The Garden of Good and Evil: Song of the Dreamer
A Whateley Academy Tale
The Garden of Good and Evil:
Song of the Dreamer
Parents Day, Whateley Academy,
Jack moved across the campus at a sluggishly slow pace, for him or another speedster. To anyone normal, it would be terrifyingly fast, and to the small boy sitting on his shoulders it was perfect. Adam whooped loudly as he gripped two of Jack’s spines in a death grip, hanging on for dear life as his brother tore across campus underneath him to the baffled, and often horrified looks of the random visiting parents and siblings.
A shrill whistle came and Adam ducked low and tightened his grip with his legs and hands as his dinosaurian brother leapt over a fence and tore around one of the main buildings. The little boy’s attention was all over the place, goggling at all of the cool heroes like his brother.
It never occurred to Adam that some of the people walking on the campus were evil to the core. He felt safe here. The girl who was teleporting her younger siblings around made him grin. The fliers were amazing. The monsters that attacked home couldn’t come here, in his mind.
“Jack, Jack! Look!” Adam was pointing at the quartet of kids not too much bigger than him running rampant. Miranda, Ember, Pahelee and shifty were playing an odd game of tag with each other as Razorback screeched to a stop. Shifty was rapid-firing different shapes as he chased the three girls. He was “it,” and Adam felt a stab of jealousy, because he wished he could shift and be like Jack.
The parents nearby eyeballed the Raptor kid warily, but Razor ignored them. He rapidly lost interest as he saw Noms and Dimes walking his way. He loped lazily over to the two and Adam slid off his back grinning. The little boy hugged both girls without hesitation, much to their bemused expressions.
“Scaring the norms, Jack?” Monica grinned at the obnoxious, massive, spined speedster. Her voice was just loud enough to carry to the nearest wary parents.
Jack, of course, held out his hands and shrugged, then as two girls crossed five pairs of arms at him with flat looks, which adam ruined by mimicking and grinning, he got a reptilian grin and nodded rapidly.
“Your brother’s an ass, pop him in the arm.” Janine shook her head, bemused as the little boy ran over and jumped, swatting Razor, who promptly flopped to the ground, shrieking in feigned agony as the tiny boy proceeded to attack him in a wrestling match, defeated by the raw power of a six-year-old while several people, including Jack’s blood-sisters watched, bemused as the tide turned as Jack curled his claws inward and used his knuckles to tickle his baby brother into insensibility.
It wasn’t to last when his mom caught up to them. And she just gave Jack a disapproving look. “Jack Carlyle what are you doing?” She was half his size, hands on her hips with disapproving “mom” glare.
Jack popped up and pointed at himself quizzically before signing -MISBEHAVING!- at his mother.
“Obviously. Can’t be bothered to say hi to your own Mum then?” She took the “offended mother” act to its peak, absolutely drawing doubletakes from the students who knew Razor, and that he was a rager.
Jack, of course went full ham, and swept his mother into an exaggerated hug, lifting her off the ground and holding her tight at his full height. “Jack put me down or you’re eating veggies for a week!”
The raptor rapidly and gently set her down, then retreated, making warding signs against evil and hissing. As the Turners walked up, Debra was muttering “Of course, thanks Mum, The curse strikes.”
“Which curse is that?” Edith Turner smirked.
“May your children be just like you?” Monica helpfully supplied.
“That’s the one.”
Edith looked at her Australian counterpart quizzically. “There’s a story here.”
Jericho tapped his mother on the shoulder to distract her. “Hey Noms, Where’s Caitlin?”
“Haven’t seen her since earlier, after she went back to Hawthorne.”
“How is she doing?” Edith asked for the group. “I know that girl is probably the toughest person in your group but I always see… Like she’s on the verge, and she’s holding it back to protect people around her.”
“That’s because she is on the verge,” Noms said slyly, “but at least she doesn’t have detention tomorrow. This is going to suck.”
“Detention? For what?” Edith was looking at Noms warily.
“What? It’s not my fault! I was just writing a factual essay with citations on why the earth is flat and how science is lying about the whole “sphere thing,” she gave air quotes as she carried on in the aggrieved teenager voice. “The Science teachers are part of the conspiracy! It’s all a sham!” There was not one hint in her voice or posture that she might be joking.
If Razorback had a camera he would have ruined the moment by snapping a photo of both the Mothers’ expressions of outraged disbelief right then and there.
Jericho and Sandra both stared as Anomaly once again proved her origin as Matt Carter by distracting and drawing fire… and gleefully driving someone up the wall to do it.
