Ayla and the Great Shoulder Angel Conspiracy: (Chap 3)
Diane Castle / Ayla / Ayla and the Great Shoulder Angel Conspiracy / Part 3
Ayla and the Great Shoulder Angel Conspiracy
by Diane Castle (with assorted angelic and demonic assistance)
Chapter 3 - Elohim
I watched as Billie struggled not to cry. This was so not fair! If they wanted to pick on me, fine. But not my friends!
I opened my mouth to complain. We all did. But Bardue put out one strong hand and the whole team fell silent. He frowned, “No Tennyo, we’re not asking you to leave the course, or your team… We are asking you to wear a ruggedized radiation detector around your wrist. So you’ll know when you start to become a hazard, and you can throttle back. We don’t want a superhero team killing the hostages with radiation exposure, and we don’t want collateral damage that requires an EPA Superfund site, and we don’t want a superhero killing the rest of his team either.”
“S-sure. Th-that makes sense,” Billie forced herself to say. But she looked awful. I watched as Jade reached over and squeezed her hand. Billie smiled at her.. and the tears just streamed down her face.
“And another thing… OUTCAST CORNER!!!”
Razorback and Jericho both snapped up from a deep doze. Caitlin suddenly punched a hole in the seat in front of her before she realized she wasn’t under attack.
Bardue snapped, “Outcasts! I want you to see me after class. Tomorrow! In the meantime, get enough sleep now! And tonight too! I don’t want to see any more of this naptime crap on my watch! Got it?”
Three heads nodded, and one head tried to remember why she had a fist lodged in a chairback.
Everheart said, “There will be no sim run today…”
There were three very loud sighs of relief from the Outcast Corner part of the room. And one confused mumble.
She finished, “…and we are going to have to change our planned sim organization, given that we now have seven teams instead of two.”
She looked over at Bardue, and he snapped, “Class… DISMISSED!”
<(Fey) Everyone stay put.>
She made a beeline for Razorback and Diamondback. Chaka watched her for about a millisecond before saying, “Can’t leave me out of all the fun…” Then she moved in the same direction, wiggling in between the chairs with a smooth grace that would have had “Dancing with the Stars” performers stopping to take notes.
Okay, I don’t know who’s on “Dancing with the Stars”. And I have no intention of watching it to find out. Just let it go.
Chou watched silently until Toni got to the middle of the room, and then quickly ran across the seatbacks to catch up.
Jade watched her, and then scrambled to follow. Until Billie put a firm hand on Jade’s shoulder, and Jade came to a screeching halt, like a car trying to drive out the wrong end of the garage. “Onee-sama!” Jade whined quietly, “I wanna go listen too! They’re having all the fun!”
Billie frowned, “This isn’t fun. Last night was.. serious.”
Hank looked at me and said, “We stay too. The less we know about the voodoo-wolves, the better for our mutual sanity.”
I just sighed. I wanted to go too, but I knew the limits of my brain, otherworldly-speaking. I still had the occasional nightmare about Christmas, and so I really didn’t want to rip my sanity apart any more than absolutely necessary. Caitlin looked like she had tossed her sanity into a blender and put it on liquefy. I hoped someone was helping her, because right then she looked like she needed a rubber room more than Cav and Sky put together. But she wouldn’t put that M203 down. Which did not exactly fill me with warm fuzzy feelings.
<(Phase) Isn’t she a hazard in this condition, walking around with that rifle and enough ammo to take out half the school?>
<(Lancer) I think she may be safe. She’s holding the weapon properly, and treating it carefully. You wouldn’t do that if you’re losing it.>
<(Phase) If you say so.>
There was something about that which really bugged me. If she was having trouble remembering that walls and chairs were not attack dogs, how the heck was she remembering proper weapon handling? There was just something about that which told me it needed investigating.
Nikki, Toni, and Chou rejoined us and led us out of the room. Nikki looked around at the other teams, not to mention the kids moving past to get to range classes. She switched to the comm system.
<(Fey) They’re in bad shape, but they’ll be okay after some sleep and some food. Diamond’s pretty much on edge, and Eldritch needs a couple days R and R.>
<(Phase) Is she getting some counseling? Or some Psi psychiatry? Or something?>
<(Fey) She won’t need it. Her brain’s handling it right now. I checked. She just needs some downtime, a day or two, and she’ll be fine again.>
<(Phase) Well, she’ll be Eldritch again, at any rate.>
<(Chaka) That wasn’t me!>
We walked back to Poe. I wanted to change out of my costume and my costume-friendly wardrobe. Chou wanted to hang up her Robe of Midnight. Hank and Jade and Toni wanted to put on school uniforms. Billie just wanted to be left alone. Like there was a chance in hell of that happening. We designated Jade and Jinn to first keep an eye on Billie while she changed, and then make Billie come to my room for a team meeting.
Chou and I hurried into our room and shut the door. I muttered, “Better look out, because here comes Mister Happy.” By then I’d already gone light and stepped out of all my clothes. I didn’t like it, but I had to. The costume had that athletic cup and the boob padding, so I had to strip naked before dressing again. But I had my ‘civilian’ clothes already set out, so I only had to get dressed. I was ready well before the J-Team dragged Billie in.
Jade had gone all out for her ‘big sister’. Jinn was still in Shroud mode, but Jann was in the ‘real girl’ skin-pours and Jeannie was in the cabbit, which was pulling Billie along by the hand. As if anyone could really pull Tennyo
along if she didn’t want to go.
And frankly I was just guessing about the names for the rest of the J-Team. I was going to have to get Jade to give me some sort of scorecard to keep the names straight when they did this stuff. For all I knew, this was Jayna, Jeannie, and Jasmine. Or Jumanji, Jalapeno, and Juvenalian.
Billie waited until we were all in the room and Nikki had done her magic anti-eavesdropping spell. Then she asked, “Can I go first?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said. Of course, my position was overrun before I got past the ‘I’ part.
“Please,” said Jade.
“Sure thing,” echoed Toni.
“Why not?” asked Hank.
You know, once in a while, I wish someone would listen to me. As if it wasn’t totally obvious what Billie was going to say.
She took a deep breath and said, “Maybe I should just drop out of Team Tactics. You know. Before I hurt someone, or I give ‘em radiation poisoning, or something worse. After all, I’m probably just a stupid construct, not someone you should care about…”
“Onee-sama! No!” screeched all four of the J-Team simultaneously. They were so upset that whoever was in the cabbit didn’t even bother to do that ‘Miya’ business.
Toni snapped, “You better not ever say that again to me, or I’ll give you one upside your head!”
Hank frowned, “You’re not thinking clearly…”
Nikki insisted, “Billie, you’re wrong about this.”
Finally, the cabbit flew up into her arms and hugged her, chirping, “Miya miya!”
Okay, I stand corrected. They didn’t forget that stupid ‘Miya’ business.
When everyone else had jumped in, I cleared my throat. “My turn.” I glared at Toni, who already had her mouth open. “My room, my turn.”
I glared at Billie, who was hugging the cabbit and crying bitterly. I said, “So maybe, just maybe, you’re a construct. But you’re still Bill Wilson inside that body. So you’re saying I’m a construct too? Because I’m still Trevor inside this stupid freako body.”
She sobbed, “No! You’re.. you.”
I pushed, “Well then, what about Fey? Some supernatural force grabs a nice normal kid and forcibly turns him into something non-human? Sound familiar? If Nikki isn’t a construct, how can you be? Or what about Bladedancer? A magic sword did this to a kid. Or Heyoka. A spirit did it to her. Or Sara. Or Fubar. Or Igneous, for that matter. A nice, normal kid got turned into something that no one’s ever going to treat like a regular human. Just because a bunch of powers testing wonks don’t understand what’s happening in your body doesn’t mean anything. What would the village elders have to say about me, or Nikki, or anyone in this room, if we changed like this just four hundred years ago? I mean, other than ‘burn her!’ So knock it off. Or I’ll tell Beltane you were complaining about her, and you’ll be up to your ears in pranks.”
Billie managed to smile a little. “Again?”
Hank stared at Billie and said, “Look, you’re worried about hurting people. I understand that. Completely. Sometimes I have nightmares about giving Lily a hug.. and forgetting my strength and…”
Oh God. He didn’t have to complete that sentence. I knew exactly what he was thinking.
Nikki took over, “Look, you can do a lot of stuff. Some of it is dangerous. Fine. That’s why you’re at Whateley. To learn how to control your powers. Just like me. Remember what happened to the Crystal Wavers? Or like Lancer. Remember when he had to do all those class exercises, like carrying that raw egg around without breaking it? Or like Phase - at least you never accidentally turned someone into a monster.” I winced, but I kept my mouth shut. “That’s what you should be looking for in Team Tactics. How to be part of a team, so you’re effective and not a danger to everyone else. That’s what I want out of this course.”
Billie finally agreed to go along with the rest of us. But she didn’t take the radiation monitor off her wrist. And she was so miserable that we had to make her go to the caff for lunch. Frankly, that scared me. For Billie, that was like saying she was so depressed that she didn’t care if she stopped breathing.
Okay, Billie didn’t seem to need to breathe, either. But that was missing the point.
We sort of hovered around her while she picked out some stuff to eat. Once she had a couple plates of food, Jade and Toni escorted her over to the table. I stood there watching until Billie started to eat. Then, once she began nibbling on a baked potato, her old reflexes kicked in, and she wolfed down everything.
I didn’t realize how upset I’d been until I noticed that I had forgotten to go through the food line myself. Chef Peter was standing over by the salad bar with a puzzled look on his face. I hastily grabbed a tray and made my way over.
Peter handed me a salad bowl and asked, “Are you all right? You seemed.. distracted.”
I admitted, “My friend is pretty upset, and we’re worried about her.”
He raised one eyebrow and asked, “Your friend?” He tilted his head toward the TK table. “The one who eats like an Energizer?”
I grinned. “Yeah, that would be Tennyo.”
“That’s the Tennyo we were warned about? That one? The one who looks like an anime character?”
“Yeah,” I reluctantly agreed. “That’s her. She’s not any more of a threat than ninety percent of the kids here. Unless you try to kill her or something.”
He almost laughed. “Trust me, attacking superpowered teenagers is way down on my bucket list.”
I explained, “She’s really nice, but she had a run of bad luck while she was looking for campus jobs.”
“Did she find something?” he wondered.
“Yeah, she found a job she really likes. She’s working for Mrs. Henderson in the library,” I told him.
He nodded sagely. Mrs. Henderson had a rep for insisting on good behavior and quiet. And really, if what you liked doing was working in a library, that automatically pegged you as ‘not one of the troublemakers’. Didn’t girls who worked in a library have to conform to the stereotype and be little mice who dressed in ankle-length skirts? I could tell from Peter’s face that he was thinking along those lines. Hmm. Maybe working in the library could also be good for Billie’s rep.
I scooped up the salad and found some more lunch. A pita bread sandwich stuffed with turkey, and a cup of green tea. I figured the bite of the green tea would go well with the salad, which was rife with luscious-looking Belgian endive and escarole. The bite-sized chunks of turkey in the sandwich were mixed with red leaf lettuce, red bell pepper, chunks of cucumber, diced celery, and halved green grapes, all tossed in a dressing that smelled like feta cheese and mint and dill.
By the time I sat down, Tennyo was back. Billie was working on an entire tray of food that would have been enough to hold me for about a week. Four thick steaks, a pile of mashed potatoes that more or less defined the word ‘shitload’, enough fruit salad to deforest an orange grove, a mountain of pasta salad, and enough broccoli-cheese casserole to choke a football team. She still looked discouraged, but at least she wasn’t too depressed to eat.
The pita sandwich was okay, even if the yogurt dressing had a little too much dill and could have used a touch of cinnamon to bring out the essence of the grapes and cucumber. But the salad was superb. The Belgian endive was extra-crisp and refreshingly bitter; the thinly-sliced apple was crisp and sweet; and the escarole was richly flavorful. It was slightly bitter, and yet at the same time it was almost sweet in conjunction with the dressing. The dressing was an apple cider vinegar with a soft oil that might have been canola. It had Dijon mustard, minced shallots, a little sugar, some sea salt, and plenty of fresh-ground white pepper.
While I was enjoying the salad, Toni ventured, “Hey Ayles, that foodgasm must mean that’s a pretty good salad, huh? Wanna share?”
I put a forkful on her plate and said, “Sure, but the endive is bitt-”
“Blagh!” she practically spit it out. “Hey! No poisoning the teammates! Remember?”
“I did tell you the endive was going to taste bitter. It’s… For some people it’s an acquired taste.”
“Ugh. Next time I’ll settle for acquiring a taste for lemon meringue pie or somethin’,” she complained.
Chou tentatively asked, “Could I try a bite?”
“Sure,” I said. “But remember what happened to Chaka.”
She smiled, “I doubt that the problem is Chi. And I am used to more complex tastes, you know.”
I put another forkful on her plate, and she slowly chewed it up. The table sort of stopped to watch.
She said, “That’s really good! Do you think your chef has any more?”
Toni groaned, “How can you eat that?”
I said, “I bet Tennyo would like it.”
“Tennyo eats demons. Her tastebuds don’t count,” Toni insisted. Billie stuck her tongue out at Toni.
I took Chou over to the salad bar and asked one of the staff if Chef Peter could step out for a moment. Chou was in luck. Peter still had half a bowl of the apple and endive salad. Chou thanked him repeatedly while I tried to get a word in edgewise.
“So, were those apples Braeburns?” I guessed.
“Nope,” he smiled. “Fujis. I tried Honeycrisps too, but they were just a hair too sweet for the endive.”
I told him, “Well, at least two people thought you really put together a great salad.”
He gave me a quirky smile, “I’m glad. Several of the staff thought it was far too bitter.”
Chou and I looked at each other and smiled. We mutually decided not to tell Toni that anyone else complained about the salad.
After I finished eating, I spotted Harry Wolfe sitting with a table of other devisers and gadgeteers. I made my way over to ask him a question. When I got to his table, I saw he was in a deep discussion with Kludge and Ringo and Escapement and some guys I didn’t know.
Kludge had shoulder angels in wheelchairs. He had a fine mesh over his shoulders and on the back of his wheelchair, and the shoulder angels were driving all over the mesh, as if he were a big motocross course. His shoulder angel looked like his healthier parts, while his shoulder devil looked like his scrawnier parts. Well, that was pretty Freudian.
His shoulder devil snapped, “Hey, pay attention. Incoming!”
The shoulder angel replied, “You don’t need to be so suspicious.”
Across the table, a chubby blonde nerd looked up at me. He had grumpy eyes behind round glasses thick enough to be bulletproof, and enough acne for James Arnold Ross to start another oilfield. He looked up and activated his shoulder angels. His shoulder angel looked like a movie star in a white robe, while his shoulder devil looked like, well.. another movie star, just in red makeup and fake horns. The shoulder devil looked at Kludge’s angel and said, “Shut up, you’re wrong.”
Kludge’s shoulder devil growled, “Shut your face, Overclock. No one talks to him like that but me!”
“Oh yeah, you shut up!” snapped the other devil.
“Oh yeah? YOU shut up!”
“Oh yeah? YOU shut up!”
“Oh yeah? YOU shut up!”
“Oh yeah? YOU shut up!”
Kludge turned his shoulder angels off and frowned at Harry, “See? We keep getting caught in each other’s feedback loops. We need better chat software.”
Harry stroked the fur on his muzzle and said, “I think we could just install friend-or-foe recognition. We’ve got the chips to do that down in Workshop.”
“Ooh! Good idea!” said Escapement.
“The programming ought to be fairly simple, and we’ve got the chip burners up and running,” added the kid who was apparently named Overclock.
