A Single Fold
Renae / Folder / "A Single Fold..."
A Single Fold…
A Whateley Academy Tale
By Renae and the Rest of the Whateley Authors
(Author’s note: Well this story has its own life, and many hands helped to shape it. No I cannot lay claim to Jobe, nor the Outcast Crew and the Grunts. Jobe ‘belongs’ to Bab’s, the Outcasts & Grunts ‘belong’ to J.G. I don’t think I’ve hurt any of their creator’s cortexes too much in playing with them. Though I may have bent the chars a bit… as I do play a hard with my toys.)
“I ‘tripped’ and fell again,” I said to the nurse as I held the icepack to the side of my face. A glance at the clock on the wall said it was not even nine am, a record even for me. Considering it usually took until the afternoon to discover someone who disliked me enough to prompt my arrival at the infirmary.
She gave me her patented ‘I know you are lying’ look, and waited expectantly. Ms. Muller wasn’t unattractive once you discounted the extra set of arms, and her solid muscular presence. “Patrick, this is the sixth time you have been in here in the space of a week.” She sighed in exasperation, “Chief Delarose wants to see you.”
“Oh goody, another round of ‘Did you see the person who tripped you?’” I lifted the icepack away to cock an eyebrow painfully at her, “Of course I didn’t see who tripped me, much less who put an elbow in my face. What does he think I am, stupid?”
“If you know who did it, then why don’t you say something?” she asked.
I sighed and put the icepack gingerly back in place, “The blow to my head made me forget his name.”
“Paaaatttrick,” she stretched my name out in her frustration, ”look, a mild concussion is still a concussion. The next time you may not be so lucky.”
“I am fine,” I said with a wheeze, great there goes the asthma, again. I dug in my pocket and took the usual puff from the inhaler. After the brief drug induced head rush I added, “Really.”
She shook her head, “What is your next class?”
“Running away for Dummies,” I sarcastically muttered, yeah sure, like I can run half a block on my best days.
“Well, you won’t be attending it today or your other classes for that matter,” she pronounced definitively and with a certainty that would make God move out of the way.
I glowered at her then reluctantly nodded, “Ok fine.”
“I’ll put a few more instant icepacks in your bag, do you have aspirin in your room?”
“Yes, I ran out and bought a fresh bottle yesterday,” I paused, “right after I decided to roll down a flight of stairs.”
“Psychic abuse is still abuse Patrick,” she waggled a finger at me.
I shrugged and managed to sit up, “Sure, and how do I prove it was a Psychic attack? For all I know I slipped a cog and decided it was faster than walking down the two flights.”
“Wait, you said it was one flight a moment ago,” her look was distinctly unhappy.
I eased my feet into my gi-nor-mus even to me, sandals. “I appreciate your concern, really I do. But the moment I stand up to the bullies, well, I get knocked on my fat ass.”
“Paaaatrick,” she started as I held up my hand to ward off the coming lecture.
“What? I’m fat. I eat nothing but freaking lettuce, carrots and other diet crap and if you have not noticed, I am not getting any lighter.” I ignored the protest of the cot as I stood up, “My glasses?”
“Are broken, remember?” she asked holding out the snapped frames and lenses.
“I can use the lenses,” I sighed, “with luck the metal shop will have some left over scraps I can make a new frame out of.”
“Just remember you have an appointment with Dr. Bellows tomorrow,” she said pointedly, “no skipping it.”
“Joy, another session of, ‘How does this make you feel?’” With a tired groan of annoyance, I forced a smile and said, “On the up side I no longer have a complex about my acne.”
“You never had acne,” she countered with a smile.
“True, which is why that session of therapy actually worked,” I donned an imaginary hat and tipped it at her. “Ta-ta.”
With a pained nod she picked up her clipboard and made a note on it, “I want you to stop in about six tonight for a quick check, alright?”
“As you wish,” I said quoting Princess Bride absently at her.
“Ok, on your way Wesley,” her tone was lightly teasing as she said it.
I reflected on the moment and chuckled, hey it beats being called Fezzik or the Brute Squad.
Outside of the clinic I had the dubious joy of being escorted to Kane Hall by the ever so noble and clueless Lieutenant Forsyth. Evidently he was the dog-boy of the moment, which made me wonder how he even got hired here. Fetching students, pathetic loser students like me, is the job of privates, not officers. Which mean he either volunteered or had fucked up in the day prior.
“So, care to talk about it?” he asked after a moment.
Great, he had ‘volunteered,’ “No, just another case of my tripping and falling.”
“Right, tell me another one, we actually have it on tape this time. We even have a witness, Mr. Declan stepped forward to say he saw it all,” Forsyth actually seemed happy.
I groaned in not quite real pain, “Wonderful, I am so doomed.”
“Why? It’s not like you fingered him,” Forsyth asked quizzically.
“Yeah sure, Richmond is a bully, he thinks like a bully, he acts like a bully. Sure you can tell him all you want that Lancer turned him in. But it won’t be Lancer that he comes after for revenge, it will be me.” I stopped and took a breath and popped my inhaler again, “Seriously, what good will come of it?”
“Well he’ll get detention.”
“Yeah, yeah, two weeks if Carson feels irate about it, if not then one week.” I sighed, “I’ve seen the toilets in Hawthorne, a gasmask, rubber gloves, a little anger and mental fortitude, and they are not an issue.”
“I think you underestimate the Dark Side of the Force,” he said after a moments pause.
I gave him a pained smile, “Ha, ha.”
“Seriously though, why don’t you fight back?” He stopped and looked at me intently, “I’ve seen your powers jacket, and you don’t have a bad set of powers.”
“Yeah right, just look at me. I’m three hundred plus pounds, my pants have enough fabric in them for four of Lancer’s type.” I took a breath and hit my inhaler again; “I get out of breath at a slow walk. Sure I could hurt someone, if I freaking fell on them.”
“I think you are selling yourself short.”
I sighed, “Ok fine, would you rather I became as big and as nasty a bully as Richmond?” I frowned and held up hand, “And no don’t tell me it would not go down that way. I am sure Dr. Bellows has a neat and tidy little docket of paper that says I am a powder keg just waiting to go Pompeii.”
“Well,” he started and then trailed off unhappily.
“Thanks for the vote of no confidence,” I muttered.
He opened the door for me and I walked bravely into the lion’s den.
“Hi Jim,” I waved to the desk sergeant as I ambled in, “I suppose the Chief wants to see me again.”
I watched as Jim’s head gave a slight jerk to indicate Delarose’s office, “Go on in, he’s joyfully awaiting your presence.”
My stomach gave a distinct lurch. As a ‘happy’ Delarose meant that he was going to drop the hammer on a bully or some other thug, “Wonderful.”
“It could be worse,” Jim said as he leaned back in his chair.
“How?” I asked with a much put upon tone in my voice.
“It could be raining,” he said in a dead pan.
“I could arrange that, complete with lighting bolts,” I said in the same tone, “indoors even.”
“I’ll pass,” he smiled, “Now be a good boy and nod in all the right places.”
If ever there was a proverbial shoe to drop, he dropped it. Basically he informed me that the outcome had already been decided and well, and that smile and nod were my only real choices, next to crying loudly. “You just love this don’t you?” I asked letting the sarcasm drip like Niagara.
“All in the days work, I’ll buzz you in,” and he did, as the buzzer hummed at the half door.
I pulled it open and edged sideways to go through, yes, I am that fat. The short walk to Delarose’s office paraded me past several desks that held an assortment of officers or the ever noble and cheerful work-study students who were destined for law enforcement. Most of them, deliberately looked away from me, after all no one wants to see the fat people.
I gave the prettier of the police wannabes a polite smile. “Hello Dale, the Chief is expecting me I do believe.”
She gave me a polite smile and nodded, “Yes, Lancer should be out in a moment.”
I rolled my eyes, “Wonderful.”
“I don’t get it, you should be happy,” she proudly patted a small stack of papers, “he’s so busted.”
“Yeah, right,” I shook my head.
“Well he is,” she stated with conviction.
“Yeah, yeah, and once he’s sure that his backside is covered, I get thrashed again.”
“But if he does, Delarose picks him up as the first likely suspect,” she said as if stating a fact.
I reached down to the lip of the desk and bent it neatly ninety degrees upwards in smooth movement without even making the desk tremble. “Yes, now be imagining I was the desk, and Anvil is the person behind the bend.”
She gave it a glance and seemingly dismissed it, “Any number of students can bend things.”
Ok, the point wasn’t sinking into her head; I looked at her desk and pulled a sheet of paper from the printer thereon. I then handed it ho her, “Yes, go on, make a fold.”
She gave me a bland expression as she folded it lengthwise, “Ok, I folded it.”
“Ok, now unfold it and make it as perfectly flat as you can,” I hummed happily as she took the time to do so.
When she handed it back to me I smiled, “Now, I want you to consider this. The paper has been marred; it will never ever be perfect again. In fact you might say this is your soul, and your committed an act of violence that left it’s mark on your soul. It’s there it is going to remain there, until you die.”
“Oh baloney,” she countered, “I am not marred.”
I gave her a pitying look, “Next time you get some alone time with a shrink, ask them if your brain remembers every time you have been struck or injured as a baby. The answer may surprise you. But consider this, you remember what a burn feels like?”
“Now remembering that sensation; would you deliberately burn yourself?”
“Well no, duh.”
I smiled at her and with a shake of my hand forced the crease in the paper to vanish, “Sadly though, I can’t do that for your soul.”
She gave me a suspicious look as I handed the unmarred paper back to her, “Uh?”
“Thus endeth the lesson,” I bowed gently and beamed at her.
“Oh, you! Argh!” She gave me a distinctly dirty look, “I am so-o happy you are not in my debate class. Anyways, this isn’t about paper, it’s about you standing up to Anvil.”
“Violence, reprisal, and more violence are that all those kind ever understand.”
“So treat him like a bad puppy and spank his butt,” she even went as far to making a suggestive illustration in the air.
“Look, we’ve had this little pep talk before Dale.” I paused, “The only thing different, is now I have my own personal bit of hell on two feet just waiting for a clean shot to make me really hurt.” I looked up to see Hank looking at the desk from the doorway, “Thank you ever so much.”
“What did I do?” he asked.
“Oh ignore him,” Dale gave me a disgusted look, “Mr. Perpetual Victim has a private moment or two with the Chief.”
I nodded and gave Dale my mostly harmless smile, “Why thank you Mindbird, I am sure that will due nicely as a codename for my MID appointment when it comes,” when she snorted in derision I chuckled and motioned for Lancer to move.
Chief Delarose gave me a tired look and motioned me inward as he held the door. “Dale, this may take a while, please hold my calls unless of course, things go to hell.”
“I love you too Chief,” I muttered in a sotto voice as I waddled past him.
I glanced around and selected a chair that potentially might support my bulk. “So to what do I owe the pleasure this time?” I asked ignoring his glower as I sat in it.
“One Mr. Dahveed ‘Anvil’ Richmond, your assailant,” he waited a moment, “I have a nice form just waiting here for your official statement.”
I allowed my head to rock forwards as I groaned, “Oh. No. Just no.”
“I thought so, well no matter.” He shook his head, “I have more than enough evidence on tape and with Mr. Declan’s additional statement, and it is a done deal this time.”
“Thank you ever so much for ensuring my next set of bruises or broken bones,” I protested loudly in his direction.
“Yes. Well,” he sighed and reached into a drawer on his desk, “you’ve made the big time I am afraid.”
“So Johnny, tell our contestant what is behind door number three,” I quipped at him.
“I had a discussion with Ms. Carson and she insisted that due to your predilection for non-violence, admirable as it might be, this was our only recourse.” He placed a square box on the desk and tapped it softly.
“That’s me, Gandhi and Buddha and several thousands of others can’t be wrong,” I stated nonchalantly trying to guess what the conversation consisted of.
“Yes but Gandhi was facing the British Army, a force more civilized than your average high school bully,” he chuckled and then he pushed the box to within reach.
“True, true.” I picked up the box and opened it to find a large red and white band, “And I didn’t get anything for you.” Surprised I mentally scowled at the Ultra Violent armband; the red and white indicated I was a ‘keep your hands to yourself’ fashion victim.
“Joke all you want, but it’s for your own good.”
“Well, I guess this is my formal invitation to the Whateley Underdogs and Born Losers Club?” I asked with my best ‘I am so bored out of my skull’ tone of voice.
“Patrick,” he paused, “I know you think that violence is never acceptable, but there are times when a man must fight.”
“Yeah, yeah, when and if such a time comes, I’ll remember that.” I gave him my patented plastic neutral smile, “Can I go now?”
With a snort he shook his head, “Doctor Bellows says if you don’t kill yourself you will likely half kill someone or worse.”
“Doctor Bellows is an optimist,” I gave the Chief a pained smile, “Suicide is an act of violence against one’s self, I don’t believe in it.”
He shook his head and pointed at me with a steady finger, “So why are you trying to die?”
“Death happens, when my number is up, its up and there is not a single thing I can do to stop it.” I shrugged, “After all no one gets out alive.”
“But you don’t seem to be trying to forestall it,” he stated.
I briefly considered that, “No actually you are wrong.”
“Really? How so?”
“I’m not striking back and forcing a rise in violence. Minor shit like tripping, falling down stairs or a few misplaced blows won’t kill me.” I gave him a sardonic smile, “All this extra padding seems to help that.”
“Don’t you get angry?”
“It doesn’t accomplish anything, so I breath, I smile and I get over it.”
“I see,” he didn’t sound convinced.
“My only other choice would be to bend them with all the Daoist loving-kindness in my heart.” I paused to let the anger I was feeling show on my face, “Which would you prefer?”
He paused to consider the angry feral look on my face, “I see.”
I leaned back in my chair and let my face fall back into its usual cheerful expression. “I am so glad we’ve had this little chat, can I go now?”
He sat silently for a moment and then he nodded, “Yes.”
As I sauntered out the door, a momentary streak of perverse humor made me stop at Dale’s desk. So I did and gave her my most exuberant smile and waited for her to comment.
“Yes?” she asked in irritation.
“I just thought you should be the first to know.”
“The Chief has finally confessed his undying love for me,” I stuck the large armband directly under her nose, “See he even gave me a ring… admittedly it is a bit large, but I am sure he meant well.”
As she stammered in odd syllables, I added in a loud but sotto voice everyone in the room could hear, “Now I just have to pick out the china patterns, find a dress that will fit my svelte petite frame and make out the wedding invitations.”
“Oh congratulations,” she finally muttered in a tone of voice that clearly said, ‘I am humoring you so you will go away sooner.’
“I want you to be my maid of honor, so will you?” I asked cheerfully.
“No thank –you-,” she said with a look of abject horror as she processed the idea.
I looked back into the Chief’s Office and grinned at his pained expression, “I guess the wedding is off Chief. So sorry.”
“OUT!” he bellowed as the officers unseen outside his office suppressed their smiles.
Once outside of Kane hall, I took a deep breath, let it out and smiled. Eventually Dale would figure out I had left an bend in her desk and I would be summoned to fix it, and give her another fold in her mental perceptions of ‘How things really are.’ I had small hopes that it might sink in with her, as the hero-types are supposed to think rather than just pound.
Then I spent long moment admiring the bright red and white band, and the cheerfully vivid way in which it would likely clash with all of my clothing. Carefully I felt the side of my face, I suspected the goose egg would be quite colorful, as it hurt intensely. Still, apart form the short space of time I spent in the neither realm of unconsciousness, it was a minor thing.
Since it is never a good thing to show blood or bruises to the sharks, I took a moment to fix a small illusion upon myself. Forsythe was right; I don’t have a bad set of powers. I’m decent at illusions.
As a materials warper, I can fold anything, and I do mean anything in what ever angle my mind and fingers desire. I can also affect the materials density, though for some odd reason it has to have a fold or bend of some type in it, in its transformation process. Also I can resize things I have folded, animate them, and well, hurt people with them.
However I do have a conscious. I once lost my temper with a friend, putting him in the hospital. In the course of his recovery, they had to break several of his bones and surgically rewire them into normal positions with pins and rods. There after, well, he wasn’t friendly anymore, and his family moved away taking him them. Since then, I don’t ‘do’ violence, not even in jest.
Doctor Bellows thinks my large ‘size’, is purely mental. I don’t know if I am that masochistic, but if it makes him happy to think so, I’ll let him think it. Personally I was betting on the glandular thing, and the lab work really isn’t clear on the subject. Others have suggested its part and parcel to having come from a family with several PDP’s in it.
So it was with those ever so cheery thoughts, I placed the armband on my wrist. I am not sure the Chief had realized just how large my upper arms are when he picked out the armband; as such bands normally reside there. Technically some of my body’s mass is pure muscle. By the tech’s reasoning I should be able to lift my own weight, small comfort that is, when I can barely roll out of bed in the morning.
Rather than confront the ongoing horde of my classmates for lunchtime chow, I elected to stop at the Grab and Go Burger Factory. Evidently some ever-hungry sort had prevailed upon one of their buddies to come up with a machine that could provide burgers on demand, in large amounts. So after what all accounts say, were several interesting test runs: the Burger Factory was created.
Whateley being largely capitalistic institution by nature, the Burger Factory’s use was quickly regulated, controlled and accounted for. Not to mention monitored for health reasons. However the gadgeteer did make a small bundle for its sale. Yea capitalism.
With school support and funding, it employed a small army of employees who did nothing more than load hoppers and clean. EG. Work-study students. Fortunately for me, veggie burgers are a part of the menu. While I am not entirely a vegetarian, veggie burgers are the one vice allow myself, anti-diet wise.
As I stood in line, two people greeted me ironically enough they were also the most likely to cause property damage on campus; much more so than anyone else, Bronco and Silo. Also known as Rednecks R Us, by the less trendy self-absorbed bastards. I knew them as Jeff and Tom, as they were repeating the powers theory lab I was in, for the third time. Them, not me, that is.
“Hey big guy, how’s it hanging,” that was Silo, who averaged height wise on eight foot, when he wasn’t deliberately trying to be taller. He was a physical-self warper, and farm raised; so you can imagine just how tall he can get when he wants to. The added benefits of his having about as much strength as Lancer did, that scaled with size, only made things more interesting. Though I suspect he was teased about being short as a kid, and thus is making everyone pay for it.
“Nice bracelet,” added Bronco as he glared at the offending object.
Silo, you have to understand isn’t mean spirited, so he wasn’t trying to be mean or put me down. So I gave him the usually half joking answer, “I don’t know, I’ve not seen it in years.”
“I heard you had an accident with Anvil?” half asked, half stated Bronco as he tapped his immense belt buckle with both thumbs. Bronco was really into rodeos. Not that they let him compete anymore, not after he had body slammed the bull that threw him one time. He was, as he put it, ‘Just another super strong guy.’
“Nothing major,” I said with a shrug.
“Now why don’t I believe you,” Bronco asked as he reached out and tapped my new jewelry.
I shrugged as the line moved forward a few bodies, “It’s nothing, just a bump on the head.”
Silo leaned down and tapped his buddy on the arm, “Want us to speak to him?”
“No, no.” I paused, trying my best to not agree to the idea, and finally said, “No blood no foul as they say.”
“Like you play sports,” said Bronco with a frown.
“Well I did, once upon a time.’ I smiled and added, “It’s not worth getting in trouble over guys.”
“Uh huh, I hear Delarose all but drug him in chains to see Carson,” countered Silo as he tapped me on the head gently, well gently to ‘him’.
“Ow, easy Silo,” I muttered and rubbed the sore spot gingerly.
“You know half your face is all black and blue? You sure you alright?” Bronco asked as he drug me by force to a mirrored panel and made me look.
It was a spectacular bruise, if I do say so myself, all mottled green, dark blue and yellowish. With a sigh I replaced the illusion that covered it, “Yeah I am fine.”
“You’d make a great politician, the way you lie so well, you know that?” asked Bronco as he eased us back into line with out so much as an ‘excuse us.’ Not that anyone in their right mind would take umbrage and protest with him.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I replied blandly.
“Ah respect your way of livin’ Hoss, but I don’t think it would work for me,” added Silo.
“You are almost more Mennonite than a Mennonite,” said Bronco as he gave me a hearty slap on the back.
Rocking back from the blow I replied, “I’m flattered, I assure you.”
Fabrication and Applied Materials Lab
With a large bag of burgers in hand, I wound my way around to the back of the Llewellyn Annex. Or as some folks would call it: ‘Q Central,’ AKA the Devisor Labs building. My destination was the Fabrication and Applied Materials Lab, also called Metal Shop for the Intellectually Advanced. I, well, might never be called advanced, but by nature of my gifts, I fit the mold quite handily.
The Fab Lab entrance, as I called it in my letters home, sat on the backside of the Annex’s loading docks. Two large doors permitted the delivery of easy to handle objects, packages and the like. A pair of moderate sized ‘auto-shop’ sized doors allowed for the delivery and egress of some projects. Of course the more interesting door, would allow for, in the odd chance they ever got it to walk, a giant robot to leave the building. Thus far the only objects that required the use of that door were special cranes that were occasionally constructed on commission by Damage Incorporated, as part of an ongoing commission.
Hearing protection is not always optional in the Fab Lab. With all the assorted bench grinders, mechanical hammers, presses, drills and so on which might or might not be in operation at any given time; one is always advised to check the illuminated decibel level signs. Today the sign glowed a happy green glow signifying that one might actually communicate with out shouting. Considering today was a holiday in Professor Choudhari’s book; the few students that might be inside were likely doing a ‘special’ project.
Once inside I scanned the few people and assorted projects for Mrs. Metal herself, Professor Tejal Choudhari. Professor Choudhari was a thin lady who barely stood a few inches taller than myself. Most of the time she favored the ‘western’ style of clothing because, as she put it. “A Dupatta or Kurta and moving gears do not mix.” The other times, well she could have been a fashion model promoting East Indian travel, at high speeds. Very high speeds.
Part of Professor Choudhari’s mutation gave her reaction times that far exceeded the ‘norm’, even for powered peoples. Couple that with a love for all things automotive, the faster the better, and a few land speed records. Well you can imagine her speeding ticket records in several countries, including Germany. Never one satisfied for tame speeds, her works in aerodynamics and specialty fabrication techniques for the same landed her a teaching job at Whateley and not co-incidentally a separate ‘invitation only’ lab where her fellow speed freaks could meet and build.
When I found her today, she was wearing a pink stained white lab coat over a pair of coveralls, and speaking in her rapid-fire manner that suggested she was repeating instructions for the third time or more. Her one fault if you will, is that when she was irritated, her native dialect and ‘pace’ of speaking clashed horrifically. I waited patiently as she wound through her explanation and watched the subject of her verbal torrent blink slowly as he tried to translate what he had heard in his head.
Having been on the receiving end of such a torrent, I calmly interjected, “You only use the hydraulic press on the approved metals listed on the sign next to it. Otherwise you will cause the reservoir or hoses to vent violently when the pressure inside reaches a level that the hoses or reservoir are not rated for. Got it?”
“Yes, I got it,” he said giving me a semi-disgusted look.
“Good. Now go clean up the mess,” Professor Choudhari instructed as she hitched a thumb towards the back wall that still dripped with pink fluids. Lots and lots of pink fluids, there was enough there to make me wonder how the boy would get it all up.
She waited for him to sulk off to ‘his’ mess, and then she eyed me critically, “You fell down again?”
I rolled my eyes and nodded, “Yes, unfortunately the incident was recorded on tape, with the expected results.”
She clicked her tongue a few times, “I see, have you considered body armor?”
“Frequently and often, though it does not generally come in my size.” I paused, “But that can wait a day or so I hope. Could I possibly wander though the scrap bin?”
“What ever for this time?” she asked.
“My glasses did not survive my latest encounter with the unwashed and uncivilized behavior of others, and it will be faster than going to the optician in Dunwhich,” with that I produced my broken glasses.
“I see,” she sighed and briefly gave me a sympathetic look that quickly turned suspiciously thoughtful. “I think I can do you a good turn, if you are willing to trade some of your free time?”
“Such as?” I asked thoughtfully, as she had some fun projects now and again.
“Well, due to unforeseen difficulties with the hydraulic presses, all four of them of them; I find myself lacking a way to properly fabricate a new suspension prototype.” She smiled deviously, “In exchange for your handy talents this Saturday.” She paused as her eyes took on a thoughtful cast, ”I will use the Laser CAD system to scan and reassemble your frames digitally and in a few moments you will have titanium frames fresh from the injection molder.”
“Hmm, it sounds like an offer I cannot refuse,” I grinned feeling better about the day and the prospect for interesting cool toys that was coming up, “what will we be making?”
“A new ATV for security, evidently someone rolled the last one this weekend,” she rolled her eyes. “Unfortunately I will have to give a remedial lesson in high speed pursuit on difficult terrain some day in the future.”
“They couldn’t catch you?” I asked with a grin.
“They try, they do try,” she smirked, “thus far only one of the Grunts can stay on my bumper for more than a few minutes.”
“I see, and the old ATV?”
“Is to be recycled, the engine and transmission parted ways violently,” her hands briefly fluttered as she said, “kablooey even.”
“Ouch, and the unlucky officer was?”
“Forsythe, I may have to see about revoking his Starfurie license, as he was airborne for a full two seconds.” She covered her mouth briefly to hide the smile on her face, “Evidently no one told him he only had to send me the ticket, rather than giving it to me personally.”
Well that explained why he was on dog-boy duty, “I see.”
“We have a deal?”
“Yes we have a deal.”
“Good, good, and I will bring food, where upon we may debate the merits of passive resistance and staying out of the hospitals or clinics.” At my groan she paused, “Sorry, I feel I must tease you my friend, if only to keep you from public displays of motherly type affection.”
“I would survive,” I said with a smile.
“Yes, but I would loose my reputation for being a ‘cast iron bitch,’ and we would not want that would we?”
“May the heavens forbid such a thing,” with that we both bowed to each other in perfect understanding.
“Now, all work and chiding aside, you will be ready for the ride to the Dussehra celebration tonight?” she asked with a beaming smile.
“Any excuse for a party off campus with folks who want to make things go boom in the name of commemorating a victory of good over evil. Even if that battle was a violent thing, it is all good,” I said with a smile. “Hopefully the neighbors are warned of loud noises?”
“Well yes, but I did invite them too.” She smiled and then chortled briefly “Last year their dog did not forgive me for a week.”
“Well a celebration is not a violent thing,” I offered with a grin.
She nodded and added, “I do wish you were a Sikh my friend, as then you would be free to act if attacked...”
“Well,” I paused, “I do share many of the beliefs, just not the desire to be militant.”
She nodded and considered me for a moment, “I know, I do think you would be a good policeman though.”
I considered that silently for a moment, “Well, it would require a gun, and you know my stance on them.”
“Yes, they make great raw material for artwork,” she acknowledged and inclined her head to me, “I will have my van by your dorm at eight, please be timely.”
“Does the van still have a five point safety harness in my size?” I asked teasing her gently.
She smirked, “Oh yes.”
“I’ll be ready then.”
With my glasses and my faith in humanity restored, I trundled my merry way to my room in Melville; in many ways I hated being a ‘Legacy Student.’ Having to share living space with all the Alpha-wanna-be’s, was one of the key reasons I hated it. Mom and Dad had gone way out of their way to ensure I had a room there. However, they seem to have neglected to keep proper tabs on the social ‘de-evolution’ of that particular group. Needless to say, their fondly recounted memories do not match the current reality.
My family is as one might say, ‘doing well financially.’ Which is to say they can afford clothing my size, various amenities, and a moderate allowance consisting of four digits a week. However, as they say, money cannot buy you happiness. While it might have bought me the semblance of such, I was never one to reward people for semi-polite behavior. While I did suppress the Machiavellian instinct, intentionally, others in the dorm have no such qualms.
Melville Cottage for all its pretensions was if you ask me, a not so cheap knock off of a luxury hotel. A luxury hotel during spring break, minus the drinking, well the public drinking. Every day is a party, with more social networking, ego pandering and of course Machiavellian politics than I care to shake a stick at. Fortunately for me, all of the BS and stabs in the back stop at the entrance to my door. Not so much due to my charming personality, as to my roommate’s. The one person on campus who if you held up a mirror to my psyche you would definitively say is my complete and total opposite: Mule.
Irony, oh sweet irony. You would think we’d be constantly at war, and in some ways you might be right. I am a pacifist, a devoted one. He is a pig headed, militaristic, died in the wool, violent, body cast for an eye, sort of guy. Our three am arguments for our side of the violence issue have been rudely put down by all three of the dorm parents in more than one instance. Yes we are vehement, yes we are vocal, and we drive each other slightly nuts as we hold to our ideals.
If he were a girl I would likely try and drag him home to meet the parents. Why? Well, the simple thing is this: he fiercely believes everyone has the right to live as they like, as long as they don’t piss him off by hurting his family or friends. Just don’t ask him about the right to bear arms, touch his ‘baby,’ or short sheet his bunk. His EX-roommate discovered that the hard way. Add in the fact that he is neat, clean, mostly polite, and generally a nice guy, once you get past the whole, “I’m a soldier in training thing.”
Of course it annoys him to no end that I refuse to defend myself. After promising to realign the barrel of his baby BFG into a more decorative form while he was out of the room, if he ever committed violence on my behalf. We got along. Well, I did have to take him to the Fab Lab and demonstrate that there were no limits to how much I could fold a rod of metal, any metal, he agreed, reluctantly, very reluctantly. What? Making a decoration out of metal is not violence. Of course he would likely kill me if I did do it, but it is the basis of our tidy little détente.
However, apart from out views on violence, we get along reasonably well. I’m not sure what his teammates think of our peaceful cohabitation, but they wander in and out like they live there. Since they don’t bring any ‘issues’ in with them, I don’t have any issues with them, as they take over the room occasionally. Ok frequently, but due to my size problem, my room is a bit spacious, and since they will never likely ever face me in the combat simulations, they can talk shop freely.
