Monday, August 27, 2007 - mid-morning
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
No one would have thought that the driver of the nondescript silver Toyota parked in front of Schuster Hall had a net worth in the multiple tens of millions of dollars or was a very notorious villain. Apart from being very attractive and appearing in her mid-twenties, her attire was definitely not noteworthy or designer, nor did she wear any flashy jewelry, and her Ray-Ban sunglasses were definitely not fashion chic. If her goal was to be underestimated, she was succeeding, but then again, she had a lot of experience at precisely that. Her line of work, or rather, her self-professed former line of work, demanded it.
The young lady who exited the passenger door was even more average, wearing plain attire that most girls her age wouldn't be caught dead in. Except for hairsyle, the young lady appeared to be an exact copy of the older woman.
"This is Whateley?" the girl, Martina Hughes, asked as she glanced around her in disbelief. "It looks ... like ..." She wrinkled her nose in distaste at the hodge-podge of mismatched architectural styles of the various buildings, "like ...."
"Like a bad experiment at an architectural school for five-year-old kids taught by a blind instructor?" her mom, Tatiana Hughes, quipped with a grin. From appearances, it didn't look at all like they were mother and daughter because Tatiana looked to be in her mid-twenties, while Martina looked about fifteen.
"I don't know if I'd go that far," Martina replied, following her mom toward a large building of Federal architectural style, a look that seemed more appropriate to a campus than a couple of brutalist monstrosities, one round and one very angular. Another building matched the style of the building the two women were approaching, save the other building was taller and didn't have the white portico with its graceful columns but instead had an astronomical observatory tower attached. "From the way you talked, I kind of expected something a lot more ... special."
"Never judge a book," Tatiana grinned. "It's very special. Some of the buildings, like Kirby Hall, are quite ... magical!"
Martina groaned at her mom's bad joke. She pulled open one of the two massive doors, then followed her mom into the front hall of the building. As she took in the building's interior, she halted so abruptly that the closing door bumped her and pushed her the rest of the way in.
"Is this more like what you expected?" Tatiana grinned. The room was massive, stretching out to the left and right of the doorway and inwardly to about the middle of the building. At each end were massive fireplaces, and clusters of chairs and sofas arranged in a multitude of conversation groups dotted the oak floor and the ornamental rugs which partially covered it. The walls were aged raised-panel oak, and the high ceiling showed rough-hewn dark oak beams. A pair of ornate curved marble staircases swept upstairs like one would expect in a large English manor house.
"This is ...." Martina gawked, momentarily at a loss for words.
Tatiana took her daughter's arm. "You'll have plenty of time to look later. We've got an appointment with Mrs. Shugendo." As they walked, Tatiana sighed. "I'm sorry I got the dates wrong and we don't have more time together," she lamented. After their rather adventurous summer, she thought she had a week and a half to spend with Martina before the girl started at Whateley. A quick double-check of the admission paperwork, though, revealed that Martina was expected on campus by that Monday, which meant some hastily-arranged travel to get mother and daughter to New England.
Martina shrugged. "We had a good summer. Mostly." She winced at the memories of the last bit, the job she helped her mother with. "It's not like I won't be home for holidays and breaks."
"Since we didn't get a new apartment, I was thinking maybe I could spend a few months in Boston. That'd be a lot closer than Phoenix."
"And it'd be easier for you to lay low?" Martina chuckled.
"Well, there is that, too," Tatiana agreed. She opened a frosted-glass door that was labeled 'Administration' and let Martina step into the administrative office suite of the school.
"Good morning," a pleasant young lady behind a desk facing the door sang out. "May I ...."
"Setup!" a voice rang out from a woman exiting an office. The woman covered the few steps separating her from Tatiana and took her hand. "Nice to see you again."
"Hindmost?" Tatiana replied with a wary smile. "It's been a while. What are you doing here?"
"I'm Assistant Headmistress," Amelia Hartford replied with a smile. "Call me Amelia." She glanced at Martina. "And probably Ms. Hartford to you. So how about you? Did you come to make a donation to the scholarship fund, I hope?" she added with a pleasant laugh.
"Tatiana, please," she requested of Ms. Hartford. "I'm not on business right now. Actually, I'm here to get Martina checked in. We have an appointment with Mrs. Shugendo."
The receptionist interrupted from her desk. "The only appointment I'm showing for Mrs. Shugendo is for Mary and Jane Clark."
"Traveling incognito again?" Ms. Hartford smirked. "That wouldn't have anything to do with the Houston job, would it?"
Tatiana shrugged. "Big jobs draw powerful enemies. After any big job, we go under cover for a bit to let things cool down."
"From what I hear through the grapevine, the job in Houston sounded a little bigger than big." She turned and walked to Mrs. Shugendo's office, lightly touching Tatiana's arm to guide her. After Ms. Hartford introduced Tatiana and Martina to Mrs. Shugendo, Ms. Hartford left after getting Tatiana to promise to stop by later so they could 'catch up.'
The meeting with Mrs. Shugendo was going well enough - mostly going over the admission form, since it was filed quite late, to make sure all the i's were dotted and t's crossed, when Mrs. Shugendo noted that Martina would be in Poe Cottage.
Tatiana stiffened, eyes wide. "What? Poe?"
Mrs. Shugendo was a bit surprised by Tatiana's reaction. "Yes, we're placing Martina in Poe."
"Why?" Tatiana demanded. "She doesn't have 'special needs' psychologically! Why is she ...?"
Mrs. Shugendo held up her hands to signal Tatiana to calm down. "Hold on," she interrupted. "There's a little more to Poe than you know from your days here," she continued. "There is an aspect to Poe that we feel would be best for your son Marty."
Both mother and daughter goggled in utter disbelief at her words. "What?" Tatiana stammered.
"When we reviewed Martina's application," she switched back to the female name, "Lillian Dennon let us know that there are special circumstances with Martina that we feel would be best addressed by Poe."
"Martina isn't one of the ... wackos!" Tatiana protested.
Mrs. Shugendo sighed, thinking a moment. "I'll tell you what - I'll take you over to Poe so the two of you can have a chat with the housemother, Mrs. Horton. I think she'll be able to persuade you that having Martina in Poe is really in her best interest."
Tatiana held her tongue for a bit, contemplating what Mrs. Shugendo had suggested and comparing it to her own knowledge of Poe's reputation from when she was a student. Try as she might, she could find no rational reason to not at least listen. "Okay," she agreed grudgingly.
"Setup! At last we meet," the housemother said with an evil cackle while rubbing her hands together gleefully. "You can't imagine how long I've waited for this day!" She stood in the doorway of Poe Cottage.
"Oh, geez!" Tatiana said with a roll of her eyes. "It's true. Even the housemother is bat-crap crazy!"
Bella Horton laughed heartily. "I figured that with your occupation and all, you might like a little more dramatic introduction!" She stepped to one side, sweeping her arm inward in an inviting motion. "Mrs. Shugendo told me you'd be here. Please, come in."
Tatiana let Martina lead, and then she followed. "This looks a lot different from the cottages I remember." She looked around the large entrance foyer which was far more spacious and luxurious than she'd been used to in Dickinson Cottage all those years ago.
