Now that everyone's been introduced around and settled in, Abbie Elliott can get down to work. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the fire meant to stay inside the forge?
Fire In the Hole
"Where'd you wanna go?
How much you wanna risk?
I'm not looking for somebody
With some superhuman gifts"
—Andrew Taggart, Guy Berryman, Chris Martin, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion, "Something Just Like This"
Monday morning, October 29, 2007,
Workshop, Whateley Academy
The ground and polished blade was watered as artfully as if it were an ancient museum piece — none of the mirror-perfection of modern stainless steel and chrome. Rotated or tilted, it caught the lab's overhead lighting and reflected it to the eye in flickering blues and violet. The handle pieces were made of ash, inlaid with pyrope, amber, specular hematite, and white quartz. The fittings and metal inlay were made from a high brass alloy that would need periodic polishing - by turns finicky and bracing, much like earth and air.
By the gods was it nicely balanced! To be fair, her student had said it wasn't their first blade, but Prof. Choudhari was pleased to hold proof of that in her hands. Too many students got into a nasty habit of skipping a set of calculations or a finishing step or two. Sometimes, they even took the time to rationalize about "presentation pieces." The professor knew her adopted daughter would disapprove of the weapon itself, but this was one of those times when she wanted to take a fine piece of work around to show young women: "Look! A woman made this: you can too. You can make amazing things if you set your mind to it!"
That did remind her of a woman who might be interested in seeing this piece. Dr. Choudhari sheathed the blade back into its carved rock crystal presentation sheath/case. Smithy wasn't being graded on that, but from what Tejal had learned over the years, she knew that doing so rendered it safer for the owner when others were carrying it.
Caitlin 'Eldritch' Bardue wasn't as enthusiastic as her colleague had expected. The steel blade was beautiful, as any pattern-welded blade could be with the proper attention to detail. The handle, in her professional opinion, didn't need the decorative parts. They weren't as overdone as some of the tools the mystic arts students were known to cart around, so there was that. The simple design and the width of the quillion block spoke to the owner being male. However, there were some qualities that stuck out. The blade was flexible enough that it truly needed the fuller groove to stiffen it. The play of light on it threatened to awaken long-buried memories. Not for the first nor the last time, Caitlin found herself wishing that people would let the dead past stay dead.
Scratching at thoughts that just wouldn't unlock their damned selves, Eldritch led Mrs. Metal to one of Kirby Hall's various underground test ranges. Once there, they put on hearing and sight protection before she unsheathed the athamé again. Working with a growing feeling of unease, Caitlin ushered her colleague into a booth meant to shield witnesses from the showier (read: needlessly destructive) spells that were tested down here. Safeguards set as best as she could, the Artificer raised the dagger high in a one-handed 'drawing down power' position then bought her arm down, speaking an ancient word as she did so.
Long-trained control over her reflexes kept Caitlin standing still for the fraction of a second in which lightning arced forward to ricochet back at her position. The weapon captured the bolt. Shaken, she walked over to a built-in grounding point to lower the weapon heel-first toward it. The discharge left spots in her eyes for several minutes. Once she could see clearly, she carefully touched her finger to a blade that should, by all rights, be glowing hot. She cursed a few choice words before remembering she wasn't alone, for the blade burned cold.
Professor Choudhari remarked, "I've worked and taught here for some years, and that was not what I would have expected from a freshman project."
"A freshman did this?"
"It was a cooperative effort between one of my more promising metalworkers and two of her classmates."
"I suppose I should ask who."
"This is intended as Valravn's athamé project, but Metro also contributed time and energy to the endeavor. Does it matter?"
"Where did those two find the time to secure the tomb and dig up something like this?"
"I take it that you would be surprised to learn that my student smelted the iron ore for the billet herself? We have several witnesses. I'm reliably informed that she comes from a very long line of traditional blacksmiths."
"You cannot smelt cold iron."
"Nor can it be forged easily or quickly."
"Of course not. But no fire has touched this metal during its working, and Metro is a f-, well-known, pyro."
"I have numerous nephews, Miss Bardue, and can assure you that that is common for boys that age! However, for the time being they contented themselves with magic and electricity. Lots and lots of electricity by most accounts. I take it that you might be interested in the other project when it's completed?"
"Why not? That gives me a full month to wrap my head around how a very nasty Northern Court dagger has found its way into the school."
"Two weeks, if they can hold to schedule. Metro's athamé is meant to be completed by the dark of the moon."
"If he survives, could you allow me dibs on killing him before Elyzia finds out?"
"The situation cannot be that bad!"
Caitlin reluctantly handed the cased dagger back to her Workshop peer. "I can think of numerous students I would never want to see holding anything like this. At the very least, please impress on your student that she is not to discuss the manufacture of this with anyone without discussing it with myself or Circe first."
"I can do that if it will soothe your conscience. Very well. I look forward to your insights on the follow-up project."
Monday evening, October 29, 2007,
Workshop, Whateley Academy
Many of the metalworkers' bays in the workshop were open, individual territories being marked off as often by tape on the floor as by partitions, and there was a communal tendency to check on what everyone else was working on. In practice, it tended to be roughly equal parts curiosity, snooping, and outright attempts to get a jump on potential competition. However, with the exception of a handful of kids that got into the steam- and diesel- punk design aesthetics, hardly anyone saw need to steal ideas from a blacksmith. One never knew when just knowing that someone was working on some oddball fabrication technique was enough to suggest another route around one's own problems. Sometimes it was good just to hang out with similar-minded souls away from the Beautiful PeopleTM. All these factors, combined with the amazing light show, meant that Smithy's bay had attracted a lot of attention while she and Valravn were using a particular combination of magic and traditional tools.
Her next project rapidly cost her all of that attention once materials labelled gris-gris, goofer dust, deadman's gold, or other cheerful appellations were pulled from storage. No one wanted to know what was in the lead boxes, or the stasis case loaned from the physics labs. Halloween preparations elsewhere in the Workshop were never so much more intriguing.
Abelyn looked up from the supplies list, and asked again. "Are you still sure that these are the materials you want to use? I am going to need to arrange forced ventilation while smelting this... stuff... Some of the volatile byproducts are going to be lethal."
Metro thought a few minutes about some of the equipment he'd seen in chem lab, not that they'd progressed that far yet in the program. "Can the fumes be drawn through a cold trap to condense them?"
"... maybe. Collecting sulfides is different than sulphates, and at some temperatures we'd be burning into or through materials that would normally handle the heat. That's not even the biggest problem."
"That TBD item at the bottom expressed as a bulk composition that you thought I wouldn't notice."
"If it's anyone's problem, it would be mine. Not to worry, it should still match up to the remainder; it's just sourced differently."
Abbie turned to face the evasive boy, giving him the full benefit of her disapproval. "Mads, I remember you agreeing to stop bullshitting me about things that I DO need to know about. There's too much iron, sulfur, nitrogen, and phosphorus in that mix for it to be anything you should be playing with. Whose is it? I could just ask Kristian, but I'm betting you don't want him or Thomas to know."
"Mine. Ultracentrifuged, irradiated, and dessicated."
"Right. I'm sorry to have to do this, but I'm going to need your name's word on that."
"On my soul's own name I claim it as mine own lifeblood, drawn from none else and nothing else."
Abbie let go her held breath. Magicians, as far as she could tell, hated to be put on the spot like that. "This is some of the darkest shit I've ever heard of this side of a horror movie, and if I survive the task, I'm honor-bound to write it up in full. Just the melt itself is going to be spitting poison all the way from first heating to final casting, and it will be worse when I add that last witch's brew. By the way, did you even pay attention to how much arsenic and heavy metals are in that blood substitute?"
The boy nodded his head and looked away.
That son. of. a... "Arsenic! That kills people, rodents, even fungus! Freshmen too!"
"What? Are you committing a slow suicide and expecting no one to notice? You are so, so... argh!"
Very quietly Mads said, "Not suicide. Treatment. The original cause appears to be magical in nature, and no, I don't know exactly what happened or was supposed to have happened. What matters is that I'm in remission from a form of leukemia. I've had some therapy for that, but my body's still off-kilter. Thomas knows, but I can tell that it bothers him to talk about it, not that he'd admit that."
"You haven't told anyone else, have you?"
"Mama knows the whole horror story, and she'll tell Lars what he needs to know, other than the fact that I haven't been well since August. He's only 12 ferchrissake! Fen and Rafe could smell the arsenic on me, and Aunt Aang arranged to get the BAL." Mads looked smaller and even more pale recalling memories of that.
"BAL? What's that?"
"British Anti-Lewisite. Some miners and others have to be treated for arsenic exposure now and then as well. I meant to tell Kris, but he's been stressed all semester and, well, he took it so hard when we had to take that trip without him... It's just easier not to make people worry about me."
"For them, or for you?"
Abbie tried holding her tongue in the face of that god-damned fear of rejection the boy was carrying around. Or is it full-on self-hatred? Too bad he didn't get regeneration, because this was one jackass in need of percussive maintenance by way of clue-by-four. Wait a second. No regen usually meant no exemplar or shifter trait... but he's got that GSD without any of the standard mutant syndromes 'Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Kilo', as Pa would say.
"Do you think that Kristian would actually think less of you for not being a mutant?"
"No! I mean, well, he wouldn't. But I'm not sure that he..."
"Does 'Vanvid tager sin vejafgift. Giv venligst nøjagtig ændring.' ring any bells?"
"Go talk to Kris. I've pretty much had it for today, and Halloween is just around the corner. If this is the way things are expected to go around here maybe I should go to the Halloween party as a goddamned mushroom! We'll pick back up on Monday."
"You aren't allowed to commit suicide! Only I must kill you!"
The line from Girl Genius stuck in Abbie's head until she gave in and finally laughed at the idea of Mads running around as a scion of some small European country. Just so long as the boys understood that the omnicidal castle belonged to to the lady inventor... She wondered if there was still time to mock up a Violetta Mondarev costume for the school's Halloween celebration. Goria was sure to have the right hair dye!
Afternoon, All Souls Day, 2007,
Workshop, Whateley Academy
Abbie rarely paid much attention to subtle changes around her – she'd never had need before – so she didn't notice that nearly every avatar and mystic in the area left that part of the Workshop. The few that were asked refused to explain the sudden onset of 'devisor flu'. As far as Abelyn was concerned, the solitude suited her just fine. She liked meeting and working with people, but that didn't make her one to favor being in the spotlight alone so much.
"Well, hello! Should I take it you're the Abelyn Marie Elliott I've been hearing about?"
Abbie turned around, surprised that someone could just walk in to the Workshop – especially this woman – without an escort. Her auburn hair, porcelain-fair complexion, and erect, slender carriage would be the envy of any girl on campus, but it was the lively sparkle in her green eyes as she surveyed the work bay that truly caught the smith's attention. This person wasn't only pretending to be interested in the work going on here.
"Beg pardon? That's me, but. Hold on, let me set things down where I can find them again, and we can talk. I still have some stools or chairs somewhere."
"No need to rush. I'm the one to be interrupting your work."
The woman continued to look around, inspecting the hardware and how it was all set up. Now and then she nodded to herself at some private observation. True to her word, Abbie put her work away and had two stools and a couple of cups of the good coffee out after only a few minutes' wait. That the workspace surfaces not in current use were clean enough for that was not lost on her visitor.
"So, um... "
The visitor smiled, "Brigitte. You can say I'm a distant cousin of one of your classmates. If I recall correctly, he's calling himself Mads Jensen this week. A couple of langers are calling him 'Mudd' for what happened Samhain night. Shows what they know."
"His little brother did stumble on their last name a couple of times. Meeting their mother," Brigitte only flinched a little. If Abbie hadn't been giving the woman her full attention, she might have missed it. "I'm surprised that Lars is so normal. Come to think of it, maybe not. Those two boys worship the ground she walks on. I know I don't have the full story, and that is something about your cousin that's almost stopped surprising me."
"Evie's only had a few short years to raise the boys as they should have been brought up." The woman's eyes darkened. "Madsy took the brunt of it and seems determined to continue that way." She took a deep sigh like this was something she didn't like to have to think on. In that moment Abbie was reminded of her own mother. "However, it's YOU I've come to see. You and your shop, of course. We can't well have the one without the other, now can we?"
"No. It's... all I have left."
"Is that so? No memories of a mother or father? Someone had to teach you to use these things rightly."
Abbie choked up. These past three months, sometimes she still felt like if she turned around, or picked up the phone to call, her Ma and Pa would be there for her. Then the hurt would come back. How could they be so lost to her so soon? It was all too much. In her grief she didn't notice Brigitte stand up and walk over to her.
"There, there." The woman said gently, as she held Paul's and Ava's grieving daughter. "I know it's hard to remember, but that's some part of them that you'll always have with you. In time, it will be a comfort."
"H-how c-can you know?"
"Because I've buried a couple of my own boys. There was another I wasn't even given that scant comfort before he was gone."
"Oh! Oh, no, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean..."
