Dorms of Our Lives, Season 5 (Part 6)
A Second Generation Whateley Academy Tale
Dorms of Our Lives
with the assistance of the usual suspects
----Saturday, October 8th, 2016
It was sometime in the morning. Noah could tell that much from the light now slipping between the blinds of his window. A quick check of the pajamas led to a correction: her window. She couldn't recall which gender she'd been at bedtime, but her dreams had been vivid and strange.
--Sorry!-- said Glee in her head. --I was still kinda hungry after all that exercise in the morning, and I thought a late-night snack wouldn't hurt...--
No, it didn't hurt... Nina's brain filed a motion to consider the possibility of maybe getting up sometime in the new future, and her arms and legs all seconded the motion, but then nothing went anywhere.
It didn't hurt. It didn't much anything. Her eyes stared up at the poster on the ceiling. From the ceiling, the eyes of an adorable kitten stared down. The kitten was hanging in there; Nina was just lying down on the job. The bed-sheets were heavy as a feather, and the sluggish stretching of her legs barely lifted them. "Just tired..." she muttered. "Let me sleep a little more..."
--Oh, no, no, no...-- said Glee. --I overdid it again, didn't I? Oh...--
"Don't... don't worry," she said. "They were nice dreams. A party, right? Funny clothes. But fun. Maybe see it again..." Those last words were mumbled into her pillow.
--The doctor-lady told us we need to keep to our daily schedule-- Glee reminded. --Getting up, good! Sleeping in, bad! Hup-two, hup-two, up, up, up!-- The spirit fluttered about the little space inside her soul, but couldn't raise enough lift to get Nina out of bed.
-Knock, knock!- announced the door. "Hey, Noah, are you decent?" came the voice of Chessa Barnes, her neighbor down the hall a ways. "Everyone else is already heading out for breakfast, and Flower was getting worried about you."
She mumbled something that sounded like it could be an apology and an acknowledgment on a good day. It was probably audible through the door.
"Okay, then. Pat, do your thing!"
"Mrs. Horton has a key for emergencies, you know."
"Yeah, but she could be anywhere right now, and I wanna see your trick again."
There was a rattling sound, like someone had jiggled the handle of the door. It was seconded by a light scrape of plastic against wood, a series of clicky sounds, and one final -clunk- as the lock popped open. The door swung inwards to reveal Pat Barnes standing next to his twin-by-fiat with a student ID in his hand. "See? Not much trick to it," he said. "Just practice."
"Hah. For you, maybe," Chessa retorted as she stepped into the dorm room. "Hey, Noah! You alive in here?"
"Maybe?" she mumbled. "Hard to tell, some days."
Pat's head whipped around, focusing on her voice. "O-kay, it sounds like Flower was right to be worried. Noah. Noah! Can you hear me? When was the last time you took your pills?"
The boy swore. "I cannot wait till they get your prescription sorted out properly. Alright then. Pills? Where?"
She tried to point to the desk, tried to get her arm up and in the right position. It didn't want to play, however. She hoped Pat could understand the feeling.
A moment later, she was being provided with pills and water. It took too much effort to protest. The special blend of brain-affecting chemicals hit her cortex like a jolt from a defibrillator, and with a massive release of air she groaned out a long, distorted cussword to greet the morning.
"Ditto," said Pat.
"I feel like crap," she complained.
"At least you feel something?" said Chessa. "And you've got nowhere to go but up!"
--Yeah!-- Glee chimed.
She sat up in bed, even as her frown stayed down. "Still have detention," she said.
"Yeah, but you have breakfast first," said Pat. "C'mon. Let's go hit the waffle makers."
That was a suggestion fit to lift a body out of bed, on wobbly legs that didn't quite want to step right. With a bit of help from the Barneses, she managed to dress sort of presentably. Enough for a waffle breakfast, at least. By the time they actually reached the Crystal Hall, her legs were back to full functionality, and her head had ceased its swimming. That didn't stop the Barneses from walking her arm-in-arm-in-arm all the way to the line for waffles.
She thought she might have seen the Darby twins in passing, but if so then the two boys made themselves scarce right quick. --And good riddance-- said Glee.
"Please don't start anything today," she pleaded, not quite under her breath.
"What was that?" Chessa asked.
"Nothing. Ah, where is the syrup...?"
At the very last station of the breakfast line, Daniel the donut boy kept watch over the pastries -- most of which he had made himself. "Hey," said Pat. "Don't suppose we could bother you for a special? Nina here's in a bad way."
With a wink, Daniel held out a handkerchief, draped it over a plate, then revealed a cinnamon roll with a flourish. "Compliments of the house. Hope you get to feelin' better, miss."
"Th-thank you..." she said as the Barneses led her off to their usual table.
Few of them were in a regular group just yet, but a lot of the new kids at Poe tended to aggregate in one corner of the cafeteria's first floor. The Barneses' table frequently changed members depending on the whims of fate and teenagers, but Nina frequently found herself there whenever her little sister or best friend were already busy. This morning, she simply hadn't the energy to do much more than follow.
"Oh, look at you." The oldest regular at the table greeted Nina with a motherly hug. Pat and Chessa's big sister Myra was not a student, but when she dressed down to go slumming on Saturdays, she could do a reasonable impression of one. "Come on, sit a bit and have your breakfast. It'll do you some good."
"Yes, ma'... er, Moonbrook," she said, minding the big sister's code name. "Um, where's Marcus?"
"Hanging out with his friends," said Pat.
"Jean-Marie le Floc'h just had a low-key coming out announcement last night," added Chessa. "So they're having a breakfast party to celebrate."
"Oh..." Her brain was finally coming up to full speed. "He's... gay?"
"More like Pat, actually," said Myra.
The boy nodded. "That's why the two of them approached me first. Whateley Transgender Alliance, remember? I was able to talk them through it, vet their friends for reactions, and help things along. The system works," he finished with a thumb's-up.
A bite of waffles really did help. Chewing and swallowing gave her time to process. "I... I guess I should congratulate him? Er, does he know..."
"No," said Pat. "Not everything. Not everyone. He and Laurent should be by Poe this evening for a video game date with Marcus and Time Bomb. You can introduce yourself then if you want."
"I, I just might," she said. "Oh, and hello there..." she added, waving to the last person at the table.
Danny 'Wilder' Fontenot glanced up from his plate of fried chicken and mumbled a greeting. A week of Whateley hadn't made him any less twitchy, but then again, Whateley had that effect on people. "Where's your girlfriend?" Chessa teased.
"Shut yo' mouth," the boy snapped. "She's... she's... uh, shee-yit. Ah'm not sure what's going on anymore, but she ain't my, um..." His ears were turning red. And long. And fuzzy.
"Daniel..." said Moonbrook. "Deep breaths, counting down."
"Yes'm... Moonbrook," said the boy. "Ahem. She's just a sparrin' partner."
"Who kisses you after every fight," Chessa noted.
"Ah don't ask her to!"
"And you don't stop her, either," said Pat.
"Y'all try stoppin' her!"
Nina glanced around. "So... where is she?"
A thumb, its nail so sharply pointed as to be clawed, jerked upwards. "On the second story with t'ose maniacs in the Mutant Mayhem Machine."
"Um, did I miss something?" Nina asked. "I, er, was kind of out of the loop for most of yesterday..." And in Security, the hospice, multiple counseling rooms, and her own bed, but she didn't wish to dwell on that.
"Where to start..." said Pat. "Well, you heard about Jean-Marie."
"Ooh, Sam finally got up the nerve to kiss that boy he likes from English class, and didn't get his face pounded in immediately," said Chessa. "So, um, good start there?"
"And the big news..." Moonbrook prompted.
"Oh yeah, that," said Chessa. "This one sophomore insulted Cally bad while trying to insult Erica, and now the M3 is on the warpath. The challenge match is at 12:30."
Was it her brain that was just slow that day, or did the enormity of that news simply fail to fit through her ears at first? Either way, she only spat out her waffles on the third chew. "W-what!?"
Saturdays were supposed to be a time to relax, to sit back and have some waffles, and then to get on to the fun classes like Costumes or Flight 101. After four such weekends in a row, Tanya had a pretty good personal schedule going on, and it was with an ever-sinking heart that she watched that same schedule now get ripped to shreds, at least for the day.
As with many such things that got shredded, this was at the claws of Rachel Altus, the honey badger maniac herself, but it really was Tanya's own fault. She'd agreed to it.
"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," muttered Jimmy under his breath. The Philadelphian brick was shoveling his breakfast from the spot next to her. "I skip one cafeteria lunch -- just one! -- and you guys go and do something like this!"
"It just sorta happened," she complained. "And then Rachel inevitably happened, too. There really wasn't a chance to stop it."
"Guess not." They looked over to the other corner of the table, where the exuberant Rachel was thrashing her arms around as she sketched a battle plan in mid-air. Erica had to drag the girl back down to the table, where the actual battle plans lay.
Oh, how she knew they were going to regret this... Tanya kept her eyes down on the waffles to hide her nerves.
"So... anything I can do?" asked Jimmy. "I mean, it looks like your team's pretty set now, but if you'd like me to spot you or something..."
"Nah," she said. "I'm... alright, I guess. This is sort of my life now, right? Following in mom's footsteps..." There was a hitch in her voice that they both ignored. "No time like the present, right? I'll let you take the next one, sure, but for now... if you could just cheer me on?"
"Can do!" The voice came from Jimmy's direction, but it was assuredly not his. No human throat could produce anything that cartoonish without some serious vocal exercises.
"Tavi..." Jimmy sighed as the avatar of his personal VI assistant rezzed into being upon the table. 'Tavi' was an advanced computer program of the sort that sent Laura into little nerdgasms just trying to describe, but when it wanted to interact with people, it looked nothing so much as like a ferret.
A cartoon ferret. A cartoon mascot ferret wearing... Lavender eyes blinked back surprise. "Is that a cheerleader uniform it's wearing?" she asked to confirm.
"Hell-o! I'm a boy!" said the inherently genderless entity of 1s and 0s. Digital digits patted out an imaginary crease in a holographic mini-skirt. "It's only... this outfit was so adorable!"
Vic looked over from where he'd been munching his bowl of cereal. "Um, congratulations, it's a cross-dressing weasel?" he said.
"Ferret!" came the squeaky correction.
