, no doubt wondering the same thing. Stifling a yawn, she pulled the door open, and immediately fell back a step as something soft impacted her face with a 'paf'.
As the soft object cleared her vision, she saw it was a pillow. A hotel bed pillow that had just been mashed into her face. Standing beyond it, her arm lowering, was hoodie girl, without her hoodie. Lucretia, her mind supplied, taking in the long bunny ears now on prominent display, pointed her direction like black, furry spears streaked with odd purple highlights, just like the girl's hair. Before she could open her mouth, the words came.
“Please be quiet. The walls are thin, and people are trying to sleep.”
With that, she turned back to her own door. Tanya stood in the doorway for a moment, still processing the fact that she'd just been smacked in the face with a pillow by an annoyed bunny. Finally, it was the sight of the black-furred tail (also featuring the odd purple highlights) protruding from the back of the retreating girl's pajama bottoms that finally shocked Tanya from her daze, reminding her of the suspicions that had grown in her mind all day. She might not get a better time to ask, and as much as she hoped she was wrong, she still had to know.
“Hey wait!' Tanya blurted, and the girl whirled around with a half-pained hiss, her ears laying back. “Sorry,” Tanya whispered back with a contrite blush, and thankfully the girl relaxed a bit.
“What is it? I'd really like to sleep here. I've been awake a long time.”
Tanya glanced back into her room; Morgana was still asleep, her sole reaction to the commotion being to roll over in her sleep with a comment that sounded remarkably like 'mpphrpgrll', and Laura was still on her bed, obviously wondering what was going on. She held a finger up and shut the door. There was no one else in the hall; as nervous as she was, now really was a perfect time.
She turned back to find the girl (Lucretia, her mind helpfully supplied again) had stepped a bit closer, an eyebrow raised. She took a deep breath and took the plunge.
“Um, I'm not really sure how to ask this, but… are you Lucas Del Bosque?” There, she'd asked it. It was in the open now, and she couldn't take it back. If Tia really was the person she’d seen on the news back in June, she was about to find out. She only hoped that her new friend wouldn't be too offended by the question, regardless of her answer.
The other girl sighed and ran a hand through her hair.
“I was. I no longer answer to that name.' she offered a half grin. 'If I do, well, bad things will happen. Call me Tia.”
And there it was. She was right, and that confirmation should make the next part easier… but it didn't.
A torrent of questions came to Tanya’s mind, but they all seemed far too personal. She considered some words of encouragement, but even in her head they sounded stale and patronizing. Who was she to say anything about this, having just barely met the girl? She couldn't; as much as she wanted to, she just couldn’t find the right words to say.
Tia frowned at the younger girl’s awkward silence. She was in no mood for this.
“Yes, no, and no.”
Tanya gaped a moment. “Huh?”
“Yes, the devisor was my girlfriend, no I did not cheat on her, and no, I don't want a date. The three most common questions I'm asked now.”
“What? No, I don't care about any of that!”
Tanya held onto her indignation just long enough to catch the gleam in the other girl's eye and hear the stifled snicker.
“Alright, I probably deserved that. Sorry, it's hard to find the right words for this.”
“It gets easier with practice, and I have a lot. So what can I do for you?”
“Look, it's stupid, but I just wanted to say I'd like to be friends. Nothing weird or underhanded, of course!” Tanya hastened to add when Tia's face clouded over. “It's just that I've never really had many friends before, and after everything that's happened today...well...I kind of like all of you guys. And I don't want to start losing new friends before I even get to Whateley, and I...I'm rambling again aren't I?” Tanya's cheeks flushed a bit as she nervously rubbed the back of her neck.
“Maybe just a bit.”
More heat rushed to her cheeks. “Yeah, sorry. I just get ner...” Tanya stopped herself with a shake of her head before taking a deep breath and giving Tia an apologetic look.
The storm cloud on Tia's face cleared with a shrug and a sigh, and the sunny if tired smile was back in an instant as she held her hand out.
Tanya's eyes brightened up like Christmas had come early.
“Yes, friends,” she agreed with a sigh of relief as she accepted the handshake, unable to keep a smile from spreading across her own face. Then, before she could realize what she was doing, she found herself wrapped around the other girl in one of the most awkward hugs in the history of awkward hugs. Thankfully Tia was returning it though - sort of. At least she wasn’t pushing her away, and at least Tanya remembered to whisper as she broke it off only a moment later with an embarrassed grin.
“Um, if you ever need a friendly ear, I'd be more than willing to listen. We all have our problems, right?” Tanya blushed as she spoke, hoping she wasn’t saying too much.
Lapin smiled softly in return. “I’ll keep that in mind then, though I doubt you’ll really want to hear most of it.”
Tanya frowned a bit and wanted to argue that last point, but decided now probably wasn’t the best time to do so. As much as she wanted to help, she couldn’t force her new friend to open up. She’d have to do that in her own time. At least they’d managed to not let this secret make a mess of things.
“Well, good night then, Tia,” she finally said as she turned to head back to her own room.
“Good night, Tanya.” the older girl replied with a yawn.
As she walked back to her own room, Tanya picked up the pillow from where it had fallen in the doorway. It was obvious Tia didn't care about it, and she couldn't just leave it out here. She tried the door… and of course, it was locked. And her key-card was in the room, on her nightstand. Well, crap. Had she really been such an impulsive idiot?
Tanya did the only thing she could do, knocking softly with the pillow on the door to muffle the sound. Laura answered after a moment, looking on curiously as her companion rushed into the room. Tanya caught the door and closed it as gently as she could before whispering.
“I just wanted to ask Tia a question. She's next to us, and can hear us, so she asked us to keep it down, okay?”
Laura gave an understanding nod at that, her curiosity sated.
“I'm going to finish getting ready for bed,” Tanya added in a hushed whisper before quickly ducking into the bathroom.
When she came out after getting settled in record time, now dressed in her favorite blue plaid flannel pajamas that she was glad she packed, she saw that Laura was already asleep, her book still in her hand. Smiling at that, she quietly walked over and gently removed the book from her grasp, being sure to place a bookmark before setting it aside on the nightstand. Then she made her way over to the bed by the window, grabbing an extra blanket from a shelf by the TV on the way.
Settling in and making herself reasonably comfortable, she spent a few minutes on her evening prayers. After that, it wasn't long before she also drifted off to sleep.
Tuesday, September 6th 2016, 6am
Comfort Inn, New York City
Tia’s ears twitched and she pulled the pillow over her head at a soft chime. A soft grumble and shuffling indicated that Bianca had done the same. After a few moments, the chime stopped and Tia began to drift back into sleep, but before she could fully fall back asleep, her phone blared out the 1812 overture, at max volume, and with the cannon sounds in full blast.
Tia’s reaction was classic, rolling off her bed with a full thump, and a moan, as she grabbed her head. The other girl in the room tossed one pillow at her and pulled her other one over her head, as the rabbit-eared girl’s desperate grabs for her phone didn’t bear fruit initially. Finally, she got the phone and swiped it, opening the line, and shutting down the loud music.
“Hello?” Tia’s voice was wary and slightly in pain.
“Lapin?” a somewhat familiar voice responded. “Why do you sound like something’s wrong?”
“No… just had someone hacking my phone to play cannon blasts a foot away from my ear.” Tia’s voice rose a bit on the last… then she calmed down. “Exactly who is this?”
A long moment passed. “Myoujin Hikaru - we met yesterday when you took over watching Kenshin.” Another pause. “I apologize for Kurenai’s actions; apparently she thought you were taking too long to answer the phone.”
“Well, tell her that that’s impolite, and painful. I’m sorry for not answering immediately, didn’t get much sleep last night.” Tia answered. “Now why are you calling me? I’m still watching Kenshin, and will make sure he’ll get to the station…”
The voice sounded a bit annoyed as it answered. “Ah… about that. Apparently Miss Dennon felt that you and your compatriots from last night shouldn’t be allowed to make your own way to Grand Central station.” A pause. “I will be downstairs to collect you all and feed you breakfast in 30 minutes. You do remember who was with you in that fight, do you not?”
Tia sighed, ears drooping a bit. “Yes, I do. I take it you want me to get them, and be out in 30 minutes? What time IS it?” she yawned.
“0600. Bit early, but if you’re all to eat…” Hikaru trailed off.
Tia wanted to curse, but had to agree, but she had a question. “When’s our train leaving?”
“The express to Boston? 0810, arrives in Boston at 1150.” Hikaru instantly responded. “Now, if you would be so kind as to gather your companions… we can be on our way. And as for Kurenai-chan’s actions, rest assured she already knows.”
“Right, right… see you soon.” Tia disconnected and ran her hand through her hair, hitting her ears. Wincing, she went over to Bianca. “Time to get up!”
Fiorella Persico, Calliope or Cally to her friends, had grown up with a fairly large family. Two brothers, one much older than she, and a little half-sister who was almost as distant age-wise in the other direction, plus parents who were no longer together but still there for her... or at least they had been, until the mutation had begun to set in last spring. After that things had gotten weird between her and her family for a while, and she still was not sure if or when they would ever really be 'normal' again, especially where Francesco, her twin brother, was concerned. And besides him, her grandparents had taken the change and its permutations harder than anyone, and it had been months since she'd had a good, grandmotherly hug and peck on the cheek.
She was getting one now, and she was filled with equal parts enjoyment and embarrassment inside. Signora Winifred - or Oma, as the woman insisted, - would not dream of sending her granddaughter off without one last goodbye, and the same went for the awkward Italian kitten the von Abendritters had picked up over the summer.
"Now, you two stay safe at school."
"Yes, Oma," said Erica.
"And no getting into fights!"
"I do not get involved in random fights," Calliope said gravely, while Erica put up a mock protest.
