Knockoff 2: Fight or Flight (part 2)
A Whateley Academy Tale
Knockoff 2 - Fight or Flight
Thursday, August 31, 2007 - Afternoon
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
The first thing Martina noticed when she got to the top of the steps on her floor was that a crowd was gathered in the second-floor dayroom, and the murmurs among the girls were hushed and sounded quite subdued and serious.
"What's up?" she asked after sidling over near Bethany Anders, who was in a small group with Amanda, Lina, and Pam.
"Didn't you hear?" Pam asked.
"Amy had a burnout," Lina interjected before Pam could reply.
"A bad one," Amanda added. "They took her to the medical center."
Suddenly, Martina's little spat with Christina seemed trivial in comparison. "How is she? Has anyone heard anything?"
"We haven't. But ... it can't be good," Pam said with a wince.
"Ahem," Mrs. Horton cleared her throat, getting the attention of the girls and bringing silence to the gathered group. She had a grim expression on her face as she looked about the room, pausing to meet the gaze of every girl there. Martina gulped - this was not the behavior of someone with good news. "I would like to quash some of the rumors that have been going around," Mrs. Horton announced.
Is Roulette really dead?" Lina asked hesitantly, sounding as worried as she looked.
"Yes, Amy Maguire did have a spontaneous burnout yesterday after lunch, and yes, she's in Doyle Medical Center. Alive." She looked around. "Rumors to the contrary, she is very much alive and in stable condition."
"Do you know when she'll get out?" Lina asked.
"I have been told that she is recovering remarkably quickly, and she will soon be released," the housemother responded. She cut off the words and gasps of surprise.
"I'm surprised they're going to release her so soon," Martina commented. "I mean, burnouts are really serious, so she could have died... I have a hard time believing that she just shook it off so quickly..."
"As I said," Mrs. Horton reminded her. "I can't say any more for reasons of medical privacy."
Alyss' eyes narrowed, reading something in Mrs. Horton's posture or tone of voice or selection of words. "But ...?"
Mrs. Horton sighed, almost like she'd expected and feared getting such a question. "This is not her first burnout. For her safety, the staff needs to understand why this is happening, and also be able to intervene if she should have another. Hawthorne has round-the-clock medical staff, so Amy can be monitored far better than she can here in Poe."
"Does this mean that she's going to have to move to Hawthorne?" Cindy asked the obvious question.
Mrs. Horton nodded somberly. "Yes, that's what it means."
Martina's jaw dropped. "Is it that bad? Are they going to restrict her to a room all the time so she can be constantly monitored? Will she ever get to go out away from the monitoring?"
"I can't tell you anything more about her medical condition," Mrs. Horton sounded truly sorry that she was legally prohibited from telling Amy's friends enough to calm their fears. "But if you hear rumors that she died, please do your best to squelch them. Also, if you hear rumors about her condition, please do not repeat them. We want to deal in facts, not gossip, and I will keep you informed to the extent that I am allowed. I really would rather no-one else knocks on my door asking when the funeral is."
Thursday, August 30, 2007 - After Dinner
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Frustrated with the ongoing harassment from Christina, upset by the news of Amy's burnout, and feeling more than a touch cooped-up, Martina trudged wearily from the room she shared with her antagonist. Over the past day and a half, the Italian hero-wannabe had found a few like-minded freshmen, no doubt because she was a loudmouth and quite vocal about her desire to follow in her fathers 'heroic' footsteps, and also about her disparagement of those whose families were less than upright as she euphemistically put it.
Two of her newfound 'friends' were in their shared room - an English girl named Suzanna Roscoe who had the wizard trait and judging from her attractive appearance, no doubt also an exemplar, albeit a low-level one since in her boasting about her new powers, she never once mentioned any type of super-strength. Suzanna had taken an immediate dislike to Martina, and judging from the hateful expression and deep frown, it was probably due to the fact that, as a regen clone, Martina shared the extremely good looks of her mother and was significantly more attractive than Suzanna giving the girl more than a slight amount of petty jealousy. There was no doubt that with her British accent and looks, Suzanna was going to attract a lot of attention from boys, but her attitude seemed to be that she should get allthe attention. Martina chuckled to herself as she walked down the stairs to the ground floor. She predicted that the English princess was going to have a helluva time dealing with the high-level upperclass exemplars were no doubt at the school.
Maryann Klein was Suzanna's roommate in Dickinson, and like Suzanna, appeared to be a low-level exemplar. Martina guessed she was from Georgia, judging by her accent, and with her long wavy blonde hair and shapely figure, she was sure to charm many of the boys. She was less enthusiastic about being a hero like her roommate and Christina, but she had a disdain of villains since she hailed from a smaller city near Atlanta where two banks and three jewelry stores had been plundered by a gang of villainous mutants. The battle with heroes from Atlanta had caused significant damage in the city before the villains were subdued, and though the damage was primarily from the battle and not the thefts, she and most townspeople blamed the villains. She seemed to be unable to comprehend that had the heroes not appeared, the damage would have been minimal and mostly stolen items.
The three new friends were enthusiastically talking about heroics and their mutual dislike of villains, with more than a few veiled comments and disparaging glances at Martina, as if she'd been the one responsible for her mother's activities.
As she walked toward the exit door, she heard her name being called, and she stopped and turned to see Mrs. Horton striding quickly her way.
"How are things with your roommate?" Mrs. Horton asked.
Martina sighed and shook her head. "Not good. Getting worse, in fact."
"Oh?" Mrs. Horton gestured toward her apartment. "Would you like to come and tell me about it in private?"
"Cookies?" Martina asked, raising her eyebrows.
Mrs. Horton chuckled. "Don't tell others about my little conversation-starting secret." She led Martina to her apartment, to an enticing aroma of fresh-baked cookies.
"Now, what's going on?" Mrs. Horton asked after fetching a plate of cookies and some iced tea, which she set on a coffee table.
The girl took a bite of the hot, fresh chocolate-chip cookie. "Nothing threatening," she began, "but she's found some like-minded girls and they're using our room as 'villain-hating central'."
"So it's mostly verbal harassment?"
Martina nodded. "More like verbal bullying, if you ask me." She took another big bite of cookie. "Isn't there somewhere you can move me? Even one of the unfinished rooms? That'd be better than rooming with all of Christina's bull-stuff." She almost used a different phrase that she would have used around her mother, but caught herself just in time. Setup had told Martina that she had to watch her language and manners around the housemother and faculty and staff.
Mrs. Horton's eyebrows rose as Martina spoke, and then she smiled faintly when the girl caught herself. "I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do right now. The administration has very strictly forbidden any occupancy of the unfinished wings because of potential hazards, and even if there was a place, I can't move you until all the registration and residency data is in the school database."
Martina sighed heavily. "Well, I guess I'll put up with it." She shrugged. "But don't be surprised if some mornings you find me sleeping on a couch in the lounge."
"We won't let it come to that," Mrs. Horton said solemnly. "If I had a vacant room, I'd let you use that temporarily until we could get some formal rearranging, but ...."
"I know," Martina replied softly. "Thanks for the cookie." She stood up abruptly. "I'm going to walk around and do a little exploring."
Mrs. Horton likewise stood up. "Remember, don't go outside the boundaries or in the restricted areas. They're marked so they're visible even on a moonless night."
"Okay," Martina replied with the typical nonchalance of a teen who wasn't really listening.
"Martina, I'm serious," Mrs. Horton shot back, having understood Martina's tone. "There are some very dangerous things in the restricted areas and outside the school boundaries. I want you to promise me you won't cross the boundaries or go into restricted areas!"
Martina gulped - she realized that Mrs. Horton was deadly serious. "I promise," she managed to squeak, wondering why things were restricted but also knowing that she'd keep her word. Her mom had taught her the importance of keeping promises.
The girl gave casual greetings to the Poesies who were gathered in the lobby, then stepped into the encroaching evening twilight. In comparison to the late-August weather to which Martina was accustomed, the altitude and latitude combined to make the late afternoon already cool. Consequently there weren't many students out in the entrance courtyards, spaces enclosed on three sides by the building and on the fourth by neatly-trimmed lilac hedges that joined over an arch, at least on the side opposite where the freshmen had gathered only days before.
Funny, the girl thought to herself - that seemed like it was weeks ago, not days. Of course, much of that was caused by her less-than-friendly roommate. What she needed was some way to relax, like the backpacking and hiking she'd done so frequently with her mother. Unfortunately, they weren't permitted off the greater campus grounds, those areas within the campus property but outside the informal boundaries of the core campus buildings. The mountains surrounding campus looked so inviting, making the prohibition all the more painful.
But she could get a better view from aloft, Martina suddenly thought. If she could overcome her aversion to heights, an irony for a mutant with flight powers. Maybe she could kill two birds with one stone - she could go flying, within the campus boundaries, of course, and at the same time, get a better lay of the land. Perhaps there were areas close to campus that weren't strictly off-limits.
Her meandering path eventually led her behind Holbrook Arena, to a large clearing in the wooded terrain. Through the trees in the twilight, it looked like there was some type of encampment, and the smell of a wood fire confirmed that the area was used for some purpose, although it hadn't been marked on the maps she'd seen. Since her mother had noted that some clubs had private clubhouses and meeting areas, perhaps it was the private area of a club, in which case she might not be welcome. One screaming Italian bitch being angry at her for something over which Martina had no control was one too many; she didn't need to add to an enemies list.
After confirming that there weren't any others around, Martina hesitantly lifted herself off the ground and took flight. Slowly, she rose to treetop height, circling in the clearing while scanning for anyone below. Certain that she was alone, she rose higher and broadened her circle away from the arena, spiraling upward slowly as she scanned the terrain.
The encampment she'd seen earlier was clearer from overhead. There were three structures - a tipi, a long rectangular building, and some type of small dome, but in the fading light, it was hard to make out more details. Having heard of a Native American club on campus, she quickly surmised that this was their clubhouse and camping area, which was too bad because the area would have been ideal for introducing her friends to the joys of outdoor life. Still, there were other meadows in the area, including a few nestled on the rising hills. She dared not venture further from the arena, since it wasn't clear where the boundaries were and she didn't want to get in trouble.
"Excuse me!" a male voice called out sharply from above and behind Martina, startling her to the point she lost concentration on flying as she looked over her shoulder to see who - or what - had called out and surprised her. Almost instantly, her body began to tumble. Instinctively, the girl pressed out with her PK force to catch herself, but as she had no visual reference in the darkness, she somersaulted and cartwheeled through the sky, and her own force was making her situation worse.
After what seemed an eternity, but in reality was only a couple of seconds, arms latched around her waist and stopped her uncontrolled freefall.
"Freshman and new to flying, right?" the young man chuckled.
"Yeah," she admitted meekly. "I had it under control," she protested.
The boy chuckled. "Considering how easily you were startled and totally lost your spatial orientation, I don't think so."