"Of course you did. In time you'll know that that too is part of it. Here. Let's finish our coffee and then I'd like to hear what you are working on here and now. I do fancy myself a fair smith and artisan. Maybe we can trade tips and you can tell me more about your shop and your training?"
"I think I'd like that."
After the visit was over, Abbie came to a deep and abiding suspicion of who Brigitte could have been, along with how Brigit Búadach had found her, but never once did she ask Mads for the truth of the matter. He didn't care to explain all his family affairs. She didn't care to explain her family's secrets out of turn, either. That suited both fine.
One of those secrets came out from Brigitte's suggestion to split the final batch melt before adding what Abbie'd been coming around to calling 'Compound B'. The 'clean' portion, as she saw it, or 'dry' as it was explained to her, could be used for casting a ceremonial sheath after the athamé was finished. The plan for that called for cire perdue casting, although whether that should be done under injection pressure or under a vacuum draw remained to be decided. Judging by the amount of time he was taking for the model, and how tightly Mads' tongue was held between his teeth to the side of his mouth as he worked, that casting was going to be tricky.
Whereas Valravn had worked closely with a specifically summoned air spirit, Metro was happy to call a different (or not, it was honestly hard for a 'mundane' like Abbie to tell, one way or another) fire spirit each time they worked on getting the melt composition and then on the quenching, working, and annealing steps just right. One day, Abbie asked Thomas how it was that Mads had developed such an affinity to fire. After all, she wasn't going to get a straight answer from Mads.
"His affinity to what?"
"Fire. He's always bringing a menagerie of fire spirits around."
"Heh. He's attuned to water."
"Abelyn, have you ever seen him with his shirt off?"
"That's not encouraged in the Workshop, for more than one very good reason."
"No, seriously. Some people are mouth-breathers; he's a water-breather. I leave the difference as an exercise for the student."
"He thinks, when he manages to do that before acting, like one of them. Before we met? Remind me some time to pull up the video from one of the times he went on a job in one of his 'Let it burn' moods. It was impressively destructive. That said, he's just as capable of watching an ambush point for hours like a crocodile, mucking about for miles through ditches and drains like a SEAL, or a seal to hear his brother talk about their school days, or changing mental directions like a school of ADHD fish."
"That's contradictory, all right."
"Welcome to my world. Adding water to a fire can cook a meal or it can put the fire out. Adding fire to water can run a steam engine or detonate a fuel-air mixture. Up to you to ensure that what's done is done safely."
"That much I was warned about."
"Good advice is sometimes worth repeating."
Afternoon, November 11, 2007,
Smithy's forge, The Workshop
As was becoming usual, it wasn't long before Metro was paying most of his attention to the fire spirit he'd evoked. Once she got past the idea that quantifying sentience among such entities was as elusive as a Cheshire Cat, it had become fairly easy to work with the pair of magicians. This one seemed to be discussing the relative food values of coke and anthracite. That too made a queer bit of sense, as this afternoon's casting was going to require precise temperature control. Smithy went back to her safety checks and the timetables they'd developed, and left them to their little talk.
"So, what do you think?" Mads tipped his head to indicate Abbie.
"She will do well. Happy fires need room to grow! We learn many dances together. Fast, slow, elegant, effective. Mind you, she needs an Other to stay happy: what is a flame without fuel?"
"I have an idea for that, but there's no shortage of good materials to work with."
"Flames can dance in any place, but a forge-fire should have a sturdy hearth around it."
"Too true my friend."
Slowly, carefully, the batch was brought to an apricot-orange glow in tandem with its crucible and intended mold, the better to maintain thermal inertia through the point during which the final batch of compounds would be added. The team had performed each step leading to this point more than once, so even the magician knew where each piece of equipment would be and where it would all belong later. He also had a vague sense that there would be, should be, a point at which the melt would not be limited to spitting out fumes and separating from slag.
Smithy signaled her readiness to Metro.
He took up a pair of tongs to hold the crucible.
Holding the molten metal thus in one hand, he poured the vile dregs of his blood directly in.
The mixture immediately began to froth and boil.
The boy reminded himself and the nearby fire spirit 'Still some seconds left to go' as his colleague began to worry.
When the molten batch reached a bright morning yellow, he gave the spirit its signal. He swung to the right to begin the pour, as a being made of pure fire leapt from the forge to the left, arcing through the balefire now erupting from the crucible newly escaped from the heat.
Mads barely heard the scream of terror and surprise, but sent a hasty prayer to whoever might take the call that he hadn't gotten his research wrong regarding the two with him.
Both children of fire sought whatever sustaining shelter they could.
The casting mold began to lose its shine as the magics it barely contained involuted back onto themselves. Cooler, colder, and then a thermal crash such as only a scion of the world's Far North could provide, locking the fine-grained crystals into a metallic glass matrix that would forever remelt just enough to anneal any propagating cracks.
Metro let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. Smithy's ancient forge re-lit of its own accord. The remainder of the material work could wait until he checked the other Work at hand.
Most avatar spirits put some effort into hiding their nature once they join with a host, but that could take time. During that time they could be very vulnerable to interference. As he scried the elemental fire interlacing itself throughout Abelyn's astral and physical selves, Mads knew his duty in that moment was to prevent such interference from happening. That could be a little tricky.
Abelyn was only unconscious for a few minutes before unwisely attempting to stand back up.
"No, no, no. Don't. No, seriously. You need to sit. Or maybe lie back down."
"How about you explain what the Hell just happened?"
"I'll explain later, but right now the way you're glowing, it might be a bit too obvious to the wrong people."
"Did you think we could hide from the one who joined us?"
"Did you think YOU could hide after pulling that boneheaded stunt on me?"
"Er. I? I might have expected to have more of a plan by now."
"You are completely fucking insane."
"I've been told that."
"Now what? Or are you ready to think that far ahead?"
"First, you're going to sit. back. down. before you fall down, while I bank the coals and clean up. Second, after I make sure no one's in a position to 'borrow' our work, we'll be visiting Doyle Medical in the wake of a strange event that led to a loss of consciousness that you aren't sure you can explain. The details are all kinds of fuzzy-like. Maybe you hit your head when you lost consciousness. That covers a whole lot of ills, by the way."
"Just try it, bucko, and YOU are going to need the hospital bed."
"This is what I get for doing people favors."
"If this was a favor, what's the catch?"
"Anyone tell you about something called a sim team? I need people I can trust, and it looks like the only way to get that is to roll my own."
Not a very good liar, is he?
We'll discuss that later.
Yes. That dance can wait until we are stronger.
Life is a dance with many steps.
I didn't say they were always graceful steps.
"I'm not a fighter and I'm not rolling anything with you."
"Not a problem, believe me. I've already dealt with idiots who were all 'just tell me what to shoot'. In case you were wondering, they're dead now. The ones who played the 'I do what I want' game also died, and some of them had my help. Those who asked what made for a success and how they fit in? Still alive, I think. I've been gone a while."
"Sounds like it's been one hell of a way to make a living."
"Usually beats dying."
Metro was as good as his word as far as cleaning up was concerned, if for no other reason than his patient wasn't going anywhere until things were set mostly right. Given her condition, exercising that stubbornness meant that he ended up calling in a medical emergency instead of calling for a courtesy transport. Perhaps it was for the best that he'd taken the precaution of memorizing her shop layout within the first few visits. The molds designed for the castings had shattered from extreme thermal shock. Metro bagged the pieces to clean and examine later. The night was looking like it was going to be longer than he'd planned, and he could only hope for the two of them the day would dawn with better news.
Sunday evening, November 11, 2007,
Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
Mads' initial plan was to leave notifications to the clinic. In the end, he called to notify Mrs. Savage, Elve, Spark, and Rorsmand about Smithy's condition, and to advise Mrs. Cantrel that he might be a bit late getting back to the cottage. Security locked up the workshop bay and set a seal on the lock, something roughly as useful as a 'Do Not Disturb' sign on a by-the-hour rental property. Abbie's housemother or her doctor could decide if there was a need for a mystic arts investigation.
To be sure, Mads didn't call Abbie's roommate separately. Mrs. Savage had already gotten tired of hearing his rambling by the time she reached Elve's room and handed the phone over to the Finnish girl (He was complaining about pigheaded patients who threaten first responders with Really Heavy Hammers if they don't clean up the mess for which they were at least partly responsible. Nothing important or useful.) Elve asked a couple of questions, laughed at the caller and hung up on him.
Elve said, "With Abbie unconscious, I'll have to watch the boys until she's ready to deal with them."
Mrs. Nelson shook her head, "He should have known that I'd be the first person Security would notify, and that the medical staff would keep me informed."
"Look at it from his point of view: if you kill him first, he doesn't have to explain himself to his doctor."
"Tempting, but that would set a poor example for you and the other girls. Very well. If I can trust you to keep me informed of major changes, you may head over to Doyle. Once Abbie wakes up, she will need whatever advice about hosting a spirit that you can provide her."
"I will do what I can."
Abelyn could have been walking for days across this alien landscape. To one set of senses, there was nothing to be seen except windswept sand and rocks, and disheveled piles of broken stone which could be mistaken for ruined buildings. To another set, the lands ran riot with curiously fat grasses that ran like flames around and between color-swapped trees in reds and blacks in place of green and brown or gray. Yellowed tholin clouds scudded across a muted indigo sky. The soil of these lands was black, and damp with naphtha.
At times she walked alone, answering a distant call to some place just out of sight. At other times, and increasingly at that, she was accompanied by another young woman who seemed of a similar age to her own, though that person was taller and heavier-set. The other's skin was brown and sun-reddened, their eyes and tusks a pale ivory, their hair braided into rows of garnet flame. There was a familiarity to the woman, though Abelyn was hard-pressed to identify the source of that familiarity.
Abelyn asked, "Do I know you? I get the impression that we are headed to the same place, but I can't for the life of me remember your name or the name of where we're going."
The other smiled, a bit of knowing mischief behind her eyes.
"We've met a number of times, but you've not been of a mind to speak until now. As to the other, Dis is that place."
"Please tell me you aren't about to start into 'Who's on First'."
"I can safely say that that had not crossed my mind, but it sounds like the sort of wordplay my summoner would enjoy."
"No. He just dances to different drummers by nature."
"I thought the saying went 'marches to a different beat'?"
"Fire and the Children of Flames do many things. Marching is hardly the best of them."
Abelyn decided that maybe a more direct approach was needed. Wasn't fire, as an element, considered masculine somehow?
"Can you, will you, tell me what you are called?"
"I could, and I would, but we've hit a snag."
"What would that be?"
"The name given to me by my summoner is known to him. I should think my proposed host would give me another."
"Proposed, not promised?"
"He doesn't have the right of your ownership. Thus, if I am to continue on with you, it must be by your will, and my use name must be chosen by you and accepted by me."
"That sounds more complicated than I've heard from other avatars. It's like their spirits just show up one day, maybe after some dreams, or something like that."
"Those are what you would call free spirits, each with their own names. I was summoned, and thus there are some things I can be asked, or even ordered to do. To take residence in a mortal's hallow without their permission - no matter how it is gained - is not one of them."
"Why am I here then?"
The spirit considered that for several minutes before answering. "That is a good question. I would have thought the summoner would have finished with his ritual."
"To consecrate that item you were making as payment. If accepted, it becomes his, I become my own and thus able to present my case for lodging in your hallow. It's not a bad deal for you."
"What happens if I refuse?"
"Do you know your own way back to your plane and your body?"
"I didn't think so."
"What other options do I have?"
"The summoner knew that you are heir to a forge-fire of some kind, but could not access the specifics. Perhaps in Dis we can find the one meant to be with you by that ancient agreement. While I might be able to remain here, I do not know what will happen to you without a guide back."
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
Elve was not impressed by the scene she walked in on in the waiting room. On one side of the room, Metro sat slumped with his head in his hands. Even without her spirit's help she could perceive some of the wild, uncontrolled magic around him. That was the opposite of what Smithy would need around her while she recovered. On the other side, Valravn and Rorsmand were having what the British might call 'a discussion'. At least that kept the empath from charging in on the patient, or throttling the one who was a few movements shy of a suicide watch. She opted to provoke that one first.
"So. Metro. Have you finished consecrating that dagger you two have been working on?"
"No. Don' wanna no more."
"Perkele. All that work, you put my roommate in hospital, and now you think you don't want to finish what you started?"
"Abbie should be 'wake by now. Something's wrong and it's all my fault."
Is there a genetic thing that turns all males into six-year-olds when they don't get their way?
"What, exactly, is wrong now, Mads?"
"Is this how it's always going to be with you? You say you'll do one thing and then back out at the last minute?"
"It certainly looks like that from where I stand."
Metro sprung up to yell back, "You take that back!"
"No. You make good on your promises, and I might consider it!"
Shoulders slumping, the boy hung his head. "Can't anyway."
"Why is that?"
"Was going to put the last bits together afterward, but Abbie's hurt or something."
"Not doing anything isn't going to make her less hurt, now is it?"
"Then get to work already!"
