Falconer: A Stranger Arrives In Town
Falconer: A Stranger Arrives In Town
If it weren't for bad luck, would JB have any luck at all?
Friday afternoon, March 3, 2017,
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
A northwesterly wind pushed clouds away, setting up for a roller-coaster overnight drop into an ice bucket. Stepping off the bus that brought him in from Dunwich, JB scrambled to pull his hood and jacket collar back up and fumble for his gloves. Miserable weather! At least he'd known to keep his hoodie and jacket with him on the plane.
"So. Whateley Academy."
He didn't expect a response from Leleth, huddled as she was under his jacket to take advantage of the human's body heat. He'd been lucky to hold on to internal energizing/regeneration since he left home — that helped. With the Arctic weather around the place, he wasn't at all looking forward to bumping into someone with a stronger power set that wasn't deep-freeze resistant.
JB paid too little attention to the slush and mud that had been tracked onto the steps of the brick and concrete building before him. In rapid order: the door he'd been reaching for opened out toward his face, his shoes lost traction, and he was pitched backward into muddy dead grass. The hawk box he'd been carrying (airlines having a prejudice against checking small dragons in carry-on luggage) somehow landed right-side-up, albeit with an indignant screech from its current occupant. JB scrambled to retrieve the box, getting hit with an out-sweeping sense of "I literally feel each of you" for his effort.
The Empath In Question had a cute face but nothing more could be reliably said about him. Winter clothes do a good job of obscuring physical details. He hurried down the steps.
"I'm so sorry about that! Are you all alright?"
Nothing else to lose, I guess. I've already picked up one thing. JB grasped the offered hand to pull himself and his cargo up.
"My ego might be bruised..."
"Pat Barnes, codename Hat Trick. You wouldn't happen to be James Erwin?"
"I prefer to go by JB, but yes. Might I ask why?" When the hell did my accent hook up with Blanche Devereaux?
"It's just that there's someone from Twain Cottage inside, waiting for you to get checked in."
"Thank you kindly. See you around!"
"We'll have to see, won't we!"
JB smiled and shook his head at the retreating figure. The dry heat inside the administration building was a huge improvement over the air outside. Lacking any mutant powers to magically clean mud off himself, he settled for the nearest men's room and lots of paper towels. It wouldn't do to track mud in to a meeting with the Assistant Headmaster, when he was already an hour and a half late. The sad part was that that wasn't too bad for him lately, all things considered.
Assistant Headmaster's desk, Administration
Robert "Falcon" Turner had exchanged his supersuit for a more tweedy look, but he was still the green-eyed, square-jawed, ruggedly fit image of a superhero exemplar all the way. He was also gravely unimpressed with the transfer student from central Florida sitting in front of him. His scowl might have been prompted by concern for the furniture, or displeasure with the lackluster holder of a code name too close to his own, but JB wasn't practiced enough in empathy to tease out the differences. Now that he'd copied Mr. Turner's exemplar trait, JB was uncomfortably aware that his deodorant had failed hours earlier. Good thing he hadn't unpacked anything yet.
Leleth kneaded her claws into his shirt. Relax
On the desk in front of Mr. Turner, was a file labeled James Brewster Trautmann Erwin / Falconer "You were informed in your acceptance package that you would be assigned to Twain Cottage?"
"Yes, sir. I was. Is that incorrect?"
Looks like that return ticket is going to be used sooner than later.
"Not necessarily. I'd like to follow up on some things in your file, just for reference. When did you manifest?"
"The second half of August. I applied back then, but the application was rejected."
"Mm-hm. There was limited space in the co-ed cottage you'd normally be assigned to based on your application. That situation was highly unusual for reasons I'd rather not go into. One of the two other co-ed cottages had space, but both are reserved for students meeting certain requirements. The two all-boys cottages, one of them Twain... Hm. This looks recent." Mr. Turner pulled two sheets from the file on his desk. "You filed two familiar boarding permits?"
"Yes. One for Leleth here, and one for Chase."
"Two familiars for a mundane? That's unusual, even for this school."
"Leleth's been with me since all this started." JB pointed to his shoulder. "I was introduced to Chase in December. He's been my wingman ever since."
Chase kee'ed from inside the hawk box, as if to agree.
"Right." At least they aren't juvenile Shoggoth Lords, as far as we know. Turner made a mental note to ask Powers Testing to make certain of that. "Since you're arriving here so late, you have to have been going around without needing powers training for half a year. Why come here now, to take up space needed by more deserving young mutants?"
"Actually, my training has been along the lines of avoiding obvious mutants and paranormals."
"Are you saying that you don't have full control of your abilities?"
"I know I get a better copy of a power by touch, one I can sometimes retain without it switching itself out. Otherwise, I end up switching over to the strongest signal around, like some mutant radio."
"I see. There's a note from your early testing that indicates you can mimic a wizard trait. Be that as it may, our mystic arts program doesn't have any openings until Fall and those seats will first go to real mages. We've even filled the quota for young men allowed into the program. That said, if you are a power mimic – which doesn't match up with the warper ratings – without good control of your ability I'm not certain we can safely place you in Twain or Emerson Cottage. What happens when you're in a communal setting with multiple mutants, for example, at an assembly or in a bathroom?"
"I don't know, sir. It might not lock on to anyone, but I guess that depends on the strongest power in the room and who I run into."
"No clue then?" Mr. Turner pinched the bridge of his nose in advance of the oncoming headache. That could be Zephyr, Humorless, or Red, to name a few of Twain's more irritable residents. Emerson had long tended to an openly anti-gay culture, as the Le Floc'h twins found out. He picked up his phone and dialed an on-campus number.
"Hello, Debra? It's Robert.
Yes. I have a student here who apparently has managed to go six months without learning how to positively control a Warper trait.
Let me check. The accessory codes are pee, are, and vee. That's... Hang on."
Mr. Turner asked, "They didn't let you board an aircraft to get here, did they?"
"Three hours nonstop from Tampa International, once the thunderstorms cleared out. I still have the return ticket, in case the school still doesn't want me."
"No problems with the flight?"
"Like I said, it was fine once we got into the air— unless you count the screaming baby in front of me and the couple getting to know each other really, really well right behind me. The MCO line was a lot longer in Boston. Someone mentioned something about the reasonable agents getting food poisoning." JB pulled a folded slip of paper from his pocket. "My checked luggage is thought to be en route to Cairo – the airline can't confirm Illinois or Egypt – and Volgograd."
Stress lines deepened between Mr. Turner's furrowed brows as the boy talked about his ordinary day. Mrs. Bardue's voice in his ear brought his attention back to the present.
Right. Good. Would you mind checking with Conrad for any items the family may have sent ahead?
Erwin. Echo Romeo Whiskey India November.
Right, even Dickinson, Whitman, Poe, and Kane.
Thank you." Looking straight at JB, he said, "About those tickets? I haven't said the school won't take you."
"The exact words used in the first reply were 'your special needs are not judged to be particularly dire'. Mom is still p- upset."
