A Whateley Academy Story
by E. E. Nalley
This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I'm alright song
My power's turned on
Starting right now I'll be strong
I'll play my fight song
And I don't really care if nobody else believes
'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me
Rachel Platten, Fight Song
May 29th, 2007
Administrative Offices, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Amelia Hartford called up the match list for the combat finals. It wasn't hacking in the strictest of senses; she was authorized to view the list and to make changes to it after all. While there were those who might object to the changes she was going to make, and why, well one of the perks of being sneaky was never having to explain yourself.
A quick scan of the list brought up the match in question. Freeze Frame? Hartford thought to herself. Loophole and Freeze Frame hadn't been rivals since last year. She sniffed and made a mental note in have better communications between Admin and Security to keep closer tabs on these kinds of things amongst the students.
The entire point of this year's spring combat finals was to pair either rivals or strangers and force them to work together in an exercise that would demand teamwork and communication skills. It was a scenario that usually made for interesting matches. Still, it was a risky move that Tansy had suggested, but with great risk came great reward. Fortune favored the bold and all that. Ms. Hartford made the change Tansy wanted and then locked the match, now only Mrs. Carson could change it, and she wouldn't be inclined.
Now it was just a matter waiting to witness how things would unfold. She saved the file and turned her attention to the quarterly expense report.
May 29th, 2007
Arena 99 Bleachers, Whateley Academy
The entire arena was on its feet and booing as the hulking brick slammed into Kayda, right as she crossed the police lines. The jeers and cat-calls of the late hit and suicidal charge of the villain into the police barricade were the object of creative obscenities. The horn sounded, ending the match and paramedics went in, but the wrath of the crowd turned to the operators in the booth. Drink cups, hot dog wrappers and other trash were hurled at the window overlooking the arena as the crowd made its displeasure known.
Several blasts of the air horn finally put a stop to that as Mrs. Carson's voice icily demanded order from her students. “Heh, love to be a fly on that wall,” chuckled Wyatt as his eyes turned back to the paramedics treating Kayda as the Arena slowly returned to its default state.
“Is she ok?” demanded Lanie from her seat next to him, craning her neck for a better view. “Where's Banned Aides?”
“Probably still at Doyle treating Hippolyta,” Wyatt replied. The big lesbian had been despondent since the disappearance of Sara at the beginning of the month. She'd throw herself into the simulation where she'd been fighting an Ant representing the super villain Titan. Despite the arenas safety protocols, she'd been impaled through her side on an exposed chunk of re-bar, doing serious internal damage.
Banned Aids would be healing her for quite some time.
Kayda slowly got to her feet, to the cheers of the audience, one arm in a sling and with a marked limp she walked to the arena's exit under her own power. “See?” Wyatt assured his fiancee. “She'll be ok.”
“What did I miss?”
Lanie turned and smiled at Tansy as she walked up and sat down next to them, dropping her book bag. “Hey, Tansy, where have you been?” Tansy smiled as she suppressed the memory of the hurried conversation she'd had with Lifeline, of wishing her luck verbally while sending subtle emotions of dread, paranoia and above all fear into the girl, gently massaging her subconscious while enhancing and cementing Maggie's existent feelings about Grizzly.
The blonde offered up some of the tub of popcorn she'd carried in her off hand. “Madame Prudhomme had some questions about my final.” Tansy's conscience twinged at the lie, but she managed to keep her face neutral. She looked down just in time to see Kayda leave the arena. “Was that Kayda? Is she alright?”
“Yeah,” Lanie told her. “She drew Chou, Blade Dancer, you know? There was a really ugly late hit.”
“I heard the booing,” Tansy replied. “Blade Dancer hit her late? She's alright?” Elaine shook her head, but before she could answer, she was interrupted.
“Next Match, Students Two Forty and Three eighteen,” the speakers boomed.
“Shit,” swore Elaine. “That's me.”
She leaned over and accepted Wyatt's kiss. “Give 'em hell, baby.”
“Be careful,” Tansy cautioned. Lanie picked up her bow and carefully slid her way down the aisle to the stairs. Confused, and not used to seeing her in the Wicked uniform, Tansy turned to Wyatt. “She's not using her power armor?”
Wyatt shrugged. “That outfit lets her manifest Grizzly and she mentioned she was having some kind of trouble with the armor.” They sat in companionable silence for a moment, watching the techs and the ANTs reset the simulator.
“You...you really love her, don't you?” she asked after the silence became uncomfortable. He turned, an odd expression on his face.
“I loved or at least cared for every girl I've been with,” he declared, an eyebrow arched.
Tansy smiled and shook her head. “No, that's not really true, is it? Not true about me, anyway, not that I blame you.”
She shrugged. “Look, I get it, Wyatt, and I don't hold a grudge. Lanie, she was trying to help me and she shared a memory with me, a memory of you and her.”
“What?” he demanded, shocked and more than little dismayed.
“Don't be mad,” she told him quickly, and had to almost forcibly stop herself from her subconscious reflex of sending out waves of soothing emotion. “I...I'm broken, and she's trying to fix me.”
He snorted in amusement, hearing his own words come back to him from another source. “She does that,” he agreed.
“I...I've never been jealous...” She looked back up into his golden eyes and made a self- deprecating gesture. “Well, you know, I really kind of live my life jealous, but that...what she showed me.” She sighed and looked away. “I'd never been jealous of sex before. I...I wish you had touched me like you touch her.”
She was surprised to feel his big hand on her shoulder and looked up into his face to see it full of concern. “We were too busy using each other, Tansy. I'm sorry it was you, but I had to make up for what I'd allowed Freya to...”