Mrs. Horton smiled, still leading the two toward her apartment. "If the logic of assigning Martina to our care doesn't do the job, our new amenities will bribe ... er, convince ... her."
"From what I could see from Schuster," Tatiana observed, still taking in the tremendous improvements in the cottage, "it doesn't look like Emerson or Dickinson got upgrades. The same for Whitman and Twain?" She and Martina sat down on a sofa in Mrs. Horton's living room.
"Tea and cookies?" the housemother asked. "I always try to keep a batch of cookies ready to bake, and a tea kettle on the stove." She smiled. "You can't imagine how easy it is to help calm a distraught student when they smell and taste fresh-baked cookies." She disappeared for a moment, then returned with a tray with silver tea service and a few steaming chocolate chip cookies. "Sugar? Milk? Lemon?"
"No thank you," Martina answered politely. "I like my tea straight, although I usually drink iced tea. Mom likes her tea with milk and sugar, though." She wrinkled her nose at the comment. "Some disgustingly bad habit she picked up when she did a lengthy job in England, I guess." She shot a smug little smile at Tatiana.
"Take her off my hands, please!" Tatiana said in mock pain. "I need a break from her torment and torture!"
After serving the tea and cookies, including getting a glass of iced tea for Martina, Mrs. Horton sat down in her favorite chair. "In answer to your first question, only Poe and Hawthorne got a major makeover. Dickinson, in fact all the other four traditional cottages, are still the same as you remember. Now, I understand from Michi that you have questions about why we thought it best to put you," she looked at Martina, "in Poe, is that right?"
Tatiana answered for the two of them. "That's about it. I know that Poe is the crazy cottage, the nut-house. I don't think Martina needs to be tagged with that rep."
"Given the reputation of the cottage, and especially some particularly ... eccentric students ... that's fair," Mrs. Horton acknowledged. "But there's a lot more to Poe than you know. For a long time, we've had to deal with students who have certain lifestyle or gender issues. It can be especially difficult socially for very gay and lesbian students and those whose mutation has caused them to change their sex. Whateley reflects the outside world in attitudes toward the sexually-unique students because our students come from the outside world. I would imagine that you know what it's like for them in the outside world."
Tatiana's expression sobered. "Nucleon," she said somberly.
"Exactly," Mrs. Horton nodded, her expression equally somber. "By putting all our alternate sexuality students in Poe, we have a built-in support network. Because these students have additional challenges besides those caused by their mutations, one of the counselors is always available twenty-four hours a day, every day. Also, Poesies stick together, mostly, because they're all in the same boat. The students all know the risk they would take if they outed any of their cottage-mates or the secret of Poe. Only a few select staff and faculty know of Poe's secret."
"Nucleon?" Martina asked, confused by the reference which both older women got but she didn't.
"I'll tell you about it later," Mrs. Horton beat Tatiana to the punch, and her assumption that Martina would be in her cottage was implicit in her statement. "Lillian thought it best to tell the administration - and me - about Martina's unique challenge." She saw Tatiana tense at the reminder of what could be considered a betrayal by Lillian Dennon. "Don't blame her," she assured the older woman. "It was her judgment that Martina would benefit from Poe. Do you know that we have started classes to help changelings learn those things that girls have learned over a lifetime. It will help them fit in better as natural girls so they don't walk, talk, move, and act like the boys they once were."
"That sounds helpful," Martina admitted reluctantly. "Mrs. Dennon commented on my lack of 'feminine' grace when she was giving me a crash course in martial arts."
"But ... the crazy house?" Tatiana wasn't yet convinced.
Mrs. Horton stood. "Let me show you around our new cottage. I think you'll like what we have."
About forty minutes later, the trio returned to Mrs. Horton's apartment. "Well?"
Tatiana shook her head. "This is ... wow. You make me want to pretend to be a teen again and move in here!"
"A few more amenities than you remember from Dickinson?" Mrs. Horton chuckled.
"A lot more." She looked at Martina. "I have my own opinion, but since you're the one most affected by this, I want to know what you think before we make a decision."
Martina let her eyes drift toward the ceiling for a few moments, sighing once or twice as she thought about all that she'd learned in the past hour and a half. If it was just the amenities, Poe was a hands-down winner. But the classes, and the support network? Those were things she knew would be helpful. "I think maybe Poe is the right place for me," she finally said. "What do you think, mom?"
Tatiana nodded. "That's what I was thinking, too."
Mrs. Horton smiled. "I'll let Michi know of your decision. You'll be in room 237, in the Freshman wing. I've assigned you to room with Christina Volante. She's from Italy. Unlike you, she's not a changeling."
"She's a lesbian?" Martina asked slowly, eyes wide, as she tried to digest the implications of having a roommate who might be attracted to her. She chuckled after a particularly amusing thought hit her. "All the time I was a boy, I never had a girl start things because she thought I was attractive. Now I'll be rooming with a girl who might?"
"You're too young to start any of that, young lady!" Tatiana sternly scolded her daughter. "Unless they've changed it, the age of consent in New Hampshire is sixteen, and you really don't want to get into legal trouble!"
Martina gulped; she hadn't considered that angle. "No, mom," she replied sheepishly.
Monday, August 27, 2007 - lunchtime
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
"May I join you?"
The voice that interrupted them was familiar to both Tatiana and Martina. Both had been looking around the dining hall, noting how few students were present, and both turned toward the sound. "Wildhammer!" Tatiana exclaimed with delight. "Sure. I think we can find a spot at the table."
Lillian Dennon smiled as she set her tray on the table, then sat. "What do you think of Whateley so far?" she asked Martina.
"It's kind of hard to say. So far all I've seen is the administration building and Poe Cottage," the girl answered honestly.
"Yeah, about that," Mrs. Dennon said with a suddenly worried expression. "I hope you're not upset at my revealing your secret to the administration."
Tatiana waved off her worry. "After we talked with Mrs. Horton, I think we're both comfortable with the reasoning. My only concern is how many people will know about this?"
"Not a lot," Mrs. Dennon replied. "I wouldn't have known if I hadn't said anything to Ms. Hartford and Mrs. Shugendo. They decided it was necessary to read me in to the secret. It's a very, very well guarded secret. Some people guess that there's something different about Poe, as you can imagine, but then someone does something really stupid, and those rumors and suspicions disappear in face of the certainty that Poe really is a nuthouse. From what I understand, almost no teachers and only a few on the medical staff know. Probably fewer than a dozen on campus, and only if they're very trustworthy."
While they said nothing, Tatiana's and Martina's expressions showed visible relief at Mrs. Dennon's explanation.
"I heard things got a little interesting a few weeks ago," Mrs. Dennon changed the subject. "Being a busy girl again?"
"It was a job," Tatiana replied simply. Normally, she wouldn't even acknowledge that much, but she knew Mrs. Dennon was trustworthy with information about shady deals. After all, Lillian hadn't spent time in prison for being a girl scout.
"Word is that Martina was also a bit busy in that deal." Her features hardened. "I don't like to comment about professional work, but involving her is a bit over the line, isn't it?"
"I volunteered," Martina said, defending her mom from the criticism.
Lillian's gaze didn't waver from Tatiana. "Word in professional circles is that you didn't do it just for money."