“It’s nice to see that some things never change.” Joseph Turner said quietly to Sandra as the two mothers took the bait and Noms tried to defend herself. “Been wondering when she’d start screwing with people again.”
“And your mom falls for it every time.” Sandra just shook her head quietly.
“Gives Cait time to get whatever’s eating her out of her system.”
“We should probably go get her, it’s not like her to vanish.” She looked over. “Go poke Razor, tell him to lead everyone on the scenic route to Hawthorne. If I can sneak away without them realizing, I’ll go poke and see how Caitlin’s doing.”
“I… I really have no idea what to say,” Caitlin finally breathed after the long minutes of awkward silence and simple, mutual disbelief on her part, and her mother’s that they would ever be able to have a sane, civil conversation again.
“I don’t really know what to ask, came her mother’s reply. “I had a million questions I wanted to ask, things I thought I’d never get to say…” Her voice choked. “And now I can’t remember any of them.”
Caitlin nodded, looked around her cluttered room and began cleaning, as though realizing, belatedly, that having a combination disaster zone and armory workshop might not to be the impression she wanted. Unfortunately the mess was already there, so she took the simple expedient of shoving the guns into a closet after rapidly re-assembling them and tossing things into the trash can she kept by her desk.
Natalie watched, and finally had to comment, “Why so many assault weapons, and is that a minigun?”
“Parts of one.” Caitlin chuckled. “I have to rebuild three of the barrels, and unscrew the firing mechanism. I was one of the range crew and I ran the heavy duty blast powers range. Unfortunately the only real equivalent in power to a lot of the kids are things like machineguns, Miniguns, rocket launchers and such.”
“I knew the powers could be dangerous, but that bad?”
“Yes and no. It’s kinda like owning a gun. If you respect it, you understand it and you take the proper precautions, it’s just a tool, one that won’t likely have any part in an accident. Part of my job was to help the kids figure out for themselves how to respect their power, how to understand them and take proper precautions. I used the big guns as the demonstration comparison because It’s often the closest to what the kids can do or build, and I have a class three firearms license and I love explosions.”
That got a stuffed bear thrown at her.
“What the hell, where did that come from?” Caitlin picked up the stuffed bear, “I didn’t have anything like this in my room.”
“I was going to give that to your sister, later, but apparently you needed it more. Upside the head.”
“I’d argue, but I need more evidence in my favor.”
“Tell me about the Fire Wings.” Natalie’s words were quiet, and when Caitlin turned, she saw the concern.
Caitlin stopped cleaning for a moment and sighed. She didn’t want to think about this, didn’t want to talk as the whole thing came crashing back at her. “They reminded me of Cat.” Caitlin’s voice was quiet, then she began hunting about the room. She actually had to spend a few minutes hunting on the school intranet to find what she was looking for. A few seconds later the small printer connected to the laptop began producing a grainy photo which Caitlin gingerly picked up and looked at for a few moments then brought over.
Natalie watched, still having great difficulty reconciling this tall, tattooed amazon with her oldest child. They looked nothing similar. When she sat next to her and passed over the photograph, it wasn’t what she expected from her son’s relentless reputation, what little she’d heard of it.
The woman’s hair was blonde, with a pixie cut, and her eyes were a vivid green with the outer edges wreathed in a corona of yellow. A bright smile on pretty features belied a quiet intensity.
“She hated me when we first met. I used to joke that Stockholm Syndrome works when she finally agreed to go out with me three years ago.” Caitlin smiled slightly as her mother just stared and facepalmed. “I asked her to marry me right before the beginning of the school year last year. She said yes. She was Intense, she cared, she believed in people, in me, My Angel of Fire, and then I lost her.”
Caitlin instinctively gripped the hand that found hers. “But she’s gone, I couldn’t even bury her.”
Natalie heard the thready tone in her child’s voice, and just held on, not trusting herself to speak. Everything about this was strange, except for the look on that cobalt-tattooed face, the same expression her son always had when her son had been at the end of his rope, ready to blow up or fight when he had just wanted to be left in peace for a while.
After a few minutes, the strange amazon began talking again… And Natalie simply listened as her oldest child was finally able to speak to her mother again
Adam was utterly ecstatic as he flew through the air like a hot air balloon. Not very fast, of course, and completely at the mercy of Monica as she gave the boy weightlessness for a time. And then, to his giggling amusement, and his mother’s chagrin, the Outcasts began playing a rousing game of Adam Ball, tossing him to each other and running around like hooligans.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Edith asked as she walked over, not realizing the Outcasts were playing for time.