The miniature dragon now perched on the leather-packed shoulder of Falconer's jacket looked either annoyed or hungry. Knowing the Academy as he did, compounded by the nature of the boy's home state, Robert Turner wasn't tempted to investigate the reptile's mood without reliable backup.
"You're here now, and sponsored, so I might as well go ahead and confirm your acceptance. You'll be staying in Hawthorne Cottage, pending the results of powers testing and learning control over your abilities. You'll be happy to know that that Cottage isn't much further from the center of campus than Twain is, and the rooms are all singles." Not happy about why that is, but our hands are tied.
Mr. Turner stood up, signaling the meeting was over. As he showed JB to the door, he said. "Mrs. Bardue will be sending someone up to help get you settled in and show you around the campus. Mr. Padilla? I appreciate that you waited for James here, but we're going to have change plans on you."
The shaggy haired upperclassman replied, "No problem, Mr. Turner. Stuff happens!"
Administration Offices, Schuster Hall
After a half-hour or so, an older student walked in to the offices, looked around, and headed for the bench that JB was warming. He stopped and held up his hand to forestall the introductions. That suited JB, because his throat was suddenly itchy. That wasn't a good sign.
"Mrs. Bardue instructed me to ask you not to speak while we were together. Strange instructions, ja, but this school is strange. I'm Friedrich Schnöring, or Thunderous if you prefer code names. If you follow me, we can start with the Gallery first, then check you in at the Cottage. We should have time to eat dinner before continuing the rest of the campus tour. Does that sound good?"
JB nodded as best he could with a reptilian hand across his mouth.
– Do you know sign? –
"Some. Still a beginner? If I hadn't learned conscious control of my power, I would have been stuck with using a sign language."
Leleth patted JB on the head.
Inside 'Homer Gallery', they viewed Lord Paramount's portrait, per some obscure requirements attached to his past generous endowments. Other trophies squirreled away – a ton of gold on hand and the tuition was how high? – were noted as something that could always be revisited after Chase was situated.
Crystal Hall Cafeteria, Whateley Academy
By the time the cafeteria's doors officially opened for supper, the sun had already set below the hills of the Pilot Range, its shadows having crept up the sides of Location Hill and Cummings Mountain east of the campus. To a young man used to much lower horizons, the sight was impressive. The Crystal Hall itself, lit from the inside and reflecting lights from the outdoor dining areas resembled a jewel set against the darkness. JB almost forgot to put his kippah on. The cafeteria didn't provide kosher meals, let alone a proper Sabbath meal, but he wasn't at home and he wasn't that observant, so he'd muddle through the best he could.
The food and the decor inside the Crystal Hall cafeteria were as good as advertised. Leleth's weight shifted back and forth as she tried to take in all the sights. Even with students out on break, there were enough people going through the meal lines, walking around to talk to friends, or bussing their trays to confuse JB's mimicry power. That settled back down as he and Friedrich sat down to a ground-floor table with a decent view of the hall.
The two ate their meal in companionable silence before Friedrich went back to his guide duties of pointing out the local hazards.
"Here we can see American High School politics in full swing. The top level has space for faculty, prestige clubs like the Alphas and Future Superheroes of America (I did not make that name up), and top-ranked training teams. JROTC is up there too. They tend to hang out together a lot, and most other groups are happy to ignore them. I was told by someone that the arrangement keeps them out of the way."
JB frowned and jerked a thumb back toward himself.
Friedrich shrugged, "No offense, but that's what I was told. The middle platform has tables reserved by groups like the Euro-Promotional League. I'm a member of that club. Some training teams also reserve tables there. Down here on the ground floor is open, so freshmen and sophomores, groups like the Underdogs – that's people with limited powers – tech-oriented students, but also many of the Whitman, Twain, Poe, and Hawthorne residents all eat down here."
Leleth signed, – The not-wanted. –
"I'm not going to say she's wrong, but you may be safer around the underdogs and some of the inventors."
JB nodded slowly. The part about 'underdogs' wasn't encouraging.
"Many people judge others based on what they think they see or think they know about. That includes many clubs that will claim to be open, but somehow never get around to giving people who look average a chance. Those with GSD? No luck."
One short-choked syllable, nothing more than that, but it was enough to rattle cutlery throughout the Hall's ground level. Some students turned their heads and looked around long enough to decide it was a noobie problem. Some only stopped whatever they were doing in case of a repeat. Most didn't even do that.
JB's world had collapsed into a black hole of sinus pain. Something warmly sticky dribbled down his upper lip. Maybe if he blew his nose it would help?
Friedrich said, "What you're about to do? Don't You'll end up needing that much more surgery." Seeing the freshman's shocked look, he continued. "You'd think they could fix my snoring with a little surgery, yes?"
JB nodded. That made sense to him. That also hurt a lot.
"Nein. Nose, mouth, and sinuses are resonator chambers for the voice. For a siren, they are waveguides for the telekinesis. Some of that power goes into shaping the amplified sound, but about half of it is used to hold your skull together. The first time I make a sound after the surgery, it all gets shoved back to the way it was. Not worth the pain to try again."
That hurt just thinking about it.
"Now that you've played bass drum with your face, I will take our trays back. Next stop on the tour is now Doyle Medical Center."
Doyle Medical Center
The doctor was talking during most of the examination, the way some do while their nurse is setting up the shots behind the patient's back. The way his head was throbbing in time with his pulse, JB could care less. He'd lost count of how many bloody paper towels they'd collected. Something about something he'd learn about in some class...
"... could be worse. I recall one kid whose parents insisted on having him fitted for braces after manifesting as a siren..."
This has been another fine quality broadcast from WTMI: Way Too Much Information, way too much of the time.
"No one was sure whether it was kinetic force or thermal shock from the melted brackets that cracked or broke every tooth in the kid's mouth. Welcome back, James. You'll be glad to know the sinus lavage and reconstruction went well. With supervised practice, you shouldn't hurt yourself as much when playing around with a siren power."
Might as well find out: – Can I go now? Chase needs to eat too. –
"You are staying right here for observation. I'm sure that someone can feed your ... don't you know that we have a 'no pets' policy?"
– My familiar. –
"Then who or what is this?"
'This' hand-spelled very slowly: – L. E. L. E. T. H. I am an adult female, not an it. –
Friedrich spoke up, "There's one good way to tell if one of them is a familiar. Find a magician for him to copy. However, let me leave first."
"That's a good idea, Mr. Schnöring. I'll check the records to see how long Mr. Erwin's powers copies last, and find out who the Mystic Arts Department has on call."
"Get better soon!" Instead of waving goodbye, Friedrich put a finger to his lips. No reply needed.
The new term hadn't even started yet, and Doyle had another situation on their hands. Just her luck then that Amanda had swapped with Brittney. Oh well, it would be nice if her younger colleague's next ex worked out, wouldn't it?
The files on the student she'd been called in for were scanty for the time of the year. Those students that needed medical treatment with a magic consult tended to need frequent clinic visits, starting from the beginning of classes in the fall. Other common items were missing. On a hunch, Earth Mother sat down to a terminal at the Nurses' Station to pull up the student's academic records. No luck there. At least someone had managed to file an application and accommodation requests. Two familiar boarding permits?
