Yesterday and days before
Sun is cold and rain is hard
I know been that way for all my time
'Til forever, on it goes
Through the circle, fast and slow,
I know it can't stop, I wonder...
Creedence Clearwater Revival, Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
October 8th, 2007
Penthouse, The Stratford Building, 1385 York Ave, New York, NY
Alex awoke slowly in his bed, feeling strangely out of sorts.
Yesterday had taken a great deal of getting used to. The feeling of Jak, which now he recognized as the vague sensation of being watched in Indian Cave, constantly being around, as though he would turn a corner or look over his shoulder and see the con artist he had met in the Dream version of Beanocchio's Coffee, leaning against a wall, idly flipping a coin and watching him. This had amused Jak who had assured the boy he would become used to feeling the spirit be around him.
Then there was his appetite.
His mother had returned with a bland tray of hospital food that he had wolfed down like a starving man and asked for seconds. This had alarmed his mother, but the doctor had calmed her, assuring her that between puberty and his mutant activation, Alex was going to be something of a big eater for a while. The second tray had disappeared as quickly as the first and Alex still felt a little peckish, but could ignore it now.
Alex had almost fainted when he saw Jak looking out from a mirror for the first time.
Relax, kid! The spirit had admonished him. I know how much you humans depend on expression to communicate. This just makes it easy without me having to expend myself projecting into your realm.
It had made answering the call of Nature more than a bit awkward, especially as Alex was becoming acquainted with this new body he had, seemingly overnight from his point of view. The hospital confirmed he had grown two full inches from his last checkup and was now five foot nine and still growing. His reflection now wasn't a gangly tennis player but a well defined, practically chiseled gymnast. While the muscles didn't bulk, they were hard, and having a six pack was a welcome addition. His once sandy brown hair was now a radiant strawberry blonde and his simple brown eyes were now the color of honey in sunlight and had vertical pupils.
There were also other changes he was very pleasantly surprised with.
He got a vague sensation of amusement from the spirit as he went to answer nature's call to find the changes he had experienced in his Dream conversation with Jak were true in reality. I'm glad you approve, the spirit had chuckled as the youngster took hold of himself to conduct his business. Of course, that led to wonder of how much larger it would get when that was called for and that brought him up short.
The feeling of confusion intensified.
Alex finished his business and turned to the mirror. “Are...are you...always...going to be around? Even when I...you know...”
The spirit grinned. I'm not a voyeur, laddie. Well, not in that sense.
Then, as if to prove the point, the feeling of the spirit vanished and he felt alone for a moment. There was a brief spate of panic, but as he cast about he found the connection between himself and the spirit that seemed to wander 'away' but not in anyway he could articulate. He knew Jak would know if he called, but he wouldn't have to feel embarrassed if he was 'entertaining a guest.'
Alex chuckled at himself as he remembered the previous day in bed before he sat up to stretch. If you couldn't laugh at being a teenager, it would probably drive you mad. He stretched and it was then that he became aware of a new weight on his chest that shifted. Looking down, he saw that his t-shirt was pushing out and looking down the collar he saw the swell of a pair of breasts. It took a full minute of looking before his brain processed the fact that he suddenly had breasts.
He, now she, nearly squealed in surprise.
What's the fuss? Jak demanded a bit groggily in her mind as she scrambled out of bed and over to the full length mirror behind her closet door. In it he saw a damn sexy young sweetheart, heart shaped face, cupid's bow mouth with his wild hair in his T-shirt and now very poorly fitting pajama bottoms. The breasts stood out under the cotton of the shirt and suddenly two well defined nipples began to poke out. Didn't I tell you I'd share this power with you? What are you upset about?
The shock reduced Alex to stammering. “I...I...I'm a...a...a...” Alex closed his eyes and mouth, concentrating on his breathing before he opened his eyes again and found himself unchanged from the moment before. “I'm a girl!” he squeaked. His first impression was that the girl in the mirror was a softer, feminine version of himself, followed closely by the realization she was hot.
The red-headed bombshell from the cafe, only her face was unmade and her hair wild from the bed appeared in the mirror. So? the spirit asked. You can be lots of things. Control of my shape is one of the powers I share with you. You can be anything, anyone you want, it just takes practice.
“Why can't I change now?” she whispered, terrified of being overheard.
The bombshell smirked. Because there's a big chunk of your mind that wants to explore, she told the frightened young girl. It's alright, I promise.
Alex saw her reflection be hugged in the mirror by the older woman and felt the contact on her skin and the reassurance. The panic passed slowly and, she had control of herself again. Good, now just imagine how you were.
In the mirror, the amazingly sexy cute girl shifted and molded until Alex once more wore the body he woke up to in the hospital. A worried hand grabbed his crotch to reassure himself and he breathed a sigh of relief. These are your defaults, Jak told him. They will always be the easiest for you to change to. I'll explain more on the way. We have a long journey ahead of us, best to get ready for it.
Clean, after a long shower, Alex pulled on his favorite pair of jeans and a polo shirt before he followed his nose and the wonderful aromas he smelled into the kitchen. There he found Edwin, his cut away coat hanging from a hook by the door and the rest of his suit protected by a starched white apron at the cook top, gently poking at something that hissed from the heat with a spatula. “I don't know what that is, but it smells wonderful, Edwin,” he complimented as he poured himself a tall glass of orange juice.
“A staple from my departed mother, God rest her soul, Master Alex,” the butler replied, liberally dashing a spice onto the pan's contents. “With modification of course for the somewhat coarse American palate and the lamentable lack of proper bacon in this country. It is known amongst the working classes as 'Bubble and Squeak.'”
He removed the pan from the flame and began to scoop out a serving onto a plate that he then set in front of the young man. “Bubble and Squeak?” Alex asked, looking at the mass, which despite its name looked and smelled delicious. A rack of toast, butter and a tub of honey was added to the table.
“Indeed, sir,” he continued, quenching the pan and then quickly scrubbing it before a rinse and depositing it into the dish washer. “A hearty provision, comprised of mashed potatoes mixed with cabbage and the moribund scraps American butchers deign to call bacon crowned with a single egg and, of course, the requisite confidential blend of spices.”