The older woman nodded, then continued, "And if you do, make sure you hit them hard enough the first time that they do not get up again."
Hans von Abendritter had his turn with the hugs, and he insisted on carrying their bags to the front door of the lobby, even though either of the girls was strong enough to carry them all by herself. They protested a little, for the principle of the thing. Neither Cally nor Erica liked to be the object of male chivalry, but grandfatherly chivalry was still okay.
"I'll be in touch with your brother Claudio regularly," he told her. "So if you need anything, let us know."
"Grazie." She had to wipe a tear from her eye, but really, Calliope felt so happy that she could sing. Given the effects of her voice, that might not be the best thing to do, though. They really had to get going. So instead, she took her bags and gave each of her not-grandparents a kiss on the cheek in return.
Oh! how she hoped the rest of the year would be as nice as her first American summer. Calamari imbecilli notwithstanding.
Comfort Inn Hotel, 6.30am.
The small mob of kids milling around the hotel foyer was barely awake as they waited for their bus to the station. The only two who seemed OK at being around at this ungodly early hour were Tanya and Morgana, although Morgana had pointed out that, in her case, it was because she hadn't finished getting used to a 5-hour time difference. Since Tanya didn't have that excuse, she was getting a lot of suspicious glances at her bubbly early-morning brightness.
The obviously-bored hotel counter clerk looked up as the last teen stepped up to the desk. “Checking out?” he asked with a fake friendly tone.
“Yes. Samuels,” Laura said. “Laura Samuels. Room 805?”
The clerk tapped information on his computer. “Okay, very good. Did you have an enjoyable stay? Was everything to your satisfaction?”
“It was nice, I guess,” Laura started to say.
“Wait a moment, please,” the clerk interrupted. “The file is flagged that there’s something here for you.”
“What?” Laura was stunned; surely her mom wouldn’t have sent something to the hotel.
“Just a moment, please.” The clerk disappeared into the back, and then came out holding a small carry-on bag - still with a bright orange sticker. “This was left for you during the night shift.”
Laura frowned for a second in confusion, then recognized what he was holding. "It's my bag!" she squealed delightedly. "The one that was stolen at the airport!"
"Looks like some good Samaritan handed it in." remarked Tia.
Meanwhile, Laura had grabbed the bag happily and was rummaging through it to see if anything was missing. "It looks like all that's gone is a little jewelry and my spare cash." Then she frowned as she pulled out a small card. It was white and expensive looking, with no writing, just a small piece of metal fixed to it where someone's name would usually go. The girls clustered around, examining it curiously.
Laura looked at the card, puzzled. "What on earth is this?"
Morgana tapped the metal with a fingertip. "I think it's steel." She gave it a closer look. "It looks like the outline of a bird. A vulture?"
The card was passed around, as everyone gave it a close inspection.
"Hang on, let me see if I can find what it is." The others watched impatiently as Tanya flipped open her cell phone and hit a few keys.
"Hmm ... apparently it’s a symbol commonly used by a guy named Steel Falcon. The Wardens’ database has him listed as a street-level hero here in New York City.”
“So … he saw the MCO tag? And the Whateley manual?” Laura asked, still surprised at this turn of events.
“And a few phone calls would let him know where Whateley students were overnighting, probably,” Tanya said conclusively.
“Well, I’m glad it’s back,” Laura said, satisfied that the mystery was apparently solved.
Morgana looked at the happy scene with a small frown, then caught Bianca's eye.
"There's something about this that worries me..."
Bianca nodded thoughtfully, dropping her voice to match Morgana's whisper. "You mean how did whoever-it-was find out where we were staying?"
"Yeah. Does Whateley just give our location to any random hero who calls in? I think I'll be a lot happier when we finally get there."
Bianca nodded. "Can't happen too soon for me either."
Looking around for the diva from yesterday, Tia saw Kenshin face-palm while muttering something in Japanese.
Tia’s eyes caught a flash of black though the front doors and she stopped for a second. A black T-shirt with “Sunny” written in red and gold letters on it caught her eye, and her swift appraisal saw the shirt tuck into poured on black jeans, red and gold strappy stiletto heels, and a cup of something in the left hand. Tia shook her head, wondering how the girl could walk, but also more convinced than ever that she was a jpop singer.
Tia went to the Japanese girl, and hesitantly asked. “Um, Miss Myoujin?”
Hikaru’s eyes locked onto the rabbit girl, and she shook her head for a second. “Hikaru, I’m attending Whateley too, so…” She paused and nodded once, looking the group over. “This all of you?”
Lapin turned and looked before nodding. “Yep!” Turning to the rest of the teens she raised her voice. “Hey, guys, our ride’s here!”
Bianca turned to look at the Japanese girl, and raised an eyebrow with a slight frown. “You're from Whateley?”
Hikaru smiled slightly and nodded.
“Then you don’t mind if I call and verify, since you aren’t Mrs. Dennon or the person from yesterday.” Bianca pulled out her phone. “Not that I don’t trust you, but I think we’ve all heard the horror stories.”
“Of course,” Hikaru smiled slightly.
The group watched as Bianca quickly discussed some things with Whateley then asked for Hikaru’s ID, which she presented. Satisfied, Bianca handed the ID back as she put her phone away. “Thank you.”
Hikaru nodded and turned back to the group, putting the ID away and somehow fitting it into the small backpack - like purse she had with her. Pausing for a moment, Lapin noticed a slight look in Hikaru’s eyes that she couldn’t place.
“Right. I’m called Okami, and I’m your designated minder till you’re on the train. If you’d all follow me, we will go eat.” Several students perked up immediately, despite the early hour.
As they stepped outside, Lapin noticed the passenger van and raised an eyebrow. “No limo?”
Hikaru paused at that question, head turning towards the rabbit with a confused look on her face. “Just why would I spend two thousand dollars for a twelve block drive?” A pause and a nod. “Plus, Whateley arranged the shuttle, not me.”
Tia paused, a retort on her tongue, and then she thought for a moment. This girl had to be an upperclassman, and with looks like that, and wealth, likely one of the elite clique. She’d wait and twit her later, when she had a better idea of the lay of the land. “Works for me.”
Everyone boarded the bus, with Hikaru glaring at several students who tried to get the front passenger seat, as she sipped her drink. Shortly, the group was inching along New York traffic as they headed towards the station. Several grumbles were quietly not aimed at the girl in the nice seat, which apparently she didn’t hear.
As the group arrived at the entrance to Grand Central station, Tia noted that Hikaru was eying a holographic map. Slightly curious, she tried to see more, but the map disappeared with a nod.
Hikaru stepped out as the driver opened the passenger sliding door. “Right, follow me.” Hikaru waited till everyone was out, with their bags.
Tia paused as the driver got back in, and then looked at the Japanese girl. “Where are your bags?” the rabbit girl asked, shifting to make sure her hoodie stayed up.
“In my ride. I’m only here to see you get on the train. I had transportation provided to me.” Hikaru stated, slightly distracted as she looked around, before smiling slightly. “Aaa. There we go.” Turning her head, she called back. “Follow me.”
Tia stared as Hikaru led them to a door with Waffle House labeled on it, to Tanya’s pleasure. “Waffle House? In New York City?” the rabbit girl asked, amazed.
“What’s wrong with that?” Tanya asked. “Waffle House is great!".
“You eat at a waffle house?” Tia demanded of the Japanese diva.
“It’s decent food at a decent price, no?” Hikaru sounded puzzled at Tia’s reaction.
Morgana looked at the place curiously. "I've never had breakfast in a waffle house."
Shortly the group was settled at a large table, with a waitress handing out menus. “Hiya, I’m Sheryl, and I’ll be taking your order, dears. Take a moment to look at the menu, and I’ll be right back with coffee and water.”
Several students oohed at parts of the menu, and, with some urging by Hikaru, quickly made up their minds, as the waitress returned with coffee for those who wanted it and, water for those who didn’t. Tanya notably didn’t bother looking at the menu, though she did poke Morgana slightly as the older girl ordered coffee. "I thought the British drank tea with everything?"
Morgana made a face. "You've been watching WAY too much Hollywood. And I don't like tea much, I way prefer coffee."
“Y’all made up your minds, kids?” the waitress asked with a smile. She was promptly inundated with orders, several for the energizer special, the Exemplar feast, and lots of waffles. Lots and lots of waffles, some flavored with one flavor, some with more than one. Tia watched enviously as all but her ordered massive amounts of pork products. Bacon, ham, sausage… all of it, with a few orders of steaks as well. The waitress eyed the group and smiled for a moment, eyes landing on the Japanese girl, who nodded, wincing a bit, but pulling out her wallet from her small purse. “I’ll just go place this, and get your juices and teas.”
Hikaru sipped at her coffee, looking out the window into the station, and then was interrupted.
“So… what can you tell us about Whateley?” Tanya asked.
Hikaru blinked. “Not much, really. I haven’t attended it yet.”
Tanya and Morgana shared a glance, and then Morgana shot Hikaru a suspicious look. “So wait, you’re just a freshman too? Then why would you be supervising us?” the mage challenged.
“I was asked to. I believe it’s because Kenshin here was no trouble while I was watching him, but when he was released from my care…” Hikaru shot all of them a look. “And I saw your fight.” Hikaru shook her head then turned to look at Kenshin. “Kenshin. I know I told you not to get involved. Period.”
Kenshin flushed slightly, and opened his mouth to speak, but before he could defend himself, Hikaru raised a hand.
“Not interested.” Hikaru sipped at her coffee. “Miss. Dennon has made her decision, for us all.” Hikaru paused a moment. Tilting her head slightly she looked at Kenshin. “Thank you ever so much for that,” she added, hissing through clenched teeth in a way that promised some type of payback would come, deliberately ignoring a few quickly-suppressed snickers from the audience.