She scowled, an expression that was useless in the darkness. "I did evasive flying when a villain was throwing big chunks of engine at me."
"Yes," she admitted with a grumble.
"Figures. You had the sun and a visible horizon as references."
Martina quickly grasped that the boy's hold was likely too strong for her to escape, not that she wanted to at that particular point. But when she saw discerned that they were flying toward Kane, she considered how she could escape. "Why don't you just let me down, and I promise I'll walk back to Poe?"
Another chuckle from the boy. "Another Poesie, huh? I'll help you explain your infraction to Mrs. Horton, then."
"Are you ... from Poe, too?"
"Hank Declan. I go by Lancer. I'm a security auxiliary, and I got overflight duty tonight." He chuckled. "You're lucky I'm the one on duty on this side of campus and not someone who gets really cranky if they catch someone breaking the rules."
"Oh, joy. I can't believe my luck," Martina countered sarcastically. When she got no response, she shrugged. "Martina. Martina Hughes."
"Ah," Hank chuckled. "You're Setup's daughter, right?" Sensing her surprise when her body stiffened, he continued. "We got a security briefing. Security and the auxiliaries need to know who might have troubles due to their parents' ... occupations."
"Yeah," Martina snorted, "it's not like I haven't already had my share with my roommate, the Italian hero wannabe the Blue Bitch."
Hank set down outside Kane, and with no other options, Martina shrugged and walked into the building, then followed the signs to the security office.
"Got a freshman flier," Hank said to a woman who was sitting behind a huge desk with a ton of video monitors on and around it.
"Another one?" the woman asked. "Just had one brought in from the lake area. Must be something about bats flying under a full moon," she joked, although she didn't elicit anything but a soft groan from Hank at her feeble humor.
"Who's on duty?"
"Trout." She glanced at Martina. "Wait over there until the Lieutenant is back."
"He's out?" Hank asked, surprised.
"Disturbance over in Twain," the woman said disinterestedly. "The usual."
Hank pointed to the waiting area, where a boy was sitting looking totally bored. "If you need anything, ask, and they'll call me."
"You said you were going to walk me home," Martina said with a feigned seductive pout.
Hank laughed aloud. "I said I'd help explain to Mrs. Horton." With that, he walked away.
Martina shrugged and walked to the waiting area, a small nook with a half dozen institutional waiting-room chairs, and a couple of magazine racks, no doubt filled with outdated magazines that would be of zero interest to a teenager. She slumped into a chair. "What are you in for?" she asked conversationally.
The boy studied her for a few seconds, his face devoid of expression. "Hijacking a seven-forty-seven," he deadpanned. "You?"
"They didn't like me buzzing the control tower," Martina shot back without missing a beat. "Martina Hughes."
"Todd Dixon. I take it you got bored, too?"
"Had to get away from my roommate and her bitchy unpleasantness," Martina explained. She dared not go further in explaining the source of the frustration; no sense taking a chance that this boy, too, would frown on her mother's occupation.
After a few minutes of chat with Todd, the security lieutenant returned. His foul mood was no doubt fueled by a frustrating evening, and consequently, he gave the two students a blistering dressing-down about how many rules they violated by flying without permission, flying without the requisite training, violating flight ceiling limits, and on and on, finally ending with violating curfew. Martina bit her tongue to avoid sarcastically explaining that the only reason they were out after curfew was that he was keeping them from returning to their cottages. Todd, however, was not so restrained, and he got a little extra lecture from Lieutenant Trout.
After far too long being harangued by the angry security lieutenant, the two finally strode out into the crisp evening air. "Walk you home?" Todd offered. "What cottage are you in?"
"Poe. Probably opposite direction from your cottage." She smiled at how he was trying to be friendly but in a shy, non-pickup-artist sort of way. "Besides, the cop who busted me promised to explain things to my parole officer," she joked.
"You always this sassy?" Todd asked with a grin. "Because if you are, I like it." He sensed rather than saw Martina stiffen and instantly knew that his words could easily have been misinterpreted. "Oh, no, it's not like that! I'm not trying to pick you up. I've already got a girlfriend."
"Oh?" For some odd reason, that bit of news was a little disappointing to Martina, but Todd's friendliness suggested that she might be developing a circle of friends.
Todd winced. "Well, I hope she'll be my girlfriend. Kiera. She's ... kind of playing hard-to-get." A big sloppy grin spread over his face. "She's a very cute Irish redhead. I was hoping you were in Dickinson, so I'd have an excuse to see if I could talk to her on the way back to Emerson."
"Sorry. No can help."
"Well, maybe if you need to escape the wicked witch of Italy, you could eat with me and my friends tomorrow."
"I'll think about it," Martina smiled. "But ..." she winced, "I have to tell you something before ... well," She grimaced. "The reason my roommate hates me is because she wants to be a hero like her dad, and Mom ... well, she's ... her job is kind of the opposite."
Todd thought a moment, and then his eyes widened as he grasped what Martina was hinting at. "You mean, like, she's a villain?" A huge grin spread over his face. "Cool!"
"Well, she's not a typical villain. More like a freelancer. She sometimes does contract jobs for security agencies," Martina explained cautiously.
"And your mom's choice of career is a problem why?" Todd asked.
"I kind of draw some bad attention."
"Good!" Todd grinned. "More people me and my roommate can tell to fuck off! I'm trying to prove to Darby - he's British - that Americans can be just as creative at insulting idiots. Tomorrow's theme is imaginative ways to tell people to copulate themselves in highly unnatural and creative ways."
Martina laughed - Todd was just the kind of kid she needed to break the tension of rooming with the blue bitch. "If that's the goal, I wouldn't miss it! I guess I'll see you start at breakfast then."
Friday, August 31, 2007 - Early Morning
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
Though she was awake, Martina feigned sleep to avoid a scene with her unpleasant self-righteous roommate, allowing Christina to start her morning ablutions while Martina had a little snark-free rest. Eventually, though, she figured she should get out of bed and get ready to swap places with the Italian so she could shower in peace while Christina got dressed for breakfast.
"Glad to see you decided to join us today," one of the boys commented loudly enough that Martina could hear from the opposite end of the hallway. She turned toward the disturbance and saw Danny stopping mid-stride toward the boys' bathroom, while a couple of the gay boys teased him with more than a little bit of lustful appreciation in their voices.
Danny looked at them, then turned and glanced toward the girls' wing. Martina gave him a faint smile and a shrug; had it been someone like Cindy, the invitation to change and use the girls' facilities would had even more blatant sexual overtones. With a heavy sigh, symptomatic of the dilemma Danny was likely going to face every day, he turned, and as he trudged down the hall, his body flowed like thick syrup until it was Danica, in the cat-girl form, wearing an ill-fitting robe that despite hanging like a sack over her body, nonetheless failed to hide some very feminine curves on the transformed boy.
With a sympathetic expression, Martina waited, and then fell in beside Danica entering the bathroom. "Don't know if this is going to be any better," Danica muttered.
"Yeah, Cindy can be a bit ... over-enthusiastic," Martina agreed.
"It'd help if I looked just average as a boy or like this, as a girl," Danica observed dryly.
"If it helps," Martina said with a smile, "I promise I won't hit on you."
"What about when I'm a boy?" Danny asked almost hopefully.
"Don't know," Martina replied.
"I'd rather you spent all your time like this," Cindy, standing at a sink, said with a sultry voice.
"Like I said," Danica commented to Martina, "I don't know which is worse."
Christina glared at Martina as she passed her on her way out of the bathroom, leaving Martina shaking her head. "You want to trade problems?"
Friday, August 31, 2007 - Early Morning
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
"Aren't you going to eat with us?" Alyss asked as Martina turned a different direction after checking out with her breakfast.
"Not this morning," Martina replied. "I was invited to have breakfast with another group."
"Oooohhh! Who is he?" one of the girls teased.
Martina rolled her eyes. "He has a girlfriend already. Anyway, I met him in security last night."
"In security? Is Christina onto something?"
Martina responded like a mature adult with a raspberry. "For your information, I was out flying last night, apparently against the rules, so I got hauled to security for a lecture. He was doing the same."
"Well, we'll see you later then."
With that, Martina went one way, while her Poe friends went another. It took her a few moments to spot Todd sitting at a table with a small group. As she neared the table, Todd spotted her and waved.
As Martina seated herself at a space which the group had vacated specifically to make room for her, Todd greeted her enthusiastically. "Glad you decided to join us."
"After last night, I had to see if you were kidding about your friends' snark powers," Martina chuckled.
"Snark is our specialty," one of the girls said, and given her accent, Martina would have placed her as Irish in origin.
"I'm Martina Hughes. I'm a freshman from Poe Cottage. I grew up mainly in Phoenix, although Mom and I moved around a bunch."
"Kiera Ó Comhraidhe," the girl replied. "I'm Irish, from County Cork."
"Any power besides snark-fu?" Martina asked.
"I'm an avatar, and me spirit, well, I call him me little leprechaun," Kiera replied. "I don't think it's a real leprechaun, but it sounds good, especially to Americans." She gestured to her right, to another girl. "Me roommate, Christine Spijker, from the Netherlands."
Martina's eyes narrowed a bit at the name, then her expression eased. "I thought you were going to say Christina. That's the name of my obnoxious Italian roommate, and my nemesis. Christine, though, I can deal with."
Christine smiled. "I'm not Italian, and most people call me Chris. I'm from Eindhoven, in the Netherlands."
"Wait," Martina frowned. "I've heard of that somewhere."
"There was a major battle in the second world war," Christine answered. "American airborne divisions and British tanks drove out the Nazis. Oh, and I'm a healer and low-level telepath."
One of the girls was wearing a large pair of sunglasses as she sat quietly. "I'm Marjorie," she introduced herself simply. "But I go by Jori. I'm a siren."
"Tell her the rest," Kiera urged the girl.
Marjorie sighed. "Okay." She pulled off her sunglasses, revealing very large eyes with darker skin surrounding them, almost like tattoos. "I've got a little GSD."
"She looks like a cute little bush baby," Kiera interjected. "Her night vision is superb, and her hearing is probably ten times ours."
Wincing from what to her was very bright light of a normal day, Jori pulled her sunglasses back on. "I can jump almost twenty feet, and my body can absorb landings from a height that would kill a normal person. My roommate is Elle Ruud. She's Norwegian, and a Sidhe. Don't call her an elf, by the way. She doesn't like it. None of the Sidhe do."
"Darby Danniel," the next of the kids said. "I'm from Cornwall."
"And he overdoes the accent, thinking that it drives American girls crazy," Kiera chuckled.
"I do not overdo the accent," Darby protested.
"He's a devisor, so if we're talking and he zones out," Christine added, "it's because he's got a big idea and is obsessing over how to make it. So, what's the big secret that Todd was hinting about?" Jori asked bluntly.
Martina winced, then shot a disapproving frown to the boy. "Mom, well," she said hesitantly, "mom's job is not always above board."