Tatiana closed her eyes a moment, which Martina knew meant that she was debating how much to reveal about a hidden truth. "An old ... associate ... made me an offer. That asshole Dunder Mitts is probably the one who told him about Martina, and the associate used that to make a very serious and credible threat to Martina if I didn't do the job."
Martina's eyes bulged at the revelation. "You didn't tell me that!"
"I had to do the job. Or else. The person had some very serious connections. He had a lot of info on both of us - aliases, preplanned hideouts, and such."
Lillian frowned. "I'd appreciate it if you'd tell me who this associate was. I don't think anyone would be stupid enough to violate the Neutrality pact to threaten Martina, but that information would help our security."
"I did a good job of erasing us," Tatiana countered.
Martina gawked. "So that's really why we crashed and burned the car!"
"Yup. And I got a few brand new identities from one of my intelligence agency contacts for cover, things that he couldn't possibly know." She smiled a wicked, determined smile. "He won't be a threat much longer."
"Mom!" Martina started to protest.
"I'm not doing the dirty work," Tatiana added quickly and firmly. "A professional colleague I've worked with several times knows that employer went way over the line this time. He knows and hates the person who made the threat. My colleague said he'd be glad to do me a favor."
Tatiana shook her head. "No more. I'm not getting you more involved than you already are."
Martina sat in silence for a while. "What's the story about Nucleon?" she changed the subject.
"Nucleon started here as an average boy, but by the middle of the spring term, it was obvious that his BIT was driving some changes in his appearance. He was getting thinner and less muscular." She watched Martina until the girl recognized what she'd said. "It was pretty obvious that he was changing into a girl. In gym classes and in the showers, other boys noted that he was getting ... smaller." She cocked one eyebrow in a way that made it abundantly clear to Lillian and Martina how he was getting smaller. "Except for certain curves in the chest and hip area. Anyway, after getting harassed by his cottage-mates, they transferred him to Whitman. That wasn't any better - the girls were very angry that a 'boy' was put in their cottage. The harassment and bullying and beatings didn't stop, no matter how much he changed into a she. She finally had enough and didn't come back after the Christmas break her junior year. She did okay - for a while. Finished high school, got a college degree, even joined a small hero group. Then someone outed her." She shook her head sadly. "She finally couldn't take it anymore."
"If being in Poe helps protect students from that kind of harassment and bullying ...," Mrs. Dennon said somberly. "Now you understand why the administration wants you there." A smile spread across her face. "Of course, you'll have to do your share of making the rest of the students think that Poe is full of crazies and wackos!"
Monday, August 27, 2007 - mid-afternoon
Near Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
With mixed emotions, Tatiana walked back to Schuster after helping Martina move her stuff into Poe. On one hand, she was relieved by the knowledge that Martina would be very safe on campus, and would have very good opportunities to learn her powers while getting a first-rate education and also have opportunities for networking. On the other, Tatiana knew she was going to miss Martina a lot; the girl, formerly boy, had been the one single constant fixture in her life, no matter the challenges or chaos that came with her line of work. She was so distracted by her thoughts that she nearly collided with someone coming out of Schuster. She looked up abruptly, chiding herself for letting down her guard, and saw a figure she thought she knew. "Imp?" she asked hesitantly.
Imp had noticed Tatiana and had done the dodging to avoid an impactful meeting. "So we meet again, Setup!" she said in a villainous tone.
Tatiana chuckled. "Mrs. Horton did that one earlier today. You'll have to come up with something better." Then she noticed the Imp's expression. "On second thought, let's just leave it at that."
"Don't you want to engage in some witty repartee?" She feigned a pout. "These days, no-one wants to engage the Fabulous Imp in a battle of the banter, a titanic duel of witty repartee at ten paces, a classic confrontation of cutting, clever comebacks! A skirmish of stupefying sass! A round of razor-sharp rejoinders! An epic, entertaining exchange of ...."
Tatiana held up her hands in surrender. "I get it, I get it."
"Sadly, there are far too many people who are unequipped for such an epic battle and always show up unarmed." She put a smile back on her face. "Apart from playing the tourist, what brings you to Whateley?"
"I could say it's because I'm an alum visiting my alma mater," Tatiana offered with a smile, "but it's really because I'm dropping off my daughter Martina. She's starting as a freshman."
"Hence the 'lost my puppy' expression," Imp said sympathetically.
"What are you doing here?" Tatiana turned the question around.
"I work here." Imp saw the look of utter disbelief. "No, really. Mrs. Carson offered me a job, and it was a good time to retire and get a little normalcy in my life for a change."
"You? Normalcy?" Tatiana scoffed. "That'll be the day!"
Imp shook her head with a knowing smile. "Rumor in professional circles is that you and your daughter died in a car crash outside of Phoenix. I take it you had to go to ground?" A simple nod answered the Imp's question. "And now?"
"I promised Martina I'd retire. It's getting a bit tougher since my modus operandi is known, and the day some devisor mass-markets a psi-blocker, I'd be out of a job."
Imp's eyebrows climbed up her forehead. "But...?"
Tatiana shrugged. "I left the door open for gray-hat contract jobs. MI6 and DGSE pay very well."
"And you don't mind traveling to Europe?"
Tatiana chuckled. "It's not a bad gig. I don't like working for BND, though. Too much bureaucratic paperwork and rules of engagement. ASIS is good, but they don't really like using contractors."
Imp cocked an eyebrow again. "I noticed you didn't mention CIA."
Tatiana shook her head firmly. "Nope. They've gotten too politicized, and they try to cheap out on payment. And ... some of the things they've done in the past. Yeah."
"Tell me about your daughter," Imp asked, changing the subject.
"Martina. She's a freshman. She looks a lot like me. Exactly, to be precise."
"Regen clone. We were backpacking, and she was badly injured. The small-town clinic I got her to didn't have her blood type. I did."
"And you're high-level regen?"
"Yeah. Doc Morris told me how lucky we are. Anyway, her code name is Knockoff."
"As in 'knockoff of her mom'?"
"Dunder Mitts called her a 'cheap knockoff'," Tatiana snorted derisively. "That's what gave Martina the idea for a code-name for her MID."
"Is that mutton-head still around?"
"Yup. She beat the crap out of him, by the way." Tatiana laughed. "Sometime I'll have to tell you about the time a pair of baseline cheerleaders beat the snot out of him and humiliated him."
"That sounds like a story I want to hear!" Imp almost chortled. "Is Knockoff - er, Martina - going to take any of my art classes?" Imp sounded eager to have Martina in her class.
"Not sure. I'll suggest it when I talk to her. Meanwhile, I've got to get on the road. I've got to get a small place in Boston, and I'd rather not spend more time than I have to in hotels."
"No one would expect me to stay in Boston," Tatiana chuckled.
"And I've got to work on preparing materials to torture ... er, teach ... my classes," Imp grinned. "Next time you get up here, give me some advance notice, and we can have lunch over in The Village ...."
"The Village? It's called The Village? You're kidding, right?"
"That's what they call the teachers' housing area," Imp replied with a shrug. "There's a nice little cafe called the Brown Moose."
"The Brown Moose? Now I know you're kidding. I suppose there's another joint called the Flying Blue Squirrel?" Tatiana scoffed in disbelief.