Of course our room’s décor is a battlefield of a different sort. If he has a poster showing a nuke going off, I of course have to have a child holding up flowers. Warplanes, soaring cranes in flight, Patton, Gandhi, the silent clash of ideologies only draws a demarcation line when it comes to pretty girls wearing very little. No, I do not have a poster of Nikki Reily, he does, I just admire it when no one is looking. No, I have Halle Berry, of which I am sure he ogles when no one is looking. So it works out.
Today his team had yet another go at the combat simulators, which meant they would either be boisterous or melancholy when they finally arrived. The upside in either case means that there would be a pizza or three consumed, with the arrival of a smaller veggie one for me. Sometimes I buy, sometimes they buy, it works out. I was counting on them doing the pizza bit tonight, as I had no desire to wallow with the mobs at dinner.
I checked to make sure Mule had replaced the trashcan that they had ruined during a ‘discussion’ last night. The Discussion was about the Halloween party at the end of the month and what they were going as. If you consider their fascination for guns, uniforms, violence and the like. There were only a few choices and it quickly narrowed down to two; you guessed it, the G.I. Joes or Aliens. Part of me cringed when they started wrestling for who got to play ‘Duke.’ Mule won, and well, Scarlet was a given.
They would have placed bets as to my costume choice, until I pointed out that Mule had the unfair advantage of Native Intelligence. As in he shared the room with me. Folks often make the assumption that Mule’s codename is because of limited brain capacity. Far from it, as he occasionally finds himself tutoring me in the fine art of algebra and other complex math’s. No, his codename stems from the fact that he kicks like one, proverbially, and when he sets in, damned few things can make him budge. Stubborn as, as thick as and so on, do apply to my buddy Dominic ‘Mule’ Sellers.
Finding the room empty, I was a bit relieved. As I am sure Mule’s loud response to Anvil’s attack would set my ears to ringing slightly. I dropped my small illusion and pointedly ignored the mirror, homework, could wait I decided. I opened the drawer to pick out my newest not quite empty bottle of Motrin and then preceded to dry swallow what some would consider an unhealthy amount of the tablets.
No I was not trying to do myself harm, I’m three hundred and some plus pounds, ok many plus pounds. The typical dosing is based upon an adult male around one hundred seventy-five pounds, you do the math. No I do not recommend it for everyone, and my roomie is sure that I may develop an ulcer. However when he limps in and takes his own brand of analgesic I do make sure he eats something.
A careless toss of the now empty bottle at the trashcan under his desk forced me to pick up and move the can. I dug around under Mule’s desk and ignored the slight foot odor from the set of combat boots. Ok I tried to ignore the foot odor. I made a mental note to poke Mule about the issue and scooped up the offending empty bottle. I eased back to a nearly level stance and pushed myself upright, slowly as not to induce a head rush. This time I simply dropped the bottle in, rather than going for the two point dunk shot.
Once the bottle had been finally dealt with, and I had washed the bitter taste away with a fresh Coke Zero, I dug in my pack and pulled out a cold pack to crush and then to hold to my bruised head. With icepack applied, and reclined contentedly on my bunk, I was finally able to relax. So it was that my roommate found me, laying on my bed, ice pack to head, and my free hand folding paper cranes idly.
The boisterous entrance of his team was abruptly forestalled at his pronouncement, “Jesus Fucking Christ!”
I lifted the cool ice pack away and looked slowly over him and jokingly asked, “You rang?”
He stalked over and pointed down at my face, “Ok, who the fuck did this?”
I paused predicting the outcome ahead of time, “I’d rather not say, you’d be tempted to break our nice little treaty.”
As the other Grunts came a bit closer, their expressions had hardened as well. Bunker actually looked away, and she’s fairly hard to shake. Deadeye the leader of the Grunts, well he has that whole impassive thing down to a science, only frowned.
“I’m not bound by your truce,” Deadeye started, but he stalled out when Mule held up his hand.
“No,” Mule sighed, “he has the right determine his own fate.”
“How can you say that?” Breaker glared at the two of us, “Considering that any fucker sick enough to hurt a known and determined pacifist, won’t stop at other acts?”
I paused and considered that point, “It doesn’t matter, Delarose caught it all on tape, and goody two-shoes Lancer just had to take it upon himself to report it and play witness, and Delarose supposedly took Anvil to Carson in person.”
“Anvil?” Slapdash frowned in evident thought, “Didn’t we flatten the Punk Patrol last week?”
Mule pivoted slowly with an angry look on his face, “Yes we did, and yours truly had the honor of putting Anvil down. Really down.”
“Could it be sideways revenge?” asked Bunker with a frown.
Deadeye only paused a moment, “Find out.”
“You know this only helps prove my argument?” Mule gave me a dirty look as I opened our favorite verbal sparing topic in between bites of my last burger.
He was playing co-coordinator as the rest of his team was out doing some ‘fact finding.’ “Sure it does, since when do the actions of madmen become clearly dictated by getting their asses handed to them?”
“It’s not hard to envision really. A thug gets trounced, and then pops a mental fuse and since he cannot defeat the folks that smacked him down, he goes for the friends and family of the person who did it,” I motioned grandiosely to myself.
“This isn’t exactly the real world you know?” He paused to take down a note, and then he continued. “For years the Mafia and Police battled each other keeping it between the ‘principals’. Whateley itself is a good example of how the two groups leave families out of the equation.”
“Perhaps, but how do you place the actions of terrorists? Suicide bombers not with standing, how many piss-ant countries are we supposedly at war with now?”
“Only one,” he shrugged, “if you go simply by congressionally lauded operations. There are countless operations all over the world.”
“Yes and how?” I paused as he stood up quickly, “What?”
“Breaker has had a rude surprise roommate wise, I have to go to the infirmary.” He frowned, “Sorry Pat, it is not about you this time.”
“Escalating the violence is not going to make matters any better!” I protested with a wince as my jaw cramped.
“Maybe, maybe not. But look at it from this point of view, you don’t coddle a mad dog, you put it down.” His expression soured, “This is our fault, it won’t happen again.”
“I don’t want it to happen at all,” I said pushing myself up to sit on the bunk.
“I know, but we all can’t live like you do my friend, if we could the world might be a better place.”
I took a breath as my vision clouded slightly, “Just let Delarose deal with Anvil.”
“Yeah, I just sat up too fast, head-rush. Nothing new.”
“Uh huh, don’t go to chow without a few dozen friends around, ok?”
“Why? Aren’t you going to be there?”
“We’ll see,” he quickly opened and shut the door before I could stand and try to persuade him otherwise.
“Well fuck,” I said after a vision of total mayhem vividly crossed my mind.
The shower I took did much to eliminate the disgusted slimly feeling I had been left with. Well externally. Inwardly I felt ill, I really did not like violence. Yes I can watch movies and ‘divorce’ myself enough from the non-reality of the acts to enjoy the films. I can’t watch the news however, as it is real, real people, real pain, real deaths. The much-regretted act of having put my best friend from childhood into the hospital had left a distinct mar upon my soul.
Community showers, another of life’s little humiliations, everyone can get a good look at the fat people. Add in the fact that a goodly portion of the campus is ‘perfect’ in the eyes of man, if not God, and it becomes a form of hell. If it were not for the fact that an unwashed body stinks, I would forego it all together. Yet, while I may not exactly have any physical dignity left, I do respect others enough to not inflict ‘that’ upon them.
Not that anyone respects me that much, as evidenced by the new bit of paper I discovered upon returning from the showers. Artistically, I could appreciate the composition of the photographer, the shot was clear, and it managed to frame the subject clearly and with great detail. Sadly, as a subject for such artistry, I am a poor model. The captioning however needed much in the way of intellectualism as: ‘Die Fat Faggot Die!!!!’ leaves much room for improvement.
I took several calming breaths and smiled, if this was the sheer mental best of my newfound enemies. Well, out thinking them should surely be easy. After all, any monkey can take decent pictures, though I did give small props to Greasy. He at least could take good pictures while running for his life. Peeper, well, he was an ass with an eye towards economics.
Ignoring the laser printed picture, I mentally debated about getting dressed, after all, it was Dussehra and death threats aside, I planned on having some fun. However I had plenty of time to kill before going to the party at the Choudhari’s home. Thus I returned to my desk and one of my more useful hobbies, origami.
They say if you fold a thousand paper cranes your dearest wish will come true. Thus far I was working on my third set of one thousand and there was no miracle in sight. Still, it gave me a calming and needed exercise that had nothing to do with violence. After all a crane is a thing of beauty and grace, the anti-thesis of myself.
I took a sheer atavistic moment of pleasure to give the small crane I had just created the gift of flight. With my gift I animated it, and it transformed from a simple paper bird to one in reality. Well as much as reality gets when you add a touch of magick. As it sailed gracefully around the room, I made a tick mark in the notebook that I used to track my folded cranes in. I tabulated the count and smiled, I was at nine hundred and ninety-nine. Just one shy of a thousand paper cranes, the magical number.
Quickly I rifled through my desk, surely on this night of Dussehra where tradition says that Rama won a victory of a daemon, it might? Surely I might be granted my own small victory over an evil that had influenced my own life? Frowning I tapped the bottom of the empty drawer that usually held my papers. Well crap, so much for that, I had some junk paper in my notebook, ok it was not junk, but my teachers frowned upon my turning in art, as homework.
I turned in my chair to look back at the ‘quaint’ photo someone had gifted me, as it still lay upon the floor. “Well as they say, ‘waste not, want not.’” I gave a sardonic snort of thanks to my abusing photographer, “Let this be an example of art coming from trash, and a victory of good over evil” I muttered and returned to the desk.
The first fold was simple, and it bisected my nude body neatly. I smiled as my image vanished briefly as it was hidden by the fold. Two more small creases gave me the start of the body, and an odd surprise as the folds had made me seem slimmer, well in the picture anyways.
Amused, I forced a touch of my power into the figure on the paper to make it take a three dimensional appearance. Unfortunately, I realized my gynecomastia while not really noticeable on my large frame, converted unnaturally to, to, well, feminine breasts on the thinner version of me that I had inadvertently created.
In disgust I pushed more power into the paper forcing the image to collapse back into two dimensions. To my eyes, nothing had changed; I was still a girl in that set of folds. Much as I would give anything to be that thin. I was very much male, and the image before me sparked a complete rush of anger. Angrily I reread the words and I cursed them, “Fat faggot, I think not.”
Slamming my palm down on the paper, I stood up too fast. Never a good thing if you are prone to low blood pressure, like I am. So I stood there, weaving and pissed beyond measure watching in dread as the picture grayed out, “I think not!” I muttered fighting to stay upright.
There was a screech of metal that I heard distantly as I rocked backwards falling sideways against my chair. A wash of pain told me that I had conked my head but good on the way down as I fell. Then for the second time today I blacked out.
Mule froze as he opened the door to his room. A tense knot of fear gripped his intestines, as the white robed mass lay unmoving in the center of the room. With a stumbling lurch he dropped down to his knees and felt for a pulse. The cold skin at Pat’s neck alarmed him greatly, as did the boys gray pallor. Yet he did find a pulse, one that seemed impossibly fast.
His fingers mashed frantically down on the transmit button of his radio, “Man down, man fucking down!”
“Deadeye here. Report!” insisted the calm voice.
“Mule here, its Pat, he’s down, rapid pulse, cold clammy skin, shock, has to be shock! God its shock,” Mule glanced around frantically.
“Mule, think,” Deadeye’s voice flowed from the radio in a litany of calm, “blankets, get his legs elevated.”
“Right, right, basic fucking treatment,” Mule muttered as pulled the blanket from his bed in one careless move that left him battling the mattress as well. “Fuck, not now!” With a wrench, Mule slammed the mattress back against the wall with one hand, and then carefully covered his friend with the blanket.
“Mule, remember, your basic lifesaving rules. You treat for shock using warmth, and leg elevation,” Deadeye droned calmingly on.
“I know, I fucking know!” he shouted unmindful of the fact that his friends could not hear him. Gently he lifted his friend’s legs and then eased his own under them, supporting them above chest level.
“Is there a problem? I heard shouting?” asked an intruding nervous voice from the open door.
“Yes there’s a fucking problem you dumb fucking idiot! My friend is out cold on the floor, and his head is bleeding. You stupid fucker, that’s a fucking problem! Now go get some fucking help!” Mule shouted without looking up.
“Mule report!” insisted Deadeye.
It took Mule a few tries to press the button down gently, as his hand shook, “Warmth, elevation, got it.”
“Help is coming buddy, stay frosty.”
“Frosty! Fuck frosty! Send me some fucking help!”
Bunker’s voice flowed harshly over the radio as she said, “Someone is going to pay.”
“Not now,” was Deadeye’s stern injunction, “keep the channel clear for rescue purposes.”
Dr. Raul Tennant watched critically as the unconscious boy’s temperature rose and fell radically in the space of minutes. He marveled briefly at the volume of sweat the child was producing, and then he wondered if he could keep pace with the IV fluids. The possible brain trauma had him concerned, but not nearly as much as what his instincts told him was occurring. He looked over the boy to see Ms. Muller’s worried expression, “We’re going to treat for burnout.”
“Are you sure?” she asked as she looked at the boy’s vitals on the monitor.
Briefly he considered every other possible cause, “Well unless Jules tells me the blood work is with flooded pathogens or a virus soon, I’m going with my gut.”
She nodded, “Ice, protean flood and?”
“Run the gamut, his records say he has no medical allergies, set up the broad spectrum anti-biotics, and lets make sure we have no other surprises.” He looked over at Denis the duty EMT, “Wheel in the MRI-CAT scan and give me a full torso run starting with the head. I would hate to do surgery with his current vitals.”
“No joke,” Denis the duty EMT gave a glance to the windowed door were another boy stared anxiously through it. “What do we tell the kid’s pals?”
“We tell them to wait, and if they feel so inclined, to pray,” Raul said slowly. “If it’s a burn out, we know how to deal with it.”
“And if it’s not?”
“We’ll cross that bridge as it shows up, I’m going to lean over Jules shoulder,” Raul smiled, “or even use a different scope.” He stopped long enough to check the clock and write down the time, with a pause he marked down four oh six and marked the box to indicate pm, only ten disturbing minutes had past.
“Well Doctors, there are traces of something, but what I am not sure.” Jules pointed to a tag, “He does have a very high dose of some analgesic in his system, but that matches what his roommate mentioned.”
“Poison?” asked Ophelia as the molecular strand slowly unfurled.
“It acts like it, but is not anything like Jobe might use, in case you were wondering.” Jules pointed to a vial marked Antiven-Jobe, “It’s not one of his variants either, as I have tested against it. I have to wonder if his body isn’t producing it.”
“Oh god, messy. Is it nanites?” Raul asked as another screen came up.
“There are traces of some inactive ones,” Jules shook his head, “an earlier prank. It’s in his records.”
“Ok, I am going to pull the wild card,” Dr. Ophelia Tennant looked back at the Lieutenant, “get Jobe Wilkes in here, since he is the resident expert on poison.”
Jobe gave the snarling boy an open look of contempt, “No I did not prank your roommate. Let’s be honest here shall we? Folder is a fervent pacifist; he’s not even on my threat radar. Let me put it to you in simple words even you can follow.” Jobe paused and yawned for effect, “I have no need to randomly poison people. Tell me, have you –ever- heard of me going after someone who had never wronged me first?”
Deadeye scowled but he shook his head slowly, “No, but you have no problem making people into monsters.”
“Yes, I may have had a few minor hiccups in my work, but I never forced anyone to use any of my formulas.” Jobe smiled pleasantly, “I am sure the good Lieutenant could tell you that.”
Mule watched as the Forsythe had the look on his face that indicated he was ill, but he nodded. “Yes, that, is correct… as far as it goes.”
“See? Now if you will excuse me, I am needed in the lab,” Jobe waited as Deadeye eased his teammate out of the path he had to walk. With a few steps Jobe was at the door, but he stopped and looked back, “Seriously though, if it is a created virus or poison, I have as much interest as you do in seeing it neutralized.”
“Why?” asked the agitated female of the team.
“Call it professional pride if you will. But no one implicates me by association and gets away with it,” Jobe gave Mule a direct look, “If it is manufactured, let us race to the real villain shall we?”
Forsyth winced as the Grunts slowly nodded.
“How quaint.” Jobe sat back in the chair and looked at the doctors, “He has been poisoned or rather infected, see this and this trace element?” At their nod he moved the mouse back and forth to highlight the two molecules, “Separate they are harmless, but when mixed, say by contact, they will allow any other chemical or substance to permeate the flesh that contacted them.”
“Ok, so that is the vector?” Doctor Tennent asked as she studied the two elements.
“Yes, as to what they brought in with them, some of it has been flushed from Folder’s system already.” Jobe pointed to a sealed beaker, “I took a perspiration sample and ran it though the smallest micron filter you have.”
“And?” asked Doctor Tennant.
“Well, you really do need smaller ones, but I digress.” Jobe smiled and brought up a new window, “And I present to you our culprit.”
“Ok, I will bite, just what am I looking at,” asked Forsyth.
“It’s a high temperature bacteria, you only find it normally around deep undersea volcanic vents. Or in Yellowstone.” Jobe smiled and used the mouse to indicate a smaller coarse looking strand, “This bit was tacked on.”
“Ok, how would you treat it?” asked Raul.
“Basically you will have to drop his core temperature to the point of near coma for an hour.” Jobe chuckled and paused to illustrate the virus with the mouse, “This bug thrives in heat.”
Raul stood up and held do out his hand to Jobe, “You tend to unnerve the crap out of me, but good work all the same.”
Jobe smiled but shook his head slowly, “Thank you, but I suspect it’s not the only problem.”
“Oh?” asked Ophelia as she winced.
“I am not a Mage, much less a Psi, but and this is only a hypothesis: Someone did a number on the boys mojo.”
“How so?” asked Forsyth.
Jobe sighed at their look of consternation, “What? I simply checked his blood estrogen levels, the boy has bitch tits, and it was in his records. But, and it is a major but. He has no cancer cells in his blood nor in the lymph’s, and apart from the current strain, his liver is fine.”
“And you arrive at Magick and or Psi how?” asked Jules uneasily.
“Well barring Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and the boy’s BIT being geared to Obesity. There is not much left once you eliminate viral sources, nanos or genetic treatment.” Jobe shrugged, “Since gene therapy carries definite markers, with the virus ruled out, and the nanos as well, what else could it be?”
“Right, I’ll give him a better look,” Doctor Tennent shook her head in frustration.
“Don’t beat yourself up over this case Doctor,” Jobe’s smile had a distinctly pitying look, “Someone did their best to screw the boy up.”
“Wonderful, well thank you for your time.”
“Oh no, thank you, I now have an interesting idea to work though,” Jobe smiled as they looked at him with distaste. “It’s a fat burning diet drug. Do you think Folder might be interested?”
“Oh well, good luck with Folder.” Jobe stood up and walked towards the doors, “I have to chat with the Grunts a moment.”
“What ever for?”
“Call it a professional courtesy.”
“So he was poisoned?” asked Deadeye.
“Yes, or if you will infected, deliberately.” Jobe’s smile held no humor, “So you will have to trace his steps and check the possible links back to the Punk Patrol.”
“That we can do,” Deadeye waited as Jobe stood silently. “Is there something else?”
“Why yes there is, I do believe I am owed an apology,” Jobe smiled as the Grunts collectively scowled, “it’s only the polite thing to do.”
Mule slowly nodded and with evident reluctance said, “I apologize for my earlier behavior.”
Jobe smiled, “Thank you, I do enjoy working with professionals.”
“We’re not working together.” interjected Deadeye.
“Oh but I insist,” Jobe smirked, “after all, you owe me for my services.”
“Deadeye, as much as I despise the idea, if there is a poisoner out there, better the devil we know, yes?” Slapdash looked seriously ill as he suggested the idea.
“Ok, fine, but if you cross us,” Deadeye’s look had all sorts of bodily hurt in it.
“Oh rest assured, I want this bastard, and as much as you likely will distrust my word, you have it.“ Jobe chuckled, “Besides, it is a matter of professional pride and self interest.”
“Ok, it’s been an hour Ophelia, I’m going to start bringing his temperature up.” Doctor Raul Tennant said as he started to remove the large bags of ice, “ Are you sure I will not be in your way as you work?”
“Oh, I did my witchy stuff once we got the ice on him and the airway work done. You know, I really despise Jobe?” She looked back down at the boy, who to her focused ‘eyes’ was enwrapped in a glowing field.
“Because he was right this time?”
“Well that, and the fact we have to let him be.”
“I know, but look on the bright side, he does know where the line is.”
“And he stays millimeters to this side of it. I know.”
“So Pat?” he asked.
“Is in a spell, but like Jobe said, someone may have messed with him,” Ophelia scowled, “Louis? Are you listening?”
A moment passed and a genial man popped into view, “Always a thought away.”
“Folder here is under a spell, but I swear he did it to himself somehow,” she mentally reviewed what she had learned from the spell, “however I fear it was prompted by another persons will.”
Louis nodded gravely, “I will take a look.”
“Thank you.” She stood quietly as the man blinked out, “Well this day is certainly a fun one.”
“Have you got any Halloween costume ideas thought out yet?” Raul asked.
“I do have a few ideas,” she shrugged, “though I will have to consult with someone more talented with fabric than I am.”
“Well with luck the shift will go slow tonight, today’s has been a grinder.”
Ophelia gave a slight gasp as Louis’s unamused visage popped back into view. “Well?”
“I have a good idea who prompted him to roll down two flights of stairs.” Fubar’s expression was sour, “but I could find no traces that specifically would lead him to magick himself.”
“Any non-specific traces?” she asked hopefully.
“There is something odd, and I will have to consider it for a time. However, I am more concerned about his mental state; the kid needs serious alone time with a shrink though. Serious time.” Fubar sighed in evident dismay, “Passive self destruction is never pretty.”
“I’ll mention it to the shrinkers,” Raul said as he motioned to a chart he was working with.
“I already did. Now if you will excuse me, I have to have a discussion about ethics with a young lady,” his vocal timber held a note of impending wrath.
“Please, be our guest, and thank you,” Ophelia smiled, “I will see you anon.”
“Assuredly,” Fubar paused and inclined his head to the pair before winking out.
“Such a pretty cocoon,” Ophelia said as she touched the fabric of it gently with her own magicks.
“Cocoon?” asked her college.
“Yes, I do believe it is so.”
“Well if the excessive amount of estrogen is a indicator…” she trailed off looking thoughtfully at the slight but evident changes.
“Something for the journals I predict.”
“We shall see.”
“You are sure? No virus and no odd fingerprints?” Mule asked as he took the offending bit of paper back from Jobe once the surfaces of the paper were dry.
“Yes, quite sure. What else is new to the room?” asked Jobe critically as he studied the decor idly. With a glance to the Halle Berry poster, he paused briefly to consider if six toes would grant an extra factor in stability.
“The trashcan, I had ruined the old one last night,” Mule glared at it, “I thought Pat had picked up a new one.”
“Hmm, it would provide a surface where the two chemicals would be separated until the lip was grasped.” Jobe selected a fresh set of vials and droppers from his traveling ‘workshop’, and then he walked to the trashcan and used a dropper to splash a few drops within and on the outside. As the inside and outside took on two different colors he took a large step backwards, “The trashcan can is the source.”
“I see.” Forsythe pulled the protective mask down onto his face with gloved hands, “I am glad you are so sure this is a contact only vector.”
“Trust me, if I thought otherwise I would be in my lab.” Jobe shook head disgustedly, “Amateurs should not work with such things.”
“What are you going to do with the picture?” asked Forsyth once he placed the trashcan inside a fifty-five gallon canister marked with red warning labels and sealed it shut.
“Burn it, Pat doesn’t need this sort of crap in his life,” Mule said as he crumpled the paper into a tight ball.
“I have to agree,” said Forsyth. “Now, is there anything you would like to add to your statements?”
“No,” Jobe stated with a smile.
“No, I don’t think there is anything to add,” Mule sighed and held up the balled paper, “I so want the fucker who did this to suffer.”
Forsyth looked around, and then added in a quiet voice, “Good hunting.”
“Thanks,” said Mule as Jobe smiled tightly.
“So any idea when our butterfly will come out of her cocoon, and he will be a she?” Ms. Muller asked cautiously.
Ophelia nodded, “Yes I think that is a given,” she stood up and stretched, “as for when.” She paused and glanced at the clock, “My nose says maybe eight at the soonest, yet it could take a day or two, the spell does have a serious heft to it though.”
Ms. Muller added yet another fresh IV bag to the poll and connected it, ”I am going to have to change the linens again, Pat’s still sweating like there is no tomorrow.”
Ms. Muller glanced up, “How so?”
“Well, we’ve not had to place a catheter, and I would be hesitant to try, Goddess knows what it would do to the transformation process.” Ophelia rolled her eyes and motioned to the unconscious child, “At least the tremors have stopped, for a moment I was thinking Pat was having a seizure.”
“What did Ms. Carson have to say about this?”
“I think she could best be described as ‘concerned.’” Ophelia tapped the medical chart, “Jobe’s detective work impressed her, and as she put it: ‘So the maniacal twit is good for something,’ and no don’t quote me on that.”
Ms. Muller clapped once loudly with both set of hands, “Ha!”
“Yes, I suppose even the most vile of our students has one or two redeeming qualities.” She smiled, “I’m going to go get changed, and take a very careful shower. Do make sure earlier the linens and all lab clothing that came in contact with Patrick goes into the freezer and then into incinerator. I want to make sure the virus stays dead.”
Ms. Muller shivered nervously, “No kidding.”
Bardue gave Jobe his best impassive glare, watching with growing annoyance as the punk seemingly ignored it with ease. Dressed in his usual fatigues and smoky-bear hat, Bardue easily towered over him, “Why is this here?” he asked pointing a thick finger at Jobe.
“My, my, such hostility,” Jobe countered with a smile calculated to annoy any saint.
“Ah Gunny, that was my decision,” Deadeye said as he stood at parade rest.
Bardue walked over and put the round brim of his hat just above eye level of the youth, “And what makes you think that was a good idea?”
“Gunny, he has specialized knowledge in this area of study,” stated Bomber clinically, prompting Bardue to blink slowly as normally the sociopath’s take on life was ‘to shoot it and shoot it some more if it moved.’
“And you verified this how?” Bardue asked as he paraded down the row of students to where Bomber stood.
“Observation. The medical staff specifically called him in, signifying a level of skill outside of their area of expertise.” Bomber coolly glanced over at Jobe, “Secondly, Belphegore, who might be a second choice; is a conceited git who has no clear-cut, professional stance. Where as Jobe in prior actions has distinctly made it clear that he will only attack those whom he feels have wronged him. Also he does have a ‘professional’ slant on his personal actions.”
Jobe smiled brightly, “True, so very true.”
Bardue leaned back stiffly, weighing the Bomber’s flatly delivered words. “Let’s us presume for a moment you are correct,” Bardue’s voice held the tone that indicated he thought it unlikely. “What guarantees do you have he will not stab you in the back at a later date.”
Jobe coughed loudly, “Puh-lease, I do not have a reputation for gross tactical stupidity do I?”
Bunker nodded slowly, “Among Jobe’s besetting sins, that is not one of them, that we have heard of.”
Mule frowned and a nodded, “Also Gunny, I do believe Jobe, when he says he is motivated by revenge, to deal harshly with the person who implicated him.”
Bardue’s head nodded fractionally, “That would fit his profile. Let us for the moment say that I tacitly agree to this little operation, where do you plan to begin.”
“The Bookstore,” Deadeye said calmly, “the trashcan still had the price tab on it.”
“You realize Security will likely be tromping all over this with their own investigation?” Bardue asked.
“Yes,” Deadeye said calmly.
“And you will likely piss Delarose off if he thinks you are going to clutter up his chain of evidence.”
“Yes Gunny,” Deadeye paused and with a tight smile added, “I suspect Delarose’s people will start by grilling his primary suspect, Anvil.”
Jobe sniggered loudly, “Far be it from me to suggest any sort of duplicity to an instructor.”
Bardue’s head turned slowly with a look of growing heat that caused to Grunts to flinch, “You may speak.”
Jobe rolled his eyes, “Thank you.” After a moment his grin reflected that of a piranha’s, “If an instructor, such as your self. One who is familiar with bio-terrorism; should storm loudly into Kane hall and demand urgent haste to the discovery of the source.”
Bardue nodded slowly, “And?”
“And if such an instructor should obliquely make a few -pointed- references of bringing the hammer down on the anvil of justice,” Jobe paused, “and other such colorful idioms, it should spur security to focus first on Anvil, then on the can.”
Bardue gave Jobe a small tight nod and looked back to the Grunts, “OK under two conditions.”
“Gunny?” asked Mule with a relieved exhalation.
“One. If you start to make Security’s investigation go pear-shaped in any way, I’m pulling the plug on this operation.”
Deadeye nodded, “And the second Gunny?”
“Bomber baby sits Jobe, ensuring no operational fuck ups,” Bardue took deliberate pleasure at the hint of concern that flickered though the over-cocky-bastard’s eyes.
Bomber fixed Jobe with an impassive look, “Done.”
Deadeye gave Jobe a tight smile; “Still feel like working with us.”
Jobe nodded and lazily gave Deadeye a deliberately sloppy salute, “This is a professional venture, and as long as it stays professional; I can work with anyone.”
Deadeye considered the amount of potential damage the team could do to Jobe, and the realization of the disaster that would shortly follow in Jobe’s retaliation and nodded. “Agreed, our ‘professional’ best.”
Bardue briefly considered this alliance as one forged in hell and nodded, “Then you have a go.”
Dr. Ophelia Tennent’s Office
Ophelia suppressed the rush of her displeasure as Reverend England announced his arrival by knocking firmly on the door to her office. A glance to his hands showed him to have a bible and clerical stole there in, which likely meant he was there under a professional guise and not to continue their feud. Deliberately forcing her tone of voice into it’s professional mode, she regarded him impassively a long moment.
“May I come in?” he finally asked.
“Yes,” she said and with a deliberate motion she placed confidentiality sheet over the chart she was working on.
“I am given to understand that Mr. Stiles is a patient?” he asked seemingly cutting right to the chase.