“Hi, Harry. Hey, Kludge,” I interrupted before they dove into the technical details and became lost to humans of this dimension for half an hour.
Harry looked over, “Oh, hi Phase!”
I said, “It looks like Generator’s shoulder angels are the next big thing around here.”
Kludge admitted, “Well, getting it right is the interesting part.”
Harry nodded, “I’m working on my own, but the problem I’m having right now is the form. The Harry angel looks too much like a puppy, and the Harry devil looks too much like…”
“Like Bloodwolf!” chipped in one of the other guys with a laugh. That guy looked and sounded like he was from India or Pakistan, but he was dressed like the Americans at the table.
Harry grinned ruefully, “Yeah. And it’s a general rule in Workshop not to piss off Ultraviolents if you don’t have to.”
I shrugged, “Good rule. But you could just go with Bunny’s idea, and make them both chibi shoulder angels. A cute puppy Harry and a naughty puppy Harry.”
The table talked it over.
“Well, it would be funny…”
“You wouldn’t have to worry about Bloodwolf…”
“You’ve pretty much got the form for it right now, just make the eyes larger and the head rounder.”
Harry hesitated, “I don’t know…”
I told him, “Look, it’s just a thought. You don’t have to. Besides, I have something else I want to talk to you about.”
“Okay.” He got up and followed me out.
In the hallway to the elevators, I showed Harry the ASP tactical baton. I said, “Ito wants me to work with one. Can you make me a better one? I’d like it a max of seven inches long unextended, to fit in my utility belt. Make it at least this heavy, and as strong as you can get it, plus whatever length you can manage.”
“Any other requirements?” he wondered.
I said, “You can make it out of anything you want.”
“Anything,” I insisted. “If you want depleted uranium for the weight, and titanium for the casings, you’ve got it. Just use whatever you want, and I’ll pay for it.”
He smiled wickedly, “I might be able to make enough adamantium to do the casings, but it’ll cost you.”
I nodded, “You’ve got my cellphone number. Call me anytime you need to charge something, and I’ll cover it immediately.”
He had a gleam in his eye. It was the deviser gleam. “Wow, no one else in Workshop is working adamantium this term, this’ll be awesome!”
I thanked him and left. But I knew adamantium wasn’t going to stand up to Destiny’s Wave, or Tennyo’s antimatter plasma-sword, or Malachim’s Feather. I wasn’t even sure it would stand up to Hank’s PK-assisted paper swords. On the other hand, everyone else was going to be in for a wicked surprise.
Keith ‘Farrago’ Fairleigh smiled as he escorted Silver Rose down the tunnel. It was always a pleasure being with Sylvie. But it was a lot more fun when it was her idea to do something like this, instead of having her act like she was being dragged off to the Spanish Inquisition.
It was also going to be really helpful having her along, because they were meeting with a couple nerdboys. As soon as the geeks got within a couple yards of an Exemplar babe like Silver Rose, their brains pretty much shut down. That always made negotiations simpler.
He smiled to himself. This term was shaping up to be a lot better than the last couple terms. For one thing, he didn’t have The Don stepping on his face at every possible opportunity. The snotty bastard. This term, Kodiak and Solange were running things, and trying to act like they were ‘inclusive’. He knew they didn’t really care about the second-tier Alphas like him and Sylvie. But at least they acted like it. Don Sebastiano always made it perfectly clear that he’d rather turn you into another Cavalier. Solange had actually let Keith and Sylvie and half a dozen others read Don Sebastiano’s hospital report. He’d had a hard time not laughing out loud.
He still didn’t get what had been going on. But if Hekate had really been behind everything, then maybe it was some sort of black magic, instead of The Don’s psychic powers. Which meant that Don Sebastiano, that asswipe, had been skating by on someone else’s dirty work. That sounded exactly like The Don that everyone knew and hated.
So Kodiak and Solange wanted to make the Alpha pyramid a lot bigger. That was good with him. The Don had been determined to keep it down to Hekate and him and their enforcers. They hadn’t been able to keep Kodiak out, since Kodiak was Freya’s chosen successor. But other than Kodiak, and the times when Solange was doing stuff, The Terrible Two had maintained a ruthlessly tight control on entry to the core Alphas. But now Tansy was opening things up to more people. He was glad his group was admitted, and frankly Imminent and Powerhouse and Pyrrhic were good people to have at your back. But the Yellow Queen? Flicker and Fade? Well, he’d just wait and see if they were of any use, or if he needed to start figuring out how to keep them from getting in his way to the top.
He and Sylvie made their way into one of the unofficial tunnels. He followed the directions Aries had given him, and came to a door labeled ‘Maintenance Locker - Tunnel 7A3’. The door handle was smashed and the lock looked like someone had melted it. A cardboard sign was crookedly duct-taped to the middle of the door with a handwritten scrawl that said, ‘GET STUF FROM TUNNL 7A6 ITS CLOSER’. The door obviously wouldn’t open.
Sylvie asked, “Are you sure we’re in the right place?”
He nodded, “Yeah. It’s just set up to look like it couldn’t be a secret lab.”
He did just what Aries had told him to do. He put his palm on the cardboard. A few seconds later, there was a click and the door swung open. On the back side of the door, right behind the cardboard sign, was a complicated scanner system.
The dark room lit up, to reveal that it was a short passageway to another door. The second door was a steel alloy security door set in an alloy frame. Farrago suspected that even he would have to work to bust that door open. But he didn’t have to. All he had to do was follow the instructions he’d been given.
There was a 20x20 grid of colored squares in the center of the door. He pushed three in the order he’d been given.
The door suddenly blared in a dull robotic voice, “Don’t Dave.”
He pushed the next three squares.
Sylvie nudged him and whispered, “Your name’s not Dave.”
He grinned, “It’s from an old sci-fi movie. They’re geeks, remember?” He pushed the final three buttons.
The voice began singing in a deep computerized bass, ever more slowly, “Daisy… Daisy… Give me… Your… Answer… Do…” And the door clicked loudly as it unlocked.
Sylvie snorted and said in an affected British accent, “That was incredibly stupid. Is our entire meeting going to be like that?”
“Probably.” After all, these guys were extremely good hackers. Apparently, a total lack of social skills went with that.
Farrago opened the door and ushered Silver Rose in. They looked around at the room. Two guys were sitting at the desk that ran along the entire back wall, typing madly as they stared at large hi-def screens. One of them managed to choke out, “Be right with you, this is important.”
Farrago looked around. The room looked like every ‘hacker lair’ he’d ever seen in movies. Not enough light. One entire wall was a massive set of metal racks with computer boards crammed into nearly every inch. There was a huge air-conditioning unit on top of it and miles of cables spilling out from underneath. For some stupid reason it had a picture taped to it: a copy of a movie poster for a movie called “Beowulf and Grendel”. The back wall was a Formica table with laptops and monitor/keyboard set-ups, all cabled back to the big computer thing. There was a large closet that had every shelf crammed full of computer hardware, including several tubs that looked like they were nothing but cables, hard drives, and computer parts he didn’t recognize. There was also a desk that was nothing but racks of PDAs and cellphones and other handheld gear. As he looked around the room, he idly listened to the nerds. One sounded very ‘Midwest America’, while the other had a distinct Indian accent, like Silver.
“Goddamnit, we’re gonna die!”
“Shut up and keep fireballing her! She can’t be indestructible!”
“Like you’re doin’ any good with that stupid crossbow.”
“I’ve got blessed arrows, dummy! Keep blasting her!”
“Oh crap, there goes Tharlok.”
“Shit shit shit! How does she do it? Oh hell! Get back, it’s a trap!”
“Fuck you! I’m way out of range of her a… Crappity crap crap! She killed me!”
“Oh shit, there goes Har’fel’g too… Look out! Shit, she killed me! Damnit!”
“Fuck. That’s the whole fucking raiding party!”
Then a voice boomed out from the speakers. It wasn’t a demonic-sounding voice. Worse than that, it was the voice of every wet dream you’d ever had, cranked up to eleven. “Poor raiders. Better luck next time.”
Both nerds frustratedly pushed back from their computers.
Silver Rose asked, “What was that?”
The pale, overweight, pimply blonde kid with the coke-bottle glasses muttered, “GEO. Adventuring game.”
The other boy – the one with the bad haircut who looked like he was from India – nodded in agreement. “We had a huge party put together. We were trying to raid the private vaults of a new demonic entity. Name of Marala. Very nasty demon. Just got ‘promoted’ to demonic entity a few weeks ago, so we thought she might be vulnerable. Used to be a monster, and started out as a simple Temptress.” He sighed, “She dropped in on us and pretty much ate us for breakfast.”
The other boy looked at Silver Rose and stammered, “Uhh, yeah, we… Gah.”
The Indian one smacked the blonde one on the side of the head and apologized, “Sorry, he’s got AWS.” When Silver Rose obviously didn’t recognize the term, he explained, “Uh, sorry, that’s Attractive Woman Syndrome. It’s slang for a dope who can’t keep from drooling all over himself when he sees a pretty girl.”
“Hey!” blonde-dork protested. “I.. uhh… We don’t get too many fabulous babes down here in the dungeons.”
“I wonder why,” Silver Rose said dryly.
The blonde kid tried again. “I’m Overclock. This is Make. I know you’re Farrago, because we were told to prep for your visit. But I don’t know your lady friend.”
Farrago said, “This is Silver Rose.”
“Oh! You’re one of the ones who were up on the stage and nearly naked and… Shutting up now.”
“Good,” Sylvie glared.
Farrago tried to create a distraction. “Why’s there a picture of Beowulf and Grendel on your mainframe?”
Overclock grinned, “Because it’s not a mainframe. It’s better than a mainframe. It’s a large-scale symmetric multi-processing system. It’s what we call a ‘Beowulf cluster’. So the picture’s a joke.”
Farrago rolled his eyes and got down to business. “Word is that you’re two of the best hackers on campus, and you don’t like Team Kimba. I want to float an idea. Team Kimba will be using the holographic simulation software for the first time Saturday morning. It would be a terrible shame if somehow the safeties were dropped and they found themselves trapped in a scenario not of their own choosing. Maybe a very dangerous scenario. One where their holos could get injured bad enough to hurt the real people…”
Make winced. “That’s harder than it sounds. The security’s brutal on the sims. The holo stuff is physically isolated, so you can’t do anything unless you’re already inside the simulations center. The internal security is Hartford’s, so it might take weeks to crack. Plus, then we’d have Hartford on our asses. And we’d need access to the control management software, and the scenario modeling software. Both of those are supposed to be isolated and off-grid.”
Farrago nodded, “It looks like you two know what you’re talking about. Good. We can get you into the center without it showing up on the security monitors. And we can get you access to the software. At the moment, it’s accessible.” He checked his watch. “You have less than ten minutes before that access is closed again.” He held out his hand for a PDA and typed in an intranet address he had just acquired from Aries, who had probably gotten it from Hartford herself. He wasn’t asking. “Download copies now. Work on them until Saturday morning. We’ll get you in, and we’ll help you get plugged in. Then we’ll get you out again. And we’ll make sure Hartford doesn’t come after you about this.”
Overclock agreed, “Yes sir. We’ll download it indirectly, so it looks like it’s going to someone else’s computer.”
“Not an Alpha, mind you,” pointed out Silver Rose.
Make said, “We know better than that. How about Premiere’s computer?”
Farrago grinned wickedly. “The Golds? Excellent.”
I got my duffel bag for sixth period, and stored it in an unused locker in the women instructors’ locker room. Then I walked over to English class. I didn’t have high hopes for it, but I was at least hoping it wouldn’t suck. It was tough to ruin Shakespeare. Now that other class on Joseph Conrad would be boring with a capital ‘B’. Not to mention tedious and monotonous. I would have spent the entire term sitting in that class gasping, “The horror! The horror!” I thought of another Conrad quote. “Facing it, always facing it, that’s the way to get through.” Yeah, that was exactly what a course on Conrad would be like.
It wasn’t a big classroom. It looked like it would hold about forty students tops. Forty-one, if Tennyo just floated over the student desks. The room wasn’t over-flowing, either. It was maybe half full. I figured this wasn’t one of the popular winter courses. I didn’t recognize many people, and the ones I did recognize were juniors. Well, at least Majestic and Bubble weren’t in here. Or Superior and his dimwit pals. Or any of the Alphas I knew and loathed. I spotted Silver Serpent sitting in the second row with a hot Eurasian-looking girl, and I headed that way.
She turned her head when she spotted me sliding down the aisle. She smiled, “Hello, Phase.”
“Hi Silv. How are you doing?”
“Good. Sheeb thought you might be taking this course too. Nacht acted like you were going to be taking every one of the English Lit special courses.”
I smiled, “Well, not Joseph Conrad. The others I couldn’t fit into my schedule.”
She asked, “Is it true that you’re taking the ‘superhero’ schedule this term? Jadis thought you were going to take Team Tactics with your friends.”
I nodded, “Yeah. Given how many times we’ve needed it since September, it makes sense.”
The girl on the other side of Silv asked, “What has there been since September? Halloween was frightening, but other than that…”
Silv said, “Phase, this is Quyèn Nũ. Nũ? This is Phase, of Team Kimba.”
Quyèn Nũ? It sounded Asian, but not Chinese or Japanese. Maybe Vietnamese or Thai or Laotian. I still didn’t know if it was her name or her codename.”
Quyèn Nũ suddenly had a look of understanding. “Ahh. The freshmen who pounded the Alphas. It didn’t sound from what I heard as if you needed any help.”
Silv smiled, “They’re also the one who fought the ninjas the night before school started.”
“And we beat ‘em again on Parents’ Day,” I added. “Plus a lot of individual fights, plus two trips to Boston, both of which put us up against the Necromancer and the Children of the Night. Plus half a dozen incidents just over the Christmas holidays.”
Silver Serpent added, “And they produced some of the most entertaining combat finals in the lower grades. Chaka is on their team, and Lancer, and Fey, and Bladedancer, and Tennyo.”
Nũ smiled wickedly, “Much of the junior class enjoyed Bladedancer’s fight against Nex. Is it really true that she’s a baseline?”
I shrugged, “I doubt it, but if she is, then she’s Imbued.” Two different powers evaluations had turned up two ridiculously different results, so I was guessing that the Tao or her sword - or something - was making the tests come out wrong. But I wasn’t going to say that out loud.
Silv opened her mouth to ask me something, but she changed her mind. She shook her head slightly and said, “Never mind.”
Before I had a chance to ask her what she wanted to say, a teacher walked in and took up position behind the front desk. The woman smiled, “Good afternoon, class. I’m Miss Devlin of the English Department, and I’ll be teaching this course this term. Now we only have two days this week, three days in each of the next six weeks, and one last day before finals. So in six and two-halves weeks, we’re only going to cover six plays. We’ll read three of Shakespeare’s comedies, then three of his tragedies. The order will be…” She started writing on the blackboard. “First ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, then ‘Much Ado about Nothing’, ‘Twelfth Night’, ‘Hamlet’, ‘Macbeth’, and finally ‘Othello’.”
I sighed to myself. Well, she’d picked the most popular plays. No faulting her there. But I’d read all of them already! Okay, it wouldn’t hurt to re-read the classics.
“In addition to the plays, we’ll have assigned literary criticisms in the Reserved room in the library. There will lecture that you’ll be expected to listen to, as well as classroom discussion. And I also have some film footage to show you. One of our alums got us recordings of several of the best performance put on at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival, and we’ll watch their performances of ‘Much Ado about Nothing’, which is really funny, and ‘Macbeth’, which is really quite striking. The grading for the class will be based on four parts. You’ll have to write a three-page paper on one of the comedies, and a three-page paper on one of the tragedies. There will be a final exam at the scheduled class time on the Wednesday of finals period. The final exam is 30% of your grade, the papers are 30% each, and classroom discussion is the last 10%. Are there any questions?”