"Like ... is she a villain?" Kiera asked with an eagerness that surprised Martina.
"Her mother is a notorious and dangerous villain," a snarky voice came from an uninvited interloper, standing with two other girls by the table. "Isn't that right, Martina? Your mom is a wicked, evil villain!"
"And you are ...?" Jori practically demanded.
"Striatura Blu. My father is a famous hero in Italy. You have probably heard of him, no? But ... I have to room with this ... villain!" the Italian girl spat.
"It's fitting that you're from Italy," Kiera said with a wicked grin. She waited for the Italian girl's expression to show curiosity at what Kiera was implying. "Italy is shaped like a giant boot, just like the one up your ass!"
Christina Volante started, her jaw dropping in surprise, then a look of pure hatred and anger replaced the shock. "You'll learn how wrong it is to associate with villains!" she spat before turning and stomping off, her two compatriots behind her.
"Ooohh, burn!" Chris purred her approval. She looked around the table. "I give it an 8.5."
The others chimed in scores, as if they were judging an Olympic event. When it came to Darby, he produced a little display board on a short rod that he'd had folded up somewhere. Somberly, he held up the board which had numbers on it, pivoting it so everyone could see. "Eight point eight," the numbers showed, just like at a judged sporting event. Martina couldn't help but chuckle at his formal display in their silly game.
"Martina?" Todd asked when the others had given their scores. "You're in this too. She was dissing you, not us."
Martina looked around the table, and saw encouraging nods and smiles from the others, which made her feel all warm inside knowing that she'd found some new friends. "Um, based on what I've heard from Mom over the years, I'd say a solid nine point zero."
Kiera feigned shock at the score from Martina. "Nine? Only nine?"
A look of apologetic worry flitted onto Martina's features. "Sorry, but Mom is a master of witty comebacks. She kind of set the bar high. And there's someone Mom knows who she claims makes her rejoinders look like those of a kindergartner."
"Oh? If she's that good, we are going to have to meet her to get some tips so we can up our game!" Todd chuckled.
"She said she'll be here for Parents' Day," Martina replied happily. "But the one she said is a master is actually a teacher here on campus. And art teacher. Imp. I'm signed up for one of her classes."
"Really? Which period?"
"First period. I've got flight class before breakfast."
"I'm in first-period art, too!" Jori exclaimed delightedly. "Me and Dosi. Her full name is Theododosia, but she goes by Dosi."
Chris looked around, then somberly looked at Todd and Darby. "Join us, and together we can outsnark the world," she said, hand cupped over her mouth to try to add depth and reverberation. "It is your destiny!"
Among the giggling laughter, Martina knew she'd found a group she was definitely going to get along with. Now if only they enjoyed camping, too.
Friday, August 31, 2007 - Afternoon
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
It seemed that Mrs. Horton had been watching for Martina, for no sooner did she walk into the cottage than Mrs. Horton called out to her. "Martina, a word, please."
Startled that the housemother was seemed to have been waiting and needed to speak to her, Martina followed Mrs. Horton into her apartment. Unlike most times, Mrs. Horton shut her apartment door to ensure privacy. "I would prefer that Amy hadn't been reassigned to Hawthorne," she began, "but this does allow us to solve your problem."
"My problem?" Martina goggled, still not comprehending.
"Alyss has a single. She's amenable to a roommate. So I've got you reassigned to room with her."
"But ... you said ... the bureaucracy ...."
"Pfft! Instead of having to wait for the bureaucrats and rule-makers to get all their ducks in a row and then filling out their seventeen forms and fifteen justification letters, let them catch up to what we need to do for once," Mrs. Horton said with more than a hint of satisfaction in her voice. "They should have never made that room assignment, so let them deal with the consequences of me straightening out their mess for them."
"But ... I was told it'd be a big mess to move, and there's no ...." Martina trailed off. Of course there was now room with Amy gone. "What does Alyss think?" Martina started to consider her options. She had a roommate who was a first-class snobby bitch and hated her because of her mother. But Alyss - there was something odd about the small girl, almost creepy. She carried off the Goth Lolita look well, perhaps too well, and when she spoke, though her voice was that of a pre-teen girl, her words and tone of voice didn't fit, not even with the Goth look. Another person who was an enigma. The school seemed full of such types.
"What are you thinking?" Mrs. Horton brought Martina back to reality.
"Just ... Mom told me the school was full of interesting people. I was just thinking of how many people I'd already met who were ... enigmatic, or inscrutable, or mysterious ...."
"Or just plain strange?" Mrs. Horton prompted.
Martina chuckled. "I hate to think of admitting to her that she was right - at least on that count."
"I promise I won't tell her," Mrs. Horton chuckled. "And as far as Alyss is concerned, she's okay with it. To be honest, I don't think she likes Christina's attitude any more than you do."
"But ... Mom? Her job? Her ... reputation?"
"I don't think Alyss would care one way or the other, but her reasoning is not for me to say."
"Okay, I guess if she's alright with it, I'm ready to move."
Mrs. Horton summoned Angel, who helped Martina code the lock on her new room to her fingerprints, then she found a few people just hanging around and drafted them to help Martina move.
Unfortunately for Martina, the Italian menace was in their room. No sooner did Martina start to pack than Christina grinned triumphantly. "I knew this school wasn't a place for a villain's daughter! I'm glad they're kicking you out."
Martina was about to reply when Alyss put her hand on Martina's arm. "Oh, they're not kicking her out. She's just moving in with a roommate who isn't a stuck-up bitch with a pissy attitude and her head up her ass. Pardon my French."
"Not bad," Martina smirked. "I'll give it a seven point eight."
Her jaw clenched tightly as she tried to come up with some snappy comeback and failing, Christina turned angrily back to the book she was reading, ignoring Martina, Alyss, and the other helpers. With Angel, Hank, Danny, and Jade helping, most of Martina's stuff was carried in the first load.
Once in the hallway, Alyss glanced at Martina. "What's with the seven point eight number thing?"
Martina laughed. "I had breakfast and lunch with a new group. I met one of them flying last night. Well, not flying, but in security, because we were both in trouble for breaking a lot of rules flying. Anyway, Todd invited me to join his friends for breakfast, and they do a thing where they score snarky comebacks, witty rejoinders, and clever insults."
Alyss' eyes raised. "Only seven point eight?"
Martina laughed aloud. "It was good, but not world-class. Todd's trying to set up a snarky-comment class with a teacher Mom said is a champion at clever and cutting comebacks. Interested?"
"Not really my thing, even though it does sound interesting."
After the second, smaller load was moved, Angel canceled Martina's access to her older room, an action to which Christina practically chortled with glee. Without a word, Angel closed the door, perhaps a little hard, with an audible 'oops' that didn't sound genuine.
After dropping off Martina's remaining belongings, Angel wrapped her arm around Danny, saying 'thank you' as she clutched him tightly.
"She got a thing for younger men?" Martina asked as Alyss helped her put her belongings away.
"From what I hear, she's allergic to boys," Alyss replied. "Can't touch them."
"But Danny ...."
"Is part-time girl, and apparently, his avatar spirit is female. So he's the first boy she could hug in years. From what I've seen, she hugs him every chance she gets."
"So ... she's kind of into him?"
"Hardly," Alyss snorted. "Angel is very firmly in the sisterhood. It's just that she missed hugging some of her male relatives. Danny is a good stand-in."
"Makes sense." She carefully hung up her uniforms, then turned to Alyss. "Are you sure you're okay with this?"
"Don't worry. I've got a ... relative ... that's a villain. Doesn't make me evil, just like your mom being a villain doesn't make you evil. Anyone who can't see that is pretty damned stupid," Alyss added forcefully. "Pardon the French." She looked at a light backpack that Martina was shoving under her bed. "Camping?"
Martina glanced at the backpack, then smiled at Alyss. "Mom and I did a ton of backpacking as I was growing up. Sometimes a week or two at a time."
"Kind of a small backpack, isn't it?"
Martina laughed. "Believe it or not, this is a lot bigger than I needed for most of our camping trips. Mom is into ultra-light, high-adventure, survivalist type of camping. Sometimes we'd go for a weekend with nothing but what was in our pockets. You should try it some time - it's fun!"
"No thanks. You don't try to get me living on twigs and berries and shivering under the stars, and I won't try to get you turning a greasy wrench under the hood of a car!" Alyss laughed.
"I think we'll get along just fine," Martina chuckled.
Saturday, September 1, 2007 - Mid Morning
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
Like many of the Poe freshmen girls, Martina really didn't catch much of Mrs. Carson's introductory speech because Danny reluctantly changed to his cat-girl form to help the girl called Downpour to feel less depressed. Most of the lesbian girls were either ogling Danica or murmuring among themselves about just how hot the cat-girl was and what they'd like to do with her. The changelings like Martina and Alyss also had a hard time focusing on the speeches because many of the comments were quite amusing and thus distracting.
As soon as the speeches and orientation lectures were done, there was a near-stampede by all the students to leave the arena. The Alphas had organized a 'meet the clubs' event with table displays and introductions by all the various campus clubs, it was a very nice day, and the Alphas had talked the administration into letting them run a mass hot-dog and hamburger picnic lunch. Martina followed the Poe crowd to the quad, even as it was separating and stratifying into existing little cliques, of which Martina really wasn't a member.
Martina spotted Danica moving slowly through the crowd, watching around himself. "Hey, Danica," Martina called out, which caused the kitty-girl to jump nervously.
"Oh, hi, Martina," Danica replied.
"You look nervous."
Danica was still glancing around but she nodded. "Yeah. I'm trying to avoid Cindy and the girls and their 'pet the kitty-cat' attitude." She sighed. "Not that it's all bad, but ...."
"Yeah, I get it."
"And I'm trying to avoid Dump Truck and his gang of thugs," Danica added, "though they haven't figured out that I'm really Danny. And I'm especially trying to avoid Wondercute!"
"Good luck with that!" Martina chuckled.
Danica winced. "I wish they'd leave me alone!"
From behind them, a voice boomed out, "Is something wrong?" Both spun and came face-to-chest with a towering figure smiling down at them.
"Oh, hey, um, er," Danica stammered, trying to recall a name. "Um ..."
"Wyatt Cody," the big guy chuckled. "Something bugging you that is distracting you so much?"
"It's been pretty stressful so far," Danica mumbled.
"Martina!" a girl's accented voice called out, causing her to turn.
It was hard to see through the milling, slowly-migrating crowd, but eventually Martina saw the Kiera pushing her way through the crowd, with two other girls at her heels. "Morning!" Martina called out to her new friend.
"You want to check things out with us?" Kiera asked, alternating her gaze between Wyatt and Danica.
"Yeah," she replied. "Oh, Danica, this is Kiera Ó Comhraidhe and Chris Spijker. And ...?"
Chris chuckled. "You haven't met my roommate yet, have you?" She turned to a very attractive girl with pale complexion and hair that glistened white with a few iridescent blue streaks, and pointed elf-ears sticking out through her hair.