“My thoughts are that I’ve never seen anything so insane. But as long as Adam’s not hurt, or being hurt?”
“That wasn’t what I meant Debra.” Edith just smirked at her friend.
“Trying not to think about Darwin. Again.”
“How are your boys handling it?”
Debra Sighed, “Jack’s same as always. Adam still has nightmares and cries because his big brother is gone all the time. Cried because the other three were gone. They left an impression on him. He feels less safe without them… I feel less safe without them.” Debra looked at Edith. “I almost didn’t come, honestly. I’ve hardly left my house in the last year. Whenever I see that theater, I start looking at the sky and shaking.”
A whirring sound was heard, a high-pitched mechanical noise. Debra tensed as the helicoptor drone, a small one flew overhead. Sandra had caught Adam and was comforting him as the thing went by, and Razor hissed at the thing as it passed. Even Jericho had paused hanging out with Zack for a moment as he unhappily contemplated the thing.
Debra was actually shaking just a little. “I needed to come out. HE needed to come out. He’s in school now, and I worry because the teachers say he runs from any kind of machinery that isn’t obviously controlled. And now he’s here with Jack. And he’s laughing again.”
Edith nodded slowly. “And Kiernan?”
“He’s helping rebuild the couple apartment towers that got dropped. Helping to fix the damage so people can have normal lives again.” She looked over. “Jack’s admittedly weird. How have the others handled it?”
“Better. Sandra there stayed at our place over the summer, mostly in the basement. They hired a warper to get her in and out. She and Joe have had nightmares, hard days, but they lean on each other. With the addition of Monica things are a bit more normal, but every now and again, you can tell they’re looking off into nothing and seeing people they couldn’t save.”
Edith sighed, and slumped a bit. “She’s the one I know least about, honestly, but I saw her before the attack, and I see her now. I don’t think she’s entirely forthcoming, because for her? I get the impression that Reaper’s attack was just… business as usual, another miserable thing she’s had to do, stacked onto a pile of miserable things. She had that stare the day we met.”
“So I’m not crazy,” Debra said slowly. “Jack said she was their tactician here in the sims. I assume that one there, Deimos, is the one they called about over the summer?”
Edith nodded. “Sweet girl. Lost her sister last year. She’s the one the whole bunch ran out to go help.”
“They never turn off, do they?” She looked at Edith. “I don’t know what to do with them,” the words were haunted as she watched the Outcasts play with Adam some more.
“Leave them as they are.” Edith gave Debra a half-hug. “Good hearts are rare, especially when everyone around them calls them monsters.”
“That’s the story I’ve been trying to hold on.”
“Debra? Talk to someone. You need to get help, Adam needs help. If you can’t work through it…”
“Yeah. Kiernan has been working extra hours. He’s already set up a counselor for us.”
“How were you able to tell?”
Edith Turner smiled slightly. “I’m a trial lawyer, Debra. I’ve spoken to too many people who have endured more than they thought they could, and I’ve seen those that thought they could use emotion to put men behind bars. You hide it. Adam tries to not feel it, but the signs are there.”
“Don’t tell Jack, please. I don’t want him to think…”
“If you think Jack doesn’t know already Debra? Please, you know he can hear our heartbeats from where he’s standing. He heard every word we spoke. Your son has chosen not to interfere except to give you a hug to remind you that he cares and believes in you.”
Debra got caught up in the truth of it as Jack went from where he had been standing to her side faster than her eyes could track. And he put Edith’s words to action to match. When he let her go, he simply signed -I know you’re hurting, I just don’t know how to help.-
“Damn, I dunno if that’s heartwarming or Horror movie” Caitlin said as she finally came up on the Outcasts, leading Miranda and her mother to the group with a slight smile. “Good to see you.” She gave Debra and Edith each a hug in turn.
She waved towards Natalie “This is… my Mom, Mom this is Debra and Edith, they kept me honest last christmas. Totally ruined my plans to conquer the Outback.”
“I’m Natalie.” She semi-smiled and greeted the other parents. “And I’m sorry, but my daughter has apparently turned into a raging smartass.”
“Oh we have no idea what that’s like,” Debra said, glaring at her oldest child.
“None whatsoever,” Edith said flatly, turning her head and affixing Jericho with “Mom Glare.”
“I see we’re in good company then.” She gave the little girl holding her hand a nod. “And this is Miranda, Caitlin’s youngest sister. Her Older sister is in college right now.”
Caitlin had to catch herself from shooting a look and gagged down her instant response at the insinuation that “Princess Cally Mahren” was her “older” sister.
