The Gates of the Garden
A Whateley Academy Tale
The Gates of the Garden
by Joe Gunnarson
Saturday, October 26th, Whateley Academy Gate
The blonde woman in the rental pulled up near the gates flanked by two gargoyles. She cleared up the tears from her eyes, not having bothered with makeup. Even pushing towards fifty, she still had the looks of her youth, the only wrinkles being the bags under her eyes from not sleeping nearly enough and crying too much. As she stepped out of the car and pulled out a suitcase, she started walking towards the two oddly heavily armed security officers who were approaching the gate.
Jerry Mendez stepped forward. “Ma’am, I’m sorry, but this is private property, we’re going to have to ask you to…”
“Is this Whateley Academy?” The woman, dressed in black jeans and a wifebeater fixed “Prison Bitch” with a glare that was strangely familiar.
“Yes ma’am but parent’s day isn’t until…”
“I’ve come to get my daughter.” She looked at the two armed men as though daring them to get between her and the campus.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry but you need to make arrangements with Schuster Hall before visiting the campus. If you will please…”
“No I will not please. I’m here to collect my daughter, who was taken from me, and sent here without my say-so, all the way to God’s Asshole New Hampshire and I will be damned if I’m going to let some Jackbooted asshole get between me and my child. And if this is a school, why the hell are you carrying a combat rifle? What the hell kind of place is this? Where’s Miranda?”
Jerry had to shift to block the woman while Officer Kiehl called in for backup. They weren’t expecting the bull-headed intransigence they were encountering as the transmissions were sent to Sergeant Buxton, Lieutenant Trout and Chief Franklin Delarose. He was not expecting the woman to lose her cool and hit him with a left hook that impacted in a very familiar way.
“You motherfuckers killed my son and stole my daughter!” She was beyond reason as the other hand threw the suitcase at Kiehl’s head. No one noticed as the offending piece of luggage burst open, flinging clothing sized for a ten-year-old girl all over the landscape. “You are not getting between me and my child!”
Kiehl reacted to the flying suitcase by ducking, only to get a foot to the groin that only somewhat was reduced by his body armor as the woman went from concerned parent to screaming harridan in under a second.
Jerry saw the woman’s panicked eyes, the frantic look at odds with the sudden scream of incoherent invective and violence and realized he’d seen that look too many times. A racked weapon came up as Kiehl made ready to put the rabid woman down when Bitch yelled at him. “STAND DOWN! She’s Dricking! She’s not in control!”
The delay was just enough to give her an opportunity to climb all over him as the Mom he would most definitely like to fuck crawled up his ass like a berserker. He threw the rifle as far away as he could so she couldn’t relieve him of it and shoot either of them and began taking her hits on his armor.
The woman was beyond frantic and each strike on his armor bloodied her hands.
"You bastards murdered my son!" She screamed again as he heard a crack as a knuckle broke on his armor. “What did you do to Erik? Why is my son dead you motherfuckers!”
Kiehl got behind her and caught her hand with a pair of cuffs, and Jerry grabbed her other, forcing her hands behind her back and discovering that locking her hands up just made her kick more while she shrieked incoherently.
It took them another five minutes to get her under control as more security officers arrived and they took the screaming, frantic woman into custody.
The ID recovered from the woman got a reaction from Sergeant Buxton. “Oh you have got to be kidding me! Get this. Natalie Nichole… Mahren.” The last word was delivered rather flatly.
Bitch rubbed his jaw. “I thought that right hook felt familiar.” He looked at the glowering third platoon. “I’ll take her in.” He popped his neck. “Get her a nice warm cell till the Chief has a chance to talk to her.”
“No hitting the prisoners.” Buxton looked at Bitch flatly.
“Dealt with worse from her son before any of you fuckers got on his bad side, or met him.” He looked at the glazed over expression of the woman who was crying, staring at the strewn-about clothing she’d brought for her daughter that a raven was pecking at. “Besides, I don’t trust any of you vindictive fucks with her.”