“Yes,” she admitted suppressing a frown.
Englund paused and glanced at a chair, “May I?” the asked indicating it.
Ophelia considered a few responses that were entirely unprofessional, and then nodded, “If you feel the need.”
His expression wavered briefly from concerned, to regretful and then to its usual hard mask. He nodded once and stiffly sat down, “I know that we have our differences, however, I am not here about any of those matters.”
“I see, then may I enquire as to what brings you here?”
“Firstly I am here to ask if I might visit the boy.” Englund’s voice held a note of sympathy in it, “Ms. Muller said the room he was in, is under quarantine.”
“Yes, that is the case.”
“Might I ask for what?”
“Someone exposed Mr. Stiles to a nasty pathogen, and we feel it prudent to limit the number of visitors.” She watched as Englands visage went from concerned to completely outrage.
“Jobe again?” he asked flatly as his eyes held righteous anger.
“Oddly no.” She took a small amount of pleasure in phasing her next statement, “If you can believe it, this time Jobe is on the side of angels.”
It was a pleasure to watch Englund’s face as he processed her wording, “I can hardly believe Jobe as having any measure of saintly properties.”
“I would have to agree with you,” she admitted. “But still, he was a factor in aiding Mr. Stiles recovery.”
“Small wonders,” Englund shook his head, “it truly sickens me that any one would deliberately harm Mr. Stiles. The boy never seems to have a bad word for anyone and is always pleasant to be around, even if we do hold different religious views.”
Ophelia’s allowed her expression to soften, “True, I have to admit that he has never spoken ill of anyone specifically, even those whom might have injured him.”
“Which brings me to the next reason I am here.” His lips briefly paled as his expression hardened, “I am gravely concerned that the public fall out from this incident will lash across the campus.”
Ophelia considered that and she reluctantly nodded, “Yes it might.”
“Already, from what the members of my class have obliquely hinted, there may be hell to pay.” Englund shook his head, “While as much as I personally might feel it would be warranted, Mr. Stiles would not welcome such things.”
“No, he would likely feel responsible, however indirectly, for it,” she said sadly.
“Yes, and while we do have our issues. He paused and inclined his head towards her, “I would request that you accompany me to visit with the Headmistress that we might work towards a solution to avoid such a calamity?”
“I think, that might be a good idea,” she paused and sadly shook her head, “I need to stay close though. There are elements to Mr. Stiles case that require my close presence. However, Raul shares that concern, and he could be spared for a short time.”
“Mr. Stiles is that ill?”
“Yes, the infection seems to have prompted a form of burn out, with potentially life altering implications,” she casually lied in that Englunds’s take on Magicks was unsociable.
“Will he survive?”
“Like all burnouts, there is always the risk of it being terminal,” she said remarking on the look of abject worry that crossed Englund’s face.
“Do you think he would mind overly much if I prayed for him?” he asked after a time.
She nodded and softly smiled, “No, after all praying for someone’s return to health is not a harmful act.”
“True, it is not.”
Erik Mahren gave the phone under his fingers a suspicious look, as it had rung right as he had hung up. With a hint of paranoia he picked it up, “Yes?”
“Yes we have bio-chem sniffers,” he paused and looked at the cabinet that held them, “dare I ask why we need them all of a sudden?”
Erik briefly closed his eyes, “Jesus, that is a bit beyond the norm isn’t it? Any fatalities?”
“I see, no I’ll bring them directly to Kane hall.” He paused, “Who was the victim?”
“Folder… you must be shitting me,” Cat watched as his incredulous expression hardened, “Mule may have been the real target? Well that makes a bit more sense, not much, but a bit.”
“Any other cases?”
“Well that is a relief, so is Jobe in jail?”
“Well, naturally I assumed.”
“Fuck me to tears, no shit?”
“Right, on my way.”
Erik put the phone down on the hook and shook his head, and he looked back to see Cat giving him a questioning eyebrow, “Dinner tonight may be off.”
“Yes,” Erik walked into cage and opened the NBC locker, “some moron just used a bio-weapon on campus.”
“Jesus!” she rushed into the cage and held out her hands to take the sniffers, “Is Folder ok?”
“The Jury is still out,” Erik shook his head, “they say it triggered a burn out.”
“Crap, and Mule?”
“Oh I expect Mule is pissed beyond rational thought, but he is ok.”
“Um, yeah.” She strung the cases over her shoulders, “Has Carson made a statement yet?”
“No, but I could hear Gunny in the background shouting at the top of his lungs.” Erik paused and frowned grimly, “I think Gunny is a trifle pissed.”
“He actually used the phrase, ‘Fuck that, I have bamboo in my desk.’”
“Oh crap.” She closed her eyes, “I suspect we will have to hide the pliers from Gunny again.”
“Screw that, I think we should offer to help.”
“Oh? So it is perfectly acceptable to trip someone who has never done anything to you and then knock them unconscious with a deliberate elbow smash to the side of the head. But infecting someone with a contagious and terminal virus isn’t?” Delarose ask he leaned down into the face of the boy who was manacled to the chair. “The only reason you are not looking at a life sentence for terrorism, much less murder is that no one has died yet. Yet.”
“I’m innocent I tell you!” the boy said frantically, “I didn’t infect anyone, I’m not Jobe! I don’t do that kind of crap.”
“Right, sure you don’t,” Delarose smiled thinly, “do you really think any judge will buy that when he views the tape of you beating up a kid of whom everyone knows will not fight back?”
Erik looked through the mirror and glared at the subject of Delarose’s ire, “Hey Fuub?”
“Yes?” asked the ghostly man as he popped into view and solidified.
“Has anyone asked you to peel this thug’s brain like a grape yet?” he asked.
“No, not yet.” Fubar gave Erik a bland look; “Admittedly I will say I am sorely tempted, however the ethics of it are troubling.”
“How can you say that?” Erik pointed through the glass and then tapped the small box on his belt that blinked every few moments, “We’ve had an indiscriminate bio-weapon used on campus, one kid infected and if I understand things correctly is in burn-out. If it were up to me the boy would be full of truth serums and his mind flayed for the truth.”
“There are laws and rules about such things,” Fubar sighed, “As far as we know there have not been any formal charges raised, he’s only being questioned. Thus far.”
“Which allows Delarose to not have a lawyer present,” Bardue said disgustedly, “I could picture Jobe using such a thing, but Jobe in his acts of vengeance, is not indiscriminate, and he always and deliberately stops just shy of the chance of fatalities.”
“Without Jobe it is very likely Folder would be a corpse now.” Bardue tapped a folder, “I read Jobe’s analysis of the virus, a Regen Four would have trouble surviving the infection unaided.”
Erik’s eyes narrowed, “Fuck.”
“Yeah,” Bardue looked over to Erik, “which is why I am slightly pleased that Jobe will be working with the Grunts this time.”
“What!” Erik turned to face Bardue and his finger stabbed accusingly at him, “Are you out of you mind?”
You plan to let Jobe, possibly the student most likely to be voted, ‘sickest fuck on the planet,’ to work with the Grunts? What the hell were you thinking?”
Bardue’s normal smile was purely calculated to put fear in the average man, the smile he displayed to the two men caused both Fubar and Erik to back up a step, “I was thinking the punishment should fit the crime.”
Ms. Carson’s Office
“And that is why we think you should make a statement, before it gets really unpleasant.” Englund said as Doctor Tennant looked over to Englund who nodded gravely.
Ms. Carson sat back in her chair, “Do you think Stiles is that well liked?”
Raul frowned, “I can’t say.”
“But?” she prompted.
“I’ve heard of this sort of thing happen to a gay student, not that Patrick is gay; however the level of violence is similar.” He gave them both a pained look, “It eventually polarized that school to the point where even a hint of violence brought out guns or knives, with predictable results.”
“Bullies are nothing new,” Englund paused, “yet it was against to someone who is so vehemently against violence and if you will; this is the fourth separate and violent attack today. I fear various factions will decide that people like Jimmy T. are too mild in their methods.”
Ms. Carson nodded with a smile, “I don’t formally approve of Mr. Trauger’s actions, but he does seem to defuse many hostile undercurrents with his encounters.”
“True, howev-“ Rual frowned as his pager went off, as he reached down to lift it from his belt, the phone on Ms. Carson’s desk rung stridently.
Carson blanched a scant moment after saying hello, and she half stood as Raul all but tore the door down in his haste to leave. Englund blinked slowly and look back to Ms. Carson as the phone she was holding cracked loudly. Ms. Carson’s expression was coldly impassive as she placed the phone on the hook.
“What happened?” he asked as she walked around the desk and past the shattered door.
“There’s been another incident.” She paused and looked to the nervous student who held a phone, “James, I will need a new phone, and if you would be a dear, call Facility Support and request a new door?”
Amelia Hartford stood up from her desk and hurriedly walked over, “I just heard another of the Melville…”
Ms. Carson nodded unhappily, “Amelia if you would watch the office? I need to have a discussion with Delarose and Louis down at Kane Hall.”
“Yes, I see. Should I alert ARC?” she asked.
Ms. Carson nodded crisply, “Yes, request a medical team if you will.”
Erik walked into the Grunt’s team bunker and surveyed the obvious planning session that was under way. He frowned as his gaze wandered across Jobe who was making a list of items on a dry erase board. A quick sampling of a different list on the same board brought a worried frown to his face as it listed many students with a predilection to anti-social chemistry.
Unsure of where to begin, he deliberately pointed at Jobe and looked over to Deadeye, “That better not be a new recruit.”
Deadeye froze in his deliberations and looked over to Jobe. He paused and deliberately seemed to contemplate the idea, “Why? Don’t you think it would give a rise in our Combat Sim scores?”
Erik gave Deadeye his best maniacal grin, “Sure but you would have to go through full MOPP 4 training and wear the gear in every... single... sim.”
There was an expectant silent pause as his team looked back at Deadeye. After a moment he spoke, “While the training and a few runs with Jobe might be beneficial, if not practical as current events have shown, I do prefer my normal field of view on a regular basis.”
Erik paused as the implication of Deadeye’s evaluation sunk in. Admittedly he was only slightly joking as he had asked the earlier question. He turned slightly to see Jobe smiling back at him. ”Then why exactly are you here, boy?”
Jobe smirked and tapped the dry erase board "To make sure the fucker who implicated me regrets having a cerebellum that accepts sensory inputs and still has the ability to ooze along afterwards."
Unphased Erik looked blandly at Jobe, “Wipe that stupid smile off your face Jobe. My idea of Detention involves a lot of running, pushups and physical pain lasting till I get bored, so I suggest you not get cute with me.”
“Who was being cute?” Jobe actually managed to look injured before his usual snide expression returned, “I have this nice new strain of non-contagious flesh eating fungus that specifically loves the flesh around nerve ganglion, and the intent to see its fast acting pace tested under field conditions."
After the wave of revulsion passed, Erik looked back over to the Grunts as they sat around a table. “Explain to me how having him here helps you, children. Need I show you the class expose’ on bio-weapons again?”
Bomber slowly stood up and looked from Erik to Jobe, “I could just shoot them, but it would not have the same effect. After all dead folks are just dead. No, after this, no one will ever consider violating the cardinal rule of, "Thou shalt not take shit that happens in the Sims, out of the Sims... Lightly.”
Erik paused for the second time in the space of a few minutes and reflected on the intensity of focus that had crept into the team. He gave the normally sociopathic Bomber a cold look and nodded slowly. Then he dropped the psycho act, “All right you lot, grab a seat and tell me what you got. You've thought this through, obviously, so let's see if you have a plan that'll work AND keep Carson from crawling up your asses with intent to expel.”
Just as Jobe eased into a seat, Bardue walked in and threw his brown-round firmly against the wall. He snapped a cold look at Jobe, “You are urgently needed at the infirmary, Slapdash you will drive him. You will ignore any ‘given’ roads excepting the ones you need, screw the speed limits, traffic laws and you will take the shortest route. Don’t hit anyone.” As the two boys blinked a few times he snarled, “Move out!”
Jobe surprisingly didn’t protest as Mule picked him up and moved him in the direction of the door as Slapdash scrabbled in his pockets for his keys. He did look over his shoulder at the dry erase board, “Get the items I listed.”
Bardue didn’t even bother to look it and said, “Make it happen.”
Once the team had departed, Erik walked over and picked up hat and winced at the bent brim. He walked over to Bardue and casually handed it to him, “Now that you have to buy a new hat, care to explain why you are so pissed?”
“Another student got tagged like Folder,” Bardue pointed to the computer, “Pull up all the Sim matches from the start of the year. Specifically check and see if Packrat ever faced off against anyone in the Punk Patrol.”
“You look like you know the answer already and don’t like where it is going,” Erik said as he went to the computer and turned it on.
“No I don’t like it in any shape or form,” Bardue acknowledged, “To make matters worse, do you know the nurse Ms. Muller?” at Erik’s nod he continued, “she inadvertently made contact with the boys hands and was infected too.” Bardue looked down to see the crease in his hat and he dropped it to the floor and intentionally stepped on it, crushing the crown. “The real shit kicker is that Folder has been deliberately reinfected as well, and no one knows how.”
“Ok, that does not make any sense unless someone deliberately wants to make Anvil the scapegoat,” Erik paused and typed in his passwords. “I’m starting to think that this has all the earmarks of someone off campus trying to fuck with ‘The Rules.’”
Bardue nodded slowly as Mahren had evidently picked up on his own line of thinking, “Yes, I am going to make a few calls, let me know what you find.”
Slapdash blinked as Ms. Carson personally directed him to park behind the infirmary. He nodded and watched with a smile as Jobe slowly unpeeled his hands from the safety harness as a few security guards watched with amusement. Once the all terrain attack vehicle had stopped, Jobe could not exit the vehicle fast enough.
“That,” Jobe said once he was outside and on firm ground, “was disturbing.”
“What? We’re here and intact aren’t we?”
Jobe seemed to take inventory for a moment, “Quite.”
“Jobe is needed inside, now,” Ms. Carson said pointing to the back doors of the infirmary. Once Jobe started moving she looked at Slapdash, “Thank you for getting him here so quickly.”
“My pleasure Ma’am.”
She smiled and with a concerned look at the infirmary said, “I am given to understand your team is working with Jobe.”
She nodded thoughtfully, “Good. I need to discuss a few things with Delarose and then speak with Bardue.”
“Gunny is out at the team bunker out at Range Six Ma’am,” Slapdash supplied.
“Ah, that would explain why you would be driving Jobe here.” She chuckled, “I’ve never seen Jobe disturbed in that manner.”
Slapdash grinned wickedly, “Well Gunny did say to ignore the speed limits and the roads at need.”
“Ah, that would account for the mud and bushes in your brush guard.”
“Yes, hmm, I may have set a new time and created a new course.” He gave an abashed look at Ms. Carson. “Can you pretend I didn’t say that?”
“What? I know about Professor Choudhari’s unlisted race courses,” her eyes twinkled, “though do remember that Security and the Grounds Keepers will be irate if you leave ruts all over campus. If you should revisit the last lap this particular race course without a real need.”
Slapdash blinked, “Ma’am, I sincerely hope there will not be a ‘need’ for it.”
“Yes,” her expression clouded as she turned away, “indeed.”
“Jobe, good you are here.” Ophelia said and pointed to the three rooms that seemed to bustle with urgency, “Two new patients and Folder.”
Stopping in mid-stride he frowned, “Folder would not have had a relapse, given his systems response the first time.” His eyes tracked to Forsythe and back to the treatment rooms, “Someone gave him a fresh dosing.”
Ophelia blinked and then nodded, “With the same markers.”
Jobe tapped his foot angrily and scowled, “Right, it will take me a couple of hours to work up an inoculation serum and antagonist. I trust the student body is being kept in the dark?”
“Yes,” was Ms. Carson’s answer from behind him.
He nodded as he thought furiously, “Potentially problematic, but nothing new to me.”
“So it seems,” Ms. Carson said and inclined her head at him.
Ophelia looked at him inquisitively, “What is?”
“I see.” Jobe shrugged and then smiled grimly, “I accept the onus.”
“Thank you,” Ms. Carson said with a relieved smile.
“Accept what?” Ophelia asked.
“Call it karma,” Jobe smirked, “after all, ‘no good deed goes unpunished.’”
Ophelia looked back and forth between Jobe and Ms. Carson, “I don’t understand.”
“No, I suspect not,” Jobe said snidely and then he sneered deliberately at her, intentionally working to refocus her train of thought from Ms. Carson’s and his own, “you would have to walk in my light a while to understand.”
She scowled back at him, “Right, whatever.”
Ms. Carson’s voice held a razor sharp note, “Jobe!”
Jobe winced and stood formally, “I am sorry, that was unprofessional of me.”
Ophelia paused and tried to reconcile the two images Jobe presented to her magical mind. One image was that of a revolting piece of offal the world could easily do without. The other image was equally revolting, a force of darkness that kept the light and worse bits of darkness, in harmony. Disquieted, she unfocused that eye and blinked, “I accept your apology.”
Jobe smiled and coolly nodded, “Did Folder’s other problem show its nature?”
“Yes, it is magick, and we don’t know yet if it was deliberate.” Ophelia sighed, “Poor kid.”
“He is turning female then,” Jobe stated as a fact.
Hesitantly she nodded, “The evidence is clearly there.”
Jobe nodded and glanced to Ms. Carson, “Folder has my silence, considering this is a ‘medical issue.’”
Relieved, Ms. Carson nodded, “Thank you.”
“I would like a sample of his DNA afterwards, I won’t muck with it. But I am curious, as I have a related project on the back burner.”
Ophelia blinked and rapidly shook her head envisioning nightmares, “You would have to ask Folder.”
“Ah, well then, to the lab?”
“To the lab.”
Erik was annoyed, his search had shown Packrat’s team to have encountered the Punk Patrol, but Packrat’s team had been utterly demolished in the bout. He dutifully highlighted the entry and took the print out over to Bardue who was reviewing the different combat tapes on a different terminal.
With a grunt Bardue took the print outs and noted the highlight. A moment of typing produced the file and a few minutes later after watching the clip in high speed, he dropped the print outs in the trash. Leaning back he pursed his lips and thought furiously.
“Obliviously if anyone wanted revenge about ‘that bout,’ Packrat’s team would have been wanting it. Considering they got slaughtered in under six minutes.” Erik said as he noted Bardue’s expression.
“Yup, I would have considered Packrat’s old team for a ‘deep plot.’ Except for the simple reason that, that specific team dissolved loudly a few days later.” Bardue shook his head, “The members are on new teams and are happy there.”
“Ok,” Erik paused as The Grunts wandered by with their arms full of boxes. “I can imagine Anvil has tons of people that dislike him, are any that would fuck over other people to get back at him?”
“Pick any kid he has bullied, some of them are not right in the head…” said Bunker as she dropped a receipt on Gunny’s desk. “Care to say what got you so riled Gunny?”
“New victims, and that Folder was reinfected,” he said as the Grunts circled his desk.
Bunker’s eyes flashed and she spent a moment giving vent to her vast vocabulary of profanity. Bardue smiled grimly once she tapered off, “Yes, my thoughts exactly.”
“Well shit,” said Slapdash as he entered the room.
Deadeye looked over, “What?”
“Folder was infected again,” he paused as the others nodded, “oh.”
Erik looked over at Bardue, “So Gunny, ideas?”
Deadeye frowned and suddenly produced a notepad from his cargo pocket, he jotted a note and handed it to Slapdash briefly, who nodded, he waved it around to show what he had written, ‘Slap, bust out the toys and sweep the room for bugs.’
Bardue glowered, “Well it looks like the usual cluster fuck is underway.“ He picked up a pen and wrote, ‘Explain,’ on a yellow legal pad.
“Yup the usual drill Gunny.” Deadeye tapped his nose and then held it making a disgusted face, and then he wrote down a note “How did our enemy know the trashcan in Mules’s room was totaled?” He dropped the notepad on Bardue’s desk after showing it around.
Erik glanced around but he nodded and picked up the notepad and scribbled, as he did so he added verbally, “I bet they gave the case to Forsythe, the man is so useless.” He then showed his note, ‘Outside, quietly.’ “Well I suppose Security will piss and moan if we try and pick up the fumble.”
Bardue grinned, “Yeah Delarose and Carson said for me to tell you all to stand down and keep our asses on the range where we belong. Ms. Carson is convinced the people behind this are either in the Punk Patrol or are their stooges.” With that he stood up, “So get your pistols, boys and girls we’ll go vent our ire on the range.”
Bardue handed a box of ammunition to the kids and smiled, “Ok kids, fill up your magazines while we talk. Deadeye, bring out your dazzling burst of insight for us.”
Deadeye nodded, “As far as traps go, the trashcan was ideal, and we will have to sweep Mule’s room later. Either one of them could have presumed the other to have purchased it, but since it was under Mules desk, Mule was likely the target.”
“Ok, makes sense and was the trashcan discussed anyplace other than the bunker or your room?” Erik asked.
“No, have you have encountered Folder’s humor, where any encounter might give him a reason to pontificate as to the costs of violence?” he paused as Erik nodded.
“Thus endeth the lesson?” Erik asked with a grin.
“Precisely,” Deadeye briefly smiled, “Would you discuss that any where, other than where you know it won’t get out?”
“No.” Bardue chuckled, “The boy does love his sermons.”
“Ok, so Mule, did you throw out the can last night after we left?” Deadeye asked.
“No,” Mule shook his head, “I planned on getting a new one if Pat didn’t ‘unbend’ it, after dinner.”
“Hmm, so where is the old can?” asked Bardue aloud.
“Well I would suggest looking in the dumpsters,” said Erik nonchalantly.
“Trash day is not until Wednesday,” Bomber muttered sourly, “The fucking dump truck driver makes a point of rattling the fucking bin several times once it is empty and in the air. Then the fucker drops it, deliberately.”
“Well today is still Monday,” Bardue chuckled, “Mule, since you should know exactly what the old can should look like, you are excused to look for it. The rest of us will burn a few clips to keep up pretenses. Then if you have not discovered it by then, they will turn out and help you.”
“Wonderful,” muttered Mule.
“It gets better,” Deadeye said motioning for Mule to wait, “baring Forsythe and very likely Delarose, and nobody but the medical staff and you two had any reason to know that Jobe was working with us.”
Bardue frowned, “Go on.”
“While Jobe is not the poster child of basic ethics and has pissed off many people, he does know his shit, mostly.” Deadeye waited to see if anyone discounted the idea and after moment continued, “If you were the Mastermind of this operation; would you want Jobe loose to bring his full talents to bear and sniff you out?”
“Oh fuck no,” Erik said with a look of distaste, ”I’d either infect the punk, kill him or keep him six kinds of busy chasing red herrings. Simply put, Jobe knows enough shit to be considered dangerous in anyone’s book.”
“Yeah, even though he does have colossal fuck ups, his science is solid,” said Slapdash as he rejoined the group on the tail end of Erik’s speech. “Though like you have said, ‘he knows enough to be considered dangerous,’ but it’s rarely, if ever him that gets the shaft.”
“Precisely, so we may have forced our enemy into making their first blunder,” Deadeye paused, “so how bugged were we?”
“I isolated four bugs and found a virus that copied every key press on the keyboards of the computers,” Slapdash glanced at the group, “I would mention that it also kept records of any websites you may have visited, including the interesting ones.” He watched as the members of the group frowned or paled, “So you should all change your passwords pronto.”
“Lovely, so did you destroy those items?” Erik asked.
“Nope, I’ve got a toy running that might tell us who is listening, where they are, and,” Slapdash smiled, “we can now feed them what we want them to know.”
“After all…” Deadeye said with a smirk.
“Knowing is half the battle,” the rest chorused as Bardue whimpered in protest.
Jobe studied his reflection in the mirror and he continued to putter in the lab. The time periods he had quoted Carson and Doctor Tennent were completely fictional; he already had the base for the nano-based antagonist prepped. Considering it was a part of his ‘working kit,’ the time to make the inoculation strand was a bit trickier to calculate, but the preparation base for that too, was sitting in a vial as well. He was just waiting on the perpetrator to strike and ‘give’ it to him.
He had been deliberate in his preparations and his trap was ready. The fools that had attempted to strike at Mule and by mischance hit Folder, were obviously panicked. Though he was not sure what was to be gained in Folder’s death. Anvil was certainly under the gun for the first attack, even though he was innocent of it. Fingering the bully was a cute stoke of sublime humor, as it could send two messages.
So it was rather anti-climatic when the brief hot sting registered in his consciousness. He brushed at the spot on his shoulder with his prepared hand and then he shrugged dismissively, carefully watching in the mirror, the door eased quietly shut. As he suspected, the assailant had been invisible.
Calmly he waited a full minute and burst into carefully rehearsed movements. He popped open the vial that held the antagonist and poured the fine nanite powder onto his contaminated hand. Next he waited for the color change that visibly marked the nano’s confirmation of programming. Using a handy microscope slide he scooped a pinch of the power up and dumped it into a larger beaker that held nothing but raw materials for the nanos to replicate in. That done he pause to wash the remaining nanos down the drain, they would replicate on their own at a slower pace and work into the water supply, no great loss.
Next he checked his written instructions and nodded as each step was specifically and flawlessly explained. He lay out all the materials needed, and he then marked them in two manners, numerically and color-coded. Once he was absolutely certain everything was correct he picked up the neutralizing agent to counter the substance on the outer door handle.
Carefully opening the door he sprayed the outer handle. Counting precisely he waited the full fifteen seconds and then noted the absence of whorls in the fingerprints that were now visible. So they were not complete fools, how nice. He walked back to his tool kit and picked up a different spray bottle. Once more he opened the door but this time he knelt down and sprayed the surface of the floor.
He sighed and shook his head, as a distinctive pair of footprints was clearly visible in moments. ‘What morons, he would have never made that mistake,’ he thought as he returned the spray bottle to his kit and picked up two specially treated pieces of paper. A few moments later he had mirror copies of the footprints preserved on the paper. With a smirk he walked back with yet another spray bottle and neutralized that bit of work and incidentally his own trap. After all, he was a professional, and a professional never hit the wrong target.
As the first hint of infection became noticeable as he once again reviewed his instructions. He really did not relish the bout of induced hyperthermia that was to come, but to ensure he had the freshest possible live sample it was the only way. After all, the morons that had tagged the nurse and two students were likely unaware that the virus was mutating.
Certain that the virus was proceeding apace, he walked to the door opened it carefully and called out, “Dr. Tennent, could you help me a moment?” he closed the door and ensured his kit was secure and armed.
He made a great show of looking miserable he thought, as he spoke loudly, “I’m having trouble reading the text on this bottle,” once the door slipped shut behind her, he quickly handed her the sheet of paper that held the instructions he had prepared.
“What?” she asked loudly as she took in the large block letters that said, ‘Shut up, read carefully as I have been infected.’
Jobe noticed the look of concern that filled her face as her mind connected the dots. The speed in which her expression changed was comforting as it ensured that she understood exactly what he was doing. And while he didn’t much seek out the compassion of the medical types, it was heartening. It was also nice that she actually took the time to reread the process twice as he had dictated in the list of instructions.
Frowning she picked up a pen and wrote, ‘I am sorry you had to go though this.’
He smiled and bowed his head, taking back the pen he wrote, ‘Thanks, remember Folder has to get the green vial, it is labeled number four. Add it to her protein supplement or her muscle mass will be devoured by the virus, including the heart muscles.’
She blinked and nodded quickly, then wrote ‘I will remember.’
‘Good, please excuse the next outburst of mine, it is all an act for our enemies benefit, as this place has been bugged,’ he sighed audibly and shrugged at her.
She blinked and wrote, ‘We are bugged?’
He paused to take a small cube from his pocket, he dropped it to the desk and it started to glow with a red hue. He then wrote, ‘Merry Xmass, you may keep it as I have dozens more.’
She nodded and picked it up.
As a wave of vertigo swelled up, he underlined his prior note, and mouthed the word ‘sorry.’ After all one should never piss off the person who is going to keep you alive.
At her nod he took a deep breath, “You, you Quack! How dare you suggest my procedures are risky! Of course they are risky! Everything in science stems from the risk of failure! Stupid bitch! If you are so damned bri…” abruptly trailing off, Jobe took a step to ensure he would collapse in a place free of obstructions and allowed himself to pass out.
Ophelia paused long enough to ensure Jobe did indeed have a pulse, and then she picked up his notes and screamed her assigned lines from the small script on the back of them, directly at his unconscious body. Once the script was complete she opened the door and yelled to her staff to come get ‘Jobe’s ungrateful ass from the floor and put it in a treatment room.’
For some reason, even if it was his script, it seemed satisfying, and that thought troubled her for the next hour.
Bardue was cheerfully and loudly critiquing the Grunts firing range performance. Well it had to be done, and it was a normal thing, he figured anyone that may have bugged them had heard it before. Also he noted the ‘routiness of it’ had helped to take the edge of frustration away from the team somewhat. As they cleaned their pistols he kept a thoughtful eye on the Range road and to the set of instruments where Breaker was working.
As a security patrol car had approached, he motioned for Erik to intercept it. Bardue figured it was Cat with the man’s dinner, and since she was likely looking for a moment or two with her fiancée it was ‘all good.’ If not, well, Erik would make sure they knew the place was bugged.
So he gave Deadeye his usual beef about not making smiley faces on the targets, “No I don’t care if you can do it at fifty meters or at one hundred, your score still sucks worse than Bomber’s does because of it.”
Cat walked in and handed him a letter and then held up a large bag of burgers, “Since you all have been exiled out here, I have brought dinner.”
“Yea! Food!” was Deadeyes immediate reaction, “Gunny still won’t let me shoot the deer, no matter how hungry I am.”
“Then consider this your lucky night,” she smiled and motioned at the door, “but first go help Erik fetch the rest of the meal.”
Bardue ignored the activity and read the note from Jobe carefully, the boy was ballsy, and he was a bit overfull of him self. But he did credit the details that were laid out in the letter as genuine and well thought out. He glanced out the door to where Erik was talking with Mule and Deadeye. Erik waved his own letter at the door and Bardue nodded; he would let the kids eat before passing the letters around, he wanted them to think with their mind and not their guts.