"Actually, it's a pub next to the Brown Moose," Imp laughed.
Tatiana goggled, wondering if Imp was pulling her leg as per her reputation for creative tomfoolery. "Sounds like a deal. I'll definitely be in touch with you." Tatiana gave Imp a surprising quick hug, then strode to her car. She knew one more person on campus, albeit mostly by professional reputation, and that gave her a bit more assurance that Martina would do well at Whateley.
Monday, August 27, 2007 - Early-afternoon
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
With enthusiasm that seemed a bit out of place, Martina hastened from Poe's entrance into the courtyard where a large group of students who had arrived on the early afternoon train were assembling. She recognized Mrs. Shugendo, but she was the only adult present. A couple were obviously older upperclassmen; Martina guessed they were guides. Somewhere among the milling group of new people was her roommate; being an only child, Martina had never had a roommate, and she was looking forward to a new type of adventure, albeit with minor trepidation. No-one seemed to notice that she hadn't come from the direction of Schuster, where the other kids had, which to her was good; it meant that she wasn't the focus of any special attention. When she realized how she'd been thinking, she chuckled to herself at another habit she'd inadvertently picked up from her mom.
Mrs. Shugendo looked over the group of kids, pulled out a clipboard, and split the group into three - most of the boys were assigned to an upperclassman named Steve, while many of the girls went with a raven-haired beauty named Rosalyn. For the briefest of moments, Martina found herself a little jealous of the senior's good looks, and then she wondered where that startling thought had come from. There were two boys in the remaining group, one wearing a 'Hello Kitty' hoodie and looking very unhappy, and the other looked a little less than masculine. The other four girls in the group were an interesting assortment as well, including a tiny, short Goth girl who looked entirely too young to be in high school and a girl with shoulder-length hair of blue and green with some purple highlights. The latter girl was either totally punk, or, more likely, her unusual hair had something to do with her mutation.
Once all the students were present, Mrs. Shugendo instructed them to move their belongings to their assigned rooms, and then meet in the lobby of Poe for an introductory tour of the cottage and the school. About that time, two other girls joined them, a sophomore girl named Ayla and a pretty - Martina felt another stab of unease about how her looks compared - Native American girl who was evidently the sister of 'Hello Kitty' hoodie-boy.
Almost immediately, Martina got a lesson about deceiving appearances; the tiny Goth girl picked up and carried a very large trunk as if she was holding a loaf of bread, which meant high-level exemplar or psycho-kinetic. In either case, there was far more to her than it appeared. Even with her PK, Martina's trunk was heavier than she could carry, not to mention a large suitcase that topped off her belongings. Fortunately, her mom had gotten a special trunk for her from a gadgeteer friend; when activated, four wheels deployed from the corners, making it a large wheeled cart. Better still, two wheels were motorized, so it was extremely easy to transport. To be helpful, Martina allowed the others to pile their gear atop her trunk until it was a tall and precarious heap of assorted luggage. With the others struggling to keep the bags from falling off, Martina drove the trunk into an elevator and up to the second floor.
After the other bags had been pulled - or had fallen - from her trunk, the only one left with Martina was a black-haired girl with a slightly-olive complexion. "I'm Christina," she introduced herself as the two steered the large trunk into Martina's room. "Christina Volante. I'm from Napoli. That's in Italy."
Martina smiled and bit her tongue at the implied statement that an American wouldn't know anything about world geography. "I moved a bunch of my stuff in earlier." She halted the motorized trunk mid-room. "I hope you don't mind that I took the right-hand bed."
"Is okay," Christina replied with a dismissive wave of her hand. "I don't mind the left side." She unceremoniously dumped her bag on her unmade bed and began to sort clothes from her luggage.
"I see you like blue," Martina observed as she sorted through the contents of the trunk.
"Blu? Si. I am called Striatura Blu. In English, you say Blue Streak." She smiled proudly. "Papa says it is good code name. It fits my power, and will be a good hero name, no?"
"So you want to be a hero?" Martina suddenly felt a little unease about the fervor Christina had in her pronouncement that she'd be a hero.
"Si. Papa is a hero in Napoli. You hear of him perhaps? Puego Silenzioso? I want to join him when I finish. That's why I'm here instead of school in Italia - all heroes in Italia say this is best school for learning to be a hero!"
Martina emptied the trunk, stacking the contents on her bed. "I'm going to take this down to the storage room. It's kind of hard to move around it." She chuckled. "I told mom it was too big, but she insisted that I had to have plenty of clothes and supplies. I think she just likes taking me shopping." She flopped the lid of the trunk shut. "Oh, yeah. I'm Martina Hughes."
"Are your parents heroes?" Christina asked innocently, perhaps hoping to be rooming with another devoted hero-to-be.
"It's just me and my mom," Martina answered simply.
"Oh, I'm sorry!"
Martina shrugged. "Never knew him. He left Mom when she was pregnant. It's been just me and Mom all my life."
"What does your mom do?"
"She's a ... security consultant," Martina chose her words carefully. "Need anything while I'm downstairs?"
On the way up from the storage room, Martina decided to fly up the stairs because the elevators were busy - no doubt with other students moving their stuff. As she passed the lobby, she heard a disturbance, so she paused, only to behold a very pretty older girl with angelic wings hugging the hoodie-boy with a peacefully contented smile. The noise, however, had come from a small part-Asian girl who was practically bouncing up and down as she clung to the boy's side, squealing with joy. The look on the boy's face was abject misery, while the Native American girl smiled and took pictures with her phone. Martina continued floating up the stairs, shaking her head. "Maybe it's not just a cover story!"
Back in their room, Martina and Christina continued putting away their belongings until an older girl stuck her head in the room and announced that they were gathering downstairs in fifteen minutes. Christina excused herself to take her bags downstairs. A few minutes later, another squeal - this time in their wing - drew Martina's attention, so she peeked out in time to see a half-naked cat-girl trying to cover herself while Christina leered at her. She turned back to her room, only to stop and blow a kiss to the cat-girl, who was blushing furiously.
Christina sashayed back into the room, grinning. "She looks much better as cat-girl, no? Much better than kitten boy!"
"That was the cat-boy?" A couple of pieces fell into place for Martina. If hoodie-boy could turn into a cat girl, it was no wonder he was in Poe.
"Si. Maybe, if we're lucky, he likes girls even when he's cat-girl!"
"Um," Martina had an uncomfortable thought. "Um, you're not ... um ... I mean ...."
Christina chuckled. "Papa told me not to get involved with roommates. If it doesn't work out, it gets awkward, no?" She smiled. "Let's go meet the others for the tour."
As they strode toward the elevators, Martina commented, "I got here earlier, so I've already had the tour of the cottage." She smiled. "There are some great amenities, like a hot tub, a sauna ....." The pair disappeared down the staircase with Martina still gushing about what the cottage had to offer.
Monday, August 27, 2007 - mid-afternoon
Near Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
The older student, Ayla, who'd joined Martina's group in the plaza at the start of the 'move in' took them around campus, seeing the Homer Gallery of precious artifacts which included a ton of gold bricks, the tunnels, classrooms, and the cafeteria where they stopped for refreshments mid-tour. Then they started walking back toward Poe. At that point, Ayla drew the group off the wide walkway to a small walled niche with a table and benches and chairs.