"Hi," the white-haired girl said with a smile. "I'm Elle Ruud. Chris told me about you and the little pest from Italy that bothers you."
Martina laughed, while Danica goggled. "Yeah, she is that. Martina Hughes. This is my friend Danica from Poe, and this is Wyatt somebody-or-other that apparently knows Danica even though she doesn't exactly remember him."
"Like any girl could forget him!" Chris laughed, wagging her eyebrows at the large, attractive boy.
Wyatt grinned. "Nice to meet you, too," he said with a chuckle, "but please don't drool. It looks unseemly, and besides, I'm taken."
Chris and Kiera laughed, while Elle gave them a curious look. "Can't blame a girl for looking, though, can you?" Chris chuckled.
"Danica's older sister is a friend of mine," Wyatt explained. "I've got to talk to him about something important and private, so...."
Kiera got the hint. "Come on, girls," she said, taking Martina's elbow in one hand and Elle's in the other. "Let's go find the rest of the gang, then we can get some lunch and look around. Nice to meet you, Danica, Wyatt."
It seemed to Martina that Kiera was the leader of the group, which wasn't any problem for Martina. She could lead a group if necessary, but preferred to stay out of the limelight.
Around the quad, various tables were set up and the clubs were displaying items of interest. Near Schuster Hall, at the edge of the quad, several cars were on display, no doubt the Gearheads that Lanie and Kayda had talked about in Poe. Working on cars didn't excite Martina in the least, and she was glad none of the other girls had an interest in grease and wrenches either.
"Hey, what's that?" Elle asked, staring at a gathering of people away from the sidewalk. The girls wandered over, nudging their way through a crowd so they could see what the attraction was. "Martial arts club?" Elle asked, stating the obvious since the club members were clad in gis with dragons embroidered on the top with the tail wrapping down an arm. In one area were some strange-looking martial arts weapons, while in another area, two of the club members sparred, while in a third, a few were doing some kind of complicated kata.
"Those things look weird," one boy said, looking in particular at one that looked like a weighted chain with a miniature sickle on the end of it.
"These are some of the older, less widely known weapons of Chinese martial arts," the club member near the weapons said. "Because they're not common, finding a teacher to instruct in their use is almost impossible. They're very difficult to learn."
"How long does it take to master them?" the boy asked.
"Oh look, Nikki," a lithe dark-skinned girl said as she practically bounced through the crowd. Accompanying her was an extraordinarily beautiful redhead with the same elfin ears that Elle had. "The Dragons brought some new toys."
"Not now, Toni!" the elfin girl practically pleaded.
"But he wanted to know how long it takes to master!" the black girl responded. Without any invitation, she bounded, bounced, cartwheeled, and flipped in impossible ways through the crowd and picked up the weapon in question.
"You can't ...," the Dragon member started to say, but he was cut off when he had to back away as the girl began to experimentally swing the weapon. While a bit stiff and clumsy at first, her movements grew more fluid, until she was practically dancing, the weapon moving in complicated, graceful arcs while she turned, kicked, cartwheeled, and generally did moves most of the spectators thought were impossible.
After a few minutes, in which she drew practically all the attention, she flicked out her hand and caught the handle, then put the weapon down. "Interesting toy," she said, then she looked up. "How long, Nikki?"
The redhead sighed and looked at her watch. "Two minutes, thirty-eight seconds."
Toni turned to the boy who'd been curious. "Less than three minutes," she said with a smug smile. With the others goggling slack-jawed at her, she strode confidently back to her redheaded friend and sauntered through the crowd like what she'd done was nothing out of the ordinary. "Let's go find Ayles. I'm sure he's got some good food instead of these lousy hot-dogs," she was heard to say as they two walked happily away.
Everyone turned back to the Dragon club member, who was gawking as much as the crowd was. "Um," he stammered, "Toni has a special ... gift ... for martial arts. Please do not try that at home."
As the girls wandered away from the Dragons demonstrations, Kiera looked at Elle. "That redhead - Nikki? Was it my imagination, or was she looking at you kind of strangely?"
Elle shook her head, sending her white hair cascading around her shoulders. "I don't think it was your imagination. And ... there's something familiar about her."
"You know her?" Chris asked in surprise.
"No," Elle said, shaking her head again. "But ... there's something that I feel like I should know."
Kiera cocked an eyebrow. "She was looking at you like she knows you."
Soon, Darby, his roommate Todd, the Greek girl Dosi, and Jori joined them and they stopped for hot-dogs before continuing to meander around, eating as they walked and talked.
A small crowd was huddled around a table, and from the sound of it, there was an overly-exuberant discussion going on at the table. Naturally, they started to move that way, but then Elle grabbed Chris' arm. "Let's not see what's there."
Frowning, Chris looked at her, as did the others. "Why not?"
Elle wrinkled her nose. "It sounds like some kind of science fiction club. Or similar. They're having a rather heated argument about the best movie or television series - Star Trek, Star Wars, and a few who are yelling about Dr. Who."
Kiera frowned. "How can you tell?"
"Worse, the Star Trek fans are arguing about which television series was the best!" She shook her head in disgust.
"I can't make out what they're talking about," Darby added for good measure.
Elle rolled her eyes, then pointed at one of her ears, as if the answer should be obvious.
"Um, yeah," Martina agreed very quickly, trying to steer the group away from that area. "Some of my old friends were science-fiction geeks. Let's not get into the middle of that."
"Why not?" Chris asked, puzzled.
"Because number one, they won't be interested in anything but science fiction. Number two, being girls around them - well, it won't be pretty. Third, even being seen with the group could get us tagged as sci-fi geeks, and in some groups, sci-fi fanatics are not exactly social butterflies."
"I don't know," Kiera cast doubts on Martina's assertions. "Some of me friends enjoyed the Star Trek movies, and that didn't hurt them socially."
"Did they go to science fiction conventions?" Martina asked. "Did they make science fiction costumes? Did they stand in the middle of the school arguing about whether Kirk was a better captain than Picard?"
"Um, no," Elle admitted. "Okay, let's go see what else is around."
As they approached yet another table, it was Todd's turn to stop the group. "Martina, Italian bitch dead ahead."
"Eep!"Martina flinched. "Thanks," she added when she spotted the unpleasant Italian ex-roommate.
"What group is that?" Dosi asked out of curiosity.
"My guess would be the Capes," Martina answered. Seeing the looks of confusion, she continued. "The Future Superheroes of America. The Capes. Mom called them the Spandex Crew. And a lot of other names." She shook her head. "According to Mom, a lot of them are self-righteous egotistical nut-jobs."
"Hey!" The voice was only too familiar to Martina.
"Too late," Martina sighed. "She spotted me."
"I had to room with her! And her mom is a notorious villain!" Christina Volante called out, tugging at the spandex uniform of one of the older Capes. "They won't kick her out, so we need to watch her, to be certain she's not up to villainy and evil!"
"Good God!" Kiera shook her head and rolled her eyes. "Where in the hell does she get her dialog? Rejected scripts from B-movies? Saturday cartoons?"
With her two friends Suzanna and Maryann, Christina gently tugged two of the older Cape girls to follow her to confront Martina, one dressed in a garish stars-and-stripes cheerleader-style outfit, and the other tall, solidly yet attractively built, with deep green eyes and red hair. The two friends seemed to be looking more at the physiques of the older male Capes than listening to their spiel.
"Oh, great! Y'know ye are spoilin' the entire Irish image with the green eyes and red hair and such an awful outfit!" Kiera said to the taller girl. "Please tell me you're not from the Emerald Isle!"
"I have Irish ancestors," the taller girl said. "I take it you're from Ireland?" She extended her hand toward Kiera. "Erin Manley, and my code name is Boudacia."
Kiera shook her hand. "Kiera Ó Comhraidhe." She looked over the girl with a cocked head, hands on hips, looking a little frustrated or possibly disdainful. "Now why on Earth would a girl with ancestors in Ireland take the name of a British Celt? Have ye no loyalty to your ancestral lands?"
"At least she's a Celt," Erin defended herself.
"But a Brit?" Kiera shook her head. "And the next thing you're going to tell me is that your fifteen-times great grandmother had a child by Cromwell!"
"She's hanging out with a known villain!" Christina Volante interrupted. "She's Setup's daughter! Like mother, like daughter! She's probably already hired her - and all of these with her - as minions!" she protested angrily.
"Hey," Darby cut in indignantly. "I'm nobody's minion!"
"And even if I was a villain, which I'm not, I wouldn't want minions!" Martina retorted.
"What? You wouldn't hire your friends as minions and co-conspirators?" Chris asked with feigned hurt in her voice.
"I've heard someone say that minions are more trouble than they're worth," Martina countered. "Nothing personal," she added with a grin.
The Italian girl glared at him. "You'll be under her control soon enough, then! Villains always corrupt those around them!"
"Oh, good grief!" Todd exclaimed, rolling his eyes. "Let's get out of here before whatever brain-melting parasitic infection causing the insanity which afflicts this loon rubs off on us!"
"Agreed." "Yeah." "Sure." The others concurred almost immediately.
Kiera glanced back at Erin. "Is there, by chance, a club for sons and daughters of Éire?"
Boudacia shook her head in the negative. "Not unless it's a super-secret club."
Kiera shrugged, and the small herd moved on. They passed by a display by a modeling club called Venus Inc, where one of the club members was the gorgeous elfin redhead. Once more, she gazed firmly at Elle. This time, though, she came toward the Norwegian girl.
"You look familiar," she said without much doubt in her voice. "You are ... one of the nine?"
A puzzling scowl formed on Elle's delicate features. "Nine - what?" She shook her head. "Do I know you?"
"Nikki Riley," the girl introduced herself with a sudden change to a friendly smile and warm attitude. "I'm Sidhe, like you."
"Elle Ruud," the Norwegian girl introduced herself to Nikki.
"Are you, by chance, an avatar?" Nikki asked curiously.
"Yes," Elle replied.
Suddenly, Nikki's eyes widened in surprise, then narrowed as she focused on the girl. "Your spirit - is she Sidhe? A female spirit? Aesgloweth?"
Elle started, but then shook her head. "I don't think so," she lied.
"Does the phrase 'seventh of the nine queens' mean anything to you?" Nikki asked, confident that she already knew the answer. "Or Queen of the Ice Realm?"
Elle shook her head more firmly. "I have no idea what you're talking about. All I know is my spirit is ancient, from some elfin race, and the testers said my power is playing with snow and ice. As an energizer. And a little bit of magic."
"I'm sorry to have upset you," Nikki apologized quickly. "Sometimes, I have shadowy fragments of memories, and ... I could swear I've seen you before."
"I need to catch up to my friends," Elle excused herself.
"If you do have any memories of the Sidhe, I would like to talk with you about them." She smiled. "And you might consider Venus Inc. I think you have the looks for it." Nikki touched her ears lightly. "Then again, I might be biased toward other Sidhe."