Avery Potempkin carefully analyzed the virus samples from the four patients. Some things had not changed from when he had worked with the Center for Disease Control for ten years before discovering that he really did not like the black hole of information that followed his work. So with a few calls, and his curriculum vita in hand he leapt fully into the public sector.
Arkham Research Consortium, had not blinked at his salary request nor at his requested yearly budget. They did blink at his firm insistence that any peaceful applications of his work only be for sale at ten percent of cost, with only one percent returning to him. Once they had evaluated the projected return from one project, that small quibble vanished on their part.
The non-peaceful applications we kept in a very secure chamber, one deep in a quiet corner of ARC. A place where if the need arose, certain global extinction could be contained. Not that Avery worked to create nightmares, far from it. But like many of the nerve toxins that existed in chemical warfare, the search for a better bug spray did have its unpleasant spin offs.
Avery’s one mental aberration was that of obsessive compulsiveness. Oh he had pills for it, and in between subjects of study, he did take them. His staff called those months of ‘calm,’ the quiet times. Today his meds were far from his mind as he examine the prepared ingredients the student and now patient had prepared.
He turned back to the yellow suited team and smiled, “Well a goodly portion of our work has been prepared for us.”
“You are kidding?” asked the blonde lady as she glanced at his smiling face suspiciously.
He shook his head, “No, oh there are a few minor things to attend to. However it is obvious that a few of my papers have made it here and were read.”
“You mean a few of your protocols were already set up?” she asked worriedly.
He nodded and his team relaxed slightly, “I may have to revisit them, some time later.”
“Right,” the lady said and glanced back at the rest of the team, “so where do we start?”
“Set up the bio-phage factory and get started duplicating the beaker of antagonist here.” He pointed to a beaker that was surging and changing colors slowly.
“Ven vhat?” asked a man whose accent dripped loudly in the room.
“Then Vlad, I want fresh samples from all the victims,” Avery tapped a booted foot loudly on the tiled floor, “we have to ensure the rate of mutation is constant in this virus.”
“Vould it go airborne?” asked the man.
“If this was the height of summer, possibly,” Avery admitted, “and since the virus is heat dependant, the chances are impossibly remote at this time of year.”
The lady walked over to the thermostat and dialed it downwards; “I can’t picture why they had it so warm in here if that was the case.”
“Perhaps to help in the patients recovery from the induced hypothermia.” Avery shrugged dismissing the issue, “Right, let us get to work.”
Kirby Complex for the Mystic Arts
Ophelia found Mrs. Chulkris grading papers, the air in her office hung heavy with the scent of oranges and other delightful spices. The small forest of vines and plants did much to reduce the sterility of the office. Though the odd clutter of brickbat and other assorted things like, ceramic gnomes and cats and the like, did make her wonder how the Earth Mother ever found anything. A glance at the heavy set woman showed her to be in a fair mood, though the small pout of disappointment she wore, indicated someone blew a supremely easy question.
“Busy?” Ophelia asked.
Mrs. Chulkris looked up and beamed, “Oh no, just grading a pop quiz.”
“Fun, fun,” Ophelia slipped into a chair that did not hold growing things and smiled, “So how goes the mayhem?”
Mrs. Chulkris rubbed her nose and readjusted the tortoiseshell glasses that she wore, “Well I have not had to turn a student into a frog just yet.”
“Or drop a house on them?”
“That too,” Mrs. Chulkris smiled and leaned back in her chair giving her companion a thoughtful glance, “Ok, out with it.”
Ophelia pulled out the cube Jobe had given her and dropped it on the desk where it glowed greenly. “Ah good.”
“Might I ask?”
“A bug detector,” Ophelia watched as Jane’s eyes widened slightly.
“Interesting,” with a wave of her hand a small glass pyramid illuminated from within, Jane gave it a glance and smiled, “Well no one seems to be listening, so why the sudden need for the cloak and dagger bit?”
“We’ve a problem, someone is running around and using a bio-weapon to harm people on campus,” Ophelia stated calmly, though her insides were uneasy.
“Actually no, he’s been helping to cure the infected patients, and is currently a patient himself as well.”
“You are not joking?”
“I could wish,” Ophelia smiled unhappily, “Evidently Jobe made himself a target in order to get a ‘fresh’ sample.”
“That sounds remarkably uncharacteristic of him, has he been replaced by a pod person?”
“No, as much as we could hope, I fear with are stuck with him being a bastard.” Ophelia shook her hands briefly in the air, “However, I didn’t come to seek your help with or for
“But you did come for help?”
“Yes, the first victim was Patrick Stiles,” Ophelia watched as Jane’s calm smile dropped open in shock.
“Great Mother of us all,” Jane closed her eyes for a moment, “why would anyone bother that boy?”
“We think that the intentional infection was aimed at another student, his roommate.” Ophelia frowned, “but bio-weapons are very indiscriminate.”
“Where as Jobe tends to be very specific in his targets,” Jane paused to briefly use an indelicate half muttered expression, “Jobe also likes his victims to serve as living examples...”
“Yes, he does not kill to make a point.” Ophelia gave the ceiling a pained smile, “Though he did make a pointed allusion to Karma today.”
“Oh? Do tell.”
“He said ‘No good deed goes unpunished,’” Ophelia said and then she tapped the greenly glowing cube, “Though I am not sure if he was being clever or just ‘being’ Jobe.”
“Hmm, well we can only hope the Law of Returns does not injure anyone else but Jobe when it lands.” Jane lightly chuckled, “Though I expect the whiplash from that to be spectacular.”
“So back to Patrick,” Jane said and tapped the desk thoughtfully, “so if it is not a medical answer you need advice on, so it is either a spiritual question or a magickal one?”
“Yes, Patrick is in the grips of a complex spell, one I am not certain that he did to himself.” She glanced down to her hands, “While he may be fueling a part of it, I suspect someone else’s hand may have initiated it.”
“Not a Psi?”
“Well Louis ‘looked’ for that, and discovered the identity of a person who had abused Patrick with Psi, but nothing that would indicate or initiate a Psi trigger for a spell.”
“Ah, well if any would know, it would be Louis,” Jane stood up, “Let me get my bag o’stuff and I’ll go and have a look at Patrick.”
“Thank you, the only thing I have been able to firmly discern is that the spell he is under, is reworking his gender.”
“Oh my, Patrick has always struck me as very male, even for all his um, size.” Jane colored deeply, “Not that I am ‘light’ by any imagination.”
“Is Patrick one of your students?”
“Not yet, he’s in Gerald’s class, and seemed to be doing well in it.” Jane frowned, “Let us drag Gerald along if he is in.”
“Three witchy types being better than two?”
“Well Gerald does have the ‘male energy’ in abundance,” Jane smirked, “you should see the size of his…”
“I don’t want to know!” quickly interjected Ophelia.
“Feet, I was going to say feet.”
“Sure you were.”
Gerald’s lips curled in annoyance, “Well, well, well.”
Ophelia gave the black goateed man a worried look, “Well?”
Gerald seemingly ignored the question as he produced a bit of chalk from a dark blue vest that showed the signs of age. With an easy grace the thin man stooped and made a series of marks on the floor. His face was briefly occluded by a shock of amber color hair as it drifted from his shoulders to fall forwards as he stooped and wrote.
“Jane, do be a love and ward the room for a few moments,” Gerald instructed as he drew a line around the treatment bed that held the unconscious child.
“Certainly,” Jane retreated a few steps, and closed her eyes, chanting softly as she did so.
Ophelia’s other senses flared to life as the forces of magick grew within the room. She closed her eyes and refocused her magickal eyes so that they would see clearly. With a calming breath she opened her eyes to examine the changes.
To her eyes the room was filled with a pleasing blue green glow the carried the essence of water. A glance to the floor showed a gleaming silver light that burned brightly in the patterns that had been marked in chalk. Patrick was still enwrapped in a multitude of colors that sparkled and danced obscuring his form under them. Gerald, to her eyes, was a glowing gold figure that held a warm sun-like glow at the core of his being. Jane, was as ever, filled with a lush green light that felt of life.
Gerald’s voice sonorously vibrated with an intensity of purpose, as his chant grew audible and then stopped abruptly. Then with a grunt, a glowing vapor splashed out from his hands filling the room briefly before it vanished leaving a fading line hanging in the air.
Ophelia blinked as Gerald produced a thin rod and then started to swirl it quickly in the fading line. “With luck, with luck,” he paused and with a deliberate snap of his fingers said, “Drop the ward please.”
“Done?” asked Jane as she walked over to look at the glowing mass.
“Yes, though it may be a bit late,” Gerald studied the threads he had collected, and then lightly sniffed at them, “Soot and ash, how vexing.”
“Which means?” asked Ophelia with a worried look at the child.
Gerald glanced at the child and then over to the two ladies, “I would have never thought Patrick to be one for make up.”
“He doesn’t swing that way,” countered Jane quickly.
“Ah, do you have a few cotton swabs handy Ophelia?”
“I’m a Doctor, of course I do.” She suppressed the annoyed tone from her voice, “Sorry I don’t mean to be snappish.”
“Quite all right,” I can see your worry for the child burning brightly,” calmly pronounced Gerald. “Since you said we should not touch the child, for health reasons, could you take a damp cloth and clean the child’s face for me?”
Ophelia waked to a cabinet and removed a mask and gloves, once they were on, she opened a sterile tray. “What are you seeing?”
“I am not sure, but Patrick looks like a someone had powered his face like a baby’s bottom.” At Jane’s amused laugh he looked over to her and asked, “What?”
“I would have not figured you for the domestic type,” Jane said as Ophelia worked at the head of the bed.
“My sister had twins, I was around a for few days helping out until a nanny was hired,” he wrinkled his nose, “not my cup of tea, but a necessary thing.”
“Ah, so nice of you,” Jane watched as a frown formed on Ophelia’s face. “Ophelia?”
“Ok, that is new,” Ophelia pointed at the lightly tanned girls face noting the faint hint of olive in her complexion, “Patrick never had that before.”
“He’s got a small gold decoration centered above his eyebrows,” she stepped back, “And his upper eyelids are a coal black.”
“Her dear, Pat is definitely a her now,” Jane scolded lightly, as she walked around the bed to look down on the boy, “How very Hindu-like.”
“Hmm, I do begin to wonder what games people are playing at,” with a shake of his head he waved the thin rod, “I need to follow this before it fades out completely.”
“Games?” carefully asked Jane.
“I don’t think Pat had specifically followed any one path, so I suspect it may have been a ‘prank’ to help him chose.” Gerald frowned darkly, “As his beliefs did seem to be a mix mash of Eastern Beliefs. Or...”
“Or?” Ophelia asked looking at the wand.
“Or someone was being cruel,” Gerald sighed, “Pat does attract that a lot.”
The two ladies nodded reluctantly, “Yes.”
Mule ignored the cool air from the open window and the scent of burnt paper as he lay out his operational clothing for potential nighttime activities. Unlike his daytime attire, the dark black and mottled gray fatigues were designed to take full advantage of the dim hours of the night and shadows. Slapdash had improved on the patterns by adding in a special dye that would diffuse heat, while it would not eliminate the heat signature, it would change the pattern of it make a human figure harder to pick out.
As a glowing red light winked vilely from a rectangle on his desk, and he tried to ignore the urge to vent his spleen loudly at his unseen listeners. It was also hard for him to ignore the bent trashcan that resided inside new plastic bag in the center of the floor. He strongly doubted there would be fingerprints on it, but any chance for evidence would help them find the right target was welcome.
The knock at his door was not the one his team used to signal their presence, so he placed his hand upon the holstered pistol at his belt. “Yes?”
“It’s Doctor Tennent,” announced a familiar voice, “and friends.”
With a worried surge from his gut, he quickly unlocked and opened the door, “Is Pat ok?” The three figures that greeted his eyes seemed mismatched, though they seemed calm.
“Oh, Pat is, well, let us say his condition has declined somewhat, but he is stable currently,” Ophelia noted the boys tense features and smiled gently, “may we come in?”
Mule frowned, he dug in his cargo pocket and pulled out the notebook and pen, a moment later he held up the note, which read, ‘The room is bugged.’ Verbally he added, “If you like.
After a quick survey of the two others Ophelia shrugged, “We just wanted to make sure you were feeling well, considering you may have been exposed in a lesser manner than Patrick.” She eased by the youth and opened her magickal eyes up fully, motioning the others to enter as well.
“Ah, I see,” Mule gave the male professor a dubious glance, as he seemed to wave a magick wand about.
“You’ve met Doctor Bellows?” She indicated the man, “And I ma sure you have met, Professor Carnes.”
“Um, no, not personally,” Mule’s looked at the man who was obviously not Doctor Bellows, considering the hair color and height was vastly dissimilar. His eyes track the to the wand like stick, and with a dawning realization he walked over and selected a book on a shelf near Pat’s Desk. He picked it up and pointed to the covering Pat had placed on it, ‘Magick for Dummies,’ it read.
Jane covered her mouth and suppressed a giggle, as Ophelia nodded gravely. “They were going to join me for a late dinner and elected to tag along on the house call.”
“Ah, well, I feel ok, apart from wanting to feed Anvil his liver,” Mule motioned to the desk and pointed at the glowing light on the box.
“I am sure Security would frown on that,” Gerald stood with his stick over the half of a soda can that held a small pile of ashes in it.
Ophelia walked over and winced as she saw the ashes, “Well you seem fine, have you eaten yet?”
At her firm but negative shake, he blinked and said, “No, not enough, I had a few burgers an hour ago.”
“Well then, as a Doctor, I prescribe that you to come and eat a real dinner.” She paused and then added, “After all if you got ill from lack of hunger, it won’t help things.”
“Doctor knows best,” added Jane, “come on Doctor Bellows, dinner awaits.”
Gerald nodded and slid the threads from the wand into the can of ashes before stowing it away, “Quite so.”
Once outside Ophelia checked the cube as it glowed greenly and frowned sofly, “Well crap.”
“So, what was the charade about?” asked Mule as they walked in the direction of the cafeteria.”
“We were following the fading line of a spell back to its source,” commented Jane as Gerald snorted unhappily.
“A spell?” Mule had unconsciously stopped and Gerald motioned for him to keep up, prompting him to resume walking.
“What was the paper in the can?” asked Jane.
“Someone had taken a naked picture of Pat, and then had written ‘Die Fat Faggot Die’ across the top of it,” Mule said with evident disgust on his face, “It didn’t have any fingerprints or the virus on it, and Pat really didn’t need to see it again.”
“Ah, yes that would be distasteful,” Jane shook her head, “good intention’s aside, it would have been best to save it.”
“Did I make a mistake?” asked Mule worriedly.
“Only out of kindness and lack of knowledge,” Gerald said with a smile and his voice took on a lecturing tone, “items like that are charged emotionally and such things can be traced back to their creator, by non-mundane methods.”
“Oh Crap! I just destroyed evidence.“ Mule frantically shook his head back and forth, “Damn, I am so stupid.”
“Ah, you could not know, however, for future reference you might keep it in mind that be-spelled objects carry a path or link back to their creator.” Gerald shrugged, “If it were intact we could possibly have undone the spell that changed your friend into a girl.”
Mule stumbled over his feet as the words sunk in and he exclaimed loudly “A girl? What!”
Gerald quickly glanced back to Ophelia, “He didn’t know?”
“I was waiting for a calmer time,” Ophelia shook her head and regarded Mule calmly. “Initially I thought Patrick had a defensive spell going on and that the virus had triggered a burn out.”
Mule shook his head tiredly, “Pat doesn’t do defensive stuff.”
“Patrick doesn’t keep active defenses up this is true, but his shield work was solid and slowly progressing,” Gerald added a moment later.
“Pat thinks defensive behavior leads to accepting violence as acceptable,” Mule said as he recited a bit of thought Pat had shared in a discussion. “Much like how he believes that the martial arts only promotes a path that leads to fighting.”
“Ah, that would fit his nature,” Gerald said nodding. “We think someone thought Patrick’s religious nature was imperfect and that this ‘prank’ or spell if you will; was to help him either pick a path or get out of the road.”
“A religious bigot?” Mule asked and then scowled, “Christ, what kind of sick fuck would go that far?”
“Lad there are ladies present,” muttered Gerald firmly.
Mule quickly responded to the verbal nudge, “Sorry ladies.”
“We are not sure if that was the intent of the spell or if it was just a sick prank, in either case it is water under the bridge. No help for it.”
“Pat is not going to take that very well,” Mule said slowly, “he’s vehemently male, to the point that he will get angry if teased about it.”
“Ouch,” Jane winced and exhaled in a slow sigh, “well you could not have known.”
“In any case, it might well have been that the spell was irreversible,” commented Gerald after a moment of silence.
“Do you think so?” asked Mule cautiously.
“It was a radical change,” Gerald gave the worried boy a calming look, “while Patrick may dislike her new female form, she is much thinner.”
“I am not sure Pat will feel that way,” Mule added disgustedly.
Ophelia sighed, “Don’t worry, there is no need for Patrick to know about the picture, and for all we know he may enjoy the change.”
“We can hope,” added Jane a bit later.
“Crud, I guess I’ll have to train a new roommate now,” Mule said wearing a disgusted and crestfallen expression.
“Do keep Patrick’s condition quiet, the last bit he… she needs is to become more of a target,” added Ophelia carefully.
“Yeah, no kidding.”
At the sound of a small commotion, Ophelia stuck her head out of her office see a brightly dressed lady standing n the doorway of the clinic. Frowning she saw Forsyth backing up under a barrage of fast clipped speech. Hesitantly she walked out of the hallway and quickly to Forsythe’s aid.
“I will see Patrick now,” snapped the lady in a tone that brooked no argument.
“Ah, may I help you?” Ophelia took a careful look at the woman dressed in vibrant yellow, red and gold robes.
“Yes, I am here to see Patrick Stiles,” The thin lady gave Forsythe a glower, “Forsythe here seems to think I am a threat.”
“And you are?” asked Ophelia uncertainly.
“I am Professor Tejal Choudhari, Patrick is one of my students, and he was supposed to attend services with us tonight.” Tejas looked expectantly at Ophelia and tapped her hands together impatiently, “Well?”
“Ah, it may be best if we spoke in private.” Ophelia frowned and looked at Forsythe, “I thought you were keeping the doors closed from the outside?”
“I was, however Professor Choudhari is adept in acupressure,” he rubbed his hand, “very adept.”
Tejal sighed and apologetically added, “Sorry, I was not thinking rationally.”
“I will recover,” Forsyth smiled painfully, “however some of my fellow officers are not as understanding.”
Ophelia rolled her eyes at that understatement, “Please come to my office.”
Tejal ignored the twinge of impropriety she felt and lifted the blanket, after a quick glance at the sleeping girl’s nude body; she gently eased the blanket back into place. Ignoring the impassive face of Doctor Tennent, she walked to the girl’s head and with a gloved finger gently touched the small symbol of gold and then the darkened eyelids. When no trace of make up or dye seemed present she stepped back and clasped her gloved hands together as she thought furiously.
“Is there some significance to the red dot on your forehead?” asked Ophelia after a moment.
Tejal smiled and then nodded, “In Hindu culture and belief, the red dot is called a bindi, it signifies that a woman is married. Other symbols may be used if the person is a priest or priestess, while Patrick may preach in jest, personal holiness was never a factor.”
“Ah, I see.” Ophelia studied the exotic woman carefully, “This service tonight, is it special?”
“It is, it celebrates the victory of Rama over the Daemon Ravana.” Tejal gave the unconscious girl a careful look and then peered at the symbol again intently and smiled gently, “The symbol on her face is called an Aum, it represents an awareness of ones own spiritual identity. However it is not usually worn as a bindi, though it does show up frequently in religious use.”
“So this could have been someone’s cruel idea of a lesson?” Ophelia asked angrily.
Tejal paused to consider the question seriously, “Perhaps.”
“What would have done to warrant that?”
“I am not sure, I do not think any Hindu or practitioners of other Eastern Religions would have taken Patrick at task for his beliefs. In fact they may have said his stance on them was respectable.” Tejal took a half step back and with hands in prayer bowed respectfully to the sleeping girl, “Namaste my friend.”
“So that would leave?”
“Any intolerant fool who did not understand Patrick’s nature,” Tejal peeled out of the gloves cautiously, “if this was indeed done in cruel jest, it may backfire or cause Patrick to shatter.”
“Well yes, the Aum will be a daily reminder for her to be spiritual in deed and thought. It may make her stance on non-violence even harder to move.”
“How would that cause h-her to shatter?”
Tejal sighed mournfully, “Others would try to make her move.”
Ophelia considered the implications of that statement and nodded, “True.”
Mule impassively waited at the edge of the mat as a pair of boys sparred. As he had predicted Raj was in there training, working towards martial perfection. Raj was a handsome boy and his features were firmly chiseled provoking a small thrill of lust in Mule’s mind, but Raj definitely did not swing in that manner.
Mule suppressed a small grin as Raj pinned another boy to the mat in a slightly suggestive manner. As the two briefly struggled to hold and or to escape the hold, he was joined by Booker. Booker, was one of the more interesting sorts on campus as he invariably had his fingers in many pies as he could and all of them revolved around money.
“Smart money says Ken there taps out in two minutes,” Booker looked at Mule from under his green billed hat, “any takers?”
“Uh, no.” Mules grinned, “How goes the sporting life?”
“Not too to bad, I am puzzled by a few things,” Booker’s eyes locked in their perpetual squint, “your team is scheduled for Sim’s on Thursday?”
“Yes, as you would know,” Mule said with a smile.
“No one is ill or injured?”
“Most interesting, most interesting.” Booker gave Mule a sidelong look, “I know you would never throw a match, nor would your team.”
Mule gave Booker an indignant look, “Yes, you would know that.”
“True, so I find myself a bit perplexed,” Booker tapped a notepad, “for some odd reason the odds against your team are strange.”
“How strange?” Mule asked hesitantly.
“I am sure it must be a mistake, but they would indicate your coming bout as obvious mismatch.” Booker peered at Mule cautiously, “Something akin to a newborn terrier puppy fighting a elephant, a mad elephant.”
“Ok, where would you place the odds, given what you know of our team?” Mule asked.
“Eight to six says you win by a close margin, four to one says the match goes nearly the entire length.” Booker smiled, “I plan on watching it.”
“So it will be a tough fight, good,” Mule smiled savagely.
“Yes, but it does not explain why the odds in Nevada hint that you will be decimated handily.” Booker scowled, “Perhaps my source was incorrect.”
“Yeah sounds like it.”
“Are you going to spar with Raj or Ken?” he asked hopefully.
“Raj, I owe him for a bit of abuse in our last bout,” Mule grinned, “I had surprised him with a trick and now he says he has a counter.”
“Ah, fun.” Booker chuckled, “Should I stand by the phone and be ready to call a medic?”
“I do not think it will go that way,” Mule smiled, “this is just a friendly training session.”
“Ok, I do look forwards to Thursday,” Booker chuckled, “if the odds remain as they are, I will most assuredly clean up when you win.”
“No, I never put money down on the team matches, it prevents potential problems,” Mule said with a smile. “Now if you have odds for the Seahawks, I may be interested.”
“Ah, I’ll get back to you on that,” Booker smiled, “it’s still early for solid numbers.”
“Ok, keep me in mind.”
“Will do,” Booker grinned, “so is this going to be a real bout or just an exchange of techniques?”
“It’s just an exchange,” Mule watched Bookers hopeful expression fade some what, “sorry to get your hopes up.”
“No matter, I’ll just have to find another potential subject of chance in which to lure the bettors with.”
“Well good luck on that,” Mule said to the departing youth’s back prompting an amused chuckle in return.
“Hey Mule,” said Raj as the two prior combatants joined him at the edge of the mat, “what’s shaking?”
“Only the ground when you knock me on my ass,” Mule bumped fists with the two boys, “and then I get up from the rubble and return the favor.”
“True enough, I can always count on a solid fight when working you over in the Sims.” Raj laughed as Mule gave him the finger, “So coming to bow out?”
“Hardly, we like our lumps,” Mule said as he stepped onto the mat, as the two faced off he added, ”Have you heard about Folder?”
“Not really, just that he was sick and that Anvil is in the hot chair for messing with him.” Raj lunged and Mule back peddled out of the snap kick that followed.
Mule nodded and took a stuttering half step sideways and slapped a restrained hammer blow down on the retreating thigh eliciting a pained grunt, “It’s worse than that, much worse than that.”
Raj nodded and stuck Mule just below the collarbone sending a spike of pain down Mule’s arm, “I see, and you think I?”
Mule whirled and dropped low to spiral under Raj as he jumped up, “No, you don’t go for bullying.”
Raj smiled thinly and lightly tapped the back of Mules head with a kick as they danced apart, “Oh one time I might have, but I’ve learned better.”
“Point,” Mule acknowledged and they took up places across from each other again, “Pat’s messed up bad, and he may not return to class, ever.”
“Shit, I am sorry to hear that.” Raj stopped and bowed, “Lets go walk for a minute I am feeling a bit over heated.” Mule bowed in return and followed as Raj walked outside quickly, once they were easily away from prying ears, Raj sat down on a bench. “Sit, talk.”
“You’ve had a rough time here last year, so you know just how fucked up things can get,” Mule stated.
“Yeah, the war has not exactly helped things for Muslim’s anywhere.” Raj smiled, “Though eventually people on campus figured it out.”
“Yes,” Mules paused and took a breath, “Religious wise, how would you view Pat?”
“Kid Buddha?” Raj closed his eyes and appeared to consider the question, “In my home country of India and some other countries, many would think he was working on becoming a priest, though if in India would likely be considered one already.”
“I see, and your take on him?”
“He’s a nice guy, but I can’t live his way,” Raj smiled savagely, “I like to fight too much.”
“Yeah, ok, looking at the religious angle, who would try and force him away from his beliefs?” Mule asked carefully.
“Last year, fuck, there would have been a good handful, you remember Sibby?” at Mules nod he continued, “Her lot would have had done everything in their power to make him go to the dark side, and then twisted him some more.”
“Yeah, I don’t think any miss her much,” Mule glanced around, “any of them still here?”
“No, none.” Raj smirked and made a snapping motion in the air in front of him, “I think it was pointed out early in the year that, that sort of crap was unwelcome.”
“Ah, good. If you had to pick a likely candidate in this years lot?”
“Apart from the Goobers?” Raj asked with a bit of heat.
“Well they would not stoop to infecting a person in order to make them change their beliefs, talking them to death yes, infecting them, no.”
“Jobe, that fucker, I’ll break his… What?” Raj’s impassioned tirade stopped as Mule shook his head.
“No, whoever did it fucked with Jobe and a few others as well.” Mule paused, “Jobe is pissed, as folks initially blamed him.”
“With good cause, as Jobe is sick that way.” Raj glared at Mule, “Don’t tell me he’s actually innocent this time?”
“Yeah he is, and he has saved Pat’s life twice now it seems.”
Raj frowned and seemed to dismiss his anger quickly, “Ok, so you are looking at someone with a knack for chemistry and intolerance?”
“Actually magick and intolerance, not that the two could not be related,” Mule frowned and thought a moment, “Part of Pat’s problem is that he has been magically ah, disfigured.”
“Now that is fucked up, I mean the guy was already grossly fat.” Raj sighed and kicked his feet out to lean back on the bench, “I would say Hekate, but that bitch is about as atheistic as you get. Not to mention she would not go near Pat socially or otherwise, so you can eliminate her I think.”
“Well you can skip any of the Thornies, they would reshape themselves to be like the ‘pretty people.’ And would not likely disfigure Pat.”
“So of all likely pure mage types, maybe Cassandra Phelps.” Raj looked over to Mule and added, “She has issues with religious types, real issues, but largely she keeps her mouth shut.”
“Would you consider Pat religious?”
“Yeah, but he has not stated any one belief, though like I said; if he were in India they would consider him so.”
“If you had to pick a chemistry or biology freak to say was bigoted and might attack to change a persons beliefs?”
“Hmmm, I’m not sure. You can skip anyone in ‘le Carnival,’ they might have an interest in a religion if it involved getting stoned, but to mess with some one like Pat. No, they would likely try to get him high, but that is it.”
“Yeah, and fail, Pat considers the idea revolting.”
“Biology, Jobe’s rival Belphutass, but that feud is pretty much limited to themselves. I think you can rule out any senior or freshman, as the seniors are more worried about life after Whateley. As for the froshes, well Jericho might potentially be good enough in time, but he hangs with the freaks and thus is too weird to be bigoted.”
Mule laughed, “Yeah, I know Jericho, that is not his speed.”
“So that leaves you with a Junior, Ass-mon-de-ass,” Raj frowned, “As serious case of fucked up that has ever walked the planet.”
“The name does not ring a bell.”
“No it would not, Asmon Diaz, also known to the rest of the campus as Theophany, Theo for short.” Raj shook his head, “The boy’s code name is supposed to suggest that before you talk to god, you talk to him. Or some such rot, he says he has divine visions, the whole nine yards.”
“So a conceited bastard with religious pretensions?” Mule nodded thoughtfully.
“Yes, add in some mental problems, and the fact he -really- thinks god or something talks to him.” Raj slapped his head thoughtfully, “And if I remember correctly he is not too shabby mage wise. If you mix it up with him remember; big flashy magicks usually hide a stab in the back from him moments later.”
“Ok,” Mule filed the information away, “So he fits the mold perfectly, but why?”
“He’s fucking nuts, insanity doesn’t often need a reason.” Raj shook his head angrily, “Seriously though, this guy is bent in the brain cells, if he thinks you are coming for you he’ll either rabbit and come back at you sidewise or go apocalypse on your head.”
“Does he have a combat team?”
“Not one worth a damn, Coercivity. Supposedly it’s an electronics term for reducing required to reduce the magnetization of an area to zero, after the magnetization of the sample has been driven to saturation.” Raj inhaled, “They think it means flatten the area around them to ash and rubble.”
“All power, no finesse?” Mule asked with a grin.