"You've probably noticed that there aren't many other students here yet," Ayla began. "And you're probably wondering why Poe students are here first and why we've been separated into the groups we are in, right?" Most of the students nodded. "Poe is a cottage for 'alternate sexuality' students," Ayla said bluntly, which caused a lot of raised eyebrows. "The boys who went with Steve are the Nancies, the girls with Roz are Dykes-in-training, and we all are changelings."
"Changelings?" a few asked simultaneously.
"We all have something in common. We are all defectors - or defecting - in the age-old battle of the sexes," Ayla started to explain.
"And Poe is the place they put all of us to help protect our status of being different," hoodie-boy said. "My sister ...."
"Danny, right? And your sister is Kayda," Ayla said with certainty.
"Yeah. She told me all about Poe this summer." He related the information he'd heard from his sister.
"Normally, there are one or two changelings. For some reason that is still under investigation, there have been many more changelings last year and this," Ayla continued. "The scientists here that study powers are particularly interested in the spike in numbers of changelings, so you may be spending more time in their labs than an average mutant."
"Oh, joy," Amy Maguire commented dryly.
Ayla ignored her sarcasm. "You boys," Ayla looked at hoodie-boy and the semi-effeminate guy, "are either turning into girls, or were girls changing into boys."
"Um," Danny said, "I'm not. Well, not really. Kind of." He winced. "It's complicated. I'm a boy, but my spirit is a female mountain lion, and sometimes I can change ...."
"Like a shifter?"
"So that was you in the hall that my roommate Christina saw?" Martina chuckled.
Danny blushed. To satisfy the doubters, he quickly changed into a fuzzy and cute 'kitty-boy' form, and then into the cat-girl that Martina had seen in the hall. Then he changed back to his regular form. "When I'm like this, or in the ... kitty-boy form," he winced strongly, indicating his dislike of the rather effeminate cat-boy shape, "I go by Danny. When I'm in girl form, I go by Danica."
Shawn's transformation into a boy was not yet completed, and he didn't seem to be upset by the change. The goth girl was named Alyss; an experimental devisor cure for a life-threatening illness had changed his shape into the young girl she now was as well as made her look a couple of years younger. To Alyss, being alive was worth the tradeoff of changing teams. Amy had been a boy until he manifested. Like Alyss, she didn't seem resentful of her new sex. Martina noticed Ayla scrutinizing Alyss, like there was something more that she wasn't saying. When it was Martina's turn, she shrugged. "Backpacking in the Rockies with Mom. I slipped down a mountain, got very seriously injured, needed a transfusion, and Mom had the only matching blood type that could save me. She's a high level regenerator."
"Regen clone?" Ayla's eyebrow cocked up incrementally.
"Yup. Anyway, here I am."
"Clone? So you're identical to your mom?" one of the girls asked.
"Younger version, but yeah, I'm going to end up looking exactly like her. But with different powers."
"And you were a boy before?" Alyss asked in about as neutral a tone as was possible. There was only a hint of curiosity in her voice, and certainly no judgment.
"Yup. Martin, going by Marty." Martina shrugged. "Since the change, well, it's taking a bit of time getting used to sitting to pee. And I don't do the makeup thing, even though Mom says I should."
"You do realize," Ayla noted, "that Marty is an oft-used short-form of Martina"
"Yeah, I know," Martina replied with a faint smile. "But using Martina kind of makes it more real, if that makes sense."
"It's actually convenient," Ayla continued, "because Poe has a Martine who goes by Marty, so this avoids having to worry about disambiguation between the two of you."
"What does your dad think of your change?" Danny asked with a curious expression. "My dad had a few issues when my sister changed."
Martina shrugged. "No idea. He left Mom when she got pregnant."
Lina and Danny both winced. "I'm sorry," Lina apologized, even though she hadn't been the one to raise the subject.
"Don't be. He was a baseline, and Mom says he wasn't exactly fond of mutants. Mom had to tell him about herself when she got pregnant, and he left." It was quickly revealed that Amy shared the same story. Alyss, however, said very little, adding to the mystery surrounding the little Goth girl.
They finished introductions, with the multi-hued-hair girl going last. She winced as she revealed, with great embarrassment, that she was an avatar and that her spirit had partly transformed her. While still mostly girl, she had male equipment below the belt. Somehow, it wasn't a total surprise when Ayla told her that he had the same issue, and that he was available if she needed someone to talk to about the mixed-sex state. Following their brief introductions, Ayla led the group back towards their cottage.
"You know," Danny commented as they walked back to Poe, "my sister told me we're going to eventually have to be on a training team, maybe we should make our own team while we get to choose."
Ayla spun and gawked at the boy.
"And we could maybe call ourselves the Chaos Monkeys?" Danny added.
"Or the Chaos Corps!" Lina added with a wicked smile.
The look of abject horror on Ayla's face was a sight to behold.
Monday, August 27, 2007 - mid-afternoon
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
Holding her new cell phone, one of the newest smartphones on the market, Christina talked into the device. On the screen was an image of her father, on the other end of the video-call. "The staff is very nice, Papa," she said. "We have had a tour of the campus - do you know that there are some amazing hero and villain artifacts in their museum in the Homer Gallery? There is a wax figure of Champion, complete with his uniform. It is splendid, Papa," Christina gushed.
Christina's papa could be heard to chuckle through the phone's speaker. "You have seen pictures of Champion since you were a little child."
"Oh, but Papa, seeing it in person, on a statue of him - it's ... it's .... I can't describe the feeling!"
"I hope you took pictures."
Christina winced. "They don't permit us taking pictures," she pouted. "And ... there was so much to see! Some of Gizmatic's prototype villain weapons. The Tartarium knife that killed Champion II, the Tartarus projector, a quasar gun from Professor Ripper! There was more than I could remember!"
"I'm glad you liked it."
"Perhaps if you come on Parents' Day, we shall be able to tour it together? I know you would like it. The whole team would like seeing the artifacts!"
"We shall see," Papa Volante replied. "You know how the business is. Villains don't work on regular hours, so it's hard to plan a vacation."
"You know I will. If I cannot come, I will send your Mama," the older man promised.
"And Gio? Can Mama bring Gio, too?"
Papa Volante laughed aloud. "You miss him, don't you? Admit it - no matter what you said, you already miss your little brother! Now, before I have to go to bed, can you please show me your room so I can tell your Mama?"
"Okay," Christina said. She turned the phone and began a slow panoramic sweep of her room. "The beds are nothing special, except our advisor said they are strong enough to hold up to bricks. As you can see," she pointed the camera at her desk, "I am still unpacking. It'll take me a while to get it arranged." She continued the scan. "We have a nice view out the windows, and over here is my roommate Martina's side. She arrived earlier, but since she is from the United States, she brought more and has more to put away." She continued to turn.
"Wait! Wait a minute." Papa Volante interrupted with a sense of urgency. "Go back a little." Confused, Christina followed her papa's direction. "There! That picture! Move closer!"
Again the girl complied. "What is it, Papa?" she stammered as her father let fly a string of very colorful invective, cursing such as she'd never heard from her father, the noted Italian hero Pugno Silenzioso - Silent Fist.