I put up my hand, but Miss Devlin pointed at a girl sitting toward the back of the room. The girl whined, “Three page papers? Two of them? Can’t we, like, pick one of them to do?”
Miss Devlin gave the girl a glare. “Of course you can choose not to hand in one of the papers… But that will give you a zero on that portion of your grade. Alternatively, you can drop the course today.”
I put my hand back up. I didn’t know what that whiner was fussing about. Two three-page papers sounded pretty darn easy to me. When Miss Devlin nodded my way, I asked, “Are the literary criticisms in the Reserved room yet?”
She actually looked slightly abashed. “Umm, no. But they’ll all be there by Friday’s class. And there will be multiple copies, so more than one person can read the papers at a time. I’ll go ahead and hand out a list of the papers now.”
While she handed out the list, she answered a couple more questions. It seemed that the class mainly wanted to whine about having papers and a final both, or other annoying crap like that. Jeez! What did they think life would be like when they got to college? Or senior-level classes? I thought they ought to learn how to do it now! Learning how to write papers - and how to write papers efficiently - was one of the best things I got out of junior high English at Chilton.
I glanced over the list of literary criticisms while she got started with her lecture. It looked like she had two or three papers for each of the plays. I hadn’t read any of the critiques before. Maybe this class would be okay after all.
She said, “I will expect everyone in the class to have read ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ by Monday class, and I’ll expect some engaging class discussion. Today and Friday, I’ll talk about Shakespeare’s England, and other background material that will help to make the plays more meaningful. So the first thing I want to talk about is… Who wrote Shakespeare’s plays. There have been arguments about this for hundreds of years. I’ll tell you right now: I believe that William Shakespeare wrote his own plays. But let’s talk about this, because it will come up in the occasional criticism, not to mention in some modern contexts. So… Who knows some of the people who have been suggested as the ‘real’ authors of Shakespeare’s plays?”
I put my hand up. So did Silver Serpent, and a number of other people around the room.
Miss Devlin pointed at someone behind me and said, “Coreolis?”
The girl said, “Sir Francis Bacon.” I watched as about half the hands went down.
Miss Devlin pointed in my direction. “Silver Serpent?”
Silv said, “Also, Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe.” Almost all the remaining hands dropped.
Finally, Miss Devlin pointed at me and said, “Phase?”
I said, “I think nearly every major Elizabethan author has been suggested as the - or one of the - authors. Sir Walter Raleigh. Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. The Earl of Derby, the Earl of Rutland, the Earl of Southampton, the Earl of Essex, and pretty much every famous person who could write.”
Miss Devlin smiled, “I take it you’ve read about this.”
I nodded, “Yes ma’am. I agree with you on this. Most of these men couldn’t write a comedic play to save their lives. And I read a paper on forensic linguistics where the author claimed that none of them had the same writing ‘habits’ as Shakespeare.”
She gave me another smile. “Thank you. Professor Zinn did tell me about you and Silver Serpent, so I’ll expect some good papers from you two.”
Silv and I exchanged smirks.
The rest of the class was actually pretty interesting, as Miss Devlin talked about Elizabethan England and how different it was from today. She wrapped up by saying, “And on Friday, we’ll talk about how language has changed. You won’t want to miss that, because you’ll see a teacher discussing Shakespearean words that used to be slang for sex. There are a lot of them in Shakespeare’s comedies.”
I could tell that several of the guys in the class were actually motivated by that. Some people had the literary interests of a dead tuna. In those guys’ case, I suppose that ought to be changed to the interests of a spawning salmon.
Once class ended, I rushed back to the Eastman Annex and changed clothes. It was easy to go light and walk out of all my clothes. I just couldn’t pull a Jade and animate my clothes so they were held out perfectly for me to walk into them. Hmm… On the other hand, I probably could make Jade’s clothes go light so she could animate them and walk into them, if we timed it just right. There were some major potential problems to overcome, but I’d think about it.
Once I was dressed, I rushed out to the mat and got in a few warm-up stretches before we all needed to rush over to sit at the edge of the mat.
Then Ito had us doing stretches and warm-ups before he moved us onto lessons. Everyone who was supposed to be working with bokken or shinai or anything similar (including me) was in one group, where sensei Beaumont was teaching us the forms. That included Sledge and Judicator and Interface and Tennyo. Beaumont had Interface working individually with people who were learning the beginning forms, while she concentrated on more advanced students, and students whose weapons were a little different. She had Tennyo working with a regular bokken instead of her energy sword, but that wasn’t slowing Tennyo down any.
Tolman had a much smaller group of students who were working with throwing weapons and sais and shorter edged weapons. Lancer was over there with a pair of sais that I wouldn’t want to go up against; I was willing to bet he’d already cast his PK field over them. Aquerna was working with a pair of kama, and Shadowolf was working with a pair of fighting claws. There were two more kids in that group that I didn’t know.
Ito soke had the rest of the class. Blitz was working with a knotted rope, which I figured was Step One in learning the fighting chain. There was a guy I didn’t know who was looking pretty fancy doing what looked like capoeira with a knife in each hand. Generator was over there working with her nunchaku, and Shroud was working with about fifteen throwing knives. And Chaka was trying out a fracking meteor hammer. A meteor hammer! As if that girl wasn’t scary enough already. The weapon that Ito gave her didn’t have a big spiked metal ball at one end and a kama-like hook at the other, as I expected. No, Ito started her out with the beginner’s version. It was a long chain that had a hemispherical bowl secured to each end. I tried to peek now and then, as Interface ran us neophytes through several basic sword forms. But I managed to catch Ito filling both bowls nearly to the top with water before Toni started swinging the things around.
Okay, I cheated. I stepped back from the line of students practicing our sword forms, and signaled Interface to come over. Then I stood so I could watch Toni without being too obvious about it.
Interface stepped over and asked, “What’s the problem, Phase? Need help with some of the movements?”
I confessed, “I really just wanted a few seconds so I could watch Chaka crank it up.”
He frowned, “You need to be focusing on your own work. And she’s never done this before. Right? No one gets this on the first try. No one gets this completely right on the fiftieth try. That’s why Blitz is working with a rope dart, and Chaka has bowls of water. She’ll be amazing if she graduates to the next step by the end of term.”
Chaka stood between the two bowls and took a deep, centering breath. She held the chain to one bowl in each hand. She snapped her left wrist, and suddenly the left-hand bowl was spinning in a vicious vertical loop.
“Shit,” he gasped. “Is she like A-Plus? Or Zenith?”
Chaka snapped her right wrist, and both bowls were spinning in fast vertical loops, one on either side of her.
“Okay, that’s pretty impressive for a first try, but she’ll never be able to move from there to the basic positions where-”
Suddenly Chaka did this hands-free cartwheel to her right, taking the right-hand bowl with her so it spun in a horizontal circle while the left-hand bowl kept spinning vertically.
“No way!” he finished.
“Way,” I said, just to be a pain.
She did a hands-free cartwheel back to her left, and suddenly the left-hand bowl was spinning in a circle over her head while the right-hand bowl was spinning in a vertical circle. And the two circles overlapped. Somehow she was timing it so the chains didn’t touch.
Interface gasped, “Oh my God.”
She shifted her shoulders, and the chain slid. Suddenly the right-hand bowl flew out toward the far wall like a cannonball, only to leap back to her when it hit the end of the chain. The left-hand bowl kept whirling over her head like nothing else had changed.
“Good God Almi-”
“Interface! Phase! What are you doing! Why aren’t you working?” Beaumont stormed over to us, preparing to rip us both a new one. She froze and stared at Chaka, who was now…
I looked back to check. Oh no, that wasn’t possible. Chaka was doing a handstand. She had one bowl spinning in a tight circle in her left hand, and she was keeping the other bowl going with a foot.
Beaumont watched in wonder. “Sensei didn’t tell me Chaka had years of experience with a meteor hammer.”
“She doesn’t,” I corrected. “She just started a few minutes ago.”
“No,” Beaumont said confidently. “No one gets good enough to show off like that without years of practice.”
“Check with soke,” I told her. “Chaka’s never used a meteor hammer before. I’ll bet she doesn’t know a single one of the forms. Yet.”
She started to reply, “I…”
But Chaka suddenly did a real cartwheel using both hands. One bowl spinning about her left hand, one bowl spinning about her right foot, and she did three consecutive cartwheels without a break, ending up on her feet with the bowls once again spinning in vertical loops about her hands. Then she twisted both hands, and the loops shifted so that they formed a ‘V’, with the bowls nearly hitting each other only inches above the mat. And she was doing a jumprope routine to keep her feet out of the way!
Damn, is there anything that girl can’t do?
“CLASS!” snapped sensei Beaumont. I took a quick glance, and almost everyone had stopped to watch Toni The Human Highlight Reel. Uh-oh. “Drop and give me 100! NOW!” She took a breath and added, “Exemplars, bricks, PDPs, avatars, and Energizers. Make that 300!”
I cheated again. I dropped into a position so that I could peek at Toni every time I did a push-up. I don’t think she lost a drop in half an hour of practicing with that thing. And I cheated when my arms got tired, since I was only an Exemplar-3. I went a little light, so it was easier to do the push-ups. I’m such a weasel sometimes. Then I took some Advil when I changed clothes after class. I had a feeling I was going to need it in a couple hours, when all those push-ups caught up with me.
As we were walking back to Poe, Chaka was utterly excited about her new toy. “This is totally off the hook!”
You know, sometimes I have no idea what Toni’s saying. If I hadn’t heard the raw excitement in her voice, I would have been clueless about her feelings. ‘Off the hook’? Who makes this shit up? And why am I always the last teenager on the planet to hear this stuff? At least Vanessa explains slang to me.
She went on, “Soke said tomorrow he might let me use lamp oil instead. Then I can light it on fire!”
“Great,” I groaned. “Open bowls of burning lamp oil, being slung around at a zillion miles an hour by a maniac. Can I work out in another building?”
Generator said, “Hey, you can dive through the floor when she sets fire to the whole dojo. The rest of us are kind of stuck there.”
Shroud managed to roll her eyes pretty convincingly. “And you can’t just charge us into my clothes and fly away?”
“I think the Pronoun Police are going to have to call in the Grammar Federales on that sentence,” I complained.
“Not the Grammar Nazis?” Chaka smirked.
“No, definitely not the Grammar Nazis, “I insisted. “They were defeated by the Grammar Bobbies and the Grammar Sureté in a no-holds-barred wrestling match.”
“With folding chairs!” added Generator.
I shut up, because I didn’t want to admit I had no idea what she was talking about. Everyone else obviously did. Even Sahar, and she had only learned English a few years ago! Okay, Sahar was probably cheating again with Zenith’s Database technique. I was going to have to restrict my metaphors to areas I knew about.
Aries zipped past us a few seconds later, and that was enough distraction from my inadequacies. He stopped to give me a look, and then he took off away from Melville toward the little forest glen we had used before.
“Wonder what he’s up to?” Chaka said.
“Probably keeping an eye on us for the Alphas. Same as usual,” said Fey.
Shroud said, “At least he didn’t seem angry or vengeful. Just sort of.. focused.”
I stopped and pretended to check my pants pocket. “My cellphone’s vibrating. Hang on.” I pulled it out and put it to my ear. “Umm, hang on. Call me back in one minute.” I turned to the group and said, “Sorry, I need to take this call. I’ll catch up with you later, okay?”
“Just watch out for Aries,” Lancer pointed out.
“I could go with you and play bodyguard,” Tennyo offered.
I thought about it for a second. Billie was completely trustworthy, and was invulnerable to Psi attacks. Plus she could handle most magic, and she was regarded as the most dangerous student on campus. Well, she probably was the most dangerous student on campus, if you forced her to fight. It was time I brought someone else in on this secret.
I said, “You’re on. How about you fly me straight toward Macfarlane?” Then I lied, “There’s a little glen I like to use. It’s got cell reception, but it’s hard to tap the connection because the signal hops back and forth between the Melville and Kane cell towers.”
I went slightly heavy and let her wrap an arm around me. Then she jetted off toward the gymnasium at about a hundred fifty miles an hour. I pointed out the spot, and waited until we landed to tell her the truth.
As soon as she set me down, she said, “That wasn’t a phone call. You were faking it. You’re up to something.” I opened my mouth to ask how she knew, but she just pointed at her ears.
Oh. Right. Superhuman hearing. “Okay, there’s something important you need to know. This isn’t a phone call. It’s a meet with Aries.”
“What?” she gasped.
I hurried to explain, “He’s been providing me with intel on the Alphas for a few months now. I’ve been making it worth his while. No one knows but Aries and me.”
Aries stepped out from the trees. “And now her. Why her?”
I waved him closer, and he zipped up to us. “Because Tennyo is as close to impervious as we have around here. No one can read her mind. Not even Hamper and Damper can affect her psychically. She’s demonstrated repeatedly that she can keep a secret, and you know there’s no way anybody’s ever going to squeeze information out of her. She’s the perfect ally. If anything ever goes wrong, she can testify that you weren’t attacking me. And vice versa. We need to add people to this loop, and they need to be people we both can trust. Plus, if anyone ever wises up, she’s more than enough protection for both of us.”
He thought about it for a few seconds. “Well, okay. But neither of you can blab about this one, because the only people who heard it were me and Solange and Kodiak and The Don and Icer. If this gets out, then the Alphas will know it was either me or Icer, and I’ll be in major trouble.”
“Okay…” I temporized.
“We searched Hekate and The Don’s rooms after the big Cav-and-Sky explosion. Hekate had some sort of spell that ate everything in her closet, it was something so nasty that Spellbinder didn’t want to get near it, so we don’t know what she had in there. The Don’s room was wrecked, but Kodiak ripped open his lockbox and found half a dozen DVDs. Most of ‘em were pretty much what we expected. Him boffing Taser and then blackmailing her into helping him. Him boffing Crystalline. Ditto. But there was one that really tore things up. He was making Cavalier do… Well, it was sick. And he was gloating about how Hekate did some mystical stuff on Cavalier and Skybolt, and they were frigging mindslaves the whole time! And Sebastiano knew it! Kodiak put the DVD through the clubhouse disintegrator, but that’s why he and Solange kicked Sebastiano out of the Alphas. I swear, I thought Kody was gonna rip his legs off! I’ve never seen Kodiak that mad before. But Solange has Hekate’s keys and passcodes, so she’s really running the Alphas now. She wants to make a big splash with this party, and she wants to keep an eye out on threats to the Alphas. The list is basically the Golds, the Uber-jocks, the G.O.B., and the New Olympians. Team Kimba isn’t on that radar, so you should be Alpha-free for at least this term. Oh, and you’ve got to get a copy of The Don’s injury report. Read it in private, so people don’t see you laughing over it.”
He zipped off at high speed.
Tennyo looked at me. “Laughing about an injury report?”
I shrugged, “You got me. Maybe ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos’ has a funny injuries category.”
She told me, “They pretty much do. Mostly whacks to the balls. If they’re not videos of funny animals, they’re videos of some guy getting hammered in the crotch by accident.”
Okay, I didn’t know that. I didn’t want to know it, either. I switched topics. “Okay, it looks like I was right about Solange. So she probably did have a pawn plant that tracker.”
She nodded, “But it doesn’t have to be the same pawn she used on the blackmail note.”
“Extortion note,” I automatically corrected. “And you’re right. We’ll just have to keep an eye out.”
We headed back toward Poe. She said, “Pretty handy having a spy in the Alpha camp. Especially one that no one would guess. Everyone thinks Aries hates your guts.”