“Well, whatever you call it it's delicious,” mumbled Alex around his mouthful.
“Thank you, sir. Of course, I would be more pleased to receive such praise from an empty mouth,” he said with a ghost of a smile as he hung up the apron to don his cutaway coat once more.
“Sorry,” the boy mumbled after a gulp of orange juice cleared his mouth. “Is Mom taking me to the train station?”
“Mrs Preswick-Walcutt sends her regrets, Master Alex, but unfortunate deadlines prohibit her personally seeing you off. The honor of starting your journey into the larger world has fallen to me.”
Alex tried and failed to fight off the crushing disappointment. It was not the first time he felt like he had not mattered to his parents, but the Gentleman's Gentleman noted the boys depression and laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. “May I remind you, that your mother did not leave your bedside for four days during your recent crisis? Hardly the behavior of a uncaring lady, if I might make so bold, sir.”
The youngest Preswick-Walcutt looked up into the Butler's face. “You always know the right thing to say, Edwin. How do you do that?”
The butler smiled while refilling the glass of orange juice. “Modesty forbids, sir,” he declared with a wink. “I have taken the liberty of telephoning a Miss Claire at the Academy for you, sir, and provided her with your sizes. A set of the institutions uniforms should be awaiting you on arrival. Shall I pack a bag of casual things for your off hours?”
“Oh, you don't have to do that, Edwin,” the boy said, scrapping the last of his breakfast onto his fork. “I'll be ready in a couple of minutes.”
“Very good, sir.”
October 8th, 2007
Acela Express 2158 En-route to Concord, New Hampshire
Alex shut the door to his compartment, pausing to dump his duffle bag onto the rear seat before he flopped down on the forward facing seat. It would figure his mother would have bought him a private compartment for the simple four hour trip. Still, it would give him time to commune with Jak and get a better idea of his powers. He'd locked the door to the compartment on entry, that left pulling the shade closed as he sighed and got comfortable in the seat. Jak? He thought to himself.
He blinked and found himself sitting across from what he began to label Jak's 'male' form. A sharp faced New York wise guy in silver gray suit over a black silk shirt worn mostly open and a generous mop of red hair, slicked back from his face. “I thought you said projecting yourself into the real world was taxing?”
“Who says we're in the 'real' world?” the other asked, raising the shade to show the train rolling past a vibrantly green wilderness with a small herd of unicorns grazing in a clearing instead of the tunnel the train should be traveling through on its way to New Rochelle.
Alex looked out the window, then back at the spirit. “Those are real?”
“Kid, you're going to find that the word 'real' doesn't mean what you think it does.” The sharp featured face grinned and he got a bit more comfortable in the seat. “So, let's begin. As you found out this morning, you can control your shape. Like it?”
“Hadn't thought about it,” Alex replied truthfully. “Well, other than about peeing myself in surprise!”
The spirit chuckled. “You humans are so married to the shape of your bodies, it never ceases to amuse me.” He pulled out a deck of cards from his jacket pocket and began to fidget with it in his hands, shuffling it one-handed and making cards appear and disappear with what looked like simple sleight of hand. “What you have to understand, kid, is that this meat you're wearing, it isn't you. That body out there? It's just a thing.” He pointed at the boy across the compartment. “This is you.”
“Well, what is this?” Alex asked. “My soul?”
“As you understand the word? Yes. I could get technical, but that's just boring theory stuff.” The blue eye winked. “So, let's concentrate on the practical; more fun anyway.”
“Ok,” Walcutt agreed. “So, I guess I was a little, uh, shocked, I guess this morning. Why did I wake up as a girl?”
An eye brow rose on the hustler's face. “You don't remember what you were dreaming about?”
Alex shrugged. “I don't remember my dreams. I never have.”
A narrow finger was held up by the spirit. “Rule number one, kiddo, we don't lie to each other. I cannot lie to you, the Contract forbids it, and while you can try to lie to me, I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't. We're going be together the rest of your life. That's a long time to be at odds, kiddo, and definitely not what I signed up for. Cool?”
“Sure,” Alex declared. “But I don't remember my dreams!”
“No, you suppress them,” Jak replied.
A frown pulled at Alex's face. “Suppress?” he demanded. “Why would I be afraid of my dreams?”
Jak shrugged. “Beats me, kid, I just moved in, so I'm still getting unpacked here. But, if I hadda guess, I'd say something...risque? Shall we say?” The wise guy smiled a knowing smile. “Hey, don't be embarrassed, that meat you're wearing is drowning in hormones and you got a case of the hots something fierce. It's natural.” He stood and stretched. “You know what? Speaking of natural, why don't you give the new body a spin while I make myself scarce? Get it out of your system.”
Alex's face threatened to catch fire from blushing. “I...I...I mean...”
The fox waved it off as he turned up his collar. “Relax, kiddo!” he declared with a grin. “Like I said, it's natural. You got a nice private place here. I think I'll go mingle for a bit. Call me if ya need me.” What that, Alex's eyes popped open as the train left the tunnel and was out in the sunshine, winding its way out of the city north.
He sat for a moment, looking at the door where he had last imagined the spirit having been, and again felt a little embarrassed to have been given 'permission' to test drive his new body, as it were. That brought a frown to his face, as he recalled the conversation and the odd choice of words the spirit had used. “Contract forbids it?” Alex muttered to himself. “What contract?” Curious now, he dug his laptop out of its bag and got it situated on the fold out desk, made a few searches and started reading.
He quickly found the signal to noise ratio of the internet was ridiculous.
Wild conspiracy theories, secret societies, cabals of homosexual amphibians and mystics offering to sell the secrets of the cosmos for the low, low price of $19.95 plus shipping and handling were the order of the day. Alex rolled his eyes and after a moment of thought, turned his browser to the Department of Paranormal Affairs website. There, he found a link to a entire collection of informational and self help sites. That led to the What is Magic page on the Mystic Arts section of MIT&T's website.
“The western occult tradition traces it's linage to Charlemagne and his Codice Iuris, by which the legal foundation of the tradition was laid and is recognized as the first step in moving the practice of magic from hedge practice and mystic trapping to a legally recognized profession,” he read, furring his brow as he scrolled through the somewhat dry historical summary. “What does that have to do with Solomon?” he asked, clicking a few links fruitlessly.