"Setup!" he practically spat. "That picture - it's Setup!"
"Who is Setup?"
"She is a notorious supervillain," the old man swore. "She is vicious and ruthless. She has done some of her crimes in Napoli, and almost killed the whole team!"
"But ... why would Martina have a picture of a supervillain on her desk?" Christina asked. Then her mouth dropped open. "She said it was her mom. And she looks exactly like her mom because she is a regeneration clone of her mama! That means ....!"
"If she is a clone, it could mean that she is the daughter of the notorious villain Setup!" The Italian hero scowled. "But ... a moment please." He turned away and fiddled with his computer for a couple of minutes while Christina waited impatiently. He was still scowling when he looked back into his phone. "I thought I remembered reading something. It was reported that Setup was killed in a car accident." He shook his head. "I don't buy it. It is common for a villain to 'vanish' for a while after committing a major crime.
"You think this Setup is still alive, Papa?" Christina guessed.
"Yes. And if your roommate really is her daughter ...."
"I am rooming with a criminal!" Christina spat. " Tell me more about Setup, Papa," Christina said with a scowl. "I need to know more."
Monday, August 27, 2007 - Dinner
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
It hadn't taken long for Christina to confront her about her mom, and from that moment, the hateful comments from the Italian girl began - villainous scum being among the mildest in English, and Martina suspected that some of what Christina was muttering in Italian wasn't exactly complimentary or suited for polite company. Her diatribe had gotten loud enough that first Angel and then Lanie had come running, convinced that a fight was in progress. Christina had finally stormed out, making another scene about hoping the RAs would protect her belongings from the 'untrustworthy' villain's daughter that she was being forced to room with. She loudly proclaimed to all within earshot that Martina was a dishonest child of a vicious, bloodthirsty villain, and everyone needed to be careful around her.
As Martina walked into the cafeteria, accompanied by Alyss and Amy, she started to feel like the people were staring at her. Fortunately, Christina wasn't in the small herd of Poesies who were going to eat, so she had a break from the ranting Italian.
With an audible sigh, Martina set her tray on the table and flopped into a seat. "At least my roommate isn't here."
"What's her problem, anyway?" Cindy, one of the other girls, asked with a disgusted frown. "I heard her ranting something in the hall, but I don't understand Italian, so ... yeah."
Martina glanced at Alyss, Lina, and Amy, seated across from her, and Danny, sitting between her and Cindy. "Do you know her dad is some big-shot Italian superhero? Pugo Silenzo, or something like that."
"Pugno Silenzioso," Alyss noted with a somewhat unpleasant frown. "The Silent Fist." She shook her head. "I've heard ...."
"We've all heard," Amy corrected her.
"We've all heard about him. All she talks about is how she wants to be a hero like Dear Daddy," Alyss finished.
"Sounds like someone has Daddy issues," Cindy blurted out, then she goggled as if surprised that she'd actually vocalized her thoughts. When Lina practically spat out a bite of pizza from laughing at Cindy's comment, Cindy, too, started to giggle, joining the other girls.
Amy quit laughing abruptly, her expression becoming somber. "Italian nuisance at two o'clock, closing fast."
Heads swiveled to follow Amy's gaze and locked onto Christina, Amanda - Jinx, and Pamela - Eidolon - approaching the table. As soon as Christina saw Martina, she halted so abruptly that Amanda bumped into her, pushing her slightly so that Christina's body knocked Pam's tray from her hands. The clattering of the metal tray, plate, and splattering of food was like a switch halting conversation in the entire cafeteria, and nearly every head turned toward the source of the noise.
"I need to find a better table!" Christina practically spat before making a production of turning away. Then she glanced over her shoulder at the students already seated. "Perhaps you should be more careful choosing your friends."
Cindy frowned. "What do you mean by that?" she practically demanded.
"Just that you probably don't realize that you're associating with the daughter of an infamous villain," Christina smirked. "Come on," she said to her companions.
Martina stiffened with anger at the way Christina was practically accusing her of being a villain herself. "If I recall the introductions, your mom is a receptionist?" Martina interrupted the Italian girl's little drama production. Christina stopped, turned, and gawked, not understanding where Martina was going with her question. "So by your logic, you must be a receptionist too, and nothing you do can ever change that. So be a good little receptionist and get me a cup of coffee. In fact, get coffee for everyone."
Pam was picking up what she could of the mess, taking ownership of dropping her food, but already, a ready-response team of two people from the cafeteria staff was scurrying out with a small whisk broom, dustpan, and a mop; they were quite clearly practiced in cleanup of cafeteria mishaps. Jinx, though, shrugged. "I was planning on eating with Cindy and Lina," she said, stepping around Christina.
"Just remember that I warned you!" Christina said in a huff before turning away and marching to another table where some of the other freshman girls were eating.
Jinx sat down, glancing around with piqued curiosity. "What's she babbling about? Setup? Villains?"
Martina sighed - she knew something like this was going to happen. "My mom is ... is Setup. She's ... she's a contractor to do certain jobs."
"Like killing people, stealing important stuff, hijacking rockets?" Lina asked, almost hopefully.
"Nah, nothing so James Bondish," Martina chuckled. "She's never killed anyone ...."
"That you know of," Jinx prompted with a waggle of her eyebrows.
Martina gawked at Jinx for a moment. "That I know of," she acknowledged after a few seconded. "Anyway, she does independent contract jobs. Sometimes they're a little ... shady. Sometimes she does jobs for ... government agencies," Martina finished explaining. "That's why the Italian loudmouth is all upset. She's the daughter of a hero, and I'm the daughter of a villain. I guess she figures that we're supposed to be feuding or something."
"Agencies like the CIA or MI6 or Mossad?" Amy suggested with an anticipatory grin.
"She won't say. She doesn't talk about her work, and I know better than to ask." She dug up a spoonful of mashed potatoes covered in brown gravy. "Anyway, she's retired now." She paused, the spoon halfway to her open mouth and looked around. "So if you don't want to be seen around me, I understand."
"So your mom is a villain," Amy said with a strange expression. "That's different." A smile spread across her features. "And to think, I didn't believe Mom when she told me that the school would be interesting."
Alyss shrugged. "Why would I care? If she thinks you're responsible for what your mom might or might not have done, she's got a few screws loose."
"If I can't get moved," Martina said with a sigh after a short pause in the conversation, "it's going to be a very long year." She glanced around the table. "Anyone here need a roommate? I promise I don't snore!"
Monday, August 27, 2007 - After Dinner
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
"Come on, girls," Angel encouraged Martina, Amy, and Alyss, who were hanging out in Alyss and Amy's room because Martina didn't want to deal with the Italian bitch.
Slowly the trio got to the door. "What's this all about?" Amy asked their Resident Advisor.
"Don't know," Angel replied. "It wasn't scheduled." She poked her head in another room. "Meeting downstairs now." She repeated the action a couple more times, while Amy, Alyss,and Martina joined a growing herd of students heading for the stairs.
Once on the main floor, the group was directed to seats in the entrance hall. With visible determination, Christina looked around, noting where Alyss was and scowling at her, then noting where Martina was and direction a deeper scowl her way. Then she took a seat as far from the two as possible.