"I really don't know where he gets it from..." said Jimmy, shaking his head
Tavi paraded its way around the table, skipping and jumping, doing handstands and then bouncing on its tail, and occasionally manifesting sparkly little pom-pom analogs to shake as it sang: "Fricka-fracka-firecracker! Shish-boom-bah! Invictus! Invictus! Punch 'er in the jaw!"
"Er, thanks..." said Tanya as the rest of the table giggled and guffawed. Even Kenshin cracked a smile, though by now the Japanese boy must have been used to the antics of his roommate's VI assistant.
"Wow, you're such a cutie!" squealed Rachel. The girl rushed around the table to peer at Tavi through taped-up glasses. "Where can I get one? Do they have to come in ferret? I don't suppose they have a honey badger model, do they?"
Tanya left Jimmy to fend off the questions himself. Her nerves were wearing a hole in her stomach which could only be plugged by more waffles, so off she went to get some. And some sausages. And some orange juice. Some hash browns seemed like a good idea, too. It was with laden tray that she stepped back to the stairs, only to find a delegation awaiting her.
The three girls from Whitman had taken a prominent table by the second-story staircase, and they made it all the more prominent by their presence. These weren't freshmen; only one was even a sophomore. All of them had seats at tables of their own on the second or third stories.
"Um, hey, Caro," she said, addressing the sophomore. She knew the slightly devilish young lady, code named Malefis, the best of the three, since despite all appearances Caro was a member of the FSHA. They'd often helped their dorm mom, Mrs. Savage, with random incidents of heavy lifting around the cottage. "What's up?"
The sophomore rubbed nervously at the tip of one of her horns. "The topic of the day, what else?"
Next to Caro sat Bai-Yun, one of the freshman RAs, looking for all the world like a girl in a very convincing panda costume. Even her grunt was thoroughly panda-ish. "It's a bad sitch, Tanya. I think you know that already."
"Yeah..." To say it was bad would be an understatement. ""I'm not really sure... well, can't say they dragged me into it, but..."
"Bad for you, but bad for the cottage as well," said the third girl at the table. Thanagila the humming bird avatar was the head of the school's flight club, as well as its current ace. "Kirsten's always been a bit of a mouth, but yesterday's rant was out of bounds. We're just RAs; we only hear a little here and there, and mostly through Mrs. Savage, but there's some deep rumbles going on in the administration."
"The girl's giving the entire cottage a bad name," continued Bai-Yun, her words slurring into a Bronx accent as her muzzle curled into a sneer. "Yeah, there's a lot of poking and joking between Whitman and Dickinson, but this was getting nasty from the start, and now... Blech. And it don't matter that Kirsten's got a Dickie-girl of her own on her team, 'cause no one's listening to anyone but her, anyway."
"So what am I supposed to do?" asked Tanya.
Caaro's smile was reassuring, for all its pointiness. "Pretty much what you're doing now. Representing the cottage, showing the school that us Whitman girls do not approve of her antics."
"And if you have the chance," said Bai-Yun, "sock that lush Gouyasse in the kisser for me, okay? Jerk's got it coming."
"We'll be cheering for you," said Thanagila. "But not for her. Do us proud, okay?
"Okay..." The butterflies in her stomach had all turned to lead weights. In thoughtful silence she dragged herself back up the stairs.
----Saturday 8am, Breakfast, Crystal Hall
"Okay, so when we're done with breakfast we go back to Poe to finish our strategy session in private."
"We do have costume class, you know?" Bianca's words were a bit hesitant, even with Laura and Morgana nodding in agreement.
Erica frowned at the three girls. "Look, this is important if we're to have any chance! You can skip costume class just the once, can't you? We need everyone there to help organize things"
This time it was Morgana who muttered "I guess..." as she gulped down some more of her substantial breakfast.
"We know who we're up against now, right?"
Erica nodded to Laura with brisk Germanic efficiency. "Yes, but we still need to work out what they can do and how to counter them."
That brought some gloomy looks from the others. This whole fight business hadn't exactly been planned in advance, and right now they were winging it. Not the best way to prepare for a fight against a more experienced group. Erica wasn't prepared to let that continue; if they didn't keep positive and believe they could win then they'd already lost.
"Look, we'll have a talk, get some ideas together, then I'll see if I can get any more data we need from Milena. It'll probably cost another favor, but it'll be worth it."
Bianca looked around at the assembled group, who despite Erica's words weren't looking any more cheerful. "I suggest my room. It'll be a bit crowded, but no-one's going to be able to spy on us there. I have a lot of protective spells on the room."
Beside her, Morgana snorted in amusement. "Yeah, just remember to stop her if she tries to cast some on your coffee mug!"
Vic gave her an odd look. "You're joking, right, Morgana?" The redhead just gave him a look, then shook her head.
The team was getting ready to finish up their meal when Tanya hissed a warning. "Careful, incoming!" As a group they all glanced up to see the imposing figure of Drop Bear heading for the table.
He obviously saw the looks of surprise, and held up his hand. "Hey, it's OK, I just wanted a quick word. You know, to say good luck with your fight -- it's about time someone called the Beret's out for being assholes over things." Erica and Cally looked a little embarrassed as the Bear patted Morgana on the shoulder and winked at her. "Now go out and hold up the reputation of the Commonwealth against them, won't you."
The Welsh girl looked more than a little confused by all this, but then nodded firmly. "Damn right I will! And my friends too." Only Erica noticed the small movement of her hand as she slid it over something on the table. Something that hadn't been there a moment ago. Drop Bear nodded to them all, then ambled off, leaving a number of confused kids behind.
"Okay, Morgana, what did he give you?"
Morgana grinned at her whisper. "Wait till we get back to the room, OK? I don't want to discuss things before we're behind a ward."
"Bianca's rubbing off on you, isn't she?"
The grin on her face only grew wider as she nodded. "It's not just the Berets, apparently people gamble on these fights, and people are always trying to find something to get inside information."
Laura looked a little shocked. "They let people bet? On us?"
Tanya nodded, looking slightly embarrassed. "Yeah, they do. It's been going on, like, forever, and there are kids who make out as bookies."
Laura was still looking surprised. "Wow, I never thought I'd have anyone betting on me to do anything!"
Morgana just nodded. "Of course not, Laura. I mean, we won't even mention the Poe girlfriend stakes..."
"Hey! They don't have them...er, do they?"
Laura wasn't really comforted by the smirks on the rest of the Poe contingent.
----Bianca and Morgana's room, Poe Cottage, 8.30am
It had taken a few minutes for everyone to get comfortable - the room wasn't really large enough for this size of meeting, but the obvious glyphs and symbols on the walls and surfaces had reassured them about the possibility of getting spied on.
"Okay, give! What did he pass to you?"
Morgana grinned and held up a USB stick to Erica, while the rest of the group looked confused. "He passed me this while he was talking to us. Let's take a look." Pulling her laptop across the table, she powered it on and slipped the stick in. "Oh wow!"
There followed some confusion as far too many people tried to get to look at the screen at the same time. Ended by the blonde girl glaring at the worst offenders until they pulled back a bit. "Sit still, we'll tell you all!"
"So what is it then?"
Morgana ignored the plaintive comment as she looked over the data on the screen. "It's just what we need! Data on our opponents, their powers, usual equipment, even their favourite tactics!"
Laura looked bemused. "But why would he have all that stuff on them?" She turned to Morgana. "The Commonwealth aren't the Beret's enemies, are they?"
The Welsh girl pursed her lips as she thought. "No, not really. Rivals, I'd call it. Does it say where the info is from?"
Erica looked over her shoulder, then pointed to a folder notation. "It says something about Combat Final Data. What's a Combat Final?" Her query only gained a set of shrugs and puzzled expressions. "Never mind, now we can plan properly!"
The portal before her was plain, bare steel in a concrete wall with no signs, paint, or other marks. There was nothing upon it to indicate its use or function. Small wonder it had taken so long for her to locate. Putting her knuckles to the metal, she rapped until the door rang like a gong. "Étienne? Are you there? It's Kirsten; let me in."
She waited until the door ceased to resonate. Then she waited a while longer. Finally a faint click sounded, and the slab of metal recessed to reveal a lab entrance. "Entrez," came the terse command.
No time was wasted on her entrance, and even less by the door itself, which shut so suddenly that it almost caught her heels. "You were not an easy person to locate, Étienne," she said.
"What is the point of having a secret lab space if everyone knows where it is?" The owner of this reclusive little apartment space, lost in the warrens beneath S. Hall, was a sturdy young man with a strong Gallic protuberance upon his face, and not much hair at all upon his head. He gave the impression of someone long lacking in both healthy food and fresh sunlight, and even the casual observer could confirm that with ease. The pile of Nukemburger packages was hard to miss.
"You need to come to the surface sometime," Kirsten commented.
"Do I? Do I really?" Étienne replaced the goggles over his eyes and turned back to the whatever-it-was that was his current project. "I see my faculty adviser -- in the flesh -- three times a week, and all my unavoidable course requirements are available by telescholastics now. Those Hawthorne students don't ask too much of me, either."
Kirsten huffed out a sigh. "I said I was sorry."
"You did. Five times, by my count. And yet here you are, about to ask me for something else, n'est-ce pas? So, what is it? What little gizmo do you think you absolutely need to have by last weekend?" The young man never looked up from his workstation.
"Not a gizmo, Étienne. You. I need you."
"Je suis desolé, Kirsten, but you are not my type."
Her teeth gritted together. "Not like that. The WEA needs you."
"Hah, now there is a name I have not heard in a while. Western European Alliance, indeed. You really should change the name sometime. La bande des folles, perhaps?"
"Like it or not, Étienne, you are still a registered member of the team, and it is time you acted like it. We need you for the training matches."
"And what time would those start?"
Her teeth gritted harder. "Today, at half past noon."
Now he looked up from his work. His frown was easier to read than his goggled eyes. "Cutting it a bit close, are we?"
"Ja, I said you were hard to find..."
"I might have responded to a courriel," he said, ignoring the computer display behind him with email alert signals blinking like a train crossing. "There should be no need for such short notice."
Kirsten put her best ironic smile on, hoping it still fit her face. "If only we lived in a perfect world. Instead, we must deal with the best of all possible worlds, even when it still sucks."