Jerry Mendez hoisted the defeated Natalie Mahren to her feet, and began walking her towards Kane Hall. “And Buxton,” Jerry said quietly over the private comm. “Make sure that suitcase makes it to Kane with everything please. No proxy revenge.”
“Agreed.” The terse reply came through. Neither trusted the others in third platoon not to take out their grudge against a dead man passively through his family.
“There is no way in God’s green creation we should have been able to roll them that hard.” Jericho griped as the Outcasts left the Simulators in the wake of their first battle with the Kimbas in the sims.
“Hard? You call that hard?” Deimos looked at him incredulously. “If it wasn’t for you actually having Cait throw grenades at Generator I don’t think we’d have made it out of that trap!”
“That’s the point,” Caitlin gave a foul look. “They had you, Noms and Joe dead to rights, Dimes. If Fey hadn’t been slow on the uptick we’d have been sponging the three of you off the walls and me, Jack and Sandra woulda been outnumbered badly and picked off by the numbers. Reilly’s never that slow on the uptick.”
“Not that everyone doesn’t try to take Eldritch here out first every single time.” Monica jerked a middle thumb at the team’s tattooed tactician. “That’s the big mistake everyone’s been making in the sims.”
“Yeah, for some reason they think I’m the most dangerous, but the Kimbas didn’t take the bait, chase me and let the lot of you roll them for their lunch money. That should have turned this whole exercise into a hell brawl, but we mopped them up with token resistance.” Caitlin snorted. “Looks like I’m the bait man this go-round,” she said wryly. “Worm on a hook and all that.”
Sandra looked deeply dissatisfied by the victory. “They were trying to lead us around by the nose and lose, and kept getting tripped up because we didn’t take the bait, then they had to try.”
Razorback, for his part, stayed silent, simply stalking alongside the friends he dwarfed in size. Everyone could read the irritation in his posture.
“I didn’t realize that the Kimbas were that dangerous, I mean I know they tangled with the Alphas and won early last year…” Janine was dubious. “But I’ve… forgotten that they’ve tangled with the Necromancer. Adrienne told me what happened at Ayla’s birthday.”
“Exactly.” Jericho grumbled. “And they were the only team in Team Tactics we couldn’t spank fairly regularly. In fact they usually won, even when they went in as a partial team that didn’t outnumber us basically two to one.”
“Just one and a half to one.” Diamondback said wryly as she slithered along. “It didn’t feel like throwing down against the Kimbas.”
“Hell, I still have nightmares about that fucking “Dark Generator” sim they dropped us in with Jade playing supervillainess.” Caitlin shook her head. “Plushies with chainsaw limbs and flamethrower unicorns just ain’t right.”
“So why would you think they’d throw the fight when you all already know they can hang with us?” Monica looked curious.
“Kimba craziness. Won’t know unless they tell us. I’d say they were just having a bad day, but they’ve lost to every single team above the fortieth percentile for the last month straight.” Joe grimaced. “I’m about ready to ask Ayla if someone shot somebody’s kid brother or something and no one told us.”
Razor snorted. -They’re sandbagging.-
“Now I know I hang out with you lot too much, I understood that.” Caitlin put a hand on Razor’s shoulder. “Just wish they wouldn’t sandbag with us.”
Razor only nodded, and the Outcasts headed out towards breakfast before the Kimbas could get to the Crystal Hall. Victory just didn’t feel right in this instance. It had come too easily for a group that normally Caitlin would have given maybe forty percent chance of beating on a normal day.
“You and Tennyo talking to each other again?” Sandra asked.
“Yeah, we’ve just been giving each other space for a bit. Monica being a troll in the tunnels kinda dropped a nail on that, but we’re cool.” Jericho didn’t watch the Kimbas approaching the Crystal Hall from another entrance. He didn’t need to.
“So what happened?” Caitlin looked at him. “I know it’s not any of our business, but you two seemed to hit it off. I know a lot of people are afraid of her…”
“Not afraid, Cait.” Jericho sighed. “She’s a neat girl, but the date was kinda a ‘fuck you’ to a couple snotty bitches that were making bets about how me and her would never find anyone worth dating. The fact that it was mostly about that, and because I kinda hammed it up and made an ass of myself kinda made me feel like a shitheel.”