Finally a new page opened that caught his interest. “Solomon, King of Israel or Solomon the Wise was a noted magician and ruler (c)970-931 BCE and the author of the Contract with the metaphysical world that bears his name, governing the interactions with spirits and beings not native to the Prime Material Plane. What is...? Oh,” Alex muttered, following a link then back. “Use in warfare...Forbiddance of Attainder...Primacy of Cost? What the devil is...”
“Primacy of Cost?” a familiar voice asked. Alex looked up to find Jak sitting across from him again. “It means I can't give you something for free. And I can't take from you without offering something in return. Call it the 'no free lunch' rule,” the Spirit declared. “Not exactly what I would call erotic reading there, kiddo.”
Alex closed his laptop and fixed his gaze on the spirit. “So what do you get out of our partnership?”
“Exactly what I promised you,” the Fox replied. “I share my power, you share your hallow.”
The young man frowned. “What good is that to you?” He expected the spirit to be surly at catching him reading up on their arrangement, but as near as Alex could tell, Jak still seemed pleased and amused by him.
“Quite a bit, sport,” the Fox declared. “First and foremost, you are in what the highbrow types call the Prime Material Plane and it is where essence is generated. The stuff of life itself. That is what we spirits feed on, the way you humans need air and food and water. You suck it up and fritter it away in day dreams or fantasies your whole lives. From addicted gamblers fervently hoping for their big break to grandma's prayers to the Creator, it's all essence. We can only collect it in our hallow and to stay in our hallow all the time is dangerous. We can be captured and subjugated, just like you read about Solomon rounding us up and binding us to any and everything he had laying around. Until the Contract.”
Alex rubbed his chin. “Well, with you in me, doesn't that mean I captured you?”
Jak leaned back, making a pillow of his hands behind his head and stretched out to cross his legs. “Nope!” he declared. “You don't own me, and I don't own you. Everything we do is in trade, just like the Contract says. But while I am here, I can't be summoned away from you or bound to something else. That means I can't be turned into a slave, or made the mystical battery to some magical gewgaw.”
Walcutt made a face. “People do that?”
“You have no idea,” the fox growled. “So I'm protected leaving me free to suck up all this essence you humans are wasting, and for services rendered, I let you use my powers. Nothing underhanded, nothing rotten.”
“That sounds too good to be true,” the young man declared, crossing his arms, but the fox only grinned.
“Don't take my word for it,” he drawled. “Read up there or talk with any number of the Wise at this school you're headed to.”
Alex looked at his spirit askance. “Spirits know about Whateley?”
“Do humans know about New York?” The fox stood and stretched. “Look, Alex, kiddo, I know you probably got a little worried about how quick we made a deal, and, as a general rule, as a New Yorker, you should know better, but you lucked out with me. Don't worry, I got your best interests front and center. After all, the longer you live, the more worry free essence I soak up. And don't feel like you gotta hide this. Ya really can't for one, we will get so close you'll be able to read my thoughts and ditto the reverse. Two, I like sharp cookies; it's my thing, sweetheart! So feel free to wise up because the more you know you can trust me, the less time we waste because you don't.”
“You're not mad?”
The wise guy melted into the bombshell and leaned forward to pinch Alex's cheek. Not that he noticed with a Grand Canyon of cleavage in his face. “Silly boy, I don't get mad, I get even. The sooner I convince you of my way of thinking, the better.” She stood up and looked back out the car at the door. “Now, if you want some...amusement...there are several sweet young things that would love to share this lovely compartment with you, if you're interested?”
With Herculean force of will, Alex controlled his hormone addled brain and frowned. “You mean, lure some girl in here and use her...?”
The bombshell arched an eyebrow. “Oh? You'd rather have some studly sir, come pop your cherry? There are several of those, too...”
“No!” Alex declared. “I...I'm not...how could you...!”
She leaned down, nose to nose, a fire dancing in her blue eyes. “You don't know me very well yet, so I'll let your former comment slide, this time. If some little miss out there wants a memory, well me taking care of my host is win/win for everybody. But compelling is cheating. There's no sport in making anyone do anything. You, of all people, should know that.”
Alex frowned. “And that 'irresistible something' isn't cheating?”
The bombshell stepped back, a look of cunning admiration on her face. “Not at all. Giving someone what they want is fair play. Just make sure you know what you want.” She grinned and winked at him. “Enjoy your reading, kiddo. If you change your mind about some company, let me know.”
She strolled out with enough hip sway to hypnotize a standing room only theater. “Oh, what have I gotten myself into?” the young man whispered.
October 8th, 2007
Amtrak Berlin Station, Berlin, New Hampshire
Alex stepped off the train to get his first look at Berlin.
As it might be imagined, the young New Yorker was not impressed. The station was just a little brick building trackside, not much more than a handful of offices and a waiting area. The platform was covered, but that wasn't saying much and the 'town' beyond the station barely was worthy of the sobriquet. “Isn't this...quaint?” he asked himself as he got the strap of his duffle bag comfortable on his shoulder where it wouldn't catch on the straps of the backpack that held his laptop.
He looked about, his itinerary stated that someone from the school would be waiting, when his eyes fell on the biggest, broadest man he'd seen recently. Maybe even ever. He was six foot six if he was an inch, easily head and shoulders above everyone around him, but not gangly like a basketball player. This man was built like a linebacker with hands the size of Alex's head. He had a wide, square face with not gold, but yellow eyes under a great shaggy mop of deep brown hair. He was wearing a black polo shirt with a school crest on the left breast in gold over jeans and was holding a cardboard sign with Alex's name on it.
“Great,” the young man muttered, getting a distinctly dangerous vibe from his 'bully' sense. “New school, same as the old school.” Alex screwed his courage to the sticking place and walked over to him. “I'm Alex Preswick-Walcutt,” he declared.
The big young man actually smiled and extended a hand, casually destroying the sign one handed with the other. “Wyatt Cody,” he declared in a surprisingly pleasant baritone. “You wouldn't be related to Tansy Walcutt, would you?”