"How candide of you," said Étienne. The goggles hid the eye-roll, but she knew it was there.
"If you would let me finish," Kirsten said, "I know that it is very sudden, but so was the challenge. That false-hearted, Nazi-child Ami-Mädchen thinks that if she can be me, beat us, then I will have to stop spreading the word about her insidious little life."
"Ah, Kirsten, as always beaucoup de bla-bla-bla. Why should I care?"
"You should care, because we are a team. You should care, because our team is under threat. You should care..." The cogs of connivance clicked in her brain. "...because this von Groenwald girl, awful as she is, may only be the loudest of a bad group. A few days ago, I heard one of her friends in class call your countrymen, ah, 'cheese-eating surrender monkeys,' I believe it was."
Those were fighting words, as well she knew. While Étienne did not in fact fall anywhere on the Diedrick's spectrum, it was not hard to get him to make a convincing imitation of it when the right buttons were pressed. Like so:
"That foul canard! That, that connerie! Of all the stupid, ignorant, facile lines of puerile gibberish to fall from an American's fat lips! Such an insult cannot stand! It is..."
Kirsten interrupted before the devisor could launch himself into an off-key performance of 'La Marsellaise'. "You see what we are up against, then," she said. "Rude, ignorant freshmen. If we let them win, then they will never allow us to forget, and their own lies will seem to be proven true. We cannot let that happen, now can we?"
"No, no, we cannot," Étienne agreed. "Half past twelve, you said? There is no time for me to make new holdouts for everyone."
She shrugged. "Our own strength of arms shall do us well, I think. Bring what you can, and we shall let you use it as you see fit."
The devisor was already deep into his plans as she left. She would have to be back in a few hours to make sure he knew what time it was, but those few hours would bring much of interest, she thought.
But now, to breakfast. There had been so much to do before it, and she was famished.
She was so glad they'd decided to have breakfast first. There was simply too much to do, too much to process for it to be done on an empty stomach. The data on Morgana's new flash drive was now shared across multiple tablets, with everyone reading through different bits and interrupting each other at each new discovery.
So far, most of the data aligned with what she and Cally had gotten out of Adrienne the night before, which was a point in the French girl's favor. Much of what was new had been hinted at, and she was thankful for the reliable third-party confirmation.
"Wait, wait. Am I reading this right?" said Morgana. "This Gouyasse guy actually runs on booze?"
"Seems like it," Erica said as she flipped back to the file. "Yup, there it is. Assisted metabolic boosting, temporary muscle enhancement via Shifter trait, secondary endocrine response, all ethanol-based."
Cally looked up from where she and Zapper were working on lyrics. "That would explain a lot of things," she said.
"No foolin'," said her partner in rap. "Dude always seems to smell boozy. Hm... boozy, whoozy, floozie..."
"Susie?" suggested Tanya with a giggle.
"Well, guess we can't be too choosie." Zapper's wink glittered with static.
"Back to the point," Erica said with a sigh. "Look at the side notes. He apparently metabolizes ethanol straight, but gets drunk on methanol. And... huh, a red flag here. A moderate skin reaction to... isopropanol? What's that?"
"Rubbing alcohol," said Vic. "For first-aid kits. Maybe they wanna make sure no one uses it if he's hurt?"
"Not important," said Erica. "What's important is that it's a weak point to possibly exploit." Memories of past role-playing games rattled through her brain, with several key moments coming up 20. "And I think maybe we're going to need it. Did you see his strength rating when his blood alcohol level's past a certain point? Yikes."
"Your friend Kirsten's no slouch, either," said Tanya. "Inertial force and mass warper? I'm not even sure what she can do with something like that, but it just sounds bad."
Morgana snickered. "Well, we know how much she likes to throw her weight around... We just didn't think to take it literally."
The other data profiles weren't any more reassuring. "Okay, so Fleuve Noire has privately agreed to let Vic keep her engaged and sloshing around the battlefield for as long as possible--"
"And we can trust her to do it?" Vic asked.
She and her roommate shared a look. "All things considered, yes," Erica replied. "I get the feeling that Fleuve's had enough of Kirsten's scheisse, and this latest mess is hitting close to home. We can't actually coordinate anything with her, so you'll have to wing it."
The boy's grunt was less than enthusiastic.
"So, that's three of them," said Tanya. "Who're the others?"
"Oh, this next one's good," said Morgana. "The Honorablee Gregory Bertram Frederick Crumbley, Viscount Stratford de Radcliffe. an honest-to-God peer of the realm. Or at least he will be once Daddy's finally passed the spot in the House of Lords to him, over that brother of his." The Welsh prole shook her head. "I'd seen the name in the scandal sheets, but I never paid attention. I wonder if... Hah!" she crowed. "Drop Bear thought of everything. Links to articles!"
Cally craned her head over. "Ah, Adrienne mentioned some of this last night as well, but perhaps she did not know it all?" The Italian returned to her lyrical work with new inspiration.
"But what can he do?" asked Bianca, sitting next to her roommate.
"PK stuff, it looks like," Tanya reported. "Like, PK prosthetic arms? That's what it looks like, at least."
Laura had been keeping to her own tablet, quietly reading through the data. Now she looked up. "So far that's two front-line heavies, one technique specialist, and Kirsten's probably got long-range skills. It's this fifth guy who worries me."
He worried Erica, too. The other four members of the Western European Alliance of the Beret Mafia were largely known quantities. She'd met them all before, and had a good idea of how their personalities were. Fortenbras would be a tough fighter, but not a vindictive one, while Gouyasse was one big drunken grudge, it felt like. But this last one... "Nonpareil," she read from her tablet. "Devisor 4, electromechanical specialization."
"Which tells us exactly squat about what he can do," said Laura. "That's like trying to guess what I can do if I've got my tricks handy."
"Well, what did he use for the data we've got?" asked Tanya.
A quick perusal turned up a depressingly diverse list of items that Nonpareil had been seen to use. "Force-fields, personal sidearms, stun-knuckles, flash grenades, a... I'm not even sure what this last one even means!" said Morgana.
The resident devisor looked over her shoulder at the indecipherable item. "Localized electro-suppresor field," she translated. "Turns off other devisors' stuff, theoretically. I really should try to make one sometime..."
"Maybe after you're through with your chocolatier aspirations?" Bianca suggested.
"I'll tell you all about that later," Laura promised. "At our victory party, maybe."
"Getting ahead of ourselves there," said Erica. "We've got to strategize. Item #1: we neutralize Nonpareil. He's too big a question mark. Tanya... no, I'll go for him first. My PK field should block small arms fire." Hopefully. If he didn't have some trick to saturate the hit zone and overload her shields. She could only pray he wasn't that well prepared.
"Item #2," she continued. "Gouyasse. He's physically the strongest, and probably the meanest, too. I doubt we can K.O. him in one shot, but maybe in two or three..."
"This'd be a great time for my neuralizer to not be impounded," Laura grumbled.
"We go to battle with the tools we have," Erica paraphrased. "Not the tools we want. Now, Cally's working her bardcraft for some good distractions to throw them off balance... How's that going, by the way?"
"Abso-tastic!" Zapper answered for Cally.
"Great. I think. We'll need every edge we can get. Which is why..." Erica hesitated. "Um, which is why I'd like to revisit that allergy of his. The note says that it's a mild contact allergy, gives him a rash, maybe some muscle cramps. Any way we can leverage that?"
"Are you serious?" said Tanya. "You don't know how many stories my dad's told me about times some idiot thought it would be funny to test a friend's allergic reaction... and then dad's gotta rush the poor guy to the hospital! I don't care what the note says; you do not mess with things like this."
Erica had her finger on the strength ratings. "Look. At full drunk, Gouyasse could smash a skull in, easily, and it would be accidental. The guy is a mean drunk even when he's sober. Are you willing to bet that you're strong enough to stop him? I won't be putting my money on myself there." She looked over at Laura. "Do you think you can come up with something quick and dirty? A splash delivery, nothing inhaled -- just in case?"
"No!" said Tanya. "This... I know he's big and mean and a threat, but this isn't right! Right?"
"Um, right?" said Vic when the question was posed to him. He didn't sound too certain.
"Right! Exactly!" The lavender girl turned big, sad eyes at everyone else. "I know we need to beat them, but can't we do it some other way?"
"If we can, then yes," said Erica. "This would be for if we cannot."
No smiles danced on Morgana's face. "I hate to say it, but Erica's right. This guy's not going to worry too much about hurting us, so we have to be prepared to return the favor."
"What about you two?" Tanya asked Laura and Bianca.
White girl and blue girl both looked glum. "Not our fight, directly," Laura began. "But I've been in a few situations where I'd've liked to have had an emergency holdout."
"I've survived a few where I didn't have one," said Bianca, "but like Laura said, we're not going to be out in the thick of it. Not my call."
"So we're still stuck at two in favor and two against," said Erica. "Cally, your call."
No words came from the Italian girl, only a low humming as Cally thought it over. "Vic..." she finally said. "Do you remember the ambush last Saturday? Do you remember those boys?"
"Sorta," said Vic. "I mean, they all had masks on."
"But one of them was larger than the others. Much larger." The Italian picked up her roommate's tablet and swiped it back to the profile's main picture. "The size of a certain Belgian Goliath, in fact."
"We can't prove..." said Tanya.
"No, I know that we cannot. However, I still can wonder how things might have gone if I had had such a trick at hand. So yes," she declared. "My vote is yes."
It was nine on the dot, and Nina was on the spot. Specifically, she was on the one laid out in geometric tiles in front of the main entrance to Hawthorne Cottage. For a floor mural, it was an exquisite piece of work, with tiles that shifted color as one's perspective changed. One brick set into the corner of the pattern read "Class of 2012."
The beauty of the design helped calm her nerves as she walked forward into reputedly the most dangerous dorm on campus.
--Oh, silly-- Glee giggled between her ears. --That's all rumor, like how Poe's supposed to be for the really crazy ones.--
"That'd be more comforting if it wasn't the voice in my head saying it," she replied under her breath, then glanced around anxiously to see if anyone was nearby. No one was in the foyer to notice, which was the first oddity of the cottage. On a Saturday morning, there should have been at least a few kids hanging around to socialize, right?
