Raptor: An Eye on Campus
A Whateley Academy Tale
Raptor: An Eye on Campus
Rose Redd, with the assistance of Elrod W
and the totally non-existent Cabal.
There is no Cabal…
October 21st, 2007
Near Dunwich, NH
Annalea Downs sat on the roof of Laird Hall, her feet dangling over the edge of the facade. She cast her gaze far and wide, her eyes lingering as she looked past her home cottage of Hawthorne. It was a warm day, the snows of a freakish snowstorm a few weeks back had largely melted, and the students were enjoying the Indian summer. She stretched and fanned out her tail feathers while she adjusted her position. Running her talons gently through her brownish-gold hair, she sighed in contentment. It might seem strange that someone like her with her extreme GSD, could be happy and content, but she was. Looking like someone’s idea of a mythological harpy, her body was slender and sleek, aerodynamic. Her breasts were small, A-cup, at most, but they looked slightly larger due to her powerful pectoral muscles.
In the time since Annalea had gained her golden eagle spirit, she had changed. She still wasn’t good at socializing, but now she was healthy, and strong, and best of all, she could fly! The Irony of being from Idaho, and having been a couch potato was not lost on her. Before she had manifested, all Annalea would do was sit on the couch, eating junk food. She didn’t socialize at school, and had no real friends. After all, who wanted to be the friend of a fat, dumpy, greasy-skinned nobody like her?
Casting her golden-brown eyes on the campus below her, she looked far and wide across the school grounds. It was relaxing to sit up here. She didn’t have to interact with anyone. At the same time, her spirit felt comfortable. Not as comfortable as riding the updrafts looking for prey, but this was the next best thing. Smiling, Annalea noticed that Lupine was walking around with a Frisbee in her mouth, wagging her tail and trying to get people to play with her. She watched as Bladedancer and Fey sparred with wooden swords over by Poe. Her curiosity was piqued when she saw Geist following Wondercute around the Quad, but not enough to actually go investigate.
Turning her attention to Crystal Hall, the young girl known as Raptor casually observed the harnessed workers inspecting the giant glass and metal structure for storm damage. Every so often one would wave over another worker and they would mark some spot that looked like there was damage to the protective coating that blocked UV rays and kept birds from crashing into the glass.
Hearing someone walking on the rooftop behind her, she kept her gaze focused on the dome. Clearing her throat, the young avatar spoke up. “Bubba, if that’s you, I’d like to be alone right now. Besides, you wouldn’t want Mrs. Cantrell finding out that you were the one that was putting the ‘Mr. Yuk’ stickers on Puppet’s door.”
A voice spoke from behind her, but it was not whom she thought. “I see. Perhaps I need to have a talk with young Mr. Coltraine.”
Turning around, Annalea looked at the blonde woman standing there. Even in the black hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans, the Headmistress was imposing.
M...Mrs. Carson. I… I … wasn’t expecting you.”
The Headmistress smiled as she sat down beside me. “I gathered that. Don’t worry, a little detention will do him good. I won’t let on that you let it slip.”
Annalea sighed and her shoulders slumped.
How are you doing?” the headmistress asked. “You haven’t made any appointments to see your therapist, even though it's been suggested that you might benefit from doing so. I’m not going to make it an order, but there are people that are concerned about how often you’ve been spotted sitting here alone.”
The young avatar looked over and smiled weakly. “I know the staff here has a lot of highly trained doctors and counselors on it, and some are even mutants… but they really can’t know what someone like me went through. I’m alright... Really. I come up here because the spirit likes to be above things, looking and observing. It’s a lot more interesting than when I used to be a couch potato and all I did was watch TV.”
Looking down at the Quad, the memories came back to the young girl, memories of a life that she no longer quite fit.
February 14th, 2007
The home of Chester and Marjorie Downs.
Annalea slammed the door, crying as she did. It was not fair that Bobbi Jo Hundacker had to embarrass her like that. She was a nobody, and Bobbi Jo was the most popular girl in the eighth grade. She had it all, and by all, she meant looks, popularity, a boyfriend. Everything that Annalea didn't have. She hadn’t been hurt physically when the mean girl tripped her, but the following cry of “Earthquake” had hurt her inside.
Winded from the climb up the stairs and entering her room, she shed her clothes and looked in the mirror that hung from the bedroom door. Annalea hated what she saw. She saw herself. She saw that fat girl with the stomach rolls and the saggy flabby arms and greasy, pimply face. She was obese, with saggy fat boobs, a fat ass, and no waist.
After a puff on her inhaler, she laid down on the bed, hearing the creaking of the springs. With a sigh, she picked up her robe and went to take a shower. As the water cascaded down her face, it hid the tears. Not only had the bitch queen been mean to her, the ultimate worst thing had happened later on. Jimmy Humphries, coolest kid in school, he who is destined to be the starting quarterback for the high school team next year, dreamiest of all boys in Boise, THAT Jimmy Humphries… did something to shatter her completely. She had believed him when he asked her out. She felt stupid. Of course it was all a mean joke, and of course she fell for it. When he laughed and called her all those names after she had said “yes”, the heartbroken girl had felt something die inside. Not only did all the ‘cool kids’ see it, but she was pretty sure it was already making its way across social media to those that hadn’t. Annalea would never be able to show her face around the school ever again. Sighing, she did what she always did. She curled up on the couch with a bag of Cheetos and watched TV until dinner. Depressed, she went to bed early. As she slept, she had vivid dreams… dreams about flying.
The next day Annalea felt restless. While she heard the teachers and the other students, her attention was fixed to the windows and what lay outside. When the bell mercifully rang, signifying the end of her last class, Annalea packed her things into her bag and went outside. It was only eight blocks home, so there was no need to ride the bus today. It felt refreshing being outside. When she got home, Annalea dropped her belongings in her room. She changed out of her floor-length skirt and frumpy sweater, opting for sweatpants and a hoodie under a light jacket. The outdoors called to her, and she responded. Walking around with no destination, the young girl looked off towards the foothills and cliffs that loomed not too far away. It was a struggle, but she climbed the smaller hills. But it was not enough; the overwhelming desire to be high up and look down on everything burned in her heart.
They gathered around the dinner table. Her mother and father were already tearing into dinner like starving hyenas. Looking at them, she felt disgusted. Aunt Sylvie had told her many stories about how beautiful her mother had been when she was Annalea’s age, and how the dashing young football star had wooed the head cheerleader. But that was long ago, and they had let themselves go. Worse, they had inflicted their apathy and neglect on her. She looked at her parents and sighed as they tore into the bucket of KFC chicken before them. Oh, she ate, but no longer did she feel the need to indulge to excess. It was that night when the first signs of anything unusual began to show.
She awoke in the middle of the night, screaming in pain. She crawled out of bed, and looked at the bloody sheets. Annalea wasn’t due for her period, and she wasn’t bleeding there. Stumbling out into the hallway, she collapsed on the floor. Her father found her laying unconscious, her pajamas sticking to her bloody back.
February 20th, 2007
St. Luke’s Hospital
Annalea woke up, looking at an unfamiliar ceiling. She attempted to get up, but she couldn’t. There were restraints across her legs and chest, her arms bound to the rails of the bed. A voice came from out of view, soft and feminine. “Ah, you’re up. I’ll let the doctor know”
Soon after, a man entered. He was tall, with blond hair and the look of someone that had entirely too little sleep. He rubbed his hands through his hair as he spoke. “Annalea, I’m Doctor Farber. I was assigned to your case when you were brought in five days ago. You have been unconscious since then.”
Weeping, the young girl looked at him. “Am I… am I dying? I felt such pain, and the blood. There was so much blood…”
The doctor smiled and brushed a stray hair from the girls forehead. “You’re fine. No need to worry about anything. Do you know anything about mutants?”
Annalea’s eyes got large. “M...mutants? Some kids hit puberty, and they develop powers. Last year a girl I knew had her eyes change from brown to blue, and she went from having brown hair to blond. She grew about a foot taller and became all suddenly sexy and busty.”
The doctor chuckled. “That does happen in some cases, I suppose. Before we start talking about specifics, there is someone outside waiting to come in. Shall I let her in?”
Annalea nodded uncertainly, but then smiled as Aunt Sylvie came in, accompanied by her ever-present companion Roger.
Aunt Sylvie!” Annalea exclaimed joyfully. She watched as Roger guided Sylvie to a seat beside the bed. She was happy to see her Aunt, but the absence of her parents worried her. “Where are Mom and Dad?”
Aunt Sylvie sat in the chair, Roger by her side. She shook her head sadly. “My sister and… that man have left. After you were admitted, they disappeared. The police have been to your house, but it appears to have been cleaned out and abandoned.”
Sylvie had never liked Annalea’s father, in her opinion the only good thing he had ever done was donate the DNA for her lovely niece to exist.
Annalea sobbed, and Sylvie reached over and found her hand, holding it tight.
The doctor moved silently to undo the restraints. “Since you are conscious now, I don’t think we need these anymore. You were thrashing about quite a lot.”
Annalea moved in the bed, noticing for the first time that she felt something soft against her back. “Doctor, what happened to me exactly? I remember pain and blood.”
Doctor Farber paused and took a deep breath. “So far you have… sprouted feathers along your spine and shoulders. Some indications are that you will likely sprout more on your arms and legs. It appears as though you are adopting more… avian characteristics, specifically some form of raptor.”