"If you're looking for Mr. Erwin's powers testing records, don't bother," Dr. Sarah Williams punctuated her professional annoyance by landing the reinforced bottom of her coffee mug on the counter. "They're currently scheduled for the afternoon of July fourteenth."
"Of course this... They didn't, did they?"
"2018. Doctor, when you've been here as long as Ophelia or I have, you learn to expect a measure of insanity. Sometimes it even works out better than otherwise." That earned Amanda a grim-faced grin. "How bad is it, and how can I help?"
"I have an – apparently – incoming freshman who forgot to open his mouth before launching a TK-boosted syllable. Luckily, he was with Thunderous, who kept everyone on the ground floor of Crystal Hall from being deafened."
"Why not call in Caduceus or Fey?" Specialized healing magic tended to be better for the bloodier messes.
"Power mimic. If he had dropped the siren power, I'd still be reconstructing a jigsaw puzzle from chunky salsa. As it was, I had to administer a devisor amnestic to both him and Thunderous." Sarah shook her head. "Since neither one knows how bad it was, I'm left with a kid who might sneak out to feed his familiar. I don't trust the miniature dragon that's with him not to help, if only to see what happens afterward."
"Says here that he's a Warper, not a Shifter. I suppose he could have a familiar without a Wizard Trait, but it's odd."
"Odd enough to drop in to see if he copies your power?"
"My mutant power is manifestation."
"One variable at a time is what we're going for, please."
"James? This is Amanda Chulkris, one of our magic teachers, perhaps you could explain the situation with your ... 'Chase' is it?"
The boy looked like he'd seen better days – the bruising was going to be spectacular by morning – but he was sitting up, conscious, and oriented. Perched on a bed rail was, for lack of better words, a small, green dragon. Amanda walked into the room, as conscious of the risks of a potentially hostile dracoform in close proximity to oxygen supply bottles as the medical team must have been.
"You can call me Mrs. Chulkris, or Earth Mother in places where code names are required." She put out her hand for a handshake.
"JB." Before he could return the handshake he'd already turned an interesting shade of green. He might be a mimic after all. "I, um, I've been... Falconer." Amanda felt a shift in the local essence currents from the way they interacted with her foliage. JB raised his right arm as if he were what he called himself, concentrated, and an oak-bark bracer appeared on the forearm. The next surprise was a raptor landing from nowhere on the bracer.
JB said to Chase, "This is Mrs. Chulkris. She's a teacher here. Behind her is Dr. Williams. I told them I needed to get you some food before I call home to tell people I got here in one piece."
Mrs. Chulkris asked, "You just arrived today?"
"If Chase here is your familiar, what does that make the other one, who I assume is Leleth?"
"My only friend on campus other than Chase? She doesn't talk, but that doesn't make her a pet."
To be fair, the creature looked more aware than most of the students on campus.
"Familiar or not, you understand that you'll be responsible for her actions?"
Earth Mother had heard that before. "You say that now, but time will tell. I'll sign off on your boarding permits, but I expect you to live up to your responsibilities."
St. Petersburg, FL
LCdr. Joshua Michaelis put down the phone and allotted himself a few minutes to think about what he should or shouldn't say before walking back to his son's room. He knocked on the door — heaven forbid he should intrude on teen privacy.
"Ian? Are you still up?"
Someone's cranky tonight, Michaelis concluded from the wording, if not the tone. Ian still answered the door, so whatever was eating the boy couldn't be too bad in his estimation.
"Mind if I come in, sport? Mrs. Erwin just called, and"
Ian sighed like this was another burden laid at his feet. "Come on in."
When did we start raising a cranky old man? "You're not sounding very enthusiastic. JB's your best friend."
"Some best friend. Runs off to some private school that's supposed to help him learn about what he can do, takes forever to let anyone know he arrived safely, AND manages to get himself hospitalized before he can even get that done!" Ian, in contrast, managed to get that all out before winding down and slumping into the chair at his desk.
Father sat on the bed across from son.
"I get the impression that you've heard from him directly."
"Not good enough. Someone should have been with him to keep him out of such trouble." Cranky teen decoder ring says: I should have been there.
"It was up to the school's staff to assign the right people to show him around. What would you have done differently?"
"I don't know, yet, but I know the guy. If he had his way, he'd go all over the place poking his nose into anything that looked interesting, and then maybe look at a map to figure out where he'd been. I at least would know to go over the map first, and take it with us."
This was somewhat past the "my best friend is an idiot" stage. He knew they'd bonded over being only children in military families, but... Right. He'd have to remember to get over it once his son figured that out.
"He called you first and gave you the full story, didn't he?"
"I think so. Every one of his family likes to leave things out that might upset the others."
"You have his full trust?"
"Isn't that what friends are for? Having each others' back; letting the others have theirs? That's what I thought."
"I trust that you two will settle this in a mature fashion. JB's mother is certain the school isn't going to clear him to fly home for break, and travel by train will eat up too much time."
Time to try the carrot. "I had been wondering if you'd like to see your grandparents - my parents, that is. My detailer is doing her best, I'm sure, but it looks like I'll be taking a shipboard billet in time to prep for a deployment. It would be nice to give my folks a heads up before showing up at their doorstep, and New Hampshire's not far from Boston."
"I. I'll think about it. I mean, an extra round-trip ticket would be expensive, wouldn't it?"
"I'm not that generous. Space available on a MAC flight."
"That could work, then."
"Very good. Now you need to hit the rack."
Knowing he would be the one in trouble if he were still awake when his wife got home from her hospital shift, he walked back to the living room, wondering if he'd read the situation correctly and if he was making the right decisions. Time would tell.
Saturday, March 4, 2017,
Between and above Poe and Hawthorne Cottages, Whateley Academy, New Hampshire
Training wasn't as much fun for Chase when he already knew what JB was going to want. Nevertheless, it was good to fly and good to hunt, and the human child needed the exercise and fresh air, so why not? Humans spent way too much time in their little caves filled with nasty-smelling stuff that had to be bad for them.
His human was doing a fair job transferring essence to him for safekeeping. Until it learned to hold the energies that it collected while its spirit danced to a World Breaker's beat like it was doing, this was the safest option. Beyond that, even the highest-flying winds couldn't say.
He saw a young human leave one of the buildings below him. It headed across the thawing grass in JB's direction. There were spirit currents flowing around this one, but not in a way Chase recognized. Time to head back in case the new one changed his human's energy patterns. He didn't mind going back to being the red-shouldered hawk he was hatched to be, he simply preferred to see the change coming.
"JB! Have you had enough staring into the skies for the morning? I got tapped — Whoah!" Seeing the raptor from his angle, Pat Barnes had to duck to avoid becoming prey du jour.
Chase expertly pulled out of his dive a full foot above the interloper before landing on his human's gauntleted wrist. He didn't really need the piece of beef liver held for him, but he wasn't going to let it go to waste!
The boy smiled. "Chase, this is 'Pat Barnes, codename Hat Trick'. Pat, this is Chase."