Elle hastened to catch up to her group.
"What was that all about?" Darby asked curiously. "You going to try out for the modeling club?"
Elle shook her head. "No. Nikki said she thought she recognized me from my spirit, so she had some questions. Anyone up for another hot dog?" she asked to change the subject.
Near them, having followed from Martina's encounter with the Italian bitch and FSHA, a white-haired girl watched Martina, listening closely to what the group was discussing. What she'd overheard the Italian girl venomously yelling at Martina only confirmed what she already believed. Now she needed to wait for a moment to talk to the girl.
"You know," Martina commented as the group meandered around the tables, "we could be a min-UN." She grinned. "We've got Ireland, Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, and Greece."
Darby smiled, then began to chuckle. "And you poor Yanks are outnumbered by Europeans!"
"Oh, poor us!" Todd snickered. "Might want to be careful. We were outnumbered in the Revolutionary War, and we won that!"
"Yeah," Jori chimed in.
Darby grinned. "That's because I wasn't there." His stereotypical British flat delivery of the line struck everyone as silly, and several of the group couldn't help giggling.
Jori and Martina responded by sticking out their tongues at the Brit.
The group came to another group of students lining the edges of a broad mostly-open area that had been outfitted with large hoops and various other obstacles laid out in what looked to be a race-course, except some of the features could never be reached by a ground vehicle. With the sound of a starter's pistol, a dozen or so drones of various sizes and shapes darted into the air, while at the side of the course, kids clad in labcoats, some with VR goggles on, were furiously manipulating remote control units.
Moments later, Martina understood why the crowd was so large and enthusiastic. The event was some mutant hybrid of combination of combat robots and drone race. As one drone tried to pass another, there was ferocious maneuvering to block, and then offensive and defensive weapons deployed from the drones. The combatants flailed at each other while also trying to race, and as expected, one of the two was crippled by the other, and then it was forced into an obstacle, resulting in a shower of parts falling to the ground. The victor of the duel, however, had no chance to celebrate; another drone overtook it, and flying overhead, it dropped something which the drone's pilot could not avoid. Piano wires weighted with steel marbles fell into the drone's props, and instantly the victor became the vanquished as it became a ballistic projectile and impacted with an audible crash.
The race was brutal; evidently, at this level, it was no-holds barred. There were all sorts of offensive and defensive gadgets, including one that released chaff to foil the remote control signals. And the crowd loved it. Unlike most displays and demonstrations which were for the freshmen, most of the onlookers were upperclassmen who had their favorites to root for and evidently to wager on. There was one contestant, though, who seemed to be the favorite of no-one; when the drone managed to get in front, the crowd booed loudly, repeating when that drone used some very unconventional tactics and weapons against its opponents. The booing turned to cheering when the drone was knocked out of the competition, and they cheered more when the pilot whose drone had knocked out the unfavorite gave up on racing and flew in to administer more damage to the already disabled vehicle. The crowd roared with delight.
As Martina and her friends wandered about the tables, leisurely taking in the extensive variety of interest groups on campus, they came upon a display that showed pictures of famous spies and detectives from cinema and television such as Hercule Poirot, James Bond (the Sean Connery version), Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes, and covers of famous detective novels such as Sam Spade. On a table were laid out a variety of gadgets that looked like they'd come straight out of a James Bond movie, and in many cases, that's exactly what they were - a wristwatch with a wire garrote, an umbrella dart gun, a briefcase with lots of gadgets and tricks showing for the crowd to see, a belt with a grappling hook and line, and more. The group's table had a banner proclaiming them as the Intelligence Cadet Corps, with a tag line of "Teaching Tomorrow's Detectives and Spies". It was a bold boast, and one that Martina scoffed at because her mom had described, with not many flattering words, the cadets. Moreover, in some of the chats with older students in Poe, the name "Secret Squirrels" had come up more than once, giving evidence of the low esteem in which the group was held.
Given the boastful advertising of the group, it was no surprise to Martina that the Italian nuisance was at that table, trying to suck up to what she figured would be a helpful club from which to learn more 'secrets of superheroing'. Before Martina could get her group to turn away, though, the Italian girl spotted her.
"There!" she dragged one of the older Squirrels away from the table, pointing at Martina. "You need to be watching her! Her mother is a notorious villain, and someone needs to keep an eye on her so she doesn't do the things she obviously learned from her mom!"
The attractive girl she was semi-dragging pulled up short, looking at Martina. "Are you sure?" he said to the Italian, "Has she done anything illegal that you know of?"
Christina Volante frowned. "No," she said slowly and reluctantly. "But ... she will! She's an exact clone of her mother!"
The girl, a very comely upperclassman, sounded unexpectedly like a Southerner based on her accent. She shook her head. "Ah'm sorry for the disturbance," he said to Martina apologetically, much to the chagrin of Christina. "Ah'm Harley Sawyer, also known as Reach. Nice to meet you. Ah hope you are enjoying Whateley so far. Sometimes, mah colleagues and prospective members forget that just because a parent might have done wrong doesn't mean their child will do the same."
Christina gawked. "But ... her mother is Setup! A notorious villain!"
A taller, distinguished-looking gentleman came to the scene of the disturbance. "Is there a bit of a misunderstanding here?" he asked in a refined and thoroughly British accent with the typical British flair for understatement.
"Her mother," Christina pointed at Martina, "is a notorious villain."
"I see," the man said. "Oh, I seemed to have forgotten my manners. I'm Sir Wallace Westmont, faculty advisor for the Intelligence Cadet Corps. And you are?" he spoke to Martina, not the Italian girl, which caused her to turn bright red from anger.
"I'm Martina Hughes," she answered.
"Delighted to make your acquaintance," he replied charmingly. "Perchance, would you be interested in learning spycraft and the detective trade?"
"Sorry, no," Martina replied with a shake of her head, struggling to not laugh aloud at the slow burn Christina was doing. "I'd rather go backpacking and camping."
Westmont turned to the Italian girl. "And who might you be?"
"I'm Christina Volante, Striatura Blu, daughter of the hero Pugno Silenzioso," Christina declared smugly. "I plan to be a hero, just like papa."
"Ah, yes," Westmont said with a faint smile. "Family business, and all that. Well," he continued, "you have heard about Whateley's neutrality accords, have you not? They were explained at this morning's mandatory orientation briefing, after all." The girl nodded, frowning. "I should also let you know that such prejudice and hostility to someone who is only related to a villain or lawbreaker will not stand you in good stead with the Intelligence Cadet Corps."
Christina gawked at the man, not quite knowing how to react. Harley 'Reach' Sawyer nodded to her. "Last spring, some of mah colleagues got a little ... overly-enthusiastic investigatin' some of the Seeds and Masterminds, even resorting to prohibited means. The club was very strictly reminded of the law, the accords, and the limits on what we can and cannot do. It was almost banned."
"While being a member of the ICC could be of great benefit for a hero-in-training," Westmont continued, "your over-exuberance would not serve you well in the corps if you don't get it under control."
Christina's jaw dropped even further; if she understood what he was implying, she would not be welcome in the club.
"I would suggest that you could ..." Westmont cut off abruptly, spinning to see why many of the students around the Spy Kids' table were laughing aloud.
Behind the Spy Kids and their table, unseen to the club but in plain view of the students listening to their spiel, a thin, white-skinned girl that Martina had seen in Poe was holding up a large sign that had a picture of Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, with a legend that read "Maxwell Smart School of Secret Agenting". The girl was dressed up in a suit, with her hair tucked in a tight bun so that she looked a bit masculine. On the lapel was a huge home-made button that said 'Agent 86'. Beside the albino girl was another girl, wearing a smart feminine business suit and with her hair done up in professional, 70's style, and a similar button saying 'Agent 99'.
"Vamp!" a boy with a nametag that read 'Ace' snapped as soon as he realized that something was happening behind the group, turned, and saw the pale interloper. He and another boy turned to chase Vamp away.
Vamp started to turn, then stopped suddenly when the sound of a ringing telephone caught everyone's attention. Looking surprised, she stopped and held up a single finger to signify 'just a moment', which caused the boys to pause and look wonderingly at Vamp and then at each other. Warily watching the two boys, she bent down and seemed to take off a shoe which stopped ringing as soon as she hefted it, then held it up to her head like it was a phone. "Hello, Chief?" she spoke into her shoe.
The Spy Kids all glanced around at each other, perplexed at her strange behavior, then looked back at Vamp. With a wry grin, she extended the shoe to Ace. "It's for you," she said. No sooner had Ace taken the shoe and held it up to his ear like Vamp had done, not knowing what else to do, than everyone heard a loud 'busy signal' that was loud enough for all to hear. It was then apparent that Vamp hadn't given away her own shoe, but had brought a sacrificial shoe for the stunt.
"Run, Ninety-nine," the albino girl said urgently.
"Yes, Max," the other said as the duo turned and fled.
The Spy Kids were left standing, mouths agape, not quite knowing what to do, while some of the spectators laughed uproariously, knowing the story behind the name Maxwell Smart and the shoe-phone.
"Who's that?" Elle asked, her eyes fixed on a tall girl who was very deliberately approaching the small table in the quad where the group was sitting. Since the table and benches were surrounded on three sides by a low stone wall, there really weren't any other destinations for the approaching girl.
Everyone turned to look. What they saw was an upperclassman, with long white hair that had strange curls in the locks in the front of her head. Tall, only moderately curvy, she was definitely not an exemplar beauty, but there was grace and purpose in her move, and she carried herself well, which showed her self-confidence.
"I've seen her around," Kiera commented. "I think she's from Melville Cottage."
"Wonder what she wants," Todd asked.
"We'll find out soon enough."
Even knowing that she was being studied, the white-haired girl didn't miss a step. Ignoring all the others, she marched straight to Martina, her features in a business-like smile.
The group sitting around the table were, to Martina's eyes, a strange assortment. They had a few hors d'ouvres, unlike many who were eating small bags of chips and cookies.
"Won't you join us for a bit?" Jadis Diabolik invited as she sat down, gesturing to an empty spot on one of the benches at the table. "Nachos?"
"No thank you," Martina answered. "My friends and I had some snacks and hot dogs."
"Let me introduce my colleagues," Jadis said to Martina. On the walk from her group of friends, the taller girl had introduced herself to Martina.
"This bundle of joy and lightness is Nacht," Jadis pointed out a girl who seemed as emotionless as a Star Trek Vulcan. "Next to her is Princess Jobe."
"Princess?" Martina gawked a bit. Jobe's skin was coal black and she had same elfin ears as Elle and Nikki, but apart from those oddities, she was attractive in an unusual way.
"Crown Princess of Karedonia," Jadis explained. "Daughter of Emperor Wilkins."
Martina nodded knowingly. "Mom told me about him."
"Are you half as competent as your mother seems?" Jobe asked bluntly, startling Martina.