“No, no,” she interrupted. “You were right to do what you did! I...I'm so ashamed...”
“Hey,” he told her, gently raising her face with his finger under her chin. “We all make mistakes. You're owning up to yours. That's what matters.” He stiffened suddenly and looked away. “Something's wrong,” he declared. “Lanie's really upset.”
A pang went through her heart as she rose with him, knowing that her plan was working. “I'll come too,” she said, gathering her bag and following his lead.
May 29th, 2007
Room 3, Arena 99, Whateley Academy
When they arrived at the little briefing room outside the arena, Gunny Bardue, Sensei Ito and Mrs. Carson were in a little huddle off to one side having an intense discussion. A slight distance away was Lifeline, her face set in an angry frown and her arms over her breasts. In the back of the room was Elaine, she was seated on one of the benches and Kayda was next to her, giving her a one armed hug while the paramedics were still tending to the Lakota girl as best they could given her position.
Elaine was sobbing uncontrollably.
“What's going on in here?” Wyatt demanded in a booming voice. Of the teachers, only Mrs. Carson looked up and her glance promised mayhem if he interrupted again. Her eyes told him to go see to his fiancee, which he did. Tansy walked awkwardly into the neutral center of the room and set her bag down. She watched the big man try to comfort Elaine and felt terrible for instigating this, but it was water under the bridge now. The only way out was through.
The clutch of teachers separated and formed ranks behind Mrs. Carson as she stared down the defiant Lifeline. “Miss Finson, this is your last chance...”
Maggie's chin raised. “Mrs. Carson, I respectfully refuse. I don't care if you fail me, I don't care if you expel me. She may have all of you fooled, but I will not socialize, work with, cooperate with, or be around that monster. ”
On the other side of the room, Grizzly manifested around Elaine and leapt to her feet, tears streaming down her furry muzzle. “You heartless bitch!” she roared, “You want to go, let's go, but you leave my host alone!”
Maggie spun on her booted heel, her athame gleaming in her hand and her eyes hard with hate. “That's right, beast!” she shouted. “Show them what you really are!”
“Miss Finson!” thundered Mrs. Carson.
Suddenly the knife was in the palm of Maggie's white-knuckle clenched fist as bale-fire burned around it and blood oozed from between her fingers. “By the blood of my life, by the love of my friend, from the fire in my soul, there will be no peace between us until I burn you from her body and cleanse your filth from her soul! By Solomon's Pact I seal my blood oath!” She snatched the crimson-stained knife from her palm and flung the blood into Grizzly's face.
Too late, Liz seized Maggie's wrists, disarming her and pinning them behind her back in a smooth, effortless motion. “Miss Finson!” she shouted again, but Maggie took no notice."Do you have any idea what you have just done?!?" Mrs. Carson was aghast that the girl had sworn an oath that basically committed the teenager to the destruction of Grizzly, regardless of the harm that would now cause to Elaine.
Tears streaming down her face, Maggie only saw the snarling Grizzly before her, likewise held back by Wyatt. “By my hatred! My hatred so mote it be!” she shouted and spat as Mrs. Carson forced her aside and out of the room, loudly commanding she get a hold of herself and chiding her sharply for so foolishly swearing a blood oath with no thought of the consequences.
Grizzly faded away and Elaine collapsed onto the bench again, her face in her hands as she wailed her excruciating heartache. Out of instinctive concern for their mutual friend, Wyatt sat down beside the stricken girl on the other side from Kayda, their arms going around Lanie's shoulders in a gesture of concern and support. For a split second as Tansy watched and heard Lanie's total anguish, Tansy almost couldn't do it. The urge to throw it all away and comfort Elaine, to beg forgiveness for what she'd done almost over powered her. Her heart ached to see her new, what? Friend? How could she call this girl who she had just put through that a friend? She opened her mouth to come clean, to admit to everything, when Sensei Ito asked, “Nalley-San, Miss Finson forfeits and has failed. Do you wish to attempt your trial alone?”
Fighting back her anguish, the redhead pulled herself to her feet, ignoring the tears streaming down her cheeks. "Ah'll ..."
“I'll help her.”
The words had come out in stereo, from Tansy's and Kayda's lips at the same moment. The two looked at each other in shock and then nodded a grim determination before Kayda stood, and despite being so small and petite, muscled her way out of the grasp of the paramedics to stand by the taller Junior, wincing in pain from her previous injuries “We'll help,” she affirmed.
“You're injured, Miss Franks,” Gunny protested strongly. She was halfway through taking the sling off before one of the paramedics laid a cautioning hand on her, stopping her.
“It's more than likely just a bad sprain,” the other paramedic told Gunny, nervously watching Kayda. "I don't think she tore the rotator cuff, and clearly it wasn't dislocated. NFL pros play with worse.”
“I've played with worse,” Kayda declared. “I finished a game once with a broken ring finger.”
“Brave and stupid aren't selling points,” the Marine replied grimly, then turned his attention to Tansy. “And you! You're on the Escape and Evade track! You've never even been in a combat final that you weren't supposed to run away from!”
Tansy shrugged. “Poise wants to go out on a high note with a big splash,” she replied with a heft of her bag. “All of Venus, Inc, is registered for the team battle, I've got a costume and everything.”
“Dealing with different skill levels, and injuries, is just one of the many challenges we artificially try to simulate here, Oscar,” Ito told him softly. He looked at Tansy hard, then back at the much larger Marine. “Here we have it tailor-made. They know what they're asking for. Let them try.”
“Gunny...” started Wyatt, but Bardue cut him off.