"Pleased to meet you, Chase." If there was one thing Pat knew, it was that it paid to be polite when being introduced to 'animals' around here. They had a nasty habit of turning out to be someone's familiar or a fellow student. "I was asked to show JB around to any places missed yesterday. Maybe starting with lunch?"
"I'll have to take him inside first. Safety, shelter, and training first. He's not the only one who has to work on building good habits."
Okaaaay. "How'd your first night here go? Sleep well?"
"Like a bed of roses. It took forever to cut me out of the hospital bed this morning." It had also hurt like hell to cut back the stems still attached to him.
Pat stumbled on his reply to that deadpan statement. "I'm going to trust that that's a metaphor."
"Nope. I literally woke up to a small thicket of rose canes, and all the thorns that go along with them. Seems I'm getting a crash course in unintended consequences."
"That happens to most folks here, one way or another. It shouldn't be too hard to find someone who can relate."
"I have met an empath or two before. None of them were quite like you. That's not a bad thing, by the way."
The conversation stalled out until they got to Hawthorne Cottage's front door. JB said, "If you could stick close to me, that might help."
"How does that help?"
The answer came, not from JB, but from Mrs. Bardue floating in her hoverchair, inside the doorway. "James' mimic ability is affected by distance and strength. If he's already copying you, you staying close by might keep him from copying something further away that's more of a danger; to him, and to anyone else around him."
"You weren't kidding about the hospital?"
"Nope. Mrs. Bardue, this is Pat Barnes. I guess he's my assigned guide and babysitter today."
Mrs. Bardue asked, "Who do you think arranged it with Mrs. Horton?"
"Got it in one. Come in, boys, it looks like the coast is clear. JB, Security says they can have something resembling a hazards app by tomorrow at the latest. Until then, you need to be careful of who you get close to."
Once they were out of Mrs. Bardue's sight, that "fizz" that accompanied an active override of his native clumsiness fell to its bare minimum. It was almost as if he were alone here.
Pat asked JB, "You aren't a cyborg by any chance?"
"What? And get stuck with all the oil changes and other maintenance a devise like that would need? I'll pass!" JB led Pat to the very end of the hall in one of less-used residential wings of the building.
"Here we are. Home away from home."
Home was... It was not in good shape compared to Pat's digs in Poe Cottage The furnishings were constructed of nonflammable concrete and steel. The walls and ceiling were lined with acoustic damping panels. The furniture might not burn, but the panels might be flammable enough to make up for that. A couple of packages were left on the bed, possibly having been punted there. Yet, there was some expensive-looking dive gear hung up out of the way that hadn't been trashed. Chase settled in as well as he could on top of a dresser.
"That reminds me, I need to find a way to get stuff to make a new perch for Chase, along with some other things."
Pat smiled and said, "The school bookstore is stocked with just about anything you might want. You'll have to see it to believe it."
"We'll see, then. After food?"
Mid-day Saturday, March 4, 2017,
Ground level, Crystal Hall
Leleth noticed that the mixed-status crowds engaged in the ritual of the mid-day meal yielded more personal space to Pat Barnes and her informant than they had to Friedrich Schnöring and said informant. Various other individuals were more vocal after sighting the two. She could understand an informal prohibition against calling out to Friedrich if his voice was capable of causing damage. This new scenario suggested that Pat Barnes was a member of an out-group. His choice of foods ruled out at least one common out-group with JB. For now, she'd continue to hide under her informant's outerwear and observe.
"... the Cottages each have their quirks, depending on who gets assigned where."
"Mr. Turner said as much, but he didn't go into details. Well, Hawthorne's kind of obvious in retrospect."
Bitter? You brought her, you bite her.
"You could say that. I'm in Poe Cottage; the idea there is to have a low-GSD residence providing mutual support for those of us having a hard time adjusting to how our manifestation did or didn't work out. Some more than others, of course."
"I was told the place was booked solid anyway."
Some exemplar nearby chimed in, "Dude, Poe's the campus nuthouse."
"As long as they aren't walnuts, I'm good."
Pat almost chuckled at that. Almost.
"The other co-ed dorm is Melville. The low-GSD, high GNP, future captains of industry, rich and famous, et cetera. The others are boys- or girls-only. Twain and Whitman take in the folks who can't help but look different, Emerson and Dickinson are for those who don't."
"I'm from Florida. We set a high bar on different."
Trays loaded and logged, JB followed Pat to an out-of-the-way table on the ground level.
JB almost had to eat his words about 'different' when he was introduced to Pat's family. 'Little brother' Marcus and 'big sis' Myra were normal enough to lose in a crowd, but Na'Chessa was much more striking: coppery brown-yellow hair contrasted beautifully with verdigris irises and pearlescent skin. With some strategic tailoring and a few more years' development, she'd be a hit at Guavaween. He knew he should say something in response to a question he'd been asked, but his nerves were all on fire as if he'd stuck several inappropriate things into a light socket or two.
Pat felt JB's power drop the competing empathy and the devisor effects first. He grabbed the jacket that JB had taken off as soon as he'd set down his tray and bull-rushed the confused boy. Priority one was to get him away from Ches; priority two was to avoid being electrocuted. He'd get around to finding out how the guy suddenly got lighter later.
Leleth had felt the electricity build up in her informant's body, most likely as a result of proximity to one of the introduced humans. She employed the drone's tractor projector. Between that and Pat Barnes' actions, they might avoid another medical emergency.
Neither would-be rescuer had taken into account the possibility of someone running toward the incident. Sometimes making the sanity check is the wrong thing to do.
Bewitched's (i.e, Glee's) delighted squeal of happiness, "CUTE DRAGON!" was somewhat lower on the list of Things Considered. To be honest, it was down along the bottom, roughly equal to the probability that Wondercute had arrived en masse from one of their meetings. She didn't know what Pat's problem with the other boy might be, but with all the meanies and enemies of cute running around, maybe the cute dragon was in trouble! A moment's hesitation was all it took: luckily, her magic girl wand was up to the task of grounding out the freshman boy that had been shoved into her arms. It made such a pretty arc doing so! That didn't make boys any less icky.
"Wondercute Assemble! Save the cute little dragon!"
Chase knew that his pet human must have run across "F---, yeah" levels of avatar ability. What he didn't know was how it ended up unconscious: was it the shock or the careless drop to the ground. They never had to deal with this kind of foolishness when they were around Crow's human, which his was already missing.
That sense that warned her of stuff she needed to avoid tapped the back of Breakdance's head instead of hitting her with a vision that involved blood. While everyone else was looking for a dragon, she ran upstairs to get a teacher.
Leleth was cursing to herself in every language she'd learned and making mental notes for future reference. An equal share of the maledicta was owed to Ym'rph on general principle. Cute! Accredited xenosociologic researchers were not cute. Later. Who among the Seven Mad Progenitors had thought that giving flight to deathworld primate young was a bright idea? Think. If any part of this probe had had Ym'rph's talons in its design... There. Feedback from the drop into the virtual console hurt, a lot, and being stuck with simulated view screens sucked monitor drool, but she'd manage.