“So you are a decent human after all,” Monica intoned drily.
“Don’t start again, I’m sorry, okay?”
“Done hashing that fight out, I was just making fun of you this time,” the six-armed Poesie grinned.
“So end result? Did you tell her?” Sandra asked quietly.
“Yeah, few weeks later.” Jericho pushed the door to the Crystal Hall open unceremoniously, leading the other five in. “Felt like a shitheel and felt like I was using her, when I told her why, and that it wasn’t because I was afraid of her, she brightened up quite a bit.”
“So you going to take another shot at her?” Deimos asked conspiratorially.
Jericho shook his head. “Section-33 or not, the fact that she’s a sweetheart doesn’t change the fact that she’s usually not the girl on my mind.”
“Ooooh, spill.” Sandra grinned.
“Not a chance, bestie, I’ll keep her to myself till I’m sure she’s the one I’m really interested in.”
“Totally you.” Sandra poked Caitlin.
“Ugh, that would prove he irredeemably has no taste,” the tattooed artificer said.
-He’s proven that time and time again.- Jack signed as he picked up a tray.
“He speaks truth,” Anomaly grinned. “You should have seen the ragamuffins he hung out with back home.”
“I imagine they looked and acted an awful lot like us,” Sandra said with an evil grin.
Joseph, “Jericho” Turner looked over and gave Sandra a slight smirk. “Except for Caitlin, we didn’t have anyone quite that crazy back home.”
Both of the twins nodded sagely as Caitlin pretended to glare angrily at her friends.
“Hello Liz, guess what I have to deal with?” Chief Franklin Delarose simply walked into Carson’s office over the protests of Hartford.
Elizabeth Carson sighed and spoke into the phone. “I’m afraid I have to call you back. My security chief just advised me that I need to be appraised of something. Of course I’m looking forward to seeing you again!” The last words were delivered through a tight grimace, rather cheerfully.
She sighed as she set the phone back onto the hook. “To what do I owe the honor of this rescue?”
“Mahren just assaulted two of my guards.” Delarose said flatly.
Carson groaned and put her face in her hands, suddenly pining for the insensibly boring man she’d just hung up on to be her focus of attention.”Did Caitlin kill them this time?”
“The other Mahren.”
“Miranda assaulted your officers?” Carson looked suddenly worried.
“No, I mean the other, other Mahren, whom I have in a holding cell recovering from what looks like a Diedricks episode. The one that birthed both Caitlin and Miranda.”
“That’s not funny, Franklin.”
“And I’m not laughing. She threw a suitcase full of ten-year-old clothing at Kiehl’s head and socked Prison Bitch several times.” He smirked slightly. “Apparently the apple didn’t fall very far from the tree.”
“Are we sure the apple fell off the branch at all?”
“In this particular case, I’m playing things lightly. Apparently she had to get a court order to get custody of Miranda back after her husband end-ran her with Child-Protective Services in Alaska. He surrendered her to CPS and walked away. She doesn’t know why her daughter is at Whateley of all places, just that her daughter is here, and we got her son killed.”
Carson stood up, shaking her head. “And we have Parents’ Day tomorrow, she doesn’t know about Caitlin, and given our favorite problem’s inability to play teenager in sane fashion I’m wondering if I didn’t make a rather large mistake hiding her among the student body.”
Delarose shook his head. “Would have popped first. If we’d played off Caitlin like a teacher transfer she might not have figured out the tattoos. She might have exploded, too at some point. I’ve had my own sources hunting for information on the so-called Artificer.”
“And what did you find?”
“There’s four of them. And they usually don’t manifest at similar times. But all the data says when one goes dark, it tends to be rather explosive. Caitlin’s been going to a lot of the same sources. Kill an Artificer, or their master, then whatever keeps them going sterilizes the area by setting them off like a fusion bomb.”