“Not a chance, Cody,” he growled. “You sit this one out.” He turned on Loophole who was finally getting her emotions under control and beaming her tear streaked face at her friends as she was hugging them both. “Loophole, how about it?”
“Call me Wicked,” she replied. “In fact, Ah hate being called 'Loophole', so what do Ah have to do to change...?”
“No, no, no,” interrupted Tansy as she looped a hand around the sophomore's elbow, made a 'give me a second' gesture at the teachers and guided the younger girl into the hallway which was deserted.
“What gives?” demanded Elaine as Tansy shut the door and leaned in to whisper.
“Wicked is a known commodity; she has entries on Hero Watch and the...and dozens of other sites and organizations that track paranormals.”
“So what?” demanded Elaine. “Ok, so 'Wicked' shows up on 'Mutant Death Match', none of the casinos know where that feed comes from. It's not like anything ties that identity to me.”
“Except all those other students in the bleachers who all have cell phones and internet access!” Tansy told her urgently. “You start calling yourself 'Wicked' and run around in Wicked's outfit, two and two will get to four! It will be all over the internet before you finish your shower!” She sighed and rubbed the girl's shoulder, keeping her power carefully in check, knowing the girl's spirit made it useless. “Besides, you never know when you'll need a good alternate identity.”
Lanie was obviously still emotional about what had happened with Maggie. She sniffed mightily to clear her sinus cavity and spun in place, thinking. “Ok, Ah guess that makes sense, but what do Ah do now? Mah armor...”
“You can manifest Grizzly this way,” Tansy told her. “Do it, stay manifested. Don't use your bow; Grizzly looks like she's pretty up close and personal anyway. That will create a dissociation between the 'Wicked' costume and Loophole.” She sighed. “If only we could paint it or something...”
Lanie grinned an evil grin and pressed a button on her arm guard, which caused the bright red dancer's once piece with bare legs to become a dark red body stocking that covered everything. “How's that?”
Tansy grinned. “Aren't you just full of surprises?”
“Ditto,” she complimented. “You got a suit, Tansy?” The blonde nodded. “Suit up.”
May 29th, 2007
Womens locker room, Arena 99, Whateley Academy
Tansy stepped from the changing stall and caught her reflection in the mirror. Tears of joy and vindication welled up in the eyes of the fat, comic-obsessed eight year old girl that still lived in the recesses of her mind and she promised herself that Cecilia Rogers would get a diamond necklace in thanks for her latest miracle. The glossy black body suit was military-grade Kevra, reinforced with Cemakote ceramic plates, but where others would make the suit bulky and unflattering, Rogers trusted the fabric and only used the plates to add extra protection to vital organs. More to the point, she'd tailored the design to use the plates and fabric to make a garment that was beautiful on and flattering to its wearer as it was deadly.
It wasn't exactly a corset, but since it did almost the exact same things to her figure that a corset would have only without interfering with her ability to move or breathe, Tansy wasn't about to argue semantics. Seeing herself looking that good in an outfit that sexy made her feel very warm and oddly aroused. The grin in the mirror became salacious.
A big diamond, she promised herself.
The pistols rode in drop leg holsters off a utility belt that had plenty of batteries for them, not to mention a whole collection of nasty surprises. High up each arm and on the outside of both wrists were collections of pouches for smaller bits and bobs, with hardened plates over the spaces of forearms and biceps where blocked blows would land. Her ear had a two-way bud type radio/receiver, and two more for her new team mates were in a pouch, and her entire eyelids top and bottom had been blackened with sports eye-black in anticipation of the domino mask she was just getting settled. “Fuck you, Heather,” she whispered as she admired her new look.
Conversation stopped as she strode confidently back into Room Three and she noted with a warm feeling, Wyatt's mouth fell open. “That's...that's a hell of suit,” Kayda exclaimed.
“This old thing?” she returned with a cocky smile. “Speaking of suits, are you wearing a dress to a combat final?”
“What?” demanded Kayda. “I have plenty of freedom of movement and the beads...”
“If we were rescuing the President she'd probably be in a ball gown with opera gloves.” Elaine had come over, towering over the other two girls in her manifested form and took note of the fabric by running a finger over it. “What is this?” she demanded. “It's so slick!”
“Ms. Rogers had it,” Tansy replied as she pulled on the pair of gloves that went with the outfit. “She called it Bucky something, said it ought to make me damn near impossible to grab. She said she got the idea from a book called The Wicked Flee.”
“Sounds like an interesting read!” Lanie said.
Nobody thought Gunny really needed to clear his throat. “Alright, ladies. Hope you've got plenty of hairspray for big hair night! Welcome to the eighties! But don't go looking for a stylish night club, because you're in Tehran!”
“Oh, God,” whispered Elaine. “The embassy hostage rescue.”
Gunny's eyebrows shot up. “Well, well! Someone has been paying attention in history class! It was called Operation Eagle Claw. Welcome to the Paramount Guards! The three of you are on detached service from the main thrust of the rescue attempt. Colonel Wayne Atham, commander of the Embassy Marine detachment is not with the other hostages. Lord Paramount has determined from captured Iranians that were guarding the main body of the hostages that the Colonel was separated from the others and taken to a warehouse on the east side of the city. And guess who his once and future highness picked to go rescue him?” The big marine grinned an evil, evil grin.
“I...I don't suppose we get a choice about this?” Kayda asked softly.
“You sure don't,” Bardue affirmed. “You've arrived at the warehouse and Colonel Atham is somewhere inside. You have thirty minutes to find him and get to the roof to extract him. Good luck, start in five.”
“You know about this?” Tansy asked as the girls made their way to the start booth.