Gigi had all but caught up with the fleeing fire lizard – The poor scared thing was so pretty with the Crystal Hall lighting glinting off its scales! She'd have to talk to Petshop about making something like that – but it twisted half around and jetted hard left and up out of her hands. Maybe it wanted to play?
Leleth leveled out and barrelled toward the glassy walls that gave Crystal Hall its name. This wouldn't be quite as bad as the canyon runs of her youth, but the wing-over into a lateral stoop had to be done exactly right: enough "lift" from the wings to kill momentum at the millisecond she throttled up the tail thruster. She had no idea that an added gravity vector could be thrown at her. Now inverted, she had a good look at several stunned primates about to have their meal wrecked if she didn't regain control. The primate child flew to intercept her. She could work with that. Once the creature was close enough she engaged it with her tractor to swing around it and away from the tables.
Gigi'd had way too much practice flying to accidentally run into people, but she suddenly had an idea that the pretty fire lizard – that's what they were called in the Pern books, so that must be the right name – maybe didn't want to be rescued? She dropped down to ask the others what they thought. The security auxiliary who'd been trying to catch her overflew her position. He wasn't hurt, but he did bump into a table loaded with students and their food...
Office of the Assistant Headmaster
Robert Turner had always known that 'May you live in interesting times' was a curse. Today counted as interesting. The student at the epicenter of interest, somehow, was the only person injured, so he and his menagerie got a chair. Fey kept a hand on one of Falconer's shoulders, swamping his mimic abilities. Leleth looked unconscious in Falconer's lap, the drone she was bonded to had expended more energy than was wise. Chase was perched on the boy's other shoulder, giving most of the other students in the group as evil an eye as a raptor can manage.
"Two emergency visits to Doyle in your first twenty-hours here, Mister Erwin. That's not an enviable record."
JB shook his head and regretted it, as his world went tilt. "No, sir."
"Our cafeteria routinely delivers meals to Hawthorne Cottage. I strongly suggest that you use that service until you can avoid further mishaps."
"Mister Barnes, it's my understanding that you completed Powers Theory with an acceptable grade. How is it that you thought introducing a poorly controlled powers mimic to your sister would turn out well?"
"We were taught in class that most mimics need to touch the donor or to get the donor to actively engage them with the power to be mimicked. JB did neither."
"Then how did you know to act, and when?"
"I think he had been somehow interfering with my empathic ability; when that stopped cold and I saw him grab a handkerchief, I figured out what was coming."
"Isn't the younger Miss Barnes capable of intercepting and absorbing her lightning?"
"More often than not, but there's always a risk that she might not. Would you take that chance in the middle of the lunch crowd?"
"Perhaps, perhaps not. Miss Blake, why did you call everyone's attention to Leleth there? Our policy regarding familiars and service animals may be lenient, but that means that if she is here accompanying a student there is no excuse for chasing her like a wild, endangered, animal."
"But she's so cute! We didn't mean to hurt her!"
"And what were you taught about electrical energizers last year? Is it ever a good idea to completely ground them out?"
"Why do you suppose that is?"
"B-because it can knock them out, or even k-kill them."
"Can unconscious people protect their heads from concussion when dropped to a concrete floor?"
"That isn't all, not yet. Miss Garrett?"
"Why did you chase Leleth nearly into a reinforced glass wall, and then sling her across the cafeteria?"
"I don't know, sir. I got caught up in the moment. By the time I realized it was me she was trying to get away from... By then the damage was done. Mostly done, until the food fight."
Robert Turner sat back and gave his looming headache ten seconds to consider what could have happened but didn't. Sometimes pain focuses the mind; he could hope.
"Miss Garrett. I think we should harness your enthusiasm to something more productive. Starting Monday, you will be assisting the instructor for our early morning Flight I class."
"Miss Blake. I will think of something and inform your house mother of my decision. Ladies, you may go. Mister Barnes, please accompany Miss Blake back to Poe Cottage. James will stay here."
The Assistant Headmaster waited until the three had had enough time to be well on their way before continuing.
"James. I hope you realize that there was no malice on the part of anyone involved? One of the reasons this school exists is to not only to teach our students how to use their new abilities, but to consider the consequences, and when necessary: to curb the impulse to use them at all. Sometimes those are the hardest lessons."
"I get that. I do. It's just ... now she's so miserable. I don't know what I can say or do to make that any better."
"You need to control your impulses every bit as much as she does. Taking responsibility for things others have done of their own will steals their chances to learn and grow from their mistakes. Remember how that feels for a young avatar who's struggling to be herself without being overridden by her spirit. I can assure you that Miss Blake won't be left alone without support. I asked Ms. Reilly to take part in this so that you can see how your control problems can hurt people around you without a blast, a punch, or a shot being fired."
Mr. Turner continued, "Except for classes and appointments agreed upon by your advisor and the class instructors, we're going to require that you stay within Hawthorne Cottage and the surrounding grounds. We can revisit these rules once you begin to demonstrate control of your abilities."
"Yes, sir. No trips to Bethlehem in my future then?"
"What's in Bethlehem that can't be found on this campus?"
"A beit t'fillah. Purim starts at the end of Shabbat this coming week."
"I'm sure it can start without you. Any other questions?"
JB bit his lower lip, but shook his head and said nothing.
"Ms. Reilly, may I prevail upon you to escort this young man back to his cottage?"
"Of course. I know the way by heart."
Path from Schuster Hall to Hawthorne Cottage
Nikki Reilly almost breathed out a sigh of relief when the unhappy boy finally broke the silence. Had it gone on much longer, she might have started hoping for an ambush. For old time's sake, of course.
"Ms. Reilly? What did you mean by knowing the way by heart?"
Not quite what she was hoping for, but it beat silence. "Would you believe that ten years ago, I was a freshman trying to come to grips with my powers?"
'Never guess a woman's age if you want a long or happy life' "Uhm.."
"Nice try. I'm an empath, remember? I was in Poe Cottage, not Hawthorne, but early in our freshman year, my friends and I screwed up royally and were assigned a week's worth of detention there."
"How'd that go," JB asked before thinking better of it. "Sorry. Of course you got a lot better. Around here, I'm just a walking accident waiting to happen. That's still a helluva lot better than some others have it."
"I can say that I know how nerve-wracking it can get, cleaning a bloody floor around fragile equipment that's keeping the other person in the room alive."
The 'Equipment that wasn't enough in the end' was left unsaid. Nikki continued, "But even though we were assigned Hawthorne cleanup as a detention, it was also an opportunity to help some folks who really needed it. We made new friends. I can even blame my crazy roomie's career on it. One of the Thornies was her first Tai Chi student."
"Go figure, right? Remember that if your RA or Mrs. Bardue can't help you figure out a problem, someone on staff or faculty can. Many of them either aren't empowered or have powers that don't require a user's manual... or gardening shears." JB's wince confirmed that story.
At the steps of the Cottage, JB stuck his hand out, "Thanks for the company, and the advice."
Reilly tilted her head and frowned, but then smiled, "Don't you think that's a bit risky?"
"It's a little late to worry, isn't it?"