Surprisingly to the assembled freshmen, the upperclassmen who were RAs or who helped with the reception and tour also joined the group. Mrs Horton looked around, mentally noting if anyone was missing. "Okay, we're all here." She paused for a moment. "This subject isn't on my schedule. In fact, it's supposed to be covered in your information packet and again at an all school address by our Headmistress on Saturday. However...." She glanced around again, this time pausing to look directly at Christina before looking directly at every other person.
"Whateley is a neutral school. It was founded under the cooperative efforts of noteworthy mutants for one function - to provide an excellent high-school education to our students and to teach our students how to control and use their powers. Its board of directors has included figures like Champion and Dr. Diabolik, Brown Bear and Emperor Wilkins. In short, the school was founded on the principle of strict neutrality. We have students whose parents are superheroes. We also have students whose parents are villains." She paused for effect, looking around again and noticing that Christina seemed to be glaring alternately at Alyss and Martina.
"The school is funded by both sides. The school educates both sides. Mostly, the school tolerates no interference from either side. Heroes are not allowed to harass or otherwise interfere with children of villains, and vice versa. The neutrality is so well-respected that any violation is - and has been - dealt with very severely by a cooperative effort of all involved sides. The results are not pretty, and that's by design to emphasize the consequences of violating Whateley neutrality." Mrs. Horton paused and took a sip of tea from a cup that she'd been holding unobtrusively the whole time she'd been talking.
"Whateley neutrality extends to interactions among students on campus as well. No child of a hero is permitted to harass or threaten any child of a villain, and no villain's child is allowed to harass or threaten any hero's child." She paused, looking around the room with a very stern expression. "Any such events will be at the very least dealt with very severely by the administration. If someone were to cross the line ...." She paused, shaking her head and scowling. "When you get your laptops, look up Amperage. He was a student here. He thought being a hero here meant stopping children of villains. I would caution you to not read up on Amperage immediately before or after a meal. It was not ... pretty." She paused again to let her words sink in; several of the new students gulped nervously, looking around them, particularly at Martina, Alyss, and Seraphina.
"Let me address another aspect of this. How many of you have ancestors who were in this country before eighteen-sixty. Please raise your hands." She paused, and a few hands went up. "So your ancestors may have been involved in slavery. Since your ancestors may have been slave owners, or may have served in the Army during the Indian wars, does that make you guilty of their actions or crimes? Should we all judge you as a racist or bigot or murderer because of an ancestor? Should we judge you as a thief, a liar, and a cheat because your ancestors broke Indian treaties and stole land?" Dead silence and stunned looks greeted her gaze; hopefully, some of the students were thinking seriously about what she'd said.
"In some Communist countries, a crime against the state is punished for three generations - the original criminal, the criminal's children, and their children's children! Is that fair?" Another sip of tea. "It's a principle some call 'sins of the father'. It's related to a 'bill of attainder' in the US constitution. It means that a child cannot be held guilty of the crimes of the parents. Children do not inherit the debts of their parents. They likewise do not inherit any criminal liability or responsibility." She glanced around. "Harassment based on the status of a parent will not be tolerated in my cottage. Do. You. All. Understand?"
Solemnly, aware of the seriousness with which the house-mother had addressed the issue, most of the students nodded. Christina, too, nodded, but she was still giving Martina the stink-eye. Martina and Alyss noted the Italian girl's attitude, and both came to the correct conclusion that the lesson had been lost on her.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007 - Lunchtime
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
At lunchtime, Martina found herself sharing a table with several Poe freshmen, including Danny, a girl who'd just arrived named Seraphina - Fina - Valocco, Beth, and Danny's sister Kayda and her friend Lanie, who was a Resident Advisor for the sophomore wing. Christina had made a scene again, which ultimately required Martina to fully disclose her mom's profession, with the full expectation that she was about to be ostracized from the group.
Surprisingly, that didn't happen. She noticed strange looks from Alyss and Fina, the new girl, but the rest kind of shrugged it off. Instead, the lunch discussion topics began with when they might have an opportunity to visit the campus bookstore, which Lanie and Kayda compared to a large retail mega-store like G-mart. Most of the freshmen scoffed at that notion; some had seen the small building of the bookstore and knew that their legs were being pulled because there was no way that a mega-department-store like G-mart would fit into such a small building.
After a glance at her watch, Martina rose from the lunch table. "I've got an appointment with my advisor," she explained. To her surprise, Fina picked up her tray as well.
As the two walked out of Crystal Hall into Schuster, Fina slowed a bit. "Would I be correct in guessing," she said softly even though no-one was in sight, "that your mom is Setup?"
Martina almost missed a step as she recoiled from the comment. "Um, I don't know what you're talking about," she replied warily.
"You look like her," Fina replied with a smile. "Almost identical. And it is said that you're a regen clone."
"I met Setup about a year and a half ago at Mom's place." Fina smiled. "Someone who looks like your mom, a young boy doesn't forget. And you look just like her."
"How would you have met Mom," Martina started to say, but quickly caught herself, "I mean, this Setup person?"
"Someone took something quite valuable from my mom, and she wanted it back. She also wanted to send a subtle message to the thief's partners that she had a very long reach and a lot of connections, and they couldn't predict when or how hard she'd strike back. Mom hired Setup - your mother - to recover the item and cause some chaos in the thief's personal life, while a few other 'contractors' hit the thief's business interests and associates quite ... hard."
"Um, okay." Martina was unsure how to proceed.
"Next time you talk to your Mom, give her Strega's regards."
Martina frowned as her mind raced. This year seemed to have taken a sudden and very strange and slightly ominous turn.
The two girls parted ways on the third floor; Martina went one way to find the office of her advisor, while Fina went the other.
The door to Mrs. Hasting's office was closed, though a light shone through a frosted glass window, so Martina rapped lightly on the door.
"Come in," sounded a woman's voice from inside. Gingerly, Martina opened the door and stepped into what seemed to be a normal office. "Have a seat," Mrs. Hastings said, not having looked up from the computer monitor she was scrutinizing. "You're a couple of minutes early," the older woman continued, "so I'll be with you as soon as I finish this memo."
Martina glanced at a digital clock on Mrs. Hasting's desk, which was counting the time by seconds, noting that she was at that moment one minute, thirty-two seconds early. If Mrs. Hastings followed first impressions, she was going to be a stickler for precision and order. While that wasn't necessarily a bad thing sometimes, it could become problematic. Martina sincerely hoped that working with Mrs. Hastings wouldn't devolve into a battle against thorough Teutonic efficiency and millisecond-accurate timing.
Moments later, there was another knock on the door, which immediately opened. Lillian Dennon stepped inside; obviously, she had no qualms about violating any protocols that Mrs. Hastings organized her life around. "Sorry to interrupt," Mrs. Dennon said insincerely, "but I just came from admin. You should have, or will be getting, an e-mail from Ms. Hartford."
Mrs. Hastingss looked up from her computer, annoyance at the interruption momentarily flickering across her features. She glanced back down, then manipulated her computer's mouse. "Yes," she acknowledged, "I just got it." She read it, flinching a bit at the message, then looked up at Mrs. Dennon. "She's your problem now." She looked at Martina. "Good day," she said dismissively before turning back to her computer.