Kenshin shrunk into himself, as Morgana spoke up again. “Then why didn’t you help us?” She stared at the Japanese girl. “I bet you could have helped us end the fight faster - or aren't you a fighter?”
Hikaru raised a perfect eyebrow at the suspicious tone. “… putting aside the laws on heroics in America, putting aside the fact I might not have powers suited for combat …” Hikaru stopped for a second as Kenshin snorted suddenly. She gave him a stern glare before continuing. “Ahem, as I was saying, finally putting aside the fact I wasn’t even close to being dressed for combat … “ Hikaru’s smile grew sharp. “You all seemed to have it under control.”
Tia’s ears twitched inside their hoodie, drawing Hikaru’s attention. Before Hikaru could speak Tia snarked back. “Well, I know it wasn’t under control, and we should have had help. I mean, when cops are needed in seconds, they’re minutes away!”
Hikaru blinked. “I agree with the latter, at least in America.” Hikaru paused. “From what I could see in the fight, the… foes were not interested in killing you, and therefore, it was to everyone’s advantage that I did not fight.” Kenshin nodded at that. “And I believe you had already called the police.”
Tia blinked. “Wait. So you know how to fight....” Hikaru nodded, as the first dishes were brought out. “…and you have lethal powers?”
Hikaru nodded at the waitress who put her food out. “That’s correct, and given I wasn’t dressed for close quarters… they were my only option.”
Morgana leaned forward. “Oh, so what can you do?”
Kenshin paled, and Tanya leaned back at the look in Hikaru’s eyes. Hikaru’s smile was devoid of any warmth. “How about combat lasers able to punch through a car? Or if that’s not enough, at least 20 ways to kill a person in one blow. With my hands.”
Tanya laid a hand on Morgana’s arm, and when the Brit turned to look at the supergirl, Tanya shook her head. “Just eat.” Hikaru had already begun.
Morgana opened her mouth, paused, and closed it again. Cutting up a bit of the ham, she chewed, eyeing Hikaru thoughtfully.
Tia turned from looking at Hikaru, to looking at Kenshin, who had gone very quiet and very still. Her eyes traced his tense frame, as if he was preparing to throw himself away from the impending confrontation. Her ears flattened under her hoodie, fully aware of what Hikaru had told her about Kenshin.
Bianca nudged her. “Eat. I don’t think she’d attack us …” she whispered into Tia’s hoodie.
Tia nodded and directed her attention toward eating, as the rest of the table attacked their plates with gusto, partially from hunger and partially as a diversion from Hikaru’s comments. The atmosphere was rather tense for a bit, but thankfully very soon thereafter, conversation broke out about Whateley, classes, and the previous night’s fight.
As the last plates were taken away an hour later, Hikaru looked at the bill and winced. Tia’s ears picked up the quietly mumbled “At least I’ll get reimbursed… hopefully quickly,” statement that Hikaru made.
Kenshin, too, noticed her change of mood. <Is something wrong, Hikaru-sama?>
Hikaru shook her head, wincing visibly. <This... bill is larger than I had expected. My cash in my account is... rather restricted at this moment.>
<... Um? Because of your duties and ties to the Imperial House, do you not have significant assets?> Kenshin's eyebrow rose as several listened to the conversation, or tried to. There was a reason Kenshin and Hikaru spoke in their native tongue.
Hikaru shook her head for a moment, clearing her expression. <One would think so, and my own personal status is admittedly not insignificant, but my assets are not liquid, Ono-kun.>
Kenshin paused. <Ah... so.>
Hikaru nodded. <It does not help that my allowance doesn't arrive until the tenth, either….> Hikaru abruptly stood up. “I’ll be right back.” Tia watched as Hikaru walked over to the cashier, with several eyes following her. “I'm not sure I like her” Morgana stated quietly, eyeing her retreating back. “She could have helped us in the fight, but didn't in case she messed up her clothes or broke a nail or something.”
Kenshin shrugged and turned to Lapin, clearly dismissing the British girl. “Interesting food. Americans eat all of time?”
Tia shook her head. “No, not all of us, not all the time.” The rabbit-girl’s eyes drifted to a small shop outside the Waffle House and she was struck with a sudden idea. “Be right back.” With that, she dashed to the shop she had spotted.
Kenshin eyed the girl then looked at Tanya. “Ano…” Tanya’s head-shake of confusion answered his unspoken question; she didn’t know what Lapin was up to either.
Before Hikaru returned, Tia came back holding a bag and an impish smile. Her giggle and comment of, “Hope she likes it…,” worried Kenshin, but before he could ask what she meant, Hikaru had sat back down, looking at the receipt. Everyone’s eyes were drawn to her slightly pale face.
“… I just hope Whateley reimburses me quickly.” Her mutter was audible to everyone.
Tia cocked her head, as she held out a bag. “Hey, Hikaru, this is for you, for being so helpful to us this morning. Please don’t open it till you’re alone!”
Hikaru blinked, and put the bag in front of her as she sipped her coffee again. “Okay. You are all on the upper platform, track 19, Train 2030, Boston.” Pausing for a moment, she eyed the bangle on her wrist, which put up the time. “You have about a half hour to get there, so, it’s all good.” Standing, she nodded at everyone. “Please forgive me, but I have to go.”
"You aren't travelling with us?" Morgana's comment sounded more relieved than questioning.
"No, I have transportation arranged for me as a gift, it would be impolite to refuse it. So, if you would all forgive me?" She looked at the rest who all nodded at her. “I hope to see you all again at Whateley. Safe journey.”
Morgana looked after the girl as she walked away, a small frown on her face. "I dunno. I still don't feel like I trust her." She ignored, or at least pretended not to see, the nasty look Kenshin gave her. "On the other hand, she did buy us all breakfast..."
New York City, Grand Central Station, Train Platform, 8am
The tall, thin man in a dark suit and sunglasses, carrying a briefcase like so many other people in Grand Central Station, watched discreetly as a group of teens energetically and enthusiastically climbed into a train car. Nodding and smiling to himself, he took out his phone and dialed, then put it up to his ear.
"Silverplate? Foxhound Two," he spoke softly when the phone was answered.
"Silverplate here. What's the status?"
"Target has boarded a train for Boston," the man reported.
"She's in the company of a group of seven other kids."
"All are going to the destination?" the voice asked curiously.
"No idea. It's the same group I reported last night - the ones that were in the fight and who went out for shopping and pizza."
"You did well not to interfere with the fight," the woman on the other end of the phone reported.
"They are probably all mutants, and all are going to the destination."
"We caught the asshat who stole her bag. It's been returned - with enough disturbed to make it look like simple theft and a return by a good Samaritan. Even planted a calling card from a local street hero with it, just to confuse things more."
"Good work, Foxhound."
"Do we need to separate the target from her new friends?"
There was a long pause as the woman on the other end of the line thought. "No. No, Foxhound, we might be able to make this work out even better."
"Shall I continue shadowing?"
"Yes," the answer was immediate. "I'll alert the welcoming committee. Get a picture of the group if you can and forward it to Tigger. They'll know what to do."
The man nodded. "Okay. Out." He slipped his phone into his pocket and strode purposefully across the platform to the same car the teens had entered.
New-York to Boston Amtrak Train, 9am
Her ear buds piping her favorite music into her ears, Laura sat, partially reading her book - a somewhat advanced electronics book - and partially watching Lapin squirm, fiddling with some kind of ear plugs or hearing aids. The girl had a rather pained look on her face, as if something was radically wrong, and she flinched as if the slightest noise was painful.
Finally, Laura could take no more. "Excuse me," she said softly, politely touching Lapin on the arm to get her attention.
The girl flinched as if shot, turning toward Laura and recoiling from the touch and the voice. And there was something else - Laura wasn't quite sure what, but Tia seemed ... afraid? No, afraid was far too weak a word. She looked terrified.
"Yes?" Tia asked nervously, wincing at the sound of her own voice.
"Is something wrong?" Laura continued, keeping her voice down. That little gesture seemed to ease a few of the worry lines on Tia's face.
Tia rubbed at her hoodie. "It's ... it's these damned ear plugs," she finally said. "They're not working! And I made sure I recharged them last night."
"Ear plugs?" Laura was confused for a moment, and then she saw one of the small bulges in Tia's hoodie twitch. "Ah," she finally understood. Tia had very sensitive hearing, like a rabbit. "You have sound attenuating earplugs?"
Lapin nodded slowly, a sad and frightened look in her eyes. "Yeah. When I ... when all this happened," she said, her voice far away as she reflected inwardly on something that was clearly painful to her, "when I was getting tested, the MCO ... they gave me some state-of-the-art noise cancelling earplugs - because my hearing is way too sensitive."
"The MCO gave you ...?" Laura asked, absolutely astonished. In her own experiences with that group, they had been far from helpful.
"Yeah. They were very nice. Or they were to me at least..." Tia added. "Only, now the ear plugs aren't working."
Laura tried to smile reassuringly toward Tia. "If you'd like, I could have a look at them. Maybe I can fix them for you."
Her expression told Laura very clearly that Tia was torn. On the one hand, her earplugs not working was very annoying, even painful. On the other, Laura remembered something in the news about Tia's situation, and she had to be nervous as hell around technical types - which explained the terrified look she was trying to hide.
"Promise I won't do anything besides look at your ear plugs," she assured Tia. Still sensing indecision, Laura smiled. "If it's microelectronics, I can probably fix them right here."
Slowly, hesitantly, Tia took the offending ear plugs from beneath her hoodie and handed them to Laura, who took one. Bending forward, she rummaged around in her carry-on bag and pulled out a pair of strange goggles and some very fine tools. With Tia watching nervously, Laura opened up one of the ear plugs.