“And there went my desire for lunch today. Let’s go have a chat with the woman who birthed little miss personality bomb, shall we?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
“Mommy!” Natalie looked up forlornly as the cell opened up, and a ten-year-old girl rushed in to dive on her. She grabbed the little girl and pulled her in tight.
“Oh my God, baby I’m so sorry,” could be heard quietly from inside the room as Carson, Louis and Delarose listened in. “Are you ok? Have they been treating you well?”
Miranda nodded and hugged, hearing her mother’s thoughts, and feeling the pure relief at seeing her safe.
Louis nodded at Carson, and the woman oft-known as Lady Astarte stepped around the corner into the cell, inhaling a bit sharply, moreso than intended when she saw just how much Natalie Mahren actually did resemble her son and daughter.
“We thought letting you see Miranda first might help you calm down a bit.” Carson looked at the suddenly-suspicious mama bear holding her cub.
“Who are you?” Natalie’s eyes tightened a bit as she gripped her daughter a bit tighter.
“I’m Elizabeth Carson, headmistress of Whateley Academy. And you are, apparently, the mother of one of the most rambunxious little girls I’ve ever met, and one of the best instructors I’ve ever had the privilege of working with.”
“Erik,” Natalie said quietly, sadly.
“Erik saved a lot of lives last Halloween, both staff and students here.” She stepped away. “Now that you’re calm, I don’t think there’s any need to keep you in there.”
Miranda’s feet touched the floor, but she kept her hand in her mother’s as she felt the curiosity warring with her feelings of loss. “What happened to him?”
“We can go into the details later, once you’ve had a chance to acclimate a bit and see what this school is about.” Elizabeth said, “But it did, unfortunately, involve a late manifestation of mutant traits and a rather massive burnout. We can get you the details later.”
“Liz, Erik wasn’t in touch with his family. He never told them what we do here.” Louis leaned in quietly.
“Ah.” Carson blinked a few times, processing that, and remembering General Pearson’s statement a month before: Family. Mahren was always on the edge of fury because of his family.
I’ve advised Miranda to keep Caitlin to herself for now, Mrs. Mahren is in a bit of a fragile state of mind. Louis’ silent communication was relieving.
“Well, I suppose I should start from the beginning.” Carson led the way as Miranda almost dragged her mother to follow. “We’ll stop off at Doyle and have your hands looked at. You cut them up fairly badly. Franklin, if you would, I think the red flag is no longer necessary. Green flag, if you please.”
“What’s this about red flag/green flag…” Natalie stopped as she looked out a window of Kane hall and saw a rather unassuming, but pretty girl look up at the building, then seem to distort, and shift, revealing a stunning, redheaded girl with massive, black bat wings, a tail, horns and claws.
“What is this place?” Natalie asked as she moved towards the window and saw more and more students filter out onto the quad, some realizing that the freak flag was flying and taking down hoodies, or removing jackets and exposing inhuman features, supernatural attractiveness, or in one notable case, simply lifting off the ground and flying.
“It’s a school for people like me, Momma.”
It was all Natalie could do to not gawk like an unwitting tourist.
“Welcome to Whateley Academy, Mrs. Mahren.” Elizabeth Carson smiled and held out a hand.
Natalie looked at Carson in rather bemused fashion, taking the woman’s hand and realizing for the very first time that she wasn’t in Kansas anymore. “How much does this cost?”
“Nothing for you.” Carson smiled tightly. “Your son set up an emergency fund for your daughters just in case they manifested as mutants. I am to understand Cally made it without manifesting, but Miranda here…”
“I didn’t even know she was gone until I found out what Andrew did to her, all very matter-of-factly explained to me as though it was the best for everyone.” She spat the last words out. “I should have divorced that bastard when he evicted my son from the family, but no, I had to hold out hope that time would heal wounds and that he and Erik would reconcile.”
Miranda winced, looking at her mother, and Carson recognized the signs of a telepath getting bad feedback. “Tell you what, since you’re here we can offer a tour, and Parent’s day is tomorrow, so you’ll be welcome to stay. I’d be more than happy to show you the places Erik worked.”