Aunt Sylvie held her niece’s hand and stroked it gently. “Doctor, you’re scaring her. Please tell us in simple terms what you mean.”
The doctor frowned but spoke again. “I apologize. While Annalea is manifesting some bird-like characteristics, she’s still a teenage girl who is healthy enough to be released into your care this afternoon.”
The home of Sylvia Burrows
Annalea sat on the porch, looking out towards the mountains. The feeling of unease was growing. Roger sat beside her, wagging his tail, as the young girl scratched the Labrador Retriever on the top of his head. Hearing his master moving around in the house, the faithful companion got up and pawed at the door. Annalea got up and dusted off the seat of her sweatpants, and the two of them entered the residence.
Sylvie heard her niece enter, and called her to come and sit with her. She gently patted the couch beside her. Annalea looked at her Aunt. She was tall and thin, some would say svelte. She had raven-wing black hair, braided into a long braid that fell just below the small of her back, and wore a black dress with white ruffles around the neck and wrists. The sunglasses she wore hid her eyes. An onyx brooch reflected the light from the windows, giving off an eerie gleam. Roger faithfully curled up at his owner’s feet.
Annalea, are you okay? I know you’ve had a lot to deal with” she asked gently. The girl thought about it. Before being discharged from the hospital, she had looked in the bathroom mirror while getting dressed. Her back was covered in brown and golden-brown feathers, all along her spine, and covering her shoulders, her eyes were a bright golden color, standing out much more noticeably than the dark brown they had once been.
I suppose so. I know I should be feeling more upset than I am, but for some reason, I just can’t feel anything” She paused and looked at her aunt, “I’m more upset about Mom and Dad, to be honest. And also I feel…”
Yes?”, he aunt inquired.
I feel restless. All cooped up and trapped” she responded.
I understand. You may go out and explore. Take Roger with you and stay on my property.”
That wasn’t a hard task, as Aunt Sylvie’s property was nearly a hundred and fifty acres.
February 27th, 2007
The home of Sylvia Burrows
Annalea had taken to exploring the property over the past week. Things she had never thought to do suddenly seemed exciting. Because of the rock climbing, the hiking, and the runs around the property with Roger, she had lost nearly sixty pounds. Her asthma had seemingly vanished, and her diabetes had, by all indications, gone away.
Now that she was losing weight, Annalea was seemingly much happier, but the facade couldn’t fool Sylvia. She could tell that the young girl was frightened. The feathers had spread from along her spine and had covered her entire back, not to mention her shoulders and down her hips and outer thighs. The downy feathers were shedding and being replaced with mature brown and gold feathers.
Annalea entered the room, breathing hard. Sitting by her aunt, she sighed and stretched her legs. “I don’t feel too good.”
Aunt Sylvie patted the girl on the head and called for a taxi to take them to the hospital.
Doctor Farber looked at the X-rays and turned to his patient. “It appears your muscular and skeletal structures are changing, the pectoral and arm musculature strengthening, to allow your arms to operate like wings. Your bones have gained density, though they have become hollow, much like a bird. I suspect there are more changes to come in that regard, such as the lengthening of the arms. The more concerning thing to me is that I’m seeing changes to your reproductive system. Your ovaries have begun to change, elongating. I’ve consulted with a veterinarian friend I know, and she concurs with my hypothesis. You are moving towards becoming oviparous.”
Aunt Sylvie wrapped her arms around the frightened girl. “Please Doctor, in plain language? I think you are scaring her.”
The doctor cleared his throat. “I apologize. I don’t mean to cause you any distress. Essentially, your body is changing and adapting to become more like a bird, with the probability that you will lay eggs instead of undergoing your menstrual cycle each month. It seems like your body is adapting for the possibility of flight, with stronger but lighter bones, and increased muscular development in your arms and back, and chest.”
Annalea turned to her aunt, and cried as she buried her face into her shoulder. The doctor droned on, but while Sylvia heard what he was saying, the distraught girl did not.
The home of Sylvia Burrows
Annalea fumbled with the various small objects her aunt had placed before her. It had been over a week since she had been at the hospital for the check-up, and in that time her mutation had progressed more rapidly. Her arms had elongated, reaching down almost to her knees while standing upright. Claws had burst from her fingertips, tearing her fingernails off as they did. The skin on her hands and forearms had become scaled and had turned yellow.
Giving up, she angrily threw the jar she was holding across the room, and began crying. “Why am I turning into a freak? I can’t stand it!”
She hadn’t heard Aunt Sylvie enter the room.“Am I a freak to you?”
Auntie, I didn’t hear you come in. What do you mean?”
Sylvia sighed and sat down beside her niece at the table. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a card and set it on the table. Annalea looked at it, and then her aunt. “I don’t understand”
When you are a mutant, you need to register and get an MID card. This is mine.” she said slowly. “Officially, my ratings are PSY 1 and WIZ 5. I have a vague danger sense, and can generate a weak telekinetic field around me. Not enough to move anything, but I can use it to feel my environment.”
Annalea’s eyes opened wide in understanding. “So that’s how you…”
Yes, and it’s how I cast my magic as well.” Aunt Sylvie interrupted.
A week passed, with Annalea having continued her changes. She had been bed-ridden and was not doing well emotionally. She stood naked in front of the full-length mirror in her room, looking at the… creature before her.
In the past week, her changes had come on more rapidly, Seemingly coinciding with the anxious feeling of being trapped and wanting to explore higher and higher vantage points. She had sat on the roof a couple times, only to be ordered down.
What she looked at was not her, not the old her, or any semblance thereof. Her skin had darkened to a tanned tone, one that appeared to be permanent. As her arms hung at her sides, the feathers that had grown in scraped the floor. Her back was now completely covered, and the backs and outsides of her thighs and calves had gained even more feathers. She carefully wiggled her new tail feathers. Yes, she had a small protrusion at the base of her spine that could be called a small tail. All of these had been an irritation, or annoyance, but the worst of it was her hands and feet. She stared at her reflection, raising one of her huge hands. Flexing her fingers, she studied the oversized digits with their rough scale-like skin. The fingers were enormous, long enough to envelop a volleyball and still touch thumb to fingertips. Wriggling the fingers she sighed and lowered her wings, for they truly could be called nothing else, to her sides.
Annalea was reminded of one of those science shows she had watched long ago, about the missing link from reptiles to birds, and the primitive what was it called again? Oh, right, the archaeopteryx. Looking down at her feet, she shuddered. She was still learning to walk on those awkward new appendages. It had freaked her out when her big toes began to atrophy and when they fell off entirely, she cried for hours. The fact her little toes began their migration to her heels didn’t help her sanity, and the doctors sedated her to stop the screaming.
She woke up a couple days later with bird-like feet, three long, taloned toes in the front, and an opposable digit where her heel had been. She was getting better at walking, but she still would stumble and fall occasionally, or step on her hind toe painfully. Still she practiced standing, jumping, running every day, her mantra ‘You have to walk before you can fly’, and she did think she could learn to fly.
Shaking off her melancholy, Annalea got dressed and hobbled down the hallway. She could no longer wear most of her shirts, and was limited right now to tank tops and sleeveless outfits. Pants were equally an issue, as her large feet would not fit. She was resigned to having to wear shorts or skirts. Anything she could get on around her huge feet.
The stairs loomed ahead, and made Annalea nervous. With her awkward new feet, she was afraid that she would trip and fall down the stairs, or break her neck if she slipped. Slowly, slowly she inched her way down, making sure she had a tight hold on the railings. Several minutes later, she was down the stairs, wiping her brow of nervous sweat.
Her trip down the stairs had been lengthy, but also silent. With Aunt Sylvie sitting in a chair facing away, she thought she could sneak past. But Sylvie smiled and spoke. “What are you up to kiddo? You can’t go out right now. Perhaps later this afternoon, and only if Roger goes with you.”
Annalea shook her head. “How did you know I was there? I tried to be as quiet as I could!”, she stated in a huff.
Sylvie chuckled. “Indeed you did, but I can tell. I’ll let you in on a secret. You remember that I told you I have telekinesis, right?”
Annalea pondered this. “But how does that help?”, she asked.
Turning towards her niece, she smiled. “While I can’t lift even a postage stamp with it, I have other uses for my TK. You see… ordinarily it extends out around me like a bubble when I am outside, or in a large open space. But when I am in a confined space like a room, it fills the space available. It won’t go through solid objects, but it will flow around them.”
Annalea nodded, suddenly understanding. “I see, so you can feel the feedback of your field as it occupies the negative space?”
Sylvie smiled, proud that the girl had deduced the way the power worked. “Yes, the field is very sensitive. I can feel all the surfaces around me, so I could feel your presence as you moved through the field. I can even mentally picture the things it touches in my head in three dimensions, including my lovely niece.”
Annalea frowned. “But I’m not ‘lovely’, I look freakish.”
Sylvie stood up and walked over to the girl, sidestepping her sleeping dog as she did.
Nonsense! You are a very beautiful girl. You always have been, and you always will be. Don’t let your imaginings of how others will perceive you color your own self image.” Sylvie said, as she hugged the young girl.
Annalea sighed as Aunt Sylvie let go from the embrace, and walked her over to the coffee table. On it sat a pencil, several pieces of paper, some loose change, a paper clip, some thread, and some small beads and buttons. She knew what her aunt intended, but she played dumb, hoping she was wrong.