"Well, now," she said to herself as she stared through her super-magnifying goggles, "this looks like a slightly modified Bose model twenty-six." A curious frown crossed her features. "And here's the culprit!"
"What?" Tia asked softly, surprised that Laura seemed to know her way around the inside of her electronic ear plugs.
"It's a standard Bose noise-cancelling ear plug," she responded to Tia without looking up, "modified to add about six dB of additional cancellation. But ..." she frowned, pointing with a micro-tipped tool into the very, very tiny ear plug that only she could clearly see through her magnifiers, "the mods were done with a tin-based solder, and rather sloppily, at that!" She shook her head. "I'd be embarrassed if I made something that messy!"
"What is it?" Tia asked again almost automatically.
"The solder joints are sloppy, and with the moisture in your ear canal, the solder has grown dendrites ... tin whiskers! They're shorting the input signal, so the noise cancelling circuit has no signal to operate on."
Tia's eyebrows rose. "Can you fix it?"
Laura smiled. "Sure. Let me pop the battery out so I don't ...." She frowned deeply as the battery popped out of the device. "Now what are YOU doing here?" she asked herself rhetorically, her voice echoing her puzzlement.
"What?" Tia was worried again.
Ignoring her, Laura focused on the ear plug. Finally, she took out a micro-tip soldering iron and began to attack something that seemed, even to someone untrained as Tia, to be an afterthought.
"What is it?"
"It looks like a micro-recording device!" Laura said, scowling. "With a small antenna. Like ... like someone has bugged your ear plugs!"
The techie ignored Tia for a moment and dug out her cell phone. A few quick internet searches, with cross-consulting the odd parts in the ear piece, and her scowl deepened. "It is a bug," she announced sternly. "Someone planted a listening device in your ear plugs and has probably been recording every word you've said."
"Are you kidding me?”
Laura shook her head grimly. "Nope. Do you want me to take that out?"
Tia's nod of affirmation was instant and vigorous. "Yes, please!"
As Laura set about removing the bug, she questioned the girl, "Who did you say gave you these, again?"
Tia's eyes were wide; the existence of the bugs had upset something in her worldview. "The MCO ... the guys who helped test me and helped me with my paperwork ... after ...." Her voice trailed off.
Leaving Tia lost in her own thoughts, Laura quickly removed the offending bug and the tin dendrites it had caused. When the battery was re-inserted, she handed it to Tia, who put it on and then beamed. "It's working! Thanks!" she exclaimed softly. Five minutes later, Laura had fixed the other ear plug, and Tia relaxed considerably as she finally got some relief from excess noise. In spite of that though, she still felt uneasy about how people she’d thought were on her side had apparently been recording her without her knowledge. That was definitely a worrisome thought.
Boston railway station, 1pm
Boston is an old city that has more than one railway terminal. Of course, this inevitably meant the inbound train from New York arrived at one while the train to Dunwich left from the other. Still, it was a nice September day for walking, and as Laura pointed out, at least Boston was reassuringly empty of annoyed cephalopods.
The Boston railway station wasn't the nicest place in the world to hang around in - it was overfull of people and rather dirty, even though the cleaning staff was doing their best to work around the crowds - but they were only there until the Grand Miskatonic Express arrived. A train which more than one of the group suspected wouldn't quite live up to its exotic billing.
"Do we really have a whole ‘nother hour to wait here?"
Tia glanced up at the clock on the station wall before answering Tanya. "Assuming the train is on time - she ignored the derisory snort from Morgana - then yes. Why do you ask?"
"I'm hungry! It's been ages since breakfast, and that was only a few waffles."
Tia's eyebrows headed for her hairline. "Good grief, what you ate wasn't a few!"
Tanya, at least, had the grace to blush slightly. "Hey, my power needs a lot of food." She gave a sideways glance at Morgana "Anyway, I wasn't the only heavy eater."
For her part, Morgana just shrugged. "Hey, getting up at 6 am always makes me hungry. It's way too early to get out of bed."
Tia just shook her head sadly. "Honestly, going around with you two is like hanging out with a plague of locusts."
"Yeah, but we're very cute locusts, right?"
Tia gave Morgana a very old fashioned look, as the girl continued. "And Tanya has a point, if we have an hour I could do with something to eat as well. Would you mind looking out for my bag while we go take a look? We'll be back well before the train leaves."
Tia shook her head sadly. "Go on then, just try not to get in any trouble? Please?"
Morgana grinned as she set her suitcase down. "Oh come on, how much trouble can we get into getting some lunch?" She studiously ignored the way most of the other girls seemed to come down with a sudden attack of hacking coughs at her remark.
While their original idea had been to get a few bags of food at the station, the crowds already queuing at every available food outlet had made the two girls decide to head back along the route between the two stations. Bad enough having to wait at Boston Station without having to do it in a food queue full of impatient travelers, some of whom might have had nothing better to do while waiting than to notice any oddities about the two girls.
Morgana slipped dexterously around yet another Bostonian who was too intent on getting wherever it was he was going to actually to look out for other people. "Is it always this busy here?"
Tanya shrugged. "I have no idea; I've never been here before. Maybe all that mess at the airport yesterday made other people change their plans too." It seemed a bit unlikely to her, but she couldn’t really think of any other reason, unless Boston really was just this busy all the time.
"That would make sense I guess. Now if I remember right, there was a food place a bit further along this street."
Morgana's hopeful musings about possible sources of sustenance were broken by a sudden odd, almost explosive noise, followed by a loud screeching of brakes and a metallic crash that completely derailed the conversation.
"What the hell?"
"It looks like an accident."
The abrupt way the traffic had halted, and the accompanying blaring of horns and cursing, made that glaringly obvious. What was more unusual was the spray of water that was spurting up like a fountain from the middle of the road. As the girls stepped out onto the road to get a better view, they could see the tangled mess that looked like a delivery van of some sort almost falling over, and only being prevented from doing so by the compact car half crushed under it. Screams could be heard from the car (as well as from a few women in the crowd), and water was rushing in a muddy torrent down the road. The two of them exchanged quick glances, and then both of them started to run over to the wreck.
Victor looked at the clock on the side of the building again. Right on time to get to the station and the train to Whateley. He hadn't wanted to spend too much time at the station itself - places like that tended to have too many CCTV cameras for his current state of mind to find comfortable. Just swoop in and board his train. He realized he was probably way too paranoid, but after the chaotic events since his manifestation, the idea of being accosted by the authorities made his stomach churn painfully. The less time he gave someone to spot him, the happier he'd feel. He glanced at his phone again - yes, the map showed he just had to keep going up this road for a little way to get there.
He'd just settled his bag comfortably before setting off, which meant he had a ringside seat for what happened next. There was an odd rumbling gurgle as the middle of the road actually heaved up before a blast of water fountained upward. He wasn't the only spectator to stop suddenly, mouth open in amazement, but he was probably the only one whose power felt the gushing water calling to it.
While the sudden watery outburst had stopped the pedestrians dead in their tracks, sadly that wasn't the case for some of the vehicles. While many had, in fact, managed to stamp on the brakes, with nothing more deadly than a few damaged fenders, a van and a car had been too close to the event. The van had hit the mixture of water and damaged road with one wheel, and had spun and toppled, hitting a small compact car that had been following it too close for safety. The impact stopped both vehicles dead, the van toppled over onto the small car, as water poured over and into the smaller vehicle. Vic stared, mind racing as he tried to decide what to do. There was nothing if not ample water for him to work with, but if he used his powers here in front of everyone, he was unlikely to be able to get away before the police started asking some awkwardly pointed questions about who he was and what he was up to.
But it wasn’t just that, but the imagery of water slowly filling up the street where the cars were caused a chill to run down his spine. It took the cry of people pointing out at children trapped into the car, begging for someone to do something out of fear to have him snap out of it.
He bit his lip as he dithered - there was already a crowd of people gathered around the wreckage, and it looked like they were trying to get the people out. Maybe they wouldn't need his help at all. He considered his options before slipping into a spot between two parked vehicles, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible, but ready to do something if he had to.
As the girls got close, it was a lot easier to see what had happened. The water was bubbling and spurting from a jagged crack in the road where a water main had fractured, crumbling the road surface and letting a jet of dirty liquid squirt upwards. Judging by the skid-marks on the road, the truck had tried to miss the water, and instead had toppled over, landing on the car. While it hadn't actually squashed the smaller vehicle, it had proved massive enough to crush the roof in at the rear so that none of the occupants could get out of the buckled doors. The two adults in the front were being pulled to safety through the shattered windscreen with a lot of effort, but the girls could see two young children in the back who were still trapped.
Tanya grabbed her companion's arm in agitation, her eyes fixed on the children.
"We have to get them out! That car won't hold up for long, we have to get the kids out before they get crushed."
Morgana was worried herself about the groaning and creaking noises coming from the car as the van settled a little. While the side of the car was supporting the weight at the moment, it didn't look like it would do so for long, and the doors were already far too distorted by the pressure to open. She paused to give the crash a calculating look.
"Tanya, can you keep that van up? Not lift it up, just hold it, so it doesn't come down any more?"
Tanya gave it her own critical look as they got close, ignoring the water rushing around their feet and streaming down the road in a bubbling torrent.
"I think so, why?"
Morgana glanced around - fortunately, most of the nearby people were busy with the rescue - then pulled her hoodie up over her head as she changed form, a pulse of heat wafting over her companion. "I'm going to cut the door open and get the kids out. When I do, it probably won't hold the van up any longer, so you'll need to support it till I can get them clear."
Tanya nodded firmly. "I can do that." She moved up close, hoping the people fussing at the front wouldn't notice too much, as she pressed her hands up against the van, her usual purple glow - fortunately barely visible in the sunlight - surrounding her. Setting her feet was a problem, the muddy water was making the footing slippery and treacherous, and she could feel the road surface shifting beneath her feet. On top of that, the roaring of the water spout was VERY distracting.