"'Cause I can't concentrate, and I don't have my books, or nothing."
Thomas turned to walk over, speaking up as he went, "I'm in the same class, remember? If that's the hold-up, let's go. If Elve will stick around for Abelyn to wake up?"
"Of course I will, unlike some people who just give up."
Metro: "I haven't given up!"
"You're not doing much else but sit around feeling sorry for yourself."
"That's not true!"
Thomas: "That. Is. It. Enough. Kris! You take one arm, I'll take the other."
"Kirby for some basic supplies. We'll make the rest up as we go. Finding a place where fire and water meet for Mr. Uncooperative here is going to be the hard part."
"If one of the lakes or ponds were frozen over..."
"We could just set a boat on fire with him in it. That should speed things up."
Metro struggled to get loose.
"You wouldn't dare!"
"Try us. Oil of Abramelin goes 'whoosh' real good if you know how."
Time? Date? Such things flow differently here,
Royal Library, Dis
The library was as impressive as one would expect. The high walls were lined with shelves filled with scrolls and tomes, separated by windows and sumptuous woven wall-coverings. A person could spend lifetimes learning a fraction of what was offered or hinted at.
"Lina bint Bulus al-Haddad, Inaam al-Baajalat. Come. We have matters to discuss."
The two women had been fortunate to find acceptable lodging in the City. More fortunate yet, the young mortal spirit and her 'sister' were skilled enough that their minds and bodies could be put to good use, fine crafts being prized among the residents of and visitors to the famed City of Brass. With a portion of their payment, they were able to gain expedited access to some records of interest. Further, it seemed that the name of their 'sponsor' carried some small measure of goodwill. Lina, as Abelyn called herself here, considered trading on that goodwill to be reasonable in view of the other's impending default.
"It would seem that the young mistress is indeed a legitimate heiress to a small measure of our realm's splendour. Yet, somehow, either the passage of time has caused undue diminishment or perhaps an ancestor of hers relinquished that inheritance in some fashion."
Lina asked "Would I be in error to believe that such was not intended to happen?"
"No. 'A newly set fire burns its own fuel' after all."
"What then must be done in order that matters may be set aright?"
"Fortunately, a seer of my acquaintance was able to trace the connection between Miss Inaam and the one who summoned her forth from the ready coals of his own world and shaped her as when you first met in your shop. By her and your own merit she is as you know her now. This is all to say that instead of requiring an audience to plead your case to Djinn Lords that you may released to whence you came, you need only bide a short time until the young mage completes his work."
"It calms my heart to hear this. We thank you for your diligence and hospitality."
"Yes", Inaam agreed.
"Think nothing of it. I would offer tea in exchange for tales of your home realm, but young women such as yourselves surely have goodbyes to tender and perhaps some mementos to purchase before the twilight falls?"
"Peace be with you."
"May peace be also with your family, 'amin maktabat malakia."
"Go in peace my dears. Perhaps next time we meet there will be time for sharing tales. In the past your people and mine weren't strangers. Creator willing, we shall speak and learn together again."
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
A few long hours later, but shy of midnight, Elve guessed from the sound of distant sirens that something had gone 'whoosh' real good somewhere in the area. If the project was indeed connected to the other events of the day, then unless the idiots had destroyed it, Abelyn just might start to get better.
If the magician did chose the spirit, it should not be so strong as to overpower the girl's hallow.
That assumes he was acting of a sound mind.
That's not what I meant. Spirit-callers who make a habit of calling stronger beings than they can dismiss do not survive very long.
There is that, I suppose.
Yes. There was so much essence roiling around that one that I was beginning to worry for the girl and for us. Such energies don't rest quietly.'
You could have told me about that.
You could feel the danger too. There was no need to draw attention to us.
We need to talk more about open lines of communication, but later, when there is less going on.
About another half-hour later, Valravn and Rorsmand returned to the waiting room. Both smelled of incense and woodsmoke, but the latter also seemed to be missing his eyebrows.
Elve asked them, "Where's Metro?"
Rorsmand grumbled something she couldn't quite make out, unhappy with whatever role he'd played in any of this. That left the other boy to explain.
"He's in his usual room, tanked behind isolating wards. Dr. Tenent will probably check on him in the morning. The jerk didn't even notice how much essence he'd pulled into himself – and he's far too good at hiding things like that – so even the standard consecration script from the class notes proceeded somewhat energetically.
"Somewhat? You call a twenty meter pillar of flame 'somewhat energetically'?"
That might explain why Kris was missing his eyebrows.
"For certain values of 'energetic', yes. I warned you to stay a little further back once he started."
"You are just as insane as he is."
"Noooo," Thomas drawled. "I'm not the maniac who decided to monkey-wrench the mana flow around some shadow spirit half again stronger than myself. In the middle of a ritual. For which the thing was acting as ritual leader and focus. Did I mention this was within a three-way combat zone, with real bullets? Because it was."
"You still let him do that."
"I'll admit that we were out of constructive ideas. Then again, 'If the stupid idea works, it wasn't that stupid.'"
Kris groaned, "That incident wasn't in any of my briefings, of course. Elve, could I ask of you a huge favor?"
"Let's hear what it is first."
"Someone told these two crazy people about something called training teams. Is there any chance you could help me keep them from getting me, and probably Abbie too, killed in some horrible fashion?"
Valravn shook his head. "That's only a risk in the Arenas. Most of the team training is in simulators. Almost as exhausting, but it's not supposed to be fatal. Supposedly that thing that happened last year was a fluke accident: which boils down to a security or a safety breakdown, neither of which count as accidents."
"Doesn't that bother you?" Elve asked.
Thomas thought about that. "Erupting volcanos bother me. Kinetic impact weapons launched from earth orbit bother me. Things that aren't meant to get us killed? Not as much."
Elve said to Kris, "Kristian Holm, I believe that you are going to need all the help you can get."
Monday morning, November 12, 2007,
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
This was shaping up to be yet another of those days when Dr. Ophelia 'Caduceus' Tenent wondered why she even bothered to leave the Clinic just to be called back in a few hours later. Aside from the usual bang-up jobs the Workshop kids managed unsupervised, not to mention the equally appalling and/or disturbing mishaps from the Mystic Arts kids, two of the students assigned to her for academic advisement had somehow decided to manage both, with a couple of side orders of "They did WHAT?" for good measure. There was something positive to be said for the pilot who reported the fire set at one of the campus ponds even if the truth was that the pillar of flame had erupted from the pond itself. She didn't even need to check the Security report to have a good idea of who had managed that.
After the morning sick call, Ophelia indulged in a cup of good coffee and typed out a memo congratulating Spark on the quality of telemetry one of her suits had provided. The young inventor could do so much for aerospace medicine if she chose that field, and the more commendations she had to go with her patents, the better. With that taken care of, she could stall no more, and got up to make her rounds.
Smithy was in excellent condition in spite of the multiple shocks to her system over the past twenty-four hours. To the doctor's mystical senses she appeared to be completely in synch with the spirit forced on her. In fact, it would be difficult to tell that she was an avatar by casual observation. The girl was less than thrilled with the prospect of more powers testing, but if the worst she experienced was walking away with more testing and a warning not to spread the word about what happened, she was damned lucky. Maybe, and if she behaved herself, she could be released after lunch.
That should cut down on visitors, and Trish would be happy to hear that there was no lasting harm done.
At her next stop, Doctor Tenent steeled herself to review the latest charts. Syncope, internal bleeding, swelling of the spleen, shock, and possibly additional bone marrow suppression. What more could a body ask for? Just in case, she knocked on the door before walking in on her patient.
"Good morning, how are we— Why are you up and out of your tank?"
"Hurts too much to rest so I let them kick Thomas and Kristian out. At least Abbie's been stable over the last several hours."
"Oh, really, Doctor Jensen? Let's start with that, shall we?"
"What made you think you had the right to interfere with her life like that?"
"Interfere how, by not waiting for The Don and his cronies to use her as a spiritual shipping container?"
"If you know that much about that scheme, then you should know that from here it looks more like you've done all the work for them by catching a prime prize."
"That's one fish I wouldn't recommend they try to reel in. If they bite, I might want to watch."
"Abelyn Marie Elliott's hallow is a magical inheritance, not a mutation. I can't imagine how it could have come about unless there is a very powerful guarantor behind the original agreement, but the records I could get my hands on didn't specify their identity. That's probably for the best. I'll admit I had no good way of knowing how long the agreement may have been in abeyance, and I did screw up in not locking down the enchantments on my athamé immediately. All I meant to do was to have the right sort of entity in place, inside a warded place of enchantment functioning as Abbie's domain, and to let the universe take its course. I certainly do NOT recall agreeing to act as the escrow agent for the mana debt owed her."
"That was foolhardy, at best."
"I was expecting a different f-word, to be honest."
"It's not yet out of the question. What would it take to remove the spirit without killing her?"
"Without ending her, you mean. Gods of the drowned and unborn children, I had the agreement of the spirit and an implied agreement from Abelyn to make whole her injury, AND I was channeling a strong water spirit. To pull a switch? IF all parties are in agreement, including the guarantor, you'd still need replacements for Abbie, the spirit, and the collateral held by the witness."
"Collateral held by the witness?" the doctor asked, curious.
"No idea what you're talking about, but I've got the blade we were working on with me, wanna look?"
The boy bent over very slowly to pull an ornately-sheathed blade from his book pack. He sat back up just as slowly before holding it out to his doctor and teacher. Try as he might, nearly biting into his lip, he wasn't able to keep his arm from shaking.
What first caught Ophelia's eye was the fire opal and mother of pearl inlaid into the rowan wood handle. The metallic sheath and blade guard acting as a stop were both of a deep black bronze with a multichromed patina similar to but not shakudo or shibuichi. Drawing the blade carefully, she noted the sharp contrast between the sheath and the bright silver blade. The slight scrape of metal on metal rang softly like whale song relayed through silver and bronze carillon bells. The handle was warm, and pulsed with a double heartbeat rhythm. Following a hunch, Ophelia spoke a word normally reserved for testing truesilver. Instead of a blue flame, the blade flashed red before dripping a caustic green balefire onto and into the floor tiles.
The doctor was suddenly very glad that the two of them were alone and behind both magical wards and psi shielding.
"What is this?"
"You don't get an A+ for landing yourself and Abbie in the hospital."
"Awwwww. The flameout on the lake's worth at least a solid A!"
Whining wasn't going to help his case. "That is definitely more of an A-, and still sinking."
*sigh* "The bills of lading for supplies should only point to a very nasty-minded recipe for Corinthian bronze. In fact," Metro reached out gently to retrieve the object, and immediately the blade turned the same deep black as the sheath's background color. "As far as anyone else needs to know, that's what this is."
"Have you given any thought to the idea that you've been maneuvered into all this?"
"I have to sleep sometime. So does everyone else."
Monday afternoon, November 12, 2007,
Metro's Other Other Home Room, Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
"Where the Hell is that good-for-nothing sawed-off son of a ... "
The irate young woman finally realized that the only person she was seeing in the hospital room was someone other than the one who was overdue for a piece of her mind.
"Oh. Hello. What are you doing here?"
Thomas 'Valravn' Jensen looked up from the book in his lap.
"Reading. It's highly recommended by most teachers, usually as some form of assignment."
"I could tell that from the book."
"Did you mean to ask why I'm here, other than the fact that it had been somewhat quiet everywhere else until recently?"
"That might be a good start."
"That's who I came to see. Where is he?"
"In the tank."
There was, indeed, a tank of water in the middle of the uncommonly large hospital room. Abelyn looked around to get a better understanding of what was going on, and began to notice that there was quite a lot more equipment in place and running than would be needed for no patient to be there. Thanks to all the recent exposure to such matters, she did recognize that there was was something resembling a magical seal incorporated into the floor before stepping on it.
The tank of water and much of the attached equipment do appear to be entirely within a substantial ward.
Why would they need an over-sized fish tank here to keep a visitor entertained? Where's the hospital bed the twerp's supposed to be in?
You may want to calm down and consider your intentions carefully, Sister. A ward like this in a place of healing is surely meant to protect whatever, or whoever is inside.
You don't mean?
Out loud, Abelyn asked, "They chucked him into a tank of water?"
"No." Thomas was enjoying this bit of I know something you don't know far too much. "He climbed in. They only drugged him to the gills once he got settled -ish in."
"They drugged him? How long has he been underwater? What are you doing just sitting there: we need to get him out!"
Thomas dropped both the pretense and the book, and stormed up to his upset classmate. "NO. WE don't. He's STAYING there until his fucking internal organs recover enough to handle the fucking internal BLEEDING from the backlash of fixing one of YOUR fucking ancestor's screw-ups! If he wasn't drugged, heavily, right now he would be having a massive panic attack over the tank being closed up to keep the water he's breathing sterile."
"When Mads really loses it like in a panic attack or when he's triggered into regressing, he forgets how to breathe correctly. THAT is when he starts drowning!"
"I never asked him to take that risk! Not on my account!"