"Oh, you must be Bewitched." She was not afraid to admit that she jumped a fair distance as a large, dark-skinned woman of indeterminate age zoomed up to her in... a hover-capable wheelchair? That was what her eyes were telling her, at least. "The assistant headmaster's office said you'd be in, and here you are all punctual and perky!"
Perky? she thought. That never was a word she'd associate with herself, but she kept her smile front and centered in the hopes the woman wouldn't realize her error.
"Now, I understand that this is a detention detail, but Bella -- that's Mrs. Horton to you, of course -- she put a good word in for you, and really, those two boys have been so rude to my children here sometimes."
"Um, excuse me? Ma'am?" said Nina. "You are...?"
"Oh, where are my manners?" The hover-chair settled into a single position to let the two of them see roughly eye to eye. "Deborah Bardue, house mother." A hand like a fleshy oven mitt engulfed hers in a handshake. "So, yes, your detention detail. I hope you realize how much it means to some of our children here, to have someone visit and help. Now, I know there are plenty of tales about this cottage -- some of them even true! -- but really, this can either be the easiest of detention assignments or the nastiest. It's all about your attitude."
"Um, aye-aye, ma'am," said Nina. "Ms. Tabby Cat said something about working with one student in particular today? Someone called Cold Snap?"
"Ah, yes. Noelle. I'm very happy about that. She hardly has any opportunity to socialize since..." Mrs. Bardue's snipped short whatever that 'since' was leading to. "Just... be gentle."
Gentle was about all she could really be at this point. She was afraid she'd break herself if she weren't.
The halls in Hawthorne were comfortably familiar; even if the carpeting of Poe was replaced by ceramic tiles. The decorations were the same combination of random inheritance and failing attempts to speak to younger, hipper generations. It was the doors that worried her. Several seemed to be thoroughly reinforced, and at least one was an airlock. Room 203 had the name Noelle on the front and thick insulation on all sides. "You'll be wanting this," said Mrs. Bardue, taking a fur coat from its hook next to the door and handing it to her.
The coat's smell, musky and musty, made her wrinkle her nose. "Um, thank you? This is, uh..."
"Quite necessary, I'm afraid," said the house mother. "And in this instance, old-fashioned works best." A quick rap on the door alerted the occupant to their arrival. "Good morning, Noelle! You have a visitor!"
A mumble of acknowledgment and apology was barely audible through the door. Nina only understood it because she had experience speaking the same language of apathy.
Tabby Cat had told her two specific reasons why she was being sent in there: the powers issue and the... other issue. Apparently there was also a third. The doorknob was completely coated in insulating plastic, but still felt chill to the touch. At Mrs. Bardue's nod of encouragement, Nina turned the knob and pulled the door open.
Chill air billowed out, and she suddenly did not mind the smell of old furs so much as she buried her face in their warmth. Cat-stepping through, she took a quick look around from the safety of the entrance.
Four walls, all hospital white with only a handful of posters to break the monochromy. A ceiling, a floor, and not much at all between them. A huge standing closet, or perhaps an emergency shelter. Or both. An old-fashioned wood panel desk with a sturdy notebook computer and a percolating coffee machine on it.
A shower unit. A large inset TV screen... Nina was almost jealous, except she noticed the heavy physical shielding to protect the system from the inhabitant of the room. Next to the TV was a... well, some sort of device with a low, constant hum to it. Next to that was a bucket and a mop.
There was no Noelle in there to be seen. She knew where to find the girl anyway: in bed, with all the covers drawn up, cocooned away from the world. That was pretty much where she herself had been about an hour and a half ago.
"I'm coming in," she announced, still at the door.
Another mumble of acknowledgment came from the expected direction.
Five slow steps later, and she was at the bed. The mattress, when she sat down, turned out to be some odd sort of gel cushion, like a wobbly waterbed filled with jell-o. The impact of her butt sent a ripple all the way across it, forcing its regular inhabitant to stir. The covers rose, but did not reveal much more than a pair of blue eyes in a pale face. "Who're you?" the covers asked, in slightly more than a mumble.
Oh boy, she was going to have to be the energetic and outgoing one for this conversation, wasn't she.
--I can help!--
Nina gave the spirit the mental equivalent to a head-shake. The pills were helping, and they did not want to mess up her brain chemistry any more than it already was. It was time to see if she could fake it. "I'm Nina. Ms. Tabby Cat asked me to come by and chat with you. She seems to think we've got some things in common."
"Je me doute de ça..."
"Ah, I doubt it." The covers shifted again, and a strand of pale, silvery hair escaped confinement. "Sorry, I... I sometimes get mixed up on which language I'm currently speaking. It's well..."
Nina tapped her forehead. "It's your passenger up here, isn't it? I've got one, too. She's... well, she's a handful, but she means well. How's yours?"
--...espèce de crétine...--
"Okay, what did that mean?" asked Nina.
The girl had a pale hand clapped over her mouth. The fingers were pale against a spreading blush of embarrassment. "...'m forry..." the girl mumbled. "Wait. Can you... hear Geniève too?"
"If that's your spirit's name, then I guess so?"
"Ah! I'm so... Geniève... she, she just won't shut up sometimes. Oh, God... Half my family thinks I've got bilingual Tourette's or something..."
"Bi-polar," said Nina with her hand raised. "Like, on meds and everything because while my spirit can make me the happiest thing ever... for about thirty minutes... I crash so hard afterwards."
"How do you deal with it?" Noelle was out of the covers now, on her hands and knees to look Nina straight in the face, even as the gel cushion below them wobbled. The girl was wearing a practical pair of summer pajamas and not much else under it. Nina did her best to focus on her words: "Geniève... She is too much to handle!"
--Tais-toi.-- The words rang out from the girl's head, only for them to make a U-turn and smack her back between the eyes with a wince.
"It does help if your spirit's less... assertive?" Nina said. "Most aren't like that. I mean, there's this one kid in my Avatars class whose spirit just wants to be helpful and keep him informed, but it's driving him nuts with stuff it's overheard, so I guess they can be annoying anyway, but... Anyhoo. Glee, my spirit, she gets carried away but we talk it over and set boundaries. We're still working it out, but we're functioning."
Noelle sighed and slumped back, hitting the gel cushion hard enough to send another wave rolling. "I wish Geniève was more like that. Truth is, she was kind of trying to kill me and my uncle before my Avatar power hoovered her up, and she's still a bit pissed about it."
--Bien sûr que je suis enragée par le stupide garçon qui m'a emprisonné!--
She'd had enough French lessons in the past to almost make sense of that. The spirit's tone helped a lot to get the meaning across -- especially the heavy stress on the word garçon. From the wide-eyed panic now strobing from Noelle's eyes, the other girl was hoping Nina didn't know anything of the language.
"So!" she said, cheerfully and willfully ignoring the interruption. "Tabby Cat told me you can't go out much yet. I'm guessing that's her fault?" She nodded at the face the girl made. "Thought so. Well, you missed an interesting party on last Sunday."
"S-sunday?" Those sapphire chips that were Noelle's eyes were about as big as they could get without popping straight out of the girl's head. "Um, Ms. Tabby Cat didn't say exactly what that was about, o-only..."
Nina's hand and arm presented a bridge between the two of them, though Noelle declined to take it. "As a duly delegated member of the Whateley Transgender Alliance, I'd like to invite you to the party, Noelle. I'm sure everyone else will be happy to meet you eventually. I'll just let them introduce themselves when they're ready."
"...Transgender?" The welcome confused the other girl for a moment. "How did you...? Who told you?... Wait." Her pretty eyes visibly shifted from side to side as she mentally connected the dots and she had a sudden shock at the picture she was seeing. "You... you're a boy!?" squeaked the other girl, kicking nervously away from her on reflex.
"Sometimes?" Her first shrug wasn't obvious enough beneath the furs, so Nina rolled her shoulders more heavily a second time. "Glee has me bouncing back and forth more than most anyone, and even then I look really girly as a boy these days. One hundred percent girl at the moment, though," she declared, almost with pride. "And a good thing, too, because if I had balls they'd probably have frozen off by now. This room's like a walk-in freezer!"
--C'est impossible. Celle-ci n'as pas l'air d'un garçon du tout! C'est de la folie!-- Noelle put her hands over her temples with the sudden volume that rang in her head from her spirit's surprise. "Je le sais, calise." She let out a small groan. "Sorry, it took her... Us, off guard. You don't look like a..."
"Neither do you," Nina countered. She flopped backwards on the wobbly bed and pulled the furs close around her. "And it's a huge pain in the ass, I know. We all know. Which is why you're invited to come by Poe and hang out whenever. We've got most of a dorm floor to ourselves, if you'd believe it."
"That's, um, nice, I guess, but..." Noelle tugged at her hair. "I don't know how to, um, do girl stuff."
--Ooh! I can help with that! Why, I know everything there is to know about make-up and styling and girl talk and sleepovers and...-- Glee was making Nina wish for a pair of mental ear plugs.
--C'est quoi cette connerie?-- Geniève demanded. --Tais-toi espèce de bruit pénible...--
The girlish litany paused in Nina's head for a second, and then: --Hey! I think she heard me, too!--
--Bien sûr que je t'entends, salope.-- Nina did not know that last vocabulary word, but from the impressive shade of red Noelle was now turning, it was easy to guess.
--Hey now! That was just rude!--
"So... can you hear that?" Nina asked Noelle directly.
"Kinda? Like, I'm hearing through Geniève's ears, if she had any? Feels kinda funny." The girl scratched her head, sending silvery strands billowing out.
--Ooh, I love your hair!-- said Glee, distractable as the proverbial kitten.
The scratching stopped abruptly. "Y-you do? It's..." Noelle pulled a lock to the front, staring cross-eyed at it. "...well, it's been a pain, honestly. I, I used to keep it all short, you know? But then Geniève moved in, and suddenly my hair's halfway to my ass and growing, and I don't know what..."
"No one showed you what to do with it?" asked Nina. "No annoying little sisters or best friends, or anyone?" Her own mid-length lock weren't so high-maintenance, but she'd still been drilled mercilessly in proper hair care by Darcy and Kara.
"I... well, Geniève..." Noelle sighed. "People tend to get a cold reception, let's say."
That was enough said for Nina. Ignoring the wibble-wobble of the gel cushion, she scooted across the bed and gave the other girl a big, fuzzy hug. The temperature of the air was already low enough that she didn't notice a few more degrees dropped. "Okay, then. I know what we're doing this morning," she declared.