Vic bit his lip as he watched. He couldn't work out what the two girls thought they were going to do; it was obvious that car door wasn't going to open again. There was a cheer from the front of the car as the driver was finally slid clear past his airbag, and the girls used the distraction to get close to the crash without drawing attention to themselves. Vic's eyes widened as the smaller girl pushed herself up against the van, and he was sure he saw it lift up slightly. The two were obviously having problems with keeping their footing in the middle of the water and mud pouring down the road, and Vic smiled. That, at least, he could do something about. He reached down, placing the palm of his hand in some of the water running past him as he reached out carefully with his mind, and the flow slid around the girls’ feet, leaving them a much more stable surface on which to stand. He kept the water flowing away - if nothing else, it helped keep them a bit separate from the crowd.
Seeing her companion set, Morgana slid out her claws and sliced down the side of the car door with a squeal of abused metal. She almost slipped, having to go to one knee as she continued to make a jagged slash, before peeling the door open like a can lid along the ragged tear her claws had made. More water rushed out of the car itself, but she vaguely realized it didn't seem to be a problem anymore, as she leaned in to slice through the seat belts holding the children. Tanya spared a glance down, and then her eyes widened as she saw the water and mud curving sideways, away from them and the car to give them firm footing on the road. Water just didn't behave that way...
Morgana was just glad that the torrent didn't seem to be trying to make her lose her footing any longer, as she pulled the first of the children, a young boy, clear, careful not to cut him on the jagged metal as she set him down behind her. He was immediately grabbed by someone, and she pushed into the car again, ignoring the little girl who was staring with wide-eyed fascination at her horns as she freed her as well. This time, she had to wriggle a bit as she emerged, but slid the child out with a triumphant grin. Only to have her almost grabbed from her by an almost hysterical woman she guessed was the mother.
"DF, we have to get out of here!"
Morgana nodded as Tanya finally stopped supporting the van. With the damage done to the door, it carried on down another foot with a metallic crunching noise as the car flattened noticeably. Quite fortunately in the girls’ opinion, as it distracted the mob gathered around the family, giving the two girls a chance to slip away. Unfortunately not enough of a distraction, as it turned out.
"Hey! Those two kids are muties!"
Tanya twisted around in alarm, to see a big, beefy guy, his face flushed red pointing at them.
"I saw them! I bet they caused the accident in the first place!"
Both girls looked bemused at the twisted logic of that until Tanya noted a small H1 pin on the man's lapel. Grabbing her friend’s arm, she hissed in her ear.
"DF, he's H1 - we have to get away before he gets us into real trouble!" Morgana wasn't quite sure what H1 meant, but the look on Tanya's face and the obvious hatred with which the man was glaring at them obviously meant it was bad news.
Both girls turned instinctively to the source of the shouted comment, but then realized it wasn't aimed at them but at the H1 member.
"You bloody fool those two girls rescued my kids! If it hadn't been for them, they'd have been crushed in the car. "
Judging by his words, and his wet and battered appearance, this was the man they'd seen being dragged out through the car windscreen. He had a number of other people behind him, and all of them were glaring at the H1 man.
"So what? They're muties!"
"So what! You bastard, it's my kids they saved!" The man took a couple of steps forward, and swung at the sneering H1 member, flooring him with a powerful, if not terribly skilled, punch. Judging by the expression of the people behind him, and the woman still clutching the two soaking wet kids, it was a popular act. While appreciating the sentiment, neither girl thought it would be good to hang around, using the altercation as an excuse to slip away quickly while everyone's attention was on the man sprawled on the ground clutching his jaw.
Tanya tugged insistently on her companion’s arm as they made their escape, making Morgana look at her in confusion. "What is it?"
Tanya kept pulling her away from the crowd, and towards a teenage boy who was looking worried as if he couldn't make his mind up whether to run away or not.
"Hey, it's OK!" Tanya was waving at the boy, who looked around quickly and then beckoned them to follow him behind some cars and into a deserted alleyway, away from the crowd.
"Remember how the water stopped being a problem?"
"I think so, I was a bit occupied."
"It was him, I saw him - he had his hand in it, guiding it away from us. He must be a mutant too."
Morgana looked down at her friend, tugging her hoodie further over her horns, and then shrugged. Whatever the kid was, he didn't seem scared of them, which considering that she'd just ripped a car open like a tin can had to mean something. None of the kids stopped until they'd got clear of the mess on the road and made sure they were out of sight of the crowd still gathered around the scene of the accident.
"And what's with the DF?"
Tanya looked up at her companion. "It's a good iudea to keep to codenames if someone might hear you. And DF is a lot shorter than DragonsFyre."
"Um. Well, OK. I think."
Morgana was still shaking her head when they caught up with the boy.
Tanya beamed at the boy.
"Thank you for helping us."
The boy looked embarrassed as if being thanked by two pretty girls wasn't an everyday experience for him. "Hey, I was happy to help." He looked closely at the two, his eyes widening a bit when he saw the horns under Morgana's hoodie. The girl winced slightly as he noticed, pulling the hoodie firmly forward for better cover.
"Well, it really helped, I don't think we could have kept our footing if you hadn't done whatever it was you did with the water. "Tanya paused. "But I guess you have some sort of control over water? A Hydrokinetic?"
Morgana grinned and patted her enthusiastic companion on the shoulder. "And before my friend gets too carried away, I'm Morgana, and this is Tanya."
"I'm Victor. Nice to meet you both, that was a nice job you did on the accident." He looked curiously at Tanya. "You seem to know a lot about powers?"
Tanya blushed. "Uh...well..." she ground to a halt at trying to explain things to the boy she'd only just met, looking up at Morgana in an obvious plea for rescue.
Morgana gave Vic a calculating look, noting the heavy bag he was carrying. "You wouldn't be on your way to school, would you? Maybe a school called Whateley?"
Instead of looking puzzled, Vic just looked relieved, which gave Morgana the answer she was looking for.
"Yes, I am. Oh, you two are headed there as well?"
"Well, not just us, we have some friends waiting for us at the station." she paused for a moment, the reached out quickly and tilted Vic's sunglasses down before the boy could react, to reveal a pair of brilliant cobalt-blue eyes. Vic was obviously a mutant himself, and he'd been quick-thinking enough to help them out. As he drew back, rather startled, she pushed her sunglasses up to show him her own oddly-colored eyes. "Why don't you come back with us, we can travel together?"
So what exactly is a Hydrokinetic?"
Vic looked over at Morgana at her friendly question.
"Well, it's a bit complicated, but basically I can control water. Not manifest it, but I can do things with it if it's around."
"That sounds useful." The redhead looked down at her trainers, which were making wet squelching noises as she walked. "Pity you can't take it out of my shoes."
"Um..." Vic thought about that for a minute. "Actually, I think I might be able to do that."
Morgana looked hopeful. "Really? Because walking around with soggy footwear is a pain."
Vic grinned. "Really." He looked around; there were quite a few people on the street. "How about that alley? If it works, it will only take a few minutes."
Morgana nodded. "Works for me. Come on."
The three kids slipped into the alley, then behind the dumpster it contained, making sure no-one was taking any notice.
"I may have to touch your clothing and shoes to get a grip on the water." The boy blushed slightly - footwear was one thing, but Morgana jeans were soaked over most of their length. "It's not..."
His embarrassed speech was cut off by a soft chuckle from Morgana. "It's OK, go ahead." She winked at the smaller girl. "He can do mine first, that way you know he isn't going to try anything, right?"
Tanya nodded, blushing a little. "Just my shoes, please, my shorts are fine."
Vic knelt, centering himself as he searched his backpack for a bottle of water, Morgana looking on curiously as he worked. He poured half of it on his hand, yet instead of falling off and through his fingers it clumped up into a sphere, almost as if he were holding a transparent water balloon. "Try anything? After what you did to that car! I may be a mutant, but I'm not crazy, you know." Vic cracked a nervous smile, as he softly slipped the bubble through the clothes and slid it through, doing his best to drag all liquid away from the fabric. Last he wanted was to invoke the ire of the sexy British girl that could tear steel with her bare hands.
"So, where are your friends?" Vic asked as the trio stepped out onto the train station's platform. There were quite a few people waiting, as the two girls craned their heads in an attempt to spot the rest of their group. The train itself wasn't quite an antique, but it looked like it had seen better days - probably around World War 2.
"Hmm, it looks like we aren't the only kids going to Whateley on the train." Tanya and Vic looked at Morgana, whose extra inches of height had given her the best view.
"How can you tell?" Tanya was still trying to see over everyone heads, as Morgana put a hand on her shoulder and pushed her back down, whispering out of the corner of her mouth. "I know you want to see, but stop hovering, people might notice!"
"Ooops." Tanya blushed slightly as she looked up at her smiling friend. "But how can you tell?"
"That you were hovering? Your feet were off the ground..." She grinned wider at Tanya's annoyed expression, as she continued. "There are quite a few kids our age waiting, but only two family groups seeing them off. Which is unusual, right? And there aren't that many adults waiting. So I suspect a lot of the unescorted kids are mutants like us. Especially as there is an unrealistically large percentage of them wearing hoodies."
Tanya nodded thoughtfully. "That makes sense. But have you spotted the rest of our group?"
Tanya looked around, then hopped up onto a nearly bench, putting her hand on Vic's shoulder to steady herself. The boy looked up at her with some amusement. "So what are we looking for anyway? If most of the kids are wearing hoodies...?"
"Um...white or blue hair, if I spot bunny ears as well that's a sure sign."
Vic couldn't quite work out if he was being teased or not. "Bunny ears?"