“In our history, it was where Paramount took most of his casualties. The group that was sent ran into stiff resistance from Revolutionary Guards, only to find Colonel Athem dead. They never found out if he was already dead or if the guards killed him when it looked like Paramount’s troops would get to him. There was an antiaircraft battery on another rooftop that took out their drop ship.” Elaine took a nasty looking pair of hand claws with foot-long blades and strapped them to the back of her massive paws.
“How much of that do you think Gunny will throw at us?” asked Kayda a little fearfully.
Tansy snorted as she drew her pistols and picked the force setting she wanted. “All of it,” she replied. “And whatever else he thinks he can get away with.”
The big she-bear rotated her head back and forth, causing her neck to pop. “Fine by me,” she said darkly. “I'm in the mood to do some killing.” She turned and looked down at Kayda. “You're injured, little sister, so you hang back and play clean up to whatever Solange and I miss.”
Kayda nodded and carefully removed her arm from the sling and let the garment hang round her neck. A whispered spell made some of the pain go away but did nothing to calm her heart that was beating like a hammer. The air horn sounded as the doors snapped open and the three girls stepped cautiously out into the past.
It was a world of hazy light and deep shadows, the sun only just above the horizon now from the dawn attack. In the distance there was the crackle of machine gun fire and the wail of ambulance sirens. Overhead it was as if the gods of Olympus were watching as the bleachers could sometimes be made out through the hologram of the early morning sky. The three girls crossed the street quickly to take cover in the mouth of an alley beside the warehouse, Tansy with both of her pistols out and seeking targets. “Loophole, tell me you studied this, right? You know where the guy is and what we're facing, right?” Tansy asked, clicking off the safeties of the pistols.
“Four lines from Mr. Kennedy the arch-Democrat bitching about Reagan's merciless attack ads exploiting the Army hiring Lord Paramount and why. Then two hours of him complaining this is what cost Carter the election was not exactly a tactical situation report,” the big bear girl replied.
“Yeah,” Kayda added, “everybody knows Carter's complete mismanagement of the late 70s recession was the reason...”
"Political history later!" hissed Tansy. The girls shifted further down the alley towards a side door.
“Not to mention eviscerating the military and then expecting to do the mission without hiring Lord Paramount wasn't exactly genius on his part either...” Kayda looked up at the older girls and forced a smile. “It can wait.”
Lanie held up her hand razors. “These are titanium, want me to open the door?”
Tansy shook her head as she holstered the pistols and crouched by the lock. “Let's do this a bit quieter, eh?” she said, peering at the lock face in the door knob. “Hmm, Schlage 42378,” she muttered and began to dig into one of the pouches on her right thigh.
“You pick locks?” demanded Kayda.
“How else do you get into the old man's liquor cabinet?” Tansy shot back with a smile as she withdrew a ring of keys from the pouch, isolated a clump on the ring, and began to sort through the clump. “But, it turns out there's easier ways to defeat a lock. Did you know every lock manufacturer on the planet also makes master keys for them?”
Kayda blinked in shock and even Elaine was stunned. “What?” the bear demanded.
Tansy chuckled darkly. “How do you think the locksmiths get you in when you lock yourself out? Have the paper work as a 'bonafide' locksmith and you can just buy them through the mail.” She brandished the ring of keys she was going through.
“Since when are you a bonafide Locksmith?” demanded Kayda. Tansy found the key she wanted, inserted it into the lock and turned it, the door silently opening.
“Since I slipped a form for the creation of 'Jewel Safe and Lock' into a stack daddy sent to his lawyer to make shell corporations out of,” she replied with a smile. “Got a corporate stamp and everything.”
May 29th, 2007
Assistant Headmisstress' Office, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Ms. Hartford got a bit more comfortable in her chair as she watched the feed from the arena on her monitor. Being on the secure line, she got the audio loop as well as video. As the girls slipped into the warehouse, she scratched out a note to herself and smiled at the progress of things. “Very interesting,” she said softly.
She picked up her phone and dialed. “Gunny? Amelia Hartford. Do you have Colonel Athem alive or dead in this?”
The big marine's voice was gruff. “The best historical data says he was killed within minutes of Paramount’s assault on the main compound.”
“No, no,” purred Ms. Hartford. “That won't do at all. Make him alive. I want the girls to have a chance to win. Not a big chance, but a fair one.”
“That's not historically accurate,” Bardue complained, but it wasn't much more than a token protest.
“Neither is a group of teenage paranormal girls being on Lord Paramount’s strike team,” Hartford replied. “Give them a reasonable expectation of success, and a real challenge at the end to overcome. Say a paranormal of our own, but not a Kobayashi Maru, all right?”
“What do you care?” he asked.
Hartford smiled. “I want to see what they do. And weren't you trying to get tickets to the Newport Jazz festival to take Debbie? Would a pair of full access passes with box seats cover my request?”
“Deb...er, Mrs. Cantrel...” The marine chuckled darkly. “Consider it covered.”
“Wonderful,” Ms Hartford purred as she hung up. A pleased smile on her face, she took a sip of her coffee as she settled in to enjoy the show.
May 29th, 2007
Arena 99, Currently dressed Tehran, Whateley Academy
Whatever had been held in the ware house stank. The whole building reeked to where Tansy and Kayda's eyes were watering and Elaine was in a red-tinted rage. “That son of a bitch,” she snarled as she struggled to breathe through her mouth. “Tell me he didn't do this on purpose!”
She opened the door from the little room they were in, out into the hall to be confronted with a dozen men in, strangely enough for a desert climate, green combat fatigues. The bear's muzzle split into a lethal grin. “Avon calling!” she purred and launched herself, claws first.