Sitting and picking up things was so borrring… If only She could be out running around, thought Annalea. She knew that she had to learn how to do things again with her now huge fingers, but the voice… no, the thought in her head wanted to explore, to run free, to… fly? Dare she? Her changes had stopped, seemingly. With a sigh, she picked up the pencil and awkwardly experimented with different grips. The first words she wrote were illegible scratches, but rapidly they began to refine themselves into beautiful cursive. She was mastering her new hands quickly, which was a relief.
Sylvia stood a few yards behind the girl, not intending to spy. She could tell that her niece was bored. Making herself known with an intentional noise, she approached. A smile was on her face. “I think you have done enough training for now. You may go out exploring, but take Roger with you. And don’t leave the property!”
Annalea stood up rapidly, and hugged her aunt, enveloping her in her large wings. Calling out to Roger, she hurried out the door with a happy cry, and took off.
Sylvia walked over to her favorite chair, and sat down. She pondered the future, and not for the first time.
Annalea scrambled up the hill, the black dog running happily behind her. When she had woken up that morning, her stomach had hurt a little. Chalking that up to hunger and residual pains from her change, Annalea had thought nothing of it. However, as she continued her hike up into the foothills, the pain continued to increase. She settled down at the top of the hill, looking down below at the distance she had traveled. The pain had increased to the point she was laying on the ground, in the fetal position, tears streaming from her eyes.
Reaching feebly, she instructed Roger to head to get help, but wonderful as the big black dog was, it seems he had never seen or heard of ‘Lassie’, as he remained there, licking her face in a concerned manner.
Oh crap!” Annalea exclaimed as she felt her stomach muscles clenching and churning. Literally, she clawed at her pants, tearing them to shreds. Blood and sweat and other fluids covered the insides of her legs, and the overwhelming need to push came over her. With a scream, she felt herself being stretched and torn painfully. The ordeal seemed to go on forever. Unable to stand it any more, the poor girl collapsed, totally spent.
A couple hours passed, and Annalea groggily opened her eyes. She was stretched out on the couch, back at home. “Aunt Sylvie, what happened?”, The girl asked, still somewhat confused.
Her Aunt smiled and placed her hand on the young girl’s head. “You had an ordeal, one that the doctors warned you about. I should have been expecting it sooner or later, but with your changes, we are in uncharted waters.”
Sylvie nodded her head towards the coffee table, on which sat a pair of mocha colored eggs with brown speckles. They were each about the size of an ostrich egg. When Annalea glanced at them, she turned pale. She was still sore from her ‘delivery’, and the thought of going through that every month was almost too painful to contemplate.
Laying back, Annalea let out a little pained whimper as she did. “How did I get back here?”, The girl softly mumbled.
Sylvie wiped a cold cloth over her niece’s forehead. “I told you that I’m a mage. Roger may seem like an ordinary dog, but he is literally my eyes and ears. As my familiar, I can see and hear and sense what he can. I knew you were in trouble, because he showed me.”
That explained a lot of questions about Aunt Sylvie, ones that had seemed too… insensitive to ask.
Exhausted, Annalea rolled over gingerly and drifted off to sleep.
March 15th, 2007
Tugging at her make-shift testing suit, Annalea sighed. The sleeves and back had been hastily cut out to allow her wings and tail to fit through. The result was an embarrassing mess that barely covered the top of her butt.
She hadn’t wanted to do this, but the doctors at the hospital had cleared her after an equally embarrassing exam, probably the first of a lifetime of post-egg laying pelvic exams.
It had been difficult for the testers to determine her strength because she couldn’t use the weight resistance machine with her over-sized arms. In the end the scientists extrapolated her probable strength from her grip and examinations of her musculature. In the end she tested at approximately an exemplar 2.
The tests for magic, gadgeteer, devisor and psychic powers all proved negative, as she had assumed they would. The testers had thought up some unique tests designed to examine the more unique aspects of Annalea’s GSD. When her talons sliced open the heavy bag in the testing gym, the examiners frowned. They all stepped back from her by several feet when she sliced the frozen side of beef in half with one swipe. Additionally, her ability to see and read the eye chart from across the gymnasium clearly indicated that she had sight far in excess of any normal person.
After all these tests, one last one remained. Annalea was allowed to change back into the loose tank top and low cut yoga pants that she had worn to the testing. Upon finishing, she was ushered into a room with her aunt in attendance. One of the researchers, a Native American woman of somewhat short stature began to ask her questions.
From the description of your experience, it sounds like you are an avatar. Obviously, it is a bird of prey, based on your GSD. We’ve contacted the Boise State raptor research center, and based on your picture and the description of the eggs you um… laid… the consensus is that you are hosting a spirit of a Golden Eagle. Furthermore, given the extreme nature of your GSD, it would suggest that you are a lower level avatar hosting a spirit that is not entirely compatible with your hallow.”
The researcher saw the vacant stare on the girl’s face, and attempted to explain again. “As an avatar, you have the ability to host a spirit in what we refer to as your hallow. Essentially, this is the metaphysical domain that souls dwell. Normally, a regular person can only fit their own soul, but some mutants have hallows that are large enough to allow for a spirit being to share their hallow.”
Seeing the look of terror on the young girl’s face, the examiner quickly spoke again. “You needn’t fear your spirit. In the stories of my people, there are many tales of people being blessed by their spirits with great powers or abilities, in exchange for letting the spirit have a conduit to interact with the mortal plane. I believe that this is the case.”
With a great sigh, Annalea straightened up in her chair and nodded.
The examiner smiled at Annalea. “We are nearly done. Last thing we need to do before I can print out your MID is for you to decide on a codename.”
Annalea gave several possibilities, most were rejected for being in use already. Dejectedly, she settled on Raptor. With that decided, the examiner typed the chosen name into the laptop in front of her, and quickly a small laminated card emerged from the nearby printer.
Pulling the over-sized cloak tightly about her, Annalea sighed as She and Auntie Sylvie stood outside. The taxi was late, and she was anxious to get back to the house. Now that she looked so freakish, Annalea hated being in the city. She could feel eyes looking at her, trying to see through the garment that hid her from sight. She tensed up momentarily when Aunt Sylvie put her arm around her.
Oh my dear little one, I’m so sorry that this has been so hard for you. If I had known my sister would leave you, I would have smacked some sense into her.” Sylvie smiled, the glasses she always wore covering her eyes. Though Annalea couldn’t see her eyes, she knew that her aunt meant every word.
The Taxi eventually arrived, and the ride home was spent in silence.
March 29th, 2007
The home of Sylvia Burrows
Shaking the dust from her feathers and pulling leaves from her hair, Annalea slowly and clumsily stood up. She had been practicing over the past couple of weeks, but her flying skills still only amounted to the ability to go about 20 feet. She didn’t know what she was doing wrong, but she would figure it out. The Eagle was still filling her head with images and sensations of what it was like to soar over the land, to spot her prey from far above, and to swoop down and snatch it up. While Annalea had no interest in eating raw prey, the other sensations stirred a feeling of desire deep within her.
Tired and bruised, she walked back from the hills towards her new home. Home, funny that she hadn’t really thought of it before. In the little time she had spent with Aunt Sylvie, she was happier than she had ever been before. Even becoming a freakish mutant with the troublesome, annoying bird always prying its way into her head, she was better off than she had ever been before. She was about a mile from the house, but something wasn’t right. There was a black sedan parked out front. Deciding that caution was warranted, Annalea approached cautiously, deciding to enter through the back door.
Creeping through the kitchen, she heard her aunt talking to a man, but she could not make out what was being said.
Annalea, It’s okay to come out!” Her aunt called out loudly.
Trusting the woman that cared for her like nobody else had before, Annalea walked into the parlor, a man in a black suit was standing there, he had on sunglasses and every inch of him screamed government issue.
Sylvie called her over, and hesitantly the girl sat down beside her. If the man was startled by Annalea’s appearance, he didn’t show it. His expression was stone-faced and impossible for her to read.
The man pulled out a case from the breast pocket of his suit, and flashed it to the girl. He was with the FBI.
I’m Special Agent Fennec Miller. I’m here concerning the disappearance of your parents, Winchester A. and Marjorie B. Downs.” The man stated plainly.
Annalea looked at the agent, who was slender and stood perhaps six foot. His hair was worn in a somewhat spiked manner, and she could swear that she had seen someone that looked like him somewhere. Turning aside the thought, she instead focused as he continued to talk.
As I was explaining to your aunt, your parents have been reported as being sighted at anti-mutant rallies and Humanity First fundraisers. Last we saw, they had joined a Radical anti-mutant cell in Montana. After that, they dropped off the grid.”
Sylvie edged closer to her niece and put her arm around the girl. Roger came over and put his head in Annalea’s lap and whimpered. Carefully petting the large dog helped, and Annalea seemed to calm down some.
Taking a folder out of his briefcase, the agent handed several pictures over to the young girl. It was mom and dad alright, though the sight of mom brandishing some sort of automatic weapon shocked and scared her. They looked thinner, if that were possible, having lost a lot of weight in the short time that they had been gone.
They look so different, Mom has easily lost a hundred pounds, Dad maybe one-fifty.” Annalea replied.
The agent nodded. “It’s entirely possible that they had unusual assistance, but what sort is unknown.”
Sylvie spoke, not bothering with the photos. “I’ve heard of people using everything from magic to demonic contracts for this sort of thing. Given that we are talking about my brother-in-law, I highly doubt it was anything to do with devisor drugs, clone bodies, or any mutant-developed technology. He’s always been somewhat… vocal in his dislike of our kind, but if I had thought it was that bad, I would have taken my niece away from them long ago.”