--It's time for a make-over!-- Glee trilled musically in the key of B-cute.
There was no shortage of practice space on campus. Erica knew this well from two weeks of experience with Rachel Altus, and counting. The rooms came in many sizes, but all seemed to have the general appearance of a squash court upholstered with thick yoga mats. The material of the mats was some odd sort of memory foam that would mend itself in a few hours as long as you pressed the pieces back together after you were done. She knew that from experience, too.
Currently the stuff was sporting rips, tears, impact craters, and some singe-marks. The five members of the Mutant Mayhem Machine on active duty had given up on costuming, art, or a second breakfast for the morning. Whether this had been a fair trade for a frizzy-haired maniac with taped-up glasses to act as their personal trainer... that remained to be seen.
"Okay, ladies!" shouted the maniac. "Not bad for a first try. A shame we had to hold back a bit, but we wouldn't want you to get sent to Doyle right before your big debut. Save that for after. Maybe I'll bring my boyfriend along to play next time, even."
"Lovely," grumbled Vic. "And who're you calling a lady..." The young man was scratching an itch on his right arm through his suit.
They were all dolled up in their combat gear, such as it was. Morgana had a standard school rent-a-suit, and Tanya's was only marginally better. Erica and Cally had benefited from her Uncle Adolf's insistence on being prepared for everything, and now she had her force gloves on while her roommate had the ring of her emergency helmet for a collar. Vic had a water reservoir strapped to the belt of his own suit. No one had yet asked where he'd gotten either.
Only Tanya had shown up without an extra trick, though Erica tried to offer her one at the end of practice, namely the splash grenade that Laura had come up with. "Why would I ever want to have this thing?" the lavender girl demanded. "Weren't you even listening earlier?"
"If we need it," Erica said, stressing the first word, "then we'll need it delivered quickly and accurately. Aerial bombardment would be best. And," she added. "I trust your judgment. If we don't need it, then we don't need it."
"Better not to bring it at all," Tanya said.
"That's practically tempting Fate."
"Well, if you're so worried about it, then you take the damn thing!" The lavender girl stormed out of the room after everyone else.
Erica let her go on ahead. They all needed a while to rest and cool off before the main event. She could take it upon herself to fix up the practice room, at least, pressing the memory foam back into position.
"Do you need any help?" came a question from the door after a few moments. It was in German.
"Guten Tag, Brita," she said. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
The junior stepped over and saw to one of the larger rips in the far wall. "I just wanted to wish you luck," said Brita. "This is a big step, fighting for what you think is right. Try not to stumble."
Brita patted down the last of her rip. "Ah, your mother..." she said. "You did not know?"
"No," Erica said flatly. "We suspected something, but that's all. The idiot cousins had obviously located her at some point, but we did not know where she stood for certain until the other night." She punched the last flap of foam into submission. "It was still a bad surprise. I hope that if your own mother ever reappears, it will be under better circumstances.
"Ah, danke," said Brita. "I honestly do not know how I would react either way, but... danke. And... go punch out that Arschloch Gouyasse's teeth for me. That's the least that drunkard deserves."
"I'll do that," Erica promised. "And for more people than just you."
"Yes, of course." Brita stopped at the door. "One last thing: the next Euro-Promotional League meeting is next Tuesday night. Everyone is expecting you and Calliope to be there."
A long moment passed before she let herself out of the training room, locking the door behind her. Much of it was spent counting up and down in German to steady her nerves. Her feet were heavy as she took the next step onward.
----12:15, P.A. System
Every television on campus had a connection to the public address system, though few knew the override codes to forcibly change the channel. For an announced event such as a long-awaited grudge match, there was no need to force anything, and TV sets in every dorm were tuned in. And for those not near or not wanting to be near a television, there was always an app for that on their school-issue tablets. There may not have been much in the way of audience seating at the small combat arena, but that didn't mean there no audience.
"Greetings, fight fans! This is Playback from Twain coming to you live from Combat Match Arena 22. My thanks for all the kind words on my announcer debut last Saturday, which helped me get this gig today. With me are my roommate, Salkhitai-khûn..."
"...that's 'hello, y'all,' in Mongolian, I think. Anyhoo, also with me is our fellow Twainee, Sedrynnor."
"So, Sedrynnor, what's going on here?"
"Long story short? Wahnsinnig's been feuding with Eisenmädel since the start of the semester, and apparently she ran her mouth too far off a cliff this time. You know them both better than I do, right?"
"Barely. I've had them both as tutors for German class. Both smart, both professional."
"Both cutie-cute ladies, yah?"
"Truer words, roomie. I'll keep the rest of my opinions to myself, though. We're just here to watch the fight, after all."
"Exactly, Playback. Won't stop me from rooting for my roommate, though."
"Oh yeah, Tidestriker bunks with you. How's that?"
"Eh, he's polite, keeps to himself. I've had worse roommates."
"Ah, the beginning it is almost being!"
"That's right, roomie. So let's announce our competitors! In the blue corner, we have the Western European Alliance! That's Wahnsinnig, Gouyasse, Fortenbras, Fleuve Noire, and Nonpareil!"
"Isn't a nonpareil one of those little candy things you sprinkle on soft-serve ice cream?"
"Maybe in your corner of the country. Anyhoo, on to the red corner, with our challengers, the Mutant Mayhem Machine!"
"Ene yamar nertei yum?"
"You said it, roomie. Whatever 'it' is. But that is in fact their team name."
"Guess they can't all roll off the tongue like the American Mongolian Wrestling Federation, huh."
"Alas not, Sedrynnor. Anyhoo, I know you all out there are waiting for the lineup, so here it is: Eisenmädel, the Iron Maiden herself; Calliope, our Muse of Battle; Dragonsfyre, the Welsh Wyvern; Invictus, the Purple Avenger--"
"Purple, lavender, whatever. Would you like to introduce your roomie?"
"Sure, why not? Las we have that watery warrior, that quiet crusader, that guy who snores only a little louder than he thinks he does, Tidestriker."
"And I'm sure he'll appreciate the kind words, Sedrynnor."
"Those are your friends?" Noelle asked her. The two of them were sitting on the gel bed, though it was really more of a sofa at the moment, thanks to some neat modular engineering. The make-over was well underway, though the manicure would have to wait till they found a nail polish that wouldn't coagulate at low temperatures.
Powdered make-up had largely been okay, though Nina'd had to cede some control over to Glee for the finer points. The spirit was high on the experience, giddy at the chance to have an actual sleepover, if only for a morning.
"Yes," said Nina in reply to the question. "I'd guess you can say. I, um, know Cally the best. She's officially out. Yanno, as a member of our, um, club? Not by her own choice, unfortunately."
Glee giggled. --She's really nice. I'd definitely want her for my girlfriend!--
--Qu'est-ce que ça veut dire, salope?-- The question did not technically originate from Noelle's mouth, but the girl had a hand over it as if it had offended anyway. Nina couldn't tell if the other girl's blush was from the spirit's favorite naughty word or from the subject matter.
"I, I wasn't sure that was an option..." Noelle finally said for herself.
"Honestly, it's probably safer to be out as a lesbian than as trans," Nina admitted. "But yeah, Cally... I was, ah, having a really bad time of it a few days back, and she sat with me and just held me all evening. And gave me a goodnight kiss," she added.
--It was a goooooooooooooooooooooood goodnight kiss!-- said Glee. --So good that I was feeling it, and I don't have lips! Let's do that again sometime.--
Now it was time for Nina to stammer and change the subject. "Hey, they're starting!"
Adrienne le Floc'h's entrance into Arena 22 was personally uncomfortable to her on a number of levels. First and foremost, she had not worn her combat suit since the combat finals last June, and she needed a refitting. It stretched and pinched and worst of all itched in the wrong places. Hopefully she would not have to suffer for long.
Second on the list of discomfort was Kirsten, though the German would not have thought of it that way. Swaggering and bold, her friend welcomed the spotlight as their team took their starting positions. If Kirsten had heard any of the things, any of the words spoken since that combat challenge had become more widely read, Adrienne was not sure. Her own ears had caught a variety of comments at breakfast, some of them quite divided on the subject. Their own discussion around the table had been mostly Kirsten's own conspiracy theories.
Much closer to home was the third item, or items: her brothers had secured a section of the arena's limited seating, somehow, and had packed it with as much of the junior high class as they could manage. They cheered her name when it was announced, but only her name out of the entirety of the Western European Alliance. The Mutant Mayhem Machine got the lion's share of hurrahs.
And that led to the final discomfort, the limp in her stomach wherein sat the knowledge that she was about to betray her friends and allies. That it was for a good cause did not make it any more palatable.
"Get ready," Kirsten told her. "We need the water to start as soon as the buzzer sounds."
That was the plan, the tactics they had honed over the past few terms. Adrienne's rôle was one of area denial, of fluid barriers and opponent interception. Whether it would work so well with another hydrokinetic on the opposite team was an issue, a concern she had raised with Kirsten so that she would have some excuse for what was about to happen. The German had waved off the concerns as inconsequential, for wasn't she the more experienced one?
With but a thought, she called the waters to her, using herself as a channel between wherever they arose and wherever she directed them to be. The itch beneath her combat suit subsided as the material plumped from the water within, and conduits running along her arms let loose a steady stream, a rising tide to form barriers around her.
It almost blocked out the stink of Gouyasse's breath. The Walloon had already downed two cans in the ready room, and his bandoleer held flasks where most would have hand grenades.
The starting signal, a bright green light at the center of the arena, was impossible to miss. She silently thanked it for sparing her from her teammate's halitosis and sprang into action. With the first wave of her arm, she sent forth a long stream of water, and with her second, that stream came up like a cascade in reverse, providing a wall to direct the course of their opponents. The usual tactics, and usually effective.
The young man on the opposing team, her fellow hydrokinetic, lashed at the wall with a stream of his own, pulled from a flask, and --
And started ripping the barrier apart, commanding it to part from the inside out. "I am engaging now!" she commed to Kirsten. Drawing the waters around her, and around him, she added turbulence to ensure that the view from outside was obscured. She mimed a spinning motion to the young man, who nodded his understanding.
It was a good thing, she thought as the waters began to shift and gyrate under their shared power, that she was not actually fighting this one. The discomfort in her stomach was appeased by the realization that she might not have won, anyway.