Despite having been in several serious fights, Kayda had not had the training the other two girls had been through, forcing them to act and to do so quickly. Kayda found herself staring, watching as Lanie and Tansy moved almost instantly. She saw the situational awareness Sensei Ito talked about as both girls selected targets away from the other so they would have room to maneuver.
Loophole's style was brute force, claws and strength in a ferocious display of power, but somehow it managed also to be graceful and fluid, seamlessly flowing from one target to the next as the 'men' the A.N.T.S. were portraying died so quickly they couldn't even scream. Solange, on the other hand, was all finesse. She had produced a cord from somewhere and wrapped it around the wrist of the most clear-thinking of their opponents who had drawn a pistol. With that control of his arm, she twisted, knocking his feet out from under as she used her leverage to bury the pistol into the belly of the man trying to grab her from the side.
The falling man's reflexes fired the pistol, killing his friend, but the shot was muffled by the body. Tansy tumbled over him, still keeping the cord tight and launched back to her feet with a kick under the chin of a third man. His head snapped back and he staggered too close the whirling blades of death that was Loophole. Impaled through the chest, he was thrown into one of his fellows to knock them both down.
Tansy somersaulted in place to land on the small of the gunman's back, wrenching his arm backwards in a direction it was not meant to go. The hand opened like a flower, giving up the pistol which she relieved him of, then a stomp to the back of his neck finished him off. By the time Kayda realized she should be helping and had gotten her tomahawks out of their keepers, the fight was over.
It all happened in a matter of seconds.
May 29th, 2007
Control Booth, Arena 99, Whateley Academy
Tatsuo Ito grunted in self-satisfaction. “She was paying attention in class!”
May 29th, 2007
105.7 FM, W.A.R.S., Whateley Academy
For one of the first times in its long and storied broadcast history, the Whateley Academy Radio Station was silent in frank, unadulterated amazement. Finally, Greasy's voice said, “You know, I don't know who does the danger rankings at this school, but they're wrong. A lot.”
May 29th, 2007
Arena 99, Currently dressed Tehran, Whateley Academy
The unlikely trio squatted in dark corner of the warehouse and whispered, tired and a bit bloodied. There were a goodly number of bodies that had joined the first batch, and they had been lucky to keep the alarm from having been raised. “Want the good news or the bad news?” asked Kayda as she rejoined the group from her invisible reconnoiter.
“There's good news?” demanded Tansy.
“There were only five hostiles on the second floor and they're all taking dirt naps,” Kayda told her. “And I know where Colonel Athem is. He's in the center of the open area here on the first floor, I saw him on the cat walk. Unfortunately...”
“American Witches!” thundered a heavily accented voice. “Come out or your infidel baby-killer dies!”
“There's the bad news,” muttered Elaine. She turned back to Kayda. “Vanish and concentrate on the Colonel.”
“What are you...?” Kayda started but both the older girls smiled very unpleasant smiles.
“Distracting,” they replied. They stood and Tansy shouted, “We're coming out!” Then she and Loophole walked around the crates of some kind of foul smelling vegetable or root, weapons ready.
The main floor of the warehouse was about twenty yards square, a mostly open area lit from above. In it was a middle-aged man with hair that was now too long from captivity to be regulation and a Marine uniform that had been stripped of insignia, awards, and rank down to its base clothing form. A large, white rag was tied around his head as a blindfold and a nasty-looking man was holding a pistol to his temple.
Standing next to him was a huge, muscle-bound killer, dark eyes glinting under a white-linen turban. He was bare-chested, but wearing a vest and billowed pants, also in white, held up by a red and gold sash that matched his vest and red slippers whose toes curled up. At his side hung a scimitar that was almost as big as Colonel Athem. He looked some laughable caricature from a movie, or he would have, if it wasn't so painfully obvious he was a killer and liked killing.
“Who are you supposed to be?” demanded Tansy. “Ali Baba?”
“No, he's a eunuch,” Elaine replied. “The sword shows he's compensating for...”
“Silence!” shouted the man with the pistol. “You will be bent to the will of Allah! The evil of the Great Satan will be burned from you!”
Loophole bared her fangs. “Come bend me, little man!”
“Baig! Kill them!”
Finally unleashed, the killer drew his sword with a smile on his face and leapt at Tansy. In mid-air however he was intercepted by the roaring form of Loophole and the two landed out in the darkness somewhere. “So, how long do you think it will take my friend to kill your boy?” Tansy drawled, keeping her pistols on him.
“Baig has the strength of ten men! Your furry whore is no match for him!” A decidedly unmanly scream rose from the darkness.
“That sounded like it hurt,” Tansy observed with a smile. “You can still live through this. Put down the gun and...”
“I will spray you with this infidel's blood!” Pistol man yelled back. “Then, you American bitch, I will rape you! Over and over! I will rape you until you call me husband! I will sire new warriors of Allah on you! I...” The threated turned into a scream as a tomahawk appeared from nowhere, severing his hand at the wrist where it and the pistol it held fell to the floor. Kayda appeared to the horror of the now one-handed man. As the blood fountained from the stump of his arm he clutched painfully, Kayda swung her other tomahawk up between the man's legs, ripping deeply into his groin.
“Your raping days are over, mother-fucker!” she screamed at the man before swinging a tomahawk butt-end into the man's forehead, rocking his head back and exposing his throat. A third swipe with her first tomahawk decapitated him, cutting off his screams as his head rolled away.
May 29th, 2007
Control Booth, Arena 99, Whateley Academy
Gunny Bardue winced at the sight of Kayda's attack. "I thought you said she was over her PTSD," he grumbled to his companion.
Tatsuo Ito was likewise recoiling from her devastating blows. "Dr. Bellows said she is. Mostly."