"No SHIT! In case you haven't noticed: that's just the sort of self-centered, lying, infuriating, self-hating, caring, broken, self-sacrificing jerk he is! He damn near waited around your hospital room until it killed him hoping against hope you'd regain consciousness and be all right."
No matter how many trees Thomas had bounced off of while teaching Elve to fly, or how many singed tatami mats Mads had had to pay for, the circulating nickname for the two – "Crash" and "Burn" – didn't seem so funny at the moment. Maybe it hit a little too close to reality now.
"Worse, I think he wanted to see if the explosion would be big enough to leave me free of him. As if after three YEARS I couldn't have come up with something on my own to do that if I wanted to. Which, by the way, I don't. But gods forbid he should admit to himself that I'm not being made to say that. ARGHH!"
The boy stomped back to his seat. He picked up the textbook, only to slam it back down at the floor and bury his head in his hands.
Abelyn walked over to Thomas.
"You know, if you keep on loud enough he might just wake up. Then what?"
"Pfft. The water's laced with the pain-killers and sedatives, and I've loaded the sound system with everything from Verdi's Requiem Mass to Mary Broken Horn's "A Stone Thrown Across the Waters" from back home. Station Metro is not receiving Earth at all."
That sounded like a safer topic to Abelyn, even if the music wasn't the sort she would have heard except on maybe WUOL or WFPK.
"I, I don't hear anything."
"You wouldn't. Sound travels better in water, remember?"
Abbie wasn't entirely sure if Thomas would consider her a friend at this point but she couldn't ignore the fact that the boy was in pain. She knew that only too well. She brought an unused chair over next to him and sat down, matching his silence with her own quiet. After a few minutes in which he didn't move away or object, she took a chance and wrapped an arm around him; offering her strength and presence if he'd have them. Eventually he turned toward her, returning the simple hug like a drowning man reaching out for a life jacket.
Abbie barely heard Thomas finally say, "I hate not being able to keep him from getting himself hurt."
"He doesn't do these things for, you know?"
"No. You haven't seen the look in his eyes when he realizes how much others are hurt just because he's been. How much he hates himself for it."
"He doesn't recognize how much you love him either, does he?"
"Love? That's a strong word. It's just that— I don't know. Can't I want happiness or something like that for him?"
Abelyn wasn't sold, but pressed on.
"Okay. Tell me this then, does he know how Kristian feels?"
"That's another person he's convinced himself would be better off without him around. You're probably on that list by now too. Congratulations. Speaking of which, we both know YOU like our Danish Boy Scout."
"Enh. Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful Loyal, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, Reverent. Sound like anyone we know?"
Abelyn blushed too much to deny it, before smiling. "Yeah." When she applied those ideals to Kristian Holm, they seemed more admirable (maybe even sexy with the matching uniform) than the anachronisms they usually sounded like.
"Mads doesn't want to lead Kris on, but neither of us think the guy could cope with being shut down or outright rejected."
"I think he's stronger than that."
"Maybe. Is it really so important that we find out the hard way?"
"Sometimes, Thomas, we don't get any other way. You know what? I'd give near anything to have my parents back. I miss them so bad. Sometimes I wake up expecting Pa to be calling home from a job on the road. Or that it should be Ma waking me up to get ready in time to catch the school bus. But I can't just go and give up what I know they put every last part of their lives into giving me a chance for. Kristian deserves just as much chance to show what he's made of. Besides, that boy hardly sees me."
"Boy Scout, remember?"
"Thomas Jensen, even the preacher's son and gung-ho Life Scout back home would look me straight in the boobs when he'd say hello. They weren't all that impressive back then either!"
"Current crush aside, I think he might just surprise you, given that chance you were talking about."
Abelyn stared at the boy next to her, "You two are trying to set us up together."
"You both could do far worse."
"I think you all, we all, need to settle for 'just friends'. Maybe I can start writing some of that yaoi slash fiction some of the other girls are so keen on. I can see it now: two young cadets, born to different backgrounds, finding common ground both on and off the drill field!"
Thomas mimed hurling his stomach contents into an imaginary trash can.
"Not that I don't need to work on my writing skills anyway."
Thomas said, "What I can tell you is that according to his sister, Kristian is still a virgin. That other cadet? ANYthing but," before musing half to himself, "It's been what? Ten years since his first consensual fumblings?" Abbie mentally did the math and came up with I think I may need that invisible trash can now. Hearing the bitter emphasis on consensual; her mind just wouldn't, it couldn't, go there. She sat, numb, until the warmth of Thomas' hug returned her sadly to the present and why she'd meant to be here.
"Where does that leave us now?"
"What does your new friend say?"
"How would you? Oh, right, Mads would have told you."
"Heh. No. I've got eyes of my own and I'm no stranger to a little fire-starting now and then."
"Words: 1, Meaning: 0"
"She says we sweep up the shop tonight, melt the scraps back down in the morning for tomorrow's work, and move on."
Abbie stood to leave but hesitated a moment, unsure if she was doing the right thing. Thomas saw her look over to the room's other occupant.
"Abbie? I'll still be here for a while. You should get some rest while you can. Magical healing and even advanced technologies are great for patching things up quickly, but that leaves your body still having to pay the full bill with interest."
"No offers on layaway?"
"Sure. Miss one payment: forfeit the whole sale. If that sounds like a good deal to you, never, ever, window-shop for magic. Go on. I'm fine."
As Abbie walked away it occurred to her that she somehow had gotten herself on the hook for four years dealing with two boys who prioritized their own feelings somewhat below shopping for party clothes. Not that she rated her own feelings all that much higher, but she could process hers in her own time, and that would be later. The other boy seemed hell-bent on getting himself hurt den-mothering the rest. Maybe she should buy an extra-large tub of popcorn for her and Elve? And a clue-bat for the boys, of course.
Evening meal, November 19, 2007,
Not far from the Beret Mafia table, Mezzanine level, Whateley Academy
In later years, recognized clubs and training teams might need to sign up to reserve a table, but Mads Christian 'Metro' Møller-Jensen simply borrowed a page from the Outcast Corner play book and plopped himself down at a likely spot with a good line-of-sight from the Euro-Promotional League's accustomed spot that balanced perceived 'prestige' against physical security. Politically, it reaffirmed that the significant overlap between that school club and the team he hoped to build just might was no oversight. In addition, anyone contesting the matter would still have to sit within the range of his glamour and his pheromones. Those who didn't cope well with those effects would be tacitly admitting that the Europeans were in fact more cosmopolitan than their local counterparts.
Breakfast and lunch would likely see everyone with their other friends, but the table would still be there. If others wanted to sit there when Metro and company weren't present or planning to be there, it would be easy to handle that amicably.
Metro did expect that not everyone invited would be interested in joining a training team that was just starting out. For example, Elve had been met with a polite refusal when she asked Damiana if she would be interested. That had to be the easiest ten bucks Metro had won off Valravn this term! It would also be reasonable for some folks to leave or join as time went by. Teams and groups of friends evolved like that, right? One of the factors in that evolution would come next year, when the range crew might expect the team to take on another student or two if there still was a team, because sophomores were generally expected to get onto a training team or get used to the one they were put on.
After a solid twenty minutes of waiting for anyone to show up, Mads resolved that the day would come when he got even with Abbie and Thomas for conning Kris and Elve into arriving late with them, but since he'd already started evaluating contingency plans in case one of them had gotten cornered by any of the school's numerous bullies and jerks, he could let it slide for now. Consider it an object lesson? Having his own priorities straight meant that before too long, he would need to figure out who sold them on the idea of calling the team 'Lost Puppy Patrol'.
Daybreak, November 22, 2007,
For all the hard work the food service crew were putting into providing a traditional-styled Thanksgiving feast for those staying at the Academy over the short holiday break, it fell a bit flat for Thomas Hrafn 'Valravn' Jensen. It wasn't so much that he'd pulled a midnight shift with his fellow Dream Team 'gamer' Sandra the night before. It was more a result of the local dreamlands being polluted by well over a couple hundred homesick dreamers who couldn't afford to go home to be with family, didn't have any family left that wanted them anymore, or were forced to stay at school over the holiday thanks in part to the MCO's legal maneuvering. Stir in a heaping helping of teenage hormones to season the mix, and let stew overnight. The previous day's overcast snowy weather hadn't helped the whining humanlings.
On that last part Sandra could be granted a pass: snakes, and other reptiles that hadn't had the superior grace to evolve feathers, wings, and flight just weren't meant for winter outings. They also didn't get code names like 'Diamondback' for no reason.
Damn, could that girl whip her tail or what?
Maybe he shouldn't have expressed his sentiments out loud?
He'd still made sure she got to Whitman safely. He wasn't that much of an ass.
On top of everything else, the spirit's stolen memories of life in British Columbia and his own citizenship papers proclaimed that it just wasn't Thanksgiving. Wrong month. Moreover, to him 'Thanksgiving' as a personally relevant holiday revolved around a single mother in Detroit and her oldest son good-naturedly battling for elbow-room in the kitchen, while the youngest son tried to sound him out as a suitable prospective mate for his brother (amidst anxious double-checks that the local emergency room was still on speed-dial at every thump and crash coming from the kitchen).
Luckily, the weather changed in the early morning hours as a fresh, sharp, north wind blew in. It left the sky clean of any clouds: just an obsidian backdrop to the the stars beyond it. For those with the right senses, the north winds carried some Canadian tundra gossip to be shared out after a cheerful mock battle staged against the snow clouds to be swept out to sea. The best part, maybe, was that the Thunderbird's Song had such company all to himself: too cold for Diamondback, Fubar too busy with homesick kids luring nasties up from the lower planes, and the humidity crashed to the point that the watch sergeant had sent Metro to Doyle after his second or third nosebleed.
The young man stepped out of Poe Cottage's empty foyer with a pair of boots slung over his shoulder, and promptly lost his footing on the iced-over steps. A few choice words expressed his opinion of people who couldn't be bothered to keep the stoop dry. He chose to land a few feet clear of the concrete annoyances. At least Elve and Damiana hadn't been around to laugh at him! Of course, other air spirits were present and amused by the mishap:
Amateur. You're supposed to fall, not glide!
What can I say? I'm a poor excuse for a human. Whoever designed these ankles should be shot, though.
That's why they wear boots this time of year. Warmer too.
Boots would have been a better choice.
So. Whatchou doin'?
I am going skating.
Besides, nothing's really frozen over yet. You'll get wet! Water's cold enough to be lethal for people walking around without their feathers.
Speaking of which—
Thomas pulled out a cell phone and punched in some numbers. "... don't forget to call Evie and Lars this morning. Give them my best, etc. I'm out at the lake, bring skates if you want." There. That should cover all applicable bases after Kristian's comment about 'turning Swedish' at dinner. Maybe later he should find out if Elve and Abelyn knew how to skate.
One of the sensor techs pulled up an infrared scan from one of Security's roving drones. They were beginning to prove quite useful. For example:
"Sarge! It looks like someone's gotten an early start on our ice-fishing season. Heat signature's fairly weak out on the lake, but if it's a student is that a good sign or a bad one?"
The watch sergeant answered for the tech. "They could be entirely safe, or dying of hypothermia. It's not like we can cover the entire area with ID scanners. Let's see who we can send out that can do some good."
"Too bad the Betas aren't up and about."
"Could we not call them that? Bad enough for morale all the other kids do. Hm. Let's see. Jensen's in Doyle again."
"What happened this time?"
"Officially? Nosebleeds from the dry air. Unofficially, it wasn't just his sinuses. I got it from the graveyard shift that one of the new guys blew chow when Jensen tried to blow his nose clear, trashed his collar, and splattered blood onto the next desk."
"Tell me about it. Looks like we go with option Charlie."
Around 9 AM, November 22, 2007,
Lake and Recreation Area
A human figure flew in from the direction of the rising sun in case Security had caught an intruder instead of a student but wasn't too surprised that the tactic failed. The darker figure seen out on the lake came to a graceful stop and seemed to await the newcomer in a whirlwind of freezing spray. Truly a waste of the selection from "Tosca" that continued playing from the public address system. No choice now but to continue on approach.
Once Lady Astarte was close enough to address the young man without raising her voice to a shout she asked, "Doesn't figure skating traditionally require ice beneath the blades?"
"Ice dancing traditionally does, yes."
"A partner as well. Or has he already gone under?"
The person seemed to smile, "No, no. I've no shortage of partners this morning." Opening her mystical senses, Lady Astarte could see that there was indeed no shortage of air spirits gathered. Some annoyed. Some amused. Some were whatever air sprites used in place of recognizable emotion. "Care to join me? I believe that a waltz is up next on the playlist."
It was tempting, but also a bad idea to be seen dancing alone with a student. If Langley were here, that might be a different story. "Curious. Of the two of you I would have thought Mads to be the one skating."
"The ice would be thin enough if he fell hard, but he's 'in conference' with his doctor at the moment."