Alex brightened a bit. If he knew Tansy, that might mean he could make some inroads. Having a friend this large definitely couldn't hurt. “She's my cousin,” he admitted. “Do you know her?”
The big man effortlessly relieved Alex of his duffle. “Tansy? Sure do, she's a good, good friend. Come with me and we'll head to the school.”
“Funny, I'd think if she'd mentioned you I'd remember it,” Alex replied as he followed the senior towards a black minivan with the school crest in gold on the door. His bags quickly put in the back, the two climbed into the front seats and fastened their seat belts.
“Oh, we don't really talk about the school outside of it,” Wyatt replied as he looked over his shoulder to back the minivan out of the space, casually working the steering wheel one handed. “It's important to keep things discreet, if you follow me. Actually, Tansy is best friends with my fiancée.”
Alex blinked. “You're a student?”
The big man grinned as the minivan merged into the traffic pattern and turned north. “Senior,” he replied, urging the somewhat sluggish van to the speed limit. “Well, Senior Emeritus,” he added with a chagrined shrug.
“You got held back?” Alex, who was quite well read, asked.
“Got a new power at the end of last year and Mrs Carson, that's the Headmistress, wanted me to repeat the year to get extra training in it,” Wyatt replied with out rancor. “Fine by me, I like Whateley.”
Walcutt rubbed his chin. “And they have you playing chauffeur?”
“I'm only taking a couple of specific classes,” Wyatt said, tisking between his teeth as he had to stop for a traffic light. “No skin off my nose to help out where I can.” He looked over at the younger man sidelong. “So, just activated, huh?”
“Your MGC?” Wyatt prompted. “Mutant powers?”
“Oh!” Alex exclaimed, trying to recover quickly from the mental slip up. “Uh, I'm not really sure what all I can do, but I wasn't this in shape before, and I have a spirit...”
Wyatt grinned as the light changed and he started moving again. “Me too! Nice to have another avatar up here. Mine is Kodiak, what's yours?”
“Uh, a fox,” Walcutt admitted, wincing internally a bit, but the big man didn't seem to either be dismissive or disdainful.
“Good,” he just said as the van finally cleared the edge of town and began to climb up into the mountains. “Tansy can give you some pointers and once you're settled she'll probably show you around. She know you're coming?”
“Uh, I don't know. Her dad made the arrangements for my parents.”
Wyatt nodded. “He'd know,” was all he said. “Probably a lot for you to get used to?”
“I have to say it's been the strangest couple of days of my life.” That struck Wyatt as funny and he chuckled good naturally.
“The first time I woke up after it happened, I was in my bear form.” Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Alex looking at him and elaborated, “One of the powers my spirit grants me is the use of his form and strength. We can spar sometime and I'll show you. Scared the piss out of my mom!”
Alex felt his heart sink at the thought of 'sparring' with Wyatt Cody as he was, let alone bigger and stronger. “Oh, well, I grew two inches and I'm starving. Can we stop...?”
Wyatt pushed the speed on the van up a bit. “Trust me, there isn't much worth eating in Berlin. There are some OK places for dates and what not, but the best food for miles is the school cafeteria, believe it or not.”
That wasn't so much of a stretch for Alex. He was actually a bit melancholy about never eating at Benjamin Franklin Academy again. Their kitchen staff was excellent. He hoped that the reality of this cafeteria lived up to the big senior's praise. “The doctor said I'd probably be a big eater for a bit,” he said a little nervously.
“Most new actives do,” Cody assured him. “Don't worry, the Crystal Hall is eat all you want.” He opened the armrest of the console between them and Alex saw it was full of food. Wyatt reached in and pulled out a candy bar. “Here, see if this won't tide you over. We'll be there in just a minute.”
Walcutt wasn't a fan of chocolate bars, but was suddenly too hungry to care and ate the sickly sweet confection eagerly. The van turned off the main road through a gate that had a pair of stone lentels, crowned with strange looking gargoyles than sent a shiver up Alex's spine. The road wound, somewhat needlessly to Alex's thought. For some reason New Englanders were positively obsessed with roads that meandered everywhere. “Do only other, uh....”
“Mutants?” Wyatt asked with a raised eyebrow. “Yes, all of the students are gifted in some way. And a bunch of the teachers too, so don't be surprised.” The road turned a bend and Alex got his first look at the school grounds.
The road went straight to a large, two winged building with a gigantic glass dome behind it. The other buildings framed the road on either side and were a bizarre mishmash of architectural styles. This first one was Brutalist, then New England colonial next to it, but with a tower and what looked like an observatory dome behind it. On the other side of the road was a round building that looked like waddle and daub construction but was certainly concrete as that style of construction was completely wrong for a round tower. Then off to Wyatt's side of the car was a hill that was crowned with a glass curtain wall building of eight stories with a second building like it tucked into the little dale behind it.
Wyatt parked the car in a little lot between the main building, which Alex could now read from the black letters on the white semi-circular balcony was Schuster Hall and Kane Hall catty corner to it. His bags were cleared out before the car was locked and Wyatt led the way inside and up a grand staircase to the second level and into a set of offices labeled 'Administration'. “Here he is, Miss Claire.”
Alex took in the youngest woman in the office, who was quite pretty, with auburn hair wearing a teal blouse and sweater over black slacks. “Welcome Mr. Walcutt,” she said with a smile. “I'm Elaine Claire, Student Services.”
The young man smiled. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Claire.”
She presented him with a small plastic sack, full of papers and a few bound pamphlets. “Here is your new student kit. You'll want to go over those when you get a moment. You strike me as a young man used to private schools, so some of this will be quite familiar.”
“Yes, thanks,” Alex replied.
“We have you assigned to Twain Cottage, Wyatt, would you be so good as to show Mr. Walcutt the way?”
“Sure,” the big man replied. “Then I think we'll get started on lunch,” he told Alex which helped him quiet his stomach a bit. “Does he have a student advisor yet?”
Miss Claire consulted a small device in her hand. Alex was struck by just how much high technology was in evidence in what he would have taken as a very staid and conservative school from its outward appearance. “Mr. Lord. He has his study period after lunch, so that will work out nicely,” Miss Claire replied.