"Ignore her." She continued introductions around the table. Belphoebe was, like Jobe, black as coal, although she seemed a little more personable than Jobe, and she spoke with a British accent. Jay-Arm, as Jadis introduced him, struck Martina as a cocky, self-important guy who had a way with girls and knew it. He also dressed in a very anachronistic way; his outfit seemed straight out of the early 19th century. Next was a guy called Cheese, who looked like a grinning, scrawny cross between a teen-idol-rocker and Albert Einstein. Next came Jadis' brother Malachi, also known as Techno-Devil, complete with a Borg-like cybernetic eye and a hovering droid over his shoulder. With his somewhat sinister appearance that even a smile couldn't mask, Martina wondered if the droid would unfold into Vader's torture droid, or perhaps some killer robot.
"Some of our members aren't here. You might have seen Lindsay with those insufferable Wondercute girls," Jobe explained. "One has to wonder about her sensibilities to be hanging out with those lacy lunatics."
"Now, I suppose you're wondering why I wanted to speak to you," Jadis continued.
Martina shrugged. "You did say you'd explain when we got here."
"And so we are, and so I shall. You see, you have something in common with all of us. We know, for example, that you are the daughter of Setup, whose was last known to be using the identity of Tatiana Hughes, correct?" Jadis said, but it didn't sound at all like speculation.
Seeing Martina's expression of total shock, Nacht took over the explanation. "We are all the offspring of one or both parents whose occupation is a bit frowned upon by many governments and most law-enforcement agencies."
Martina's brain raced, putting together pieces her mother had told her. "You're the Bad Seeds?"
"Very good. I see your mother has briefed you on some of the ... quirks ... of Whateley," Jay Arm said with a pleasant smile.
"But ... why do you want to talk to me?"
Jadis chuckled. "I've seen how your Italian friend has been trying to make your life interesting. We're all in that boat, so it was long ago observed that there is strength in numbers."
"While the neutrality accords are pleasant-sounding words, and quite a reality off-campus," Malachi took over the explanation, "on campus, there are some snotty, self-important, arrogant assholes who think it's their sworn duty to stop all villainy, and since our parents are villains ...."
"Like Christina Volante. They think we're just as guilty of evil-doing as our parents," Martina concluded. "Interesting."
"We just want to introduce ourselves," Jadis said, "and let you know we're here in case you need some help deterring overly-enthusiastic rivals."
"We have noted that one of the new freshmen in Poe is in the same situation as yourself, having a relative who is a supervillain," Belpheobe noted.
Martina chuckled. "How much don't you know about what's happening on campus?" she rhetorically asked Jadis. "I presume you're talking about my roommate Alyss?"
"Lady Havoc's daughter," Jay-Arm added with a nod. "Yes."
"If you need assistance," Jadis repeated, "we're here."
Martina nodded. "Mom told me I'd probably hear from you. I'll keep it in mind if things get ... interesting."
Winter, one of the Seeds, approached the small gathering of her compatriots, but her eyes were on a girl walking away from the table. She sat down and grabbed a couple of nacho chips, carefully cradling her hand under them so she wouldn't drip cheese and other toppings on the table or on herself. "Who's that?"
"Martina Hughes," Nacht said. "Entirely too cheerful."
"Oh? Another freshman do-gooder who wants to harass us?" Winter asked.
"Actually," Jobe replied, seeming to take pleasure in correcting her - and anyone else, "Jadis introduced her to us."
"Oh?" Winter seemed surprised. "Why?"
"Her mother is Setup," Jay-Arm replied with a tone that indicated that he might have a bit more than passing interest in Martina. "She's a possible member."
"Setup?" Winter practically screamed, rising to her feet in agitation. "Setup is not a villain!" she snarled. "She's a freelance hero!"
Jadis goggled at her fellow Bad Seed. "What are you talking about? Setup has a widely-known reputation as a villain!"
"She works for the Mossad!" Winter shot back. "That's not exactly villainous!" Shooting an evil glance after the departing girl, she rose to leave. "Why don't you just invite FSHA to join? If you're dumb enough to invite the daughter of a hero into the group, then I'm done!" She stomped off angrily.
Jadis stared after her, then glanced around the table, finding most of the other Seeds likewise gawking at Winter's highly unusual outburst. She sighed and followed Winter.
"What's up?" Jadis asked simply as she sat down beside Winter at a table on the Crystal Hall patio. Few of the tables were occupied since most students were all over the quad playing games and picnicking, with a few making a game out of mocking the various clubs and groups.
"Setup is not a villain!" Winter repeated, sulking.
"Her record is pretty clear," Jadis replied. "She does a few freelance jobs, but mostly it's black hat jobs." She watched Winter's expression. "What gives?"
Winter frowned heavily. "She did a job for the Mossad that hurt Mom's reputation and almost got her caught and imprisoned," she grumbled unhappily.
"Oh? What kind of job?" Jadis' curiosity had been piqued.
"A certain agency had arranged smuggling weapons on a freighter to a group of rebels in a certain African country. A couple of ... interested parties ... wanted to keep that government in power. It seems that they were skimming a lot of money from some less-than-upstanding government officials. Mom was hired to stop the freighter - but it had to look like an accident," Winter explained, her expression glum. "A fire at sea is hard to investigate when the evidence is on the bottom of the ocean, you know,"
"And Setup's role?"
"She did something with the shipping records. Mom targeted the wrong ship, and it caught fire while still in port. Setup planted and modified data in various systems so that Mom was kept busy dodging several intelligence agencies because the evidence was right in front of them. The real shipment got to its destination." Winter shook her head, her words filled with bitterness. "That hurt Mom's rep for a couple of years and cost her some good jobs."
"Okay," Jadis said warily, "we probably need to talk to the others, but I don't think we're supposed to bring personal grudges...."
"It was a white-hat job!" Winter retorted.
"And your parents have never done a contract job that was ultimately funded by some white-hat organization?" Jadis posed. "I'm guessing that a lot of our parents have at one time or another." She smiled sadly. "Don't forget the irony of the fact that you want to be in FSHA," she added. "I'd have thought you would be the most understanding."
Winter looked a bit contrite at Jadis' comment. "Okay, I'll think about it. But I still don't like it," she groused.
Sunday, September 2, 2007 - Late Morning
Near Whateley Academy
"Where are we going, again?" Chris Spijker asked as the small cluster of students, led by Martina, climbed through the woods and up an increasingly steep hill that was strewn with boulders and dotted with rocky outcroppings.
"And why are we going so fast to get there?" Kiera, the Irish girl, asked. She was trying to not sound whiny, but not completely succeeding.
Martina stopped and turned back to the students following her, the little group that had formed around Kiera, and Todd. "I'm sorry, but when I backpack with Mom, we tend to go a lot faster."
"Didn't you say your mom is a higher-level exemplar?" Jori asked.
Martina nodded, blushing a bit. "Yeah. But I'm not. Or at least wasn't."
"I was told we weren't supposed to go exploring off campus," Theodosia observed, interjecting a note of caution. "I don't want to get in trouble like you and Todd already did."
Todd laughed, while Martina shrugged. "I checked with my housemother, and with security, to see where we could hike. We're okay."
Jori wrinkled her nose. "Are you sure? You don't have a map or GPS, so how do you know ...."
In answer, Martina pulled out and unfolded a map, and the others gathered around. "Here are the boundaries we can hike in."
"Yeah, but how do you know we're still inside the boundaries?" Darby asked.
"Okay, let me show you how I know. See that hill with a peak behind it?" She pointed to a some landscape features. "So there are only a few places on the topographical map that match that feature." She pointed on the map. "Like this, or this, or even this."
"How do you know which one we're at?"
Martina pointed out another feature in another direction, then showed those possibilities on the map, and showed how she roughly estimated their position from those features. It was well within the campus property boundaries. Then she pointed out where they were going. With visual evidence of how far they'd come and how much further they had to go, the group resumed hiking with renewed energy, although no-one but Martina had figured how steep the last part of the hill was. Martina knew from experience backpacking with topo maps that it would be a bit of a tough slog. However, when the group emerged onto the top of the small mountain - or tall hill, depending on one's perspective - the complaining stopped, and all but Todd looked around with a bit of awe.
The view was spectacular, because this particular peak was relatively free of trees, so there weren't obstructions to the sights. Martina pointed out a small lake with a sandy-colored shore, that she'd been informed was a swimming area that was heated year-round since the water was a heat dump for the school's power plant. In another direction, the campus proper sat in a bowl-like area, with peaks all around. Unlike the view from the ground where hills and depressions obscured some of the buildings, from this elevation every campus building was visible. It brought a whole new perspective to the campus that none of them had seen before.
"Now what?" Darby asked after they looked around and chatted about the views and the campus. "We're going to be late for lunch."
Martina grinned. "No, we're not." She looked at Elle.
In response, the white-haired Sidhe girl took off a very small backpack, which, when she opened it, just kept opening larger and larger. She began to take out sack lunches and thermos bottles and all kinds of other goodies. "A little spell I learned from a magic user named Mage Astre while I interned with a hero group in Bordeaux this summer."
"A dimensional pocket?" Darby's interest was piqued. "Way cool! I think that ... if I could fold a dimension using the infinite point principle, but push the intermediate points ....." He started mumbling to himself as he couldn't help but start to devise away in his mind.
Elle smiled and shrugged. "I can only make it about the size of a gym bag, and it only lasts for a couple of hours."
"Well, then," Darby said, "we better have lunch before the white elf's magic bag makes it vanish into thin air."
"Or wherever it goes," Kiera added with a snicker.
Elle rolled her eyes at the two. "I'm not an elf. According to the experts, I'm Sidhe."
"Elf, Sidhe - what's the difference? Pointed ears - check. Fine delicate features - check. Long thin limbs - check. Yup, I'm right - there isn't any difference!" Todd laughed.
After the group enjoyed what could only be described as gourmet sack lunches, Darby looked in the bag. "What's for dessert?" He pulled out a small wrapped package and unwrapped it, then gawked. "Brownies? Brownies? Where are the cookies?"
"Cookies?" Elle asked, puzzled.
"Well, yeah," Todd replied. "But ... maybe you're not from the Keebler clan."
"Sure - the elves who bake cookies and live in a hollow tree," Todd laughed.
Kiera glanced at Chris and Marjorie. "I guess the boys have decided they don't ever want a date with Elle," she said with a wicked grin.
Todd scrunched up his face in confusion. "What are you talking about?"
Jori answered his question. "Teasing once can be cute - maybe. Twice - pushing it. More than that, you'll never get out of 'friend-zone'."
Todd shrugged. "When I play hard-to-get, she'll decide I'm a pretty good catch," he boasted.
When the guffaws and chuckles ended, Chris changed the subject. "You backpacked a lot with your mom?" she asked Martina.
"Yeah. We liked mountains best," Martina said wistfully. It was clear that she enjoyed the outings with Setup, and she was probably going to miss them.