Neither of the two had really tried ice skating before recent events took them off-plane. However, Mads had needed to build up his endurance with something less risky than usual. The spirit fully manifested his 'Thomas' form for ease of communication, body language was usually appreciated by most humans, and shrugged his shoulders. "This gives me a chance to reconnect with my own element, so to speak."
"Then I shall leave you to it. Please try to avoid luring any other students out who cannot fly over the water like you can."
"It's American Turkey Day. They'll have to get stuffed first."
"You know what I mean."
With that, Lady Astarte flew back off to change into something a bit more conventional and to reassure Security that no obvious threat was posed to the student body here. Another good reason to head back inside for some coffee and a few uninterrupted minutes (One could hope!) was that although she'd taken to the ice more than once in her midwestern youth, unlike her student she'd never ventured out in Arctic winds cold enough to generate slabs of ice under her feet.
Later that morning,
"Um, T? Why are there ice cubes bobbing in the lake?"
"I've been out here having fun while you slept in."
"Waa. You're not the one having to keep my doctors happy."
"You don't do a very good job of it, so don't bitch to me about that."
"There is that. So! Got anything good cued up?"
"How about the Spice Girls?"
"How about we don't and speak no more of such blasphemies?"
Mezzanine level, Crystal Hall
Abelyn Marie 'Smithy' Elliott wouldn't have credited the sight if she hadn't been living here for the past few months. She looked down toward the cafeteria entrance pointed out by Kristian, to see two red-faced boys stumble in in their school uniforms. Both of the uniforms looked drier than the two boys wearing them.
"Kris, do I want to know how those two maniacs manage to waltz in looking like they've run a marathon and only just showered on the way over?"
She barely avoided giggling when the shorter one shoulder-checked the taller on the way to the food line.
"Are they in handcuffs?"
"It should be safe to ask one of them. Maybe."
A few minutes later, Abelyn saw Aquerna scamper off to intercept Miasma headed for the exit. "Ummm, Kris? Next question: what's up with the Underdogs?"
Rorsmand looked over at the two spooked sophomores near the door. One seemed to be trying to calm the other down before the meal could be interrupted by a hazardous material breach. Miasma's code name was by no means accidental.
"Let's hope Thomas at least showered before they got here." He paused. No. They wouldn't. Would they? Kristian could imagine a scene in which they did - far, far too easily. "On second thought, let's not encourage them to tell us what they've been up to, and count as a blessing the fact we don't yet know."
Kris raised an eyebrow in counter-question.
"I should guess such things go a bit differently in Kentucky?"
Once the two boys under discussion approached the semi-isolated table, provoking a few more departures and relocations, Kristian took in their still-flushed faces, and asked, "Who won?"
Mads made a show of adjusting his tie before responding with "I'm blaming Canada, but Geeks over Freaks, 2 to 1."
At Smithy's puzzled look (Maybe she'd spent the day in the Workshop?) Rorsmand translated, "Emerson, Dickinson, and Poe over Whitman, Twain, and Hawthorne, final score 2 to 1, because no one thought to even out the Canadian hockey nuts beforehand."
Evening, November 27, 2007,
Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
One of the more distinct disadvantages to be had in being escorted back to their cottage was that Abelyn 'Smithy' Elliott and Elve 'Vapaat Taivas' Järvinen were thus deprived of the opportunity to hash out their joint revenge plans for paying back one Mads 'Metro' Møller-Jensen. Once the girls were able to politely detach themselves from the two young men, they trudged back to their shared room to see if mutant-grade analgesics and a hot shower would iron out the kinks in their muscles along with building headaches.
The floor's bathroom was in mercifully low use, so the only other occupant was their fellow freshman, Goria. Given the shape-shifter's code name, it wasn't hard to guess why the place might be nearly empty.
"Hey, girls! You two look like you've been run through the wringer. What gives?"
Elve replied, "It turns out the self-appointed head of Whateley's newest training team moonlights as a petty tyrant in his off-hours."
"They can't be as bad as Gunny Bardue! If anyone makes a movie about this place, cast Samuel L. Jackson, 'cause that homeboy's going to be one of the survivors. Dish. Who is it and what did he or she have you guys doing?"
"Metro. He's one of the guys I've done some work for over the past couple of months? Get this: the little bastard had us playing 'Capture the Flag', with different partners each time, across a quote: Confidence Course :unquote that we found out afterward is supposed to be thrown at Security and the Grunts. Instead of having only a Red Team and a Blue Team, there was also the Native Insurgency," Abelyn said.
Elve added, "Do not forget the 'Roving Security Patrol'. That must be a classic complication."
Goria chewed her lower lip for a moment in thought, "That's... rough."
"My bruises have bruises," Abbie groaned. "Since Arena 99 is off-line for Combat Finals setup, and only Metro and Valravn have sim suits yet, we were put through our paces in Arena 91. Full contact, but with some safeties built in. Some. We left Rorsmand at the clinic to have his ankle checked out."
"Good lord! How'd they let freshmen – y'all didn't level up while we weren't looking, did you – get run through a training program that hardcore without supervision?"
"Who said there wasn't?"
"Oh, yes. Based on what I hear? Gunny was in rare form tonight."
"Good thing that we aren't required to sign up for training teams until sophomore year. You and Elve can still back out on it before the hammer comes down on your head. No offense, but I don't think either one of you is suited to duking it out in stretchy long johns."
"You'd think so, yeah? If I recall, Gunny Bardue's comments started with 'When Metro here drags your sorry butts in to pollute MY sims, you'd better be ready to bring your A games, not this suck-ass shit.' Not 'if', but 'when'. I think we got his attention, and not in a good way."
"Ladies, better you than me. Don't let me hold you up any longer, what with a long hot shower calling your names and all."
Warm water never felt so welcome as it ran through Abbie's hair and down her back. Feeling the warmth through shared senses, Inaam was inclined to agree. It never felt warm enough outside a fire for her taste unless she remained with her host and friend.
"So, Elve? What have we learned tonight? I just know we're getting quizzed on this tomorrow and Thursday again if the Madman can sign for another time slot."
"Be very scared of the quiet ones."
"How do you figure that? I worry most about the loudmouth."
"Loud? Okay. When did you first know he had been researching your family background for weeks?"
"Um, he's still louder than Thomas."
"Abbie, it was not until the third week of my Powers Theory class that I found out that Thomas could speak."
"Anyway, I'm sure they'll want more to work with than 'Beware the quiet ones'! I can just picture us now, walking in with just that one one-liner, while Kris has an itemized list of Lessons Learned and a Plan Of Action with Milestones."
Elve could picture that. Because if Kris couldn't mother his assigned charge, he'd find some coping mechanism to let him feel in control, like mothering everyone else. "Mads will rattle off half a dozen things – while cleaning his fingernails with a knife – that could have gone better and what we should think of doing next time."
"Yeah, and Thomas will wait until everyone is finished talking to bring up something that we all were happier not thinking about, ever."
"You're just as bad, and you know it!"
"I don't wait until everyone's done talking."
"I think I will let that one stand unchallenged. Any chance you could help me with my back?"
"Yep. Let me get my conditioner worked in first, then no one can claim I don't leave it in long enough. I bet the guys never have that problem."
"Only because their male friends would rather die than let anyone know they noticed another guy's hair."
Breakfast, November 28, 2007,
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Guess who had a typed, itemized list of Lessons Learned and a Plan of Action With Milestones to address said lessons for each member of the team he could find? Having a roommate you can't stand must work wonders for productivity.
Abbie's equipment wish list wasn't much smaller, having woken up early with some new ideas she just had to get written down. It did get a bit smaller after several people pointed out what they'd do to her if she tried to turn McFarlane Stadium into her own mega-scale reverb chamber. Some of the details were quite unnecessary. She was sure she could still get away with something interesting using earplugs. "Banned" and "impossible" weren't synonyms in her book.
Morning, December 3, 2007,
Arena 99 Stands, Whateley Academy
"The next Combat Final is Smithy..."
Well, this is it. Time to find out if all that parkour in Survival class paid off. Abbie mentally ran down her list of holdouts and their locations. This time next semester she might need one of Mobius' utility belts: but then, what self-respecting Southern Belle wouldn't?
|Ratings:||Avatar — 4 / Esper — 2 / Exemplar — 3 / Gadgeteer — 1|
|Techniques:||Nonflammability, Negotiation, Tactical retreat, Various holdouts|
|Weak vs.:||Magic, Force Fields, Psi, Strays.|
|Backup/Team Affiliation:||Lost Puppy Patrol.|
Reminder to self: Mads can be a vindictive little shit when he wants to be. I'll bet he knew that was going to be shared out to God and country.
"... versus Centurion and Switchblade."
Abbie's jaw dropped. 'Are they fucking kidding me?'
Inaam's mental voice warmly replied.
What is the matter? Surely the two of us are equal to two young men?
Centurion's one of the bullies in the boys' BMA class. Has the strength of 100 men supposedly.
So he is strong and trained to fight. What of the other?
Internal energizer, so he moves fast and heals fast, too. Switch-hitter is Cent-piece's best friend. Manifests knives. Might not be so hot at hand-to-hand or ranged combat.
What purpose could the teachers have, setting two males against you that you would be sure to know of?
Huh. I bet they'll try to flank me at every opportunity since I'm not a fighter.
Must we fight them?
Not unless the advantage is to us. Which means I have to wear them down, then they could be the ones in for a world of hurt.
Then perhaps WE are the lesson?
Let's find out. Thanks for helping me think this through!
That is what sisters are for.
Elve turned to her room-mate, "Good luck. I cannot help but wonder what the madman would do."
"Do we even need to ask? For a magician, he's got a sniper mindset. Do unto others and GTFO."
"I don't recall either one in our Survival course, and they are both freshmen like us. They may not know much about turning obstacles into assets."
"I like the way you think. Let's show the boys what we learned."
Abbie got up and headed down to the indicated end of the Arena. The school's Combat Finals were known for being risky (Translation: nearly as much fun to watch as NASCAR), but that just meant they were ripe for a little spanner-chucking.
Centurion and Switchblade
As they too headed down from the bleachers, Abbie's opponents had a differing perspective on the match-up:
"Lost Puppy Patrol? Do they really think some girl with a puppy dog spirit can handle both of us?"
"Psht. Should be an easy fight. Says she's weak vs. magic, unlike the MCO girl. Wonder what her esper knack is?"
"Some girly nonsense like Detect Unicorn or Feel Invalidated."
Switchblade laughed along with his best bud, but he worried that someday his buddy's overconfidence just might get himself hurt. That wasn't something he felt like laughing about at all.
Spark sent an email to let Smithy know that the suit's telemetry was on-line and transmitting five-by-five. True, the two tech students didn't have to register the data channel, but it made the simulator techs happy to know about it ahead of time. Professional courtesy for the win.
Centurion and Switchblade, North Arena Entrance
"Good morning, boys. Your job will be to capture Smithy and deliver her to the Security Officer posted at the nearest marked exit, of which there are two. You have twenty minutes to do so. Any questions?"
"No, man, we got this."
Smithy, South Arena Entrance
"Good morning, miss. Your task is to evade capture by your two opponents for the next twenty minutes. Any questions?"
"Does the exercise end immediately on capture?"
"No. They will need to transport you to the nearest exit to claim a win."
"I presume force, including implements of opportunity, is allowed?"
"Of course, although we prefer that you don't tear the place down or injure each other too badly."
"Ah. Police, Fire, Emergency Rescue numbers?"
"See the public telephones here and there along the street? For a legitimate emergency, pick up one of those phone and one of the sim crew will direct the call as needed. 911 is being redirected to a different station."
"Before I forget, what are the charges against me, for the scenario?"
"There are no current charges filed on any of the three of you."
"That's good to know. Thank you, Officer." Abbie gave the Security Officer a small curtsy and a smile that he returned with his own smile and a tap on the brim of his hat.
Abbie decided that she could get used to the steampunk aesthetic, and how well the boys appreciated a well-fitted and padded bustier. Any of them looking higher wouldn't even notice the domino mask for the goggles once she pulled them down. Soon a gong sound pealed out over the loudspeakers and the match was on, students, bystanders, street life, and all.
Arena 99 Control Room
Gunny Bardue hadn't caught the opening dialogs, but other folks had. "What are you people giggling at now?"
"I can't say for sure, but it looks like Mendez just gave Smithy permission to go her limits."
"As I recall, that was the purpose of these exercises."
"Suit yourself. I've got twenty on the puppy; can anyone cover?"
Centurion and Switchblade
The boys ducked into an alley to avoid the foot traffic on the main street sidewalk while they got their bearings. Setting an ambush for one of their targets was nothing new, but they normally had a better idea of the target's route and schedule. Nothing else to do but split up and start canvassing the area. The girl's MID didn't mention flight or speed, so the sooner they started out the less area they'd need to search.