I nodded. “Yeah, that’s Team Kimba. How to win enemies and influence people to hate you.”
She asked, “So, do we tell the team?”
I shook my head no. “Not yet. We don’t have any new intel. And I really don’t want to risk my source getting exposed. Because, if I’m wrong about the ‘only one pawn’ bit, the second pawn could easily be one of us.”
“You don’t mean one of Team Kimba?” she asked angrily.
“Could be,” I said. “If not one of us, then one of our auxiliaries. Lancer’s vulnerable to Psi, so it could be him. Or Lily. Or Rip, or Bunny, or even Jade or Chou or Chaka. Maybe even Vox, although I really don’t want to think about that. The only people I’m really sure of are you and Nikki. And me, because if that bitch Tansy had been able to get to me, she would have already had me doing stuff that would have gotten me expelled. Or killed. Or worse.”
“Ayla, sometimes you’re a really suspicious bitch,” she growled.
I had a sudden temptation to say, “Why thank you!” I didn’t. I just felt uncomfortable. I didn’t want to suspect my own friends. I didn’t want to suspect Jody, or Verdant, or Punch, or Scrambler, or Megs. Heck, I didn’t want to have to suspect Flux or Risk either. Both of them could be a royal pain when they tried to be, but then so could I. And Risk was feeding me intel from the bookies’ network. Not to mention that both of them were pretty funny guys. But I had learned from Father that at times like this, you had to play it so close to the chest that it was inside your undershirt. Father had once spent four months not telling anyone except Uncle Herb about the leak he was tracking down, as someone in Goodkind International was apparently leaking news that was affecting stock prices during a major acquisition. It turned out to be a senior Vice President that Father had trusted implicitly, and the guy was doing it solely to make illegal profits on the stock market, when the profits that he made didn’t come close to the golden parachute he would have gotten if he had played it straight and just retired at the right age. I’m talking about a guy that had been over for dinner with the family. Sometimes being the intelligence officer sucks rocks. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be done.
Tennyo fiercely muttered, “If Tansy got to Jade somehow and made her a pawn, I’m gonna rip her face off.”
All I said was “Dibs.”
Greasy swiped his hair out of his face and concentrated on the CAD-CAM system. It wasn’t any harder to design doll clothes than it was to design a full-sized superhero outfit on the system, and it took a lot less time for the computer cutting system to crank out the doll clothes. It just took a while to get the clothes on the little shoulder angels, and then make sure the clothes stayed where they were supposed to.
He looked at the clothes coming off the stamper and grinned. Peeper was going to be so surprised that he was this far along! He started tugging the tiny clothes onto the Solange angels. The shoes were definitely the worst to work with, since they had to go over the connection system to the shoulder components…
“Hey Greez! What up, dawg?” called out Peeper. “Hey, how are the little angels comin’ along?” There was a stunned pause as Peeper saw the table of equipment. “HOLY MOTHERFUCKIN’ CHRIST!”
“Uhh yeah, I got a few of them done already, Peeper.”
“They’re incredible!” gushed Peeper. “They look.. like they’re almost real!”
Greasy explained, “Well, I used my synthetic skin over the wire understructure, so they look better.”
Peeper looked like he was about to have an excitement coronary. “Yeah, I can see the frames underneath. But… Do.. do they work? Can they move and talk and stuff?”
“Oh yeah,” Greasy said. “I got that part done first. Watch this.” He clamped something like a wide plastic wristwatch band around his left wrist. Then he slipped on something that looked like the upper six inches of a vest, except that it was made of plastic and metal. He slipped his Whateley blazer on over both. Then he picked up the Fey shoulder angels. The smiling Fey in sexy white mini-robe with fluffy white wings went on his right shoulder. The glowering Fey in the black bustier/miniskirt combo with the black batwings went on his left shoulder. They appeared to float a fraction of an inch above the blazer.
“Holy shit! That’s awesome!” Peeper shrieked. “Make ‘em do something! Something sexy!”
Greasy tried to keep his smile under wraps as he pressed a couple buttons on the wristband.
The Fey shoulder devil put her hands on her hips and leered in a really good approximation of Fey’s voice, “Just what did you have in mind? And can you afford to offend the Sidhe with your naughty thoughts?”
“Wow.” Peeper was so amazed that it came out as a mere whisper.
The Fey shoulder angel crossed her arms under her ample breasts and said, “We must strive to be our best. Even if that best is terribly, terribly sexy.”
Greasy watched with interest as Peeper did a little victory dance. Peeper wasn’t a good dancer, but Greasy didn’t mind.
Peeper gasped, “How’d you do it? How’d you make ‘em float like that?”
Greasy admitted, “That part was easy. It’s Techno-Devil’s maglev system, just cut down to something that only weighs a couple ounces. The talking and responding is based on Triaxial’s AI chatroom software - Jericho adapted the shit out of it for his own shoulder angels, and I traded him for it. The movement system is Kludge’s, and the plastic skin is my stuff. The CAD-CAM software for getting the 3-D bodies and the clothing is from Overclock. And Nephandus traded me a booby trap that’s inside the dolls in case someone tries to destroy them. Pretty much everyone’s trading me their parts for my artificial skin, since it looks better than anyone else’s.”
Peeper leered at the Fey shoulder angels some more. “Good thinking, oh greasy one! Okay, who do you have besides Fey?”
Greasy pointed at the table. Peeper rushed over to caress each of the tiny models. He muttered, “Okay, Phase. Same outfits we saw the other day. Good… These Fey angels will sell like hotcakes… Wow, these Poise angels are gonna be a HUGE hit… Solange! I love it!”
“Uhh, Peeper, could you stop groping the puppets?”
Peeper turned back to Greasy. He was holding a Solange shoulder devil and a Solange shoulder angel. They were both half-naked. The devil was in naughty black lingerie, and the angel was in virginal white lingerie. Both looked like sluts.
Peeper grinned, “These look like Solange the day Skinwalker possessed her body and took her for that test drive around Twain!”
Greasy nodded, “Yeah. I got copies of all the photos everyone had, and built the Solange models from those.” He admitted, “The dolls are really all the same, except for the outer forms and the clothes. Okay, there’s some customizing on what they say, but it’s not that complex. The voices are easy, since they’re just synthesized. So I think we’re ready for our first sales tomorrow.”
Peeper looked like he was going to jump for joy. He chortled, “We’ll need ten of each! For starters! Well, make it three on the Phase angels. They’re not gonna sell like the others. Maybe you could crank out some other angels while you’re at it. Start with more Fey and Poise angels.”
“But Peeper, that’ll mean I’ll be here all night!”
Peeper nodded, “Thanks for volunteering!” He threw an arm around Greasy and smirked, “You’re the greatest!” He took off, rubbing his hands together and chortling with glee.
Greasy watched sadly until Peeper’s raucous laughter could no longer be heard. He sighed, “Yeah, I’ve heard that before too.” What he really wanted wasn’t ever going to happen. He sighed and went back to work.
Once Tennyo and I got back to Poe, I went straight to my room. It was driving me nuts that I didn’t get that ‘folding chair’ ref Jade threw out. I pulled up my personal laptop and searched the internet on both ‘folding chair’ and ‘wrestling’.
And people thought this was real? Okay, this was more about pro wrestling than I wanted to know. This was just disturbing. Although that ‘chocolate pudding match’ between those two hot women wrestlers in lingerie was hard to stop watching. Maybe I’d better bookmark that, just in case…
And, while I was thinking about lust, it was probably time to check and see if Sara’s room was back in Poe. I had a private favor I wanted to ask her, and every time I’d gone through the basement this term, her room had been missing in action.
I floated down through the floor, into the lobby area. There were a lot of people moving around, so I stopped to see what was going on. Shove and Stoner and Askey were all moving my way at high speed. In fact, Shove cut right through me to beat the other two to the stairs. This didn’t look good. I moved in closer. I floated down to the floor and went heavy. That was about the time that the crowd had spread out enough that I could see what was happening.
It was Delta Spike. She was back in her superheroine garb, with the same two shoulder angels as yesterday. And the shoulder angels were both glowing. Most of the room was running away, expecting the shoulder angels to explode. Or worse.
Electrode saw me and stopped on her way out the front door. She tilted her head toward Delta and muttered, “Are you sure Poe isn’t really the nuthouse dorm?”
As the room emptied, Delta cried out, “Aw come on! They haven’t blown up for…” She quickly glanced at her wristwatch. “…over eight hours!” The room really cleared out then.
“Almost nine!” she insisted desperately.
I dove through the floor and into the basement hallway. Sara’s room was finally back in Poe. With my luck, she’d be too busy ‘getting busy’ with one of her harem to have time for me. But there was only one way to find out.
I knocked on her door. Then I stood there calmly, with my hands behind my back. Okay, I was only pretending to be calm. After only a second, Sara called out, “Who is it?”
I rolled my eyes. One of the most powerful psychics at Whateley, and she was pretending she didn’t know exactly who was in the hall, and probably precisely why I was there.
She opened the door and smiled, “Hi, Ayla. Yes, I did know it was you. And no, I don’t know why you’re here.” I opened my mouth to point out that she knew I was there for a reason, and she cut me off. “You never drop by just to talk. That’s how I know you’re here for a reason.”
I stepped in and said, “I came to ask you for a favor.”
Suddenly her fangs vanished and her cheeks plumped up absurdly. She slipped into the voice of an old Italian man. “Bonasera, Bonasera, what have I ever done to make you to treat me so disrespectfully? If you had come to me in friendship, then this scum that ruined your daughter would be suffering this very day.”
Okay, I laughed. It was a really good Marlon Brando impression. “Wait a minute, wait a minute… Let me think…” It took a minute to dredge up the memory of watching that movie with Uncle Theo and Paul and Day. “Ah. I’ve got it.” I cleared my throat and said, “Be my friend… Godfather.”
She grinned back, even though my impression was ultra-lame. “Very nice. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find someone around here who has an appreciation for old movies? And will talk to me? Englund and Carson both go back far enough to remember ‘Gone With the Wind’ when it first came out in theaters, but it’s not like I can invite either one over for movies and popcorn. And the J-Team? I love Jade, but if it’s not ‘Hello Kitty’ or magical girls, forget it.”
It suddenly occurred to me that I was talking to someone who was nearly thirty real-time, and had probably seen a lot of the movies Uncle Theo had only told me about. I told her, “Then come up to our room Sunday evening. Chou and Molly and I are going to watch ‘Rashomon’ in Japanese. Sub-titled. There’s even popcorn.”
I watched the changes in her face. Usually, she’s the Great Stone Face. But this time, as she was dropping the ‘Godfather’ features, she slipped. Shifters can be amazingly expressive if they want to be. Or in this case, if they don’t want to be, but aren’t thinking about it. And what she ended up with looked like surprised gratitude.
Oh yeah. There probably weren’t very many people inviting the horrific carnivorous demon to come over. Other than Hip and Paige and Gypsy.
She switched back to her normal bland expression and said, “You never did tell what huge favor you wanted from me.”
I admitted, “Well, my friend Jon… I didn’t get him a Hanukah present because I didn’t know how he’d react, since I’m a mutant now… But he got me a nice Christmas gift. Even though he’d heard that I.. manifested. I figured that you could give him a much better present than I could.
She was way ahead of me. She grinned wickedly, “Or rather, Marala could. Right?”
“Right,” I agreed. It was always easier doing business with smart people. You didn’t have to explain all the details and consequences.
She laughed maniacally. And believe me, Sara has a Supervillain Hall Of Fame maniacal laugh. She purred, “I know just the thing. Now that Marala has moved up from monster to demonic entity, she needs to start creating quest items. Your friend Jon is going to get to go on the first quest for one of the Dark Gems of Marala. And you can tell him where he needs to go. Plus, you can warn him that he’s going to need an experienced Dark Elf, a level 9 Cleric, and a mage who’s at least Level 11, in addition to the usual warriors and dungeon-crawl types.”
“Wow, that’s great,” I said. “I owe you one for this.”
She waved it off, “No, this is something I need to do as part of my demon-hood. In GEO, not in real life. And having someone really wield one of my items will give me more power. He’ll use it, and show it off, and talk about it. So more people will want to get them. Having people seek my quest items and worship me will give me enough power to move up the demon foodchain. This is perfect. I think I’m going to have to start practicing my GEO demon laugh.”
I told her, “If there are any demons who already have laughs more diabolical than yours, I don’t want to meet ‘em. And I still owe you a favor for this one.”
She gave me an evil smile with way too many fangs showing. “You ought to know the risks involved in owing a favor to something like me.”
I nodded, “To someone like you? If you weren’t trustworthy, I’d be worried.” But I wasn’t. Not really. Okay, I’d been fairly suspicious for a long time, but I had to admit I had over-reacted. She’d had plenty of time to do some massively destructive things, and the worst she’d done was defend herself from assassins. Hip wasn’t pregnant, and neither was Gypsy. Sara had even refused to fix Jade when Jade had offered her pretty much everything, just to protect Jade when she was begging to be taken advantage of. Plus there was that deal Sara had made with Nikki. If one of the Sidhe trusted her that much, I wasn’t going to worry about owing her a small favor like this one.
Before I left, I said, “There is one other thing.” She raised one eyebrow. “Do you know anything about a major demon called.. umm…” I cleared my throat and tried to pronounce the sounds I had heard. “BKCRMWDJVG. That’s about as close as I can get to it.”
She goggled at me. “Surely you don’t mean BKCRMWDJVG, do you?” The way she said it - like she wasn’t using her throat or tongue, but something far less human - sounded so much like what I had heard that I involuntarily shuddered.
“Oh yeah,” I winced. “That’s right on the money.”
She frowned, “You shouldn’t even know how to pronounce its name.”
“It told me enough times, I ought to have a decent idea of the pronunciation.”
She glared, “What in the name of… Never mind. You don’t want to hear that, either. Tell me the story. The entire story.”
After I did - and she didn’t laugh at the ‘make Ayla get a bodywax and dress him like a Barbie doll’ part - she slowly shook her head. “Ayla, this is not good. You don’t want to make enemies like BKCRMWDJVG. It’s a vengeful son of a… Well, it isn’t going to take a humiliation like that. Some day, you’re going to have to face it again, and it will be better prepared. You’d better be prepared too.”
“Thanks,” I muttered. “You’re really cheering me up, you know?”
“I’m not the Good Humor Man,” she pointed out.
“Not even any popsicles in your freezer?” I snarked.
She leered, “You want to see my Nutty Buddy? Know what I mean? Know what I mean?”
“Say no more! Say no more!” I laughed.
She grinned back, “You know, maybe I will take you up on the Sunday night thing, if the offer still stands?”
I nodded, “Sure it does. Where else can I find someone who gets my weird references? Since it’ll just be the four of us, and not the human vacuum cleaners, I’ll make the good popcorn.”
I left her room, feeling like I had either done a really nice thing, or a phenomenally stupid thing.
I spent the time until dinner reading my mail, going over Team Tactics references, and hoping Vox would drop by to brighten up my afternoon. Oh well. Two out of three wasn’t bad. At least the packet from Trin and Macintyre was informative. Actually, it was way more informative than I expected.
For once, dinner at the Team Kimba table was tamer than what was going on in the rest of the caff. As I stood in line, I noticed that shoulder angels were all over the place.
Majestic had conjured up new-and-improved shoulder angels for herself and Imperious. Unsurprisingly, theirs were ‘happy god’ and ‘angry god’ shoulder angels wearing little off-white chitons. Majestic might be a royal pain, but at least she was good on the historical accuracy issues. For obvious reasons, if she really was walking around with the spirit of Hera in her.
Spellbinder and Conjure both had what I was guessing were little magical shoulder angels too. They were sitting over at the Alpha table with Tansy and Kodiak, and - based on where they were pointing and chortling - making fun of a bunch of Good Ol’ Boyz several tables over.