Tanya nodded absently, not really listening to Vic as Morgana whispered "Don't ask." She continued to scan the assemblage. "I can't see them; they probably got on the train already."
"Well, if they can't see your purple-pink hair up there, they probably are already onboard."
Tanya spared a moment to glare down at Vic. "It's lavender, thank you very much."
Morgana grinned at Vic, the quickly put her hand in front of her mouth to stifle a gaping yawn. "Sorry, I'm running a bit short on sleep."
Tanya finally gave up trying to spot her friends. "It's not like it's a huge train, we can walk through and find them."
Morgana slipped her phone out. "Or we could just call them and ask where they are?"
"Oh. OK, that works too..."
Grand Miskatonic Express, 2pm
"The second compartment to the right... away from the front of the wagon." Tanya repeated the instructions aloud, cellphone in hand. She was still examining the people on the train for any of the distinctive heads of her friends, be they royal blue hair, a lumpy hood or chalk white skin.
"So, are you sure I won't be bothering?" Vic muttered rather awkwardly for someone that had the physique of a high school stud. He could still remember how his friend Josh, self-stylized connoisseur of the feminine conduct, used to tell him to keep a distance from the woman's herd. Always tackle them individually... But then again, this was the same Josh who never managed to score a date, even after he was set on track to being an exemplar.
Morgana chuckled softly. "Why would you be a bother? It'll be nice to have a guy around who can converse in English."
"There they are!" Tanya piped, pointing to the compartment occupied by girls before she pocketed her cellphone and walked over. Vic bit his lip slightly at the sight of all the girls sitting together, but he could hardly find an excuse to run away now. "Come on" she smiled, guiding the boy to her friends.
"About time," the platinum blond girl said, "For a moment we thought you would be flying to catch the train with Morgana sitting on your back."
"And have the MCO giving them a speeding ticket?" the girl with chalk white skin mused sarcastically.
Morgana just grinned. "I don't think Tanya has FAA certification yet, and besides, she doesn't serve in-flight snacks."
"And you brought a friend," the girl with the hoodie muttered with an unwelcoming snort, fidgeting in her seat and scooching sideways to make room for them. Luckily the booths were just wide enough to accommodate them.
"Yeah," Tanya said stepping aside to let him take the center of attention. Something that Vic wasn't sure he appreciated. "This is Victor; we met him outside the station while looking for food. There was this accident on the street right outside the station, a van was knocked over a car, water was gushing out of the floor and he used his powers to..." that was as far as she went before the train suddenly jerked with a smooth engine rumbling and the inertia almost pulled them back as it was set in motion.
"Better take a seat." The golden-haired girl slid herself to the side to make some room for Vic. The mention of Victor's powers was quite enough to ease them and make them more welcoming.
There he was, sitting down in a train compartment cramped with seven girls of very different appearance yet all of them bearing a rather exotic look, and one Japanese guy who seemed to be having trouble following the conversation. Having been invited to join them, he was feeling uncomfortable as the center of attention while Tanya and Morgana went on to narrate how his actions helped them to save the kids stuck in the car. He only wished to know what to do next and "make a move."
"That sounds impressive," the girl with royal blue hair and nails agreed before looking over at Vic "So what are you? A magic user?"
"Hmm... don't know... doesn't sound like magic," said another girl, this one bearing chalk white skin and hair that she had to hide underneath a hoodie.
Vic was spared the embarrassment of the group deciding among themselves exactly what his power was by Tanya weighing in "He's a hydrokinetic, that's a telekinetic only capable of controlling water."
It does sound limiting when you say it that way. Vic thought with some amusement. "Yeah, I am a level two hydrokinetic and level one telepath," he said trying to sound proud. It still worried him that these kids would consider that rather underwhelming, considering he was in the presence of a girl that could lift a van and another that could tear open a car's door. God knows what the others could do.
"So you can manipulate any liquid around?" the rather cute brunette girl said, holding off her bottle of water as if asking for a demonstration. Though when Vic reached to grab the bottle she pulled it away, making it evident she was expecting him to do it at the distance.
"I can't," Vic admitted before Tanya broke in. "He can only control liquids on contact."
"That's somewhat limiting," the brunette girl said, this time her Italian accent obvious.
"Not really," the white haired girl explained as she adjusted herself a bit more comfortably on her seat. "I think it can be very versatile, right? Maybe you can use it to manipulate small objects, maybe pick a lock, for example."
"It's a good idea, er..." Vic agreed, doing his best to keep the worry that particular suggestion brought on.
"My name is Bianca, codename Glyph. I'm a wizard avatar," she introduced herself, extending her hand.
"Oh right, introductions," Morgana blushed, realizing that in her rush she had omitted some basic formalities.
"Tanya here you know already. The PK Supergirl that can lift a van. Otherwise known as the pint-sized mayhem, Invictus," The petite purple haired girl blushed with pride at the referral at least until she heard that last part, at which point she rather ruined it by sticking her tongue out at Morgana, who just grinned.
"Laura here," Morgana continued by signaling at the girl with the royal blue hair, eyes and nails. "She doesn't have code-name yet... though we were thinking of 'smurfette'."
"Hey! I'm not a Smurfette!"
"Anyway," Morgana ignored the outraged squeak with a grin. "Laura is a devisor or a gadgeteer, or maybe something in between. I don't know the difference."
"Well," Vic weighed in before Laura could clarify her powers. "A devisor often bends laws in their inventions to create the desired effects. As a result, devisors can do lots of things with perhaps little logic behind it while gadgeteers have a rather natural understanding and their inventions are grounded in the natural laws."
"That's actually a pretty clear explanation," Tanya noted.
Vic shrugged "I shared a room with a devisor; it's how I know how often and how weird stuff tends to blow up." That, at least, got a couple of chuckles out of the girls and a concerned look from Laura. "Hey, my stuff doesn't blow up!" A couple of the girls gave her dubious looks. "Often..." she muttered quietly to herself.
"Moving back to the introductions," Morgana leaned forward, extending her hand to the blonde girl to continue, but she beat her to the punch, probably to avoid getting herself a nickname.
"I'm Erica. My codename is Eisenmädel, and I am an exemplar, with tricks." The girl, Erica smiled with a sense of pride.
Elbow nudged by Erica, the Italian girl spoke up "I'm, um, codename Calliope, but people call me Cally for short. I am an empath and low-level exemplar."
"Um... Alright," Vic nodded, glancing over at the hooded girl by the window who was next on the introductions.
"My name is Lucretia, but they call me Tia for short. I'm not really a mutant per se," she said dryly.
"She just pissed off the wrong mutant, let's leave it at that." Tanya whispered, and Vic nodded in understanding though the other girls noticed.
Tia shrugged "It’s a matter of public record anyway if you’ve seen the news at all."
"OK." Victor agreed to drop the subject as it was, especially when he noticed something twitch under the hood that just left it up to his imagination what was underneath it. "It's been a while since I've watched TV."
"And the Japanese boy is Taka Ono, he goes by Kenshin." The boy nodded to Vic but didn't volunteer any more information about himself. Vic wondered if he didn't speak good English, or was taciturn by nature. Or maybe it was a Japanese thing.
"Oh, and I'm Morgana, I use the alias DragonsFyre. I'm a Mage with benefits."
Vic raised his eyebrows at that. "Uh, do mages usually carve up cars like a Thanksgiving turkey?"
The tall redhead just grinned, ignoring the small coughing fit Glyph seemed to be having. "What can I say? Can-openers are so expensive nowadays..."
Tanya, who'd wriggled herself into a seat opposite to Vic, looked at him with interest. "How come you haven't watched any TV for a while? I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't keep up with stuff."
"It's been almost over a month, almost two, without TV or internet... Geez, I just realized how behind I've fallen with the TV shows I watch," Vic trailed off with an expression of the realization of a slip of the tongue.
"What? And how do you get by?" Erica asked with surprise while the rest of the girls seemed to find it amusing.
"I agree," Tanya nodded with a smile. "That's sorta unheard off."
Vic bit his lip for a brief moment, trying to abbreviate a long story with just a mere couple of words "I'm a runaway."
"Oh," some of the girls present gasped startled, though some, like Morgana or Tia, were barely phased, both looking somewhat underwhelmed at the revelation. Taka Ono seemed to be at a loss.
"Does that mean he is a runner?" he asked though this time the girls didn't bother to correct him.
"So you have been living on the streets for over a month?" Bianca said as if trying to clarify. To Vic, her face seemed to bear a subtle mixture of contempt and pity as if she were talking to a homeless person - a look that made him feel uncomfortable.
"Your clothes don't seem to be worn out that much," Cally nodded getting the attention of the group. "I mean I imagined ragged clothes, smudges of dirt and perhaps starving."
"He's not a scruffy stray puppy Cally," Morgana noted, trying to lighten the scene with some levity.
Tanya though had a more concerned expression though she didn't say anything. She had heard several stories and cases of young mutants being chased away from their homes by their parents because they manifested. Luckily there were cases in which they had been sponsored by people to get into Whateley; she figured this was the case.
"Hey, things got better," Vic nodded, trying to get past the story. "I managed to get on the train to Whateley, after all."
Even though his words were as casual as he could, there was a rather strange feeling that Cally registered.
"Hmm... Something doesn't seem to add up, though," Tia muttered, getting the attention of the group.
"What? I mean what is it?" Vic asked, briefly looking relieved.
"Well, you said the water was about knee high and that it covered the entire street, right?" she asked Tanya and Morgana.
Morgana looked thoughtful as she cast her mind back to the accident. "Well, it was only deep just by the accident. I think the water and stuff had made the road subside, so it was a foot or so deep there. But it was, Oh, I guess an inch or so over a lot of road."