“Exactly. Long on power, short on tactics and while they do hit hard; any team with a shred of brains fucks them up.” Raj shook his head, “Booker won’t do biz with them.”
“Well gambling is supposed to be a gentleman’s sport, and they are not gentlemen.” Raj stood up, “Well I’m cooled down, tell Patrick that I will pray for him.”
“I’ll pass the word to him,” Mule sighed, “he’s in a bad way.”
Raj sighed and his eyes closed in thought, “You may have to ask Jobe as to if Asmon has enough talent to pull off a virus capable of taking him down.” He opened his eyes and rubbed his chin,” I’m not sure Asmon is up to that task, but do the same thing with a spell, now that would be in his grasp.”
“I’ll see if I can get into see Pat and Jobe tonight.”
“Well if you need help, you know where I can be found.” Raj’s smile held no peace in it, “Wash your back, I intend to leave foot prints on it and do not want to get my feet dirty.”
“Yeah, yeah, all talk and no dancing.”
Raj smirked, “Remember those words Thursday.”
Mule stood up smiling, “I’ll bring a recorder so you can listen to them repeatedly.”
Mule nodded to Forsyth in greeting, “The Doc said to stop in if I felt ill.”
Forsyth frowned suddenly, “Crud.”
“It may just be dinner not setting well,” Mule paused and pulled out a note pad, he scribbled briefly and held up, ‘Might have a lead on Pat’s attacker.’
“I’m sorry to hear you are not feeling well,” Forsyth pullout his own pad, and wrote ‘Who?’
Mule sighed and belched deliberately adding in a mild gagging sound, “I hope it is just dinner.” He paused then added to his note, ‘Two possible: Cassandra Phelps or Asmon Diaz, Diaz seems to be most the likely choice - no proof yet.’
“Well you better get in and see the Doc, with luck a bottle of Pepto and you’ll be up to trouble in no time.” Forsyth nodded grimly, ‘I’ll ask around’ he wrote and tucked the pad into his pocket, “Better hurry lad, I think she has a meeting soon.”
“Yeah, classes tomorrow will be a bitch if I can’t sleep.”
“There is that.”
Ophelia looked up from the paperwork on her desk at a knock, “Yes? Oh hi Mule, what is up?
“Well you said to stop by if I was feeling off.” Mule wrote, ‘May have a lead. Need to talk with Jobe & magickal types.’
“Well let’s get you sorted out.” Ophelia stood up and motioned for him to follow, “So what sort problems are you having.”
“My stomach feels a bit messed up,” he belched deliberately behind his hand, and then he added, “it could just be the mystery meat from dinner.”
Ophelia nodded, and pointed to a storeroom as she quietly unlocked it, “Well come on in, and I’ll get your vitals.”
“You’re the doctor,” Mule said taking in the odd array of equipment with a glance.
Ophelia eased the door shut and checked the cube to be sure the room was still unmonitored. “Ok, I think we are safe, what have you found out?”
“I did some asking around, know anything about Asmon Diaz?” he asked as he opened up his notebook to a fresh page and looked at her expectantly.
“A junior I think, fairly decent at evocation.” She shook her head, “He likes flashy magick, and I think he spent too much time as a kid watching stage magic. Though I’ve seen him do some impressive slight of hand tricks.”
“Ok, do you think he has enough skill to pull off the bit with Pat?”
“Skill, maybe, raw power no.” She added a moment later, “Transformation magicks of that complexity would require a strong source of magickal energy to bring off safely. Diaz’s strength lies towards invocation and evocation.”
“Ok those are the technical words for?”
“Evocation is an act of summoning and releasing things, be it power, a spirit or daemon.” She watched Mules’ face turn thoughtful, “Invocation is slightly similar, though it lends itself more to the gathering of information from sprits and other sources.”
“Ok, supposedly Diaz is more than a bit mental, and really believes sprits talk to him.” Mule paused, “Say for a moment he is just nuts, would there be a record of it?”
“Rather than mucking with powers that could melt his cerebellum?” Ophelia nodded, “I can check for that. Though if he’s adept as rumors say, spirits could indeed be talking to him.”
“Please check on the mental side just in case, and are Jobe and Pat awake?”
“Well Jobe is bitterly semi-coherent, Pat is still in the thralls of the spell.” Ophelia’s voice was filled with humor, “Jobe’s discomfort, if you should ask him, is legendary. So don’t.”
“I’ll remember that,” he said with a grin. “Also you might ask about Cassandra Phelps, supposedly she is a bit of a bigot too, but keeps her mouth shut.”
Ophelia blinked, “Ms. More Jew than you?” she hastily she covered her mouth looking slightly abashed.
“I take it that you know her.”
“Well, yes.” Ophelia’s expression warred between humor and annoyance, “She ah, got kicked out of Englund’s World Religions class last year. Spectacularly kicked out.”
“Well she had the ‘gall’ if you will, to challenge Englund on his lack of Jewish content.” Ophelia rolled her eyes, “Not that she was wrong in her observations, but her manner left much in the way of tact and political correctness.”
“Would she likely go after Patrick?”
“No, but she has a real hate on for folks making hell for the people in Israel.” Ophelia shook her head and sighed, “An understandable reaction considering she has lost family there.”
“Ah, so Pat would not likely be a target?”
“No, well not anything drastic, Cassandra tends to focus her ire on militant types.” Ophelia tapped her nose, “But from what I remember she is good with transformation magicks so we might ask her to evaluate Pat with an eye to restoring him, later on.”
“So she could do it?”
“Yes, but like I said the motivation simply isn’t there.”
To his eyes, Jobe did seem worse for the wear. While Mule could not feel any real sympathy for the guy, he would not wish a virus like this on anyone. “How goes the fight?” Mule neutrally asked as holding up a note pad which asked, ‘Bugged?’
“Well I did not enjoy the process,” Jobe glowered at the monitors and nodded deliberately.
“Yeah, I figured you would be out longer,” Mule said and paused to write a moment.
“Well, I did stack the deck in my favor,” Jobe sighed loudly, “I am going to make sure the bastard responsible endures something similar.”
“Good.” Mule handed the notepad and pen to Jobe, he had written, ‘Think Asmon Diaz is good enough to pull off the virus?’
Jobe gave a shocked look to Mule and asked, “What? No protestations of not going that far?” He closed his eyes and dismally looked at the notepad for a long moment, he paused and appeared to deliberately write clearly. ‘No, he’s not even good enough to wash Belphuckyass’s bottles.’ He passed the note pad back and looked expectantly at Mule.
“Jobe, I don’t think anyone would complain too much if these bastards got what they had coming to them.”
“Yes I get that feeling too.” Jobe motioned at the note pad and took it back from Mule, ‘I expect another attack here, but it won’t be effective. Get the inoculation before you leave, and expect a direct infection based attack, it will feel like a brief sharp sting or small burn.’
“So is there anything I can get you?” Mule nodded and looked deliberately at him.
“A hot nurse that knows nothing about me?” Jobe smirked, ‘I’m fine, the idiots who attacked me don’t know squat about immunology, I now have antibodies. I may get a sniffle after another attack nothing more.’ He turned the page and added, ‘Invisible assailant, possibly you can use thermal goggles to capture them.’
“Yeah if I got sick I would want that as well.” Mule paused and smiled savagely, “I look forwards to catching these people.”
“I think the only ones who would not want real justice would be the Beta Brats and a few in the Capes,” Jobe smiled thinly, “There are lines you do not cross.”
“Yeah, I need to look in on Pat.”
Jobe paused and sighed, then he spent a few moments writing, ‘Jobe is not like he was.’ “I feel for the guy, does that surprise you?”
“I find the idea of having something like what has been forced upon him, abhorrent. There was no free will in it.” Jobe closed his eyes, “Not even I would not take that kind of choice from a person, intentionally or without a damned good reason.”
“Ah, well try to rest, you look half dead.”
“Yeah, they said they had to restart my heart once due to the hypothermia, not fun.” Jobe sighed, “I’ve got nanites repairing the damage so I should be ready tomorrow.
“It’s nothing, I’ve done worse to myself intentionally.”
“Oh trust me, I have a suitable revenge in store for the bastards, very suitable.”
“Yeah, I’ll let you rest.”
Jobe handed the notepad back and lifted his other hand from under the blanket to show a nasty looking hand gun of some sort, “There is no rest for the wicked, as they say.”
Mule took a wary step back as Jobe’s smile promised much suffering ahead, “Well, get some sleep.”
A frowning Dr. Tennent who was holding an injector greeted Mule with a wave. She handed him a note and lifted his t-shirt sleeve up. Mule held still and tried not to flinch away as it was pressed home. He glanced to the note, ‘Diaz has mild schizophrenia, treated by pills. EM says further possible derangement could be from trying to interact with something he should not, is likely.’
“Here’s the bottle of Pepto and a few aspirin.” She shrugged, “I suppose it is just the mystery meat, but if you get really ill have your dorm parent call us and we’ll send an EMT to bring you in.”
“Wonderful, is Pat conscious?”
She motioned for him to follow and eased the door open a half a foot, “No not conscious.”
Mule studied his unconscious friend and tried to reconcile what he saw, from what he remembered. Reluctantly he motioned for the Doctor to close the door, “I hope he’ll be better tomorrow.”
“We’ll see,” Doctor Tennent gave him a worried look.
“Well I need to get back before it gets too late,” Mule let out a long sigh, “thanks for everything Doctor.”
“I’ll let you know if his condition changes for the worse.”
Mules once outside stopped by Forsythe, “Have you seen Pat?”
“Yes,” was the curt answer.
“He’s so… so.”
“Different, and… cute?”
“It’s going to be a shock to him, going from unseen to being seen.”
“Well, I think Pat would give some of the girls a run for their money now, and I expect that the attention will be disturbing to him.”
Mule thought back to the very pretty girl as she lay silently, “Yeah.”
Forsyth shook his head, “You should get some rest, the damned shot may muck you up a bit. I know that it is making me more than slightly ill.”
Mule stopped at Slapdash’s door and knocked rhythmically and out of time to the music that was heard through it. A moment later when it was seemingly certain that no one had heard him, he hit the door with a harder series of thuds. When there was no answer he grew irritated and hit it just above doorknob deliberately, so it would unlock. Slap had bitched at him for doing it a few times when he wanted to sleep in on a weekend, especially when he had –asked- to be awoken.
Figuring Slap just had his tunes up too while he worked, Mule wandered in to find Slap sacked out on his bunk. With a growl he walked over and checked Slap to see if he was asleep. Slap had a habit of just crashing out fully dressed, so the boots and pants were normal. The excessive sweating was not, so he watched carefully a moment then tapped his booted foot.
“Slap buddy, wakey-wakey,” Mule frowned and tapped the foot harder, “Slap! On the deck soldier!”
When that only elicited a minor twitch, Mule woodenly pulled his radio off of his belt, and then choking back on his fear he called for help.
Delarose gave the five kids a careful glance and noted the anger that stood just inches below the surface ready to roil over. The quiet litany of curses from the girl had tapered off slightly, though he suspected that was more due to Bardue’s arrival. He also noted that Bardue was quiet, the kind of quiet that a jungle got just before it exploded into a firefight.
Mahren was at the infirmary quietly guarding the medical staff and other patients, in place of the ill Forsythe. ARC’s Team had quietly taken charge when the latest victims had been brought in, freeing the medical staff to deal with the hysterical girl that later did awaken screaming without prior warning. Stiles had erupted violently from her enchanted sleep, only to collapse screaming on the floor. Currently the girl was heavily sedated and pumped to the gills, from what he gathered, with anti-depressive and anti-anxiety medicines.
The only upside of the day, was that the student body seemed to think Jobe was the culprit. From what he understood, Carson and Jobe had tacitly agreed to that misdirection in order to keep the student body calm. He’d have to make a point to keep Jobe quietly under watchful eye for the next week just incase the student’s ire exploded. Jobe had taken the news of the student bodies’ attitude with a quiet sneer.
Delarose turned to the small group and spun a chair around to lean against it, “Spill it, I know you’ve been digging, and this info dump is not optional.”
“We’ve only had limited success sir,” Deadeye’s anger carried over to his voice, “we’ve traced the bugs to a empty closet with recording equipment in it. Slapdash had hidden a camera in it, but we suspect that may not be helpful as Jobe reports his assailant was invisible.” Deadeye shrugged, “The other bug we found, has a directional antenna, and it is aimed off campus. We have also recovered the missing trashcan, thus far it has not been of use.”
Delarose looked at Bardue, “Thoughts?”
“Someone is messing with The Rules.” Bardue shook his head, “I called Smythe in and he is doing a hard recon in that direction.”
“I’ve got an idea as to who might have magicked Patrick, but I cannot logically make a viable reason for the second bio attack on him.” Mule took a moment to relate the bits about Asmon Diaz and Cassandra Phelps, and then he added, “Ah, supposedly there is something screwy with the odds coming out of Nevada.”
Bardue sat up and gave Mule a hard look, “Betting on the matches?”
“Oh hell no Gunny, but it doesn’t stop the other folks,” Mule protested. “In any case, I heard that the odds out of Nevada say we are supposed to get stomped, and stomped hard.”
“Not even,” countered Bomber, “I’d have to be in a fucking coma before I’d let that happen.”
Bardue blinked and then stood up, “I think I want an expert’s take on the Nevada odds.”
“Mr. Anderson,” Bardue’s smile was savage, “he bled them a while back, really bled them.”
“Right, well you lot are bunking down here tonight, that way the immunization will have had time to take.” Delarose stood up, “Just damned bad luck that the shot takes time to kick start the immunization process.”
“Any word on Patrick sir?” asked Mule.
“Just that Patrick woke up screaming, and freaked beyond measure,” Delarose watched the boy wince and then look down despondently, “they have got Patrick under heavy sedation currently.”
Tribal Protected Lands, Medawihla Nation
Caleb briefly listened to the report from the radio and remained quiet, waiting on the unannounced visitor to come to him. The thin Cherokee man was dressed in his usual leather pants and black t-shirt. He really didn’t expect to have any trouble, considering that the twins had already gone to ground and were waiting in the bushes. However if there was trouble, six hundred plus pounds of snarling feline fury would quickly end it.
To his eyes the approaching man was alert and moved with a professional’s stance that indicated many years of walking in no-man’s land. Cautious he waited until the man had registered the silence in which that section of forest held. Caleb grinned as the man froze in place and looked around rapidly, he let the man’s nervous tension rise a few moments and then he threw a pinecone at the man’s feet.
Caleb’s sense of humor was not greeted well, as the man seemed to instinctively throw himself to the ground. With an amused smile he tossed another one at the man’s head. As the man jerked around frantically Caleb was only slightly pleased to note that the man had not fired his rifle.
So after a moment of quiet mirth he called down from the tree he was standing in, “Place your weapon on safe and identify yourself.”
There was a slight pause as the man did so, “Sergeant Major Smythe, I am with Whateley Security.”
“Confirmation code?” Caleb asked flatly in a tone that indicated a lack of amusement.
“Charlie One Baker,” the man said as he eased upright.
Caleb sent that information and briefly waited on the reply, once the code was confirmed he started down from the tree. “Ok ladies he’s legit.”
The man blinked and took a step backwards at the two matching tigers rose up from the shadows to stretch. The loud swallow of surprise was understandable, though the man’s scent quickly shifted from dead calm to slightly nervous. Caleb ignored that faint scent and dropped the last few feet to the floor of the forest.
“Uh, hello,” Smythe calmly offered in greeting.
“Hi, do tell me now, what the blazes Whateley Security is doing out here, especially without calling ahead?” Caleb asked in his best unfriendly voice.
“We suspect there has been a violation of The Accords,” Smythe said after a moment, ”and there has been an unusual amount of bugging going on. So we were not sure if our communications were truly clean.”
“Ah, that sounds reasonable thus far,” Caleb frowned noting a small box that winked in the other man’s hands. “Did you know you were heading directly into a ‘no-hunting’ zone?”
The man’s scent sharply took a rise in worry, “Ah no, thank you for stopping me.” He glanced down at the box and continued, “They used a directional antenna, and the signal says it should be ending in this region.”
“Well there is nothing human in this area,” Caleb noted aloud, “apart from you.”
Smythe nodded and crouched down to rest, “Yeah? Wonderful, I don’t suppose you might know if anyone has used this area recently?”
“No, this lane has been closed for a few months,” Caleb knelt down and watched the man work with his instrument, “and it is not supposed to go active for another few weeks.”
“Ah, well the signal meter says the signal is starting to drop off, so what ever is listening for it has to be in the next hundred or so meters.” Smythe looked up, “Is that in or out of the no-hunting zone?”
“Out, but just barely I think. And no you really don’t want to go further than that, hell I would not go further that way.” Caleb shivered visibly, “It has not hunted recently.”
“What is it?” Smythe asked nervously.
“I don’t want to know, and neither do you,” Caleb frowned, “the only thing anyone knows is that the pile of bones near it’s lair has not diminished in many years.”
“It has a fixed range?”
“Supposedly, and no one wants to discover otherwise,” Caleb stood, “if your signal goes further than the marking sign, we are not, and neither are you.”
Smythe shivered unconsciously, as damned little would make a were back off, “Ok, no arguments from me.”
“Good, so what all has been happening?” Caleb asked in his best bored but friendly tone, “We noticed the chopper flying in.”
“We suspect an outside group has supplied a bio-weapon to some folks acting on their behalf on campus.” Smyth stood up and checked the bearings with his meter, “Thus far no one has died from it, but it was a near thing.”
“Shit, well if there is anything we can do, just say so,” Caleb motioned for Smythe to lead, “you lead, we’ll stop you before you go too far.”
“Thank you, I would prefer to not end up as food.”
“Yeah, I would much rather not be food either.”
The short walk was largely quiet, which was a good thing to Caleb’s way of thinking. The report he had forward to Eli was received with the effect he had mentally pictured, shock, brief rage and then a cold certainty of action. He was certain that the secured phone lines were humming and that certain community leaders would be stirred from their homes. After all, if someone had breached the Lanes undetected, someone had better have a good reason why.
Not to mention the records of the Lane’s usage, which might hold a vague clue as to who to look for when the hammer started to come down. True, the were’s didn’t keep an open book wherein which anyone could know; who, what and or when things were allowed in. But they did keep a record secured in case such things such as a breach of The Accords could be tracked to. He did expect that whomever was at fault would find themselves in a world of hurt.
So it was with a frown of consternation that they faced a new ‘No Hunting Permitted’ sign. Caleb regarded the sign and shook his head, evidently the person who put it up had an idea as to what a no hunting sign meant, but they had no clue as to the information one provided.
At Smythe’s alarmed glance he shrugged and walked past it, “That is a fake.”
“Really, how can you tell?” Smythe’s British accent trembled slightly.
Caleb growled softly and then spoke, “It should read, ‘No Hunting Allowed.’” He paused and added, “Also there are no bullet holes or bends in it.”
Smythe processed that bit of information and looked at his meter, “Well the signal is definitely dropping off rapidly.”
“Ok, well we only have about fifty yards to the real sign,” Caleb pointed off ahead of them, “see?”
“No but I will take your word for it,” Smyth said and started to look around carefully. “Mind if I light up my torch?”
“Fires would not be a good idea,” Caleb said after a moments thought.
“Er, I meant a flashlight,” Smythe said with a smile, “sorry.”
“Eh, sure it will only mess with your night vision more so than it will ours.” Caleb smiled wickedly, “we tend to use that to our advantage.”
“I see,” Smythe looked around cautious and then pointed the flashlight up into the air before turning it on.
“So has there been any supposition as to why The Accords are being violated?” Caleb asked as the man swept the area with his light.
“I’m not entirely sure, the victim’s parents do have money,” Smythe shrugged and angled the light upward, “there was some talk of gambling odds being skewed.” Smyth tapped his radio, “But thus far it’s not confirmed.”
“Area Ninety-Nine getting a work out is it?”
“I gather, still if you ask me the risk far outweighs the gain.” Smythe pointed up a tree where the light shone on a small box “Ok, now what?”
“It’s not one of ours,” Caleb sounded pissed even to his own ears,” I think I’ll invite the Boss and Roy to come visit.”
“He’s our tech guru,” Caleb smiled, “you waded past a few dozen of his toys.”
“I didn’t note anything.”
Mr. Anderson’s Residence
Mr. Anderson studied the security monitors that covered the walk to his doorway with a hint of annoyance; yes everything was functioning normally. The probability that the person at his door was in fact Bardue was high enough that he felt it safe to unlock the doors remotely. The bundle of papers in his hand was obviously computer printouts; so the next conclusion was favorably weighted towards Bardue’s presence being related to some sort of simulation programming difficulty. Reassured that all was favorably slanted to a peaceful encounter, he walked down the stairs to meet the man.
“Good evening Gunny, what can I help you with tonight?” He asked once the man was clearly visible.
“I trust your home has been swept for bugs, like usual?” Bardue asked cautiously.
“Scanned every few minutes on a random timer, but you knew that.” Mr. Anderson noted the tenseness of the man’s features and reached in to his lounge coat and produced the remote, calmly he pressed a button and waited the required amount of time, noting the unwavering green and then he smiled and remotely locked the doors. “All secure.”
“Ah good,” Bardue walked over to a dining room table and set the stack of printouts in front of an empty chair. “If you would, I would like your evaluation of these statistics.”
Mr. Anderson nodded and calmly took a seat, “Is this related to a problem that is currently on campus?”
“Yes,” Bardue paused, “I suspect someone is playing fast and loose with The Rules.”
“Ah, and Jobe is innocent?” Mr. Anderson’s question seemed largely to indicate that the conclusion had already been reached.
“I see,” Mr. Anderson took a full minute per page of print out to study the ratings and the projections that arose from them. “I see nothing out of place here. There is a logical progression of skill or experience, with occasional spikes and falls that fit the established cure.”
“Ok,” Bardue handed over a small folded bit of paper, “balance that against the previous data.”
Mr. Anderson opened the page and contemplated the information it presented. Initially the factors matched give norms from the other stack of paper, yet the last entry was radically divergent.
“Interesting, were I to consider the implication of cheating, I would predict much money could be won or lost.” Mr. Anderson closed his eyes and let the flow of probability unfold, “Yes there is definitely something hinky there. By my calculations, the team indicated in the original stack of paper should be the victors, by a good margin, if they perform adequately.”
Bardue nodded slowly, “Factor in that they have been targeted by a bio-weapon and will survive.”
Mr. Anderson opened his eyes, “If so, they would lose if two or more members are yet recovering at the time of the match.”
“Yes, so would you say that that someone is making an effort to fix that match?” Bardue asked quietly.
“That would be the logical assumption,” Mr. Anderson stood up, “can I help you with anything else?”
“Would you have an idea on who might risk such a venue in Nevada?” Bardue asked carefully.
“I will inquire,” Mr. Anderson smiled and held up the remote, with a press of a button he added, “can you find your way out?”
“Yes, and thank you.”
“You are most welcome.”
Mr. Anderson walked upstairs to his room and watched the man recede down the walkway; a quick check of his defenses reassured him that the area was still secure. He briefly reviewed the information and picked up the phone. Some additional information would be required to determine the identity of the offending group. The probability of success approached one hundred percent.
“Is this line secure?” he asked and waited, “Good. The night is dark.”
After an indignant protest he nodded, “Yes, my apologies, I know it is late; however evidence has developed in the current crisis on campus. Yes, it’s not student derived, so we will have to take the proper actions.” He waited as she spoke carefully, “Precisely, I will need the economic data from the primary gambling operations in Nevada. The data required should be in relation to events around Area Ninety-Nine and the economics of those operations. I would like the secondary gambling operations data if time permits.”
“Yes it is related, the evidence thus far indicates this is a financial endeavor for capital gain at the students expense.” He smiled as she spoke, “Yes I do know such things come under your purview, so I have no doubt you will ferret the source in no time.”
“A few hours? No that is fine.” He gave the security remote a glance and continued, “Yes I am preparing to request an action.” With a careful glance of the monitors he nodded absently, “I expect the off campus event or events will not be scheduled for two more days, four at the latest.”
“Of course, also if you would, if you could discern an honest bookie who would be willing to help administer an economic justice along with the physical one?” At her scolding tone he shrugged, “Oh. Yes perhaps your way would be better.”
“Please send the information over when you have it.” Yawning he walked across the room, “I expect only a little sleep tonight, no help for it.” He smiled and scratched at the small bit of stubble on his chin, “No, I’ll endure, I will just give pop quizzes all day. Yes, goodnight.”
Mr. Anderson placed the phone on the hook and walked to a cabinet that held a single bottle of whiskey, he noted the date he had previously inscribed on it and poured a single shot. He then walked down to the coffee maker and started it up, once the coffee was underway and the factors of probability properly stabilized, he downed the shot. After all, coffee countered the toxins in the alcohol, ensuring a continued healthy lifespan. Of which he was continually aware of that flow of probability.
Chief Delarose’s Office
“So it’s on a delay timer?” Delarose asked Smythe carefully.
“Yes sir, the signal goes out, then it hits a recorder and from what they said, it is fired up to an orbiting satellite that swings by every few hours.” Smythe was standing informally yet he seemed tense, “Our furry friends suggested that we needed to secure our phone lines promptly. Strongly suggested.”
“Ah, you spoke with them?”
The Sergeant Major frowned and nodded slowly, “They are pissed, I predict a few days of quiet at three am.”
“Ah, well that will only add to the group of people hunting for answers.” Delarose leaned back in his chair tiredly, “The criminal element will no doubt supply some additional information and take actions as well.
“It is to be expected.” Smythe sighed and shifted angrily, “Any word on the kids?”
“No fatalities thus far, Slapdash is recovering, as are the others, though I doubt the kids will be up for any strenuous activities for a few days, much less the nurse.”
“Slapdash was infected too?”
“Yes, it apparently happened the same time as your foray started.” Delarose chuckled, “Evidently Mule springs the lock on Slapdash’s door on regular basis.”
“Oh? Well I suppose Slapdash will forgive him this go round.” Smythe grinned, “Never ever tell Mule you want to be awakened at any given time, he’ll make sure you wake up, even if you had planned otherwise.”
“I’ll keep it in mind,” Delarose frowned, “Stiles woke up.”
“Oh, good.” Smythe took a moment to study Delarose’s face, “Ok what gives.”
“Ah, Stiles is suffering from Kindra’s complaint.”
Smythe sat soundly in a chair, “Oh dear. Well as my wife would say ‘it’s not fatal.’”
“Yes, well Stiles did not take the change in gender easily.”
“Of that I have no doubt. But the kid already had problems, and that is not going to help matters.” Smythe paused and sheepishly asked, “Dare I ask on the Whateley ten scale?”
“A solid eight or nine, with Ms. Reily being ten,” Delarose nodded at the other man’s worried expression.
“Do you expect a change in Stiles’ peaceful nature?”
“Hard to say, if Stiles doesn’t get a positive reinforcing role model, I could project a switch of armband to red and black.”
“Yeah, do hi-her parents know?”
“Carson has spoke with them. From what she mentioned, I gathered there is difficulties with an grandfather and inheritances.” Delarose snorted in disgust, “Evidently the man is worried about heirs of the ‘male’ type.”
Smythe looked down and flushed slightly, “Yes, I would know about that. My daughter Kindra still gives me grief about that from time to time.”
“Yes but you got over it,” Delarose smiled at him briefly. “Unfortunately Carson expects the family to roll over for the old fart.”
“Wonderful, are they just going to leave the kid out in the cold?”
“Carson is under the impression that once the old fart buggers off to his reward, things would settle out.” Delarose scowled, “But the kid’s last name may be shifted over to the mothers maiden name for the time being.”
“His mum is putting her kicker into it?”
“We’ll see, in either case Stiles is not going to be allowed home, until as his mother puts it, ‘Common sense returns.’”
“What?” Delarose frowned, “Oh, yeah, ‘her.’ Damned pronouns.”
“So who can we get to play mother hen to our new chick?”
“Well Stiles is in Professor Choudhari’s classes and they do share a common or similar religious background.” Delarose rolled his eyes, “Albeit Choudhari is not very pacifistic by any stretch of the imagination.”
“Would Choudhari be willing?”
“Well we won’t know until she has been approached with the idea, but I do expect that she would say yes.”
“Well if not I could likely persuade my wife to get her knickers involved.” He chuckled, “If I don’t tell her, I expect she’d have my ears.”
“Well another’s viewpoint would not hurt I expect,” Delarose leaned back in his chair, “still the worst bit will be trying to keep Stiles from melting down.”
“That, is putting it mildly.”
Jobe lay still doing his utmost to seem asleep. Well it was more like catnapping than pretending. He had debated on using some form of stimulant, but wrote it off as a bad idea as he could tell that his reserves were a bit low. The virus had used a great deal of his body fat as heat energy and then went on to scour away at any source for energy.
He estimated that he would have to eat an excessive amount of fat laden foods and sugars to recover the seven to five percent body fat that he deliberately maintained as part of his physical regimen. And then, only if his problem would stay its hand long enough to recover. Inwardly he shrugged, shit happens as they say and well, fatigue surely played its part in that accident. Since then he had made it a strict point of quitting at a specific time, no ifs ands or buts.
Which meant of course that he was no longer accustomed to pulling all-nighters. So he lay there designing a diet aid that would use a similar effect as the virus, the tricky part that had him stumped and kept him awake was the safety issue. You could not strip a body down to fewer than three percent body fat and expect good things.
This he noted was a solid fact considering his muscles seemed fatigued, much more so than what Corporal Mahren had offered as way of disciplinary action. He did manage to suppress the smile that threatened to leak out. After all it likely would have been a blow to the Corporal’s ego that Jobe was likely able to handle such exercise with ease. That side effect from the accident he did not mind so much.
So it was that he had finally figured out the required sequencing and was well on to mapping out the required protean strains, that his attention was jerked from thought to action. The rapid stuttered hisses of his assailant’s weapon and the sudden rash of stinging welts on his arm only increased his rage.
“How dare you interrupt me!” he angrily shouted and aimed his own weapon at the door. He pulled the trigger several times in succession ignoring the ringing it produced in his ears. As the buckshot from the shells seemed to briefly impact something and fall to the floor he shifted his aim downwards, and kept up the pace of firing while walking forwards.