A couple other high-end mages had done the same. Also, Beltane had her ectoplasm shoulder angels back, and a couple other Manifestors had manifested their own shoulder angels - not that most of the Manifestors had that level of control. Several of the better Shifters had gone the Jimmy T route and shifted up a couple little shoulder angels for themselves. Confundus walked past with Grapple and several of his Uber-Jock buddies, and I noted that she had shoulder angels too. Since her specialty was illusions, it was pretty easy to guess how she did it. Tumbler, the head female of the Uber-Jocks (who were mostly guys, unsurprisingly), had little puppets on her shoulders that really didn’t do more than do the same gymnastic move over and over, but it was better than what some of the devisers had managed so far. And then there were all the devisers, who were still trying to get their shoulder angels to work right, with varying degrees of success.
I had already put together a salad of baby greens with a mustard vinaigrette, plus a serving of baked winter veggies that was mostly potatoes and parsnips and onion. But I was on the lookout for a dinner treat. That was when I noticed the head peeking out from the kitchen area.
A minute later, chef Marcel emerged with a plate for me. He murmured, “It’s Belgian endive risotto with Taleggio and walnuts. Peter said you really liked the endive and apple salad, so we decided on a nice risotto for dinner.”
“Thanks!” I hurried to get a glass of milk and get back to our table, so I could try it out.
It smelled delicious. Taleggio cheese has a strong aroma, even if it has a comparatively mild taste. So I was sure I was smelling the Taleggio. That, and the rich chicken stock and sautéed onion that Marcel had used for the risotto. The texture was perfect. Rich and creamy, but just a little too thick to be pourable. The Arborio rice was chewy and just slightly firm, exactly the way it ought to be. The toasted walnuts and chopped fresh parsley were an attractive garnish that added another subtle layer to the risotto. It tasted as delicious as it smelled. The Taleggio gave it just the lightest hint of fruitiness too, and there was a dry white wine in it that I couldn’t quite identify. Maybe a Chardonnay. If Marcel hadn’t given me such a large portion, I would have been going back to beg for seconds.
Nikki suddenly said, “Hey Chaka, Ayla’s got another treat. Wanna risk this one?”
Chaka looked at me, then at my food. “Is it safe yet?” she hissed.
“One, that’s the worst Lawrence Olivier impression known to man. And two, the green mixed in with the rice is more of the Belgian endive you gagged on at lunch,” I said.
“Man!” she complained. “What is it with you and freaky food?”
I gave her a raised eyebrow. “Endive is not ‘freaky food’. It’s popular in a lot of places. Unfortunately, it’s one of the fad veggies right now, which means it’s going to show up on ultra-trendy restaurant menus in annoying ways. But this is really good.”
“If you say so,” she replied sarcastically.
“You tell dat bitch, homegirl!” snapped a cute little ‘Toni as a gangsta girl’ shoulder devil that had just appeared on her left shoulder. “What up wi’ dat?” The shoulder devil was wearing lowrider jeans that appeared to be staying on her hips solely through the use of glue, or maybe magic. That went with a shiny black tube top and a pair of black batwings. And a pair of hoop earrings that on a life-size person would have been the size of a hubcap. Her hair had big pompoms tied up where pigtails would stick out. The batwings had gang tattoos all over them.
“That isn’t very nice,” insisted a matching shoulder angel. “We should encourage other people and respect their cultures, just as we expect them to respect ours.” The shoulder angel had an off-the-shoulder white minidress and white angel wings, plus a pair of white skyscraper heels that even the real Toni wouldn’t wear. Not to mention a pair of white hoop earrings that were even bigger than the shoulder devil’s.
The shoulder devil replied, “Shut up, or I’ll take you down ta my homes in the hood and let ‘em whap you upside the haid some.”
“I won’t dignify that nonsense with an answer,” said the shoulder angel.
Chaka put one finger into the shoulder devil and concentrated. It flickered slightly, but didn’t vanish. That clearly told her what she wanted to know. She stopped and looked around the table. She hissed, “Jade! And you too, Bunny! Knock it off!” Jade and Bunny were giggling too hard to deny their involvement.
The shoulder devil started to rap – really, really badly.
I’ll put a cap in yo ass
An’ I’ll do it reel fast
Afore you kin ask
Whut I gots ta pass
The entire table – except for Toni, of course – began giggling insanely. Toni was somewhere between really revolted and terribly embarrassed.
Toni held her napkin for a moment, probably charging her Ki into it, and then tossed it into the air. It spread open and drifted over Jade’s purse. That was when I noticed that Jade had her ‘big’ purse from Thuban lying on the table, with its flap open. And the opening was pointing at Toni. Oh. I should have known instantly.
As soon as the napkin drifted down and covered the opening of the purse, the shoulder angels vanished. The voices didn’t, but they were a lot more muffled. Toni gave Jade a superior smirk and went back to her meal.
Lancer just said, “Doesn’t work as well if your target knows what you’re doing.”
Bugs tugged carelessly on one pigtail. “Maybe a dummy projector…”
Jade elbowed her and pointed at Peeper and Greasy. “Or maybe a dumber target!”
“Yeah!” Bugs breathed.
“All right,” Fey agreed.
“Absolutely,” I put in.
Jade got up from the table, with Bunny following her lead. “So sorry, but we really must go,” she smiled.
“You can leave your trays,” I said. “Picking up two extra trays is worth it for this.”
“Heck, every girl in this room is gonna want to carry your tray for this one,” Chaka added.
The whole table watched as Bugs and Generator tried to act casual. They sat down at a table behind Peeper, and we waited as Bugs whispered instructions to Generator. Jade put her hand into her purse…
GREASY AND PEEPER
Greasy ate another couple fries and said, “But this takes time! Anything new has to be designed on the CAD-CAM system, then built, then set up with the basic angel system.”
Peeper waved his problems away, “I know you’ll do the best you can.”
Suddenly a Peeper-like voice chimed in from his right shoulder. “But Greasy needs sleep so he can function better as our minion!”
Peeper stared in shock at the little ‘Peeper’ angel on his shoulder. It looked like Peeper, but with a halo and white wings. The halo was bent, and it tilted oddly to the side of his head.
Another Peeper-like voice jumped in from his left shoulder. “To hell with that! Greasy can catch up on his sleep next week!”
Peeper’s jaw dropped open as he whipped his head to the left to spy the Peeper devil on his left shoulder. That one looked just like Peeper, except for the red horns and the black batwings and the barbed tail. Peeper asked, “Greasy?”
“No! They’re not mine! I haven’t even thought about making any guy shoulder angels!” Greasy insisted.
The Peeper shoulder angel pointed at the table across from them. “Hey look! Hot girls!”
Peeper whispered, “Ssh! Keep it down!”
The shoulder devil leered loudly, “Hey bitches! How’s about a little ‘girls gone wild’ action? I’ll pay ya twenty bucks! Thirty bucks if you show your tits to the camera!”
Peeper tried to gag the shoulder devil, but his hand went right through it.
Sizzle and Crush turned to glare at him.
Peeper grinned nervously, “Uhh, heh-heh, that’s wasn’t me. Honest.”
The shoulder angel said, “It was just what he was thinking.”
The shoulder devil said, “And he was also thinking about maybe filming some hot girl-girl action, so how about showin’ us yer tits before you get down to business?”
“I didn’t say that!” Peeper squeaked.
Sizzle pushed her chair back and zipped off at high speed. Crush glared at Peeper. A couple of their friends turned and stared too.
Sizzle came zipping back at top speed and hit Peeper in the face with an entire chocolate cake. The impact knocked Peeper backward, and his chair tipped over. He hit the floor with a loud bang.
“Pwww!” He blew chocolate cake out of his mouth and insisted, “Ow! It wasn’t me!”
The shoulder devil stood up untouched and sneered, “C’mon, is that all ya got?”
“I didn’t say that either!” Peeper gasped frantically.
Before he managed to wipe the chocolate cake out of his eyes, Sizzle was back with two female friends. All three of them threw pieces of cake into Peeper’s face.
The shoulder devil yelled, “Wusses!”
“I didn’t say that either! I swe..mlgh!” He nearly choked on the lemon meringue pie that had just been smacked into his face.
Several more people threw food his way.
The shoulder devil stood there, completely clean, and yelled, “All you bitches! You’d better not try anything else!”
Food began to fly from every table within forty feet.
We sat and watched the festivities, as every girl on this side of the caff found an excuse to throw something at Peeper.
Fey casually wiggled her fingers and muttered something under her breath. Suddenly, the four desserts at the table next to us flew up into the air, zoomed across the caff, and dropped on Peeper. All but one caught him in the head. The other one dove down the back of his pants.
“Pretty good aim there, roomie,” smiled Chaka.
Fey just smiled and enjoyed the havoc. Well, we were all smiling and enjoying the action. We stayed until Security showed up and escorted Peeper out ‘for his own safety’. Bugs and Generator got the shoulder angels turned off before the Security officers got to him, so he was having a heck of a time explaining what had happened.
The Security officers reminded me of something I needed to verify, so I got up from the table just as Jade and Bunny slipped back in their seats. As I left, I heard Bunny saying to Jade, “But it’ll be on the Security videos, so they’ll know Peeper really did have shoulder angels…”
As I walked out of the caff, I dialed a Whateley campus number.
“Security offices, this is Officer Green, how may I help you?”
I smiled as I spoke, “Hi. This is Phase. Have you had a chance to talk to your partner about the Golden Kids security?”
“Uhh, sorry, it slipped my mind. We’ve had a few.. incidents already, and things got hectic.”
“Can I come over now and talk?” I asked.
“Umm, yeah. Come to the back door and knock four times. I’ll let you in, and we’ll go to Buxton’s conference room. Okay?”
“Okay,” I replied.
But when I got to the back side of Kane Hall, I hardly had time to knock once before the door swung open. It was Trews, looking kind of stressed.
As he ushered me inside, he apologized, “Sorry for all this, but…”
“But what?” I pressed.
“Well… The Sarge wanted to listen in. I don’t think…”
“That he trusts me?” I cut in.
He shrugged, “Well yeah. But also I don’t think he trusts us on this.”
Since I was sure these guys were up to their ears in illegal and/or immoral activity around Whateley, I was fairly certain why they were being so edgy around me. So I just let it slide. Temporarily, anyway.
He led me to Sergeant Buxton’s ‘personal conference room’, which Buxton had appropriated for himself. Buxton was sitting at the head of the table, talking to Green, who was standing stiffly and nodding intently. Buxton looked at me and waved me in, “Come on in, Phase. Can I get you something?”
I shook my head no. “Thanks, but no thank you. I just ate.”
Buxton smiled and showed off, “Did you get one of your usual treats from the cooks?”
Since even Carson knew about my getting treats from the chefs, I was fairly underwhelmed that Security knew about it too. I nodded and played ‘spoiled little rich boy’ to the hilt, “As a matter of fact, I did. It was a marvelous risotto with Belgian endive and Tallegio cheese, with walnuts and parsley.”
“Good,” he idly responded. “Now your friends here wanted to plan with you, but I just wanted to make sure you weren’t going to ask them for anything that might get them in trouble. We’re still having trouble with the number of ‘unofficial’ requests coming in these days. You’ve been real good about not pushing or anything, but the new kid in Security has a computer in her head, and she’s got about a hundred tells scattered all over our computer systems so she knows when anybody’s getting into the files. It’s been a real pain in the ass.”
“I take it you mean Admiral Samantha Everheart, U.S.N., retired.” I said.
“Yeah,” he acknowledged. “You got a pretty good intel system even without us, if you know all that.”
I shrugged, as if I had tons of information at my fingertips and that tidbit was unimportant. I wasn’t about to tell him I knew that because she had told Team Kimba about herself, and Bardue had revealed her rank in class. I told him, “This is strictly normal. I just need to set up the usual arrangements for the Golden Kids meeting.”
Buxton typed on a keyboard under his end of the table, and stared down at a screen that was under glass at his end of the table. “Hmm. The 20th is probably best this month. That work for you?”
I nodded, “Definitely.” I pulled out my cellphone and made a quick three-way call. “Hey Tidewater? This is Phase. Hang on a second… “Premiere? This is Phase and Tidewater. The 20th works for our Security officers. Usual time.” I pressed the speaker buttons so the whole room could hear.
Premiere said, “Fine. You remember you’re going to have to handle staff for set-up and break-down, since Traduce lost us all our helpers? And also catering? And the waitresses?”
“Got it all under control,” I assured him. “You guys just get out the word that we’re a go. I’ll talk to you later.”
Buxton smirked, “I guess you do have the catering all locked up, don’t ya? The Whateley cooks’ll probably fix whatever you ask ‘em to.”
I gave him another shrug. “I think they’ll have ideas of their own.”
Trews told me what their usual fee was for providing security at the Golden Kids meetings, and I told him I’d transfer the funds by the weekend.
Green grinned, “Man. You’re way easier to work with than a lot of the Golds.”
I told him, “I don’t have Mommy and Daddy looming over my shoulder watching every one of my expenses and looking over my charge card bills. Lots of kids have pretty intense scrutiny on what they buy.” I suddenly thought about Glitch, and added, “And if they don’t, they ought to.”
Green looked like he wanted to ask me why I didn’t have parents who were checking my charge card bills. But I caught out of the corner of my eye the cut-throat gesture from Buxton. It stopped him dead. Which was just as well. I really didn’t feel like discussing my parents’ reaction to my manifesting as a mutant.
Trews asked, “Back to business. Usual time for the meeting?”
“Yes,” I said.
He nodded, “Okay, then we want two hours to go over the place top to bottom, before the meeting. We’ve got bomb detection gear, anti-bugging equipment, some anti-magic stuff we always put on the walls to stop stuff like wizard eavesdropping, and some other stuff we like to check on.”
I said, “You got it. I’ll have my set-up person work with you, if you want.”
“Set-up person?” he wondered.
I grinned, “Yeah. She’s a deviser. She has these gadgets that make objects act sort of like they’ve been magically animated. I figure she can do the entire room in twenty minutes. By herself. As long as she has her devises.”
Buxton asked, “That would be your teammate Generator?”
I nodded. “She’s small, but effective.”
Green said, “That’ll really help. Usually we’ve got a set-up crew from the caterer, plus the catering staff, and we’ve got to vet ‘em all and monitor everything they bring in. It sounds like you’re using students for set-up/break-down, and staff for food, and students for waitressing. Right?”
Trews and Green looked at each other and grinned. Trews leered, “Egggggcellent.”
Green replied, “Yes, Mister Burns.”
Actually, Green’s impression was better.
Buxton had one more thing. “You asked your boys here for the Security report and hospital report on Don Sebastiano? Here you go.”
Green smirked, “Ya might wanna wait until you’re somewhere private to read ‘em, so people don’t wonder why you’re laughin’ so damn hard.”
Okay, so now I had to read them ASAP.
Trews and Green showed me back through the twisting corridors to the stairs, and thanked me for putting up with Buxton. I headed down to the Hawthorne tunnel and thought about who I wanted to hire. And, as soon as there was no one in sight, I pulled out the reports.
By the time I got to Poe – and stopped snickering – I knew just the people I wanted to pester first. I had already called Cecilia Rogers a couple days ago, so I knew where the maid uniforms were coming from.
I went straight to Jade and Billie’s room, and I knocked on their door. Billie opened it and asked, “What’s up?”
I told her, “I was hoping Jade was in. I’ve got some work for her.”
A voice from the other side of the door piped up, “What? What?” Jade came around to the door, and I could see she had an armload of dirty laundry. “A job? What kind? How much? When? Where?”