There were two things that Abbie needed before she could put one of her several options in action: a good visual ID on the boys, and eyewitnesses. So while Centurion and Switchblade were tromping down the streets on either side, she made her way up the Main Street, responding to the stares and comments that her outrageously old-fashion dress attracted with a cheerful "I'm getting my outfit ready for the next Maker's Faire" or "Why yes, I am in a play. Are you and the Missus free for the Saturday Matinee?" All in all, by being visibly part of the scenery she melted into the crowd. And if the students passed without sighting each other, she'd be happy to let the boys run down the clock for her.
Two-thirds of the way down the streets, she was certain that she must have missed them unless they were complete idiots. For safe measure, she continued to the next intersection before cutting over a half block and ascending a fire escape. Just because she wasn't a flyer that didn't mean she couldn't climb. On the way up, she looked carefully for the openings and repetitions in the cityscape's construction that she'd want to use if it came down to a chase.
Centurion and Switchblade
Switchblade wasn't having as much fun as he'd expected. "How can a girl that big just disappear into a crowd, wearing a red dress?"
"She must be hiding. Did you look into the buildings as you walked by?"
"Of course I did. Most of them are just stage props. The doors don't even open."
Centurion had forgotten to check that, but it wouldn't help to mention it. "Okay. She had to pass some of these people on the street. We question them, and follow up from there."
It sounded like a plan.
It even could have been an excellent plan.
But two young males determined to find 'a girl in a red dress' who was obviously determined not to be found by said pursuers came across as kind of sketchy. It also altered the flow of foot traffic around them as some stopped to avoid them or made a point to side-step the trouble makers.
Abbie adjusted the gain on her goggles to get a clearer view.
Centurion and Switchblade
The consensus was that they had indeed passed the girl they were looking for and that she wasn't hiding the last time anyone had seen her ... as if they would have seen her hiding! As a result, they were headed back towards Smithy's position as she turned off the Main Street ahead of them. Switchblade dropped back to come around the other side. Centurion move up to keep an eye on their quarry.
Their quarry lost some of her lead in placing a phone call about two male pickpockets working the area around the corner of Main and Elm. Why yes, certainly, officer. I can recall what they looked like as it were all happening again right in front of me!
Centurion scrambled up the rusted fire escape behind Smithy. He might have lost the element of surprise, but in close quarters like this with obstacles everywhere, his strength and training should prevail. Three stories up, he was able to grab her forearm. The crunching sound as something important gave way was a musical "A" to his ears.
Abbie nearly panicked as the vise-like grip closed down on her arm. Without thinking, she grabbed a device from a belt clip and swung it into the other's face. She winced at the arm guard on her other arm digging into flesh as Centurion held on. Her goggles auto-darkened to their maximum as the flashpack in her hand went off in her captor's face. That distracted both long enough for the tortured Cobra linear induction pistol she'd rigged onto her left arm guard to give up its ghost.
On a "hunch" that the combat instructors might play a little rough today, Abbie'd loaded high explosive, taser, and smoke rounds to the little concealable. The padding under the guard was insulating, as were her boots, and the experimental body suit underneath everything had been designed to keep her from being electrocuted while working literally with lightning. Centurion's meaty hand happened to be positioned to contain the explosives against the metal beneath them.
The boy did not even have time to scream before he went down hard.
That's how it would have looked without the smoke rounds also being bodgered in the crush. Knowing a bad idea when she committed to one, Abbie knelt down to feel where the boy was laying and begin to search for a pulse.
How many times had that elf bitch played dead in BMA? Too many times to not try it himself. He didn't need to see through the smoke to know that this girl was going to check to make sure he wasn't hurt. Sucker move. His hand hurt like hell and she was going to pay for that. He had more than enough juice to heal his hand and keep going. He just had to be patient.
The girl cursed when he grabbed her bruised arm. Good! Now to finish the job, then he could tie her —
Centurion woke up some time later in Doyle Medical Center. Unfortunately for him, being protected from electricity didn't mean the other person couldn't use it.
Now that the smoke was clearing, Abbie could see clearly enough to break off some of the railing for an improvised wrist brace. Maybe Cent-piece's friend would get the hint? She set off into the urban steel jungle gym that Mr. Anderson had spent all semester teaching his students to appreciate. Somewhere, there had to be a telephone.
The boy couldn't believe that someone would run off and leave a person behind injured like this, even an opponent. At least he was still breathing and not bleeding. That was good, right? All he needed to do find one of those emergency phones someone had mentioned. If this Smithy person hadn't cheated or something, they wouldn't be in this mess.
He climbed down the fire escape, quickly at first, but much slower when he saw a cop pointing one heavy-looking pistol at him while his partner called for backup.
At the end of twenty minutes, still in the middle of a LOT of explaining on Switchblade's part, the timer sounded.
"Victory to Smithy."
Lunch, December 3, 2007,
Beret Mafia Table, Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Harley 'Reach' Sawyer looked over at a nearby table that recently been claimed by some freshman training team and chuckled at the scene.
"I'm surprised you two aren't over there, joining in." She said to Elve and Valravn. Like Thomas, her primary reason for hanging with the Euro-Promotional League was sitting at the smaller table engaged in rampant tech-speak.
Thomas shrugged, remarking "I can ignore them geeking out over armor and weapons performance from here just fine," before going back to eating.
Elve smiled, "If Kristian is finally noticing that Abbie's a young woman, I have no need to step in."
"Why not? They make a nice-looking couple even if Kris does need an interpreter for conversations like that."
Elve said, "I find that nodding at the appropriate points works just as well."
Reach had no intention of being heard agreeing, even if that was her coping mechanism with tech-speak as well.
Thomas shook his head at that. "Not always the best choice. Doing that just encourages Mads to do what he wanted to do anyway."
Harley filed that away under 'useful information' before going back to the original subject, "How'd they grade Smithy, anyway?"
"Whatever a 'solid B' is," Elve explained. "She lost points for letting herself be seen too early and getting caught on a fire escape instead of a better spot for leading them into the traps she had planned to set out."
"I was surprised she wore that ankle-length skirt into the Finals," Harley admitted, shaking her head. "Too many ways to get snagged on something."
"It was - how do you say? - faux leather? She wanted something long enough to hide her boots and Spark's suit against casual observers. It was also made to detach should someone try to grab her."
Thomas continued, "I'd have paid money to see them make that mistake. Can you imagine the scene: a half-dressed girl running away from two thugs holding a skirt? So much 'resisting arrest'; so deserved. Anyway: Switch got a 'C'. He didn't do anything wrong, but he didn't really show off what he could do. Century-boy? A 'D' for practically inviting that taser shot upside the head."
Morning, December 4, 2007, Arena 99 stands, Whateley Academy
In retrospect, the first hint that Elve's combat final was going to be worth remembering would have to have been the Finnish girl's choice of costume. It was a blue and grey affair loosely modeled on the fallen angel Gabriel's outfit near the end of "Constantine". Just in case the outfit itself didn't emphasize how much the bone spurs from her back already resembled what might be left after having wings ripped off, Goria broke out some F/X blood from one of her theatrical makeup kits to paint the edges of exposed bone. Red contacts and a Robin mask completed the morbid ensemble. Even Abelyn didn't notice that the girl was wearing a bulletproof vest under the costume's torso wraps, and she was Elve's roommate!
Had Misty 'Superchick' Cooley still held out any hope that Gunny Bardue might not harbor a grudge against Wondercute, this morning was set to nail the coffin lid shut on that dying dream. First, everybody that wasn't already laughing behind her back (Everyone forgets about super-hearing as part of the supers packages!) for hanging out with her best friends on Wondercute seemed to be laughing either at her opponent's name (Misty had NO idea what 'Vapaat Taivas' was supposed to mean) or the girl's training team name. And for the record, Misty did NOT think that lost puppies were something that nice people laughed about - not that there weren't far too many mean kids at Whateley to start with. She also didn't at all like that the teachers were throwing a 'prisoner transport' scenario at her. Those always made her feel bad. It was like they were treating the other person as a criminal before they even got a chance to decide who or what they wanted to be! Then she saw the freshman.
Like. Oh. My. God.
The girl had BONES growing out of her!
They didn't look like the bone spikes an X-man might throw at you either, but attached.
Worse, the other girl was handcuffed behind her back, pinning her arms back uncomfortably against what looked like broken-off, bleeding bones sticking out of her back.
If Misty believed in Fallen Angels, this is what she would imagine one would look like... Next team meeting, they were going to look into equipping everyone with religious somethings. Jadis' brother kept trying to get her to watch an anime called 'Evangelion', maybe that would help?
"Superchick! Are we boring you here?" Oops. It was always a bad idea to start on the instructors' bad side!
Misty yelped, "No!"
"Very well, then. This is your mission: to deliver your prisoner - that would be Vapaat Taivas here - to the police team waiting for the two of you at the other end of the arena to take her into custody. You have twenty minutes to do so, if you wish to participate in and maybe win this match. Any questions?"
Whatever the other girl said, it was in a completely foreign language to Misty. Someone must have translated it for Wilson, because he got a laugh out of it.
Misty was careful to have a good grip on her opponent's arm before the starting gong sounded. It wouldn't do to just let the other person get away because she hadn't taken basic precautions. She must have jostled the girl badly when the gong went off, because she understood "Owww!" just fine. It only took a few seconds to change her grip. Nineteen minutes and counting to go...
Superchick's parents would not have been pleased by the language she used when Vapaat Taivas ran off after having picked the handcuffs and left them on Misty's wrists. Molly (She'd taken Survival last fall) was never going to let Misty live this one down!
The chase, as they say, was on.
Speaking of chases and Molly, this girl was treating trees and just about any other aerial obstacle she could find the same way Gateway and Aquerna handled ground obstacles: at a dizzying full tilt. Misty was doing her best to do the same without losing sight of her quarry when a flash-blang practically went off in her face! Reacting on instinct, Misty pulled up to avoid blundering into... the tangleweb that had been set in the open path above and behind the flash-bang. Superchick winced at the sound of fire escapes and other anchoring props giving way under the strain of not stopping her.
A tail chase like this could go on forever, even if the hidden ambushes set for the two students (Yes. Gunny did hold a grudge. Or maybe it was Sam Everheart.) weren't meant to look intentional. Bad enough that she had trouble aiming effectively through chaotically warped space. Fun was fun, but Superchick had moves of her own! Time to show a bit more of what a gravitic supergirl could do. For example, how well would the flyer ahead of her handle gravity suddenly tripling - sideways?
And why was the girl tossing a ball at the wall, now? Didn't she know it... would bounce back at the person following her under the gravity field?
Darn it! That had to have been one of Bunny's explosive eggs.
Catching sight of the elusive not-an-angel-at-all-nosirree!, Misty poured on the speed while staying well above any remaining obstacles. Just before catching up to the girl, Superchick squeezed two tangle eggs of her own and tossed both of them ahead up and to either side of her. Then she used her power to shove V.T. down, counting on the girl to again juke to the side instead of going with the applied force.
Game. Set. And one sticky match, but it was still a win!
Getting the tangleweb loads off the two girls was complicated by discovering that for Superchick they were holding some nasty cuts closed. Whatever had caused them had been too sharp for her nerves to register until the solvent seeped into the wounds. At least she hadn't hurt the other girl, and next time she'd know what to watch out for. Misty hoped her temporary opponent wouldn't take it too badly, because she really, really didn't like people getting hurt in these things.
Amid the bustle of finishing up, cleaning up, and waiting for Ito and Bardue to stop by to yell at them for wrecking the place before giving out grades, Misty walked up to to congratulate the other girl on a tough match. She even had forgotten that the foreign girl probably didn't speak English. But it's the thought that counts, right?
"Um, hey! Vapaa...?"
"Vapaat Taivas. It means 'free sky' in Finnish. Or you could call me Elve, if you wish."
"Oh! I didn't know that! Look, I wanted to congratulate you for being such a tough opponent..."
"Thank you. I enjoyed the chance to put my flying practice to work."
"... but I. Wait. You DO speak English!"
"Yes. It is taught in Finland, as Spanish and French are taught here."
"Cooley! Järvinen! GET IN HERE!
Misty blushed at Gunny Bardue's 'dulcet tones', "I think they want to talk to us about what happened out there."
Elve asked, "I thought the phrase was 'rip us a new one'?"
Later that morning,
Arena 99 stands, Whateley Academy
Abelyn didn't have to look hard to see her roommate coming up to their place in the stands. Most kids took one look at the young woman and quickly stepped aside. That was one of the things that sucked about the school's deliberate segregation of its GSD students: it lent itself to presenting any of the kids who looked different as Other. As in Those Other Mutants. Bad upbringing usually comes out, doesn't it? Not for the first time, the girl from central (not backwoods!) Kentucky hoped she hadn't treated any of the other Whitman girls so awfully.
"Elve! What'd you get?"
"Misty and I each received a 'B'."
"What for? That was one hell of an exciting aerial dogfight! While it lasted, that is."
"The instructors concluded that I need better ranged offense and defense options. Then they berated Superchick for flying too close to me without knowing how it is that I fly."
"Looked fine to me."
"The web loads held the worst cuts closed."
"I think we as a team do need to know ours and other students' powers better. I would not want to see you hurt over something easily prevented."