"Note to self," Gunny muttered, "Brief all male students to never, ever use the word rape when sparring or in a sim with Kayda Franks.”
May 29th, 2007
Arena 99, Currently dressed as Tehran, Whateley Academy
Wiping some of the blood from her face Kayda turned to the Marine and began to loosen his bonds. “Colonel, are you alright?”
“Get me out of this chair and give me a weapon and I'll be great,” the Colonel replied. Loophole sailed into the light and back into the shadows, the crash of something expensive-sounding breaking her fall was deafening. She had been covered in blood and how much, if any had been her own wasn't clear.
'Baig' ran after her, also covered in blood, screaming maniacally in what sounded like arabic, sword high to land a mortal blow. Tansy exchanged a glance with Kayda. “Get him on the roof,” she ordered, twirling one of her force pistols around and presenting it grip-first to the Marine. “Remember Loophole said something about an antiaircraft battery so make sure you take it out before the drop ship shows up!”
“Go!” Tansy shouted as she turned and ran after the muscle-bound paranormal. “We've got this, go!”
“Who...who are you people?” demanded the Colonel.
“Princess Leia,” snapped Kayda. “We're here to rescue you, come on!” Wincing in pain, she helped the Colonel up to his feet and made for the stairs to the roof.
May 29th, 2007
Assistant Headmisstress' Office, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
“These girls are rivals?” the voice on the telephone asked, disbelief dripping from his tone.
Ms. Hartford allowed herself a smile as she took a sip of her coffee and watched the carnage on the screen of her laptop. It was a perfect challenge Gunny had cooked up, a 'simple' Exemplar Two with the 'strength of ten men' who was also a top level regenerator and practically immortal. “Solange, the oldest, fought her way to control of the Alphas, which she enjoyed for less than a month before Loophole, the bear avatar, organized a conspiracy that unseated her and stole her lover to add insult to injury. Their final confrontation was in the Crystal Hall in front of the entire school. If Headmistress Carson had not arrived when she did, they likely would have come to blows.”
It wasn't that Loophole could not give out damage, she was doing horrific amounts of it, scattering the ware house with limbs and entrails of Baig, but he simply didn't notice. He grew back limbs in seconds and cut his own intestines off that became trapped outside his body as the wound healed. And for all her Exemplar stamina, it was obvious Loophole was getting tired and the effort combined with her own wounds would soon be too much for her. “Interesting,” the voice mused. “They seem to be quite friendly now...oh, well played!”
Loophole had seized Solange by her wrist and flung her on the floor like a bowling ball. Thanks to the coating on her suit, she'd slid under Baig, between his legs where she'd fired her pistol into his groin on its highest setting as she did so. It had crushed his genitals while launching him into the air. Loophole had cut off both legs with a swipe, then impaled him to the floor with a steel post. “Yes, we had a long talk about that not long ago. She went through Loophole to get Kodiak's protection from another student. She knew that Loophole was fighting with her best friend due to the acquisition of her new bear spirit. Solange stoked that disagreement into paranoia while asking me to ensure the two were assigned to this mission; knowing it would create a melt-down. This is her bid to supplant Loophole's best friend and cement herself as Loophole's ally.”
“Devious,” the voice complimented then paused. “Other student?
“Hmmm,” agreed Ms. Hartford around another sip of her coffee. “She was vague on it when we talked, I'll look into that and get back to you. Now she's inclined to deal with it herself and I'm inclined to let her and see how she does. Notice how subtly she's managed to put herself into the dominant position of the friendship, while seeming not to.”
“You're certainly proven yourself and your protege to me, Amelia.” There was a thoughtful pause as the bear roared her defiance into the face of her enemy even as he tried to pull himself up the pole she'd impaled him on. “What about the other girl, Pejuta?”
“Mrs. Horton tells me her fear of Loophole was practically psychotic. She'd developed an exaggerated sense of Loophole's ability and was using it as a gauge against her own. Foolish, considering how Loophole's talent works, but 'foolish' is practically the definition of teenage girls. However they managed to meet at a...neutral...social event without her knowing who Loophole was and become quite good friends in spite of that. In fact, she leaned quite heavily on Loophole throughout the issues she went through earlier this month. Their bond has since cemented itself to the point that they're calling each other sister. Of course, from a powers perspective...”
“Yes,” he agreed as there was a faint noise of paper rustling over the line. “Your dossier was most enlightening. Practically the full spectrum of ability among the three of them. Quite formidable.” There came a long pause as Baig produced a knife and thrust it into Loophole's side. The bear roared and with a back handed swipe decapitated him. She staggered back up to feet and pulled the knife from her side and spat on the corpse. “Is she stable, mentally?”
“The improvements have been remarkable,” Hartford opined. “Like you, I'm not sanguine on magic users in general, but since Loophole and Pejuta are something of a package deal I've had to reconsider her usefulness. Being able to defeat magical security opens up whole new venues and opportunities I'm still considering. I've also made sure Solange knows not to interfere with that relationship, so it will continue.” She took another sip of coffee as she watched Tansy treat the wound on Elaine with a first-aid kit from one of her pouches, looking around occasionally doubtlessly wondering why the simulation hadn't ended. “I think she understands and will subtly herd the two of them together. Solange works best in triads.”
“I'll want to meet them at some point.”
“How soon?” Hartford asked as the severed head began to grow a new body and the girls threw it into the storm drain and staggered their way to the roof.
“Not this year,” he replied. “Next year, let them get some...work...for you under their belts. Show us what they can do. Then.” A soft chuckle came from the speaker. “Halloween perhaps.”