Cody easily hefted Alex's duffle and led the way back they had come. “Funny,” he remarked once they were outside once more and began walking north, back through the parking lot. “I would have figured you for Emerson or even Melville.”
“Sorry?” Walcutt asked.
“Cottages,” Wyatt told him with a smile. “Twain and Emerson are the boys cottages. Twain is usually guys who are, well, outdoorsy types. Sports, hiking, stuff like that. Emerson is generally the more book...er...studious bent. Or my cottage, which is Melville.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder to indicate the glass building on the hill. “It's co-Ed.”
“Oh, well, I guess Ben Franklin Academy sent my transcripts,” Alex told him. “I was trying out for the Tennis team.”
Wyatt nodded. “That's probably it, then.” They walked in silence for a few minutes, Wyatt being greeted by just about everyone they passed, which cemented in Alex's mind he was obviously one of the popular kids and becoming friends with him would likely stand him in good stead at the school.
“So, Wyatt,” he asked after a little group of girls greeted the big man, some very obvious in their desire to be...friendly...engaged or not. “How well do you know Tansy?”
The big man smiled. “Oh Tansy has been in the Alphas with me for a while.”
“Short for the Alpha Council of Campus Leaders,” Cody explained. “It's the organization that oversees the campus clubs and sets up activities, mediates disputes, things like that. We even dated for a bit, but I'll let her tell you about that if she wants to, no offense.”
“None taken.” After a pause, he looked up again and asked, “And she's best friends with your fiancee? I guess that's a little awkward?”
Wyatt chuckled again. “It has it's moments,” he declared ambiguously. He opened the door to the cottage and held it for Alex. “Hey, Mr. Filbert?” he bellowed, his voice echoing off the walls and easily over the conversations of a few students in the hallway.
“In my office, Wyatt,” an equally loud voice replied. Alex followed the big man over to a dutch door that was half open, glancing at a bust of Mark Twain as he did so, and realizing where the cottage got it's name. On the hallway side of the door was a young man, about Alex's height, with very short, dark brown hair and a ruddy complexion, wearing his school uniform with the tie quite loose and the top two buttons of his shirt undone.
Behind the door was an extremely fit older man, somewhere around six feet or so, in a shirt like the one Wyatt was wearing with a whistle on a lanyard around his neck. He had a tanned, weathered face which was square shaped with a sharply defined jaw. “Mr. Cody,” he greeted. “And you must be Mr. Walcutt.” He turned to the other boy. “Alright Adam, if you're so keen to move, you can room with Alex here,” he said, handing a key with a tag with the number written on it to Alex. “Adam Lambert, meet Alex Walcutt.”
“I should say Preswick-Walcutt,” Alex declared, extending his hand to the other boy. “To make my mother happy, but I guess that's too big a mouthful, so Alex is fine.”
The other boy grinned as they shook hands. “Adam, but everybody calls me Greasy. You got one yet?” He turned and led Alex and Wyatt to the stairs and they began to climb.
“One what?” Alex asked.
“Code name,” Wyatt supplied. “Mine's Kodiak, but everybody just calls me Kody.”
“Oh, I guess I'll need one now, won't I?”
“You don't want one assigned to you,” Wyatt warned him. “My girl got stuck with Loophole and she hates it.”
Adam laughed as they arrived at the room. “Cause everybody calls her Loopy, but she knows we don't mean it.” Alex opened the room to find a pair of desks facing the wall the door opened between. Then was a pair of wardrobe lockers and finally a tube steel framed single bed. “We could stack the beds and make more room on one side if you want?”
“Either way is fine,” Alex replied. “I don't have a preference.”
“Well, I'll go get my stuff.” The other boy left while Wyatt opened the wardrobe and put the duffle in it.
“Gimme your backpack,” he told Alex. Alex looked at the older boy quizzically as he shucked off the back pack and handed it to him. “I can tell you're hungry. Lock it up here and we'll go eat so you can unpack later.”
“Thanks!” Walcutt replied, genuinely grateful. He felt a twinge of conscience and asked “But, shouldn't I help Adam...?”
Distantly, Alex heard Adam's voice shout, “Her name is Elaine!”
Wyatt cocked his head, then shook it. “No, I think it's best we get some chow. Come on.”
October 8th, 2007
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Any fears Alex had about Wyatt exaggerating about the quality or quantity of the food to be had in the Crystal Hall were put to rest by the assault on his nose as soon as they walked in the door. Once the initial impression of the architectural feat that was the building itself gave way, Alex followed the big man into a servery that would have been at home anywhere on the Las Vegas strip. The sheer amount and variety of foods was a little dazzling. Alex helped himself to a plate that was a mini-buffet all by itself before he followed Wyatt over to a little clutch of what looked like pay islands.
“Senor Cody,” greeted the older woman who was standing at the counter. She was a very attractive woman of Hispanic origin. “And who is your friend?”
“Good afternoon, Maria,” Wyatt greeted as he waved an ID card next to a scanner. “This is Alex Walcutt, he's just transferring in, so no ID yet.”
“Ah, bueno!” she declared with a smile as she weighed Alex's plate and tapped at what looked like a cross between a computer and a cash register. “Bienvenido señor Walcutt!”
Alex blushed a bit. “Gracias señorita.”
Maria arched an eyebrow. “¿Tu hablas español?” She asked.
Walcutt decided to a bit bold and to try and impress Wyatt. “Sí, solo en la más grande de las lenguas latinas puede un hombre verdaderamente profesar su amor a una mujer hermosa!”
Maria actually blushed a bit. “¡Ve a comer tu almuerzo, pequeño pícaro!” she scolded him, waving a finger in his direction. “And it is señora to you, hombre!”
Wyatt looked at Alex askance as he led the way over to an elevator. “What was all that about?” he asked.
Alex grinned. “Oh, just complimenting a lovely lady.” Was that approval? Alex wondered to himself about the expression on Cody's face as the big senior led him over to the elevator and pressed the button to the top floor.
“You'll fit right in,” Wyatt told him as the car rose. “Normally you'd have to hold a leadership position to sit on the Alpha dais, but you're my guest today.”