He registered the additional sounds of gunfire as the Corporal added his statement of anger. When the glass door to the clinic shattered as something fell through it he stopped pulling the trigger. Panting from the exertion he knelt down and exhaled and inhaled a few times quickly, “Well, well.”
Ignoring the spate of angered speech from the Corporal as he called for aid and added other instructions. Jobe scanned the floor and the surrounding walls carefully; smiling tightly he noted a few thin but distinctly colored red drops that had splashed a few tiles. Grunting as he stood, Jobe walked to the water cooler and retrieved a few empty dry cups. Carefully he returned to those precious drops and placed the cups over them.
“What the fuck was that?” Erik asked, “And what the hell are you doing?”
“That was our invisible assailant, I am covering evidence and securing samples.” Jobe tiredly stood up, “We have the bastard now.”
“We do? In case you have not noticed he got away!”
“Oh no.” Jobe smiled and gave Erik a grim smile, “Do you remember our little discussion about fungus?”
Erik’s expression paled quickly, “Yes.”
“Well I do expect our visitor to come crawling back requesting medical aid.” Jobe gave the corporal his most serene smile, “And if the bastard is lucky enough to be a regen three or better, the nanos in his system will have built up enough to start broad casting his location in a few hours. Not to mention they will walk with a serious limp and a great deal of pain until are treated.”
Erik’s face after a moment of thought settled on a feral expression, “Good.”
“Well I am going back to sleep now,” Jobe sighed, “I’m exhausted.”
Erik paused, “Do you know that your shooting leaves a lot to be desired?”
“Yes, which is why I use shotgun styled ammunition,” Jobe shrugged, “we all can’t be Deadeye.”
“Ah, should we be worried about the loose pellets?”
“No, they were only live for about half a second one fired,” Jobe made sure the odd weapon was on safe and he handed it to Erik, “It’s based on a Four-Ten round, using shot not much heavier than birdshot, I hand load the cartages for ultra low velocity delivery, after all a half second is a long distance at the speed of sound.”
Erik studied it for a moment and then handed it back, “Not bad, though that gives you a range of under twenty-five feet, if your fungus is alive that long.”
“Yes, less chance of it infecting bystanders that way,” Jobe placed the odd pistol back on his bed, ”Nothing I do is ever random if I can help it.”
“I see,” Erik nodded, “so now what?”
Jobe opened his kit and picked up a jar and a sterile swab from it, ”Well I take a sample of the blood, the ARC people run it for a pathogen trace, and with luck we won’t have to use my other trick.”
Jobe smiled nastily as he collected the sample of blood, “You really don’t want to know.” He then stood up and seemingly addressed the air. “I know you sorry pukes can hear me, you have perhaps an hour before the damage to your comrade becomes exponentially worse. There is no treatment for it that the staff here has access to. So whomever you are, you are in common parlance: ‘Utterly fucked.’”
Erik blinked and smiled as Jobe continued, “If you should be foolish enough to ransack my lab looking for a cure, I don’t think you want me ‘really’ upset when treating you. As no one would mind much if I used you for a guinea pig... you have been warned.”
Jobe paused and appeared to think, “You will have with you, when you arrive, politely requesting my help: All the pathogens and equipment containing them or used in their processing, all recordings and devices used in infecting and targeting your victims. If you fail to do so, I will withhold treatment until the materials are accounted for. Also you will consent to a complete mind scan verifying that all items are indeed present before I will consider treating you. This is not a matter for debate… the clock is ticking.”
Once Jobe had stopped speaking to the air, Erik spoke quietly. “You know, I’m really glad you are such a vile bastard.”
“Thank you, I do try.” Jobe’s smile sneered up at the ceiling as he returned to bed, “After all what good is it to have a vile reputation if anyone thinks it is an act. No I am quite happy that everyone knows and understands that I am Vile Bastard, as you put it. They know exactly what they are dealing with and to expect retribution should they cross me.”
Erik paused and shook his head tiredly, “Have you ever considered not being a vile bastard?”
Jobe closed his eyes and after a yawn had passed said, “No I don’t believe so. Oh I am sure I could lie convincingly enough, but the effort is disproportionate to the results. Eventually some idiot would make the assumption that I was a nice guy, and that they could pull one over on me.” Jobe opened his eyes and glanced at Erik, “That of course would be their ruination. My way cuts right to the point: You fuck with me you pay for it, no bullshit, no stepping around it. You pay for it.”
“I’m glad we have had this chat, do be so kind as to keep the rabble out,” Jobe instructed haughtily, “and please close the door on your way out, I really do need to sleep.”
Chief Delarose’s Office
Delarose looked up from the report that Mahren had provided after odd the battle in the clinic. “May I ask why you felt the need to shoot at the assailant as well?”
Erik paused and looked back, “Jobe has never to my knowledge, ever felt the need to use a firearm.” Erik shrugged and motioned in the direction of the clinic, “Also we had a perp in the building who was not above murder, and several patients who could not defend themselves.”
“So you based the threat response level upon Jobe’s actions?”
“Not entirely sir,” Erik frowned, “The target was clearly protected by a force field as well as invisibility. The only hope for a quick end to combat was to force the perp to flee or injure them, perhaps even killing them.”
“Ok relax, you are not on the hot seat,” Delarose smiled grimly, “so what do you think will come of Jobe’s actions?”
“Well Jobe did give us the frequency of the transmitter to monitor,” Erik sighed, “and Jobe has determined that the perp has to be a regen three or better, considering no one has crawled in looking for help.”
Delarose sighed, “I see, any idea on when the perp may come forth of their own volition?”
“Jobe said that it would depend on the pain tolerance of the perp.” Erik shook his head in mild wonder, “Jobe had described the sensations the virus was to produce to me: He likened it to someone applying a drop of very caustic acid to every millimeter of your torso. Carefully and slowly applying and then reapplying it.”
“And his other pronouncement?”
“That we had more than one perp or set of perps?” Erick asked.
“Jobe seemed to think the other perp would likely be rendered comatose eventually as well,” Erik pointed to the folder. “I bitched at him for suppressing evidence, but you know Jobe, he was not impressed.”
“Yes, well the foot prints may help that, did he have an idea of how many perps?”
“No more than four,” Erik angrily motioned to campus beyong, “and likely none of them female.”
“Jobe said that the perps are panicked, acting rashly, and definitely trying to make bold statements.” Erik paused, “Women are, as he put it, much more devious and would not likely have made an attack in the clinic.”
“So Jobe subscribes to the belief that the female of the species is more dangerous?”
“Evidently. He also recommended seeding the next six meals with the antivirus,” Erik held up his hand, “The guy from ARC, Potempkin, suggested longer.”
“I see and Carson?”
“Went for longer, so we can expect some grumpy students for a few days.” Erik sighed loudly pointing out towards Hawthorne, “And bringing in a few of the more interesting students in for direct inoculations.”
“Did Jobe say when the signal would be clear enough to follow?”
“He said we should be able to pick it up at one hundred meters by nine am, and by six tonight that it’d at five hundred meters.” Erik smiled tightly, “He did say we’d have to search underground if the signal wasn’t readable by then.”
“So what do you recommend, given what you know of the situation?”
“We go underground at noon, if the perps decide to get nasty, the worst we can expect is for our folks to be slightly ill a day or two.” Erik held up a silvery tube, ”Once a contagion is confirmed we use this, and the nano antagonist hunts and kills the virus, much like using the nerve agent kit. Based upon Jobe’s notes, we would have ten to thirty minutes before symptoms required action.”
“Ok, do you have any idea on where to focus the hunt?”
“Jobe suggested areas of high heat, after all they have to keep the virus heated for it to stay live.” Erik stopped and frowned, “It does not need a lot of fuel to stay alive if in high heat, but some sort of highly concentrated protean paste is needed at lower temperatures.”
“How low can the temperature be and the virus stay alive?”
“Around eighty degrees, is what Jobe said,” Erik sighed, “and since the heaters are active in all the buildings it could be kept anywhere.”
“Wonderful, we’ll start looking anyways, we may get lucky.”
Crystal Hall Cafeteria
Mule sat his platter down and glanced at his teammates, they seemed tired and angry. But mostly angry, very angry, “Notice the kitchen staff?”
“Yeah a few new faces,” Deadeye motioned to the impassive man refilling the juice dispenser, “the guy from ARC.”
“I heard from Erik that there was an attack on Jobe again.” Bomber smirked,” Evidently Jobe can’t shoot for shit but did get a hit in.”
“Yeah, I stopped in to see him and Slap this morning” Bomber pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket, “Here, Jobe said this frequency would lead us to our quarry.”
“Ah great, and of course Slap is still stuck in the infirmary,” commented Bunker as she worked though a mess of eggs.
Deadeye studied the cafeteria a moment; “Think you could get a devisor buddy to whip us up a tracker?”
“Yeah, might take a bit of time though,” Mule looked over to a set of tables and nodded, “ah he’s here.”
“Make it happen,” Bomber reached over and dropped a few bills on the table. “Call it incentive for the geeky type.”
Mule picked up the set of Franklins and nodded, “That would likely do it, most devisors are needy that way.”
Razorback looked up and signed, #Did we end up on the combat Sims list again?#
Sandra followed his gaze and shrugged, “I thought the Grunts were going up against the Aztechs this week.”
Jericho smirked, “Maybe he is here to plead for mercy?”
The Twins shook their head and added in unison, “Only if it’s related to your wardrobe.”
“What? Did I forget the neon pink shirt?”
“No, it’s definitely present,” countered Sandra.
“Or perhaps it’s my hat?” Jericho waved his neon canary yellow bush hat around wildly as the others looked quickly away.
#You know the more you bitch, the more he tries to be hideously dressed?# asked Razorback with a toothy smile.
“I know, I just figure the student body will have a collective meltdown and force the dress code issue,” Sandra stated blandly.
Mule smiled at the odd antics and nodded as he approached, “Or something.”
“Hey it’s my favorite target Mule, how are you doing buddy?” asked Jericho as he held his fist out to be thumped in greeting and moved it several times away from contact.
“I still don’t buy that you are blind,” said Mule as he settled for tapping Jericho on the head in greeting.
“Yeah, well I still don’t buy that you are good looking either,” Jericho countered.
“Such is life.” Mule paused, “Could I persuade you to ditch a class and make a few things?”
“Depends, depends.” Jericho gave the subject some consideration, “I thought you believed in education and all of that.”
“Yes, but I also believe in… payback,” Mule stated calmly.
“This would be in relation to your roomie and Slappy?”
#Get him to spill it, I’m kind of pissed about the bit about Patrick, and we don’t have all the facts,# Razorback gave the cafeteria a glare, #and the kitchen staff smells of fear.#
Sandra pointed to a spot across from her, “Sit, spill and maybe we’ll feel the urge to help.”
The twins picked up their meals and shrugged, “He’s too angry for us.”
Mule sighed and nodded to the twins, “I’m sorry, it’s been a bad few days.”
“It’s ok, its not directed at us.”
“We just can’t deal with the fear from the kitchen staff and that too.”
Jericho nodded slowly as the twins left, “Pat’s good peoples, so dish it up.”
“Fine but you didn’t hear it from me.”
Ms. Carson’s Office
As the other lady sat calmly, Ms. Carson eased a set of papers across the desk to place them in her reach, “I regret the need to ask this of you.”
“Ask what?” Tejal asked quietly.
“Mrs. Stiles, Pat’s mother, called me at a late hour last night, evidently there are familial difficulties.” Ms. Carson tapped her desk solidly, “Not to mention that they have uncovered some evidence that suggests the gender change and second near fatal attack was made in effort to put pressure on them.”
“Oh and they are known as?”
“Well they are part of a group called Global Crisis Management.” Ms. Carson paused, “They focus on disaster recovery, helping small nations build up an infrastructure and they work with the Peace Corps on occasion.”
“That doesn’t sound like it would attract negative actions.”
“Normally I would agree, however there seems to be some resistance to their actions in Africa.” Ms. Carson’s expression hardened, “Add in the other rudeness of late and we have a few parties messing with The Accords.”
“I see and Patrick?”
Ms. Carson’s expression blanked and then she spoke, “They feel it would be best if Patrick appeared to die.”
“I see, I think.” Tejal took a breath and nodded, “Well Patrick is a friend to our family and community.”
“Patrick woke up last night, and did not take the change well,” Mr. Carson noted the alarm in the lady’s face, “Patrick needed to be sedated, and right now she is with Doctor Bellows. We are concerned that Patrick’s gentle nature will change radically, among other issues.”
“So how can I help?” Tejal asked quickly.
“Pat’s parents have asked that suitable foster parents or guardians be found, since they believe that the person responsible cannot be brought to justice quickly if ever.” Ms. Carson sighed softly, “Unfortunately I, and several ranking board members agree; there is no way to bring a quick solution to the problem.”
Tejal closed her eyes, “You think Patrick would be at risk if thought alive?”
“The evidence she presented leads me to believe it would be so,” Ms. Carson said in a disgusted tone, “however actions are being taken to reinforce The Accords.”
“Right, I have no doubt my husband would agree to adopting Pat,” Tejal smiled softly, “you might say he would insist.”
“Funds have been sent and secured for Patrick’s needs,” Ms. Carson’s smile was flat, “evidently the person involved has crossed more than one line. So I expect there will be some unpleasant actions occurring out from under the public eye.”
“Good.” Tejal glanced down at the forms, “So we take Patrick away for a week?”
“Maybe two, it would depend on how easily we can place Patrick in Whitman or Dickenson.” Ms. Carson paused and with a frown added, “I would consider placing her back in Melville, but I feel that would be asking for problems.”
“I was under the impression that Poe was the place where unique females and males are placed.”
“Normally it is so, but Poe is overfull,” Ms. Carson considered the unusual influx and shook her head, “we’ve had to request a new addition for Poe, but the funding is slow in coming.”
“Ah I see, and her course load?”
“Well we would have to make it divergent enough in some areas as to prevent her discovery. Such as moving her from Mr. Andersons guidance and placing her in Sensei Ito’s.” Ms. Carson looked up at the hint of mirthful laughter from the other woman, “Yes?”
“Ah, I foresee a possible clash of ideologies,” Tejal shook her head in evident amusement, “still it may help, however from prior talks with Pat, let us say he may force the issue.”
“Walking out, refusing to participate, maybe going so far as to use rudeness,” Choudhari closed her eyes, “he can shape a discussion so that it leaves a mark. Though Pat has never used that gift to harm, yet.”
“Well I expect we will have to cross that bridge when it shows up.” Ms. Carson looked down at her desk briefly, “However, I must insist that Pat takes that course. If Pat should come away with only learning how to roll with the punches, it may still be of benefit.”
“I see. I fear that I will have to reserve the right to say, ‘I told you so,’ for when the immovable object encounters the unstoppable force.” Choudhari moved her hands in an expansive gesture, “I doubt it will be violent, but it will likely be disturbing.”
Ms. Carson nodded politely, “I suppose Sensei Ito will just have to take that chance.”
“I see, perhaps we should take pains to record the event for posterity or at least to enjoy it with popcorn?” Choudhari asked thoughtfully.
“You act as if it is a given.”
“I have had many interesting discussions with Pat, with the intent to hopefully suggest a safe way of controlling his anger issues.” Choudhari sighed, “Pat is not as calm as many might believe, and her powers are deceptive.”
Ms. Carson blinked a few times, ”I did look at Pat’s power evaluation, and I am aware of the tensile strengths of the materials that were tested. Is there something I am missing?”
Choudhari nodded slowly, “Possibly. A wasp nest had ‘appeared’ in our lab one day unleashing the wrath of the inhabitants. One had stung Pat, and I would say the prior events of his day left him a bit short tempered.” Choudhari snapped her fingers, “There was a sound not too much different from thunder and then bits of insects were falling out of the air.”
“Pat has not shown that level of control before,” Ms. Carson frowned at the folder in front of her. “Though technically he was touching the air at the time.”
“Yes, after all you cannot, not touch air.” Tejal shrugged and added, “Anger is a solid focus for many gifts.”
“Yes this is true. I suppose we should be count ourselves blessed that Pat is gentle by nature, I hope this change will not undo that.”
Tejal nodded slowly, “That would be my fervent prayer, though I could wish Pat would recognize when a passive stance will not work.”
“As opposed to many who think with their fists, more so than their brains?”
“Yes, I suppose Pat will still be afforded the UV status?”
“We have initiated a policy where any student following a pacifistic path, such as Pat’s, is automatically placed on the UV Protected Roles as such.” Ms. Carson’s expression was filled with pain, “We failed Patrick in not doing it sooner.”
“Ah, I dare say none of us could have predicted the events of the past few days,’ Tejal smiled warmly, “we can only learn from them.”
“Have you met Sergeant Major Smythe’s wife?” Ms. Carson said after a moment silence.
“Linda? Yes a sweet lady.”
“She has offered to help mentor Patrick in womanly things.” Ms. Carson chuckled, “Her son suffered a similar change of gender, so their advice may be useful.”
“Has anyone discussed this with Patrick yet?”
“No, not yet.”
“Ah, well if Pat will have us, she will have our love,” Tejal smiled, “and if not she will still have it.”
Dr. Alfred Bellows’ Office
Scowling I pointed a finger at Doctor Bellows, “If you keep asking ‘How does that make me feel,’ I am going to walk out, drafty robe and all, and make your Porsche into a subcompact.”
Doctor Bellows frowned, “But a Porsche is a small car already.”
I took my hands and slowly eased them together as if I was crushing a box and bitterly stated, “Trust me, it would be smaller.”
He leaned back in his chair and nodded, “Right, would you say that action if you followed through, would be an act of violence?”
“I suppose, sorry.” Sadly I looked down at the floor, “I am just so tired of this leading questions crap that you are so fond of.”
“You’ve never mentioned this before,” Doctor Bellows paused and made a note in his records.
“I’ve never felt this crappy before.”
“Well you have been though a medical ordeal, even without your change.” Doctor Bellows tapped his notepad with a pen, “Tell me how you felt upon waking up.”
“Well physically I felt like shit, I’ve never been that sick ever before, not even with my appendix going pop,” I pointed down to my abdomen by way of illustration. “The room was spinning and I felt like I was going to hurl.”
“Not unsurprising. When did you discover the change and what where your thoughts?”
“Well first, I noticed I was soaking wet and cold.” I mimed lifting my shirt up, “So I started to take off of the stupid gown, that’s when I encountered them.”
Motioning to my chest I looked up to the ceiling, “The tits, boobs, what ever you want to call them.”
“Most people refer to them as breasts,” Doctor Bellows paused and composed his thoughts a moment, “You don’t like breasts?”
Angrily I looked back at him, “I like them fine, on girls!”
“But not on yourself?”
“Hello! I’m not a girl, I’m a guy! It was bad enough that I had bitch tits due to being fat. Now I am a fucking freak!” I crossed my arms over the offending objects; “If there was a way to get rid of them with out harming myself I’d be doing it!”
“And you regard non-life saving surgeries as harmful?”
“You know the answer to that.”
“Yes, I was just checking.” Doctor Bellows looked down at his notes, “Ok, how do you feel about girls?”
“Girls are good, girls are great, I like girls.”
“In the sexual sense of liking?”
“Well yeah, I’m not gay,” I glowered at him, “we’ve gone over that before.”
“Yes, just checking.”
“Why the sudden need for a fucking review then?”
“Well what was done to you was done by magick, I just wanted to ensure your baseline personality had not been altered as well as your physiology.” Doctor Bellows sighed, “Such things can happen.”
“Trust me Doc, the idea of sucking on some guy’s dick has never crossed my mind as something I’d ever want to do.” My stomach gave a lurch in protest, “The idea makes me sick.”
“But sex with girls would be ok?”
“Well yeah, before…”
“Is the idea repellant now?”
“No, not so much, but it’s different, I mean...”
“Do you find lesbian’s unattractive?”
I felt my face heat up, “No, but then I was never likely to have any in my bed.”
“Hmm, so if I were to suggest you may have had such fantasies I would be correct?”
“Uh, yeah, duuuhhh,” I studied the floor carefully and intently hoping my face was not as red as it felt.
“I’m not judging you Pat,” Doctor Bellows made a small note and waited a moment for the youth to relax somewhat. “Would you be surprised if I told you Nikki Reily was once a boy?”
Angrily I looked up at him, “Are you messing with me?”
“No, I am not, tell me what do you know of Poe?”
“Head case central? What’s to know? I see half of them in the halls here when waiting my turn.”
Doctor Bellows nodded, “Well they do have their problems, but a goodly portion of them have had a gender flip flop.”
“On campus! Bullshit! Everyone would know!”
“No not on campus, rarely does such a thing happen on campus but it has happened.” Shrugging he added, “Also the others there, fall on both sides of the rainbow, which physically you may be thought to do as well.”
“But I am not gay!”
“No, but you do have sexual urges towards ladies yes?
“And you find the concept of sex with men currently repellant?”
“Ugh yeah,” I pushed against my stomach as it roiled unpleasantly, “really repellant.”
“While you may think I am being cruel, you are physically female, right down to your ovaries.”
Disgustedly I leaned back in the overstuffed chair, “So they tell me.”
“Can you deny it?”
“I could try, but the evidence sorta sticks out in front of me.” I closed my eyes tiredly, “I feel like I am stuck in a bad dream, but I am sure once folks figure out I’m me, well sure the real nightmare will begin.”
“Would you say Beltane is doing badly?”
“You have to be joking…” I said as the world shifted slightly, Beltane pretty much rocked the world in my book.
“No, she too got a ride on the gender-bender bus, though she was inclined that way.” Doctor Bellows chuckled softly, “There are those who know themselves to be born in the wrong gender and seek to correct the problem. Though occasionally the Body Image Template takes that desire and sorts it out, with out surgery.”
“So I may flip back?” I asked hopefully.
“Maybe, but it may be that the magickal spell you were involved in might prevent such a thing.”
Dispiritedly I said, “Yeah, magick does fuck with the normal rules.”
“True, Pat, I cannot say that I know how you feel, but there are others who have been in your boat.”
“What? I have company on the Gender-ship Titanic?”
“Are you dead?”
“No but it feels like I am sinking fast.”
“Yes it may feel that way. You do realize you are pretty?”
I sat there a long moment hating the direction the conversation was taking, “I have looked at a mirror.”
“If you could see the girl you are now, on the street, what words would you use to describer her?”
“Um, I could feel the room spin slightly as it warmed up rapidly, “She’s uh, hot.”
“Ok, you would be sexually interested in her, judging from your reaction.”
I nearly got up to storm out as I said, “That is so not funny!”
“I wasn’t trying to be funny,” Doctor Bellows pointed to the door, “Stand up and look in the mirror.”
“I know what is there, I told you I have seen it.”
“Fine, fine what ever.” I stood up and walked to the mirror, “Ok it’s me, in someone else’s body.”
There was a rustling of paper then something smacked me in the back of the head, “Did you feel that?”
“Yes,” I scooped up the wad of paper and made it grow until it was basketball sized; I then chucked it over my shoulder “Did you feel that?”
He laughed and for a moment I smiled, “No, you missed. But the thing is; it was you that felt it, you are that person. Yes?”
Reluctantly I nodded, “I guess.”
“The correct answer is, “Yes I am that person.’”
Frowning I looked back at him, “Ok fine, ‘I am that person.’”
“Say it like you mean it.”
I walked back to the chair and sat carefully in it, and firmly said, “No.”
“Pat, simply put, and while you won’t verbally admit it. You know you are that girl who was looking back at you in the mirror.”
“So fucking what, I’m a guy up here, where it matters,” I tapped my head, “no matter what I look like. Hell I am good with illusions, I could look like a purple fucking gorilla if I wanted too, but I would still be a guy in my head.”
“Perhaps, perhaps not. The thing is Pat, illusion is just illusion, the skin you are in, is real.”
“Yeah, a real nightmare,” I looked at him feeling both grumpy and nauseous at the same time.
“Pat, you have seen the folks in Hawthorne, would you say they have it worse than you?”
“What? Am I supposed make myself feel better because they got a crappy hand with their mutation?” I pointed a finger at him, “Sorry, but I am not that fucked in the head, you of all people should know better.”
“No, you are correct, sorry. Perhaps I could have phrased it better.” Doctor Bellows paused and took a sip of water, “Would you be surprised that many of them have a better self image of themselves than you did, and may yet still have?”
“Maybe or they were just hiding it better than I was.”
“Yet none of them deny they are indeed in their body…”
Groaning I closed my eyes, “Yeah maybe, so what.”
“Are you less than they are?”
Refraining from a curse I muttered, “Oh so now I am supposed to rise to that bullshit challenge?”
“Would you believe that some of them, thought you were one of them?”
I let my head drop back against the seat as I thought about that.
I waved a hand at him, “I’m thinking.”
“About time,” announced a new voice.
I opened my eyes to see Louis’ ghostly form solidify to sit on the corner of Doc Bellows desk. “Oh, hi Louis, eaves dropping again?”
“Hi Pat.” Louis laughed somberly, “Well you know me, I don’t get out much otherwise.”
“Yeah,” I gave Doctor Bellows an impassive glare and added, “so what drags you here? Surely it can’t by my new attire.”
“Let’s just say I was in the neighborhood and heard you screaming?” he half asked, half stated.
“With good reason,” I said as I pointed at Doctor Bellows, “He is not getting it.”
“The bit where you are still a guy upstairs?”
“Duhh.” I pointed at Louis and sighed disgustedly, “I am not a girl in my head, pure and fucking simple.”
“But you cannot deny it is you in that body,” Doctor Bellows insisted.
“Try me,” I said disgustedly.
“Doctor Bellows is right about the Thornies though, most if not all know and admit that the person in their body is them.” Louis paused, “And I do know exactly where you are coming from. It took a very long while for me to admit the ‘monster in the tank’ was really me.”
He nodded and smiled, “And like you I’ve never had sex and sex with guys is dead out in my book.”
“Gee rub it in why don’t you?” I asked heatedly.
“We’re being honest here Pat, you me and the Doc.” Louis chuckled, “Apart from a few ghostly tricks, real sex is rare for me.”
“What? No volunteers for tentacle sex?” I asked offhandedly and made squiggly movements with my fingers.
He have me a bland look, “That would be telling.”
“Oh sorry,” well not that I really was, but I was in a pissy mood.
“Denada tis nothing, the real issue kiddo is accepting what you are.” He chuckled loudly and pointed a finger at Doctor Bellows, “No twelve step jokes allowed.”
“Sorry I could not help it,” Doctor Bellows said with a small smile.
“I know, I know.” He looked at me for a moment, “The Doc was right though, most of the Thornies thought you had it as bad as they do. Could you honestly say you were one of the beautiful people?”
“On the outside, no,” ok so I can admit that.
“Yep,” Louis shook his head, “A great many of the Thornies would have eagerly traded places with you, bullies and size not withstanding, many of them crave normality.”
“Like three hundred and sixty pounds is something to be desired?” I asked letting all of my prior three hundred and sixty some pounds of sarcasm land with it.
“Trust me, I have seen inside too many of their heads.”
Frowning and slightly pissed I said, “Believe me, I would much rather be the old me.”
“Possibly,” Doc bellows interjected, “but can you tell me you dislike being thin?”
“I’ve only been thin for a few hours, from my point of view.” I glared at him, “And the key thing here is not my being thin, but my being a guy.”
“Ok, would you have enjoyed being thin as the old you?”
“Like you need to ask?” I looked at the door thoughtfully and wondered if I should just go, as this was heading no-where fast.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” He paused and laughed giving the Doc a look of amusement, “I’m trying to be serious here Alfie.” He gave me a frown and asked, “So the only part you utterly hate about yourself, at the moment is what?”
“That my body is not what my mind is telling me is supposed to be me!” I gave the pair of them a disgusted look, “I am a guy. That part of me has not changed in my head.”
“What if I told you, your mind was lying to you?”
I gave him my best foul look, “I think I would know my own mind.”
Louis smiled, “Only if you were schizophrenic.” He laughed briefly, “No, what you know is an old recording, old data… Like the discussion you had with Mindbird, it’s burnt into you like the memory of fire.”
I sat stunned a for a long moment as the concept landed on me like a load of bricks, “Ow.”
“Thus endeth the lesson,” Louis said as he faded out like the Cheshire cat.
“Dale did stop in yesterday, well she had an appointment, and we discussed violence and the memory a child had.” He smiled, “You really did a number on her thinking.”
“If she feels like I do, I don’t doubt it.”
“Oh it was good for her, let us just say her home life was far from perfect.”
“Ouch, do I need to apologize to her?”
“No, I don’t think so, it did her some good to work through it.”
Dubiously I looked at him, “Ok, so this memory of what I know as me?”
“Is old data, junk, trash, no longer runs on your computer, doesn’t play at any speed, and a host of other bad metaphors.”
“I don’t like guys.” Frowning I reiterated, “I don’t have issues with gay people, I am simply not gay.”
“No one is saying you have to, in the sexual sense. Do you plan on dumping your friends?”
“Well I doubt this will go over in any shape or form if they knew the old me…” I snorted in derision expecting to see the line of bullies grow.
“Well yes, you will likely have to become friends with them anew or make new friends.”
“That will not be fun, I hate lying, and it hurts people in the long run.”
He nodded, “True, but you don’t have to view it that way, call it a masquerade, an act that lets you interact with them.”
“It still sounds like deception,” I protested.
“How many really close friends do you have here, that would accept you no matter what?”
I looked down at my hands, “Well Mule, maybe.”
“Well I am pretty sure Mule knows you are girl by now,” Doctor Bellows shook his head,” don’t worry only a few people in security and administration know you are now a girl.”
“Wonderful,” I could just picture Mule’s revulsion.
“Do not worry, the people who know are not going to tell anyone one.” He sighed, “But more on that a bit later.”
“I have a few exercises you should do for the next few weeks, nothing earth shaking or difficult. But they should help you get used to the skin you are in, mentally.”
“Fun, well let me have them,” I said giving him a skeptical look; frankly I figured he was full of shit.