"Cool!" Chris said. "Mountains like this? Wilderness?"
"Well, yes to wilderness. But a lot taller than this. In the Rockies, the mountains go up to nearly fifteen-thousand feet."
"That's nearly five thousand meters," Todd added smugly.
Kiera rolled her eyes. "It may be a surprise to your simplistic colonial mind, but most Europeans are familiar with your antiquated measuring system that's based on your one-time obeisance to the British monarch!"
"Most of the time," Martina decided to intervene in what seemed to be some kind of playful flirty kidding between Todd and Kiera, "we packed pretty light. Sometimes we'd spend several days in the backwoods with only what was in our pockets."
"But ... why?" Theodosia was confused. "Your mom ... well, she's pretty well off, isn't she?"
Marjorie shook her head. "Think about it. You're a villain. You might have to go to ground with only what's on your back. Knowing how to survive is a good skill."
Martina seemed a little uncomfortable with the topic, and it showed, so Darby changed the subject again. "Elle, what classes are you taking? Cookie-baking? Toymaking?"
"I'm given to understand that there are really good fringe benefits for elves working in Santa's workshop!" Todd teased again.
Elle rolled her eyes, then made a gesture with her hand toward the boy. Instantly a flurry of snowflakes whirled around Todd's head, obscuring his view. Within seconds, his teeth were chattering from the sudden cold. Elle dropped her hand, and the mini-snowstorm abated, and the flakes fell to the ground, melting almost instantly.
"Don't mess with the Ice Queen!" Kiera laughed, but the look on Elle's face was troubled, like that nickname was one that bothered her. There was a story, but she'd tell the group when she wanted to. "Sorry," she apologized to Elle. The white-haired Sidhe girl nodded her acceptance that Kiera was really contrite.
Martina changed the topic back to backpacking. "I hope there's something like an outdoor club. I'll go bat-crap crazy if I can't go hiking or camping once in a while."
"I saw a Native American group yesterday," Jori volunteered. "They said they camp and do other outdoor skills. That might be the place for you."
"Not Native American," Martina said with a shrug. "But it would be fun to learn some traditional Native American skills."
"You don't have to be a Native American to participate," Jori replied. "And, this is the cool thing for you, you can get history or other class credit for the things they do."
After an hour or so, it looked like clouds might be gathering, so Martina hustled the group off the peak, noting that lightning strikes were a very real danger. Fortunately, the skies didn't open up, so when they got back to campus, they found a spot and sprawled out on the quad.
"Anyone have plans for tomorrow?" Dosi asked.
"There's some kind of swimming picnic party at the lake," Elle replied.
"Sounds like fun," Chris answered.
"Mountain lake? In September?" Todd asked. "The water is going to be very chilly."
"Nah," Darby replied. "The schools power plant uses the lake as a thermal sink to dissipate excess heat. In the workshop tour, they showed us the reactor and told us about the lake cooling it, and that even in the winter, the water is never less than thirty degrees."
Todd involuntarily shivered. "That's cold!" Then he saw the strange looks on most of the others' faces. "Wait, you're talking Celsius, aren't you?" He thought a moment. "Hmm - that wouldn't be too bad, I guess."
Martina shook her head. "The lake is a cooling pond for a reactor. A nuclear reactor, from what Mom told me. Knowing devisors, it's probably released a lot of nasty stuff into the lake, which is probably filled three-eyed fish, six-legged carnivorous frogs, and flesh-eating algae blobs. Yeah, sure - sounds very safe to me!"
"We can always picnic and watch the others swim," Kiera observed. When no-one objected, she asked, "so we'll go to the lake to picnic tomorrow?"
"And not swim?" Theodosia asked uneasily. Martina's comments had obviously made her a bit nervous about the lake.
"And not swim," Kiera replied with certainty.
"Deal." "Okay." "Sounds like a plan." "Yup." The group concurred on their plans.
Martina was quite pleased. She'd found a group that were quickly becoming close friends, didn't judge her based on her mother's 'occupation', and seemed to like trying new things that she enjoyed while also introducing her to their favorite past-times. Whateley had promise of a fun experience. Except for the Italian Headache.
Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - Before Breakfast
Arena 99, Whateley Academy
"Life does not begin before a nice hot breakfast and a cup of coffee," Todd groused as he, Martina, Darby, Elle, and Dosi huddled in the midst of a large group milling about on the floor of the massive underground arena. It looked to be the size of several football pitches, with a ceiling that was impossibly high; how such a massive cavern could exist without collapsing seemed a miracle. Then again, this was Whateley, and there were probably much stranger things in and around the campus that they hadn't seen.
Martina shrugged. "I don't know about that. I find it easier to wake up with a good morning hike with a chill in the air. That really gets the blood flowing." She was staring unhappily at her Italian nemesis, who was with a couple of other kids staying away from Martina's group but occasionally glaring at her.
Darby and Dosi gawked at her in disbelief. "That's ... that's sick!" Darby grumbled.
"I wouldn't say that," Elle countered. "A chill in the air is quite ... invigorating? Is that the right word?" While she spoke English, it was heavily accented, and her knowledge of less common words and idioms was less than perfect.
"May I have your attention?" a man announced as he strode into the arena, flanked by three students in what appeared to be armored bodysuits, each with different color trim and theme to their helmets which they carried under their arms. Immediately, the conversations in the student group ceased and all eyes turned to the newcomer.
"I am Langley Paulson," the man introduced himself. His close-cropped hair and Van Dyke beard were starting to whiten, and with the way he carried himself and spoke, he had the presence of an older, distinguished teacher. "I will be your instructor for this flight training class. I'm teaching this term because we had a few ... contractual ... issues with the flight school we used previously." The way he said 'contractual issues' hinted at something more than just a pay dispute.
"Assisting me will be three of our seniors, who are also Security Auxiliaries, by the way - just so you don't do anything against the rules. Adam Ironknife, aka Stormwolf." A tall, handsome Native American boy with darker skin and a no-nonsense look in his eyes took a half step forward. His suit had blue trim, and his helmet had a wolf theme.
"Diane Ritter, or Thunderfox, " Mr. Paulson continued. The girl was tall and lanky, with russet hair and steel-grey eyes. The trim on her bodysuit was deep red, almost a blood-red color, and a fox theme decorated her helmet.
"And Robert Shih, also going by Firecat." While shorter than even Diane, he had near-exemplar looks. Where Adam had a serious look, Robert looked much more relaxed and easy-going. His body armor had bright red trim, and his helmet was themed like a tiger.
"I'm teaching this Let me explain what this class is about and explain the rules of flying around Whateley," Mr. Paulson continued. "I will teach you the rules of aviation, and check out your skill flying. Before you can fly openly around the Whateley grounds, you must pass a basic FAA private pilot exam and skill exam." He scanned the group, settling his focus on Martina and Todd. "Some of you have already been given a ... private and intense lecture on this particular rule." Martina's cheeks practically glowed red.
"We will also spend some time learning to fly a small airplane, so at the end of the class, you will have the option of getting your private pilot license." Mr. Paulson looked around. "Now, as to why we're in this arena, we will need you to demonstrate and practice your particular skill at flying. We will do so here." On cue, Stormwolf put on his helmet and took to the air, turning a few tight circles close to the group.
"As to safety, the arena is equipped to prevent or minimize injuries in the case of accidents - distractions, collisions, magic spells running out of essence, devises suddenly and unexpectedly failing." Again, on cue, the upperclassman simply stopped flying and fell. There were gasps of surprise and alarm in the gathered students who expected him to go splat on the floor, but about three feet off the floor, he slowed like he'd jumped into a vat of gelatin which absorbed the impact.
"The safeties are smart-sensors, so if you fall, they will absorb your kinetic energy, but if you walk," Ironknife stood and walked back to the instructor, "the safeties will not interfere. The safeties are also in place on the walls, so if you go out of control, your impact will be cushioned," Mr. Paulson explained.
"If you do something stupid," Thunderfox picked up the instruction, "like deliberately dive straight toward the ground, you could cause serious injury, like breaking your neck. Broken limbs are also possible if you land wrong. If you find yourself falling, just relax and try to lie flat."
Mr. Paulson went over several more rules, and while several students didn't really pay attention, Todd and Martina definitely did. They didn't want to get in trouble again. Following a Q&A period over rules, in which there were few Q's, the students were asked to line up to demonstrate their skill or lack thereof.
The first one to go was a gangley boy named Benny Hale who'd been part of a small group around the Italian. Martina had seen him hanging out around the FSHA table on Saturday with Christina Volante. When Benny manifested, there were several outright laughs, because he had huge wings and manifested scruffiness that looked vaguely like a vulture or buzzard. Frowning deeply, he had to run to gain speed, and then launched himself, beating his wings ferociously, but slowly, he gained altitude. Once airborne, his flight changed to a graceful glide with minimal wing beats, circling easily and gaining altitude when he found an area where the air currents rose. Given his appearance, it wasn't surprising when one of the cockier boys called out, "Nice flying, Buzzard Boy!" The boy glared at the crowd, trying to pick out the offender.
Of Martina's group, Darby flew with the aide of one of his devises, albeit quite awkwardly. Todd was a PK flier, just like Martina, and he had experience flying. Theodosia was a gravity warper, and while she could hover easily, she had yet to learn how to warp gravity in a way that would provide propulsion. Elle could cast a spell and fly, but she clearly wasn't practiced, and when the essence ran out, she fell to the safety force field. Fortunately for her ego, she wasn't the first to fail, nor was she the last. Kiera had said she'd be in class, but Theodosia told Mr. Langley that she had been called to Schuster Hall to clear up a few class scheduling issues with the administration.
It was rewarding to Martina to see that her nemesis could fly but was unpracticed and quite unskilled. Like several others, she lost focus and control and ended up on the force cushion. As she walked back to her group, she directed a hateful glare at Martina as if she was somehow blaming Martina for her failure and embarrassment. An Irish boy named Eamon Fitzpatrick was another devisor, like Darby, who had a contraption to assist. Eamon's was more like a flying belt, and he had a stability issue with his center of mass, whereas Darby's was a backpack that seemed more controllable.
Neil Mills and Suzanna Roscoe were both apparently part of the hero retinue hanging around with the Italian girl; Martina had seen Suzanna with Christina several days earlier when the Italian had tried to discourage others from dining with her. Neil was a TK superman and could naturally fly, but Suzanna was, like Elle, a wizard who had to use a spell.
One of the other students manifested wings and a tail - long, thin, graceful wings meant for soaring, and he had to run and flop in the most ungainly manner before he could get airborne, and then only after three tries where he almost lifted off but smacked back into the force field. Once in the air, he soared far more gracefully than even Buzzard Boy, but then he had to land, and if anything, it was even more ungainly than his takeoff, ending when he tripped and face-planted into the force-field.
"You fly like a gooney bird!" one of the kids laughed.
"What's a gooney bird?" another asked.