Agent Miller looked towards Ms. Burrows. Even if he hadn’t known already that she was a mutant, to state that openly was a bold move. “I’ll need to call my partner, Agent Scolaidhe, and see what she’s uncovered. But It would seem that for now, you are both safe. It seems as though they have no interest in you.”
Annalea sighed and lowered her head.
Um… I didn’t mean it that way. I meant that you shouldn’t worry about them coming here to do anything to you. The agent amended.
After the agent had concluded his business and left, Annalea slunk off upstairs and spent the rest of the day in the makeshift nest she had made from her bedding. It had become unnatural for the girl to sleep comfortably laying down, now she much preferred a sitting position. With tears streaming down her face, she eventually fell asleep.
April 2nd, 2007
The home of Sylvia Burrows
Sitting in the living room, Sylvia quietly sipped at her tea. Intellectually, she knew that whether she had her eyes open or closed made no difference when looking through her familiar’s eyes, but she still closed them out of habit. Annalea was out climbing in the hills again, testing her wings. It brought a smile to Sylvia’s face to see the enthusiasm the girl had for her flying. Indeed, she was getting much better. She had learned how to soar after jumping from high up, but the girl still hadn’t quite mastered taking off from the ground. To be fair, the landings also needed some work. Still, for Sylvia it was a good sign to see.
Annalea’s enthusiasm brought back memories for Sylvia. She remembered being the same age as her niece was, and her own excitement over discovering her own powers, the sheer joy that came from experimentation with the magic. The concern their mother had upon discovering that her child was able to manipulate light and darkness and make shadows solidify and obey her will.
Thinking back, Sylvia thought about her sister. She should have seen the envy and the gradual increase in the distance between them, but back then it wasn’t nearly as apparent. Maggie had always been the popular one, prettier and more outgoing than herself. Local beauty pageants, cheerleading, her sister seemed to be everyone’s favorite, while Sylvia was the awkward one. Sylvia was three years older, but people gravitated to Maggie. Maggie was the one that landed the school stud as a freshman, While Sylvia, the junior, was the awkward virgin. A fact that Marjorie would rub in her face.
When Sylvia left for college on scholarship, she didn’t think overly much about Chester and Maggie. She was sure that Maggie would grow up and move on to find someone better. When she had returned from Princeton in the spring, Sylvia was horrified to learn that her baby sister was married to Chester and was pregnant. Maggie should have had her whole high school life to have fun and just be a teen. Now she was expected to be a mother and a wife. With a sigh, Sylvia recalled the big fight the two of them had, and her decision to move out of her parent’s home.
With a sigh, Sylvia’s memories went unbidden to the day she was attacked. Her sister had just delivered the day before, and she was on her way to try to bury the hatchet before she returned to school for fall semester. Though she had felt that there was someone else there, she didn’t get any opportunity to look at them. It all happened so fast, and even though she did everything she could to protect herself, the masked person overpowered her. She woke up in the hospital, bandaged up and broken. She would never be the same after that.
Sylvia concentrated on Roger, and she looked through the eyes of her familiar. Annalea was gliding about Fifty feet off the ground, practicing turning and weaving through the trees and boulders. Smiling at her niece’s enthusiasm and joy, she turned her mind to other matters. Annalea couldn’t stay out of school forever. The girl was bright, keeping up with her studies, even while working hard on mastering her new abilities. But isolated on the ranch, alone with only roger and herself for company was no way to live.
When she had been in the hospital, she had met The local hero, Spud Gun. Seriously, that name… He had mentioned that he had gone to a boarding School for mutants somewhere out on the East Coast. She would have to look into that, if the word of someone that called themselves ‘Spud Gun’ was reliable, that is.
Sending a mental message to her familiar to bring Annalea home soon for dinner. Thoughts percolated in her brain, ideas about what needed to come next.
Annalea scratched Roger behind the ears, as he barked that it was time to head back. Aunt Sylvie had told her that Roger was a magical familiar, and not an ordinary dog, but even after all this time, it amazed her how much intelligence the Labrador would show. With a smile she took a few running steps and propelled herself into the air, gliding along at about perhaps ten feet above the ground, flapping her wings as she propelled herself towards the house. Arriving a few minutes later, Annalea fumbled with the door knob. She cursed slightly, as she did. Her dexterity with the huge over-sized digits was getting better, but some things still gave her some trouble. At least she had managed to develop a way to hold pens and pencils to write, even if her penmanship needed a lot of work.
The two of them sat silent for several minutes, Sylvia finally breaking the silence. “So Kiddo, what shall we do with you? I’ve heard there is a school out East for mutants. I didn’t attend obviously, but if I had known about it, I probably would have asked your grandparents, rest their souls, to look into it. I know you are doing well in your self-training, but you need more. More than I can provide you. You need a life, beyond what I can give you. Friends your age, maybe the chance to meet that special someone. Certainly not kicking around this old ranch, with some crippled old woman and her dog.”
Annalea scoffed. “You aren’t old. I be you could run circles around most of the kids down at the high school.”
Sylvia laughed and nodded. “You might be right about that. Tell you what, how about tomorrow I join you and Roger and we do some training together?”
Annalea smiled the brightest, happiest smile she had smiled in a long time. “I.. I’d like that”
That same day,
Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool
The man in the dark suit looked around, spotting an older man sitting on a bench feeding pigeons. Casually, he wandered over, looking for people watching as he did.
Looks like it’ll be a glorious week, weather-wise, I think.” He said to the man, as he sat down.
Without looking up, the other man nodded and replied. “I think it best to bring an umbrella, just in case of the unexpected.”
Understood.” the young man stated, the code-phrases having been exchanged. “Updates on Project: Damocles?”
The old man continued to spread breadcrumbs, not looking up. “There have been one thousand and thirty four test subjects to date. Three hundred and twenty two suffered neurological augmentation failure, resulting in fatal neurological damage. The autopsies haven’t revealed a solution as yet. Seventy six failed to activate after the technology implantation. One hundred and nineteen committed suicide by self-destruct shortly after activation, no reason is as yet known, it is possible that the cybernetic neural implants malfunctioned and caused psychological distress. The reasons for this are, as yet, unknown.
Four hundred underwent power core overload during the test phase. One hundred three were lost when their weapons systems detonated after catastrophic failure. The munitions division is looking into that, so far results are inconclusive. Fourteen have survived and remain stable, pending additional testing.”
The younger man nodded grimly. “Any advancements in the decay of the power cores? One year’s service time is a rather short lifetime, considering the amount of money and time that’s gone into this project.”
The old man continued to scatter the crumbs, without looking up. “On the one hand, if we improve the life of the cores, we could certainly market to others. I know that the application could be extended beyond anti-mutant uses. Once upon a time the battleship ruled the seas, then the carriers drove them into obsolescence. Similarly, the days of the bulky powered armor are numbered. I mean if you can hide an augmented soldier in plain site, you gain the advantage.”
The old man crumpled up the empty bag and threw it away. Getting up, he walked away, leaving the younger man to watch as the pigeons the old man had been feeding started to collapse and die.
End of Interlude
April 3rd, 2007
The home of Sylvia Burrows
Annalea stretched as she sat in her makeshift nest. The bed had been too uncomfortable, and Aunt Sylvie had found the old plastic wading pool in the shed. With some blankets and pillows, it had become a much preferable alternative. She could sit in it and sleep upright comfortably. The sun was breaking over the mountains and just barely peeking in though the windows. Of course, she knew that Aunt Sylvie had been up for at least an hour by then. Quickly throwing on some shorts and a tank top, the young girl raced down the stairs and into the kitchen. Pulling up a seat, she scarfed her breakfast down excitedly. Aunt Sylvie was going to practice with her, showing her actual magic! She had not seen it before, as her aunt was very careful in the use of her magic, making sure nobody was around.
Sylvia looked at the rambunctious girl and deliberately took her time savoring her meal. Eventually, she started laughing when the young girl began to impatiently tap her toe-talons on the hardwood floor.
Alright, alright. Give me a moment.” She said, as she stood up and walked over to put her plate in the dishwasher.
Ten minutes later, they were outside, at the base of the foothills that Annalea had taken such a liking to. Sylvia stretched, her black tracksuit hugging her slender, athletic body. Roger was to her right, wagging his tail happily.
Okay Kiddo, let’s get this workout going!” Sylvia said as she stretched and warmed up. She looked to her faithful companion and smiled. “You’re up Roger!”
Annalea backed up nervously as the friendly dog transformed into something from the dark recesses of her deepest nightmares. The creature that had been a normal sized Black Lab now stood before her, easily the size of a large draft horse. His shiny black fur was now matte black, trapping any light that shone on it, making him look like he was made of shadows. Black smoke swirled around his feet, and belched forth from his nostrils as he snorted. Opening his mouth, he revealed razor sharp teeth, sharper than the teen girl’s own talons.
Startled, Annalea ran up the steep embankment and dodged behind trees as the nightmare that was Roger gained on her. The teen spent the next three hours dodging magical ebon bolts, tendrils, and chains courtesy of her aunt’s shadow magic, while making sure the nightmare hound did not get the drop on her. It was exhausting, but fun.
When they finished, Annalea and Sylvia gave up and rode Roger back to the house. After a shower and change of clothes, they settled in the kitchen.