“Thanks,” Alex replied as he followed the older boy, man, really to a circular dais next to the artifical waterfall that took up most of the wall that faced into the courtyard between the two wings of Schuster Hall. There was a single large table and several smaller ones here, all with the pleasant background noise from the water cascading down the concrete, molded to look like natural stone, to the small pool below.
Wyatt led the way to the big table and Alex lost all interest in the architecture. Waiting for Wyatt were a pair of breathtaking women, one he realized was his cousin Tansy. Alex knew she was beautiful, but she had always been aloof at family gatherings and he'd never seen her be anything but casual at them. Now she was dressed to the nines in a miniskirted version of the school uniform that had obviously been, if not cut to her measure, tailored to it. Her hair and makeup were flawless and he had never seen her so...amazingly beautiful. “Alex?” she asked, coming over as he put down his tray of food. “What are you doing here?”
Alex blushed as he was swept up into a hug and that magnificent body was pressed against him. “Oh, hi, Tans, how are you?” he managed through the hormonal haze his mind was soaked in. “I, uh, I guess I'm a mutant...”
“Well, it's the in thing,” her red headed friend piped up. “Everybody's doin' it! Nice to meet ya! Ah'm Elaine, but everybody calls me Lanie.”
The younger Walcutt noted her enthusastic greeting to Wyatt, and the ring on her left hand and sadly pushed her as far mentally into the 'friend' catagory as he could. “So it looks like the MGC runs in the Walcutt line too,” Tansy said as she sat down, next to Alex and across from Lanie and Wyatt. “I bet that makes daddy dearest just spit.”
“Uncle Ted?” Alex asked. “He set up everything for my mom to get me up here.”
“I'll bet,” Tansy declared darkly.
“So, how did your activation go?” the red head asked.
Alex shrugged and cut off a piece of steak that had his mouth watering. “Oh, I got chased by some bullies, and the cave where I would loose them was...”
Don't tell them about my hallow for the love of all that's holy! Jax's voice hissed in his ear.
“...was a trick that worked every time,” he continued, but none of his listeners seemed to notice his slip up. Chewing the excellent steak gave him time to gather his thoughts to steer things away from the Indian Cave. “And as I was going home I got noticed by my spirit I guess. The doctors say the stress of the chase probably activated my MGC and here I am.”
“Just like that?” Tansy asked.
“Well, I was out cold for a couple of days,” he admitted. “Mom was really scared and she had me in the hospital, that's where I woke up.”
Lanie chuckled as she peppered her salad. “Been there, done that,” she declared. “What can you do?” At Alex's blank expression, Wyatt chuckled and leaned over.
“What are your powers is kind of a Whateley version of what band do you like or things that so-called normal people ask in high school.”
“Oh, well, um I'm not really sure,” he said, for some reason feeling the need to be cagey. “I, well, I seem to be stronger, maybe? But maybe more stuff, I...”
“Well, you've certainly grown since I saw you last,” Tansy declared with a smile. “I'm glad you're here, Alex.”
October 8th, 2007
General Classroom 206, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Alex hadn't believed that a staid, conservative private school would have a enough people to form a club of teachers who had ascended Mt. Everest, but Richard Lord, his advisor, had waxed eloquent about the experience of climbing the mountain and showing off the picture of him at the summit. Not to mention his framed membership to the Roof of the World Club hanging on the wall. As if that was not sufficient to stun him, the dizzying array of classes was certainly up to the challenge.
Wyatt had dropped him off at his counselor's class room to get his classes picked and an idea on what his academic time at Whateley would be like. Walcutt had decided to trust Mr. Lord, somewhat to the disapproval of Jak and confided in him that shape shifting was one of his new abilities. The Teacher acted as if he was told such things every day and got him into a basics class for shifters and morphers. The remainder of his classes were fairly generic, though he was looking forward to the class he would have Mr. Lord for; England through the Lens of Shakespeare, which would be both an English and a history credit.
His classes sorted, he was headed back to Twain to get settled when the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. A trio of boys was blocking the path, the 'leader' wearing a motorcycle club leather vest over his uniform jacket and fingerless gloves. His bully sense went into red alert, but he realized he wasn't entirely confident of the school's layout yet, and they were between him and Twain.
The moment of indecision cost him and he was suddenly surrounded by the three boys. “Hey, you're new,” the boy in the vest declared. “You're not a faggot, are you? You look a little light in the loafers to me...”
The larger one to Alex's right declared, “Hey look, he's actually wearing loafers!”
“Do you suck dick, kid?” the one behind him asked with a shove into Alex's back.
“I don't want any trouble...” Alex started, but the boy in the vest's face turned ugly in a way all too familiar with the youngest Walcutt.
“Well, that's too bad,” he growled. “Cause we don't want fags in our dorm.” He struck his palm with his fist as adrenaline flooded Alex's body. He knew that look, and he knew what was coming.
What are you waiting for, boy? Jak practically shouted in his ear. Strike! Of it's own volition, Alex's knee came up hard into Dump Truck's groin. The Boston born bully's eyes crossed as he squealed with pain, doubling over and clutching at his abused genitals. Alex made to take off through the gap as Matt rolled on the ground in agony, but a fist from his left crashed into his jaw, knocking him side wise. Alex tripped over Thatcher on the ground and fell to his back, stunned.
“You dirty fag!” someone shouted and a vicious kick landed on his kidney. Alex shrieked in pain and curled into ball, instinctively trying to protect himself.
No! NO! Jak shouted and suddenly Alex was positively boiling with anger. He frantically rolled to dodge the kick from the other boy, even as he heard odd, tearing sounds. All he knew or cared was that he could move freely now and launched himself at the biggest boy.
“What the fuck!” he shouted as Alex's claws raked his jacket and shirt, ruining them and suddenly blood was seeping into the fabrics. Alex tried to get his teeth on his attackers throat, but he was punched hard in the ribs that knocked him sideways away from him. Scrambling back to all fours, Alex jumped again, but this time the world went dark and he couldn't see.
“I said Hold!” a girl's voice shouted. “Security auxiliary! No one move!”
“Oh God! I'm bleeding! I'm bleeding!”