"I see your point." Nikki shook his hand goodbye and set off to lose any tails before doubling back to the Grove. Along with the school, it was home, or a place that felt like home as much as the one the kid was missing. It would be some time before she thought to ask herself what was different for the rest of the day around her.
Monday morning, March 6, 2017,
Lillian Dennon's office, Physical Education Department, Laird Hall
"Come in. Sit down, James. You're wearing a plain black tie. Why not the Hawthorne Cottage tie?"
JB's lips thinned in a smile that didn't even reach his teeth. "Even if I were a Muslim or a fairy, the school bookstore doesn't stock green ties. I was told they'd add one or two to their next order from the supplier." That had been a conversation that could have gone better. "I'm told that the Scarlet 'A' was taken already."
If he only knew... "Were there any other problems getting your school uniforms?"
"Thankfully, no. I have to hem the trousers, but that's about it."
"Good. Your transcripts seem to be in order, but I'm wondering why your sponsor didn't insist that you start back in the Fall Term."
"Before attending the Academy the past few months, I don't think I would have considered the Navy as a sponsor."
"They changed your mind on some things, did they?"
"A wider perspective maybe?"
"That helps explain your course requests. Chinese?"
"Granpa studied the language at USF."
"Let's continue with first-year Chinese, then. The class focuses on conversation and participation, so it would be stupid to place you out of it. The JROTC program's Military Science classes run at the end of the day, out at Range 6. They're a condition of your scholarship, so they have to take you. We'll let them work out how to handle your abilities on their own. Like they wouldn't insist on it anyway. Next, it's critical that we schedule you for Introduction to Superpowers."
"Introduction to what?"
"'Superpowers'. Years ago, someone thought calling the introductory course in powers theory plus its lab section 'Intro to Superpowers' would somehow have better appeal. It stuck. Nonetheless, learning how mutant and paranormal abilities work is important for everyone here and critical in your case. There's a... strongly-worded recommendation from Dr. Williams at Doyle Medical Center as well."
"That could be an understatement."
"I prefer to see the students I advise before their first visits to the clinic or to Admin. The powers theory and lab are required for you to take Flying I next Fall; that's only if you are cleared for the class. We have a school requirement for martial arts or survival training. Basic Martial Arts is a prerequisite for the other martial arts classes offered by the school. There's also a note from the Assistant Headmaster recommending that course. Any idea what is that about?"
"I was caught off-guard Saturday, in the middle of lunch. I'm not sure how either course can be taken remotely."
"Basic Martial Arts is taught by Sensei Tolman. She's familiar with every power set that has come through here. Likewise, Powers Lab should also be able to handle all comers. Those two you should attend in person. Civics would fulfill one of the state's requirements and it's offered by teleconference in fourth period. Care to get that over with?"
"No reason not to?"
"Exactly. I don't see many electives still open for second period."
"Is there any chance of getting ASL? I've been trying to teach myself and Leleth, but it's been slow going."
"Conrad and Debra both know sign... Mr. Filbert is the Twain Cottage house parent, and one of his more memorable charges couldn't speak otherwise. The boy's younger brother started school here last term. Let me see what I can arrange for assisted self-study."
"I'd appreciate that, ma'am."
"Now... you should also be scheduled for powers testing fairly soon. Do you recall the date for that?"
"Sometime in the summer of 2018?"
Lillian closed her eyes and mentally counted to ten. It was becoming a habit with adults dealing with JB. "Someone gave you the wrong information. Let me see here... No god-damned way that's right." Mrs. Dennon typed commands and options at her terminal until she finally seemed satisfied. A printer in the corner of her office printed out a form that she signed and handed to JB.
"Today, eat a light lunch, go to the testing lab listed here. If anyone has a problem with it, have them call me and I will personally rectify their problem. Understood?"
"Do not pass 'GO'. Do not collect $200?"
"Exactly. Now go on, before all the books for your classes are gone."
Monday afternoon, March 6, 2017,
Examination Room 4, Doyle Medical Center
Sitting on an examination table in his skivvies and a hospital gown, JB wondered if "hurry up and wait" was going to be an ongoing feature of his life. Leleth was less sanguine about the primitive "medical" facilities, but since there wasn't anything to be done for her informant, her job was to be an observer.
A polite knock on the door preceded Dr. Williams. "Well. Mister Erwin. Good to see you when you're not bleeding all over yourself."
"Okay? I do try."
"You should. First thing we'll be doing is a thorough physical exam, bloodwork, vision and hearing tests, and then you're off to Radiology for an MRI and other diagnostic scans, finishing with a spell that runs another intensive diagnostic suite. Any questions?"
"Does it matter what powers I walk in with?"
"That's a good question. Dr. Tenent is a competent mage and has psychokinetic control of her hair." Dr. Williams took a look at her patient's regulation cut and smiled, "That's got to be one of the most functionally useless abilities for you to copy, but let's leave that for the boffins to work out."
"If you say so."
Midway through the magical scan, Dr. Williams whispered something in Dr. Tenent's ear while pointing at their patient's head. Soon both were fighting the impulse to laugh, at JB's expense.
JB's curiosity beat his patience into submission: "What's so funny?"
"Did Dr. Williams mention that one of my mutant powers is a form of psychokinesis?"
"No, but..." Was it ever a good sign when the doctor was laughing? "You've been holding your pen with it."
"Right. I'm not sure how to say this, but you've been trying to do something similar."
JB's hair flattened to his skull as if he'd ducked under a raincloud. When he ran his hand over it, it stuck up in waves, then went spiky: this time as if it belonged to the aging lead singer of Public Image Limited.
"I'm not sure if 'mood hair' counts as a power or a technique, but it is... different."
Oops. 'Makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck ' wasn't supposed to be a literal figure of speech.
Powers Testing Intake, Whateley Academy
The check-in and waiting area for the Powers Testing lab were bland as any other waiting room that JB had ever wasted time in. Off-beige paint, institutional metal chairs, off-white and gray tile, a bored office worker at a desk on the other side of the requisite clipboard and check-in sheet completed the set. He was already nodding off when his code name was called.
"Falconer? Come this way. We'll be starting in Lab E for the fitness, strength, and endurance tests. I'm supposed to remind you that from this point on everything is recorded, and that code names are required."
The assistant, "Igor" according to his name tag, looked older than a high schooler, maybe an intern from a local college? JB followed him to a small dressing room for measurements and to change into a very form-fitting sensor suit. Putting it on was easier than a scuba suit, but the intern seemed a little too proud of the improvements made for ease of wear, modesty, and urine sample collection. Maybe he enjoyed embarrassing the hell out of the test subjects? Hard to tell.
Lab E, Powers Testing, Whateley Academy
Doctor Clark got straight down to business after introducing himself and his assistant, a student named 'Assay'. Assay looked like a regular high school girl, which was beginning to feel weird in this place. Her body language pegged her as outgoing, energetic, inquisitive, and possibly worst of all: a morning person. JB turned his attention to the researcher.
"We try to be flexible in working around students' schedules, but after two terms at school here what's the rush to get tested now? If I may ask."
"I just got here this past Friday."
"From break, sure. What I'm talking about is that you were scheduled for testing back in July."
"I manifested in August?"