“I think I’d like that.”
“Can I go too?” Miranda looked at Carson.
“You have classes, Miss Mahren. But when you’re out for the day, maybe you can bring your new friends by to meet your mother.”
Miranda nodded unenthusiastically, and with greatly exaggerated unwillingness and slowness made a huge show of not wanting to leave then ran like hell to her first class in the blind hope that running would make the day go faster.
“I’ve never seen her cooperate that much on something she didn’t want to do except with me.” Natalie watched her daughter go.
“I think I impressed upon her the need to follow the rules when she mind-controlled one of my security officers.”
Natalie’s eyes went wide as she slowly looked back at the blonde headmistress that looked younger than she was by a fair margin.
“Your daughter is quite the precocious little psychic.” Liz led the way out of the building and out onto the quad, heading towards what the Whateley Range crew called “The Back Forty.”
“How powerful is she?”
“Powerful enough that she has a very difficult time not reading the thoughts of everyone around her, much as she seems to prefer not to.”
“I tried to hide that from Andrew, but the car being pinwheeled across the yard into the treeline when Miranda screamed and panicked because a bear entered the yard ended that.”
“Ah, that was the trigger for her to get shuffled off to Whateley?”
“Andrew didn’t bother to tell us that Erik had been declared dead. It wasn’t ‘important’ since the two of them basically disowned each other because Erik had the utter audacity to date a mutant girl with physical mutations.”
“I’m not familiar with the term.”
Liz pointed out across the quad at the unmistakable bulk of Razorback walking next to Diamondback, Anomaly and Deimos. “Gross Structural Dystrophy, it’s what turns children into seeming monsters.”
“Oh my God those poor kids.” Natalie’s hand went to her mouth.
“Don’t waste pity on Outcast Corner there. They’re remarkably well-adjusted, and they tend to be some of the more proactive students when innocents are in harm’s way. We should get moving though.” Carson carefully scanned the quad for signs of Caitlin. Security had already been called upon to deal with one Mahren meltdown. They didn’t need another.
It was a pleasantly quiet hike up to the hill Range four was situated on. The loud thunder of the guns could be heard a good distance, along with more exotic fare.
“You have a shooting range?” Natalie raised an eyebrow.
“Four of them, actually, as well as a detailed simulator suite meant to help teach the children how to survive in a world that often as not will panic and shoot them.” Carson nodded as they crested the hill, coming up on the hawk-like Heckel carefully standing behind the students as they unleashed gunfire, artillery, and more exotic fare such as lightning.
A tiny brunette girl who couldn’t be older than Miranda seemed to be partly on fire as she unleashed wave after wave of flames down the range while an elderly black woman in a hovering chair encouraged her gently. Natalie noted the camouflage uniform and eight-point hat that the Marines were known for. He barely gave them a nod before going back to overseeing.
“That boy there is Mule, one of Erik’s proteges.” Carson pointed the burly Grunt brick out. “Mule is one of the grunts training team here on campus, children who signed up for military service early to get the schooling paid for and the protections of a Military Mutant ID card. The rangy, redheaded boy in the other Grunts uniform is Slapdash, the current team lead for the grunts. He’s one of Erik’s Parkour Hooligans, a club for runners on the campus.”
Natalie was about to say something when the redheaded boy unleashed a weapon that gave off a horrific whinle, then the ground shook slightly.
“CEASE FIRE, CEASE FIRE!” the rangemaster roared right before coming up behind Slapdash for the most in-depth ass-chewing that Natalie had ever heard in her life when the other kids stopped with the guns. “Boy how many fucking times do you need to be told that earthshaker ordinance has to be registered before you use it?”
“Sorry sir I didn’t realize…”
“That’s because you didn’t think! On your face, now!” The tirade continued as Carson let Natalie watch.
“Heckel there served with your son in the Marines, through the worst life could throw at him.” She looked over at the small child that Mrs. Cantrell had taken her turn coaxing to extinguish her flames this time. “That would be Ember, one of Miranda’s friends. She’s in it just as bad as your daughter is for being far too powerful for her age and experience to properly control.”