“Wallflower to central! I need back up and EMS on the path between Kane Hall and Emerson Cottage, Code One!”
October 8th, 2007
Headmisstress' Office, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Alex stood staring at his feet, his arms still handcuffed in front of him, but the burly Chief of Security was in the process of removing them. His clothes had been destroyed and he was wearing an ill-fitting orange jumper that had DETENTION across the back of it in block letters. He wasn't sure what he'd was more ashamed of, having needed the jumper because of the state of his clothes due to the attack, or being hauled into the Headmistress' office on his first day. Even free of the handcuffs he couldn't look the Headmistress in the eye. The look of coolly suppressed fury on her face was one he knew quite well from other administrators.
So he looked at the floor and wished it would open up and swallow him.
“Mister Walcutt?” she asked. It didn't help that she was so beautiful, truth be told there seemed to be an endless supply of beautiful women and girls on this campus. Alex swallowed and tried to find his voice.
“Look me in the eye,” she commanded. It took everything Alex had to raise his head and look into those terrible eyes behind the glasses perched on her nose. “How long have you been on my campus?”
“Uh, I'm not sure, Ma'am, I think...”
“I am sure,” she replied, holding up a piece of paper with a series of notes on it. “Mr. Cody signed you in at eleven forty eight this morning. At two twenty seven you were detained by the security department for fighting. Two and a half hours sir, that is how long it took you to commit an offense severe enough to warrant my attention. Your infamy on this campus is assured, that is a new record.”
Alex winced and tried to apologize, but Mrs Carson would have none of it. “Your cousin,” she interrupted, rising from behind the desk and walking over to him. She seemed to tower over him, not only by being taller, and even without those Prada heels she would be taller, but because Alex Walcutt felt about two inches tall. “Miss Walcutt has been a thorn in my side her entire tenure here,” she declared. “It is only now, in her senior year that she has finally seen fit to pull that lovely head out her rear end. Do I get a moment to feel like I have done a good job, Mr. Walcutt? A small, fleeting collection of seconds to take pride as an educator before I am handed another Walcutt who is in my office his first day on my campus? No. Here you are. Do you have any idea what you have done?”
At the enthusiastic shoving of his spirit, Alex managed to look the Headmistress in her eyes. “Ma'am, I defended myself from...”
She reached behind her and swung her monitor around where a video could now be seen of the entire fight, captured by one of the school's security cameras, it was playing in a loop. On it, he watched himself knee Matt in the groin, then when he was punched and kicked, saw his form blur into some kind of monstrous half-man, half-fox that leaped a good ten feet to slash Thud's chest so deeply there was a little flash of rib bone showing before he was encased by a telekinetic bubble by a young lady in a black and white super hero outfit. “I'm sorry, what were you saying?” Mrs Carson asked icily. “Something about how defending yourself justifies coming within inches of murdering another boy? That a shove somehow allows you to risk permanent reproductive harm on another? I'm waiting, Mr Walcutt.”
“I...I have no defense, Doctor Carson,” he whispered.
“No?” she demanded. “Why not?”
Alex's confusion momentarily overrode his sense of shame and he searched her face for some clue of how to continue. For years he had been used to being hauled into lectures by administrators because of being bullied. First they were sympathetic, and suggested evasion, then they began to ask what he was doing to set off them. Finally they hadn't been interested in what happened or why, merely handing out punishments and quoting 'zero tolerance' policies. “Ma'am?” he asked, confused.
“Let me explain something to you, Mr Walcutt,” she declared. “It may not have sunk in just yet, but you are a mutant, a registered paranormal or, rather, you will be during your tenure here and for the rest of your life. Because you have ability above and beyond the rest of humanity, you will be treated differently from the rest of humanity. Therefore it behooves you to have a reason for everything you do that may result in conversations with the law! Had this altercation taken place anywhere but here, you might be facing charges ranging all the way up to attempted murder. Do you comprehend what I have just said to you, Mr. Walcutt?”
“No you don't!” she declared. “I just told you that you came within inches of spending the rest of your life behind bars! And you stand here meekly like a petulant little boy and tell me you comprehend a concept like losing your entire life?”
“I've been bullied my whole life!” he shouted at her, confused and more than a little frightened by this strange conversation. In his experience, head masters didn't act this way. They prattled on about traditions and learning and then handed out punitive tasks. Elizabeth Carson seemed to want into his head and that terrified him. “You think I didn't know what was coming when they surrounded me? That I wasn't about to be beaten to a pulp?!”
“Lower your voice,” the security chief ordered.
Alex blinked, amazed he had been allowed to shout, let alone that nothing else but a simple, but commanding order to lower his voice had come of it. He turned back to Mrs Carson who's expression hadn't changed. “Go on,” she commanded.
“I...I was going to run,” he admitted, feeling his eyes fill with tears he desperately tried to hold back. “You can see, right there I was going to run by him towards my cottage and then the other two knocked me down and kicked me. Then my spirit was afraid for me and...”
Mrs Carson sighed. “And you gave your spirit control and it mauled a boy so badly if he were not a few dozen yards from a Level I Trauma center it might have killed him.”
Alex's eyes couldn't take her stare and returned to the floor. “Yes, ma'am.”
Her hand reached up and took his chin. For a moment, he thought to resist, but she was much stronger than he was and he was forced to meet her gaze again. Was that sympathy behind her eyes? “Mr Walcutt,” she started in a much less stern tone of voice. “I cannot speak to what you have endured before you came here. What I must demand from you is decorum, obedience to our rules and measured responses to...difficult situations. Because when you leave here, you will be answering to people far less inclined than me to be charitable in judging the aftermath.”
Genuinely confused, Alex asked, “What should I have done, Doctor Carson?”
The stern left her features and she almost smiled in a way that had him feeling warm all over. “Well, perhaps I will finally get some benefit from all these odds manglers attending my school and get a Walcutt who can be taught.” She leaned back against her desk and winked at the security chief. “Thank you, Franklin, that's all.”
“Ma'am,” the big chief replied and quietly left the office.
She sank into one of the two chairs that faced her desk and motioned him into the other. “Mr Walcutt, you're going to find that many situations in life do not have a right answer, but most, not all, but most, have a least wrong one.”