Something about this told Leleth that, in spite of the promise of novel fieldwork, this was going to be a long day.
"But... 2018. That can't be right. Your advisor should have requested a correction to the date. Why put it off until now?"
"My application to the school was rejected for Fall 2016 and Winter 2017."
"Low-priority, maybe? According to your MMID, what we can get from it, you're thought to be a power mimic. That's almost always considered a specialized shifter trait, not a warper... I don't think we've even had a warper affecting three aspects since Phase graduated. What I think we'll do for the physical abilities portion is to run you through as-is, with myself and Assay supervising, and then with a student who has 'brick' powers. If there is a significant difference in the metrics, fine. If not, fine. We should have time to start validating those warper classifications after that. Assay, what are you getting?"
"Right now, Doc? He's got wizard. Congratulations, Harry! There's something that feels like a flavor of PK. There's also... Something's been bothering me since before he walked in; it's like I was expecting a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon but got Eeyore instead."
"What's wrong with Eeyore? He's the only sane one in the lot!"
"I rest my case."
Dr. Clark said, "Right. So. The wizard and PK would be consistent with Caduceus performing part of the medical examination. Good. This may even turn out to be interesting."
Two back-to-back intensive workouts (running, lifting, calisthenics, stretches, getting left behind in the dirt by a high-end exemplar, getting slammed in the head by a tennis ball) might have been interesting to some people, but it just wasn't JB's idea of a good time. He wouldn't mind claiming the 300-lb. deadlift as his own, in place of the 125-lb. "Do you even lift, bro?" number, but no one was paying him to become a gym rat. When it came time to collect urine samples to test hydration, metabolic products, etc., he was glad that he didn't have to peel off the thin bodysuit without damaging it to pee, only to put it back on, clammy sweat and all. JB was still worn out when 'Igor' returned to escort him to the next lab
"Now we get to run you through the PFM labs. Er, is that..." "Dragon." "Dragon going to be following you around all the time?"
"She doesn't have to, but she seems interested in all this. What does PFM stand for?" JB asked.
"Pure Fucking Magic. My job here's sort of like Dr. Clark's internship back in the day, though my interest is more in biochem and... let's just call it sports medicine."
"Hence the interest in, um, metabolic waste products?"
"How did? Oh, right, the exemplar mental package must have carried over with the physical."
JB shrugged. It wasn't like the mimicked powers came with a heads-up display. "Not that I noticed. There's always someone smarter or who simply knows more."
"Anyway, most of the devises the department uses fall entirely under Clarke's Law as far as I'm concerned."
"Smile, nod, and back away slowly before they start trying to explain?"
"You got it."
JB had expected clunky science-fictional scanners and plenty of blinkenlichten. He wasn't disappointed. Judging by the general level of activity, the fun had started without him and the intern.
"I'll leave you in the, um, capable hands of Drs. Hewley and Aranis. If you're not back to the front desk in two hours, I'll send out the search party."
"That's not very comforting."
"When they get this engrossed, it isn't."
"Come in! Falconer, was it? I was was going to let Jean-Michel file a complaint against your advisor for interfering with our schedule, but that was five minutes ago."
"I said I was considering it. That was before the neutrino interferometer started indicating instability of the intersection of localized space and adjacent Dirichlet-brane systems."
"I thought we'd mothballed that thing."
"That's because we only get one or two causality warpers in a decade, and they always forward-chain across intradimensional space. This should, in theory, detect back-chaining probability warping in the same or similar spaces. Of course, we'll need more tests to be certain."
"Because if you were certain, you wouldn't need the tests?"
"More like your reputation precedes you, young man."
"I wonder what would happen if we had another probability warper to bring in?"
"Let's use the instruments we have before we venture into uncontrolled variables."
Three hours later
Leleth had taken to flipping through random user manuals, even though some of the equipment documented was no longer in use. Watching the primates experiment on one of their own had gotten boring, although some of the ritual forms framing the researchers' discussions had been worth the effort needed to take mental notes. This wasn't a good broadcast location for remaining undetected, but she still had enough memory for data storage remaining that she wasn't pressed to transmit anything back.
Falconer couldn't see the door to the lab, strapped into one of the machines as he was. He could feel that someone paranormal had entered, as one or more things were trying to grow between his skin and the sensor suit. He wasn't sure whether that had anything to do with the new alert noises or not, but he'd learned that generating more new data to be analyzed only extended his time as a lab rat.
"Rich, Jean-Michel! Might I recommend a break?"
"Earth Mother! We weren't expecting you to drop by. What's the occasion?"
"The occasion is that you've gotten carried away and lost track of time again. Now that you have a manifestor on your rack instead of a warper, you might as well stop for a while."
One of the two looked down at the tablet he was using to work with the stream of raw data. After scrolling back and forth through collection time, he said, "The improbability field he generates is still inducing chaotic distortions in both cesium-133 timekeeping and cobalt-60 decay rates."
"While that demonstrates an admirable dedication to your work, Caduceus and I have been waiting – patiently up until now – to conduct our scheduled examinations." Mrs. Chulkris had a wicked gleam in her eye, asking: "Should we start with an impromptu test for synergy between improbability fields and curses?"
Dr. Aranis said, "What do you know! Jean-Michel, this does seem to be a good time to call a break. We still need to determine if the initial neutrino oscillation effects are symmetric along the tau axis."
Lab M was, except for some sturdy wall cabinets, a one-sink wet lab bench, a few stools and cheap chairs, nearly empty. The more room to draw ritual circles and wards, JB figured. The sweats he was wearing were more forgiving of random plant growth than the discarded sensor suit he had been wearing, but the cuffs chafed against the 'contact points' built into the last contraption he'd been strapped into.
"My colleague will be here once she's finished her class. Over the years, I've found that it pays to be proactive against slipping schedules."
"They do that often?"
"All the time. They've been researching mutation effects for years, but they're still as caught up in it as they were when they left grad school. Maybe grade school, for all we know! Let's pull out this table and grab a couple of chairs."
Mrs. Chulkris opened up one of the cabinets to retrieve a wooden tray of crystals, a couple of decks of cards, and some other items while JG set up the table. Leleth perched on the lab bench after wiping it down. Seeing that, JB reoriented the table so she'd have a good view of what was going on.
"Some of these tests will have more to do with ESP than magick, per se, but the Mystic and Psychic Arts departments have cross-trained our faculty members when it comes to powers testing. We'll skip some tests, because some interact poorly with warper abilities."
"Finder would be ill-advised, as there's no limitation on what else you might find in the process. On this campus, some of the things that shouldn't be remain at large."
"I've noticed that putting things in a safe place means that I won't be the first person to find them."
"Close enough. We've already tested for a working danger sense, with mixed results. Warpers tend to have a specialized form of precognition as a required secondary power. Let's start with this deck of cards. It's called a Zener deck. There are five symbols: a yellow circle, a red cross, blue wavy lines, a black square, and a green star. After I shuffle the cards, I'll go through the deck one-by-one, and you'll write down what you think each one is. Any questions?"
"It seems simple enough."
The first card was a Joker.