I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!” Annalea said, sitting down at the table with a glass of lemonade.
With a laugh, Sylvia responded. “I don’t have one of those, but I could whip up something. How’s an omelette sound?”
Blanching, the young girl stuttered. “I… I don’t think I can eat eggs, not after… you know.”
With a nod, Aunt Sylvie sighed. “Sorry, I should have thought of that. How about a nice BLT?”
The girl smiled and gave a ‘thumbs up’ with her huge taloned digits.
After lunch, the two women sat outside, looking out at the mountains. Sylvia spoke up as she gently rocked on the porch swing. “I couldn’t help but notice that while your flying is quite good in speed and maneuverability, you don’t go very high. Is something bothering you?”
The teen hugged her legs and replied. “I… I… it’s silly. I know I can fly, and the spirit wants to soar and it urges me to go higher and higher. But I’m scared. Scared of being high up in the sky and falling. Looking down and seeing the ground far below. I feel like … I don’t know… not quite right. I’m not sure I can explain it.”
Sylvia nodded. “Icarus syndrome.”
Confused, Annalea looked over at her aunt.
I was doing some research. Icarus syndrome is a condition that some mutants and other supers get upon developing the ability to fly. They become afraid of heights and fear that they will fall. I have faith in you. You will beat this. You will soar through the skies and find freedom that I can only envy.”
Sylvia wrapped her arms around her niece and hugged the girl, stroking her back.
April 9th, 2007
Julius M. Kleiner Memorial Park
Annalea looked around uneasily. She had her sleeveless hoodie on, and was very conscious of the looks she was getting. Aunt Sylvia had promised her that everything would be okay. She fidgeted nervously, her long wings a dead giveaway of her mutant status.
You’ll be okay kiddo, you have to get out and be around others. You can’t hide at the ranch the rest of your life. Yes, there will be people that will hate you or fear you. But there will also be new friends and new opportunities that you can’t even imagine right now.” Sylvia stated plainly.
Still, Annalea couldn’t help but glance around uneasy. There were some boys over by the baseball field looking her way, and a couple parents watching kids over at the swings. Every now and then she would see their eyes dart her direction. She tried her best to ignore the attention, and concentrated on throwing the Frisbee. Roger would jump and pluck it from midair, and do tricks. The familiar mixed in some flashy backflips and leaping catches. He might be a monster, but before that he was a ham. Despite their wariness a few young girls came over, accompanied by their mothers and gave him a petting and some head scratches.
One young child looked up at Annalea with wide eyes. “What are you? Are you a monster?”, She innocently asked.
The mother pulled her back cautiously, but Annalea smiled feebly. “No, I’m just a girl. I met a magical spirit and it made me like it, so that I can fly with it and soar through the clouds.”
The girl’s eyes widened, and she mouthed a silent ‘wow’. Nervously the girl’s mother pulled her away, and retreated to the far end of the park. With a sigh, Annalea slumped to the ground. Roger dropped the Frisbee and came over. He placed his head in her lap and whined sadly. Sylvia knelt down on one knee and rubbed Annalea’s back.
It seemed though that life had another kick to the stomach to deliver. The group of boys that had been over at the ball field had broken up, with several headed towards them. A shiver ran through the young girl, as Annalea recognized one of them. It was Jimmy Humphries, and he was heading over.
Jimmy stood before Annalea, looking into her golden eyes. He swallowed hard and then spoke. “So, what are you doing here, mutie?”
Not even blinking, Annalea looked back at him, a slight glare quickly settled on her face. “Playing Frisbee with my dog, what’s it to you, Jimmy?”
Stunned, the boy backed up a good several paces, and looked the freak over. She was slim, and muscular, with slender curves. Her breasts were on the smallish side, but If not for her being a total freakazoid, she might have been hot.
Noticing this, Annalea laughed. “Checking me out, huh? More than you ever did when I was called ‘Piglet’ or ‘Flabby Abbi’ by you and your friends. Not that you got the name right.”
Jimmy looked at her again, squinting. “Downs… you were that girl.”
You remember me then? You remember how you humiliated me? Well, fuck you. I got the best revenge. I’m stronger than you now, I’m faster, I could pound you into the dirt if I wanted. See these talons? At my mutant testing, I sliced a frozen side of beef in half with one swing. I could kill you with the slightest flick of the wrist. But you know what? I’m not going to. I’m the bigger person. You go back to your lame little group of hangers-on and do Bobbi Jo Hundacker all you want. I know she’s been spreading her legs for half the Freshmen football team. But you are going to be the quarterback next year, so that should at least move you to the top of the list.”
Seething with rage, Annalea barely felt Her Aunt’s hand rest gently on her shoulder. Roger sat at her heel, Frisbee in mouth.
From the other end of the park, two large, imposing men approached. They had on sunglasses, and the typical black suits that signaled MCO. Quickening their strides, the men arrived rapidly to stand over the women. Both men were tall and would not look out of place on either an NBA court, or an NFL field. They stood threateningly, muscles bulging and straining against the material of their suits.
The larger man, easily standing close to six foot eight, with the cliché buzz cut and former military drill sergeant posture spoke. “Is there something I should be aware of?”
Well, of course Jimmy took that opportunity to make something up. “That mutant freak threatened me. She said she was going to kill me. She said she was going to fly me up a mile and drop me!”
Annalea started to protest, but her aunt pulled her back. Handing over her MID, and Roger’s service dog card, Sylvia nodded to her niece to hand her MID over as well.
Handing the cards off to his partner, the man stepped forward, while his partner scanned the MID cards, and looked at the Service Dog permit, unsure what exactly to do with it.
The agents looked at each other, and then at Jimmy. The smaller man spoke up. “I think we’ve heard enough. Ladies, if you’ll accompany us down to MCO headquarters, we can straighten this all out.”
Annalea knew that if they went with the officers, they likely would never be seen again. She was beginning to tremble, when she heard another voice.
I really think that these ladies should stay here, while we straighten this all out.” Annalea sighed, recognizing the voice.
Sure enough, looking in the direction it came from, there stood Special Agent Miller, along with a short redheaded woman. Both of them were approaching, Identification out.
FBI Special Agent Fennec Miller, and this is my partner Special Agent Dinah Scolaidhe. Is there a problem here?”
Jimmy, far out of his element, made a hasty retreat behind some garbage cans.
Unrattled, the larger man stepped forward. “MCO Agent James Smith and my partner, Agent Doug Jones.”
Annalea nearly chuckled as she caught a look like ‘really, is that what you want to go with?’ briefly cross Miller’s face.
Oblivious, Smith continued. “We were going to take these two down to our offices, after an incident of threatening behavior was reported.”
Miller looked back at his partner. “Scolaidhe, what do you think?”
The short redhead looked at the MCO agents. “Well Miller, considering that these woman are the primary witnesses in an FBI investigation, I don’t think that allowing the MCO to take them anywhere would be advisable.”
The MCO agents scowled, and the man identified as ‘Jones’ cleared his throat before speaking. “I insist that we be allowed to take these suspects in.”
Miller shook his head. “I’m afraid we can’t allow that. If you have any complaints, I suggest you contact Deputy Director Wallace Tanner in the Washington DC office. In the mean time, if you ladies will accompany us?”
Sylvia and Annalea followed Miller to the agents Sedan. Meanwhile, Agent Scolaidhe remained behind and with a look that cowed the larger men, she took back the MIDs and the Canine permit.
The trip back to the ranch was silent.
The Breezy Inn Motel
Somewhere along Interstate 310,
Maggie scratched at her arm, as she sat in the bathroom. She could feel something moving under her skin, like she had worms or maggots burrowing through her muscles. The sweating and nausea had subsided, but she was not well. After throwing up the black sludge, she had collapsed to the floor. The pain was intense. She downed a handful of the painkillers that the scientists had given her. Stumbling out of the bathroom, she looked around the apartment. Chester was gone.
April 10th, 2007
The home of Sylvia Burrows
Yesterday had been a big hassle for Annalea. She sat on her bed, awkwardly adjusting her bra straps. She was getting better with manipulating things with her huge mitts, but it was still irritating. After about twenty minutes Annalea was downstairs at the kitchen table, carefully pouring milk into her cereal, which she quickly downed. Aunt Sylvie had gotten up early and taken a cab into town to do some shopping and run personal errands. With Roger having accompanied her, it left Annalea all alone.
Aunt Sylvie had warned her not to leave the ranch grounds. Sitting on the porch swing, Annalea looked out across the farm, towards the foothills. As she did, she recalled the warnings from the FBI agents the day before. Her parents had dropped off the radar, and there were rumors of connection to a hidden Humanity First experiment, of possible human trafficking, and other illegal enterprises. It was hard to believe. They had always been such… slugs, and had encouraged her to become one. And yet, she had often heard stories describing them as 'the dashing football player and the beautiful cheerleader. It was so hard to reconcile the two in her mind. Sighing, she got up and walked over to the shed.
Aunt Sylvie didn’t keep animals on the ranch, but it had been Grandma and Grandpa’s once, and had been a working ranch. Digging through the assorted tools and miscellaneous supplies, she found a metal rasp. Sitting on a barrel, Annalea started to file her talons, starting with the feet, then moving on to the hands. Getting them nice and sharp, she wiped them off with a cloth, they had a nice sheen, and were rather impressive. Out of boredom, she found some old hay bales and started practicing kicks and slashes.