Tia did a few mental calculations "And you are a hydrokinetic level 2, right? That means you have a limit of about... 90 kilograms, right?
"Yes," Vic answered, looking rather puzzled at the direction the girl was taking things.
"Well then, if we were to assume that it was...hmm." she shook her head," Evidently you moved more than the average weight of a person unless that was a really small road."
"I guess I should consider the possibility there was a mistake in my power testing?" Vic muttered.
"Probably, but it's just a number," Bianca argued.
"Are you gonna get it tested at Whateley?" Tanya asked.
"I don't know. On one hand perhaps I should... on the other. I don't want to call much-unwanted attention."
"Pretend less when you are more," Bianca said with an approving nod "It's a pragmatic approach."
"Thanks," Vic smirked taking the compliment on the observation. "I hope not to cause some trouble there. Just to resume my studies," he admitted.
"So no superheroing for our resident Aquaman?" Morgana said with a grin, making Bianca and Tia smile and giggle.
"Actually, Aquaman is a strong member of the justice league. He is incredibly resistant and strong to say the least," Erica weighed in, much to some of the girl's surprise. "Besides Vic's powers aren't like Aquaman."
"Oh definitely," Laura argued, "You might be able to use your powers to dye my hair."
"Or talk to fish..." came a muttered comment that no-one wanted to admit to.
"Heh, sure," Vic agreed not sounding enthusiastic. Already starting to wonder what was the limit of things he could do that might emasculate him. So far there was hydromassage, hair dying and drying at the top of his list. "Though in all fairness, I have no plans for taking the hero mantle."
"So then, what sort of cartoons are you used to watching?" Erica asked.
"Oh just the usual, I think I had a list somewhere in my old computer, if not I'll just have to look up for the ones that come this season."
"How about web shows, did you watch them?" Tanya asked.
"Hm... Ever heard of one called RWBY?" Vic asked with a soft breath as he wondered if he might be going on too nerdy. The girls gave him a look of confusion but Tanya's face beamed up as if he'd just said the correct answer and looked at the rest of the group.
"Oh you girls are in for a treat," she agreed. Just about then her stomach grumbled a complaint about the lack of nourishment. "Sorry," she blushed brightly as some of the girls giggled, until Morgana's stomach growled as well.
"We didn't get to buy food after all, did we?"
“Excuse me,” Laura said, standing and shuffling to the compartment door. Her intent was obvious to all.
“I’ll come with you,” Tia said suddenly, joining the blue-haired girl in the hallway. The two walked in silence down the length of the train car to the restroom. The two girls had to wait a couple of moments, and then a large lady emerged and squeezed past the two thin girls to trundle back to her own compartment.
As Laura closed and locked the door, Tia leaned back against the sink. “You … you were kind of embarrassed last night about the whole thing with Kenshin. When the Japanese people were saying you were his girlfriend. ” She saw Laura blush slightly. “Are you? Interested, I mean?”
“No,” Laura retorted immediately. “I’m not interested in him!”
“Are you sure?” Tia giggled. “That was a pretty fast denial.”
“Not. Interested.” Laura repeated.
“You have to admit,” Tia said wistfully, “he is built pretty well!”
“Yeah, I suppose,” Laura agreed reluctantly.
“And he’s cute!”
“I … I hadn’t noticed,” Laura stammered awkwardly. She had noticed that Kenshin was an attractive boy, despite … things. Her brow furrowed. “You seem pretty interested in him. Maybe you’re projecting a bit here?”
“Me?” It was Tia’s turn to stammer awkwardly. She regained her composure almost instantly. “I understand if you are interested in him.”
Laura finished her business and stood up, wiggling her jeans back up over her hips. “Tia,” she said solemnly as she washed her hands, “I’m not interested in Kenshin. And if I was, and you were too, I … I wouldn’t want that to come between us,” she added softly. “You are my friend, aren’t you?”
Tia stepped into Laura’s hug. “Yeah,” she answered warmly. “After what we’ve been through, how could we not be friends?” She couldn’t help but smile. “I’m a little nervous about Whateley, but having friends even before we get there makes me less nervous.”
As Tia disengaged from the embrace, she smiled. Inwardly, she thought about what Laura had said. Despite her denials, Tia was sure that Laura was interested in Kenshin. And being honest with herself, Tia had to admit that Kenshin was cute, and he had that mysterious, semi-aloof foreign thing going for him, too.
The trick now, she realized, would be to not let the girl’s mutual attraction to Kenshin interfere with their new friendship.
Jimmy looked up from his book to stare again at the rural landscape outside. Nearly as boring as flying, and a lot slower. He amused himself for a few minutes watching some of the other kids in the carriage, wondering if they were mutants and what their powers would be.
"That footage from yesterday in New York, the stuff that had been mangled so you couldn't reassemble it. Can you show it to me again, the cleaned-up version."
The audio was going to the ear buds hanging around his neck, but he watched some of the vids shot by bystanders again. They were mostly really awful. Smartphones and GridGear might have put vid tech in everyone's hands to ensure that there was footage of everything that ever happened... but a lot of people had no clue how to use it well. At least two bits of vid ended with the bystander getting nailed by a random minion's weapon. But between six or seven different clips, he pieced together a hand full of stills of the group that had gotten into the fight at the jewelry store. The faces were fuzzed beyond recall, but unless they were all wearing funny hats, the different hair colors were obvious. It struck a chord, he was sure he'd seen some similar ones when he got on the train.
"But these are all from up in the theatre district. They weren't in Central Park, that's where the real mess was going on."
Tavi started displaying footage of choppers and various letter agencies chasing something around Central Park, guns blazing, people shouting.
"You don't need to show it again, Tavi," the video stopped as he admonished the VI. "Have they got anything new? Anything that really shows what was going on?"
"Nothing. MCO say horrible mutants. FBI say terrorists. DPA say everyone lying, is cover up. Military blames MCO. State Department blames FBI. Police angry. Big damages, no one wants to pay for."
"Tavi go back to the Squid fight," Jimmy directed. He flicked through the videos again, discounting the blurred facial features to look at the bigger picture. "They move like girls..." he mused. What are the odds of that many girls with hair colors like that traveling together?
"Never tell me the odds," Tavi insisted, answering his owner's internal monologue that must not have remained internal. The VI had access to all the normal capabilities of a powerful computer for math and statistics, but part of its personality led it to avoid them unless overridden. And then it would sulk for days. It'd been over a year since he'd tried that... it was easier to just access a school teaching assistant or a library VI for any help he needed in math. He could force Tavi to adapt, but he might lose something that made the personal assistant so likable if he did. "Never mind, Tavi," Jimmy assured the ferret.
"Tavi can tell!" The VI lined up each of the bodies and ran than through a set of moves from the pictures and videos of the fight. A glowing green check mark appeared above each one until the last... which got a cartoon rubber stamped red X slammed onto it. "All girls! Except that one. Not girly at all."
Jimmy thought for a moment, then put his book away. "I'm going to walk up the train a bit, I want you to get a record of all the kids we pass, but keep quiet about it."
"Gotcha Boss, Tavi do!"
A few minutes later, he plopped himself back in his seat. There were quite a few kids travelling, but only one large group of girls with odd colored hair. OK, it could just be a co-incidence, but still...
"Would that group I passed be a likely match Tavi?"
"Is them," the VI stated. "Tavi right. Tavi Sherlock Holmes, Jimmy Watson."
Jimmy thought about it for a bit. Should he go and tell them he knew who they were? Or was it just a co-incidence? He didn't want to look stupid in front of a bunch of pretty girls.
"Right. I'm going back to my book."
"Not going to talk to heroes?" Tavi asked, flashing a composite image of the capture of the Squid guy with a network ticker displaying "New heroes?" in front of images of a couple of the girls chatting further up the car from him next to an image of Jimmy projecting a PK shell out to envelop the Chief just before bullets ripped into the podium at the station labeled "New hero?"
"No," Jimmy growled, flushing. "Why do you have that... we're trying to get rid of those so people don't know I did that."
"Is on internet. No hiding."
"Crud. Remind me to call Broggy later to let him know the trip is still going ok. 'till then, go away and let me read."
"Tavi gots," the ferret assured him, diving into the wall of the train car; leaving Jimmy alone with his thoughts. The teen eventually got back to his book, but not before spending entirely too much time watching the group sharing the car with him. Were they heroes? Or where they just people with powers who couldn't leave well enough alone and had to 'fight crime' because they were drawn to it?
Owl's head Highway, New Hampshire, 3.40pm.
Boredom, a frequent visitor in her long life, and one of the most difficult to deal with. Hikaru snorted; duty was truly heavier than a mountain. Even when that duty required boredom. Hikaru wrenched her dour thoughts away from idle musings, towards the present.
“Kurenai, what time is it in Tokyo?”
The AI on her wrist responded promptly.
“0642 hours, Hikaru-sama.”
Hikaru paused for a second, then nodded once.
“Call Kako, and route her through the holoprojector.”
“Calling Kako.' the AI paused for a moment, then added: 'Kako is on the line, transferring, Hikaru-sama.”
“Hikaru?" the young woman now displayed in the limo's holoprojector displayed some surprise. 'Why are you calling so early?” She asked with a yawn. Hikaru noted that Kako was still in her nightwear and raised an eyebrow.
<”I thought you got moving before this.”> It wasn't as if her friend didn't have her own duty and obligations to keep her busy.
<”Well, I don't have much to do until later this morning, so I was sleeping in for once. You ruined a nice quiet morning.”> She replied with a clearly overdone pout. Then she smiled brightly.
<”So, what's going on? Aren't you at Whateley yet? What's it like?”
Hikaru rolled her eyes, making sure the projector caught the motion. Two could play Kako's game. But she couldn't deny the other girl a chance to learn of other places from those who she knew would tell her the truth.