“So you teach the children how to survive and fight?”
“Not only that, no. Whateley provides an Ivy League education in more mundane studies as well as teaching the children to harness their powers for the safety and well being of themselves and those around them.” Carson smiled. “I brought you here because this was where your son earned the title “Most Evil Baseline In the World. He cared about the kids, taught them everything he could about the worst the world could give them. This was his place.”
Natalie had tears forming in her eyes. “I don’t even know where he was buried.”
“I feel a great disturbance in the Schwarz…” Monica intoned.
“Quit wearing such tight pants then,” Caitlin deadpanned back. “Can’t stick around for lunch too long, I promised Gunny B I’d help him re-calibrate the Simulator pods for the parental demo tomorrow.”
“Where’s Joe?” Sandra asked.
“Pining for his mystery lady?” Deimos suggested. She promptly began destroying the food on her tray.
Sandra rolled her eyes. “Please, knowing Jericho he’s crushing on someone unattainable, or he’s discovered a new prank he wants to try.
-Or Both.- Razor signed.
“Why don’t you use the vodor much, Razor? Me’n Joe spent a lot of time on that thing.” Caitlin was far more curious than offended.
-Once you get used to the sign language it’s faster, and I can convey intent better. Monotone mechanical voices are great for making shitty Stephen Hawking jokes, but you can’t get the emotional context.-
“Point.” Caitlin wolfed down the last of her food and got up to take off. “I’m off to see the wonderful wizard of grump.”
“Good luck.” Deimos said dubiously.
“Have fun storming the castle!” Sandra grinned.
“Think she’ll win?” Noms tossed in.
-It would take a miracle- the toneless vodor suddenly sounded, much to the amusement of all involved as Caitlin cheerily gave her friends the finger and headed out of the Crystal Hall.
She was in a good mood, and she wasn’t about to let anyone ruin this rare day for her.
The plane landed in Boston easily, and Debra Carlyle had to physically pry the small boy away from the window as he watched fascinated while the plane taxied into the loading areas. Moving back and forth between Darwin and New Hampshire was pure hell, and she felt jetlagged and exhausted, a feeling exacerbated by her hyperactive son bouncing uncontrollably in anticipation of their arrival at Whateley Academy.
It was on the way to the bus stop that she spotted a welcome face, doubtlessly arriving herself to visit Whateley. “Edith!”
Jericho’s mother turned and grinned as the two women met and exchanged a hug. “Debra, so good to see you again! How was your flight?”
“Bloody hell, don’t ask. I’ve been trapped in the air with the Rambunxious one for too long.” She turned and saw the young man walking up towards them. He shared his father’s wiry build, rather than his brother’s tanklike weightlifter body. The hearing aids were almost unobtrusive. “Zack! Good to see you again!” She signed at the boy as she spoke, remembering that the younger Turner boy was able to parse ASL more easily than the Auslan she used with Jack at home.
“Good to see you too, Debra.” Zack signed back, his Auslan signing as awkward and off as her ASL had been.
“ZACK!” The deaf boy gave an “oof!” as Adam slammed into his side with a big hug.
“Hey there shorty!” Zackj’s sign language skills were far better than his speech, but he could make due.
“I’m not short, I’m awesome!”
“Hell yes.” The older boy signed at Adam, who was more fluent in sign language than most.
“So where you two staying?” Edith Turner asked.
“Same place, they raised the prices again.”
Debra shook her head. “Kiernan can’t get away from work. We have to save up quite a lot of money to deal with Jack’s Appetite over Christmas and Summer Break.”
“Fortunately he’s not shy about hunting for his food.” Edith smirked, remembering Jack Carlyle’s nocturnal habits of sneaking out and supplementing his diet with any animal he could catch. The Darwin stray population usually dropped sharply whenever he went home.