The young girl had gotten so involved in the impromptu workout that she failed to notice that her aunt had returned. “Poking around? Find anything interesting?”, Sylvia commented casually.
Annalea startled and then spun around. “Auntie, I… I didn’t hear you there.”
Sylvia smiled and approached the girl. “I’m sorry if I startled you. My business finished up sooner than expected.”
Sitting on a convenient box, Annalea looked at her aunt. “What were you doing? I don’t mean to pry, but you own all this land and you don’t work. Is thee a weed growing patch hidden somewhere?”
Sylvia laughed and pulled up a barrel to sit down on. “Marijuana? That’s funny. No, nothing illegal. I inherited quite a sizable amount of land all over the state from your grandparents. Between the gold and silver mining, the potato, wheat, and hay crops, and the paper mills, I do okay. And I occasionally do some consulting about magic.”
Annalea looked at her aunt, perplexed. Sylvia smiled and responded. “In college, I majored in occult history and minored in para-psychology. I occasionally get jobs advising heroes, the military, and law enforcement. I ended up with something of a reputation. So much so that People started calling me ‘Lady Penumbra’, even though the name on my MID is just Penumbra.”
Laughing, Annalea looked at her aunt. “Surely it has nothing to do with the fact that you wear dresses and outfits that look like they come out of Victorian London.”
For her part, Sylvia sighed and adjusted the cameo she wore around her neck. The fact she was wearing a full length black dress with a high collar and a bustle, along with knee high laced black boots ironically underscored Annalea’s joke.
Roger barked from outside the shed. “I think he’s trying to tell us to shut up and feed him” Sylvia commented. Laughing, the women headed back to the farm house. Lunch was hastily thrown together, and they quickly ate. Afterwards, Sylvia changed into some work clothes and accompanied her niece back to the shed.
You know, I’ve really neglected cleaning up around here after Mom and Dad died.” She commented sadly.
Hugging her aunt, Annalea looked around the shed. Tools and crates were haphazardly strewn about. “I miss Grandma and Grandpa, I don’t remember a lot, but I know they loved me. And I remember Christmas and the hayrides and Halloween and the good times.”
Annalea stopped and tears started streaming down her cheeks. Aunt Sylvie put down the box she was looking through and came over to hug the girl. “I know you were very young when they died, but they loved you very much. I wish they hadn’t been on the road during that snowstorm, and to this day I have no idea why they were.”
Wiping her eyes, Annalea went back to work sorting through a pile of tools. “I wish I had been able to go to the funeral, but Dad said that it would be too traumatic.”
Pausing for a moment, Sylvia tilted her head and let out a rather loud sigh. “I don’t know how much of it was that. He and your grandparents never got along. They seemed to think that he was eyeing your mother’s possible inheritance, so when they left a stipulation in their wills that your mother’s portion be held in trust until such time as they were no longer together… he went ballistic. It further infuriated your father that if you reached the age of twenty-one and they were still married, that trust would transfer to you instead.”
Tears streaming down her cheeks, Annalea hugged her aunt, and just sat there.
That same day,
Somewhere in western Montana
Maggie had a death-grip on her right wrist, holding on tight as her arm spasmed and shook. Cables and wires were tunneling through her muscles, tearing them apart and bonding them back together haphazardly. She bit down on the washrag, slumped over in the back of the camper. She hadn’t asked where Chester had gotten it, and she wasn’t sure if she really wanted to know. When he disappeared a couple days ago, and mysteriously returned with the RV, she had been suspicious, but her pain was such that she didn’t dwell on it too much. When Chester had told her that the scientists would make them strong, and fit and better than they had ever been, she hadn’t questioned it. Her resistance had long been beaten out of her.
Unsteadily, she stood up and walked towards the small bathroom. Looking at her reflection on the mirror that was mounted to the door, she bit her lip to keep from screaming. She was fit, yes. Her figure was like something out of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, but the surface results told another story. She had a ‘Y’ shaped incision that started at each shoulder, and met just above her ample cleavage. The scar continued down, to where her bellybutton had been, before ending just below the waist. There were random patches of pseudo-skin and grafted circuit patterns in no apparent rhyme or reason on her arms and legs, The faint red glow from behind her left eye worried her, nearly as much as the whirring and humming sounds when she moved. Her back felt like it was on fire. She crawled back to the bed and sobbed, black viscous liquid shed in the place of tears.
April 13th, 2007
Best Western Motel
Special Agent Dinah Scolaidhe sat in the chair in her room, looking at the information displayed on a laptop in front of her. Sipping at her coffee, she waited for the customary morning knock from her partner. Three knocks and then two lower down the door.
Come in Miller”, she responded casually when the signal came. The male agent entered slowly, and pulled up a chair beside her.
So, what are we looking at?”, He questioned.
Report came in of an RV being stolen from a motel in Wyoming. The victims say that they were held up by two perpetrators, one male and one female, and get this… ‘the assailants were reported as having shot red beams out of their palms, like something out of Star Trek’. Any thoughts?”
Miller sat up straight. “It could be aliens.”
Dinah Scolaidhe sighed and shook her head. “Miller, not everything is aliens.”
Tuning his head, he looked at her and said simply, “Tahoe.”
Shrugging, Dinah had to admit it. “Ok, yes, that was aliens. But in general not everything is aliens. I think... that we have found The Downs girl’s parents.”
Miller nodded. “Yeah... That makes much more sense. I’ll contact her aunt and let them know that trouble might be heading their way.”
That same moment,
The home of Sylvia Burrows
Annalea was done sulking, she was tired of it all. Mom and Dad had failed her. Dad outright hated her existence. Mom, she couldn’t be too certain about, but Dad? No doubt. Sitting on the top of the barn, looking over the ranch, she recalled times in the past where her mother had seemed like she was afraid. She would always look to Annalea’s father when decisions needed to be made. She flinched a lot, and seemed nervous. How could Annalea have never picked up on the fact that her mother was afraid of her father? She had no answers, Instead, she gazed out at the horizon, the future.
Her attention was brought back to the present by the most amusing sight. Roger was in full Shadow-beast form, pulling a large wagon of scrap and junk. Aunt Sylvie was sitting in the wagon seat, gently guiding the reigns. It seemed as though Annalea’s presence had lit a spark under her aunt. The past few days the three of them had cleaned out most of the junk from the various structures, collecting them for removal. It caused the girl to smile, she was glad that she had her aunt to take care of her. Someone that genuinely loved her, no matter what she looked like.
Hopping down from the roof the youngster gently glided to a landing. She was getting much better at those, having crashed only once recently. She still was fighting the Icarus Syndrome. She was getting better, having gone up to close to fifty feet off the ground the other day. Baby steps, she thought, baby steps.
Annalea’s attention snapped back into focus as she saw the sedan driving up the road. With her eagle’s vision, she spotted it still a mile away.
Auntie, we have visitors coming!” she said. She slipped behind the wall of the barn, as Roger quickly assumed his more… appropriate form. Sylvia climbed down from the wagon and circled around to take Roger’s harness.
From her hiding spot, Annalea could see who was in the car now. She stepped out into the light. “It’s okay, it’s the FBI agents.”
Sure enough moments later, the sedan had pulled up, and special Agent Miller was getting out.
Aunt Sylvie stood her ground, making it known this was her domain. Watching, Annalea was amazed, the power that played across her shin giving her goosebumps.
Agent.” Sylvia said neutrally, bowing her head as she greeted the unexpected visitor.
Lady Penumbra” responded Special Agent Miller, politely.
Sighing, Sylvia dropped the magic aura and shook her head. “Is there something I can do for you? I haven’t consulted for the FBI in a few years, but the Bureau knows my payment information. Or is this about her, and the incident the other day?” Sylvia nodded back towards the spot where Annalea was standing.
As far as the MCO is concerned, they received a rather… insistent... call from Deputy Director Tanner, and have assured us that no charges will be brought. No, I come bearing news. A few days ago a family reported their camper was stolen by, and I quote ‘A man that shot beams from their hands, and threw cars’, I’m afraid that the physical descriptions roughly matched your brother-in-law. We can’t explain the differences in physical condition, or the sudden powers.”
I see. Thank you for the warning Agent Miller. I have your number if I need to contact you. It seems though that right now, I need to busy myself with warding the property, and setting up defense.”
Special Agent Miller nodded and walked back to the car. Turning, he called back. “Call us if you need help.”
As she watched the Agent drive away, Annalea was filled with a sense of dread.
April 15th, 2007
Near the Idaho Border
Chet Downs was mad. No, not Chester. He had never liked that nickname, but he had grudgingly accepted it. He would never accept anything again. He was strong now. He had power. His life would never be about compromise ever again. When he was in school, he had everything. He had the perfect plan. He was a star, the top football player. Everyone loved him, everyone bent over backwards to kiss his ass. It was all supposed to be perfect, his for the taking. Marjorie Burrows was hot, the sexiest girl in school a cheerleader. Even better, she came from a wealthy family and was gullible and easily controlled.
He was supposed to get her to fall in love with him, and then once her parents kicked, he would be rich. But there were obstacles. That damned older sister of hers. That freak. She hated him, and was suspicious of him. She was probably the one that poisoned her parent’s opinion of him. Surely it wasn’t anything he did. So when he knocked up pitiful little Marjorie, he popped the question. But it wasn’t excitement that he saw from her parents, it was scorn and rejection. Worse yet, Maggie got fatter and fatter and uglier to him. Then the ultimate betrayal, it was a girl.