Mrs. Chulkris dumped the deck into a heavy box when the Seven of Elder Signs turned up.
By the time that Dr. Tenent managed to shoo away the several students who inexplicably had questions to ask after class and make her way down to Lab M, JB was tied up in a snarl of roses and oleander, and kudzu was threatening to take over the remaining open space in the room. The blue-stemmed mushrooms seen dotting the floor here and there were totally sketch.
"Having fun, Earth Mother?"
"You could say that, dear."
"Did either of you know that the glycosides in oleander are lethal?"
"That's why Falconer is being so quiet, drooling in his lap instead of biting down. We were both hoping you'd be early." Mrs. Chulkris stood up and picked up her notepad. JB winced as the chair slid back across some of the manifested plant materials.
"I'm sorry, dear, but there's no other way to the door."
Tears rolled down the boy's face as the heavyset mage stepped on mushrooms and vines on her way out, which the doctor also had to do to reach him. Dr. Tenent pulled a wicked-looking knife from her purse to cut away the toxic stems and the briars binding his mouth like a gag. Not yet seeing much in the way of wilting, she began cutting whatever stems away from his body that she could reach. Mid-way through, he passed out from the pain.
JB came to in a plain room much like the one he'd been in, minus the jungle. He tasted soft soap cut with triclosan, rosemary, and thyme, and realized where his mother gotten the idea. Irrational or not, he did not at all want to be here in this room. They'd need an I-love-me jacket and strong assistants to get him back here if he had any say in the matter.
Dr. Tenent had set out an array of crystals and mystically-labeled objects in front of her. Some glowed more or less, or pointed closer toward or further away from him, as he tentatively returned to his seat across from her. If she noticed the cold sweat on his brow, she said nothing of it.
"Now you know why no one is allowed in Earth Mother's garden without supervision, even the staff."
"Is all connected. To her?"
"Kind of yes, kind of no. It's complicated. Until you learn to control the manifesting abilities you can pick up, conduct yourself as if she had a restraining order out against you. Right now, you're pulling in Essence at a rate matching a WIZ-2 talent, and I suspect your familiar is handling that for you. Eventually, you'll have to learn how to hold on to that yourself and how to store that energy in a reliquary. That's something like a magical battery."
Dr. Tenent said, "Riiight. You have a lot to learn yet. Mages, baseline or mutant, are rarely reasonable. When power or rare materials are concerned, 'back-stabbers' would be the better term."
"I will keep that in mind."
"Do so. We should have had this talk back in September at the latest. As a medical professional, I cannot stress strongly enough that you need to take powers theory. Are there any powers you are comfortable with — aside from exemplar?"
"Like how Mom's an internal energizer? I have a friend from school who's an avatar. That's cool," JB said. "So when we're hanging out, it's like Chase is inside me. There's also this guy in Poe, Hat Trick, who's cool to be around by himself. Don't know about his girlfriend. He's got something like empathy but not the kind that drowns you in what everyone else is feeling."
"Not many at all, then. Did you say you copied Hat Trick's ability?"
"Yes, ma'am. I avoid empaths when I can, but he doesn't seem so bad."
"I'm not at liberty to tell you why, but I'd recommend keeping that between the two of you."
Tuesday morning, March 7, 2017,
Hawthorne Cottage, Whateley Academy
Leleth was perched in a tree overlooking the Quad, people-watching and avoiding Wondercute like the sugar-overdosed plague they could be. JB sat at a table outside Hawthorne Cottage, guarding his steak sandwich from Chase. This was probably as good as it gets, right down to something rustling the grass.
One sharp whistle and Chase was off with JB riding shotgun through his eyes. They perched in a nearby tree to watch for any more movement. Soon another tuft of grass moved, but nothing but a far-violet rabbit-like shadow was there. Essence didn't flow through the shadowed space like it would for a human, so JB gave Chase the go-ahead. They took to the air, circling for altitude, always checking back for the unsuspecting prey before breaking off and into a stoop.
Even with a broken back and pierced lungs, it was still rabbit-shaped and in need of cleaning. Cutting board, knife, a trowel for burying the spare parts that Chase didn't need to be eating, plastic baggie so the daft spirit raptor didn't overeat.
Mrs. Bardue met JB at the door. "Boy, we almost had a problem and a half!"
"What did I do this time?" The way things had been going, it was a reasonable question.
"Nina Blake is one of the few people who'll visit with Noelle, which she did this morning while you were out there." Oh, crap.
"Since you were where you said you'd be, we sent her off through the tunnel back to Poe. I don't think any of us would have liked her spirit's reaction to someone butchering a bunny rabbit."
"But you just need to stay careful to let us know some of what you're up to."
"Oh. I think I see what you mean."
"All you freshmen say that, every year. Every one of you forgets. Now hurry up, you don't want to miss your classes."
First Period: Powers Theory,
JB managed to get a backdrop up and himself cleaned up and seated in time for class. No one needed to know that he was short his socks and trousers. Leleth balanced herself on the pipe frame for the backdrop, angling for a place where she could see the screen showing the class in progress without inserting herself into the scene she planned to observe.
Mr. Bergamot started with a jaunty, "Good morning, class!" Were all powers wonks like this? "And welcome to Powers Theory! In some cases I might say 'welcome back', should you apply yourselves this time." The instructor glowered toward the back of the classroom. "The goal of this class is to understand better how different powers work, both your own and others. Helping me here is my lovely assistant, Assay, whom some of you may know from powers testing." And that made two of them.
"Also joining us by telecom from Hawthorne Cottage is Falconer, who will also be interning with the Powers Testing department." Hannah beamed. Bergamot pushed past the class' general disinterest to say, "Not to worry, he will be attending Powers Lab in person. Probably."
JB wondered how many students were frantically updating their insurance policies to cover that news item. His, assuming he could get insurance, probably wouldn't.
"Since this is our first week, we shall be focusing on the powers you know best: your own. But!" the teacher added, "As posted in the course syllabus, we'll also be working in small groups based on similar power types. Discuss, show off, compare, but most of all, learn!"
A pert blonde with way too many physical attributes to be anything but an exemplar or a tricked-out avatar asked, "Mr. Bergamot! What power type does Falconer have?" From the tone of her voice, JB guessed that the hoped-for answer was "Not Yours."
"That's a very good question, Miss Cooper! Mister Erwin?"
"So far today, it's wizard and zero-range PK."
"So. far. Mr. Bergamot! What does this guy do when he's not larping Harry Potter?"
"Our working hypothesis is moderate-result, low-focus, extended-boundary probability alteration, with localized reality alteration and uncompensated energy effects superimposed on a variable allogenic template." Bergamot smiled, expecting someone, anyone, other than himself and Hannah to be impressed.
"Mr. Bergamot? Is it too late to transfer to another continent?"
In a vain hope to disarm a teacher-student detonation, JB shook the Magic 8 Ball that somehow got swapped for someone else's in Cairo. Baggage handlers, security and customs agents, and other smugglers were always good for random acts of vandalism.
"Magic 8 Ball says... there is no way in hell I'm going to try to pronounce that. Looks like you folks're on your own."