<“No, I'm somewhere in New Hampshire, heading to the school. The Embassy provided a limo.”> Hikaru paused, then reluctantly added <“Pull my report from last night, something went pear shaped in New York, and canceled all mass transit out of the city, so I was forced to overnight there.”>
<“Lucky! A night to go clubbing in New York!”> Kako sighed enviously.
Hikaru stared. The girl on the other end of the call stopped, and sighed again.
<“Oh, Hikaru, you didn't. Not again. Please tell me you didn't”>
<“The embassy threw a party, in my honor. I had to attend.”>
Kako's scandalized look was easy to make out. <“Hikaru! You let them talk you into something again! Duty again, right?>
<“Well, isn't it?'> Hikaru asked. <"I mean….”>
Kako did not let her finish.
<“Hikaru, you really need to do things for yourself, things that you and only you want to do with your life. You should know better. There will be time enough for duty.'> Kako's voice became muffled as she started changing. <'you really shouldn't let people do that to you, you know.”>
Hikaru rolled her eyes. <”And what else am I to do? I mean… duty, Kako.”>
Kako shook her head, a measured shake. She was likely already getting mentally prepared for her day, early start or not.
<“You really need to live a little, Hikaru. While you can, and whenever you can.”>
Hikaru stared at the display, trying to determine if the irony would kill her or not.
<“You are really one to talk, Kako-chan. Exactly who prepares your schedule?”>
“Exactly, Hikaru-chan! I know of what I speak, and you have my envy over your freedom!'> Kako ducked out of sight a moment, then back with a make-up case. <'You even get to go to Whateley! Fun!”>
Hikaru paused, ordering her thoughts, thinking on how to best state her case, but was interrupted when the limo turned sharply then started to sway. Kako noticed immediately.
<“Hikaru-chan, what is going on? You're bouncing.”>
<“I am not sure.'> Hikaru pushed the intercom button. <“Jiro-san?”>
The driver responded immediately, voice respectful but seeming distracted.
Hikaru had to steady herself over a particularly nasty bump.
<“Is there a problem?”>
<“No, Myoujin-sama. The road is simply old, and our limo is not equipped with hover capability. I am very sorry for any inconvenience caused.”>
Hikaru was about to answer when Kako interrupted.
<“Oh, I know this one! All the new advancements in vehicle technology and road construction have the states saving the money gathered from their shrinking fuel tax revenue to invest in those instead. As a result, for now, many roads are currently being neglected in the United States. Not to mention new hover and AG vehicles reducing the need for perfect roads!”>
Hikaru slow clapped and Kako beamed.
<“I really should have remembered. I have been here before, after all.”>
Kako shook her head.
<“We have been over that, Hikaru. You remember what you remember, it is fate. Fate which allows you to go to Whateley!”>
Hikaru pushed the intercom button again.
<“Thank you for your efforts Jiro-san. Take your time… there is no rush.”>
Kako spoke softly, barely over the noise of travel, as soon as Hikaru stopped.
<“Stop worrying about it. Your memory problems, your burnout. You can do nothing about those, save to relearn what you have lost. That is why you go to Whateley, after all. That you survived at all is the will of the gods; surely what must follow is also?”>
Hikaru let her mask slip; allowing her fatigue to show, no longer bothering to rein in her body language.
<“It's just… Kako-chan, how am I supposed to do all this?”>
<“I'm afraid you will have to be clearer if you want an answer, my cute little cousin!”>
Hikaru scowled darkly at the reminder of her height but pressed on.
<“Be a student again, much less one that looks after others in a dorm! I don't know…”>
Kako's indelicate snort interrupted her.
“How to be a teenager? No one knows how to be a teenager Hikaru-chan. We all learn, and you can too. You can do anything you put your mind to; you'll be a good student and good onee-chan for those girls, it is, after all, your duty. Maybe you'll even find a friend or several, and poach some talent for our small little island.'> Kako's expression slipped into the fey. <'Maybe you'll even find a boyfriend or two! How I envy you!”>
Kako's grin grew as Hikaru sputtered.
<“Kako! I am not going to Whateley for boyfriends!”>
Hikaru answered promptly.
<“Because I have nothing in common with those boys, and it would be improper. Because I have a job to do.”>
Kako did not sound convinced, her gaze focused on something to the side of the display.
<“Mhm, excuses, excuses, Hikaru-chan. Remember, live a little, find things to enjoy! That is the true reason you go to Whateley, after all. But I have to go! Ja ne!”>
The display went back to local news-streams as Kurenai spoke from her wrist.
“Call ended at the source, Hikaru-sama.”
Hikaru stared at the news, watching the words blend together into an unreadable mess.
“Oh for the love… just why do I let her get to me?”
The mental voice interrupting her musings wasn't entirely unexpected.
- Because she's right, and deep down you know it? -
“Hah! No she isn't; she's just as bound by her duties as I am. You of all people should know that, being the one responsible for both of us having them, in the end.”
- Everyone has duties and obligations musume, on that point you are undeniably correct. However Kako is also right; you can take the time to enjoy yourself; part of duty is duty to one's self, after all. You can tell others you are taking a 'me' day; they would not gainsay you. -
“Time enough for that once duty is done. I prefer not to let responsibilities linger unfinished, which is something you should appreciate.”
A hum and a slight mental nudge was Hikaru's answer. She gazed around carefully to let her passenger see what she saw.
- a gilded cage is still a cage, child. Even if you go without complaint, and are rewarded for your compliance. -
“And what else am I to do, exactly? Duty is all I have. It is all I have been left with.”
- How like a teen, to hear the words, and yet not listen. Experience may be the best teacher in your case. You will learn what you have left to you; since you will not listen to us, others will teach you. -
Hikaru twitched at the reminder.
“I listen to my elders when they are right.”
- So you say. I suggest you prepare for our arrival. We are close to our destination. -
Hikaru felt the presence withdraw, and caught herself running a hand through her hair.
“Again, she came to me, and gave me a job to do. Does she really expect I not do it, and all it entails?”
The splashes of light from the sun roof drew her attention for a moment. She switched to the map function on the holodisplay, and realized her passenger was right; it was time to get ready. Time to get her game face on, and wear the newest of her many masks. To do what was expected of her.
As she put her heels on her eyes fell to something that had fallen on the floorboards. A small purse with a plush dog stuffed inside it. The 'gift' the rabbit girl had given her. Hikaru eyed it and sighed; it would not be polite to leave it for the driver to dispose of. A slight unwilling smile twitched her lips as she picked it up, and she thought to herself that just maybe this wouldn't be so bad.
Great Miskatonic Express, 4pm
Morgana was sitting quietly reading something on her pad when Tanya ventured close. She looked up and smiled at the shorter girl. "It's OK, Tanya; I was just looking at some of the school stuff." She took another look at the slightly miserable expression on Tanya's face, and then shifted over, patting the seat next to her. "What's the matter? Not looking forward to getting to Whateley anymore?"
Tanya sat down with a sigh, shaking her head. "No, it's not that. Well, not really. It's just that I just met you guys, and now it seems I'm going to be all on my own in Whitman."
"Ah." Morgana put her pad down and looked at Tanya, then slipped her arm around her for a hug. "Hey, it's not like we had any choice in where they put us. And you won't be far away, right? We'll see you at meals, and in class, and stuff. It's not like we'll be miles apart."
"Yeah, I guess so." Tanta still seemed unhappy at the idea of being all on her own, so soon after finding some new friends."
"Look, if nothing else we're going to be taking BMA, right? After what Ms. Dennon said..."
Tanya brightened up a little at that. "Yeah, I guess we will. She was a bit forceful about it, wasn't she?"
"Yeah, just a bit." Morgana's tone grew more sober. "But she was right, you know. We were pretty pitiful. If Laura hadn't had a gizmo to take him down, we'd have been in real trouble. We need to learn how to fight if we ever get into a situation like that again."
"Yeah, we were. And I want to get better, so I was going to do BMA anyway."
Morgana gave her friend a close look. "Getting prepared to be a hero when you graduate?"
Tanya bit her lip slightly. "Well...I was thinking of it, yes, After the Wardens, and my mom and all. I was hoping to join the Capes at Whateley."
Morgana looked confused. "The Capes? What are the Capes?? Vampire wannabes?"
Tanya couldn't help but giggling at the image that brought to mind. "No, of course not! Their proper name is the Future Superheroes of America; it's just that everyone calls them the Capes."
"Mm, so I'll see you gliding heroically across campus, your lavender cape trailing in the wind behind you?"
"Oh I'd never actually wear a cape! They are so impractical..." It took Tanya a second to notice the big grin on Morgana's face, whereupon the two of them had to make serious efforts not to break down in a joint fit of giggles.
"So how do you decide on a costume anyway? Do they sell them at school?"
"No, they aren't supposed to be training superheroes - or villains, come to that. But there is a cool class on costuming, not just for fighting but for things like blending in."
"Hmm. So it might help me with my GSD issues?"
"I think they cover that sort of thing, yeah. And if you do decide to be a hero" - at this point the short girl tried to strike a heroic pose without actually getting up, causing her friend to engage in some serious eye-rolling "you'd be all set too."
"Actually costume class does sound interesting. I'll have to see how it fits in. I think I have a lot of classes in stuff like Magic that I'll have to cover." She looked over at Tanya and smiled. "But it would be nice to have a class that's a bit different from just academic, maybe we can take it together?"
"Oh, that would be cool!"
Morgana nodded, then looked out the window, sighed, and slipped her pad back in her bag. "If I'm not mistaken, that looks like our stop coming up. Better warn the others." She looked at Tanya's suddenly nervous expression, and patted her shoulder. "And stop WORRYING so much! It's just a school. What can possibly go wrong?"
The End - is only the beginning...