Plans and tactics rarely survived the first contact with the enemy. That was in fact the topic of the first lecture of the Whateley Intro to Tactics course she had taken last spring. Of course, she had hoped for Adrienne's barriers to work for a little while longer than that...
The French girl and the water-boy's struggles were spinning a waterspout into being at the center of the arena. Scheisse. Their starting plan had not only failed to survive, but it was being buried at sea.
"Gouyasse! Fortenbras!" she called. "Pincer maneuver around the maelstrom, pin down von Abendritter and the Welsh girl... Verdammt!"
The lavender girl, Invictus, was a flyer. Of course she was. Mounting high, as high as the ceiling would allow, the aerial freshman stooped into a dive that delivered one dainty fist into the Walloon's face. Gouyasse was feeling no pain, as the saying went, but he definitely felt the impact. The rest would come later, she knew.
"That one!" she yelled to Étienne. "The purple one! She is the one who called your countrymen those names." It was a desperation move, siccing the devisor on the girl, but Étienne had the firepower.
"Pour la patrie! À l'attaque!" Étienne's combat suit was sporting a partial exo-frame, a sturdy skeleton of metal bits and plastic joints designed to absorb and redistribute the recoil from the many guns he had attached to it. She had intended to overwhelm the von Abendritter's defense with them -- and still could, hopefully -- but they had to deal with the immediate threat.
A rapid-fire spray of rubber bullets blasted all around the purple flyer, keeping her at bay. Kirsten ran over to help Gouyasse up while Fortenbras kept the von Abendritter girl occupied.
This was going to take more effort than she had first thought.
"Tanya!" Erica dashed forward, hoping to catch her lavender comrade, but somehow it never came to that. Tanya stayed airborne amidst the hail of rubber bullets, while Erica herself hit a blockade.
Gregory Crumbley, Fortenbras, had his PK in full effect, his arms sheathed in silvery blue manifestations like a pair of monstrous gauntlets, each half as big as he was. A giant's fist slammed into her own PK shield, the argent veil catching the gauntlet. Barely.
"No hard feelings, Ms. Eisenmädel," he said, "but I do intend to win."
"None taken," she grunted back. "I intend the same for me." Another blow bounced off her shields, but she rolled under, trying to catch an exposed belly. The other fist swept her aside.
"Ah-ah," Fortenbras tutted. He even wagged a PK finger her way.
She grabbed that finger and twisted hard. It distorted, then broke from the rest, discorporating into bluish force. It quickly reformed.
Okay, so she had not been sure what that would do, but it'd been worth a try. Erica wished Tanya could hit high while she went low, but... "Morgana! Take my target!"
Hand to hand with the PK gauntlets, she kept the young peer occupied as her teammate went behind her back. Running up to Nonpareil, Morgana accelerated into a football punt aimed straight up the young Frenchman's crotch. It connected with a painfully solid sound.
Nonpareil's grin never left his face, even as a flash from his nether regions announced the full effects of a personal force field devise. Morgana was thrown backwards, landing with a thunk and a crunch that did not bode well.
"Damnit, my foot!" the Welsh girl yelled. "I'm down!"
"A-hahahaha!" crowed Nonpareil . "Now you see the true spirit, the true force of will of the French! No, we shall never again surrender, nor bow our heads, or... or..." His voice broke off as the smoke rose up. Nonpareil had just enough time to stare down at the region below his belt, where various electronic parts were sending out uncalled for sparks, and blurt out a singular "Merde" before grabbing at his crotch and collapsing in agony.
"What would you call that, Playback?"
"Pretty sure that's a TKO, dude."
"Ah, tee-kay-oh? What?"
"Yeah, as in he Totally Keeled Over."
"Sedrynnor, could you try and explain that to him, please? I gotta get back to covering the match... Well! If you're keeping track at home, this apparently mutual TKO puts the teams on equal footing of 4 to 4. Or maybe 3 to 3, since it seems that Tidestriker and Fleuve Noire are still occupying each other and providing the field with a hazard and... Whoa!"
"What now, Playback?"
"Dude, you shoulda seen that..."
His arm itched. The right arm, same place as it had all week. Maybe he'd gotten a bug bite or something, but it was damn annoying. That he could focus any attention at all on such a minor detail in this fight said a lot about the level of challenge, however.
"Time for another whirl around?" he asked his dance partner. Just how the water conducted his words to her ears, he wasn't sure, but the French girl nodded. They hadn't checked to see if she could reply in the same way, for fear it would be picked up by her team comm system.
All around them, the water swirled, but the center was calm. To outside observers it would be difficult to see within. He and Adrienne were taking a breather of sorts, since just being able to breathe underwater did not make it magically easy to do so. He'd gotten pretty used to it, finally, but the French girl was looking green around the metaphorical gills.
"I'm down!" came Morgana's voice over his own ear piece. He considered it a miracle that the thing was still functioning at all, even if it was fitful and crackling. The next part sounded like an expletive, but the exact wording was lost to static. Then, "Drunk-o's heading my way, and he looks pissed! And angry!"
He hoped his comm pickup still worked. "Morgana, can you hear me? I'm moving over your way, so flame on!"
"What!?" The words sputtered and spat. "Are you se--" And the noise washed out.
Waving to Adrienne, he led a quick swim-and-spin around the waterspout they'd created between them. He could feel the currents, now more than ever before, and could even pick out which slips of water were his to command, and which were hers. They each pulled as they spun, forcing the waters around them off-balance, tilting it in the direction of his teammate. Vic could see Morgana and Gouyasse -- or their outlines, at least -- through the bubbling waters. He could see the Belgian's fist raised, and the flare of Morgana's flames coming into being, and --
Morgana saw the giant bearing down on her. It was hard to miss the drunken lout. As she tried to steady herself on one knee, she cursed her foot for having decided to be so fragile at the exact wrong time. "Drunko's heading my way, and he looks pissed! And angry!"
Her comm unit crackled in her ear. "Morgana!" called Vic. "Can you hear me? I'm moving over your way, so flame on!"
"What!?" Seriously, was he drinking something besides the water in there? "Are you serious? I'll drown! I'll... crap," she finished as the static rose in a wave to hit her ear.
And Drunk-o was close enough to smell. Desperate times...
She was still wondering how much flame Vic wanted her to use when she looked up to see the small tidal wave of water, complete with the two water controllers embedded inside it, start to sweep over her.
As her roommate had so helpfully pointed out the day before, her control was iffy at the best of times, and this was so far from those that it was practically the second half of a Charles Dickens quote. Thought did not even enter into it; sheer instinct pushed her flames from 'hot-stuff' to 'oh-my-god-you-devil!' levels.
Gouyasse shied away as the flames rose up to lick his fist with tongues of blue. The torrent hit them right at that moment.
He hadn't really thought this thing through as well as he should have. That was the lesson he would take from this, though he wouldn't have a chance to actually think that thought until well after the fight was concluded. As it turned out, running over a flaming magus with a large body of water was not the best of ideas. He couldn't actually see what happened to Morgana because of the massive rush of steam bubbles getting in the way, but that wasn't the problem.
The problem was that there was a massive rush of steam bubbles that all had to go somewhere, right this moment.
If something more solid had burned that fast, they'd call it an explosion. From his vantage point inside, and mostly thinking after the fact, Vic couldn't find an appreciable difference. The -BOOM- was a bit damper; that was all. He and Adrienne managed to ride the remaining liquid, going straight up and barely missing the ceiling. Looking down, and wishing he hadn't, he saw Gouyasse get thrown against the wall by the force of the steam.
Morgana appeared untouched by the explosion. Her combat suit was not so lucky. "Oh Lord!" he heard through the static. "There's no way I'm getting my deposit back on this thing!"
He was too focused on landing safely to appreciate the view.
Étienne was down. The purple annoyance was not. Yet. With Fortenbras holding down the von Abendritter, Adrienne keeping the water-boy busy, and Gouyasse closing in on the Welsh girl to make sure she was not getting back up, it was up to Kirsten to resolve their air-control issues.
Her saddlebags held a goodly number of items, but challenge rules had dictated that she remove the ones most likely to cause lethal damage in what was supposedly a friendly match-up. No throwing spikes, knives, needles, or ball-bearings -- in fact, her main armament for this battle was a set of beanbags and hackie-sacks.
Those were all that she needed.
Long and dedicated practice had given Kirsten a fastball pitch worthy of the American minor leagues at the least, and her warping talent magnified the little projectile's inertia to heights not accountable by the standard model of physics. When the little beanbag hit the flying purple brick, it was carrying far more kinetic force than was necessary to smack the girl out of the air.
There was a -thock- and a muffled scream. At almost the same instant, there was a -BOOM- and a much louder shout from Gouyasse. Her eyes caught not one, not two, but three bodies flying through the air. She personally caught one of them on the way down.
"Adrienne!" she cried to the girl in her arms. "Are you okay?"
"I, I will be," said her teammate. "Just... need to rest."
Kirsten laid Adrienne on the floor at the edge of the arena, well away from the fighting. This match was not going as planned, not at all... Fist met palm with a determined smack. It was time to change that.
Everything was moving so fast. All of their plans had kept Calliope at the rear of the formation, and she had been happy to follow them. That gave her a wonderful view of what was going on, which was everything at once. Punches, grabs, and throws. Crashes and splashes and booms. But most of all, the music.
She had opened herself up to it, lowered her shields, and the emotional notes of everyone in range had come rushing in to perform a symphony within her skull. The ears on the other side of her brain heard the clash of Erica and Fortenbras's dominating personalities as a crash of cymbals, while Vic and Adrienne's cautious dance was a minuet of suspicion and care. Kirsten's personality advanced itself in grand notes, many of them out of pitch and off-key, while Gouyasse... She shied away from that one, keeping one layer of mental shielding up to filter out as much of his input as she could. It was almost a relief to feel the chaotic jumble that was his confusion and pain.
She hated him for making her feel happiness at that particular sound of emotion.
That still left Kirsten and Fortenbras on the field for certain, and the young peer was holding his own against every dirty trick Erica's Aunt Margit could teach. Calliope shouldered her newest addition to the battle gear, a portable loud-speaker with microphone. It was time for some new dirty tricks. At the flick of a switch, a thumping backbeat came to life, to become the road for the vehicle of her words and feelings.