I grinned, “You might want to tone down the excitement a little. It makes the other person see they don’t need to give you any concessions in order to get you to help.”
She fussed, “But what’s the job?”
I stepped in and sat on Billie’s bed while Billie floated overhead and Jade went back to sorting through dirty clothes. “I’m running the Golden Kids meeting Saturday night the 20th. I need a crew to do set-up and break-down and probably some cleaning before and after. Six hundred dollars for the whole crew.”
Jade asked, “Me and who else?”
I said, “I figure the J-Team can do the whole thing by themselves. You pretend to slap a devise on a stack of chairs, and they roll around the room setting themselves up. You pretend to slap a devise on a vacuum cleaner, and it rolls around the room cleaning up. Ditto for tables, tablecloths, you name it. I figure you can do the set-up all by yourself in a couple minutes.”
“Wow,” she thought out loud. “Six hundred bucks just for that?”
I nodded. “Plus the really fun part. How’d you like your own ‘sexy French maid’ outfit and a place to show it off? I’m hiring waitresses too, and I’m paying a hundred an hour.”
Billie choked, “A hundred an hour? For waitresses? For how many hours?”
I smiled a bit, “Probably around four hours. Why? Are you interested too?”
She cleared her throat a couple times. “Uhh, me? No. Not me. Who’d want someone like me as a waitress? And I can’t really see me in a frou-frou maid costume.”
“Billie! You’d look gorgeous!” insisted Jade.
I agreed, “You would. But if you don’t feel comfortable about it, I’m not going to push you. Let me just remind you that a ton of guys thought you looked great in that ballroom gown.”
She blushed, “Well, that was the gown.”
“No, it was you,” said Jade.
“Gotta agree with the pipsqueak,” I teased.
I went on, “You looked really pretty, and you’re not altogether comfortable with that. I understand that completely. Believe me. When I saw how pretty I looked, all dolled up like a beauty pageant contestant, I just wanted to puke. So I’d love to have you as one of the waitresses, but I’m not going to push. The next time I’m hosting this party, I’ll ask you again. By then, you might feel like giving it a try.”
Billie frowned in thought. “I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
“Onee-sama, you’d look so sexy you wouldn’t know what to do with all the attention you’d get!” said Jade.
“Uhh, yeah, that’s kind of one of the things I was worrying about, if you have to know,” Billie replied.
“I tell you what,” I suggested. “I’m setting up times Sunday afternoon for my ‘waitresses’ to go over to Cecilia’s for fittings. How about you go with Jade, and get a fitting, and see how yours looks? You can keep the outfit, and you can tell me in a week whether you think you’re up for wearing it in public on the 20th.”
She shook her head, her hair refusing to shake like normal hair. “Ayla, you are one sneaky little.. Golden Kid, you know that?”
Jade came over and gave me a huge hug. “This is great! I could make like a thousand dollars in one night! Thanks so much!”
“You’re welcome,” I said as I walked out through the door.
After that, I went upstairs to see my next targets. I knocked on a door I’d been to before. Marty called out from inside, “Come on in!”
I opened the door and stepped in. Marty and Delta were both in the room. Delta was sitting at her study desk in full superheroine garb - including the cape and harness, which didn’t look comfortable to sit in – working away on her shoulder angels. They looked like they had shorted out and burned. So not surprising. Marty was in her usual costume, lying on her bed reading a textbook.
Marty looked up and smiled, “Hey Phase! What’s up?”
Delta turned and looked at me. “Phase! Hi! Does this have anything to do with…”
“No,” I confessed. “No venture capital issues. I came by to make both of you an offer. I already told Jade and Billie, and you’re not the last people on my list. But I thought you’d be interested. I’m hosting the Golden Kids meeting on the 20th. I’m looking for some women willing to wear sexy French maid outfits and do waitressing for the evening. A hundred dollars an hour, maybe four hours.”
“But how much does the maid costume cost to buy?” Marty wondered.
“Oh, I’m covering that too. You get to keep it afterward.”
Marty’s face lit up with excitement.
Delta frowned, “Okay, a hundred dollars an hour just for wearing a sexy dress and handing out snacks on a tray? What else are we supposed to do?”
I smirked, “Not blow anything up.”
Marty sniggered into her hand.
“Would you knock it off with that ‘blow everything up’ stuff?” Delta fussed.
I mock-complained, “But then, what would I have to tease you about?”
“Fine, be that way,” she frowned. “Look, I need the money…”
“And you know you’re dying to try on a sexy French maid dress with high heels,” smirked Marty.
“Oh, like you’re not?” Delta shot back.
“Oh, I want to,” Marty smiled, “And do you know how many outfits I can buy with three or four hundred bucks?”
Delta got up and pulled out a “Victoria’s Secret” catalog. “Check out the sale they have on bras this month!”
“Ooooooh!” gasped Marty.
I rolled my eyes and said, “Ladies? Fittings for the outfits. Sunday afternoon at Cecilia Rogers’ Fabric Boutique in Dunwich.”
Marty distractedly said, “Gotcha,” as she dove back into the catalog.
Delta muttered, “Got it…”
I left, thinking about that catalog. I would have been staring at it because of hot babes in sexy lingerie. They were staring at it because of the lingerie. Maybe it would be nice just to be well-adjusted about my body. It seemed like Zenith was the only upperclassman who had the same issues Chou and I did.
Oh yeah, and Jade, coming from the other direction. Sometimes it was really hard to remember that Jade wasn’t physically a girl.
I decided to try Vox next. She wasn’t in the tv room on Delta’s floor. She wasn’t in our sunroom. She wasn’t in her room, and Sharisha didn’t feel like telling me where she was. Okay, it was pretty obvious that Sharisha felt like attacking me with a chainsaw. I left. I had enough people out to get me that I didn’t need to add one of Chaka’s problems to my list.
So I went to the next people on my list. Fey and Chaka. I knocked on their door and got two voices saying “Come in!”
Nikki and Toni were sitting around in their lingerie, painting each other’s toenails. You know, sometimes I forget just how different from me they really are. They’re girls. Real girls. Toni’s been dying to be a girl for years, and Nikki has a spirit helping her adjust. Me? I might look like a girl, except between my legs, but I’m not. When I see these little moments of ultra-girlosity, it just drives that point home a little harder.
Nikki held out one delicate foot. “What do you think?”
Her toenails were painted some not-quite-vermilion shade that probably had a name like ‘Delicate Sunset’ or ‘Risqué Coral’. I had no idea. I admitted, “It looks good on you. But I’m not a good judge on this. You’d look good with your toenails fluorescent green.”
“Eww. Fluorescent green?” Nikki frowned, “That would be gross. Maybe a forest green. Something natural.”
“Because nothing’s more natural than applying paint to your toenails using a solution of toxic chemicals,” I snarked.
“We had to go with a different kind of nail polish,” she casually explained. “The solvents were making me sick.”
Toni chimed in, “I didn’t think they smelled that great myself, if you really wanna know.”
Nikki looked at me, no doubt doing her ‘receptive empath’ routine, and said, “So, what did you want to ask me?”
I smiled, “Actually, I wanted to ask both of you.”
“OF COURSE,” Toni added snarkily.
Nikki giggled at the joke. You wouldn’t think a girlish giggle would be that damned sexy.
I tried to get back on track. “Of course. As someone has already pointed out. I already asked Jade, Billie, Marty, and Delta. I’ve got three okays and a maybe. I’m going to ask Vanessa as soon as she gets in. I thought I’d try you two.”
“And?” Toni asked.
“The Golden Kids meet is the evening of the 20th, and I’m hosting. I wanted to know if you two would be willing to make a hundred bucks an hour waitressing.”
“A hundred bucks an hour?” asked Nikki suspiciously. “Do we have to do this naked or something?”
“No,” I explained. “French maid’s outfits with heels.”
Nikki looked at Toni and said, “I can totally see Jade going for that. Megs and Delta too.”
Toni rolled her eye, “Yeah, I wanna see you ask Vox. That ought to go over real well.”
I admitted, “I especially want Vox-”
“’Cause she’s your girlfriend and you know she’ll look hot,” Toni interrupted.
“No,” I replied. “Because I want her to voice Glitch and see if she can get him to stop drinking so much.”
Nikki frowned, “Drinking? Alcohol drinking? He’s only fifteen or so, right?”
“Right,” I sighed. “He needs help. He’s not going to accept it until he admits he has a problem. I was hoping I could get Vox to ‘offer’ him a non-alcoholic beverage and make him take it.”
“Ayla, I don’t see this ending well,” Nikki chided.
“You may be right. But I don’t have a lot of other options,” I admitted. “It’s not like he hides it well. The school has to know he has a problem already. So squealing on him won’t help long-term, it’ll just mean he won’t talk to me anymore.”
Nikki stared at me. “Ayla, you can’t fix everything. You can’t solve everyone’s problems.”
I clenched my teeth and reminded myself she was right. I told her, “I still have to try. It’s part of me. I can’t let stuff like this go by.”
“Once a Goodkind, always a Goodkind,” said Toni.
“You’re right,” I told her. “This is something I grew up with. It’s something my family believes, and it’s something we do. We take care of people who need help.”
Toni just stared at me. I knew damned well that she was dying to say, “Like they took care of you when you manifested?” She didn’t. Instead, she changed the subject back to waitressing. "Okay, that's Miss 'Bene Gesserit Voice' - what about ME? What's the point of me going around dressed like that? Aside from blackmail?"
“Blackmail is such an ugly word,” I teased. “I prefer ‘years of humiliation’ instead.”
Nikki smirked, “Ayla, we all know what’s in it for you. Toni wants to know what’s in it for her.”
I said, “Yes, I am asking some of the sexiest girls I know. Duh. I am a teenaged boy. You expected maturity? But I’m asking you two and Jade and Billie because you can walk around and hear what people are saying that they won’t say to me.”
“Hmm, industrial espionage. How ‘Goodkind’,” Nikki snarked.
“Now that does sound like you, Ayles,” Toni agreed.
I told them, “I don’t really care if they call me names or they don’t like the food. I want to know if someone’s planning an attack on the Alphas, now that Donny-boy and Hekate are out.”
Chaka finally said, "Okay! I'll do it, but if I see ONE camera, you'll be pulling it out of your ass!"
“Oh!” I gasped. “That reminds me! I have got to show you the reports on The Don! Just try not to laugh too loud.”
Nikki growled, “There’s nothing funny about Don Sebastiano.”
Toni was already tearing through the papers. “Wow. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy… Heh-heh-heh…”
I said, “So, Nik, what about you? Is Aunghadhail up for wearing a sexy French maid’s outfit with stockings and heels?”
She carefully said, “I’ll have to think it over. It isn’t very proper.”
I nodded. I wasn’t adjusting like she was, but then I didn’t have someone else inside my head trying to boss me around all the time. “Why don’t you go with Toni to Cecilia’s place Sunday afternoon and get an outfit too? If you decide not to wear it, no problem. If you do decide to wear it for the waitress job, you’re already set.”
“And how much is this going to set me back financially?” she asked.
“It won’t,” I assured her. “I’m pi-”
“BAH-HA-HAH!” Toni was on her bed, rolling on her back and kicking her legs, while she laughed madly.
“-icking up the tab on the clothes,” I finished.
“Someone’s enjoying this a little too much,” Nikki muttered.
I just smiled. “Well, when you read it, try to keep the giggling down to a low roar. And bring it back to me; I need to show it to the rest of the team.”
I went over to my room, and I could still hear Toni laughing.
I figured that Vox would drop by when she got back to her room, simply because Sharisha wouldn’t be able to keep quiet about ‘that rich freako whitey’ – or whatever kind things she said about me when I wasn’t around – coming over to see Vanessa. So I decided to get some work done. I pulled out the Accounting II textbook, went a little light so I could leap up onto my bed, and started reading.
The first two chapters were all review, so I was pretty bored as I skimmed through them. Plus, I kept getting distracted by Nikki’s giggling from next door. I managed to get well into chapter three, which was laying out the basic principles of managerial accounting. I was glad I already knew this material, but it did make things a lot less interesting.
The phone rang, providing me with a welcome distraction from the tedium of reading stuff that Father had told me at the dinner table when I was eight. Not to mention that Father’s presentation was a heck of a lot better. The author of this textbook had apparently taken boredom lessons from Professor Filbert Quintain.
I went light and floated over to the phone, then I went normal so I could slip on my headset and answer the call.
“Ms. Goodkind?” asked a stiff female voice that had ‘executive secretary’ written all over it.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Please hold, Mister Bedrosian will be on the line just as soon as I tell him you’re available.”
“Thank you,” I said politely. Pete Bedrosian was one of the worker bees involved in the Marvel buyout and subsequent IPO. He worked for Ron Perelman, who was one of my two partners in the deal.
Pete came on the line. “Ms. Goodkind, I hope this isn’t too late for a call.”
“No, not at all,” I assured him. “It’s still early evening here.”
“Good, good,” he said. “Ron and I are in Tokyo, and we just got what we were after, so Ron wanted me to call you and give you a heads-up. The Sony execs gave in this morning. Apparently, your Japanese friends put enough pressure on them that they stopped being hardasses on the Spiderman franchise stuff. They’re willing to shitcan the movie studio guys who were harassing Mister Raimi, and that makes it look like we may be able to get Spiderman 3 back out of ‘development hell’. Plus, it means that all the scriptwriting can get moved back into a three-picture spread, which was what Raimi wanted in the first place.”
I said, “Great. Let’s keep this under wraps, and see if we can get the talent onboard before the IPO date. Then Ron can make the big announcement at the opening of the IPO. Should skyrocket the stock price.”
I could almost hear him nodding. “I’ll go talk to Ron and see what he thinks.”
“That’s fine. I’ll talk to both of you in a couple days.”
“Roger that,” he said just before he hung up.
After that, I got almost through chapter three before Nikki dropped by with the reports on Don Sebastiano. She smirked, “I shouldn’t be laughing about this. But he’s such a creep. If anyone deserves this, he does.”
I agreed, “Yeah, and everyone in the school is better off with Tansy running the Alphas instead of him.”
“And the witch-bitch,” she pointed out.
“Yeah. Everyone is better off without her around here.”
She shrugged, “As long as Tansy doesn’t target us again.”
I pointed out, “She lost bigtime taking us on last fall, and I’m pretty sure the J-Team put the fear of God into her. She hasn’t done anything except skirt around our edges since then. The tracking disk was so indirect we hardly noticed it. And she’s got bigger problems now if she thinks she can run the Alphas. No one sees her as a threat, so plenty of powermongers are going to take a run at the top spot. Should be plenty of entertainment for the rest of the school.”
She glared, “After the stunt with Jinn, then Nex and Bloodwolf, and now that tracker, that bitch better not cross us again, or else.”
I smiled maliciously, “Then perhaps you should be proactive. Start planning something hilarious with Jade. Something that’ll have the entire school laughing at her.”
Fey got an evil gleam in her eye and left. I silently reminded myself for the umpteenth time not to get Fey pissed at me.
I got well into the chapter on plant assets and intangible assets before I had another interruption. This time, it was the interruption I had been waiting for.
Vox knocked on my doorframe, “Ayla? ‘Risha said you wanted to see me about something?”
“Yeah, as a matter of fact, I do,” I told her. “I’m hosting the Golden Kids meeting on the evening of the 20th, and I wanted you to help me out. I already talked to Jade and Billie and Marty and Delta and Nikki and Toni about waitressing, and-”
“WAITRESS! Like hell! You have GOT to be kiddin’ me! You want me to be a waitress for your snotty rich friends?” she flared. “I thought… You and me…”
“Nessa, please,” I tried. “I don’t want to hurt your feelings or anything. I just want your talents there. Think of it as espionage. I’ve talked about Glitch before, right?” She nodded suspiciously. “I want you to voice him into not drinking like a fish. He usually kills a bottle of champagne at one of these things. He’s got a drinking problem, and he needs help.”