Miranda caught on and smirked evilly at her big sister, and slowly sang out “Meeeeeemmoooorrriiiiieeeesssss.”
“Lay off the Troll, brat, you are what you eat,” Caitlin said to her sister drily.
“But I learned it from watching you!” The indignant reply got everyone’s attention, and all of the Outcasts started laughing at Caitlin.
“You deserve that,” Natalie said quietly.
“Oh I deserve a lot more than that,” Caitlin said with a smirk. “Where’s the next part of this crazy tour?”
Edith checked her watch. “Well my husband should be arriving any time now, unless his safety inspection of the Badkind Facility turns up anything.”
Zack poked his brother, said something borderline incoherent to get his brother’s attention and then signed at him. Everyone but Caitlin got the gist immediately, but she eventually figured out that Zack’s hearing aid had gone out. They all knew Zack hated trying to talk, because he knew other kids his age automatically assumed he was retarded when he did.
Natalie did a double-take when she focused on, and truly saw Jericho’s clothing. “What the…”
“I gave up trying to get the boy to dress normal last year,” Edith sighed.
“He does it so everyone pays attention to him and forgets that Diamondback and most of his friends have weird bodies.” Miranda said quietly, smirking slightly as Jericho grinned and tapped his nose at the young girl.
Edith, of course gave a slow head turn and stared at her son. “You told me that you couldn’t tell what colors everything were.”
“I can’t. Unless I hook up my seeing eye camera.” Her son grinned at her.
“Why do I get the impression some days that Sandra is the most normal of the lot of you?” Debra asked no one in particular.
“She is,” came the unanimous, simultaneous reply.
Sandra, for her part, simply shrugged. “Now that we’ve all had our daily dose of irony in our diet, it’s time for lunch!”
“The bottomless pit demands it’s sacrifice!” Monica chortled.
“Like you have room to talk, ya walking black hole,” Deimos tapped Noms on the head.
“Why aren’t Prism, Tracer and Feral here? I told them to come.” Jason “Imperious” Stratholme asked deceptively mildly as the object of his ire walked into the Crystal Hall, surrounded by the rabble they thought of as “Family.” The mixed bag of Outcast Corner freaks were untouchable on Parents’ day, and he desperately wished otherwise.
“They decided that they’re gonna hang out with their folks,” Elisabeth Masa said flatly. “And I’m only here because you commanded and you don’t have as strong a hold on me as you do Counterpoint… So in ten minutes, I’m gone back to my family, your permission be damned.”
“Judicator, now isn’t the time for infighting.” Knickknack looked equally twitchy. “Spit it out Jason, some of us actually give a shit about our lives here, and unlike most of you lot, We share, so I actually do have a say in where I go and what I do.” The two robotic women standing sentinel behind him gave most people who might pick on him for being a social outsider pause.
Jason chewed on his words for a moment. He was in charge, but unlike himself, Majestic, Counterpoint, Cytheria and Stygian the others had not simply overwhelmed and subsumed their hosts at childhood. His other “brother” seemed to have completely fucked off and found other things to do/be than come to Whateley or contact him entirely. It also meant that he couldn’t exert full control over the so-called “exiles” that vexed him so much.
“It’s very simple, judicator, Knickknack, The part of you both that I do have sway over will help me, whether you like it or not. You’re going to help me demolish the group of Echidnan freaks that call themselves Outcast Corner, and put them in their place.”
This time it was Majestic’s turn to scowl, even as Counterpoint began to grin like a madman.
“Oh hell, you’re still not over Galatea?” Majestic and Cytheria exchanged a look. “She almost killed you, and Stygian, and dumbass here.” She pointed at Counterpoint, “And you still expect us to try and capture her after she’s been tattoo-marked?”
“Who the fuck you calling Dumba…”
“Shut Up.” Majestic commanded, and Counterpoint had no choice but to obey her unless Jason overrode her, which he sometimes would, to her outrage.
Imperious turned his head slowly, grimly to his female counterpart and shook his head. “Oh no. I haven’t forgotten. Galatea is an enemy, not a prize. But she’s not why I want the Outcasts broken.” it took almost all of Jason’s self-control to not shake with rage at the memory. “You all, whether or not you like it, are going to help me teach a lesson to that miserable cur that had the audacity to defy me here in this place where face matters.”
Judicator and Knickknack’s eyes narrowed angrily as Jason pronounced his sentence. “You are going to assist me in breaking Jericho for his defiance here in the Crystal Hall. And when we are finished, it will be known that those who don’t toe our line will wish we had killed them.”