"Good point. So that was it, as far as grades went?"
"There was also a complaint about 'wrecking the sims', but if they wish to test our limits how can there not be some collateral damage? I do not entirely understand the American mindset on this."
"Sometimes I don't get us either!"
Elve smiled wickedly, "There is one other thing."
"What?" This had to be good.
"One of the seniors asked me out on a date. Said he likes a challenge."
"Does he have a name?"
"He goes by Bomber."
"Just remember to turn him back in in the condition you got him, girl!"
"Where's the fun in that?"
Afternoon, December 4, 2007,
Valravn's combat final happened, and that was about the best that could be said about it. Thomas himself had more to say about the affair, "Requirements met; expectations: not so much," shrugging as if it was part of some plan he wasn't heavily invested in. Since it seemed that that could be said of most of the plans he came up with or got entangled in, that wasn't what anyone would call 'an insightful analysis'.
At least the mis-matched power levels between him and his Underdog opponent backed up the official position that the combat final pairings were entirely random except when they weren't.
Morning, Friday, December 7, 2007,
Three more days of underclassman Combat Finals had provided everyone with a few laughs, some welcome upsets, maybe some lessons learned, and a better idea of who to watch out for among one's classmates. It was also a nerve-wracking time for those who still hadn't been called up.
To Smithy, it looked like Rorsmand hadn't had much sleep at all this morning. She worried about how he was going to pull through, when she heard the boy hardly raise his voice while complaining that his roommate and his family had both kept him up all night. Something just didn't feel right.
Abbie almost hoped her friend would fall asleep and default on the match, rather than take unnecessary risks against some unknown opponent for a letter grade. But that would be against the rules, and this was Kristian Holm she was thinking about.
When Kristian nearly begged Mads to be there at the gate to meet him when it was over, and tactlessly hinted that Jericho was more welcome to be there than she was, Abbie knew she should listen, but discounted the insult as just nerves.
From the start, Rorsmand was doing a good job of keeping cover and distance between himself and one of the flying turrets the school had so many of. Ticonderoga, however, didn't act as if it mattered how badly he could hurt Kris (or anyone else) blasting away at full power. Ten minutes into the match, the near-misses and the prolonged adrenaline rush began to take their toll. Kristian barely got around one corner of one of the brick-walled buildings before a concussive blast went off behind him. That left him with at most a second or two of warning that the blast had been deliberately high of the mark, a second or two too few before the cement cornice and a large chunk of the wall gave way above him.
Abbie couldn't believe what was happening. The slow fall of brick and cement as her friend desperately backed away. A small stone that rolling under his boot threw him off-balance, costing him distance. A flare of something tore away at the arena gate that stood between two young men and their goal. One had a first responder's kit. The white cross on a red disk was uncanny in its clarity. Soon there were other people shouting, running. Were they there to help? Or not? Some person in a supersuit flew up to two boys kneeling in the rubble, working hard on something that kept eluding her. It looked like he wanted ... to argue? Keep fighting? Others moved him away. Good. Then there was the stretcher with the boy she had waited for on it. It seemed to be missing something. Then the white noise roar in her ears joined to the blurred darkening of her vision and there was nothing more to witness.
When Abbie regained consciousness, the world was also back at its normal speed and noise as if nothing had ever happened. But it had. She looked up into the most beautiful violet eyes she'd ever seen, set in an elfen face itself framed with flame-red hair.
"She's coming to! Would everybody please back off and give me room to work? Smithy? I think you've just fainted, but I'd like for you to come with me to see a doctor. Can you do that for me, sweetie?"
"Yeah, I think, maybe, yeah. Just let me — no good."
"Good enough. Let me help you stand up. Tell me immediately if you start getting dizzy or light-headed, okay?"
"Yeah, yeah. I'm fine, really."
"That's what they all say. Including me."
"Er, who ARE you?"
"The code name's Fey, but let's get you out of the Arena first."
They walked some unknown distance, not talking. Fey only had to raise her voice a couple of times to clear the way. The cold December air helped Abbie clear her head once they got outside, but then came the impact of what she'd seen. For several minutes she found herself crying into the shoulder of a caring stranger.
"It's okay to cry, Abelyn. Trust me on that."
"Is he?" Abbie's throat felt like it would close in on itself.
Fey understood the half-asked question. How many times had her own best friends been hurt? Too many. "I haven't heard one way or the other. With bad injuries that usually means your friend still has a fighting chance."
"I think he knew – or we knew – something bad was going to happen."
"Maybe. Maybe not. I know that folks are going to have some questions for you, but that can wait until after we make sure you're okay."
"About that other person, the one that flew up later. Fey, right?"
"Fey. Or Nikki, whichever's more comfortable."
"I'm Abbie. Did he get hurt?"
"Ticonderoga? No. No he did not. It wasn't for lack of trying, either."
"I suppose he thought that the first two responders were trying to interfere with his fight. They had to convince him otherwise."
Afternoon, Friday, December 7, 2007,
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
Ophelia Tenent flat-out hated what she had to do next. Explaining first what she could ethically say to schoolmates, friends, sometimes lovers or siblings, here, and then later having to go through it again for family members arriving at the hospital how and when they coould. It was too quiet out in the waiting room.
She recognized Abbie Elliott and Thomas Jensen on either side of Mads Jensen. Abbie's roommate sat on the other side of her. No surprise to see Mads or Abbie in the waiting room. The incident report mentioned that the two had been waiting at one of the arena entrances when the mishap had occurred directly in front of them. That had to be too much of a shock for those children! She stepped back before they noticed, berating herself for cowardice even as she did so.
It's hardly that. And you know it.
Louis? It doesn't feel that way. Shouldn't there be more people out there?
Oscar is in the break room, getting more coffee. Rorsmand is one of the JROTC students he works with.
So he's beating himself up over this, and we're still only up to five people who seem to give a damn.
Cultural differences and being associated with an openly gay student have made it very hard for Kristian to make many friends in his cottage. It's been worse than usual this year.
Great. What about support for his friends? Usually we have to start throwing people out by now.
The waiting lobby is already bugged six ways from Sunday.
Paige has a tap on the CCTV system. Let's just say that Security isn't entirely unaware. Miranda can hear Mads from Dunwich. Generator has one of her flyspecks planted so she can update Lancer, Phase, and Fey. And Kew... has been Kew. You'll have enough of an audience once you've reviewed the options with the family. Are you going to be good to handle what comes after?
Once the family has made their decision, yes.
Feeling a hundred years older than her own time on earth, Doctor Tenent walked out to talk to her patient's friends.
"I want you all to know that, barring further complications, your friend should pull through. For now, we'll be keeping him in a light coma to minimize the strain on his body as it tries to heal the damage. That said, we do need to know if Kristian has said anything to anyone regarding pain or discomfort in his right arm before today."
From the scared looks it was easy to see that two of the kids had paid attention in powers theory class. That didn't make this easier. However, it was Abelyn Elliott who spoke up first. "No, not that I can recall. He didn't get any sleep last night, but not because of pain. Why?"
"It's something we need to factor in before we plan further treatment."
Mads followed up with, "We could check the footage from when we came in this morning. Trouble is that it might have been precog senses coming through."
"There is that to consider, yes."
"Could I have a word, in private, before you contact his family?"
"Is this likely to be helpful in any way?"
"Maybe. Depends on the time available, Doctor."
Doctor Tenent nodded, "Meet me at my office. I'll be there in a few minutes." She went back to add some more notes to her patient's chart.
Curious, Abbie asked, "Mads, what are you planning on doing?"
"Maybe nothing. It depends on Kris' family and what they're willing to live with."
Evening, Friday, December 7, 2007,
Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
Whatever it was that the boys were keeping to themselves (and look how well that that's always turned out), Thomas soon left the trauma center and didn't return that evening. After the second or third round of questioning by Security, and Mrs. Savage having to physically come over to get her free of them so she could eat something, that detail soon escaped Abbie's mind.
Abbie was fairly certain that the other Whitman girls had heard about or seen the accident and were giving her and Elve a bit of space for now. She did appreciate it, as she wasn't much moved to do more than fall into bed and hope for sleep.
In Abelyn's dream space, Inaam held tight to her sister spirit to comfort and reassure her. If any nightmares chose to trouble them, that would be the last mistake they'd have the opportunity to choose.
Morning, Saturday, December 8, 2007,
Abbie woke up physically rested but still emotionally wrecked. Again, if it weren't for Elve, Mrs. Savage, and the other girls, she didn't know what she would have done. What she felt wasn't the aching loss she still occasionally felt for her parents, and she couldn't imagine what it must be like for Kristian's parents and sisters, what must be going through their heads. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't enthusiasm for the local version of bloodsports carried out on a rickety sound stage. Belatedly she remembered to try to give the empaths on her floor some more space. God knows they wouldn't need a extra helping of whatever it was she was feeling.
And so it was that Smithy was in a particularly foul mood when the bastards in charge of the finals called Metro up to Arena 99. Didn't they care that he had a medical waiver? Or had they conveniently lost it for the sake of 'Mutant Death Match' ratings and revenues?
Maybe after this was all over she'd apologize for screaming at the boy for staggering in later to the waiting room with still-smoking holes in his jacket, a cracked skating helmet held together by god knows what (That wasn't electrician's tape: it had eyes and teeth!), and suspicious stains here and there - some of them not even his blood - instead of checking in to Emergency. A booming baritone in the distance dimly suggested that someone else had also gotten turned around. Abbie figured that they must have gotten to the right department in the end when she overheard Dr. Tenent muttering something darkly under her breath about 'restraints'.
According to the gossip to be had at lunch, it was generally agreed that the scenario a) must have been an unannounced "Crash", and b) involved Thorn, Metro, a gillman of some kind, daleks, and flaming snowmen with guns - somehow - no one was entirely sure what had happened except that it started off with a cat in a tree.
Evening, Saturday, December 8, 2007,
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
Kristian's father arrived at the Academy Saturday evening. Abelyn and Elve hadn't met him on Parents' Day, so this was the first chance they'd had to meet the man. Arvid Holm looked... like his son, but older, and a LOT less high-strung. A person would have to be less high strung than Rorsmand to balance his own practice, an internationally successful wife, and three children. She wondered if he and her Pa would have gotten along over a beer or two, and decided that they probably would have if they'd ever had that chance.
The man looked so much older after having gone in with the doctor to check on his son.
Was it surprising that Mads had jumped up (for certain wobbly values of 'jump' that his doctor and anyone else with much sense would have disapproved of) to greet him when he came out? Perhaps not, but after a short discussion that neither Whitman roommate could make out, he turned to introduce them to the man.
Abbie stumbled through her initial apology, "Mr. Holm, I'm so sorry about what happened!"
"I'd insist you call me Arvid, but that would scandalize Kristian, wouldn't it?"
All my own relations as well!, Abbie thought to herself.
"Yes, sir, I think it would. I just wish there was something I could have done to help instead of just standing and watching."
"Why don't we all sit down, and talk about that? Mads," Mr. Holm pronounced the name 'Mass'. Interesting. "Don't go running off. I would like to hear your side as well. If you feel more comfortable using countermeasures I'm sure your friends listening in would understand."
Countermeasures? Listening in?
Seeing shock on the girls' faces, Mr. Holm explained, "Kristian gave us quite the report on Mads' run-ins with the school's, er, 'Intelligence Corps'. I'm given to understand that it corroborates a later report on certain Parents' Day events."
"That was not my fault! I've heard quieter bison in the underbrush..."
"Don't worry too much about it. I've been told that one of your older cousins thought it hilarious. His mother is quietly pleased that the Danish side of your heritage may turn out the strongest — so long as the younger cousins aren't given any brash ideas."
Abbie was sure that she was now seeing a 'Rutro' blush from the boy.
Over the next hour or so, Arvid Holm patiently and tactfully plied his craft as a clinical psychologist. Teens of either, or any, gender tended to catastrophize, and these three were no exception. He'd also need to talk with his son at length as to why he saw this event chain as being the best he had open to him. Maybe some discussions would also be needed over the break regarding how he was responding to his own feelings and to the feelings of those around him.
Sunday, December 9, 2007,
Berlin, New Hampshire
The roller-coaster of emotions over the previous couple of days had left Abbie in deep need of a mental and physical break, so after getting up and getting dressed appropriately she accompanied some of the other students on the weekend bus to Berlin for church services. She was surprised to see that Mr. Holm also boarded the bus.
"I should have rented an auto in Boston, but the school had made already made arrangements for my transportation. Who am I to refuse? So here I am. Care to join me, Miss Elliott?"
"Where to? I have to confess that my family wasn't very church-going, but my father was a member of the Christian Church."
"I was thinking of St. Paul Lutheran. It's only a kilometer north of the other churches, and it's a nice day for walking."
"Suits me. I understand that Kris is trying to teach Mads about the Church of Denmark and how it's a Lutheran denomination."
"It is. By the way, we Lutherans do consider ourselves Christians, in case you were wondering."