She frowned, “You know this never goes well. When I voice someone, they still remember what I said! He’ll know I voiced him, and then the shit will hit the fan. It always does.”
I said, “I was thinking about something subtler. Like offering him some non-alcoholic beverage with a little ‘wouldn’t you like some of this’. So if you voice him when you say that, he’ll know what you said. But it’s innocuous. It’s what a waitress says. He won’t realize that you voiced him when you said it.”
She rolled her eyes, “Ya know Ayla, sometimes you are so damn sneaky I worry about you.”
I shrugged, “I don’t know if it will work, or how long it will last. But it can’t be any worse than watching Glitch drink himself into a stupor at every meeting. I’ve got to find a way to help him. Of course, what he really needs is Alcoholics Anonymous and about twenty years of family counseling, which his parents will never buy into. Not to mention that he really needed that family counseling to start about seven or eight years ago.”
Vox came over and stroked my hair. “Honey, you can’t save everyone.”
“I know,” I sighed. “But it’s hard not to try to help people when I can see they need it.”
She smiled, “And I bet you want me in a slinky outfit, too.”
I nodded, “Yeah. French maid’s outfit, with high heels. I’ve got Cecilia Rogers doing the fittings on Sunday.”
“God, you are so predictable.”
I shrugged, “So sue me. You know Marty and Delta and Jade are dying to try them on and sashay around in them.”
“Yeah, and who else did you ask?”
I reminded her, “Toni and Nikki and Billie.”
“Tennyo?” she gasped. “You asked Tennyo the Section 33 Case to be a waitress? Are you out of your fucking mind?”
“I don’t know why everyone’s so hard on Tennyo,” I said. “Most of the incidents on her sheet aren’t even her fault!”
Vox pointed out, “Okay, but when she gets pissed off, things go bad real fast.”
I thought back to Halloween and Christmas. Okay, I had to grant her that one. “But this is a cocktail party. Things aren’t going to go bad. And she’ll have lots of support if things get sticky anytime.”
“You know her better than I do,” Vox muttered.
“Which doesn’t mean I know what she’ll do in any sitch,” I pointed out. “But she may not do the waitress bit. She got really shy at the idea. She’s still adjusting to being a girl, and she doesn’t believe she’s attractive. I think that most of the time, she doesn’t want to be attractive to boys.”
“Well, she’s sure not interested in girls,” Vox said. “I’ve seen her in the bathroom, and she couldn’t care less if Fey’s naked or not.” She gave me a glare and added, “Unlike some people I could name…”
I shrugged, “It’s not like I haven’t seen you staring at Fey too, you know. It’s one of those things. We have the rare opportunity of sharing the showers with the most beautiful woman on earth. Of course we’re going to look. No straight guy or non-straight girl anywhere is going to pass that up. Every single person in the bathroom stares at Fey some of the time, except Jade and Billie and Toni. And Toni doesn’t count, because she sees Nikki all the time.”
Vox shrugged, “Well, Jade really doesn’t count either. I don’t think she even has a sex drive yet.”
I reminded her, “Jade does have a boyfriend, you know. In fact, she has a dinner date tomorrow night.”
“So why don’t you take me out to dinner someplace nice?” she pushed.
“You mean, other than the evening of the 20th?” I snarked.
“Ha ha. You know what I mean,” she insisted.
I sighed, “Yeah, I do. You know as well as I do there isn’t a really good restaurant for miles that will put up with two underage ‘girls’ out together on a date. And the time I arranged that private dining room here on campus, you said that wasn’t the same as ‘going out’.”
“Well, it wasn’t!” she insisted. “I wanted some place I could dress up really fancy and show off my outfit, and then go dancing.”
I slowly shook my head. “Well, if that’s what you’re after, maybe you’ll have to wait until Spring Break. Right now it looks like I’ll be in New York City all that week, so I can fly down to Philly and take you out somewhere nice that underage ‘girls’ can get into. Or maybe I can arrange something for break week before Spring Term starts.”
“Whoa! That would be awesome! You really think so?” she asked. “I’d really like to go dancing with you, but… You know.”
I did know. A dance club that would admit kids under drinking age was one thing. A dance club that would admit underage lesbians and keep jerks from hassling them? Something else entirely. And then there was the whole issue of our being mutants. A lot of dance clubs and bars had a ‘baselines only’ policy that was driven by the cost of insurance. It was one thing to have a fight that required the efforts of two bouncers to stop it, culminating in a couple hundred dollars in damages and twenty stitches. It was another thing entirely to have a fight that might require the entire Empire City Guard to break it up, culminating in damage so severe the club would have to be declared a total loss, along with more injuries and deaths than many small towns could handle. I hadn’t found a decent dance club that met all our qualifications, unless we were going to major metropolitan areas in other states. The closest place I’d found so far was a private club in Boston, and I hadn’t had a whole lot of luck with staying out of trouble in Boston. I was figuring that New York City or Philadelphia would work better for us.
I smiled sadly, “It would be a lot easier if we weren’t mutants. If we were just the way we were a year ago.”
She shook her head no. “There’s no way - and I mean no fucking way - your family would ever let someone like Trevor James Goodkind date some poor inner-city black girl.”
I just said, “Maybe not.” I wanted to defend my family. They always talked about equality and tolerance for other races, but didn’t we always end up marrying some other rich white kid from an equally upper-class family? Well, there was Jack Welch-Goodkind, my third cousin, who had married a really nice Hispanic woman, but she was part of the upper crust of Argentina. Or Marydale Goodkind-Armstrong, who had married that black guy… No wait, he was the royal heir to an African kingdom at the time, so that probably didn’t count either.
Shit, Vanessa was probably right. I so didn’t like that idea.
Vanessa looked at my expression and realized what I was feeling. She re-directed the conversation. “So. Anyway, I was kind of hoping you’d help me with my homework some.”
I looked up, “Do you even have homework I can help you with? Unless you want to practice voice-ing me, and breaking my windows…” I grinned to show I was teasing.
She said, “Doctor Hewley gave us a ton of homework. He wants us all to learn sign language, so we can talk with Screech.”
Ooh. That was actually a damned good idea. “So, you need help learning the ASL alphabet and some basic vocabulary?”
“Yeah. Do you know sign language already?”
I shook my head, “No, but I’m always up for learning weird stuff.”
She looked at the books on my shelves above my study desk and grinned, “I’ve noticed.”
She looked at the accounting textbooks I had spread out on my desk, along with the military tactics reading I had open on my computer. “Umm, I know you’ve got a ton of reading to do, but.. umm.. if you help me with this, I… I’ll do the waitressing for you.”
I got up and kissed her. I murmured, “You know I’ll help you with this anyway. You don’t have to waitress if it’s really going to bother you.”
She ducked her head, “No, it’s just… I have this mental image, ya know. Rich white people and poor black people. I know you’re not like that, but sometimes it’s hard getting past ideas you’ve had all your life.”
I thought about every time I’d just about wet my panties worrying about the scary mutants around me, and I admitted, “Yeah. I know exactly how that goes.”
She gave me a big hug, and she said, “Great! Okay, Alphabet first. I’ve been studying this, so you look in the book and tell me if I’ve got it right. This is A… This is B… This is C…”
She really had been working on it. On her first run-through with me, she only got three wrong out of the whole alphabet. I remembered Nikki doing sign language with Razorback, and I realized there was more than one person around Whateley who could use some ASL-literate people around.
Jericho walked over to the Outcast Corner table, his shoulder angels chatting and joking with anyone who would look his way. Which, admittedly, was almost no one, given what he looked like. He was wearing his usual ‘affront to fashion’ style, but each of his shoulder angels was in another eye-watering outfit. And he had spent half an hour making sure that all three outfits clashed horribly.
Phobos and Deimos saw him coming, and scooted to the side so he could sit in between them and Eldritch. He plunked down in a chair and set his tray down. He gave Eldritch a serious once-over. She was still pretty out of it, but she was about a hundred times better than yesterday morning. When she started giving him shit again, he’d know she was back to normal. Normal for Caitlin, anyway.
Diamondback looked over and snapped, “I knew it! Two cups of coffee and a bowl of fruit isn’t enough to keep you going. You need to eat a good breakfast!”
“Yes, mom,” Jericho teased.
Razorback slapped a plate onto Jericho’s tray. He signed, ~Eat up.~
Jericho looked at the plate. A stack of three flapjacks with butter melting over the top, and a small cup of some sort of syrup beside it. “You must be kidding. You know I don’t eat maple syrup anymore.”
Phobos elbowed him. Since she had an extra pair of arms, she made sure to elbow him in a couple places. She confessed, “It’s not maple syrup. Sandra knew you weren’t going to eat right, so I asked Phase what to get you, and she came up with this. It’s whole wheat, with ground hazelnuts in the flour, and the syrup is marionberry puree. She said the puree has no added sugar, and the pancakes have lots of protein.”
Jericho looked at the pancakes. “Marion Berry?”
Phobos insisted, “Look, that’s what she said it was.”
Diamondback asked, “Didn’t he get arrested for drug use years ago?”
Jericho held up the cup of puree and said, “The street value of this syrup is ten thousand dollars.”
Razorback laughed in his odd, seal-like bark, then signed, ~Okay, you got to make a joke. Now eat, or I’ll tell Phase you’re dying to hear her entire Brass Monkey collection.~
Jericho shuddered. He pretended to beg for his life, “No! Anything but that! The Chinese water torture. Solitary confinement. Having to sit next to Nate after they serve the three-bean chili. But NOT Brass Monkey!”
His shoulder devil chipped in, “Yeah, we’ll make you listen to it, and then you’ll have to write a paper on it, and we’ll let Phase grade it! Bwa-ha-hah!”
His shoulder angel disagreed, “That seems quite unfair. Why don’t you just eat your delicious breakfast, and then you can thank everyone later?”
Jericho grumbled, “Only problem? The damn shoulder angel works too well.”
The shoulder angel shook its finger at him. “And you shouldn’t curse like that either.”
The shoulder devil sneered, “Why not, goddamnit?”
The shoulder angel insisted, “And YOU are NOT a good example for him!”
The shoulder devil leered back, “Well DUH! Horns? Tail? Devil here!”
The shoulder angel folded his arms and said, “This is ridiculous. Go ahead. Eat up, like a good boy.”
The shoulder devil agreed, “Yeah, only hog it down and eat like a pig!”
Jericho muttered, “I’ve got to re-work the AI. These guys are more annoying to me than they are to the rest of the room.”
The shoulder angel archly said, “That’s only because you have so much room for improvement.”
Diamondback repressed a snicker and said, “I think that shoulder angel is going to do you a world of good.”
“I ignore you,” Jericho said. He stuck his spoon in the syrup and took a suspicious taste.
That was when he realized the entire table was watching him. He was screwed. If he admitted the syrup tasted really good, he’d have to put up with all of them giving him shit. If he lied and said it sucked, one of them would definitely steal it and eat it. What was the lesser of two evils here? Survey said…
“Okay, it’s good,” he gave in. “Really good. It tastes a lot like blackberry, only better.” He gave Phobos a glance, “You sure there’s no added sugar in here?”
“Phase said so,” she answered.
Diamondback supplied, “And, some Goodkind ought to know what’s what about fancy food. I want to know how she came up with this stuff in the middle of the caff, at the drop of a hat. She must have some sort of secret connection with the cooks.”
Deimos said, “You could ask Jana. She works in there part-time. She probably knows.”
Jericho grinned, “That’s the trouble with knowing Phase. One minute you’re eating steak and potatoes, the next thing you know, you’re talking about pancakes with ground hazelnuts in ‘em and saying foodie things about syrup.”
Diamondback snarked, “Yeah, next thing you’ll be eating sushi with raw fish on top.”
Jericho grimaced at the idea.
Phobos frowned, “Look, knock it off. Ayla didn’t have to do any of this for you! She was just being nice.”
Jericho leered, “Maybe she liiiiiiiiiikes you.”
“Oh shut up,” Deimos said.
The shoulder angel said, “That was rather rude, but she has a point. There is no need to tease your friends for helping you. And you did say the food was tasty.”
The shoulder devil added, “So pig out! And don’t share any of it with them!”
Diamondback tried to get a good look at the shoulder angels without actually looking at anything they were wearing. She wondered, “Where did you get something that looks that much like real skin?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Jericho cackled in a fiendish voice.
Razorback signed, ~He traded his stuff for Greasy’s synthetic skin.~
Jericho scowled, “You’re no fun! Couldn’t you at least tell ‘em I got it from helpless Alphas?”
There was a horrible choking noise from behind Razorback. “Oh my God, I’m like gonna barf!”
“We gotta move! I can’t eat lookin’ at that!”
“Oh God, that shirt! I’m gonna hurl!”
“The shirt? The pants! ICK!”
Suddenly, a gaggle of girls struggled to their feet and fled to the other side of the cafeteria.
Jericho watched the girls and smirked, “Heh-heh.” He switched to a bad ‘Wicked Witch of the West’ imitation and said, “Run, my pretties!”
Phobos watched the stampede and groaned, “Christ! Me, Deimos, Diamond, Razor, and Eldritch are all sitting here, and people are running away from Jericho’s clothing.”
Diamondback concentrated on her food so she wouldn’t have to look at the horrific clothing choices across the table. She agreed, “I think they’re a violation of the Geneva Convention.”
THE WHITMAN LITERARY GIRLS
Foxfire looked across the table at Loophole and Fractious. “Whattaya think? Too much?”
They both studied Becky’s shoulders. While Becky was a brunette, her shoulder angels were not. The shoulder angel on her right was a gorgeous, curvy blonde angel in a draping, white robe. The big, feathery white wings waved softly. The shoulder devil on her left was a steamy, curvy redhead with sexy horns and leathery black batwings. The Foxfire devil wore a clinging red minidress, and a barbed tail dangled out from behind.
Loophole carefully said, “They look good, and they’re not see-through, like Bugs’ holograms. Ah think they’re a winner, even if they don’t talk.”
Foxfire rolled her eyes, “You know, they’re just illusions, not an entire magic show.”
Fractious said, “I.. umm… They look good, but they’re not really you. I mean, you changed the shape of the face, and you don’t have curves like that, and I know you don’t have any clothes like that, or your mom would have a cow.”
Foxfire scowled, “Dee, they’re images. They don’t have to be exact representations.”
Lifeline said, “I think they look very nice.”
Her shoulder devil smirked, “For illusions instead of real magic, like me.”
“Uh-oh,” Lifeline winced.
Her shoulder angel fussed, “I think you made us too lifelike. You don’t really want a devil on your shoulder, do you? I wouldn’t.”
The Lifeline shoulder devil snarled, “Shut up, halo-head! Or I’ll put a pitchfork where the sun don’t shine!”
The shoulder angel smiled smugly, “Then I suppose you’ll have to put it up your own behind, because you know what they say about us angels.”
The shoulder devil muttered sarcastically, “Yeah, yeah, look at me, I’m all angelic and fluffy and shit, and the sun shines out of my a-”
Lifeline hastily made the shoulder angels vanish. She blushed, “I think I need to work on this a bit.”
Loophole added, “Yeah, and you could make them look sexier, like Becky’s.”
Fractious agreed, “You’re one of the Venus Inc.’ers. You could at least give your shoulder angels outfits that show off your curves. You know, the shoulder devil is supposed to be naughty.”
Foxfire said, “I’ve gotta agree. Those were pretty tame compared to the shoulder angels showing up all over the place. Did you see Phase’s? Micro-miniskirt, high heels, and fishnets! Where the hell do you get fishnet stockings that teeny?”