Everyone crowded around Jericho as he let the group into the bowels of the vaunted Devisor shop, and the families were treated to a display of full frontal nerdity so obtrusive that Deimos covered the eyes of a giggling Adam, held firmly in her four arms to keep him from escaping into the dangerous area.
Everyone except Natalie recognized the bulky white-and-red power armor Jericho used as his primary suit, but it was the slimmer, less obnoxious armored suit that drew everyone’s attention.
Nathan Turner was looking at it. “I don’t recognize this design, son. What are you building here?”
Joe smiled. “Remember I told you that deal I made with the school to get funding? Well, with a bit of help from my friends here in the lab, notably Spider and a few others, this is the Rafe 2 armor. This is the one that can be driven by anyone. Even you, Dad.”
Everyone kind of looked at “Crazy Joe” a bit stunned, then looked back at the other suit. Overall it appeared to have about a two-thirds of the overall bulk of Jericho’s massive Raphael-Class suit, but had many of the same design elements. The armor was thinner, but the shoulders and forearms had a series of circular discs reminiscent of the gravity plates on articulated limbs of Spider’s own power armor.
The legs each had a larger disc on the side of the thigh, and there were four discs the size of dinner plates on the back on non-articulated “Wings.” Otherwise the suit overall looked like a less bulky version of Jericho’s own set.
“She’s my baby,” Joe grinned. “Set to go through field trials next month with security. Me, Loophole and Spider finally kicked the kinks out of the gravity plating tech and got it to work on something resembling real-world physics rather than Devisory, so she can lift about two tons, deflect most small caliber weapons and has lifesaving gear including auto-defibrillator, med dispensers and a collapsible stretcher. The HUD is rigged, she’s ready for work, and there’s not one piece of Mad Science, Weird Science or questionable reality in her after almost two years of work bringing her back to reality.”
Joe had been hand-signing for Zack’s benefit, and Adam, of course was squirming to escape and touch literally everything in sight, even though he’d been sternly admonished to touch nothing.
“Show me,” Nathan said quietly.
Joe nodded and walked his father around behind the PA frame. “You get in from the back. PA has to be stored basically in a frame harness when it’s inert so it doesn’t tip over and fall on someone randomly. Apparently this happened a few times back in the day, so now it’s basically a law here in the shop.”
“Custom frame to each unit?”
“Once you have the design locked in, yes. Unfortunately there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ if you want them properly secured.”
Nathan nodded and looked around as his son hit a control and the back end of the armor opened like a demented flower. He did note that the edges of the armor were well-padded and rigged to avoid catching and tearing skin from someone being set wrong.
“Alright, ready to take some notes?” Nathan looked inside and the whole rig looked to him, a mess.
“Hit me” Jericho actually pulled out a braille-punch note taking machine and began plugging away as his dad spoke.
“Servos on the inside of the knees look like they’re too close to skin contact, wrong move looks like they could contact the knees and do damage. Inside the glacis plate, wiring on the left side is poking through the padding, I see two exposed circuit boards with padding around them. That could be a spark hazard depending on the rating.”
Jericho nodded and handed his father a remote camera. “Here use this, will you? I’ll keep taking notes as you poke.”
Edith Turner turned to the others, “They never stop.”
Adam stared at her, trapped by two pairs of arms, glassy-eyed and obviously bored. “Bored now, entertain meeeeeee.” the little boy croaked, causing the rest of the outcasts and parents not deeply caught up in a nerd fiesta to laugh.
Miranda was a bit twitchy, but she was surrounded by too many people to really filter everyone out. It was hard for her to filter out the various emotions and thoughts until a cool, stony hand slipped into hers, blowing away everything in a pure note of appreciation as she just felt her new big sister.
Anomaly was, of course delicately and quietly re-arranging Joe’s tools into completely different order, helping to organize his immaculately clean workshop space while her sister facepalmed and sighed. Jack was helping her facepalm, staring at Anomaly with mock-disapproval while facepalming over Sandra’s facepalm. His massive hand seemingly engulfed her head.
“Facepalm on facepalm. You know one more facepalm and you end up with Epic Facepalm.” Deimos couldn’t resist. Adam, of course facepalmed, only to have two of deimos’ hand facepalm his facepalm, stirring a giggling fit in the little boy
Jericho, of course, calmly reached into his cabinet and withdrew a squirt bottle, promptly spraying Anomaly in the face with icy water as she screamed in protest. “Bad Noms, no playing with my tool boxes!”
“Hey, hey! Dammit Joe my PK field doesn’t stop water! Quit it!”