May 29th, 2007
Arena 99, Currently dressed Tehran, Whateley Academy
Kayda got to the roof of the warehouse, peeked out the door and felt her heart sink.
From what Elaine had said she was expecting some kind of large, fixed target. An auto-turret perhaps, a missile launcher, something, well, big, and obvious. She was rapidly coming to realize that Gunny didn't do big or obvious. Instead, this roof and the roofs of the two closest buildings were practically covered with dozens of men wielding AK-47s and RPG-7s. It wasn't a 'battery' that had taken down one of the Hughes 'Vindicator' hovercraft, it was doubtlessly several lucky hits from these shoulder fired anti-armor rockets. And if they could hurt a tank, they'd be lethal against something as delicate as an aircraft. “Let me guess - helicopter extraction and roof tops full of hostiles?” the A.N.T. dressed as Colonel Athem asked.
“Hovercraft, but close enough,” Kayda lamented. She looked down on the pistol in his hand and back up at him. “You any good with that thing?”
“Honey, I've got more than a year of payback and college try saved up.” He looked at the bow and arrows she was unlimbering. “I know you super types love your themes, but a bow and arrow? You sure?”
Kayda smiled a fierce smile. “You know, your man Custer thought the same thing...”
“Army,” the Colonel corrected. He tapped his chest. “Marine.” He smiled. "And besides, the Sioux at Little Bighorn had Henry repeating rifles."
Kayda rolled her eyes. “Enough with the history lesson. Time to go all 'shores of Tripoli' then!” she declared and flung the door open. “Hokaheh!” she shouted as she rushed out the door, bow string pulled back taunt. She deliberately chose the group furthest away, both because of this particular arrow and to give the 'Colonel' the best hit chances with Tansy's pistol at the near targets. The arrow sank into the chest of her target and released a wave of essence like an explosion that knocked the four or five men around him unconscious. Of course, the one she'd hit had been holding one of those RPG7s and as he fell it went off, destroying that corner of the building and probably killing him and most of his buddies.
The force pistol barked in rapid succession, soliciting a series of surprised cries of pain as bodies were slumped unconscious or launched off the roof to fall three stories to the street below. In short order they had carved out a little island of recaptured roof top, but the Iranian soldiers masquerading as 'students' were beginning to counter attack in earnest and a hail of AK47 fire chased them into a defensive position.
The two of them hunkered down behind some kind of large equipment as Colonel Athem traded up his force pistol for a small collection of AK47s from those he'd downed. “Ok, the bow and arrow thing is definitely working for you,” he admitted as he shot at those on the adjoining roof who had clear shots at them.
“This might not have been the best idea,” she admitted as she loosed arrows quickly at the building on the opposite side. Another lucky RPG misfire helped, but they were beginning to come under fairly sustained machine gun fire. It was only a matter of time before someone decided to use one of those RPGs on the AC Unit they were hiding behind. She knew from battling Unhcegila's son that her shield spell would hold up to RPG fire, so she incanted quickly, but the spell fizzled before the shield formed. "Damn!" she cursed. Seeing the colonel's surprised look, she explained. "I'm out of essence." She tried to twist around to get a better angle while staying in cover and her shoulder decided it had enough.
The spasm of pain tore a scream from her throat and the arrow flew wide of the intended target. But she had seen her target finally realize what he needed to use was one of those RPGs. “Colonel,” she gasped through the pain, trying to warn him, then was drowned out by roar as if some giant nearby had decided to prove his manhood and tear an equally gigantic phone book in half. The RPG-wielding hostile, his friends, and the roof he stood on disappeared in a cloud of dust and fire caused by the metal rain of twenty millimeter Vulcan Canon rounds.
The devastation was like nothing Kayda had ever seen before as the big, wedge shaped Vindicator hovercraft circled, spitting death, fire, and tracers like something out of a movie. The adjacent building collapsed under the withering barrage, throwing up a dust cloud that choked and blinded everything. The cloud was quickly dispersed by the turbofans the Vindicator used to maneuver on its invisible cushion of magnetic levitation as the craft skidded sideways a bit and the cannon spoke again, this time on the other roof with similar results.
The door to the stairwell opened, revealing Solange and Loophole, just as the air horn shattered the simulation that Kayda realized she had lost herself in and was taking as real. It was disorienting to see reality vanish as the simulator began to reset itself again.
The 'gods' of Olympus were applauding.
May 29th, 2007
Room 3, Arena 99, Whateley Academy
“Stop moving,” scolded the medic as Elaine flinched from the pain of her wound being treated.
“It hurts!” she complained, but shifted slightly and came set again to try and remain still. Her body suit was open, but a T shirt was preserving her modesty. The knife Baig had stabbed her with had actually struck the zipper on the side of the garment opening from hip to armpit which was how it was donned. Had it struck the kevra, the fabric would have stopped or at least mitigated the blow, but the zipper had given way allowing it to actually stab her in the side. The puncture wound wasn't deep, but was serious enough to require attention.
Her body's own exemplar healing was already working on it, much to the amazement of the paramedic who would never get used to seeing exemplar healing in action.
“Everyone decent?” rumbled Gunny's voice from the door that led to the control booth. Lanie nodded and Tansy opened the door for the teacher as he and Sensei Ito came in, carrying clipboards. “Well, that was most entertaining,” he complimented as he handed a folded paper to Kayda.
“We'll start with you, Miss Franks. Ten extra-credit points, use them in good health, all for one grade or spread them around, your choice.”
At her confused look, Tansy told her, “Got a class you're marginal in? Those points don't count against a test, but a whole semester grade. Want an 'A' in a class but only got a 'B'? There you go.”