“Ok, I know it will sound odd, but the first one is a shower, I want you to try it as hot as you can take it and as cold, and find a temperature you like.”
I looked at him suspiciously, “Ok go on.”
“Then I want to you lather every inch of your skin, by hand and then with a wash rag or luffa.” Doctor Bellows paused and ignored what the other Changelings had said about showers and rude shocks, “Basically you are reprogramming your brain to know what your body is.”
“Ok, then what?”
“Exercise, stretching, running, jumping jacks the whole meghilla, you want to build up a new library of what you can do and cannot.” He smiled, “Then there is eating. Try new stuff, new foods, smell new smells.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” I reluctantly admitted.
“No it is not, I also want you to keep a journal, and every night I want you to record the differences you discovered that day.”
“Is that it?”
“Well, there is one other small bit.”
Doctor Bellows reached into his desk and removed a book that was still sealed in plastic, “I would like you to consider reading this book.”
I reached over to take the book and then read the cover, feeling slightly shocked I just looked at him. “Are you kidding?”
“Look, can you honestly say the male body is something you want to discover in all its glory?”
“No, not even going there,” I said as my stomach rebelled again.
He chuckled and then nodded somberly, “Congratulations, you are very likely a lesbian. The cake may take a week to provide.”
I blinked at him a few times, “Excuse me?”
“Surely you know of Ellen, the Sitcom and lady?” he asked.
“Sorta, she does a talk show.”
“Ok, well you may or may not want to read that book, I won’t force you. But I will suggest that you masturbate.”
I looked at him blankly, “Say what?”
“Surely you masturbated as a guy?”
“Well yeah…” I could feel the heat in my face melting into my brain.
“Old tape, it no longer applies, and chapter two in that book covers the fundamentals.” He gave me a serious look, “Look Pat, the old physical memories no longer fit what you are now. Orgasm is a sensation, like fire, your body remembers it.”
“Yeah I guess,” I sat there frowning trying to decide if I should be offended or not.
“Pat, no one will force you to open that book or to masturbate for that matter.” He closed his eyes briefly then opened them, “But sooner or later you may find yourself flung head long into the dating arena. Many boys will likely hit on you as will some of the girls as well.”
“Iceberg dead ahead captain,” I muttered sourly.
“Possibly but face it Pat, barring Ms. Reilly’s glamouries, you could easily attract as many guys as she does.”
“Are there any all female mutant boarding schools?” I asked with a hint of desperation in my voice.
“None I am aware of.”
“Wonderful, I am so hosed.”
“One other thing.”
“You should discuss feminine hygiene with the Nurse Mrs. Muller or Doctor Ophelia Tennent soon.” He gave me a somber look, “Many of the new-girls club were a bit shocked when their period started, unpleasantly shocked.”
“Doc…” I said as the blood in my face raced to my feet.
“That loud sound you just heard was the iceberg,” I was sure my expression was a bit wild if not panicked, “all hands, we are going down.”
Dr. Ophelia Tennent’s Office
“Ok Jobe, since you evidently have the captive audience you wanted, let us hear it from the top,” said Delarose with a scowl.
Jobe glanced around to ensure he had everyone’s attention, “Ok, as you know, the medical staff ensures that the linens are picked up, exchanged and so on to reduce the chance of infection?”
“Yes, continue,” flatly instructed Ms. Carson.
“Well at the time I had to change as well, hygiene, mental well being, yadda, yadda.” Jobe shrugged, “Not to mention the gunpowder smell was annoying.”
“Ok so why were you in Pats’s room?” Erik asked giving Jobe a foul look.
“Well my room was in use and I figured Pat was not likely to go ape-shit if I asked to use the changing room there,” Jobe paused, “I did ask Pat, who was lost in a book at the time, and I was given permission.”
“Ok, so you were changing…” prompted Delarose.
“Yes I was changing, when I heard a new voice.” Jobe shook his head, “Trust me I was a bit surprised to look out through a crack and see Asmon Diaz.” Jobe paused to place small recorder on the desk, “Naturally being the bastard that I am, I went for blackmail material…”
“Naturally,” said Erik slowly.
“Ok, so what did you see?” asked Ophelia looking slightly ill.
“Azmon Diaz sauntered in, like he knew no one would see him,” Jobe shook his head, “and then proceeded to take the book out of Folder’s hands. He then pulled Folder up and against him, saying ‘My god has decreed that you are to be my loving bride.’ Near as I can see Folder is shocked, freaked, what have you.”
“With good reason, gods,” said Ophelia with a shiver.
Jobe closed his eyes as if in distaste, “He then said ‘Let me hold you close and taste your lips.’” Jobe with a disgusted look added, “Folder was literally frozen in what I can only describe as horrified shock, when Diaz goes tonsil diving with serious intent, all the while groping at Folder’s chest.”
Delarose swallowed hard, “I think that would be classified as sexual assault or harassment at the least.”
“Yes, though personally I would call it a prelude to rape,” Jobe shook his hands angrily, “evidently he waltzed in expecting Folder to be completely subservient and ‘receptive.’”
Ophelia looked down at her desk trying to erase the mental image Jobe was presenting, “Go on.”
“Folder snapped, I have no other way to describe the look on her face.” Jobe paused, “Then Folder shouted ‘No!’ and there was a strange distortion around Diaz and then they both collapsed to the floor.”
“Ok, and then?” asked Ms. Carson.
“Then I picked up Folder and put her back into her bed,” Jobe paused, “I also made sure she would have four hours of enforced sleep.”
“You are not a Doctor!” scolded Ophelia angrily.
“No, I was the guy making sure she could not hurt herself until real help got here,” Jobe sat angrily in the chair scowling back until the doctor looked away, “in any case, I then drug Diaz out of the room, and secured him in my room for you to figure out what to do with him.”
“And your private discussion with him?”
“Was purely one sided I assure you,” Jobe’s smile distinctly unfriendly, “I pointed out that I was angry, and that if it were up to me Diaz would either suffer Folder’s problem or suffer through the surgical process of healing.”
“So why was he whimpering when we found him?” asked Erik cautiously.
“Oh that,” Jobe smirked, “I put a drop of water on his head and told him he would confess or I would not stop the little present I had gifted him with, it was amusing to watch the terror sink into his tiny little mind.”
“Ah,” Erik smiled and suppressed a laugh, “yes, I understand, completely.”
“I was sure you would,” Jobe grinned and looked at the confused faces, “I am a Vile Bastard, thus endeth the lesson.”
Ms. Carson gave Jobe a firm look, “I think that would fall under a coerced confession.”
“Yes, it would. However no one can out and out say Diaz had actually changed Folder,” Jobe looked at them as they nodded reluctantly.
“Ok, so he confesses, then what?” asked Erik.
“Then he coughs up how to undo the change or he explains why it cannot be done,” Jobe gave Erik a look that clearly said, ‘keep up.’
“Fair enough,” said Ms. Carson, “so what do we do with Folder, I can’t think this will be any good for her mental state.”
“Pardon me,” said a calm voice as Louis faded into view, “I was listening in.”
“Naturally,” added Jobe only sounding slightly sarcastic.
“Folder suffered from a flashback of sorts, just after the attack.” Louis paused and pointed back at the room she was in, “Evidently the corona effect had happened once when she was angry with a childhood friend. The childhood friend was not as severally effected, but it had left a mark on Pat emotionally.”
“Which would explain her determined stance on non-violence,” Ms. Carson shook her head, “guilt is a terrible burden.”
“I’ve never been bothered with it myself,” Jobe blandly stated, “but I have heard it can be terribly effective as a motivation.” He held up a hand at the shocked looks, “No I wasn’t being flippant, but it does explain why Folder is what she is.”
“Quite,” Louis looked briefly at Jobe then seemingly ignored him. “With your assent Ms. Carson, I will blank the assault and her reaction, from her mind.”
“Is that wise?” asked Delarose cautiously.
Louis mournfully looked at Delarose, “It is an imperfect solution, and Folder has a real problem with accepting the gender switch as it stands, should I project the collective effects of not doing it?”
Delarose sat quietly then shook his head, “Folder already had problems, without the gender issue alone. We were really hoping he could maintain his calm and rise above the issue in his past.”
“But?” asked Ophelia.
“We feared as Folder put it, that he would go ‘Pompeii’ on someone.” Delarose sighed loudly, “People just didn’t get that he waspowerful, all they saw was a person who they could abuse.”
“You are talking as if Pat was dead,” Ophelia said slowly.
“Well, we do have to make him disappear,” Delarose smiled tightly, “as Jobe said, guilt is a wonderful tool, and I think if applied correctly it may sort out two students.”
“So Folder?” asked Louis while looking at Ms. Carson.
“I want you to consult with the Mental Health Staff, Louis and if they agree, then yes.” She looked at Jobe, “Folder has how long to sleep yet?”
Jobe looked at the clock, “Three hours and twenty minutes.”
“How can you be so sure?” asked Ophelia cautiously.
“I used a nano based alpha wave generator on Folder,” Jobe looked at her calmly, “I use it on an infrequent basis when I get too caught up in my own work to wind down. It’s not a drug.”
“I see, any side effects?”
“No, if she is tired she will continue to sleep, but that will be a normal sleep. The nano’s will wash out in a few days with no secondary effects. If you want to bring her out early send a low volume, two hertz sine wave tone into her ear canals. It will cause the nanos to abort.”
“That sounds like it could be used in crowd control,” Erik said after a moments thought.
“Hmm, possibly,” Jobe shrugged “I’ve not considered it in that light.”
Struggling awake, I took a deep shuddering breath, then several more. I fought to banish the threads of dream that clung like an unpleasant spider web, as it left a tacky cold feeling on my body. Even as I awoke from what was obliviously a nightmare, my mind raced tried to focus on other things as if the dream was too horrid to reflect upon. Ignoring the odd dampness on my face I forced myself to open my eyes.
“Back from the land of Nod?” asked a familiar voice and I turned to see Professor Choudhari smiling at me.
“More like the land of nightmares,” I shivered uncontrollably, “though I suspect I don’t want to know what that dream was about.”
“Well you have been seriously ill, and I have found that the body does influence the mind,” she said calmly. “We have to talk.”
“Ok, so what is on your mind?” I asked cautiously.
“Well I spoke with your parents, evidently there is a small storm on the home front in regards to your Grandfather.” Choudhari frowned grimly, “Evidently he is ‘frothing at the mouth,’ over your jump to the distaff gender.”
“Oh I can imagine that,” I closed my eyes, “he’s always going on about my being his successor. So, has he had a heart attack or a stroke yet?”
“Ah no,” Choudhari stopped and appeared to think for a moment as I looked at her. “I am afraid there is no easy way to say this, but it looks like he is holding your families economic livelihood in abeyance, until you are no longer a part of the family.”
That bit of information sank in and my head crashed back to the pillow, “Oh, how wonderful.”
“Well no, it is not a good thing. Also they suspect that part of the attacks on you, are tied to someone attempting to put pressure on them.” Choudhari uneasily motioned to the bed, “They did try to kill you while you were recovering.”
“They, they who?”
“We don’t know, yet.”
“Ok, so my Grandfather wants me gone? And I just go?” I asked numbly.
“Well no, not exactly. Your Mother has asked that my husband and I adopt you, until they are sure the threat has passed,” Choudhari made a small prayerful gesture with her hands, “and perhaps your Grandfather will come to his senses as well.”
“Un-bloody-likely,” I gave her a pained look, “my Grandfather never forgives a slight, implied, direct or not. So-o, just how big is this threat?”
“I think she phrased it such: ‘A problem much like Custer would have faced if his last stand was outside the walls of the Alamo, with Pearl Harbor as a desert.’” She looked at me in evident confusion, “That makes no sense to me.”
Groaning I sighed, “Well no, it would not if you did not know my family. Custer, The Alamo, and Peal Harbor were military disasters. Desert means the full meal has not passed or in this case the end is no where in sight.” I looked back over to her, “Just my families way of saying the pooch has yet to be screwed, without telling everyone in the neighborhood to build a bomb shelters.”
She covered her mouth briefly and I could see the hint of a smile behind it, “I see.”
“You know that you don’t have to do that around me?”
I pointed to her hands, “You cover your mouth whenever you think something is funny.”
“Ah, it is an old habit I fear, and I did not wish to seem impolite,” smiling she placed her hands in her lap, “better?”
“Yes,” I tried to ignore the panicked feelings for my family and tried to focus on my problems. “So, I’d be what? Your sss-daughter?”
“Adopted niece,” she smiled and shrugged, “I’m not old enough to have a daughter your age. Though my eldest sister Shandri has a small forest of children, it seems that she got blessed or cursed with several sets of twins in her new marriage.”
“Umm, yeah, and why did she um…”
“Continue to have more?” She chuckled waving her hands in time with her words, “Well her husband really wanted a son, they could afford the nannies and they really do love children.”
“Ah, so why would I be adopted?” I gave her what felt like an odd frown, “I’m not big on lying and well complex tales can only cause complex problems.”
She toyed with her lab coat briefly, “Well my brother was not the best of persons, and he did pass on leaving a few children behind. Not that our family did not care for them mind you, and while your ‘mom’ in India is well; she cannot care for you and her new triplets.” She covered her mouth briefly and then dropped her hands quickly back to her lap, “Evidently there is something in the water.”
“The triplets are?”
“Apana and Rachana are the girls, Rasul is the boy, she was graced by the blessing of a good husband.” She smiled, “Ravi is your older brother, by a year, from my brother.” She shook her head, “You may meet him, but the family will discuss things with him and ensure that you are welcome.”
“Just how big is this ‘family?’” I asked.
“Immense, family reunions are grand events that take up many days.” She beamed and then rolled her eyes, “Great Grandfather’s Father was prolific, very prolific.”
“Um, isn’t my adoption going to raise a few eyebrows?”
“Well my mother will no doubt throw her hands in the air and ask why I could not I could not have a child the ‘normal way.’” She covered her mouth briefly; “She thinks I should have started a family by now. I will have to make small jokes with her about appeasing her grandmotherly desires with you.”
“Well some good might come out of this nightmare then.” I chewed on my lip a moment, “Suppose I could tolerate being your adopted niece.”
“You make it sound like it is a painful thing,” she reached out and tapped me on the knee and jokingly asked, “am I that evil?”
“No, it’s not that. I’m having problems up here,” I tapped my head, “inside here I am still very much me, a guy.”
“Which is why you have such an interesting book in your bed,” she tapped it, “do you plan on living as a lesbian?” she asked in a teasing tone.
I started to bake suddenly, “Well, um, guys ah… you know.”
“Don’t hold any interest for you in that manner?”
She nodded and smiled calmly, “I think I could understand that, if I were in your sandals. I am not sure if I could easily change sexuality either, though I am blessed in my marriage.”
“I had noticed that, consider how everyone frequently tells you and Barid to ‘get a room,’ especially when you start dancing.” I gave her a mock glower then grinned, “Though I think they may be jealous.”
“They could be,” she waved her hands and appeared to dismiss them. “So, if you will allow my family’s customs to guide us in your new name?”
“Well as long as it doesn’t take an hour to spell out on forms, and I can pronounce it…” I rolled my eyes at her, and carefully pronounced “Bhagavatamrt Vellupelli, as you know has a hell of a time in his work.”
“And he tells everyone about it, yes I know.” She laughed loudly, “It’s what he got for be coming a lawyer, which is why his clients and friends call him ‘Tam.’”
“Yes, so if you could spare me that sort of torture?”
“Do not worry I would not force you to become a lawyer,” she said as a smile teased at her lips.
I pulled my blanket over my head and whimpered, “Ouch.”
“Ok, ok, nothing hard to pronounce or write, fair enough?”
Easing the blanket down from my face I nodded, “Fair enough.”
“Ah good, do you think Anandani would be too difficult to bear?” she asked carefully.
Um, is there a nick name for it?”
“Well I am sure you could either shorten it to Ana or Dani if your friends or professors had a problem pronouncing it.” She paused and rolled her eyes while expansively gesturing with her arms; “I likely would have had to do the same if people could not have pronounced Tejal easily.”
“Ok, well I would hazard a guess that it means something?” I asked expectantly of her.
“Well yes, it means ‘joyful’ as for a middle name,” she shrugged; we tend to follow custom, Kumari. Basically anyone in India would see it and know you are a ‘young woman.’” With that she smiled, “If any one asks you can say, ‘it’s a Hindu thing,’ most of the time I just slap the ‘K’ in the initial box and ignore it.”
“Anandani Kumari Choudhari,” I blinked at her, “You realize I am doomed for certain writers cramp if I have to write that a few hundred times?”
She smiled wickedly, “Then don’t get in trouble.” She patted my knee, “You should chose Ana or Dani when the teachers asks your name to put in their seating charts.”
“That makes sense, but don’t you think people will be suspicious if I don’t sound Indian?”
“Oh I expect they may be relieved,” she smirked deviously, “but that is simple to get around, just tell them you were raised abroad with many different tutors.” Then she added with a loud laugh, “Though I expect you will pick up the accent by immersion.”
“Ok, then what?”
“Well, they did say your class schedule would get some big changes.” She sat back and closed her eyes; “The hardest one for you will be that they insist on placing you in the Martial Arts classes.”
“Well they can take me right out of them,“ I protested quickly.
“Ms. Carson was insistent, very insistent.” With some evident exasperation she added, “I did warn her that there would likely be a clash of ideologies and the fact that you might refuse to perform any act that could hurt a person.”
“Or I would just walk right out of the class,” I muttered darkly.
“That too, however I did win a few small points in your favor.”
“Well your magickal class load will be a similar, just different teachers. Also you will be in my classes and my lab assistant, a paid lab assistant mind you.” She smiled blandly, “After all you are adept at some aspects of fabrication already.”
“Why do I detect ulterior motives?” I asked with a smile.
“Would I do that to you?”
“Yes, but since I will be getting paid… I can ignore them, it will be a decent amount?”
“Oh yes, heavens forbid that the you not receive fair payment for all your strenuous labors,” giggling she added, “not that you hurt for money.”
“Ah the usual allowance?” I guessed aloud.
“Well you parents did say that it was going to be trebled, not so much from guilt, but due to the fact that family time together will be; difficult.”
“In other words they want me to stay busy and in my exile to not lack for anything?” I asked sourly.
“Well your wardrobe is going to get a serious revamp,” she waved a hand at me indicating my current attire, “you will have to have some traditional clothing, it is to be expected. But I promise to not stuff you into lacy fu-fu, as after all, that sort of crap does not do well in gears.”
“Small blessings that,” I said with a relieved sigh.
“Though they will expect you to wear the uniform, the female uniform, on a regular basis.”
“You don’t like it?” she asked carefully.
“I like it fine, on girls.”
“But you are a girl… ah I see, yes, just not in your mind.” Looking directly at me she calmly said, “Clothing wise, getting used to it may take time, but it won’t kill you.”
“Just as long as I can dump it when I don’t need it,” I muttered with a frown.
“Well the underclothing you will have to likely keep on,” she paused, “unless later in life you would like your tits around your belly button, yes?”
With sudden revulsion I said, “I could easily do with out them and that.”
“I imagine so, but you are attached to them,” shrugging she smiled and with a slightly pained expression added, “also the magickal types think you are stuck with it.”
“Being a girl.” She closed her eyes unhappily, ”I could lie and say that a change back is possible. But I feel that a lie would only hurt you more, once you learned the truth of it for yourself.”
Sinking back, in both the bed and my stomach I nodded reluctantly, “Yeah the truth, ugly as it is, is at least the truth.”
“Yes, it is.”
“So do I call you ‘Mom’ now?” I said feeling very much dismayed with everything in general.
“Um let us try Aunt Tejal, when not in class.” She smiled deviously, “Unless of course you want me to abuse you by calling you ‘my daughter’ in class all the time?”
I placed my hands together and bowed slightly in her direction, “Heavens forbid that we should abuse each other such.”
As she bowed gently back she added, “Or that I should lose my reputation as a cast iron bitch.”
Jericho paused only briefly before starting to rework a set of signal detectors he was building from bug trackers into ranged signal locators. Collectively they were ten hours of prior labor, not exactly wasted, but that is the way some projects worked out. He had already figured out the new circuits to add to the next version, and as the Grunts had pointed out, there was evidently a need for it.
“So how long?” prompted Mule.
“It’ll be done when it is done,” he briefly noted the tenseness his response gave and added, “ten minutes or so.”
“Ah good.” Deadeye smiled savagely, “With luck we will beat the ‘pros’ to the objective.”
“Just don’t run into an ambush,” Jericho added not quite under his breath.
“Hmm, good point, we should treat this as a Sim run just with a bit nastier of intent,” Bunker observed with a tight smile.
“Do you actually plan on killing?” asked Jericho as he soldered rapidly.
“Um, yeah what else would we do with them,” countered Bomber only to get a slap to the back of his head from Deadeye.
“We’ve had this discussion, remember?” Deadeye fixed Bomber with a glare.
“Well, yes, but these people are not playing by Sim rules,” Bomber shrugged, “I doubt they will just let us walk in and then surrender to us politely.”
“Not to mention if the virus loves heat and you let it loose in a hot area…” Jericho added quickly.
“Well Jobe did have us pick up a case of cryo-grenades, just the thing to stop that, and most reptiles in their tracks,” commented Bunker as she patted the odd canisters fondly.
“Uh yeah, you don’t plan on using them on Razor?” asked Jericho as he turned to face Bunker.
“No, I like my prey to be able to run for their life, it’s far more amusing…” she replied.
Jericho could not tell if she was joking or not and shrugged, “Ahh ok.”
“Still,” she continued, “you might consider carrying a few just incase Razor goes feral and you want to slow him down drastically. I am sure he’d recover from the frostbit faster than a gut shot.”
Jericho stopped and considered that for a moment, “Not a bad idea actually, but aren’t grenades a bit indiscriminate in who they hit?”
“Yeah they are, getting fragged by your teammate is a bad thing, isn’t it Bunker?” asked Mule in a flat tone of voice.
“Hey it was only a concussion grenade…” she protested weakly.
“Yes, which is why we forgave you,” countered Deadeye.
“So Jericho, want to go spelunking with us?” asked Mule.
“Ah no, I don’t think I want to test my immune system or try –that- particular diet,” Jericho said with a feeling of real unfairness.
“Trust me, Pat did not like it much either and he had it much worse than you do,” said Mule flatly.
“Just how badly messed up is Pat? Is he ever coming back?” Jericho asked as he closed up the second unit.
“Um, it’s bad and no I do not think so,” said Mule with a pained shrug, “I would be shocked if he pulled a comeback.”
“Did they catch the bastard responsible?”
“Well Corporal Mehren said that, that part the case was closed, and he sounded slightly amused when he said it,” Deadeye said filling the brief silence, “evidently he confessed due to the ‘Fear of Jobe’ that was in him, and other bits.”
“That is one thing I don’t get, why are you working with Jobe of all people?” Jericho turned to face Deadeye.
“Well, is isn’t actually by choice,” Deadeye paused, “much as we really dislike him, he does know his shit when it comes to nasty biological crap.”
“Yeah, there is that. I can’t figure out why a student would use something so damned dangerous to screw with you,” Jericho turned back to continue reworking the last unit.
“Ah, we can’t be sure it is a student group,” Mule paused and looked back at the team, “we’ve been making a large assumption. Would a student who knows us and Jobe, consider a frontal assault?”
“Only if they were utterly stupid, sideways and snippy maybe,” Bunker motioned to herself and then as if in illustration Mule. “Are we looking at two different groups or three then, considering the Punk Patrol seems to be tied to our roommates?”
“Well, two possible groups and a individual,” Deadeye paused, “Mahren did say we’d know who attacked Folder when we saw him, as evidently it is spectacular.”
“Just as long as I can punish him properly,” said Mule savagely.
“Ah, Mahren said Jobe would handle that,” Deadeye said worriedly, “something about a secondary punishment that –really- befitted the crime.”
“Ouch, Jobe cooking up something special, not something off of his shelf, I am not sure I would wish that on anyone.” Mule shivered unconsciously as he envisioned melted flesh, external bowel systems and other rudeness.
“Oh the bastard deserves what ever Jobe does to them,” Deadeye calmly stated, “not to mention what ever may befall this other group.”
Bomber nodded somberly, “Death is too good for them.”
Jericho froze briefly as the admitted sociopath Bomber never really seemed to care if someone lived or died, “Why the change of heart?”
“They hurt a nice guy and Slappy, hurting Slappy was just bad. Pat’s um, like a puppy, you don’t hurt puppies,” Bomber said as if reciting an important Sunday school lesson, of which everyone uneasily took a step back from him and nodded somberly when he looked at them.
Jericho inwardly cringed at the odd proclamation with its unpleasant implications, and then closed the last unit; “Okayyyy, well my work is done.”
“And here are the Benjamin’s,” said Mule with a grin, “nice doing business with you,” as he placed the bills in Jericho’s hand.
“Well good hunting, I guess, try to not end up dead,” Jericho said as he stood and shoved the bills into his pocket. In a falsetto voice he added, “Have fun storming the castle boys.”
Jobe watched the long black vehicle roll away, through the new doors that lead out onto the campus. While he knew his external visage was likely somber, he was slightly amused. After all, the truth, used creatively could really turn the screws. He gave the security guard a curt nod and brazenly walked into the room that held Diaz as they scanned his body again.
Diaz’s body was interesting, from a medical standpoint. The right arm was lengthened to where it might drag behind the boy on the ground, if he could walk. The left arm was twisted and bent in so many angles that it seemed to be a knotted mess ‘just’ hanging from the shoulder. One collarbone jutted upwards while the other stuck out from the front of an oddly reformed chest. The legs and hips seemed to be similarly effected, though the toes on one foot were very nearly a foot long. Diaz’s mouth was disturbing in that the lower jaw appeared to have been pulled out half a foot, pinched and pulled downward and then twisted thirty or so degrees to the right.
Pity was not in Jobe’s vocabulary when it came to deal with people who crossed him. It vanished completely when people violated Jobe’s guiding precepts of freewill and self-determinalism. Jobe noted the presence of feeding tube that ran from a bag marked ‘protean supplement,’ and that flowed down into Diaz’s nose and he walked over to give it a gentle touch.
A small worried sound prompted him to look down into the eyes of Diaz, “Patrick Stiles just left in a coroners hearse.”
Diaz blinked and moaned oddly, a few moments later a vocoder mechanically said, “Oh ...”
“Yes, you are responsible,” Jobe walked over to where a light box illuminated the deformed bone structure in a set of x-rays.
“Did not poison her, would not.”
“It doesn’t matter, Patrick died.” Jobe picked up an X-ray and studied the deformed jaw, “I have petitioned to have you declared dead as well.”
“Yes I did, I doubt they will let me have you freely though,” Jobe shrugged as if that was of no consequence. “Not that I would want your carcass to occupy space in my lab, but I could use the raw materials in your body.”
“Did I say anything about killing you? No, I would find it more interesting to use you as a live source for organ grafting.” Jobe chuckled darkly, “Vat grown organs are imperfect at times.”
Help, somebody help me,” Diaz protested though the vocodor.
Jobe smirked and walked over to the speaker box and deliberately eased it out of Diaz’s reach. Then he deliberately turned the volume down. “It’s almost as effective as cutting the hands off of a mute person,” he said looking directly at Diaz’s face.
“… no don’t hurt me.”
“Yes much better and less grating,” Jobe impassively looked down on Diaz, “I’ve had a chat with the Doctor’s concerning your limbs, jaw and such. Care to guess what their prognosis is?”
“Oh, well no matter I will tell you anyways.” Jobe sneered and dispassionately said, “You are going to live, a very long time, in that body.”
“I don’t think the vocodor translated that, but there is a profanity filter built in.” Snickering he continued, “They think that after they surgically break, saw, shorten and wire your jaw, that in six months you may be able chew solid food, with dentures.”
“… …” Jobe laughed at the hint of static Diaz provoked from the vocoder.
“Tut, tut, such hostility.” Jobe patted the boy on the head, “Then a few more surgeries and you may have the normal use of your right arm, though they project the nerve damage from the operation will leave you with only one or two functional fingers. But don’t worry about it too much.”
Diaz typed frantically, “Help me?”
“Oh no, I don’t think so.” Jobe paused to roll a stool over where he could sit just out of view of Diaz and sat down. “You see, you did something I consider abhorrent.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“I am shocked you would not think so,” Jobe slapped the boy on the head firmly, “after all this time, I cannot believe someone would think I was a,” slap, ”joking,“ slap,” kind of, “ slap, ”guy. When angry.”
“In any case, as I was saying, you did something abhorrent even in my book.” Jobe waited a few moments and gently tapped the boy lightly on the head, forcing a real cringe to appear in the boy’s expression, “You see, I never ever take away a persons free will, nor do I try to shape how they live their lives. Admittedly I do use firm methods in instructing people who have wronged me, into considering not doing it again; but the lesson is theirs to ignore.”
“You are a sick …”
“Bastard? Well no, I do have married parents,” Jobe paused to tug painfully on Diaz’s hair. “Free will, self rule and letting people make their own choices is important to me. Really, if more people followed my sort of thinking; people like you would not be tempted to do such heinous acts.”
“You are not a moral compass.”
“Yes but I have never ever tried to forced anyone to like me either, much less ever make them into sexual puppets.” Jobe paused to tug on a misshapen ear and then hissed into it, “Like you did.”
“My God said for me to take Patrick.”
“Well yes, I did hear that. I suspect part of your current problem is that Patrick’s God or Gods held their own opinion on the matter. Either that or you really, really botched your spell some place.” Jobe picked up a light and pointed into the distended mouth of the boy, “Yep just as they said, the teeth will just have to go.”
“Oh did it? Then how did you end up such a mess?” Jobe lifted the sheet and snickered once loudly, “Amazing they could get a catheter that long and that thin into you. Did you know that they will have to cut that down to a nub and possibly reroute your urethra so that you can pee sitting down?”
“Oh yes, a man’s penis is not that long, though if you ask around I am sure you could find someone to convert it into a walking cane… Not that you will likely ever walk again.” Jobe snickered loudly and added, “Did you know people are saying to move you into Hawthorne permanently?”