Chet had wanted a boy, someone he could mold into his image. Instead, he got a girl. A weak, pathetic girl. If it had been a boy, he may still have been able to get his hands on the money. After all, what Son doesn’t want to be like their Dad? But no, when his in-laws had cut fat-ass off of her inheritance, they made sure the little brat would get it, and she wouldn’t share with Daddy. No, she would open her legs for some boy and he’d get the money.
So he tried again, sleeping with that ugly sow. But no more children came. The doctors insulted him, telling him that he had a ‘low sperm count’, and that “Annalea had been a lucky miracle.” No, that’s not how he saw it. She was God’s cruel joke. Hell, she probably wasn’t his. The piggy had still been pretty back then, and it would have been easy for her to get some other guy to father a child, which she tried to pass of as his. He couldn't have sired such a worthless little girl; he KNEW she'd had an affair. She'd gotten a severe beating for cheating on him.
As for the little bitch, she was a freak like her aunt. Oh, He had gotten even with Sylvia for her scorn and interference. He had never felt better as he did when he crippled her in that ambush. A smile spread across Chet’s face. He checked the internal GPS they had installed, and used the internal systems to monitor police bands for roadblocks and police barricades. He would go and get his ultimate revenge, and his weak little puppet would help.
The home of Sylvia Burrows
Sylvia sat on the couch. She had strengthened the wards around the ranch and put up protective charms and spells. Everything she could possibly do, she had done. Now, she sat making plans and contingency plans. She had contacted Spud Gun, who despite the silly name, was a rather competent hero. The devisor was unavailable, off assisting in fighting a forest fire up north. Attempting to call in favors, she also came up empty, as almost everyone that owed her was caught up in their own messes. She had even fleetingly thought of the heroes in Washington and Oregon, but they were too far away to be of help in time. No, if it came down to it, it would be just the three of them.
Annalea came into the room, dressed in the outfit that her aunt Sylvie had given her. The black shorts and bustier were woven with kevra and had yellow accents and straps. Yellow garters held up brown kevra stirrup stockings. Harnesses strapped about the chest and waist contained several pouches. A pair of flexible shoulder guards and aviator goggles completed the ensemble. It was meant to be a present for later, but the situation made it necessary.
The girl looked over at her aunt, who surprisingly had eschewed her normal Victorian bustle skirt and bodice for a black corset and pants that looked like they were made of leather, though Annalea suspected they were re-enforced with Kevra. She still wore the knee-boots, and had thrown on a black leather jacket. Oddly enough, the ever-present sunglasses were nowhere to be seen.
Clad in their war-garb, the two could only wait.
They didn’t have to wait long. The noon sun shone down, the shadow receding before it. Roger perked his head up and growled. Annalea could see an RV kicking up dust as it sped down the road to the ranch. As it approached, two figures bailed out before it slammed into an ebon shield and exploded.
Standing motionless, Sylvia faced the two as they approached her shield. “Winchester, I had heard you had some work done. Can’t say it’s an improvement.”
About forty feet behind her aunt, Annalea gawked at what a bad-ass her Aunt Sylvie was. Then she saw the figure behind her father, and the tears started. Her father had always been aloof and distant, but her mother had still been kind and gentle.
Roger moved behind Sylvia, growling and acting very imposing in his giant form. Whether it worked or not was moot as Chet suddenly raised his hand, shooting out a brilliant red beam from his palm. Roger flew back from the impact, black ooze flowing from his wounds. Annalea watched in horror as her father peeled the bunt skin off, revealing shining chrome-colored bones, and tube-like synthetic muscle and tendon.
Chet looked at the targets. The creature was down, but it was an unknown. That bitch Sylvia was open, but she was a sorcerer and could strike at any second. No, the obvious easy target was the girl. If she killed that monster, he would be vindicated. Taking aim, he ran forward, firing a blast. It hit a black shield and dissipated. Scowling at Sylvia’s interference, he took aim again. The little bitch took to the air, rapidly disappearing from sight. Coward.
Annalea knew she had to overcome her fear. She climbed higher and higher, pushing herself to her limits. She passed through a small cloud, and looked down, she could see for miles. Far below her, she saw the fight. Her Parents and Aunt appeared like ants. Gathering her courage, she dove. Speed built up, she heard the wind whistle as she powered through it. Going faster and faster she sped on, until her target was in reach. With a mighty cry she pulled up, slashing with her hind talons, tearing the flesh from her father’s torso. Sparks flew and cables and wires snaked about, crackling and sparking. Watching in horror, Annalea saw the cables burrow back into place, regenerating.
He’s healing!” the young girl screamed out.
Roger shook his head and stood uneasily. The beast threw himself into the fray once more, snarling and smashing into Chester.
Sylvia gestured, shadows flowing along the ground, in defiance of the noon Sun. “Let me guess, you picked this time of day because you thought my shadow powers would be at their weakest. Guess again!”
The dark bands curled around Chester’s legs, almost solid. He pulled against them, struggling. Turning, he looked at his wife, who stood there shell-shocked. “Don’t just stand there, you miserable weakling. Do something, or so help me... I’ll kill you!”
Looking between her husband and her daughter and sister, Maggie screamed and put her hands to her head. She dropped to her knee, then face-down into the dirt.
Chet looked back in disgust. “Pathetic weakling.”
He grabbed at the beast that had lunged at him, and snapped its neck. Sylvia screamed and slammed him with black energy. Chet fell back, getting up slowly. He turned and blasted the freak-girl as she darted in from the side. Picking her up by the head, he flung her away.
Disgusting!” he sneered at the fallen girl. Staggering to her feet, Annalea stepped forward, but the pain from her now-broken leg caused her to wobble and faint.
Seeing an opportunity he targeted the girl, intending to disintegrate her. Taking aim, he charged the shot, and fired… only to have his shot spoiled by a bolt from Sylvia hitting his arm. In retaliation, he took aim and fired on the witch.
Sylvia got to her knees, her shoulder dislocated. Chester had approached and stood over her. Roger lay in a heap, his head twisted in an unnatural position. Maggie was curled in the fetal position, sobbing. Annalea lay a little distance away, but Sylvia could tell she was breathing.
Standing over his defeated foe, Chet grinned, the skin on his left side of his face hanging loosely. If Sylvia had ever seen the movies, she would have been reminded of the Terminator. Chester gloated as he stood there. “I have won. You mutant freaks will die. And I will get what I deserve!”
Sylvia shook her head. “You are blind to what you had. You had my beloved little sister, you had a daughter who is kind and generous in spirit. Any failures you think you were subject to are purely your own fault!”
Chet laughed, an inhuman laugh devoid of any emotion. “It is irony that you of all people lecture me about being blind. Oh well, it doesn’t matter. You won’t be alive much longer.
Chester took aim, and suddenly there was a deafening scream, and he struggled as Maggie leapt on him and tore at his side. She wrapped her legs around him, and screamed wildly.
Sylvie! I can’t hold him for long. I need your help. Tell my baby that I always loved her.” She cried.
Sylvia heard the high-pitched whine, turned. She could tell that Maggie was desperate, and she knew what her sister had in mind. “Please, no. There has to be another way!”
Maggie sadly shook her head. “There isn’t. I can’t hold him long, he’s much stronger than me!” A high pitched whine started suddenly, emanating from Maggie.
With a silent prayer, Sylvie lowered her head. A black circle surrounded the two augmented humans. Black smoke and flame shot up from it as black bands intersected it, forming into a pentagram. From the points of the star shot out shadowy black chains, which wrapped around the two of them. Maggie mouthed a barely audible “thank you”, and then everything inside the circle was gone in a brilliant explosion.
Sylvie crawled over to her niece and lay there for a moment, letting the pain and sleep take her.
April 16th, 2007
The home of Sylvia Burrows
Roger lay still on the porch, a shadow-beast wouldn't be bothered by a little thing like having its neck broken. More annoying to him was the ‘cone of shame’ that he had to wear to keep from biting at the sutures on his other wounds. Sylvia sat beside him on the old swing, staying out of the way of the agents that were picking over the site. A familiar man walked over and sat down on the steps.
I wasn’t expecting that the Deputy Director of DARPA himself would come to see me concerning this whole thing.” Sylvia smiled feebly as she adjusted her sunglasses.
Nicholas Reilly looked over at her as she sat there. “Sylvia, how could I not? I’ve known you for a long time, and you saved my life on at least two occasions…”
Three” Sylvia interjected.
Nicholas laughed. “Three. I know that your sister was a victim in all this, and I wanted to make sure that was clear, and that the record will state that she died on the side of the angels.”
Sylvie reached over and patted him on the shoulder. “Thank you.”
Standing up, Nicholas Reilly turned to walk back to the site where scientists and forensic experts were scouring. With a look back at Sylvia, he spoke in a sad tone. “I’m sure you know, but due to the nature of the technology we can’t turn over her remains. I’m so very sorry.”
Sylvie sighed. “I understand. I plan to go ahead with a service, anyhow. Annalea deserves that much.”
One more thing, I understand that you plan to send her to Whateley in the Fall. If she ever needs help, or if she ever feels alone at the school, my daughter Nikki also attends Whateley. I’ll let her know to keep an eye out for her.”
Sylvia smiled again and thanked her old friend. Her thoughts turned to the girl resting upstairs.