Kayda's eyes grew as wide as saucers. “Can I bank...?”
“Good for this semester only,” Gunny told her with a grin. “Nice try. Now, explain to me why you tried to use a bow with a bad shoulder sprain instead of magic or summoning your buffalo?”
"After the first combat and what I'd done inside the warehouse, I ran out of essence up on the roof," The young Lakota girl admitted. “And I didn't know we could summon our spirits for these.”
Ito chuckled. “Yes, all of your abilities can be used in a combat final, unless they might be unsafe, in which case we'll tell you what is disallowed. If you have not been told otherwise, everything is fair game. Something to consider.” Kayda nodded thoughtfully, wheels behind her eyes turning as she considered where to use those points.
“Miss Walcutt,” Gunny announced, presenting his piece of paper to her. “An A for you. Excellent use of your resources, good teamwork, and a passable attempt at a nonviolent solution to the hostage rescue. I should dock you points for having held out on us all these years, but I'm reminded by some,” and he glared at the inscrutably faced Tatsuo Ito, “that prior bad acts should not be considered. Just know that we're wise to you now.”
“Thank you, Gunny, Sensei,” she replied.
“Which brings us to Miss Nalley,” he finished, handing out his paper.
“C plus?” she demanded after she looked at the grade, outraged.
“Indeed,” murmured Ito.
“Yes,” drawled Gunny. “Were you listening when I heaped all that praise on Miss Walcutt? Complimenting her on all those clever things you did not do? Yes, you rescued the hostage, yes you got him out to the roof and yes, you lasted until picked up. And that's all you did. Your approach to this was brute force, wade in, kill them all, and let God sort them out.”
“Oh, so when Ah do use mah brain and refuse to play by your rules, like Ah did in mah winter combat final, Ah get chewed out, and when Ah do what you want Ah get chewed out, too,” she growled. “Just no winning here, is there?”
“You can choose to frame it in that light if you wish,” Ito replied softly. “But we both know that isn't what happened or why you received the grade you did. You were angry about what happened between you and Miss Finson before the simulation and you took that anger out on the simulation.”
Her face flushed and she would have risen were it not for the restraining hand of the paramedics on her shoulder. “Mah personal life is none of your...”
Gunny leaned forward, his blunt craggy face practically nose-to-nose with the young girl. “Your personal life you wear on your sleeve, girl,” he growled. “You made it our business when you took it into the simulator, you made it your team-mates business when you just wanted a line of bodies you could have a murderous fit on, and you're damned lucky one of your team-mates didn't pay for your fit. Chew on that before you tell me how unfair I am being to you.”
Lanie shrank down and looked away. “Yes, sir.”
“Don't call me...” Gunny sighed and shook his head. “Southerners. Rest up, Miss Walcutt,” he said, turning back to the blonde. “I won't call Venus, Inc. yet, but who knows how long it will be before I come to my senses and get over this nice streak? I feel positively wholesome! Gah!”
“Take it easy for a day or two, ok?” asked the paramedic as she stood to leave. Lanie simply nodded, so the medic turned to Kayda. "You need to go straight to Doyle for X-rays of your ribs and left ankle and knee, and Dr. Tenent will probably want an MRI of your shoulder. Do you need a club car or stretcher?"
Kayda sighed, "Okay, and no, I can walk." Satisfied, the medic walked over to speak with the teachers. Lanie just shook her head and smiled at Tansy and Kayda.
“Gunny Bardue, nice? There's a thought, huh?” She sighed as though making a decision and accepting it as her own. “Ito was right, though, Ah'm sorry...”
“Don't be,” Tansy interrupted. “You needed to blow off some steam. If they didn't think you were safe, they should have given you time to calm down - that's on them, not you.” The redhead smiled and gave the blonde a hug.
Kayda lurched up off the bench and wrapped herself in the group hug, mostly to let Lanie know that she forgave her, but also for emotional support of her 'sister'. "We ... understand, cuwe ki," she said sympathetically.
Tansy winced inwardly at how she was going to play Kayda in this whole thing - she had to draw Kayda into her relationship with Lanie, to make a tight-knit little triad. Hartford had made it very clear that she was not to separate Lanie from Kayda, which meant that Tansy had to become friends with the Lakota girl without separating Kayda from her new team and circle of friends. It was going to be a challenge, but sometimes the simple things overcame the greatest challenges. Turning to Kayda, she said, “I'll let Poise know you're not up for her grand exit, so that's one less of these you have to go through.”
The young Lakota girl sagged as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. “Thanks! I wasn't looking forward to that.”
Walcutt cocked her head and finally asked, “Why don't you add a little makeup to your skincare routine? You are certainly doing well with the Natural Look, but you won't be a teenager forever. Good routines will stand you in good stead later on.”
“Oh, I don't...” started Kayda, but Elaine shook her head.
“You couldn't ask for a better teacher,” Lanie told her. “Solange is in the top five of beauties on this campus, and she probably is the best cosmetics expert. In for a penny, after all.”
Solange was puzzled at the odd phrasing, but kept her curiosity off her face. She'd likely know soon enough. Having likely convinced Kayda, Lanie turned back to the blonde.
“Tansy, Ah was wrong about you, and Ah'm sorry,” Lanie apologized sincerely. She chewed on something mentally for a moment, then with a discreet glance at Kayda, then around them to be sure she wouldn't be heard, she leaned in and whispered, “In fact, there's something Ah'd like to invite you to. Something we could use your help with.”
“Sure,” Tansy replied with an innocent smile. No, you weren't wrong about me, she thought to herself, but maybe being less right will count. Tansy kept smiling and tried to not feel so guilty about her plan working.