"Oh, no! That's not it at all! By calling it a Christian Church we mean that we don't put much store in separating everyone into denominations and such. 'We are Christians only, but not the only Christians.' is how my Sunday School teacher put it. I doubt that Reverend Englund - he's the school's minister - would approve. But then, he doesn't have to," Abbie laughed, remembering her one run-in with the dour man.
"Well then, maybe we can expand your cultural horizons while we both pray for Kris to pull through this morning's surgery and his first round of physical therapy."
"The prosthetic arrived early this morning. I'm given to understand that once Kristian wakes up, he'll be pushed straight into physical therapy to ensure all the nerve connections are working as intended. As much as he hates to be seen needing others instead of being needed, it may be best for us not to get into the middle of the brewing power struggle."
How bad could it be?
Sunday afternoon, December 9, 2007,
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
It could be bad enough that Mrs. Carson, the school headmistress, was waiting for the bus to return from Berlin.
"Miss Elliott, if you will excuse us? You may want to talk to certain of your friends regarding their recent behavior. I doubt you need me to tell you which ones, but they can both be found at Doyle Medical Center. Mr. Holm, I believe we have some things to discuss regarding your son."
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
One of the funny things about talking is that sometimes it works better when more than one person is willing or able to actually talk. Kristian was awake and sulking when Abbie was allowed in to see him. The hospital gown didn't do much to hide the bruising from the other injuries stemming from the disastrous combat final.
"Abbie! I was told that you and Father went to church this morning. How was it?"
"The usual. Souls touched by God's message. Prayers for peace, healing, goodwill amongst men. That sort of stuff. How was your morning, slugger?"
Kris winced. "It sucked. Alright? The last thing I remember is a building falling on me and a certain obnoxious ASS harassing me over it..."
"That would have been Mads trying his hardest to keep you awake in spite of a serious concussion and focusing on anything other than your arm while Jericho worked on getting you stabilized enough for transport."
"Right. I'm sure he enjoyed himself immensely at my screwing everything up."
"That's not the impression I got from Fey, nor from Security."
"Whatever. Next thing I know, I'm waking up in pain all over..."
"Having a wall dropped on you will do that, Kris."
Rorsmand glared back at the girl. If looks could kill, there'd be one more stiff awaiting transport.
"Anyway, that shithead is trying to get me to move my arm, which I shouldn't be able to do."
"It's called a prosthetic, and from what I hear you knew that this was coming."
"Says you. And of course it's not working quite to his satisfaction, so then he opens up my fucking arm like he's a repairman or something!"
"Did you know he used to work at a doctor's clinic that dealt with this kind of thing?"
"Um, no. But it was still disturbing as hell to have your best friend poking around inside of you."
"Is that what you guys call it?"
"Not you too?"
"Girls don't 'poke'. Not without help. You'll see that when you take me to the end of the term ball. But do go on."
"So I punched him."
"You punched your best friend. With what?"
"My, um, new hand, I guess. What's this about a ball?"
"You punched the person who bought your new arm, with it?"
"That sounds so wrong when you say it like that." Rorsmand frowned in confusion, "You said 'end of term ball'?"
"Pick me up at 7:30. You should know where Whitman Cottage is by now. So what happened after the fight?"
"He just stared at me in pain for a minute; it almost felt like I'd punched myself! Then he spat out a few teeth, and passed out! Who pulls an illusion like that on someone?"
"No one. But that does explain why he's not hovering over you this morning like he has been the past couple of days."
"Because he's in the room next door with his jaw wired shut."
"Exemplar. versus. Baseline. A handicapped baseline. What did you THINK would happen when you clocked him?"
"I didn't mean to!"
"Good thing you hadn't asked him to the end of term ball. That could get awkward."
"He doesn't even like me that much!"
"No. He just cares for you like a member of his family: something he clearly has never had much of. There's an important difference there that you've been moping about for ages."
"I hit him - when he had his guard down?"
Finally it sinks in? Testosterone poisoning for the loss.
"He couldn't exactly keep his guard up, what with his own Combat Final going sideways, trying to get you a compatible prosthetic after hearing about the tumor you couldn't be bothered to mention to any of us, and everything else."
"I did hit him. Combat Final? He had a medical waiver for that!"
"Him, Thorn, Josie Gillman. I'm told the only way it could have turned out stranger was if a Great Old One walked in pretending to be a cat."
"He didn't get hurt, did he?"
"So now you wonder about his health? He did manage to stagger in under his own power. Dr. Tenent wasn't impressed."
"Had all of us worried about you the whole damn time. Can't either of you two idiots let people look out for you once in a while with out popping a gasket or getting yourself even hurt more trying to get out of it?"
"I should apologize, shouldn't I?"
"If you have to ask, you need to take a deeper look at who you are and who you're becoming."
Kris blinked at that advice. Rather wise coming from a girl his age. Of course, he'd been one once, too.
"Where did you come up with that?"
"Today's sermon, at St. Paul's, with your father, who, by the way, is getting a 'Report to Admin' level briefing on your recent behavior from Mrs. Carson."
Abbie sighed at the mixture of befuddlement and concern on the other's face. Maybe it was just a bad combination of concussion and medications? How did she let a couple of knuckleheaded boys like these even get under her skin like this? Even advanced metalworking was more straightforward: just grab a hammer and pound the dents out! She'd ask Thomas how he managed if she thought she'd get a straight answer out of him.
"Let me go check on the other numbskull. Maybe they'll let you go in to apologize before he's back up to door-smashing speed again."
"Door-smashing?" Kristian wondered what else happened while he was out.
"Kris, in case you're wondering, I got some great advice from Fey the other day. Do NOT get in the way of Jericho or Metro trying to aid a patient or protect someone they care for. It doesn't end well."
It looked like Mads, on the other hand, was going to be blessedly silent on all matters for the evening. He was wired up with an array of monitors lest post-surgical swelling impede his breathing. Once again, Thomas Jensen was reading one of his textbooks, no doubt preparing for regular end-of-term exams. Abbie prayed to a God she often questioned (even on His own day) that those exams would be less exciting. That gave the boy time to choose his words.
"He did it to himself this time," Thomas spat out.
"I was under the impression that Kris helped."
"There IS that."
There had to be something Abbie wasn't getting about all this. "Why?"
"Kris is an exemplar. What and how he sees as himself, he becomes. So if he thinks of his arm as a thing separate from himself, his body will begin to reject the foreign object in order to replace it."
"Would that replacement include the abnormal tissue the doctors found?"
"Maybe. Maybe not. End result: Kris loses his arm. Again. And, potentially, again. That is, if regen cancer doesn't kick in."
"That still doesn't explain why he provoked Kris."
"Emulating the same method he was tricked into mentally accepting his own prosthetic, even though that thing was much more obvious."
"Mads lost an arm? When was this?"
"A couple of years ago. He had to live with a mechanical arm for five or six months until a cloned replacement became available."
"Okay?" Not okay. Abbie wondered, "What about recharging the batteries or power cells? Won't that cue Kris' subconscious mind that something's wrong?"
Thomas explained, "There are hidden solar cells which will feel very good when the skin is exposed to the sun, plus use of his body's bioelectric field, even some environmental EM scavenging. If it helps, think of it as devisor tech, with a working maintenance kit. Besides, denial isn't just another African river, now, is it?"
"Well, there you go. We're dealing with two skilled professionals in that field."
Thursday evening, December 13, 2007, Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
Finals week at Whateley seemed to have come and go in a rush. Rorsmand's father departed for Copenhagen on Monday with a backup copy of the physical therapy exercises his son was meant to keep up over the winter break. Metro's jaw was unwired in due time. Too soon, according to many, but he wasn't supposed to be talking during finals anyway. It was distracting.
Kristian was heartbreakingly prompt, arriving at the Whitman Cottage front entrance at 7:30 on the dot. Later on, Abelyn would learn that 'fashionably late' was not a prized virtue to many Danes and Germans. As it was, the Emerson lad spent fifteen minutes under Mrs. Savage's (and others') watchful eyes. The fact that cute exemplars rarely got past Dickinson or Melville Cottages, let alone cute exemplars in their JROTC dress uniform, wasn't lost on her.
With solemn promises not to stay out past curfew – under threat of dismemberment – the traumatized young man was finally able to escort Abbie away. Judging by the glazed look in Rorsmand's eyes, he might have been exposed to a moderate dose of Pucelle's brand of crazy. "Is it always like this?" he asked.
She replied, "No. Sometimes the reception can even be hostile."
McFarlane Stadium, Whateley Academy
The intent of the few formal balls held at Whateley Academy was to make some effort to inculcate a measure of class and refinement into the student body even if it killed the angsty blighters. Those running the sound booth tended to take a middle path between the dual recipes for disaster in having the Staff disappointed and the students bored. Thus, mixed in with the usual mix of fast and slow songs there were also a selection of songs suited to the ballroom dancing that few kids learned these days except under pain of death, parental disapproval, being cut off from inheritances, etc. Given that the formal selections usually coincided with longer lines at the restrooms and punch bowls, they were also selected for length if the DJs were to have any chance at a restroom break themselves.
The folks who did know the formal dances tended to stand out: a couple of the adult chaperones at any given time, several of the Golden Kids attempting to keep up appearances, some of the seniors. The few who didn't fit the stood out even more. For example, 'Shine's date for the evening had obviously taken some pains to teach the Tennessee millionaire steps to the less-complicated dances. One of the Poe sophomores, Tennyo, not only had a lovely dress, but had snagged one of the few male Posies who knew the dance steps and could fly. That just wasn't fair, even if it was just Valravn dancing with The Destroyer.
Smithy managed to drag to Rorsmand out onto the dance floor a couple of times before Metro made an appearance. It was a good thing that it was one of the faster formal numbers that so chaotically cleared the floor and imposed distance between the two Danes, and also that he was accompanied by Heartbreaker. Where there was a model on a shoot there was sure to be a photographer. Greasy was skillfully weaving through the dancers and the crowd at the edge of the dance floor to get the best photos possible for the Venus Inc. assignment. Solange was managing a graceful balance of stage managing the shoot, mingling with her own crowd, and subtly promising via her body language a painful and slow demise for anyone interfering with either of her priorities.
Abbie sent Kris off for some punch, so as not to start something that might get himself punched.
I swear that boy is damn-near determined to start a fight, just to get Mads to pay him back for the cheap shot the other day!
He feels guilty for acting dishonorably. As he should.
But Mads and Thomas have both told him to let it go!
We ARE discussing the weaker-minded of the species, you know.
Maybe we should duct-tape the two to a tree until they get it out of their system?
Two trees, perhaps, facing each other.
I like the way you think!
The third time the pair went out, it was to a jazzy latin number that allowed Heartbreaker to really show off her assets and footwork. It looked like so much fun that Abbie wished she could dance like that. However, once she accounted for how much the needed dance practice could cut into her Workshop time she tabled that potential hobby. Looking over at the boy who was supposed to be her date... so tense, and sad? The way he watched the couple... something else had to be behind whatever was going on with him. Abbie felt somewhat ashamed to have pushed Kris into this.
Maybe he envied the exemplar beauty's grace on the dance floor too? If that was be something that could help Kris unwind more, it might be worth the lost lab time after all. For now, she gently took hold of the boy's clenched fist and coaxed him in to opening his hand. That much she could do, before he excused himself again.
Returning with a couple of cups of punch, Rorsmand guiltily suggested that maybe they should ease their way to where the other JROTC couples had congregated. Abbie readily agreed. It did feel good to be shown off in front of the other cadets and their dates. One or two of the cadets didn't seem very impressed, as if she were stealing one of their own, but as far as Abbie was concerned that was their problem, not hers. With any luck she hoped to still salvage the occasion by keeping an eye out for Elve, assuming the girl made it to the dance with the senior who'd asked her out. It later turned out that so many of the cadets who knew him were concerned for how it could turn out, that it might been one of the most heavily-chaperoned dates in recent school history.
Friday morning, December 14, 2007,
Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
And just like that, the Fall term for Abelyn and friends was over. Abbie said her goodbyes to the boys after breakfast, giving them each a little something to open on Christmas morning. Or Yule. Or Kwanzaa. She was reasonably certain that the latter suggestion was Thomas' idea of a joke.
Her own departure was scheduled for Saturday. Elve's parents would be coming to the States to visit her, because sitting in an airplane for hours on end would be too painful for the girl to go through twice in barely more than three weeks. That shouldn't have been a strong reminder of how much she still missed her parents, but it was. She hardly even knew the grandmother she'd be staying with for the Christmas break in North Carolina. Maybe this would turn out to be more an opportunity than a burden?
Either way, in three short weeks she'd be back to school, back to work at her forge, back to whatever mayhem a new term at Whateley Academy could throw at her. Unbidden, a song her father's father used to love came back to her and she hummed to herself as she went back down to her shop.
"But I still belong to everyone
And if my sleep allows
Well then all those boys
Will dance tonight
With me and my old pals."
—Richard Stekol, "My Old Pals"
End of Part Two, If I Had A Hammer