"Gregory Crumbley, foolish and fumbly,
never a peer for fear his own boorish and bumbly,
brother he might surpass, might outlast,
might succeed without heed and then to be
the last of his name, what a shame
to stumble with girls, what a churl
losing the world to a pretty face to chase
and still be last place!
Sent to school, sent to fool
the world to think there's nothing hinky about your clan.
Yet to a man they stand between you and the hand
of that girl you liked, but psych!
she's already with him,
you were a whim, a simple choice
a simple no, and so you're stuck here in low dudgeon
forced to bludgeon anyone Kirsten says is fudging
the rules in her head, must be said
Dude, you're a fool and a tool
and nowhere near a peer!"
Was it good rapping, or even good poetry? Calliope rather doubted either. But as a carrier of emotion, of pity and ridicule and insult, it worked well enough to hit home. The boy, caught off-guard by the tabloid fodder lyrics and their emotional payload, faltered just long enough for Erica to get a solid hit in. With those force-enhancement knuckle-dusters of hers, one was all she needed. The young Englishman was knocked arse over tea-kettle, as she'd once heard Morgana put it.
Erica had been right; a well-positioned Bard could make or break a fight. Turning her eyes toward Kirsten, Calliope focused on the 'breaking' part.
"Hey, Kirsten! We should call you Mary
so contrary and raring to go, raring to blow
the world to bits, crushed to grits like
a Mannheim steamroller, we're all over
your old sound, your old floundering to gain ground
in a race for an ace you could never replace
because let's face the facts, you got the axe
from the teams and the dreams of a girl in her
tweens with means to cause such collateral damage
they named you 'drain bamage,' i.e. crazy in
the head, let it be said, that every word
to curdle, every word to hurtle from your mouth's
a joke, a hopeless poke at a fate that you hate
because you're Grade-A cray-cray with the Iedrick's-Day!"
Again, the lyrics were mostly rumor and guesswork, but between Kirsten's code name, her attitude, and one or two tales grinding through the campus rumor mill, it was easy to name the German sophomore for what she was: a bully, a reckless, feckless idiot, and most definitely mental in all the wrong definitions of the word. She might even be on the Diedrick's Spectrum, for all Calliope knew.
Seeing the color Kirsten's face was now turning, Calliope amended that 'might be' to 'almost certainly'."
"You ugly, awful fake-girl!" the sophomore screamed. "You ridiculous caricature of a female with who-knows-what between the legs! A freak! A perversion! The title of das Eisenmädel could never belong to one who would befriend the likes of you, you..." Kirsten's rant slowed as it dawned on her that the challenge fight was still being televised live on campus TV. "What are you making me say!?" she demanded.
"Nothing that's not already in your heart," said Erica, facing off against her. "And we've never had to make you talk about anything. You run your own mouth off well enough, Miststück."
Her first instinct was to close the distance as fast as possible, dashing in to send a fortified punch Kirsten's way. The sophomore's first instinct was to fall back, the better to lob soft-bodied missiles with enough distance to let them build speed from her inertial warping. Erica's PK vest caught several beanbags in mid-air as they smashed in at speeds she usually associated with small-arms fire.
"Is that all you've got?" she jeered in German, careful to keep her eyes on Kirsten and not the space directly above and behind her. She dodged and feinted, holding the attention and testing the defenses. Kirsten blocked every punch easily, and countered with hits of her own that Erica was hard-pressed to deflect. If this had been a straight one-on-one, the sophomore would have worn her down soon.
It wasn't, however.
As soon as Tanya had a slightly boiled Vic safely on the benches with a student medic, the lavender girl went for Kirsten's face with her own fists. That the fastest route to that smug Backpfeifengesicht was through the rest of Kirsten's skull was not much of a worry. The sophomore was fast, but only had two arms, and a distinct lack of eyes in the back of her head. Hitting high and low, back and front, they forced her down, with Cally's continued insults as an accompaniment.
And then the background music cut off with a shriek.
"Cally!" Erica shouted, delivering a quick gut-shot before turning to look. Her roommate was face-to-face with Gouyasse. Three empty flasks littered the floor, and doubtless the boy's breath counted as much as deadly weapon as anything could. The effect of the booze was obvious: Gouyasse's combat suit was designed to split and spread as his body processed the alcohol into superfuel, and his Shifter trait went to town with his muscles. He was almost twice as large now as before.
"Salope!" he bellowed. "Stop that noise! Stop it now!" He had one fist raised and ready to fall like a millstone.
Erica grabbed for the surprise bomb on her belt, only to grasp at empty air. Scheisse. She hadn't secured it well enough, had she? Where...
"Got it!" Tanya shouted, swooping down to grab the homemade splash bomb and lob it at the drunken giant. It hit him in the square of the back, spilling its load across the material and into the many slits split open by his power-up. For a breathless second, Erica waited for a reaction.
That was all the wait she needed. Gouyasse's next bellow was one of pain as his fist turned to grab at the splash zone. When the rubbing alcohol got on them, his fingers swelled up like ugly purple sausages. His back arched as muscles spasmed and bent out of shape, and he nearly hit Cally by accident as his face led a swift advance into the floor of the arena. The rest of him landed like the proverbial load of bricks.
"Émile!" shouted Kirsten, pulling herself up from the place the gut-shot had sent her and stumbling over to where her teammate lay. "Émile! Speak to me! What did you Arschlocher do to him?"
Tanya was staring at the fallen Belgian, then back at her own hands, from a vantage point of on her knees. "What...?" She stumbled through her words. "I didn't want..."
The rest was drowned out by the alarms as medical attention alerts sounded.
The five of them were sitting on a bench in the arena's changing room. It was a long, low plank of wood set into the wall, and the only reason they could all be described as sitting together was that there was no break in the bench between them. There was plenty of space, though. Tanya was seated about as far to the left as possible, with Vic stoically comforting her while trying to hide his own winces of pain. Everyone else was located along the right end, watching the emergency cast go on Morgana's foot.
The medic was a student, an Asian girl in white with a red bird logo upon her breast. She did her job with a minimum of fuss, stood up to bow politely, and then shuffled out of the room.
"Thank you, White Crane," said Sensei Tolman, turning her attention back to the representative members of the Mutant Mayhem Machine. "Now, what am I going to do with you all?"
"I'm sorry!" Tanya blurted out. "I didn't even want to have that, that thing available but then he was there and he was standing over Cally and he was gonna hurt her and I just, I just..." She sobbed the rest into Vic's shoulder.
"So you were all aware of Gouyasse's allergy?" the teacher asked in a neutral voice.
Erica worked her mouth slowly, trying the words out before she released them into the wild. "There was a brief note in one file," she admitted. "A mention not to use a particular topical solution because he reacted poorly to it. The file did not mention just how poorly."
"We didn't know!" wailed Tanya. "Not that!"
"And you prepared it anyway." The statement was not an accusation. It did not need to be.
"It was an option," said Erica. "We did not know much about Gouyasse's powers, but we did know him, and he's an angry, violent brute who holds grudges. Even a mild skin reaction, as the file implied, might have been enough of an edge."
"And he was in on the group that attacked Cally!" Morgana added, hugging her emergency bathrobe around her.
"You have proof of that?" asked Tolman.
"Proof that he was part of the group, yes," Erica corrected. "Proof that he was part of the attack, circumstantially. There can't be that many men his size in the ODS. In any case," she continued, "Gouyasse was a major threat, and that potential weakness was something we had to consider. We needed a way to take him out fast, if necessary."
"And was it?" The questions continued like machine gun fire.
"He was going to hurt Cally!" said Tanya. "I... I..." Aside from the lavender eyebrows, her face was tinged green. "Oh gawd, I think I'm gonna puke."
Vic grabbed the nearest wastebasket and kept it readied in front of her. "We took a vote," he said. "And the majority thought it was worth it to have that thing handy."
"And did you think it was?"
"What does it matter?" said the boy. "It's our mess. All of ours."
Sensei Tolman's lips were pursed thin. "Exactly. I am glad to hear you say that. Now, rules are somewhat laxer when it comes to what happens within challenge matches, but still, intentionally acting in a way that nearly causes a student death--" She paused for Tanya's retching to subside. "Ahem, as I was saying, doing that sort of thing with intent is a serious matter. The five of you will be debriefed, separately, and possibly again tomorrow. After that, we shall see to the detention details. I believe Mrs. Bardue would welcome some more help in Hawthorne. And after that, we can discuss the real punishment detail." She paused a moment to let that sink in. "As it is, be thankful that White Crane and Meatball were both present in the arena audience to attend to Gouyasse. That was the worst reaction ever recorded for him; no doubt because his power was in full expression. But for all that, he will survive."
"To come and whack us another time," Morgana muttered under her breath.
"What was that, DragonsFyre?"
"Nothing but the truth, ma'am."
The martial arts instructor had the look of a woman who could put names to all her current headaches. "Go. Get debriefed. I believe some of you have places to be this afternoon, Calliope. Yes?"
"Ah? Si," said Cally. "I suppose I do."
"Then congratulations on your victory, as Pyrrhic as it may be." Sensei Tolman eyed them all sternly. "Dismissed!"
On the converted sofa in Noelle's room, the girl and her guest were still staring at the post-match coverage on the TV. "Well," said Nina eventually. "That was a thing that happened."
--Quelle sort de connerie est-celle là?-- Geniève's voice rang through Glee's ephemeral ear-analogues. --C'est dingue, cette école!--
"No arguments there," said Noelle. "I mean, you hear things, but..."
"That's nothing," said Nina. "I'm here right now because I nearly blunt-force-trauma'ed two boys in the face yesterday, remember? Though if Ms. Tabby had just asked, I'd've come anyway." She gave the unintentionally frigid girl a hug through her fur coat. "As it is, I've got a victory concert to attend this afternoon. Would you like to come? I can run interference."
--Vas-y, salope!-- snapped Geniève.
--Aw, but we were getting along so well...-- Glee bounced back.
Nina sighed. "On the other hand, I'm not sure if I can handle two voices in my head right now. One is more than enough."
"That's okay..." said Noelle. "I, um, well, they probably wouldn't let me go out for a bit, even with, um, you running interference. Geniève has a way of drawing in trouble so she can mete out her idea of proper punishment."