It was late in the afternoon when the Outcasts dragged their families into the tunnels under Whitman, Hawthorne and Twain. Natalie was the only one who hadn’t seen it before, and the parents looked on, bemused as Jericho set up the biometric scanner in one of the walls to accept Adam’s handprint and whispered something in the boy’s ear.
“Abandon shame all ye who enter here” the boy said along with Jericho, bemused as the wall showed a seam and the door to the Outcast’s Corner opened for the six-year-old who immediately thought it was the coolest thing ever.
The Turners, Debra and Natalie were surprised by how expansive the hidden chamber was. The room was not small, and it was dominated by a stage in the center, built from metal and scavenged wood, it was large enough to hold the weight of even Diamondback’s heavy form. “Welcome to the clubhouse, such as it is.” Jericho grinned as he picked up the Bass guitar he kept stored on the stage.
Deimos picked up Adam and put him on her shoulders as Razorback and Jericho promptly fell to arguing over the tuning of the guitars. It was almost strange how normal the scene was, with the families seeing the “Chill space” occupied by their children. Even Adam only wanted to rush over and hang out with the “Big boys” and help them tune the guitars.
Zack was helping Caitlin with the drums, or more accurately, she was letting him bang on them to feel the percussion.
Natalie saw the worried look on Mama Turner’s face as she watched her youngest son hang out with the blue-tattooed girl. Miranda was talking to Monica and Janine while Adam just craned his neck to pick up on everything in the room.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Natalie shifted over to join the Turners and Debra.
“Oh, just thinking. Worried about Zack.”
“Because he’s hanging too close to Caitlin?” Natalie asked blithely. “Oh relax, I’ve seen enough worry to twig. What is it?”
“Honestly?” Edith Turner looked over at Natalie, “I don’t know that I’m worried or relieved. Bit of both, really, because your girl there is the only person my son hangs out with that I can’t get a good read on. Joe told me that she was estranged from her family.”
“She was,” Natalie said carefully. “My husband threw her out on her ass too many years ago, and I wasn’t fast enough, I wasn’t brave enough to stop it before I lost my child. The fact that she’s here is nothing short of a minor miracle for me. I honestly thought she’d hate me with all her heart. I think she did too, and I feel like I deserve it.”
“No one deserves that,” Nathan Turner said quietly. “How much do you know about what the kids have been through?”
“Not a lot, honestly. I just found out she was alive this morning, basically.”
Edith nodded. “The worry is because your daughter is the only one I know nothing about, except what I saw last christmas, what I’ve been told. At first I was worried that she might be a danger to the other kids. She has some hurt buried deep.”
Debra shook her head. “We’re more worried for her. She’s been a rock for the others, but she’s got no rock to lean on herself.”
Natalie looked over, scanned the high schoolers going about their rounds. “She does, you just don’t see it.” Natalie pointed at the Outcasts in turn. “My baby was never the strongest alone, much as it seemed otherwise. I’ve never seen... her as at ease as with this pack kids right here.”
“Caitlin…” Natalie almost called her Erik, but caught it, “...never had a whole lot of friends. But the ones she kept were tight, to the point where they would likely have buried bodies for each other. Your kids are her anchor right now.”
“And they’re all anchors for Janine,” Debra said quietly. “We have strange kids. Good kids, but strange.” She smirked mildly.
“Amen,” Natalie said quietly. “I didn’t know if I wanted to ask. Your son’s armor, not the disc-plated one, the big, bulky one with the wings painted like an ambulance.”
Edith quirked her head. “Yes? That’s Joseph’s Raphael Search and Rescue armor.”
Natalie nodded. “I’ve seen it before, and Caitlin mentioned the outback, and last Christmas. The kids were there, in Darwin, weren’t they? I saw that armor on a documentary about the attack.”
Debra swallowed hard. “Not all of them. Jack, Sandra, Joe, Caitlin, Zack, Adam, and me. We got caught in the center of the killbox when Reaper attacked.”
“Oh Jesus.” Natalie leaned back, taking in the faces of each of the children. Not one showed signs of that kind of nightmare, but…
“The four of them saved several hundred people,” Edith said, focusing on the good. “They even stopped GoggMagogg with the help of Doc Diabolik of all people.”
“They were with Diabolik?”
“Only late in the attack.” Debra said, carefully not thinking about, or telling details, “Diabolik was there, helped Jericho keep it together for the others. And when the kids brought the crowd they were protecting to the civil defense shelter, they stayed topside to keep the bots out. Diabolik went out to hunt Reaper. Caitlin went with him.”
Edith and Nathan Turner’s eyes snapped over. “No one told us that Caitlin went after Reaper,” Edith said.