Edith nodded. “He should be along later today, he had to run a last-minute safety inspection on another Goodkind facility. His boss over at OSHA got the Airline to waive the fees due to the issues involved.”
“God forbid the Goodkinds don’t find a way to ruin someone’s day.” Debra rolled her eyes, watching the two boys have an impromptu wrestling match, which Adam was losing horribly due to his opponent’s merciless abuse of tickle torture.
Natalie watched, mouth mildly agape as she watched Carson casually break up a fight on the way to Doyle. The spiky-haired blonde boy was currently pinned underneath a girl who looked like a Harpy coming away from the Crystal Hall. She’d had him pinned, his arm gripped in her taloned foot being used to bludgeon himself. “Stop hitting yourself, butthead, stop hitting yourself!” the irate, outraged girl screeched at him.
When Security came, both children were thoroughly under control. Carson had barely spoken a word, and the very quiet ass-chewing of both didn’t quite reach Natalie’s ears. Carson was a professional. She would be heard when she wanted to be.
“The more I work within the constraints of a school, the more superheroes, supervillains and cliquish teenagers seem the same to me,” the Headmistress said wryly. “Sorry you had to see that.”
“What was that all about?” Mrs. Maren looked rather bemused, and a little disturbed.
“Aegis hasn’t figured out that GSD doesn’t automatically mean villain in training. More often than not it means physical or social handicap. Usually both.”
Did that girl lose her arms entirely?”
Carson nodded. “Fortunately the talons on her feet can act as somewhat rudimentary hands.”
Natalie frowned, looking at her own bandaged digits, trying to imagine what it might be like without them.
“You don’t scar, do you?” Carson asked.
“Not really, why?”
“If you will indulge me, would you like to see how the children get tested so their powers can be classified? It’s where we are going to get your hands fixed up anyway.”
Natalie shrugged. “I’ll be fine. It’s my own damn fault anyway.”
Carson shook her head. “I insist. It won’t do to have the parent of one of our students wandering about looking like she’d been mugged.”
Natalie rolled her eyes a bit, and in a manner very akin to her son, grudgingly acquiesced. “Fine, twist my arm about it.”
Carson smirked. “Now I know where your children inherited their love for the medical profession.”
Natalie rolled her eyes again. “Buncha poking, prodding, sticking their fingers in places they don’t belong…”
Carson endured the familiar, quiet rant with more than a little nostalgia. She’d heard it the day after Erik returned from his disastrous Parkour run in Boston, returning with several battered, angry children and one hell of a story. He had refused to accept medical attention until all of the children had been attended, and even so it had taken Cat McQuiston smacking him upside the head to get himself checked out.
“You’re awfully quiet all of a sudden.” Natalie looked at Carson.
“Oh, I was just reminiscing about the last time I heard someone wax poetic on why doctors were all bastards. It took your son's fiancee threatening him physically to get him to sit still and taken care of after he decided to fight the Lamplighter in Boston for his treatment of the students last year.”
“That doesn’t sound like my boy, he always avoided fights until he was cornered.” Natalie frowned. “I didn’t know he had a fiancee. When were they supposed to be married?”
“This year, during summer break, they’d planned a quiet ceremony with friends.”
“I would like to meet her.”
“I’m afraid that Cat McQuiston was killed, last year. There is no easy way to say this, but he saw her murdered. In a very real way, I think that is why we lost your son.”
For the first time since her angry, hurt, seventeen year old son stormed out of the house for the last time Natalie Mahren found herself crying, trying to imagine what life had been like for him. She cried as this strange woman who seemed to know him better than she did, herself gave her a comforting shoulder to cry on.
She was so lost in her own thoughts that she barely noticed the doctors, and was in no condition to realize that she was being run through a battery of tests to determine if Prison Bitch’s assessment was correct, and Natalie Mahren had Diedricks disorder.
Elyzia Grimes seemed to appear out of nowhere at the Outcast table at dinner. She looked battered and singed, her hair was frazzled and frayed and the umbrella she carried looked like it had seen much better days. Her expression matched the stormcloud that was following her and raining tiny drops on her head, likely having put out whatever fire she had caught herself in.