Alex sank into the seat, now mesmerized and intensely curious, despite the nervous feeling of treading unfamiliar waters. She looked at him sidelong and finally asked, “What do you think your mistake was?”
“Giving my spirit control?” he asked hesitantly.
“In this instance, that was a mistake, but it was not the mistake. Look again,” she said pointing at the screen. The characters jumped back to him walking and first catching sight of Dump Truck and his crew. She paused the video. “Right here. Your eyes were down on the map, but you were walking. You look up, see trouble coming your way and froze. You weren't aware of your surroundings, which let Mr Thatcher and his friends target, then close with you. Awareness buys you time, time buys you options. The time to look at your map was before you left your appointment with Mr. Lord.”
Alex thought about that for a long moment. He hadn't really thought about the encounter that way before. Ben Franklin Academy was like a second home to him, he knew it inside and out, and already had proven avenues of escape. He was unsure of where things were on the campus and that he needed to remedy. Looking back up at her, he nodded, having processed and comprehended her wisdom. “You're absolutely right, Doctor Carson, I will make knowing my way around the school my top priority.”
“Good,” she declared, standing and crossing her arms. “Now, actions have consequences, so let's discuss yours. From a simple mistake, you cascade down a set of bad decisions. You knew instantly what Thatcher intended, you should have retreated or changed course to avoid the situation. Once surrounded, a physical confrontation becomes certain. Having decided to use violence, you focused on the attacker in front of you, forgetting about his two friends, allowing you to be blindsided. This means relying on your spirit is now your only defense and it, as you will find many spirits do, overreacted. You have used an inordinate amount of luck today, Mr. Walcutt. I would not write further checks on that account in the future, lest the Bank of Karma decides you are overdrawn.”
“So, you have a laptop?” she asked and waited for his nod. “Tonight, you will write a one thousand word plan for how you intend to learn from this encounter and steps you will take for corrective action, on my desk first thing tomorrow morning.”
Alex nodded. “Yes, ma'am. And, Doctor Carson? I'm sorry about all this.”
For the first time in the encounter, she smiled and it was a lovely smile that made him almost feel like he hadn't been in trouble. “Don't allow an accident to become a habit, Mr Walcutt,” she told him.
I like her, Jak whispered in his ear.
October 8th, 2007
Room 112, Twain Cottage, Whateley Academy
Back in his room, Alex got his things unpacked in the wardrobe and settled. Greasy's things, were already here, prominent among them was a poster on the wall of group of desperately beautiful women, in towels angrily pointing at a red head dressed as a plumber in a ruined bathroom. Alex got a bit of a chuckle when he realized the red head was Cody's fiancee and that his cousin was in the picture. Across the bottom, it read Venus, Inc, 2006-2007.
Alex could certainly understand why Greasy had that poster, though he wasn't entirely sure he was comfortable with looking at his cousin in a towel.
Adam wasn't in the room, likely in class, Alex decided as he got his things put away then, sat down on the bed and closed his eyes. Jak? We need to talk.
He opened his eyes to find the anthropomorphic fox, standing upright on his hind legs looking at him. He was standing before Adam's bed, wearing a short sleeved green tunic that fell to his mid thigh, with a wide leather belt and green shoes. On his head was a yellow bycocket hat with a red feather in it. Alex stood and looked out the window, seeing the bleachers of the track and field arena that was a little ways off like normal. Turning back to the fox, he asked, “Are you here, or am I there?”
“I am here,” the strange half-man, half-fox replied producing his coin from behind Alex's ear and flipping it. “Whateley is a very special place. It's funny, warded up the wazoo, but easier to reach from any plane; if you have a host to anchor to. So, what do you want to know, son?”
“What happened out there, with...”
The creature rolled his eyes and began to walk the coin on his knuckles in a way his paw shouldn't allow. “Come on, now, kiddo, you know what happened. And not to worry, I'm already considering things we can do to make sure the three stooges find less tempting targets than us...”
“I don't want to land in Dr Carson's Office again...!”
The fox man darted over and took him across the shoulders in a one armed hug as his other hand made a sweeping, dramatic gesture. “Ah, but remember! Faint heart, never won fair lady!”
“Relax, kid!” the creature scolded him. “Whatever we decide to do, we will decide together!”
Alex sighed as he looked at the strange creature and scratched his head. “Are you always so bent on getting even?”
With melodrama dripping off his form, the fox pantomimed shock so as to make a silent film star blush. “Oh 'tis ignoble death and mummery that consigned to the doom of fickle fame should I be reduced to this!”
Alex crossed his arms. “Was any of that English?”
Jak harrumphed with much long suffering and put his hands on his hips. “English? English? By the Foreigner's white beard! Why should I be mocked so? Did your mother tell you no stories boy? Do you still claim ignorance of me? Why I chilled Chaucer's blood when I larked through his tale of the Nun's Priest and they called me Sir Reynard when I played tricks in Canterbury! On a lark I strolled through Europa's park and they whispered Reynard The Fox was on the ferry! With a New World to explore I set out once more and lit fire to Coyote's Tail. And the Shaman's draw back when they fear an attack of the wiley Whiskey Jak!”
“Are you going to burst into song?” Alex asked with a side glance at the spirit. Much to his relief, the fox found that funny and wagged a finger at his host as he laughed.
“There's hope for you yet, boy,” he admitted. He clapped his paws and rubbed them together. “So! What say we make fools of these cretins?”
“You know there's three of them and only one of us, right?”
The Fox's eyes gleamed. “That makes it fun! Now, nothing makes a man stop thinking faster than the sweet coo of a woman's voice, and those three don't have a single brain to share between them.”
“You want me to change into a girl?” Alex asked hesitantly.
“Patience my skeptical host!” the fox soothed him. “First, to practice the feminine wiles, you'll need a teacher. And I know that cousin of yours is la femme fatale of the first rank. Let's pay her a visit and see if she knows blood is thicker than water.”
“I don't know...”
“Oh, stop complaining!” Jak replied, urging him out the door. “She's family, isn't she? What harm in a little visit between relations?”