“She asked me not to. But she came home, alive, intact, and her mother has a right to know some of what her daughter’s been through.” Debra sighed. “Can we talk about something else? Please.”
Natalie’s heart had seized when Debra said her child had gone after the biggest mutant threat in history. Fortunately Debra’s wish came true as Jericho and Razorback and Caitlin broke into the heavy, and more importantly, loud opening riffs and drumbeat of Pantera’s “Cowboys from Hell” while Adam and Zack grinned. The parents were surprised at how clear Jack and Joe were playing their instruments, able to perfectly mimic the metal band’s signature sounds.
They were even prepared for Sandra’s voice, ripping off the song, and Caitlin’s functional but basic drumming.
They were not prepared when the first GSD kids popped heads around the corner and grinned, dragging their own families into the impromptu concert. It didn’t take long for several Thornies, Twain boys and Whitman girls to drag their loved ones into the Outcast’s Corner for the music and the ability to just stop caring and feeling on edge. The Poesies came last, being furthest out, but there were always a few who were interested in the Impromptu concerts.
Zack and Adam, and many of the younger kids, including several of Sapphire’s “Noodle” sisters tried to slamdance to the thundering beat the Outcasts set. Miranda retreated to her Mother, physical contact washing away the crush of thought as Lewis heard her distress and helped her carefully rebuild her shields.
The last set of the night Began slow, then rapidly ramped up as the outcasts began and ripped off their new signature, with jericho lending his gravelly voice first.
“Welcome, My friends to this Hidden place,
The Freak Flag flies and it’s in your face.
The borders of the Garden are hidden from view,
But the eyes watching outward can all see you.
Sandra’s voice cut in as she took over the song.
“This is the garden of the Sacred,
Yet profane on it’s face.
We’ve all the Monsters and the heroes
In a Mythical place,
And here we learn to rise or begin our fall
And the Secrets of the Garden
will consume us all
We learn just who we are, and the place we will be,
We are the demons and the angels that
May set the world free.
Or maybe we’re the monsters who bring ruin to all
Because the Garden makes the good
And the evil stand tall.
We’ve got our own special blend
of Heaven and Hell
This is a place where Monsters rise
And the righteous men fell.
The sins of the self live on
Like a demons wage
Held at bay by the voice of a god’s Blind Rage.
The music abruptly stopped. And for a brief moment, all was unexpectedly silent Then Razor’s Guiter barked, the sound like a heartbeat that rapidly picked up in pace as the speedster somehow made the guitar sound like a frantic heart that erupted into the screech of a beast as jerichos bass and Elrtich’s Drums hammered out again, as the instrumental told of an epic battle, the bass of marching cadence, the speedmetal guitar of shrieking wrath.
When it ended, Sandra’s voice ripped out again as the naga-like teenager took the mic in hand and danced to the sound.
And now friend I bid you welcome
to this hallowed place,
It is the Light and the Darkness
Gathered up in one place
It will be up to you whether
You stand or you kneel
It’s the way the game is played
At the garden of Good and Evil!”
The Concert ended, but the fun didn’t as the people exposed to so many GSD kids in one place realized that their kids, monsters at home, had at least one place where they were just another face in the crowd.
“Damn I never thought I’d here the kids play a song about a school.” Nathan Turner laughed.
“How did you get a song about a…” Edith began. “...Nevermind.”
One by one the parents of the Outcasts, and a few other kids around the crush of mutated bodies got the joke, and as Adam innocently told Opal she was beautiful like Sandra, it was really all that mattered.
Elisa prowled the outskirts of the Outcasts’ impromptu party, quietly contemplating.
“I’m sorry we have to do this.”
“Oh, I’m not doing this,” the Twain girl said quietly. “If we have to help Jason Wave his dick around, I’m going to make sure he gets it chopped off for his trouble.”
“Overt treachery isn’t something I can do, or allow.”
“What was the first thing you taught me as a child? Know which battles to fight, and which ones not to?”
“You intend to pick and choose.”
“You have to obey Jason, I don’t. Not the way he want me to anyway.”
“A lesson then?” the disembodied voice asked quietly.
“But first, we have to do what he wants. Just… Ah. We’ll loose Counterpoint on the Artificer.”
“That isn’t an ideal opening gambit.”
“But it will turn this into a fight, not the rout Jason wants.” Elisa shrugged. “Besides, are you the goddess of bullies, or war?”
“That’s not even a question.”
“Exactly. Jason wants a war to relive his victories over the titans? Let him have it. He demands that we help him break Jericho. Awfully vague objective, that.”