“Holy crap what happened?” Diamondback’s eyes went wide.
Five sets of eyes locked on Grimes, then followed the path of her glare to the Outcast who was keeping her head down, and looking a bit sheepish.
“Why?” grimes finally let out. “Why would you do something as irresponsible as giving those three Adamant essence tools?”
Caitlin lifted her head up, and slowly turned her head to Grimes and let the words “Hollow Man” roll off her tongue.
Grimes lost it. “Of all the irresponsible, malicious, dangerous things!” She was roaring and whacking Caitlin, who was giggling madly and unable to really defend herself as the outraged magic teacher pummelled the stone-bodied girl with her umbrella in impotent fury while the Outcasts looked on.
When, after a minute of ranting and whacking her, Grimes finally let up, Caitlin popped up with an impish grin. “Feel better?”
“Much. You do realize you are going to take those back, right?”
“Like hell. Clover got me out of a Fool’s Circle set by someone who shall remain nameless before I knew what to look for and before I got my tattoos, right toilet-boy?” She raised her voice and leaned her head over her shoulder at the offender.
Grimes looked over and noted Nephandus ducking his head down, pretending to be more interested in his food. “I see.” She glowered at Caitlin. “I had just gotten the three to light their wells after great difficulty and…”
“I’ll talk to them about how to use them without lighting the teachers on fire.”
“Please do.” Grimes finally mustered her dignity and headed to the teacher’s lounge.
“Did she just get done hitting a student?” Anomaly’s mouth was agape as the spectacle ended.
“Oh don’t worry, I deserved that one and more.” Caitlin grinned.
“I’d have opened the conversation by blasting you, actually,” Diamondback said mildly. “You gave the Three little pests adamant essence tools? Are you insane?”
Cait looked at her serpentine buddy with a slow, creeping grin.
“Yes she’s insane,” Deimos poked Sandra. “She makes the rest of us look positively stable and well-grounded in reality.”
Jack, who’d been shoveling meat in his mouth caught the edge to Deimos’ voice and reached down into his school pack and held out a small music box to Janine.
The girl couldn’t stop a few tears from coming loose as she hugged the massive, obnoxious Dinosaur. “Thank you Jack.”
-Stop that. You’ll make everyone wonder if I’m not a complete asshole after all.-
Jericho, snorted, finally, then started laughing. “Goddamn Grimes hitting Caitlin with an umbrella…” He dropped his head on the table and just let the laughter take him.
“Gee, thanks, bro.” Caitlin shook her head. Jericho and Razorback were, in many ways, the little brothers she never had.
“You gotta admit, it was kinda funny.” Noms said with a smirk.
“Worth it.” Caitlin agreed, as she watched the people around. The Crystal Hall.
Deimos and Diamondback’s eyes snapped right to Caitlin as she froze, her emotions crystallizing into a single, pure note of despairing pain as the Artificer simply stood up and walked to a side entrance of the crystal hall, tears running down her eyes. Deimos frantically grabbed Caitlin’s hand and jammed the music box in it, frantically as the girl left.
Diamondback, then Deimos each let out a shuddering sigh of relief as their friend left their empathic ranges, in turn.
“Holy fuck what the hell just happened?” Monica pulled both of the abruptly distressed girls in close.
Jericho was alert, aware and suspicious. “That’s not like Caitlin, she doesn’t just stop and leave.”
-Who is that with Chibi Evil over there?- Razor’s vodor rang out, since he knew none of the others would be looking directly at him.
Four sets of eyes locked on to the four tiny hellions that comprise Team Awesome! And the stunning blonde woman who looked like she was frozen in her late thirties walking beside Carson. Jericho didn’t need to turn to see her. The woman looked like a larger, more mature carbon copy of Miranda, and they could see the origin point of the angular features of a certain angry, supposedly dead teacher writ large in her appearance.
“No. Fucking. Way.” Monica breathed.
“She never talks about family.” Jericho said quietly.
“Because she’s hurting.” Deimos finished.