April 23rd, 2007
The home of Sylvia Burrows
It took about a week to make the arrangements for the memorial. On that cold morning Sylvia stood behind Annalea, with her hands on the girls shoulders. Roger stood by their side, healed up and freshly groomed. The little spruce tree sat on a corner of the property, and three headstones marked their places before it.
Annalea cried and wiped her tears on her bare arm. She was wearing a black backless and sleeveless formal halter dress, and Aunt Sylvia had on one of her more extravagant Victorian-inspired ensembles.
Mom always did love the smell of fresh pines.” The girl sniffled between sobs. The three sat there for an hour in silence, emotions pouring over the two women. Eventually, Roger whined and nudged Annalea’s hand gently before escorting her back to the house. Sylvia stayed for a few more minutes, silently running her hands over the text on her sister’s marker, before doing the same with her parent’s headstones.
I’m sorry mom, dad. I couldn’t take care of her like you wanted. I’m so sorry.” She slumped down into the grass and cried for several minutes, stopping only when Roger returned to take her back to the house.
With the chaos over with, eventually things settled down on the ranch. Sylvia and Annalea managed to clean out all of the outbuildings, and Sylvia donated what working farm machinery and tools she found to charity. Every morning they would go down to the Memorial tree and spend some time there reflecting. The afternoons saw the two working out together, with Annalea improving on her flying, and growing accustomed to heights. She had conquered her Icarus Syndrome, and enjoyed soaring over the land, looking down. She felt free.
October 21st, 2007
Near Dunwich, NH
Liz Carson sat at her desk, tapping her pen against it. She was bothered by something that had come up in her conversation with young miss Downs earlier that day. Although the girl said that she was okay, it still nagged at the Headmistress. As it was Sunday, There was minimal staff in the office. Wandering out to Elaine Claire’s desk, she picked up a Rolodex and went back into her office After thumbing through it, she stopped at a card and started dialing the number.
After ringing a few times, it connected.
Dr. Denova please.” she asked when someone picked up.
Speaking.” The person on the other end replied.
Ah, Katerina. It’s Liz Carson. Long time, no see old friend.” The Headmistress stated.
Da, tovarisch. Though I imagine you are not calling to catch up on old times.” the woman on the other end of the phone queried.
Liz Carson sighed and rubbed her temples. “As much as I wish I were calling to reminisce, I’ve hit on something of a dilemma. I was talking to a student today. She expressed resignation about not being able to talk to anyone on staff about her GSD.”
Surely Louis is…” Dr. Denova began.
Cutting off the question, Dr. Carson anticipated what was coming.“Louis is a gifted psychic, and does help out when he can, but he has a lot on his plate with running his department. Additionally, I would like your expertise on staff.”
Dr. Denova paused for a second. “I have a lot of things I am working on, myself.”
I understand. How are things at Oxford?”
Good, tenure does have its benefits. I do admit though, I am feeling a bit restless. These old bones of mine don’t take complacency all that well.” she admitted.
Liz had to laugh at that. “If your bones are old, mine would be the object of desire for many an archaeologist.”
Dr. Denova grumbled. “Is that any way to talk to your elders?”
I suppose not” Liz countered. “Come work for me. I can guarantee that the job will not be boring. I need you, more importantly the kids need you. I have an eight year old pyrokinetic who accidentally killed her parents that would perhaps benefit from your unique situation. Likewise, there is a ten year old telepath on campus who has the potential to pass Fubar in strength within just a few years, and he suspects she might actually have already done it.”
There was a moment of silence over the line, before a “мой Бог!” came over the line.
Liz chuckled a little. “Indeed, and that’s not even getting into the high school students.”
There was another moment of silence, and a brief hum. “I do admit, I am intrigued. Have your department head contact me. I’ll think about it, and give you an answer by the end of the week. If I do accept, I will need to finish things up here. I might not be available until January.”
Liz nodded to herself. “I understand. I’ll have Dr. Bellows contact you tomorrow, if possible. I imagine it’s getting late over there, and someone your age should get all the rest they can. Спасибо, old friend.”
"Das Vidanya, tovarisch” Dr. Denova said before hanging up.
Elizabeth Carson smiled after hanging up. “Gotcha!”
She knew her old friend couldn’t possibly refuse such an interesting opportunity.
That same day
Near Dunwich, NH
Annalea sat in a tree. There was no K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Rather, she was hidden from sight, her brown feathers and skin blending in with the bark, just relaxing and observing the students around the Quad. She happened to see Pin Cushion walking around, seemingly with no destination. The girl was, as usual, in a bad mood. There was some gossip going about the campus concerning her family, and some mutant in Michigan, or somewhere, which might explain her constant foul moods.
Frowning, Annalea kept quiet and watched the girl. The bottle blonde was maybe an inch or so shorter than Raptor, and had a slender build like a dancer. Annalea thought that her bust size might only be a little bigger than her own, maybe a B-cup. She was a low-level exemplar, but that wasn’t what one had to worry about with Pin Cushion. If you looked into those blue eyes, you could see the crazy. No, the thing that made her dangerous was that she had money and was nuts. More specifically, she was a complete masochist. Many a person had lost their lunch from watching her sit and cut herself, licking the blood off as her wounds healed due to her extremely high regeneration.
Fortunately, the little psycho was oblivious to her presence, a fact for which Annalea was grateful. Pin Cushion wandered away, and the hidden girl let out a sigh of relief. That was a short-lived respite, as she saw the nutcase turn and head towards UpBeat who was sitting under a tree reading, with her ever-present headphones on, and oblivious to the approach of her nemesis. In addition to being an exemplar Two, UpBeat was also an energizer who could absorb sound energy and use it to temporarily increase her strength.
Annalea sighed and jumped from the tree. She circled overhead, watching. UpBeat had noticed the crazy girl, and leaped to her feet, assuming a fighting stance. Annalea was in no great rush to be any sort of hero, at the same time she knew that she couldn’t just sit on the sidelines and watch. With all the bullying she had endured when she was overweight, she couldn’t sit back and watch it happen to someone else if she could help against the bully.
Swooping down, Annalea landed in the tree that UpBeat had been under. Expecting trouble, she listened in.
Psycho-girl was yelling at UpBeat, which was a rather big mistake, or at least that’s what Annalea thought. The white haired girl was shorter than both Annalea and Pin Cushion, maybe only five foot five at the most. She had a physique that Annalea envied, her muscular well-toned body was a prefect hourglass, with an ass that all the boys would stare at… assuming they weren’t focusing on her amply-endowed chest. UpBeat's brilliant cobalt blue eyes were boring holes into her adversary.
"Ashleigh, how often do we have to do this little dance?” asked UpBeat, while looking at the other girl.
Pin Cushion ignored the question, looking at her foe and shaking her head. “Oh Tori…. Tori, Tori, Tori… You picked a bad time to be alone. Where’s your brother? Finally ditch that loser?”
With a smirk, UpBeat shook her head. “At least my brother is still around. I heard yours got himself into trouble chasing a piece of tail.”
In her hiding place up in the tree, Annalea winced. That was precisely the wrong thing to say.
Sure enough the crazy took over Pin Cushion, and she pulled out a long thin needle from a pouch that was slung loosely at her side. The disturbed girl was preparing to jab herself with it, intending to use her power to project her pain to her adversary, but that’s when Annalea took action. Leaping down from the tree, she landed behind the deranged girl. With her wing, she knocked the sewing needle from the girl’s hand. Restraining the girl with one arm, she palmed Pin Cushion's head with one of her huge mitts.
"Pin Cushion, give up. I know how your power works. I know you have to see your target” Annalea stated.
Word of the masochistic lunatic had spread around campus quickly at the beginning of the semester. Hushed whispers of the psychotic girl who could look at you and make you feel her pain had spread; many thought that she, herself, had begun the terrible sharing of her reputation.
Annalea held the struggling girl still while she motioned to UpBeat. “Take her pouch, search her for anything she could use as a weapon.”
Still somewhat shocked at the sudden appearance of her rescuer, Tori Richmond hesitated for a moment, and then nodded. With the bag confiscated, she reached into her pocket for her phone and called security.
Annalea was stronger than her opponent, and the struggling was futile. Still, she had to make sure this ended peacefully.
"I’ve heard that you can hijack other people’s pain receptors, make them feel what you are feeling. That won’t work now. I have your eyes covered, and if you think I’m letting go, think again. Security is on the way. Plus, if you try to try to escape, I’ll claw your eyes out with my talons. I know you have high regen, but I’ve cut frozen sides of beef apart with my talons, faster than even a chainsaw could do it. So try to escape. I guarantee you will spend the rest of the day over in Doyle, hooked up to IV drips while you regrow your limbs and organs” she said, bluffing.
In truth, she wasn’t sure she could carry out that threat. Yes, she had tried to tear her own father apart months before, but that was life or death. She wasn’t bloodthirsty. Even when her spirit had tried to coax her with images of hunts, she had tried her best to ignore them.
It took only a couple minutes for security to arrive, with several officers escorting them all to the office. After questioning and filling out forms,, Annalea was allowed to leave. Much to her surprise, UpBeat offered to treat her to a coffee at Crystal Hall. Taking a raincheck, Tte now-tired avatar headed back to Hawthorne. Upon entering her room, she curled up in her nest, the day’s last rays retreating as she looked at the sky through her skylight. She laughed at the absurdity of the day, and sighed as she realized that nothing would be routine or commonplace for her again. Like it or not, she was a mutant. And with that thought rattling around in her head, she drifted off into a calming sleep, a sleep where she dreamed of flying.