Reverb smirked, “Barbie’s Dream Whorehouse?”
Selkie grinned, “Bratz, the Crackwhore Era?”
Fractious shuddered, “But what if you get stuck with really icky shoulder angels? I mean, you saw the ones on Peeper last night that got him in trouble, right?”
Reverb muttered, “What would yours be? Miss Obsessive and Miss Compulsive?” Lifeline gave her an elbow.
Foxfire grinned wickedly, “Team Kimba at their finest.”
Reverb wondered, “Are you sure?”
Foxfire rolled her eyes. “I’m sure. It was obvious! Bugs and Generator snuck over and sat a couple tables behind him, and then suddenly he’s got holographic angels that are trying to get him in trouble! Duh!”
Loophole asked, “Are you sure they were holographic, because there are over a dozen ways to create a shoulder angel like that, starting with-”
“YES, they were holographic,” Foxfire cut her off. “First, the food went right through them. Not corporeal at all. And second, Bugs was doing it!”
Loophole pointed out, “That’s completely circular logic, Becky.”
“Yeah!” agreed Reverb.
Lifeline, seeing that this was about to devolve into a nasty argument, interrupted. “Speaking of Team Kimba, have they made any more runs at us?”
Loophole stopped and said, “Yeah. Phase called me and wants to talk some more about patents. Ah said this afternoon, down in Workshop. She said she’d be there before sixth period. Ah was all excited about it last term, but with the stuff over Christmas… Ah’m just feelin’ a little leery. Ah figured Lifeline could just kind of hang around out of sight, and scry and see what Phase is really up to.”
Reverb said, “I think I’d better be there too, just in case Phase catches us at it and gets mad.”
Fractious said, “Good idea. You saw what she did to Fantastico.”
Selkie added in a strong Irish accent, “An’ tha Yellow Queen too.”
Everyone turned and looked at Selkie. Loophole spoke first, “Selk, you must be really pissed off, because your accent doesn’t get that bad unless you’re really mad and you’re not trying to keep it down.”
Selkie stared down at her plate, “It’s naething. Patty and her snotty cheerleader pals were makin’ fun of me accent the other day…”
Foxfire said, “Let me guess. They were giving you the ‘go home foreigner’ routine, weren’t they?”
Selkie nodded uncomfortably.
Foxfire gently reminded her, “They do that to everybody. Word is they did it to Generator.”
Selkie stared at her. “But… Isn’t Generator from Kansas or Nebraska or something?”
Foxfire grinned, “I didn’t say they were smart. Just snotty.”
Reverb grinned, “Did you hear they got into it with Phase last term? Right in the hallways between classes?”
Foxfire snickered, “Yeah, Phase called ‘em whores and when they got pissed off about it, beat the shit out of ‘em.”
Lifeline fussed, “It’s not really funny. Patty had two cracked metacarpals, and all of them except Little Bee were bruised up.”
Loophole pointed out, “And they were lucky. I mean, if you think about what Phase did to Fireball…”
Fractious groaned, “And how would you keep all those scales clean?”
I finished breakfast and strolled back to the food line. I had time, since Tennyo was only on her third tray, and Lancer had only been eating for about fifteen minutes. Paloma saw me coming, and stepped into the kitchens. She came back out with Chef Marcel.
He smiled as soon as he saw me. He walked over and said, “Ahh, Phase. What may I do for you this morning?”
I explained, “I was hoping to have a little chat with you and Peter and André about a little ‘outside business’.”
He smirked, “Ahh, as in the little trip to Boston in.. I think.. October? André was somewhat disappointed that he did not get to participate.”
“Exactly,” I agreed. “The evening of the 20th, from eight o’clock on, I’m hosting the meeting of the Golden Kids, and I’m looking for expert catering. I can’t think of anyone who’d be better than the three of you.”
“Merci beaucoup. Let me go get my colleagues, and we can have a quick chat.”
A minute later, I was briefing all three of them on the soiree. “One thing I definitely want for the menu is Marcel’s toasted brioche with the slices of foie gras and the date purée. Those were excellent. And they’ll work really well as finger food. Then whatever you think would be good. I’d like some sort of vegetarian finger food too, and maybe a couple dessert finger foods for later in the evening.”
André interjected, “I have something in mind. Steamed sea scallops, wrapped first in caramelized Vidalia onion strips, then thinly sliced fresh ginger, and finally in thinly-sliced prosciutto, served I think on a toothpick that will hold everything together.”
“Man, that sounds good,” I said. “I may have to snitch a couple before the serving trays go out.” He smiled at the compliment.
Peter added, “I believe I have a couple ideas for vegetarian snacks. I was thinking about french-fry size jicama sticks, spritzed with lime juice and dusted with chili powder. Or perhaps tiny empanadas stuffed with a mixture of red cabbage, blue cheese, and walnuts. A little jalapeno and horseradish…”
Marcel suggested, “Perhaps with a dash of allspice and cumin.”
André tried, “Or perhaps dried canela.”
Peter looked at them and said, “We have got to try this out.”
Marcel grinned, “Dinner tomorrow night.”
Before they got lost in the culinary equivalent of DeviserLand, I said, “Those sound great. Do you have some ideas on dessert finger foods too?”
André nodded, “But yes. I was thinking about choux pastry.”
Peter’s eyes lit up. “Miniature chocolate éclairs! With just a touch of green tea in the chocolate ganache!”
Marcel smiled, “Interesting. I too was thinking about something like a miniature éclair. But I was envisioning a peaches-and-cream filling, with a caramel sauce for the topping.”
Peter thought out loud, “Hmm. Would you need something to add a little depth to the cream filling?”
Marcel replied, “I was thinking a dash of dark rum.”
André suggested, “Perhaps a dessert wine instead?”
Peter pushed, “How about a smattering of bourbon instead?”
They looked at each other and came to an agreement. Marcel said to me, “We’ll have to experiment a bit to find the right choices, but we’ll have something stunning for your party.”
I grinned, “Well, I already knew that.”
I finally had to end the discussion when Team Kimba finally got up from the table and moved for the door. Obviously, it was time for another Team Tactics class. I was really hoping Everheart and Bardue were done being pissed off at me for something that wasn’t even my fault.
OVERCLOCK AND MAKE
Overclock sat down between Make and Kludge. He dropped his tray on the table.
Kludge glanced over at his tray and noted, “Hey, what’s with the big switcheroonie?”
Overclock growled, “Knock it off, okay?” It wasn’t his fault he sort of always ate the same stuff. He liked a bowl of Honey Nut Goodios and a Mountain Dew for breakfast. Just like he always had a cheeseburger and fries and a Dew for lunch.
Make looked over and said, “Hey, why aren’t you eating your Honey Nut Goodios like usual?”
Overclock grumbled, “Friggin’ Tennyo. She got one of the huge salad bowls, dumped the whole frikkin’ dispenser of cereal in it, and then poured the whole pitcher of half-and-half on top. And she’s eatin’ it with a serving spoon!”
Techwolf said from the other side of the table, “She can’t help it. She’s got one of those Jimmy T appetites. She has to eat about a zillion calories a day just to stay at her regular weight.”
Overclock glared over at the Team Kimba table. That was another thing about Tennyo and her friends that pissed him off. The docs said he was about sixty or seventy pounds overweight, and he wasn’t even eating that much! Tennyo ate a hundred times as much as he did, and she looked like a fucking model. That goddamn Goodkind kid looked practically anorexic. The shrimp, Generator - some deviser, she was too fucking stuck up to sit with the Workshop guys - she looked like she weighed about eighty pounds dripping wet, and she ate Cocoa Puffs and Count Chocula and shit for breakfast all the time! It wasn’t fair! Generator didn’t even have zits! Overclock hated her almost as much as he hated Tennyo. And then there was Lancer. Goddamn Lancer got to hang with some of the hottest frikking girls in the whole damn school, and Overclock was stuck sitting looking at Harry and Ed and the rest of the guys. Really, who the hell wanted to eat breakfast looking at Techwolf and Kludge? At least he wasn’t stuck like Jericho, eating with Razorback and Diamondback and the Fury twins. That would really suck, even if you were blind.
It was a frikking miracle that a way to get even with those stuck-up Team Kimba bitches had just magically dropped into his lap. The dickhead Alphas had no frikking idea that he would’ve paid them everything in his savings account for a chance like this to screw over those ‘look at us we’re so hot’ cunts. Make was pissed at the Kimbas just because he had some sicko crush on the Yellow Queen, and the Kimbas had kicked Patty’s ass but good a bunch of times. But even Make had no idea how pissed Overclock was at Tennyo and Company.
Overclock ate his cereal, trying not to think about how much better a bowl of Honey Nut Goodios would have been. He was still steaming about Tennyo. That bitch couldn’t care less about everyone else. Oh no, Miss Anime-Girl had to spend Christ only knew how long every day making herself look like Ryoko, right down to that stupid hairstyle. She even went to the Halloween party as Ryoko! What a prick! And it wasn’t like this was the first time she’d eaten all his cereal. Not to mention the times she ate all the chocolate-frosted brownies before he got to the dessert tables. Bitch! Why couldn’t she leave his brownies alone? Or his cheese fries?
Make looked over at Overclock, who was grumbling under his breath. Poor guy. Couldn’t function without his Honey Nut Goodios and his Mountain Dew. Someone ought to introduce him to the wonders of American breakfast meat products. Back in Patna, there was no way he could have three pork patties and six strips of bacon for breakfast any morning he felt like it. And his family would have a fit if they knew how much beef he was eating. What they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. Someone had mentioned ‘menudo’ the other day. He looked forward to trying that too.
He spent most of breakfast talking with Kludge about the new improvements in his shoulder angels. It looked like Kludge and Juryrig were in another of their nutty competitions. This time, they were trying to top each other’s shoulder angels. Kludge’s wheelchair-bound shoulder angels were now packing little ground-to-ground missiles, and he was talking about shooting Juryrig’s shoulder angels right off her shoulders.
Techwolf had a pair of fuzzy puppy shoulder angels. It looked like Harry had taken that rich-bitch Phase’s advice. Sure he would. He was busy wheedling money out of her. Make couldn’t stand the girl. She’d just about broken the Yellow Queen’s hand! How could anybody hurt someone as beautiful and sensitive as Patty Horton? Surely Patty would reward Make for getting even with that little bitch. Overclock totally had it in for Tennyo, but Make had his sights on Phase.
The few people at the table who didn’t have shoulder angels - other than him and ‘Clock - were talking with those who did and trying to get their shoulder angels up and running. There was a pair of holographic shoulder angels, a pair of hard light projections, a couple more pairs of robots, and so on.
Hazmat had a pair that looked like manifested matter, but kept puddling into goo as soon as he wasn’t concentrating on his control panel. “Doggone it! Stupid hypercolloids! Do you know how hard it is to get this stuff out of your blazer?”
Wunderkind had a pair of what were supposed to be shoulder angels, but were obviously intricately-designed force fields in roughly the right shape. But she had to keep tweaking her forcefield generators, because the complex fields kept destabilizing. “Scheisse!” she grumbled. Make was pretty sure he knew what that meant.
Nephandus and Techno-Devil didn’t usually eat with them, but regularly stopped by to say hello. Today, Mal had a pair of Dr. Diabolik shoulder angels. Nephandus had regular angel/devil shoulder angels that looked like him, but his stupid technomantic construct following him had its own shoulder angels too. Given that the thing looked like an evil, weirdly-painted porygon, the freaky little porygon shoulder angels were just plain weird.
Mal walked over and grinned, “Hi!”
His Dr. Diabolik shoulder angel smiled, “And hello from me, as well. I hope you’re all working hard.”
His Dr. Diabolik shoulder devil frowned, “Skipping out on the learning this school provides is simply UNACCEPTABLE! Get to work and stop mucking with shoulder angels and such!”
The shoulder angel leaned forward and pointed out, “That’s a rather hypocritical point of view, if you ask me.”
“I wouldn’t ask you if my horns were on fire!” snapped the shoulder devil. He turned and said, “Malachai, let’s get to the Workshop. I want to see you put in some serious research time today.”
Mal muttered unhappily, “Yeah, some serious research on tweaking your AI. Dad.”
Everyone made sure not to snicker, considering who Mal was.
Make shoved the last pork patty into his mouth, put his fork down, and asked with his mouth full, “Hey ‘Clock, you done yet?”
Overclock tossed his spoon into his bowl. “Yeah. Let’s go get some work done.” He downed the last of his Dew and had a thought. “We have any Dew left in the fridge?”
Make thought it over. “I think we’ve got a six-pack of my Code Red and a couple Jolt Colas, but we may be out of regular Dew.”
“Shit. How can you drink that Code Red crap?”
“You say that all the time, ‘Clock.”
Overclock shrugged and said, “Okay. Lemme grab a few more Dews on our way out.”
Overclock raided the beverage area, shoving four cans of Dew into his satchel bag. Then they headed out to the elevator. As soon as they were alone in the elevator, they pulled out their anti-eavesdropping gear.
“Anyone tracking us?” Make asked.
“Not a peep on the detectors,” Overclock verified.
“We so need some ‘magical snooping’ detectors,” Make sighed.
“Mal said he’d make some for us, as soon as we came up with the cash.”
“Yeah, but knowing his sister, they may not work on every magical snooper,” Make sadly pointed out.
“Ooh, good point,” admitted Overclock.
Make grumbled, “And if they’re magical detectors, you’d never be able to check whether She-Beast could over-ride them or not.”
“Frikking Diaboliks,” Overclock agreed.
When they were sure they weren’t being tracked or followed, they made for their secret lair. It only took seconds to get inside, even though Overclock always wanted to stand there and listen to the HAL 9000 slowly croaking “A Bicycle Built For Two”.
They hurried to the computer screens to see what gems they had managed to download off Hartford’s secure servers, no matter how indirectly. For several minutes the only sounds were clicking keyboards, wiggling mice, and heavy breathing.
Overclock suddenly nudged his pal, “Look at this! Full templates, based on the New Olympians. With these, and the AI they’ve got in the sims, we’ll be able to fry those Kimbos.”
Make smirked, “You think that’s hot? Look at this. Hartford’s source code for the security.”
Overclock stared at line after line of precision C code. “Man, that bitch totally rules on coding. Look at those tight little checking loops. And how she makes this action atomic? Un-fucking-believable. I am so stealing some of this code.”
Make pointed elsewhere, “Forget that. Look at this.” He pointed at another screen, where a different block of code sat in a separate object. “Here’s where you over-ride the safeties. With this off, and the feedback sensitivity over-ridden, you zap someone in the sims, and they really get hurt!”
“In real life?”
Make nodded excitedly, “Yeah. In real life. We’re talking major hurting here. Especially after we crank the sensitivity all the way up to maximum. Bad burns at least. Enough pain, and they’ll break their own bones reacting to what the suits hit ‘em with.”
Overclock snickered nastily, “Heh-heh. Those bitches are in for a world of hurt Saturday. Security’ll be carrying ‘em out on stretchers, even Lancer.”
Make frowned, “Except for that Tennyo maniac. Regen City, remember?”
Overclock smiled, “But I got that all figured out too. This is how we’ll trash her.” He popped up his notes on-screen.
Make scanned through the on-screen window. “Awesome! You think we can pull that off?”
Overclock nodded, “Sure. It’s worth a try. And if it works, she’s history.”
Make grinned, “You totally rock.”
Overclock nodded. Last time that blue-haired bitch steals his Honey Nut Goodios. To hell with Regen. You don’t fight Regens physically. That was just plain stupid. His way was better. If his plan worked, Tennyo was gonna end up in a rubber room for the rest of her life, right next to those assholes Cavalier and Skybolt.