“…, …, …”
“Someone also suggested that they should put you in a cage next to the cafeteria, but then they might serve you to Sara as food or put people off their lunches.” Jobe patted the boy on the chin, and lifted it a few times experimentally, “But death would end your torment and I simply could not allow that to happen.”
“Well yes, you are fucked, but you did it to yourself.” Jobe paused smiled thoughtfuly; “In fact if it were up to me, you would be in current form until you expired naturally, in sixty or so years.”
“Yell yes, I did say prior to this that you could suffer as you are or suffer the same thing as you have inflicted on Patrick.” Jobe closed his eyes and then said firmly, “Though I am not sure you should be allowed a form that may allow you the chance to procreate.”
“Unfortunately, that decision is out of my hands.”
“Ah, but I digress. For you see, if by some spell you should regain a functional male form; I will render you permanently sterile and unable to have erections or ejaculate for that matter.” Jobe tilted his head to one side and seemed to think, “Oh I am sure that I would get chastened for it, but most people would consider that I would be doing society a favor, and my hands only would get slapped.”
“Kill you if.”
“Oh you really do not want to consider that idea at all; if anything you should pray I live much longer than you do.” Jobe sternly smiled, “You see, you are booby trapped.”
“Yes, care to guess what happens to you if I die?” Jobe waited a long moment in silence then slapped the boy on the head soundly, “Go on guess.”
“Oh no, you don’t die, dying would be much too simple. No the protective sheathes around your nerves will be eaten away, leaving them set on ‘receptive.’” Jobe chuckled darkly, “But that is just the start of the process, you see, all of your voluntary motor functions will simply stop too, but not the involuntary ones. Also, a funny thing with this little bug you carry inside your body, it converts the sensory signals in your brain randomly so one moment you might be in agony, the next in euphoria.”
“Of course in time, you will be nothing more than a crazed lump of quivering flesh, so it will not matter much then. Will it?”
“… … … …… …”
“As it stands there is one small side effect, for some odd reason it likes to bring up phantom memories of people you have known or met and then overlay them randomly in the visual part of your simple little mind. A mild induced delusion if you will, but then you will know the bug is still in you. Ticking, so slowly ticking away.”
“If I become a girl?”
“Ah yes, a girl.” Jobe sneered and patted both of Diaz’s cheeks lightly, “If you go girl, I won’t sterilize you. As well, you might find a suitable male to breed with and potentially pass on his genes. However, if you do go girl, I will ensure you never ever return to being male some time later.”
“Yes I already had considered that you might try to welch out of it.” Jobe stood up and pointed at Diaz, “So you go girl permanently or you rot in that form, the choice is yours.”
“Would you rather I chose for you?”
“You have chosen wisely or as Folder, were he alive, would have put it to you: ‘Thus endth the lesson.’”
Jobe stepped out of the room and eased the door shut, and he gave the small crowd of adults standing there a bland smile, “May I help you?”
Mrs. Chulkris paused and briefly glanced to the group, “Ah, that was interesting.”
“Ah, so you heard my little discussion?” Jobe asked with a neutral smile.
“Yes, it was most refreshing in some ways,” stated a dark robed man whose voice spoke of many accents. “It is a pity you are not gifted magickally.”
“Well, we all do have our places to fill in the order of things,” Jobe said with a nod to the figure.
“Yes, and I do concur with your take on the matter of Mr. Diaz.” With a bronze finger he indicated the room beyond the door, “You mentioned an induced delusion, why?”
“Should Folder return, in one shape or the other, Diaz would be confused by her presence. Without some sort of mental prodding to stay away, Diaz could likely press Folder for answers.” Jobe shrugged, “I expect if Folder was attacked anew in that manner, what little peace Folder gained from Louis’ actions will vanish. So this ‘cue’ I stuck in Diaz’s head will possibly prevent such an encounter.”
“And if Diaz should see random visions of Folder?”
“It could not hurt,” Jobe smiled broadly, “I plan on building a nano or biological bug that would feed Folder’s image into Diaz’s optic nerves.”
Mrs. Chulkris frowned, “Ah, that will not be necessary, we will chasten Mr. Diaz properly, as he did violate several rules.”
“Ah, well in any case I may construct the nano’s or virus as a practical exercise,” Jobe smirked, “and in case Diaz thinks your chastening a trivial thing.”
The dark robe man’s voice held an unnerving quality that spoke of darkness, “Oh I do no think that will be an issue.”
Jobe paused and then smiled pleasantly, “I see.”
Chief Delarose’s Office
Chief Delarose disgustedly cradled the phone on his desk, picking up a headset he placed it on his ear and spoke calmly, “Search Two, come in.”
“This is Search Two, Mahren speaking.”
“Corporal Mahren, are you aware that your young charges are not in their classes?” Delarose asked with an angry frown.
“Fuck! No I was not aware,” there was a pause, “I suppose they are down here as well?”
“I would presume so,” Delarose thumped his desk, “Jobe it seems gave them the same information as I received, with a few pointers in where to look. Specific pointers.”
“I see… So most likely they will get there first? Where ever there is?” asked Mahren sounding pissed.
“Can you get Louis to pony up their location?”
“Oh I did that,” Delarose stood up and walked to his own personal weapons rack, “I’m heading to the main heat exchangers, the ones that connect to the cooling lagoon.”
“Crap that is on the far end from where we are,” Mahren sounded disgusted, “I’ll get us moving there asap.”
“Rojer that, I’m headed down myself, Delarose out.”
Erik paused a moment to lift a different radio from his belt, “Grunts, report.”
After a longish pause Deadeye’s voice flowed across the air, “Hi Corporal, kinda busy here, pop quiz and all.”
“Bullshit, Delarose just told me you were not in classes.”
“Yes, and?” asked Bomber sounding bored.
“Do you have any idea what kind of trouble you very might well be in?”
“Ah, sorry Corporal, but you seem to be breaking up can you say that again?” asked Mule as a brief wash of static filled the air.
“Stop the fucking bullshit! I want you to pull back until I get there.”
“That just might be a fucking problem,” commented Bunker over the radio, “considering that some stupid fucker shot at us.”
Erik took a breath and briefly cursed then he addressed the radio, “Right, pin them in place, support is coming.”
“Great, everyone wants in on our action,” muttered Breaker over the radio.
“We’re going to discus this later,” Erik warned loudly,” pin the enemy in place and nothing more.”
“Right, by your command,” Deadeye curtly responded.
Erik paused to hope the kids would not be as stupid as he was prone to be, then he considered that thought and ran faster. “Shit.”
Underground Cooling Reservoir
Deadeye shrugged at his team, “Anyone feel up to some detention?”
Bunker smiled and shrugged back, “Well I suspect Gunny might approve or not, considering he wasn’t invited.”
Bomber yawned “I say we pin them like the Corporal suggested, but in such a manner they can’t move afterwards.”
Breaker smiled and pulled out a set of thermal vision goggles, “I say we turn out the lights.”
Deadeye grinned, “Let’s do that, confusion and chaos on three?”
Bunker unlimbered her grenade launcher, “Works for me.”
Mule paused briefly and nodded, “Just remember to freeze the place down if the alarm goes off Bunker.”
“What’s a little frostbite among friends?” asked Breaker with a giggle.
“Precisely.” Deadeye sighted on a strand of lights, “Mule, Bomber get the left and center section of overhead lights. Breaker cover, Bunker you are a go for ‘shock and awe.’”
“Plug up your ears boys, baby has a new song to play,” Bunker said as she put her own earplugs in.
Erik paused as the tunnel he was in reverberated several times in succession. “Grunts what the fuck are you doing?”
“Just pinning the enemy into a corner, like you suggested,” was Bunker’s exuberant reply a moment later.
“With high explosives?” he asked incredulously.
“Not yet,” inserted Breaker among a stutter of gunfire, “Working on that now.”
“Woah, negatory, do you have any idea how much a problem there would be if the coolant system stops?”
“It’s not radioactive we checked,” added Mule’s voice.
“No explosives. Am. I. Clear?” Erik asked coldly.
“I thought you had issues with people running your operations by remote control?” asked Bomber calmly with a heavy dose of sarcasm.
Erik blinked and then sighed, “I can see this discussion will have to wait, I’m not far I think.”
“Use your thermal goggles or nvg’s, we took out the lights,” advised Deadeye coolly, “be advised three active hostiles, confirm.”
“Confirmed,” Erik frowned trying to figure out how a small fire team could get on campus as he ran.
Bunker eased back under cover and grinned, “Well he took that well.”
Unseen Deadeye shook his head, “Oh I expect the after action review will be loud.”
Mule took a few lazy shots and loped forwards, scrabbling along a wall, “In position, I have one prone, no visible heat bloom from a weapon.”
There was a crack and a loud protesting cry, “I found the regen,” said Bomber, “it got up from a gut shot.”
“We want them alive!” protested Erik over the radio.
“Ok fine, I’ll just maim them a bit,” drawled Bomber with evident annoyance, “considering they are not smart enough to lay down and surrender.”
Breaker’s voice was dry and crisp, “Heads up Corporal, you have a runner going your way I think.”
“Oh good, thanks,” came the mock growl of annoyance.
Deadeye laughed, “I think the Corporal’s main beef was that he was missing the action.”
Erik motioned the security team he was leading to set in position at the top of the metal stairs leading down. As they took up positions he walked down and under the stairs. He smiled grimly and stuffed a fletchette round into his grenade launcher. Jobe’s attack on the unseen assailant had shown the feet to be vulnerable, if they were shielded. Deep in the shadows he angled the muzzle up and waited.
Erik waited until shrouded person’s presence was heard on the stairs and as it climbed upwards over him he shouted, “Whateley Security! You are surrounded, turn off the shield, put your weapons on the ground and turn around slowly.”
As a mismatched set shots rang out, Erik grimly smiled and pulled the trigger. Ignoring the cry of pain Erik jacked another round into the launcher and shouted, “Drop the shield now!”
Feeling a few hot stings pepper across his face, Erik fired the second round and watched as a figure appeared suddenly and then fell back slowly to thump soundly on the floor. A wailing tone sounded loudly from his belt and he reported calmly, “I’ve been tagged with the bio-agent, team fall back.”
“Crap you ok?”
“Well I expect I’ll be ok, just pissed off,” Erik took the silvery tube out and armed it. Moments later a bit of pressure on his thigh from the ‘pointy end,’ gave him a nasty sting that lasted long a moment. At a soft beep he pulled it away and gave the long needle a disgusted look before bending the tip against the brick wall. “Ok, I’ve dosed myself, going for the collar.”
“I’ve got you covered, bringing up the lights,” came a masked voice from above.
Erik waited for the flashlight to illuminate the person and then proceeded to cut the odd sprayer and tank off of the man. Once that was done he jerked the moaning man’s arms to the small of his back and cuffed him with the thick cuffs. “You are under arrest asshole, please feel free to resist arrest, I have some anger issues left to resolve.”
The whimpering man shook his head and Erik stood up with a disgusted look, “Read him his rights, keep him here and use the CO2 fire extinguishers all over the area. Oh yeah some first aid might be appreciated… Erik gave the tattered pants the man was wearing a smile, “A pity we can’t just poor salt on all of those small holes.”
“Yeah,” muttered a man as he came down the stairs, “it would make up for having to wear the fucking gas mask.”
Erik nodded and ignored the flush of heat that seemed to grow in him, “I hate bio weapon crap. The cure is not as bad as being dead, but shit, it is never fun.”
“You should wait it out here,” suggested Cat.
“No, I have to go chew out the kids,” he paused and keyed up the comlink to Delarose. “Chief this is Search one.”
“Delarose here, report.”
“One perp down, one man infected and treated, we have the bio-weapon delivery system I think, over.”
“Rojer, I’m with the kids now, we’ve got the other mobile perp stuck between us and you, secure your end, over,” Delarose instructed sounding slightly irked.
“Copy that, should we apply pressure for this end? Over.”
“Negative, we should have this wrapped up in moments, Chief out.”
Delarose gave Bomber and Deadeye a firm glare; “Mule goes in first, since he can soak up the hits, then Bomber and you.” He paused and looked aback, “Breaker and Bunker guard the other prisoners.”
Mule smiled tightly and ignored the rips in his body armor from the slugs he took, “Works for me.”
“Right. We want the perp alive, regen or no; no decapitations Bomber.” Delarose gave the crestfallen boy a hard look, “Alive, clear?”
“Clear sir,” Bomber frowned and then smiled tightly, “you won’t mind much if I remove its arms and legs?”
“Only if it happens while I am not in the room, and I plan on being right behind you.”
Mule smirked at Bomber, “Try not to trip on me in your haste.”
Bomber slowly smiled, “End zone shred?”
“On three,” said Deadeye as he slapped the two boys on their helmets.
Delarose frowned as the boys took up textbook MOUT positions at the edge of the doorway. Mule hunkered down briefly and seemed to gather his focus. Bomber’s face was a study of impatience and rapture-like joy; Deadeye was oddly calm.
“Set one,” intoned Mule.
“Set two,” said Bomber as his hands crackled with red light.
“Go Mule!” Deadeye kept his hand on Bomber’s shoulder a half second and then he slapped his helmet, “Go Bomber!”
As gunfire sounded in the next room, Deadeye and Delarose watched Bomber take a running leap into the room. Delarose watched Deadeye count to three on his fingers and he followed at a slower pace with his rifle at the ready.
A terrified screech of pain was followed by a wash of heat that stalled Delarose’s entry into the room. A meaty thump caused him to look down at his feet where a leg lay. Delarose swallowed hard and made a note to never suggest that removal of limbs was acceptable, ever again.
One inside the room he watched Deadeye secure the man’s weapon as Mule pressed the limbless man to the floor. Bomber had stacked the man’s other severed limbs off to the side and appeared to watch with interest as the nubs stated to grow anew on the man’s torso.
“Go ahead and resist some more,” Bomber said slowly to the struggling man, “I can still take your head off… too.”
“I. I surrender! Shit! I surrender! Keep that crazy fucker away from me,” the oddly dressed man said frantically.
Delarose glanced down and noted the groundskeeper uniform, “I think we have one answer.”
“Yes,” Erik said as he slowly walked in while sweating profusely, “I noticed that too.” He gave the severed limbs a hard look then sighed, “Chief, it should be noted that Bomber can be quite liberal in interpreting instructions when it comes to violence.”
Delarose gave the joyfully smiling Bomber a worried looked, “I see that.”
Dunwhich, New Hampshire
My death, as I saw it was only mentally disturbing. There was lots of noise, some odd shouting, and beeping sounds that turned to solid tones that were followed by harshly muttered whispers. Naturally I got to enjoy the odd bit of theater that was enacted in my room. Personally it seemed a bit too fake, but they played it up for the unseen listeners. Just another stone in the deception of my death, much like my ‘ride’ in the coroner’s hearse.
My driver was a sturdy chap, who smelled of heavy cologne usage and other ‘off’ smells. He was a bit ‘chatty’ in my book, but I guess in his line of work ‘live’ patients were rare. He was rather tidy, in that all of his clothing was freshly pressed or gave that appearance. His bespeckled eyes hid behind a pair of bifocals and his bushy white eyebrows and white salted hair gave him an older air.
“You can drop the illusion now,” he mentioned after a glance in the mirror.
“Ok,” I looked into the back were a large black back rested on the gurney, a simple wave and the bag vanished slowly.
“Very good,” he nodded and pointed to the windows, “if you need to roll down the window some.
“Yeah, it’s a bit…”
“Yes,” I said rolling the window down a few inches.
“Sadly it comes with the job,” he shrugged as he motioned to the rolling landscape, “still it is a job that has to be done.”
“Do this kind of thing often?”
“The odd body swaps? Dead for live and other fun misdirection’s?” he asked with a smile.
“Oh, now and again.” He smiled thoughtfully and pointed at me, “Trust me I would much rather do this sort of pick up.”
“I can imagine, so what happens next?”
“Well, not far from here, a deputy from Dunwhich is waiting for you. Of whom will give you a ride to your new home, if you are really lucky he’ll stop through the Reservation and you can get lunch.”
“Oh, ok, I guess.”
He smiled and pointed out the trees, ”Fall is a season of change, it’s the natural order of things.”
“Or unnatural change,” I muttered grumpily.
“Yes, I suppose so.” He tapped the steering wheel, “Still what happened to you was not fatal, and in some small ways you have been granted a clean slate to work from. Most people never get such a chance.”
Looking down at my chest I said, “I gladly would have skipped it.”
He chuckled, “But here you are none the less.”
“One thing you might consider, no one will likely have to die for real, which is always a good thing in my book.” He smiled and pointed out the front window, “And there would be Constable Jed Dayton, ‘Country’ to his friends. Don’t let his country-hick act get on your nerves, he likes to mess with folks somewhat.”
Rolling my eyes I nodded, “I’ll keep it in mind.”
“Well, nice meeting you Dani, try not to be a repeat customer,” he said as the hearse came to a slow stop.
“I’ll do my best.”
“I’d appreciate it.”
Ms. Carson’s Office
“And that’s what Louis had leached out of their heads,” Delarose said formally.
“So they thought it was simply two large payoffs from what was considered a minimal risk job,” she shook her head feeling both angry and astonished at the stupidity of the criminals. “Though we have tracked a thread to the individuals in Africa.”
“Louis is doing a cautious probing of the new hires, just in case.” Delarose sighed loudly, “That someone would volunteer to be blanked out memory wise and ‘reawaken’ later worries me.”
“Money will drive people to do unnatural things,” she paused, “as much as I would like to have them charged with murder, with Pat not really being dead, thankfully, I cannot.”
“Oh they are looking at a cell or icing down at ARC in any case. Bio-Terrorism is a life sentence,” Delarose stated with a tired nod. “I heard Pat left in a hearse?”
“A necessary fiction I am afraid,” she frowned and tapped a thin set of forms. “Anandani Kumari Choudhari, will be needing the UVP status when she arrives in a next week or so.”
“That is a mouthful, name wise.”
“She goes by Dani,” she smiled uneasily, “I just hope she won’t need a firmer classification later on.”
“I saw Asmon Diaz, before I came here.” Delarose sat back in his chair, “He’s going on the UV rolls too when he returns, may I ask why he’s even on campus yet?”
“ARC’s Team dragging their heels a bit to ensure the bio-weapon is handled first.” She coughed and suppressed a giggle, “Diaz’s mother is a militant feminist, among other things. She wants him to bear the fruits of his labors, all the fruits, including the gender change.”
“Ouch, are they planning on disowning him?”
“No, they plan on making sure his education is complete,” she rolled her eyes, “I shudder to guess what that means, however she is sponsoring a play here via the theater department, for when Diaz returns; the Vagina Monologues.”
Delarose smiled slowly, “Dare I ask who is going to get the lead role eventually?”
“I think you can guess.”
Mule gave the sealed boxes a sad glance, and then walked to look out the open window. He wasn’t sure what was more depressing, the full boxes or the empty walls. Security had seemed largely sympathetic when they discovered Pat had left in a hearse. Even Jobe seemed abnormally quiet about the circumstances involved. Slappy was still in the infirmary for the night but they said he would be fine by Thursday.
He turned at the soft knock on his door, “Come in, it’s open.”
“Ah you would be Mr. Stiles’ roommate?” asked the woman he recognized as the Headmistress Ms. Carson.
“I’m sorry to hear that your friend had passed,” she said and after quietly observing him for a moment, hesitantly added, “grief counseling is available should you desire it.”
“I guess,” Mule sighed tiredly and glances around at the empty walls and the naked bunk.
“Were you good friends?”
“Well yeah, I suppose.” Mule let his shoulder drop and turned to look away back out at the open window. “I may have even been his only friend at times, I think.
“I, we, are sorry,” Ms. Carson sighed as she walked over to place a hand on his shoulder, “we didn’t protect him or you all very well.”
“It’s not your fault,” Mule said as he continued to look out the window, “you could not have expected this or protected Pat from the magickal backlash that killed him.”
“Perhaps, but we could have prevented some of his troubles I think.”
“As it stands, we’ve broadened the Ultra Violent Protected Status for people who are like Mr. Stiles was…” She let her hand drop down to her side, “Not that it came in time to help Mr. Stiles, but it will help the next ones.”
Mule looked back to the empty walls, “Yeah, good luck with that.”
“You don’t think it will help?”
“Oh some, maybe. Most likely the worst offenders will ensure they can get away clean when they strike.” Mule shook his head angrily and turned to look at her, “They ‘only’ caught Anvil because it was on tape.”
“Yes, considering Mr. Stiles never cared to step forwards for himself,” she stopped at his firmly shaking head. “You don’t agree?”
“I think you don’t understand the bully mentality. Sure Pat could have turned him in, and prompted a rise of anger in Anvil, resulting in more attacks and more harm to Patrick.” He paused and turned away from her, “Pat and I have had this discussion, loudly a few times. I didn’t believe him at first, but then I looked up the reported incidents. Sure it seemed like the bully backed off, but sure enough they were at it with a vengeance a week or so later.”
“I see, I think.”
“I had offered to take matters into my own hands, but Patrick pointed out that he would make his displeasure known if I did.”
“He would? Did he threaten you?”
“Oh no, Pat would not threaten anyone, he just pointed out guns make art, really odd art, but art.” Mule walked to his bunk and pulled a large metal rose out from under it, “This was a sheet of spring steel, the leaves and most of the flower bits are of other harder metals.” He handed it to Ms. Carson and smiled glumly, “It cost him a few bucks to make, but the only heating he did was a few small welds to hold it together.”
Frowning she tried to flex the stem slightly and then frowned as it refused, “Odd, he altered the metal?’”
“Yeah I think so, I tried to bend the stem before he made it into a flower with no luck.” Mule shrugged and pointed to the barrel of the gun in its case, “He offered to make me a similar flower using that, if I took matters in my own hands.”
She paused and offered the flower back, “I see.”
Mule took the rose and gave it a tap causing a pure note to spring out from the petals, “Each petal has a different note, tap them all you get a perfect chord. Harmonically perfect.”
“Ah, and he did it just by touch alone?”
Ms. Carson smiled thoughtfully, “Hiding his talents under a bushel was he?”
“That was Pat for you.”
“So why a rose?” Ms. Carson asked as Mule placed it on the desk.
“Well I was kind of poor at the time, and trying to figure out if I liked a girl or not, Pat made it so I’d have something to give her if I got that far.”
“Who? If I may ask.”
He shrugged, “One of the girls over in Poe, Angel, but from what I gathered later on, she is not inclined.”
“Oh, well there are other ladies on campus.”
“Yes, yes there are.”
Anvil looked up from the ground at the odd team that faced him. They looked to be refugees from a Science Fiction horror film; they were dressed in olive drab sweat suits with gasmasks and carried an odd assortment of weapons. As the team encircled him, he vomited for the fourth time in as many seconds.
“Well, what sort of scum do we have here?” one asked.
“Looks pretty sick, should I put it out of its misery?”
“I could blow it up a few times,” suggested a female voice.
One of the figures walked over and with a muffled laugh kicked Anvil in the backside. “Look, it twitches still.”
“So how long will the effects last, Miasma?”
“Good question, I expect the twitching and weakness to last a few days, the nausea perhaps a week.”
“But nothing fatal?”
“Yes nothing fatal.”
“So are we clear?”
“Oh yes, the gas is quite inert by now.”
Anvil watched in horror as the Grunts’ sweaty faces appeared one at a time, but his heart skipped a beat when the last member of the seven man team unmasked to show Jobe smiling down at him.
“Hello fucker,” said Mule as he crouched down to look Anvil.
“We’ve arranged this little lesson for you and your teammates.” Deadeye said as he kicked the twitching boy in the ass again.
“Yes, did you really think we would not figure it out?” asked Bunker as she produced a roll of gray tape.
Bomber drug Anvil a few feet away from his spew and smiled, “You are so fucked.”
Slapdash nodded, “You see, we drew lots to see who got to deal with you for beating Folder up.”
“Yes, we had to, and since your little indiscretions sucked Jobe in, well he got two straws,” added Deadeye nonchalantly.
Jobe smiled serenely, “Yes, I even took the liberty of making flyers in your behalf.”
Jobe unzipped the thick gray clothing and produced a sheet of paper, “I even arranged for all of your prior victims to get one, and that is quite a few copies, as you’ve been a busy boy.” Jobe held the sheet down to where it rested on Anvil’s chest.
“Yes, you see, there are rules to some things, for example: Shit that happens in Sims, stays in the Sims.” Mule stated calmly as he held the boy still for Bunker to tape the paper in place.
“The other rule, well is just common sense: you don’t cross Jobe,” added Breaker with a sage smile.
“You may not have ‘directly’ crossed Jobe, but your actions caused him to lose valuable lab time.” Mule flipped Anvil over to make sure the feet were secured, “Time he needed to deal with other unpleasant bits that happened this week.”
“Yes and since your bank account is empty,” Jobe paused “including the odd transactions from Nevada, well you cannot make fair restitution.”
“But Jobe has graciously decided to let all of your prior victims know of your weakened state,” stated Slapdash with a pleased grin.
“I was a bit surprised that Ms. Hartford allowed us to have a little fund raiser in Jobe’s behalf, you do know that she handled such things?” Breaker asked with a smile.
At the mute response Bunker chuckled, “Yes it came to a surprise to me as well. Oh don’t bother trying to struggle, we barrowed this tape from a locker in Security. Evidently it’s got some odd extra fibers in it, so you can’t even tear it.”
“So are the cutouts ready?” asked Mule with a smirk.
“Ah yes, as are all the pies,” Slapdash grinned and tapped Anvil on the head, “we’re having a pie toss, care to guess whose team are the targets?”
Jobe knelt down to look in the Anvil’s face, “You know at a two dollars a pie, I have already sold about a thousand tickets. But the real kicker are the special pies.”
“Oh?” asked Bomber with a smile.
“Yes, some of them have surprises, none of them fatal.’ Jobe gazed coolly into Anvil’s eyes, “But I dare say your complexion may have a new hue, and your hair, among other things.”
“Well let’s get the cart, Anvil’s adoring fans are awaiting,” said Deadeye. “Pity we could not get the go-ahead for the ‘Whack-an-bully’ game.”
“There is always next time,” Bomber lifted Anvil up to look in his face, “You hurt a nice guy who later died, and by all rights I should just kill you. But Deadeye says that is a bad idea, I guess I’ll understand his reasoning someday.” Bomber lifted the boy higher and shook him vigorously, “But fuck up again like this and I promise you that I will forget Deadeye’s little moral qualms and seriously fuck you up and then I will kill you.”
“Or we could just give him to Jobe,” suggested Mule coldly.
Bomber paused and dropped Anvil callously to the ground, “That would work too.”
“And in news today an isolated breakout the Hanta virus was reported in Nevada, as yet there are no fatalities, hospital officials have said the victim’s condition is guarded. At this time authorities from the CDC could not be reached for comment. Police officials have expressed concern that the victim’s other injuries could not be easily explained. Elsewhere in the state, several charities seem to have attracted anonymous benefactor…”
Bardue reached over and turned the television off, smiling he passed a cold beer from the cooler to Mahren. “Ah thus things are resolved. Locally, anyways.”
Mahren grinned and rubbed his knuckles, “Yep, pity about their needing body casts.”
“True, and who would have thought distilled mouse shit was so nasty?” Bardue asked blandly and clinked his beer against Mahren’s.
“So how did the pie toss go?”
“Very well, I hear they made three grand.”
Mahren nodded, “Good, well like they used to say…”
Bardue paused to light a cigar and a moment later he smiled, “I love it when a plan comes together?”
After a quiet pause Bardue added, “Supposedly the second phase of the operation will take some time.”
“The bastards in Africa?”
“Yes, the main culprit there has not shown themselves, and from what I gather, the final accounting is the important one.”
Mahren took a swallow of his beer and nodded, “Just as long as they go down hard.”
“Well we did our part, now the Shadow Council will have to do theirs,” Bardue’s smile was grim, “and they have never failed.”
Mahren chuckled and smiled grandly, “We could always sick Jobe on them.”
Bardue took a long puff of his cigar, “That is a thought, that is a thought.”
For a minute the ceiling was blotted out by the appearance of first a large obese boy then that of a hot looking girl. Diaz closed his eyes and tried to not groan, as the hallucination played there too.
%You failed me.%
~I did what you said, I did!~
%She was supposed to be your beloved and her child would have been a suitable receptacle for me to return.%
~I’m sorry, I promise I will make it up to you! Just don’t leave me!~
%Oh yes, you will make it up to me.%
%You sicken me, find a worthy mate or I will never grace you with my voice again.%
Ms. Muller looked in the treatment room to see if there was a problem. She ignored the wave of revulsion she felt and prefunctionally checked the crying boy’s vitals. Evident his sleep had been interrupted by a somatic nightmare rather than a physical one…
With an indifferent shrug she paused by the door, “They said your first surgery at ARC would be this coming Monday, so get some rest and enjoy your stay there. From what I gather you will be living there a long while. Do try not to piss off the staff; I understand that they can make criminalslike you disappear for a very long time… But that is just a friendly bit of advice, ignore it at your leisure.”
Crystal Hall Cafeteria
Mule looked blankly at the paper football that had smacked him on the head before falling onto the cafeteria table. Suspiciously he glanced around at his teammates, though they wore perplexed expressions as well. Cautiously he followed the instruction provided in line of text on the football and opened it slowly.
Blinking he reread the text he found on the inside several times, and then shook his head. Feeling marginally better for the first time in the past two weeks, he passed the note around. Idly he noted the suspicious smiles form as each person read the note.
Bunker briefly cursed and shook her head before handing the note back, “Always has to get the last word.”
Mule nodded and looked around frantically trying to see a familiar face in the crowd. After a few moments he sighed and read the note again.
‘Beating yourself up emotionally is an act of violence, so knock it off already...
Thus endeth the lesson.’ F.
Mule smiled after a moment, “What an asshole.”
As the rest of the team smiled, Deadeye nodded and tried not to inhale his soda as he laughed, “Yeah.”