A bit surprised, Martina followed Mrs. Dennon out of the office, then into an elevator. "Since I tutored you some this summer, your mom asked Ms. Hartford if I could be your advisor." Strolling from Schuster Hall, Mrs. Dennon continued. "So, is there anything you would like to share about your end-of-summer adventure?"
Martina almost missed a step. "Summer ... adventure?" she stammered.
"You did help your mom with that little job in Houston, right?" Mrs. Dennon asked knowingly.
"Don't worry. I'm not going to spill professional secrets," the older woman half-chuckled. "But if you're going to continue to help your mom with ... odd jobs ... then you need more training to properly use your powers so you don't get hurt again."
"Um, Mom retired," Martina tried to avoid answering.
"Since you've already has some martial arts training, I'm going to give you a little 'extra' tutoring in fighting skills in addition to Ito's Basic Martial Arts class."
Martina looked like she'd sucked on a lemon. "You mean I have two classes? And one of them is with Sensei Ito?"
Dennon laughed. "I see you've heard of Ito."
"Yeah," the younger girl acknowledged. "From Mom. And from Ayla and Lanie and Kayda ...."
"You aren't going to go all 'drama queen' like Kayda did, are you?" Mrs. Dennon saw the startled reaction from Martina. "Kayda's not typical; she had some ... reasons ... for her rough semester. Just a word of advice - try to avoid excessive drama."
Martina snorted and shook her head. "That's not going to be easy."
The girl nodded. "My roommate is an Italian superhero wannabe, and she figured out who Mom is. Apparently, she thinks I'm exactly like Mom - an evil villain who needs to be carted off to jail to make the world a safer place."
Mrs. Dennon frowned. "That's not supposed to happen. But until the administrative staff gets everything into the computer, it's really quite hard to shuffle room assignments. I'll put in a word with Admin to see what we can do."
The duo went to Mrs. Dennon's office inside Laird Hall, the martial arts training building. After a few minutes of work getting her computer to respond, during which she noted it was far easier to persuade a hero to give in than to get a computer to cooperate, Lillian had a schedule for Martina. Three days a week, she'd start early in the morning with flight class before breakfast. The morning schedule had art, French 1, then Basic Martial Arts. After lunch, she had English, history, and then algebra. Twice a week she'd have special tutoring on 'brick' fighting with Mrs. Dennon.
When both were satisfied with the schedule, Mrs. Dennon walked back to Schuster with Martina, this time going to the basement, to the computer center. It took almost half an hour to get a school laptop checked out, initialized with her ID, and for the staff to show her some of the unique features on the computer. Finally, Martina was able to go back to Poe, hoping that her wing-mates hadn't already started their expedition to the bookstore.
Thursday, August 30, 2007 - Lunch
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
The cafeteria felt full compared to the first couple of days because all of the upperclassmen were back on campus. Instead of getting quickly through the lunch line, Martina and her fellow freshmen had to wait in line a bit. Granted, all the serving lines and checkout lanes were open and the assortment of food was even wider than the first couple of days. At least there was no 'upperclassman privilege' here that would require all freshmen to eat last, so Martina's group soon got through the line and were assembled at what they were considering 'their' table. At least no upperclassmen had chased them away at breakfast for violating a table that some other group considered their territory.
Jadis Diabolik waited patiently at the end of the line, alternately reading from a tablet computer while simultaneously conversing with Jobe, who had a haughty air about her as if she thought she was superior to everyone else, Nacht, who seemed to be looking over the new freshman as if trying to determine whose woes would most amuse her in the coming year, and Belphoebe, who seemed bored by the whole cafeteria. Ahead of Jadis' group were a few freshmen and a couple of the Capes; it was obvious that the freshmen were highly interested in the Future Superheroes of America and were trying to 'suck up' to gain membership in that group.
At one point, Nacht turned back to Jadis. "Did you hear that? One of the spandex-worshipers is talking Pugno Silenzioso like he's some great hero," she said dryly.
"He's a second-rate clown," Jadis retorted without looking up.
"Maybe someone should tell that to the loudmouth," Jobe suggested.
"They've been watching too many B-movies about superheroes," Jadis suggested without looking up. Knowing where her group was with respect to the serving line, Jadis folded the tablet, tucked it under her arm, and picked up a serving tray. It wasn't long before she and her group were at the checkout station.
"Can't we find somewhere else to sit?" a girl practically screeched.
Jadis and Nacht turned in time to see the Cape wannabes standing near an empty table, with the one Jobe had called a loudmouth glaring at an adjacent table.
Puzzled, the capes and the girl selected another table, and as they passed the checkout stations again, the loudmouth girl complained, "She's no good! It's bad enough I have to share a room with a criminal, but I refuse to eat with her!"
"She's not a criminal," one of the Capes objected.
"Her mother is!" the girl snarled. "It's the same thing!"
Nacht rolled her eyes. "Another one who has to learn to not blame the child for what the parents do," she said drolly.
The group finished in the checkout, but before they went to their table on an upper tier, Jadis stepped to one side, setting her tray on a condiment table and pulling up her tablet. She pointed it toward the table that had been the source of the disturbance, then she smiled and picked up her tray again.
At the Bad Seeds table on the upper level, the others continued to chat and started to eat, Jadis took out her tablet and began to scroll through websites. She suddenly stopped and stared at the screen. "That's interesting," she said to herself. "That's very interesting."
Nacht seemed to notice for the first time that Jadis was preoccupied. "What's interesting?"
Jadis turned her tablet, showing two pictures side-by-side, one from a web page that wasn't readily accessible to just anyone. "Notice anything?"
One of Belphoebe's eyebrows climbed up her forehead. "Same person. The picture on the left is her at an earlier age?"
"The picture on the left is from the cafeteria," Jobe observed after a momentary glance. She looked over the railing, focusing on a table below. "The girl at the table Ms. Loudmouth was making a fuss about?" she speculated.
"And on the right?" Nacht prompted.
"I pulled a bit from Dr. Dad's files," Jadis commented. "Known as Setup."
Jobe looked at the pictures again. "Clone?"
Jadis shook her head. "No. The best info Dr. Dad has is that Setup had one natural child."
Jadis tapped her tablet again, pulling up another web page. Wordlessly, she turned it to the others.
Jobe was the fastest reader in the group. "The description fits Setup," she said. "Backpacking accident, transfusion from Setup, all electronic records disappeared. MCO called, but they arrived too late."
Jadis nodded. "That fits Setup's MO. She's good at making information just disappear."
"If that is Setup's child, she was altered by a transfusion and is a regeneration clone," Nacht suggested. "Interesting."
Jadis flipped back to the previous page. "A car accident outside Phoenix killed a woman and daughter. The vehicle was registered to one of Setup's older aliases."
"Gone to ground?" Belphoebe speculated again.
"Perhaps. In any case, if the girl is Setup's daughter...."
"Which seems probable, considering that Loudmouth was fussing about her being a criminal like her mother," Jobe interrupted.
"She could be a candidate for the Seeds. Given the way Loudmouth was screeching, the Capes might set their sights on her."
"And the Squirrels," Belphoebe added.
"Exactly. I think we need to watch her," Jadis concluded. Around the table, the others nodded their agreement.