"An albatross, also known as a gooney bird. They're all over in the Pacific. Ungainly as all sin when they're taking off and landing, but very graceful fliers once they manage to get airborne," the kid explained.
The poor kid who'd made the poor display grimaced. "That's my avatar spirit," he groused. "An albatross."
"So that's probably your code name, too?" one chuckled. It was painfully obvious that the poor kid was fated to have the nickname 'Gooney Bird', whether he liked it or not. Just like Benny Hale, the first flier and part of the Italian Menace's retinue, was likely slated to be known "Buzzard Boy".
After everyone had demonstrated their skill - or lack thereof - they were given the option to practice flying if they wanted, with supervision, of course. The general rule was to orbit the arena to the left - which drew a wry criticism from Darby that of course they would circle that way, since that was the only way Americans knew how to turn, evidenced by their auto racing. None of the students left. It would have been a fun conclusion to the morning, but as Martina practiced control of her speed, altitude, and maneuvers, she saw a flash of blue from above and to her left, and then someone cried out "Look out!" just a fraction of a second before a body slammed into Martina.
Stunned by the impact, with pain in her left arm, Martina lost control of her flight and tumbled. Distracted as she was by pain and disorientated in her flight, she couldn't recover before she softly thudded into the force field. Almost immediately, Thunderfox landed beside her, having been the closest teaching assistant. Shaking off help, Martina walked to a bench by the entrance area and sat to rest, having been directed by Thunderfox. As she sat down, she saw the Italian looking at her with a smug smile.
"What happened?" she asked Thunderfox as the class left the arena.
"I didn't see it all," Diane replied, "but it looked like you were the tail end of a chain reaction. From what I saw, someone caused Christina to tumble out of control, and you were unfortunately in the way."
"Hmphhhh!" Martina snorted. "I doubt that." Seeing the older girl's disbelieving stare, she explained. "She has a thing against me. She wants to be a hero, just like her dad. And she's convinced that I'm just as evil as my mom, and it's somehow her job to 'deal with me'."
"And your mom is ...?"
"I'm surprised you'd have to ask. I figured her smears and insults would have spread all around campus by now," Martina said. "My mom is Setup."
"Interesting," Diana replied. "It's not unheard of to have kids of rivals here. Just as long as that rivalry doesn't come on campus."
"Someone ought to tell her," Martina grumbled. "I have no intention of following in my mom's footsteps, but she doesn't exactly believe me."
"I'll tell the others, so we can watch for any trouble."
"That'd be nice."
Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - First Period
Art Class, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
The first period class of the first day of the new year was slow to trickle into the room. Martina noticed one girl sitting alert and ready, as if this was the most important class of her life, while most of the other students milled around. Dosi and Jori had already taken seats, but unfortunately, there was a boy beside Jori who Martina recognized as Eamon Fitzpatrick, one of the fliers that Martina had seen in flight class and possibly part of the Italian menace's group of hero types.
"Are you okay?" Dosi asked Martina. Martina had missed breakfast to meet Mrs. Horton in the administration building to straighten out some paperwork relating to the room change. Dosi and the others probably thought she was at Doyle getting treated for the 'accident'.
"It wasn't a big deal," Martina shrugged off the incident. "I was filling out forms in the administration. I didn't have to go to Doyle." She chuckled. "That force field they've got is a lot easier to land on than rocks and scree on a mountainside."
"What?" Both Marjorie and Dosi were curious.
"Fell off a mountain, got hurt pretty bad, manifested, got better," Martina said in the simplest explanation possible. "That really hurt. In the arena, it hurt more from getting hit in the air than landing." Martina noticed that Eamon was looking askance at her.
"It looked like the landing hurt more," Dosi said.
"I don't know what happened," Martina added. "One minute I was flying okay, the next - smack, then I tumbled and hit the force field."
Dosi glanced at Eamon, then leaned closer to Martina. "We'll talk later," she whispered insistently. Martina glanced at the boy and knew immediately what her friend was talking about.
"It's time for class to start," Jori hushed the other two.
"Where's the teacher?" Dosi asked. She glanced at the board. "Miss Imp?"
Just as she was speaking, a woman with black horns and black scales on her head, with a tail swaying behind her. She was professionally and neatly attired, but she leaned beside the girl in the front, who'd been sitting upright in anticipation. "Whacha doin?" she asked in a sing-song voice.
The girl flinched, then she practically screamed in delight as she wrapped herself around the woman. It took a few minutes for the girl, apparently called Mischief, and a sophomore girl called Headrush, to have a little reunion with the teacher, who was Imp, or, as she put it, 'The Fabulous Imp'. To Martina's amusement, Imp admitted freely to being a retired art thief, forger, and basically high-class villain. The boy beside
"That's the teacher Mom told me about," Martina whispered. Unfortunately for her, she whispered a little too loudly and at just the moment that Imp stopped talking, so her voice carried further than she expected.
Imp turned and looked in the direction of the three girls, and then she focused on Martina. Instead of a disapproving frown, though, the corners of Imp's mouth curled up in a smile. She simply nodded recognition, and then continued her lecture.
As the girls walked to the classroom door after class ended, Dosi was shaking her head. "I thought you were in trouble."
Martina nodded. "Me, too."
All three of them goggled and Martina gulped nervously when they spotted Imp looking directly at her, crooking her finger in a 'come here' gesture.
"I'll catch you guys at lunch," Martina said quickly before going to the teacher. "Yes, ma'am?" she asked uneasily.
"Your mom told me you might be in my class," Imp said with a smile. "Right now, you've got to get to your next class and I have another class to teach, but sometime we can talk."
Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - Lunch
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Martina slid her tray onto the lunch table and sat down. "Hey guys," she said to the group around the table. "How were classes?" she asked eagerly.
"Not bad." "Okay." "Not as exciting as flight class." The last was from Todd.
"You weren't at breakfast!" Keira noted. "Dosi said you got hurt in flight class! Are you okay?"
"It was nothing," Martina replied. "But I had to meet with my housemother and administration this morning during breakfast." She picked up a big slice of pizza that was loaded with everything imaginable.
Martina sighed, pulling the pizza away from her mouth before she could bite into it. "Mrs. Horton moved me from rooming with the Italian loudmouth. She wasn't supposed to do that without authorization, but she did it anyway. So we had to meet with the dean of students to explain everything."
"You aren't in trouble are you?"
Martina shook her head. "Neither is Mrs. Horton. She ended up chewing out the dean for putting me in with bigmouth in the first place." She smiled. "So everything is cool now." She steered the pizza toward her mouth again.
"Except for bitch-girl ramming you in flight class," Dosi said with a frown.
"Stuff happens. Mom told me there are a lot worse accidents all the time."
"I don't think it was an accident," Todd replied. Seeing Martina's eyebrows lift, he continued. "The guy who hit the Wop was Buzzard Boy."
"He was hanging out in her group before we started flying," Martina observed.
"Yeah, I noticed. Anyway, I was just levitating up and down because I'm not good at warping gravity horizontally - yet. I could see it pretty clearly. I thought it was staged."
"If she's anything like her dad, who Mom knows, that wouldn't surprise me," Martina replied.
"It didn't look like she was out of control like she claimed," Dosi continued.
"What do you mean?" Todd asked, curious since he hadn't seen the accident.
Dosi shrugged. "If she was completely out of control, she should have traveled in a straight line horizontally, and curving down vertically in an arc." She shook her head, frowning. "She didn't lose any height, so she had at least some control, and it looked to me that her horizontal path curved some."
Todd wasn't the only one at the table who frowned. "So it was deliberate!" Todd snapped angrily.
"You should report it," Dosi insisted. "You can't let her get away with that."
Martina shook her head. "Nope. It's not worth it. Besides, all reporting it will do is let her know that she's getting to me." She tried once more to take a bite.
"But ... there has to be something you can do." Elle protested.
Martina sighed. "I'm not going to worry about one stupid act by her. Now, if you don't mind, I missed breakfast and I'm damned hungry!" Before anyone could say anything new, she shoved the point of the pizza slice into her mouth in an attempt to cut off the conversation.
"If she does anything else," Todd said solemnly, "we've got your back." There were a lot of nods of agreement around the table.
"Thanks." Martina took another bit of her pizza, relishing the flavors as she sated her hunger.
"Basic Martial Arts was ... interesting," Dosi observed. "You should have been there," she added, looking at Martina.
"Interesting is hardly the word I would have used," Kiera interjected sarcastically. "Every upperclassman I've talked to says that Ito Sensei is a sadistic little midget." She smirked. "And that's the best way anyone described him!"
"You're in a different BMA class period, right?" Todd asked Martina.
"Nope," Martina spoke through a mouth half-full of pizza. She quickly swallowed the rest of what was in her mouth. "I'm in Mrs. Dennon's Brick class this afternoon."
"Brick class? What's that?" "I though everyone had to take BMA!"
"Yeah. Unless you're taking survival!"
"Brick class is an advanced class for brick types. High level exemplar, high PK, those types. Basically anyone whose powers make them as hard to hurt as a brick," Martina explained. "Mom had me in martial arts for years, and I got some ... private tutoring from Mrs. Dennon this summer after I manifested." She read the expressions around her. "My sensei back home is a mutant, and he knew Mrs. Dennon. After I manifested, he called her to give me a little 'extra' tutoring."
"What kind of martial art did you learn? Karate? Tae kwon do?" Darby asked the question that was on most of the group's minds.
Martina shook her head. "All of it," she answered. "My teacher didn't have any single style - except 'win'. He taught lots of techniques, some of them pretty dirty, all geared toward winning so you can get out of a bad situation."
"Then you'd fit right in with Ito!" Kiera shot back. "He said that he doesn't believe in fighting fair if it means you're going to get your arse kicked."
"We had to spar this morning to see who knew what," Todd grumbled. "I got my ass kicked." A grin spread across his boyish face. "But then, we all know that I'm a lover, not a fighter!"
Jori didn't take the bait, but instead she winced. "My head still hurts from where that other girl elbowed me in the head!"
"That looked like it hurt," Darby agreed. "But she did apologize, didn't she? That's what it looked like when she said something to you."
Jori grimaced and shook her head. "No." She glanced warily at Martina. "She said that sooner or later, I'd learn not to hang out with villains."
Martina scowled. "One of her flunkies?"
"No," Jori answered. "Not that I know of."
"Probably some idiot that's been listening to that sciocca italiana," Dosi spat angrily. "That means Italian fool," she added.
"I figured it was better than calling her what first came into my head. Puttana."
"And that means ...?" Kiera prompted.,
"Whore," Dosi said with a shrug.
Martina scowled. "That's going too far. If she wants to pick on me, big deal. If she picks on my friends, she's gonna piss me off."
"So what are you ... we ... going to do?" Todd asked, his expression one of grim determination to help is friends.
"I don't know yet," Martina said with a heavy sigh. "Maybe I should ask Mom for ideas next time I talk to her."
To Be Continued