“Indeed. You’ve been paying attention after all.”
“Yeah, now here’s the question, how to do this and still be able to look at myself in the mirror afterwards.”
“Indeed. We are on bad ground, my Judicator, we will need to change the nature of the conflict.”
“Yeah, I am worried though, that Jason’s mob might overpower the Outcasts. They’re powerful, but they’re not that powerful.”
“The Outcasts aren’t pushovers. Your time in the sims with them should tell you that much,”
“Yeah I love getting ambushed three to one with the Anomaly hammer.” the words were bitter sarcasm, as the outcasts had learned fast that none of them could take Judicator solo in a fair fight in the sims.
“Trust in that. Imperious adores overt force and grinding his heel on the faces of his enemies. When was the last time Jericho’s merry band of monsters ever made a pretense of fighting fair?”
“That’s the problem. This is going to take careful work to keep from getting out of hand.”
“Then don’t let things get out of hand.”
It was amazing how the confidence of a Goddess could often understate or underestimate the capacity for things to get out of hand.
The Day After Parent’s Day, Whateley Academy
“Thank you,” Natalie said quietly.
“For what?” Liz Carson asked quietly. “Whether you knew it or not, you were part of the Whateley family from the start.”
“For giving my child back to me.”
“You’re the one who got Caitlin back, I just created an opportunity. But we do have to address a few questions.”
“Do you intend to let Miranda continue her education here at Whateley?” Elizabeth Carson looked the younger woman in the eye.
Natalie nodded. “Given circumstances, yeah I think I can do that. But I’m going to move closer. Need to find work while I divorce my husband.”
“Boston has a few places I would be happy to recommend to someone looking for a decent wage. Discretion is required, but to my knowledge, there’s no illegal activity.”
Natalie nodded quietly.
“Why the dark look?”
“Caitlin. I’m worried. I know she’s really an adult, but…”
“Now that you have her back, you don’t want to risk the loss again.” Carson finished quietly.
Natalie nodded again.
“I don’t think you’re in any danger. You haven’t known her long enough to see it recently, but even though Caitlin herself will never, ever admit it, you accepting her back has already caused noticeable changes, both in how she talks and how she carries herself.” Carson looked at Natalie thoughtfully. “It’s only been a day, and I’m told that she’s becoming less painful to be around for our psychic and empathic students by the minute. You did that. You and your youngest.”
“It bugs me, not knowing what she’s been through, She has that stare when she’s not actually engaging.”
“She always will. When I first met your son, he was on the bleeding edge. Teaching calmed him. Being with Cat calmed him more. We almost lost that when the attack happened on Halloween last year. Your child threw his life on the line to protect all of the children here. A few weeks before that he, and six of his baseline friends, beat a so-called “Superhero” nearly to death for injuring a child.”
Carson looked at natalie. “But these aren’t stories Caitlin will ever likely tell. She doesn’t make a habit of bragging, she doesn’t see herself as the hero. Hell, until very recently, quite the opposite. But I promise you, Natalie, the stories she could tell are not stories your, or I, or anyone want to hear. Just accept that she has seen evil, and always show her that there’s something good in the world.”
Natalie nodded. “It’s hard knowing that you don’t know.”
“Yeah, well, maybe I’ll let you look at some of the outcasts’ tamer sims someday. Trust me, your oldest can take care of herself.”
“What do they do in the sims?”
“Combat training for survival, but your daughter, and her friends have gone down a rarely travelled road. They’re on a track that focuses on search and rescue, survival training, rescue operations and humanitarian relief.”
“That’s gotta be interesting with Jack.”
“You have no idea,” Carson said drily.
“So do you have any recommendations for housing and work near Boston? I’d like to see my daughters on the holidays.”
“We’ll go talk to Hartford. Odds are she can dig up something worthwhile. I can’t offer Whateley work, simply because you have no teaching certification, nor experience in any of the fields we work on.”
“I don’t think working here would be best anyway.”
Zack woke up to pain, unfamiliar, searing, unbelievable pain. It was an unbearable sensation stabbing into his brain. He screamed, opening his eyes to too much brightness, and the salty smell of human funk. Vibrations were playing madly across his skin as the head-pounding, unfamiliar sensations of SOUND crashed into his skull.
Zack couldn’t help but cry out, the sound of his own voice like spears in his own ears, as his frantic parents tried to figure out what was wrong, tried to help him. The sound of his mother’s voice ripped through Zack’s Skull and he finally passed out as nathan and Edith Turner panicked in their Hotel room in Dunwich.