--That is not nice!-- said Glee. --Bad bitter disembodied spirit! Bad!--
The two fully corporeal members of the conversation giggled as the frosty ghost sputtered with indignation. There was still quite a bit of time before she had to go, and she was feeling the girliness pretty strongly, even without the influence of Glee in her brain. So...
"Wanna see if we can braid your hair up a bit before we go?"
--I've never been so HAPPY!-- Glee squealed. Geniève's response required the world's least reputable French-English dictionary to decipher.
----later that afternoon
The walk from Doyle was made in silence as taut as the tendons in Kirsten's neck as she ground her teeth in frustration. "That could not have gone worse," she finally said as they neared the quad.
"They did catch us with our trousers dropped," said Fortenbras. "It happens. They were more talented than expected, but we probably could have taken them if Étienne hadn't attempted fulgurific auto-castration. And if the match hadn't been immediately called for a medical evacuation," he added.
Kirsten growled. "We learn from this. Learn them. No more underestimating these freshmen. Next time will be different."
"Does there have to be a next time?" asked Adrienne. Her red hair was still frizzed from the steam treatment. "Can't we just let it be for a while? This is getting tiresome, Kirsten."
"This is a point of honor!" the German girl declared. "Of duty! We must defend ourselves and our school from von Abendritter -- no, von Groenwald's infiltration! If we cannot drive her from this school, I do not know what..."
"Enough, please," said Adrienne. "This... this is... I am tired," she said lamely. "My brothers are having a party out there for the little concert. I think I shall join them for a while. Au revoir, Kirsten. Gregory."
They watched her go. "What is her problem?" Kirsten finally asked.
Fortenbras sighed and shook his head. "We have had a long day," he said. "Let's all rest up some before we get caught up in more planning. I for one could use an early dinner. Would you like to join me?"
"Nein, ah... thank you, but there is one last thing I should see to before I can rest for the day."
"Well, I do hope it will not take too long," said the young man "I shall try to save a pastry for you. Ta."
She watched her friends walk away, but inside her head the cogs were all spinning like the workings of a cuckoo clock. After a quick dash back to her room in Whitman, she was ready initiate the first of her backup plans. A few minutes later, her feet had taken her where she needed to go to do it.
Kane Hall, home to Whateley Security, was not high on any student's list of placed to visit, and Kirsten for one had never until this point looked forward to walking its halls. This time, however, she'd come prepared. Hugging her binder to her chest, she calmly faced down every Security goon she met, stating clearly and calmly where she wanted to go. Eventually she arrived there, taking a confident step through an office door and seating herself in the guest chair. Behind a utilitarian desk, the owner of the office subjected her to a thorough scan of the eyes.
"Well," the woman said. "It isn't often a student makes it all the way up her of her own volition. To what do I owe the dubious honor?"
"Commander Everheart," she said. "I have critical information pertaining to a threat to this very school."
"Do you now?" said the woman, straightening in her seat. "And this would be?"
A deep breath helped fuel the outpouring of words to follow. "I regret to inform you that a Fourth Reich organization, das Grüne Kreuz, has successfully infiltrated the freshman class." She presented her folder at arm's length. "Here is all of the data that I have available, collected over the last three weeks. You will find it all quite damning, I am sure."
Commander Everheart took the file and leafed through it for several minutes. Silence fell over the room, deepening and dampening out everything but the sound of her own heart as it beat at its cage like a frantic beast. It took the will of das Eisenmädel herself to keep her mouth shut and her body motionless.
"It is extensive." The words broke the silence with a force to shatter a stressed heart. "Highly detailed. How did you come by all of this?"
She swallowed back the lumps in her throat. "I cannot name my sources, for fear of reprisals against them by das Grüne Kreuz. It is for their safety."
"An admirable sentiment," said the commander. "Now that you have turned this over to us, what do you expect us to do with it?"
"Why, expose her! Remove the infiltration, root and branch!! Inform the German Volksherrenbüro of her perfidy, that she may be stripped of any honors or trusts bestowed upon her!!! She is a threat to us all!!!!"
"You do realize," said Everheart in too calm a voice, "that much of this data is taken from the school itself?"
"But there is other data which provides new perspective."
"Perhaps." The commander closed the file and placed it on the desk. Steepling her fingers, she stared at Kirsten. "What of Ms. von Abendritter's family?"
"Her mother is the very face of das Grüne Kreuz," Kirsten spat. "If this hurts the mother and her plans, then all the better."
"Ms. Bischofsheim, you do realize that up to now you have been skirting dangerously close to the edges of the infamous Whateley Neutrality Agreement, yes? Simply put, we do not bring family into the picture. Your performance in the cafeteria yesterday toed the very line of the letter of the rules, and today your toe is touching that line from the other side entirely."
The words did not quite fit together straight in Kirsten's head. "Excuse me, commander?"
A loud sigh of annoyance swept the last of the silence from the room. "Have you had your annual school psychological exam yet, Ms. Bischofsheim?"
"Ah, no. Why? What does that have to do with anything?"
"I would suggest one, and soon. In fact, I am going to insist that an officer accompany you to Doyle right now."
Several thoughts clicked together in Kirsten's head, prompting a smile on her face. "Ah, yes. I see. Once we make these accusations fully public, das Grüne Kreuz will do everything possible to discredit me, so it is better to have proof of my mental state ready and handy. They might say I was mad, otherwise." Just like the Volksherrenbüro with their stupid assigned code name...
But it was alright now. Everything was alright. The kind Security officer would escort her where she needed to go, her guard against Nazi attacks. They were everywhere, you know...
The nice officer listened to her warnings attentively, all the way back to Doyle.
The Music Department's portable stage was assembled in front of the statue of Noah Whateley in front of Shuster Hall. She did not like the cold, disapproving glare of the man, even set in stone the way it was. Too well did it remind her of how people could be in this world. It was such a relief when Nick placed a yellow plastic bucket with a smiley face over the old founder's head.
"Ready?" asked Ngaire as she took her position on the left. Calliope was center-stage in her Electradyne performance outfit and microphone. Dalton was on the right with his keyboard.
"Si," she said. "Let us do this." After the mid-day she had had, facing down a most-likely appreciative audience did not seem so bad...
"Good afternoon, everyone!" boomed Mr. August. The music teacher's trained voice carried far even without the benefit of amplification. "Or evening, almost! My, how the seasons fly. For your picnicking enjoyment, our own young muse Calliope has a song or two she would like to perform for you."
Calliope put on her best fake smile and nodded, taking note of who could be seen from where she stood. Her friends in the Mutant Mayhem Machine and Poe Cottage were holding down the middle ground, though Tanya and Vic were all by themselves out in left field. The junior high faction, along with Adrienne le Floc'h, were fêting Jean-Marie. Farther back, Fra's group of friends were relaxing on some blankets, though her brother had an odd look on his face which she would have to ask him about later.
And in the far reaches... beyond a sea of random faces, she found the angry eyes of the Amazon corps. It was likely they were not the only unfriendly faces in that crowd, but they were the ones she could recognize. One, she recognized too well. Calliope's heart sank to the ground, almost to crack in twain.
"Go, Cally! Woo!" Nina Blake's happy shouts brought her back to center, and her heart as well. Her smile grew a little less fake. There were difficult memories in that crowd, yes, and certainly some enemies as well. But that was what this song was for.
Ngaire's musical engine was sending out its plinkety, melodic stream, while Dalton's keyboard sent notes dancing around. She let the introductory bars pass, and then began:
Look inside your tiny mind,
Now look a bit harder,
'Cause we're so uninspired
So sick and tired of all the hatred you harbor.
So you say
It's not okay to be gay
Well I think you're just evil
You're just some racist who can't tie my laces
Your point of view is medieval...
It was a light, airy declaration of war, from victim to bully, abused to abuser. With a true smile on her mouth now, and her dress blooming into intricate pastels, she entered the the next stage of the song:
Fuck you very, very mu-u-u-u-uch
'Cause we hate what you do
And we hate your whole crew
So please don't stay in touch.
Fuck you very, very mu-u-u-u-uch
'Cause your words don't translate
And it's getting quite late
So please, don't stay in touch.
She was not bothering to shield her own emotions from the crowd, letting it all out with the lyrics. Those who were friends recognized the sentiment, sympathized, and she could ride the feedback to boost her signal even more. As for those who were not friends... hopefully the message was as clear as the bridge of the song, where she, Ngaire, and Dalton harmonized a sequence of seven consecutive 'Fuck You's.
As the song wound down, Nick hopped onto the stage with his guitar in hand. Ngaire's engine shifted gears, delivering a new pattern: Na na na na na na, na na na na na...
I guess I just lost my girlfriend
I don't know where she went.
So I'm gonna stick with my friends
I'm not gonna take her shit.
I got a brand new attitude
And I'm gonna where it tonight.
I wanna get in trouble.
I wanna start a fight!
Na na na na na na na, I wanna start a fight.
Na na na na na na na, I wanna start a fight!
So, so what?
I'm still a rock star.
I got my rock moves,
And I don't need, you
And guess what,
I'm having more fun
And now that we're done
I'm gonna show you tonight
I'm alright, I'm just fine
And you're a tool...
So, so what?
I am a rock star.
I got my rock moves,
And I don't want you tonight.
It was loud; it was brash. It was a challenge and a brag and many other things that she would never have done at the start of the school year. But that was the nature of school, to change a person. Whateley was just quicker about it than most. Working her way through her reworking of the defiant lyrics, riding the waves of emotion echoing back at her, Calliope put her heart on the line for all to see.
Na na na na na na na, she's gonna start a fight...
Na na na na na na na...
"We're all gonna get in a fight!" There were perhaps two dozen transgender kids on campus, at least who were known to each other. There was no way that they could all be present at the concert that afternoon. It did not matter, because far more than two dozen of her fellow students were on their feet and shouting the refrain with her. Far more than just her had been bullied, been pushed around by those who were larger and stronger, and the emotion pouring from her demanded response.
For the last four stanzas of the song, they were all rock stars.
As the song ended, she replaced her microphone and ran out to her friends, who were laughing and crying and cheering her on. She hugged and was hugged, kissed more than a few faces, and reveled in the rush of positive emotions like nothing she'd felt in the longest time.
"We're not going to let them get to us, are we?" Erica asked her.
"Certo che no," she replied.