Airport Shuttle Bus, between JFK and New York City
Tanya had to restrain herself from bouncing slightly on the seat, practically giddy with excitement. After all the hassle and delay at the airport, she was on her way to Whateley again! And this time with a group of other girls she could talk to about it all. And a guy as well, but he was seated slightly apart from them in the middle of the bus. She wondered if he was shy or maybe wasn't sure about sitting with a pack of teenage girls. He looked oriental, so she figured that maybe he didn't speak English very well. She was wondering whether or not to ask him where he was from when the redhead asked her a question.
"So, what's this Evolution Rocks thing?"
Tanya turned to the tall girl, who had a puzzled expression on her face. "They're mostly an advocacy group for mutant civil rights though they also do some other things like anonymous support groups and such. I've been following them for a while and thinking about joining."
Morgana took a long look at the colourful papers, obviously thinking about something as she frowned slightly.
"Mutant civil rights? You mean they don't have any in the USA?"
Tanya grimaced. "Well, it's not like we don't have ANY, but EvRocks advocates that mutants should be treated like everyone else. No discrimination, no unnecessary restrictions, those kinds of things."
Morgana blinked. "Wow, you guys have it worse than I thought. But how do they go about getting more mutant rights?"
"Well, as far as I know the group doesn't have much political influence, so it's mostly by trying to sway public opinion. Lots of rallies, public service announcements, and plenty of word of mouth."
Bianca made a disgusted sound. "Yeah, and they don't go about it that well. They have a pretty unsavoury rep in some places. They've been tied to some pretty extreme stuff - beatings, firebombings, that sort of thing.
"Yeah, well that's true too, I suppose. But you can't really judge the whole group based on the actions of a few extremists. I mean come on, the same thing can be said about Humanity First!, PETA, and all kinds of other advocacy groups."
For her part, Morgana was looking at the notes very dubiously. "I dunno. Surely being involved with people like that isn't good for mutants? Given the MCO and all..."
Tanya shrugged. "Yeah, I guess. EvRocks and the MCO certainly don't tend to see eye to eye, so it is a concern. But I don't think that's a good reason to stay away from them. They DO have a point that it isn't right for us mutants to be mistreated just for being what we are."
"Well, I guess that's true." Morgana looked at the brochures again and sighed. "I'm just worried about getting involved with extremists in a strange country."
"They might have a few, but they aren't all like that though I guess I can see your point..." Tanya looked thoughtful for a moment before brightening up a bit and looking directly at Morgana, deciding to change the subject to something a little less controversial. "But on that note, if you think this is a strange country, just where are YOU from?"
The girl gave a half smile. "I'm from Britain - my name's Morgana."
Tanya gave a big smile. "Wow, that's so cool. I’ve never met anyone from Britain before. In fact, the only person I’ve ever met from outside the US is my Aunt Jorunn, who’s technically my godmother but I call her an aunt anyways. And then, of course, none of really know where GM came from, but that’s…” Tanya paused with a blush as she looked around at the others who were staring at her. “Umm...whoops, I’m kind of rambling, aren’t I?” She looked down at her clasped hands for a moment before quickly adding, "Oh - I'm Tanya by the way." Her cheeks flushed again with embarrassment at still dominating the conversation.
There was an amused chuckle from one of the other girls, the one who still had her hoodie pulled well forward over her head. "Well, I'm not quite from around here either - I'm from California." She held her hand out to each girl in turn. "I'm Lucretia. It's nice to meet you both."
Tanya nodded. "You know, you don't have to keep hiding under your hoodie now that we're out of the crowds". What little of Tia's skin that could be seen blushed quite obviously. "Actually I do. I have...some unusual features, and we're still way too public here." Tanya gave a small 'oh' of comprehension but was a little surprised to see the other three girls nodding slightly in understanding. She restrained herself from actually asking about the matter more. She'd learned a long time ago - and the Wardens had been sure to remind her - that one didn't bring up any odd features of someone else's mutation unless they offered first.
Trying to hide her embarrassment, she turned to look at the other two girls.
Laura at least was looking a lot less worried now they weren't surrounded by massive crowds of potential mutant-haters. She still looked a little nervous, though, and Tanya could guess why.
"It's OK; it hasn't smudged or anything," she reassured Laura.
Laura nodded, almost touching her own face to see, but managed to stop the gesture, turning it into a slightly embarrassing little motion that wasn't quite a wave.
"Thanks, I keep worrying it's going to smudge again, and I can't see it."
Morgana looked puzzled at the byplay between the two girls. "Smudge? What's smudging?"
"Her makeup. That's why we were late," she sighed, shaking her head "I bumped into her and messed it up, so we had to go and fix it."
"Her makeup?" Morgana was still looking puzzled. "What is so important about makeup?"
Laura blushed a bit, which had an odd effect on her apparent skin colour as the blue tone underneath the makeup deepened. "I have... mild... GSD. My skin is blue. I need to cover it up."
Morgana made a little sound of understanding. "Oh, I see. I'm sorry, I was just curious."
She held out her hand, but Laura drew hers back.."Ah - I'm not being rude, but it'll smudge again. It's nice to meet you. I'm Laura."
This time, it was Morgana who looked embarrassed. "No, I didn't think. And it's nice to meet you too."
Tanya squirmed around a bit more, looking at the last girl who had been looking on quietly. "I guess we should all introduce ourselves since it looks like we'll be travelling up to Whateley together now."
The girl with the snow-white skin nodded. "It looks like it. I'm Bianca."
Tanya nodded with a smile, glad to finally know the other girls’ names. Then with a sudden thought she turned her attention forward to where their other fellow traveler was still quietly keeping to himself. "We should introduce ourselves to him too since it seems he’s also part of the group
Morgana turned to look at the Oriental boy, who gave the impression of trying to look like he hadn't been listening to them. "Oh, he was with you, wasn't he Lucretia?"
Lucretia shook her head. "Not exactly. This Japanese woman just - well, dumped him on me."
That drew a few raised eyebrows from the rest of the girls, as to just what was going on.
Tanya looked at the boy again. She couldn't just ignore him, after all.
"Hi. Would you like to tell us your name?"
The boy turned to look at them directly. "Ah...Taka. Takao Ono." From the way he spoke, it was obvious English wasn't his native tongue, and that he was having trouble sorting out the right words in the right order.
"Hey, why don't you sit by us, so we won't have to keep looking over at you?" Kenshin looked slightly surprised, but then moved a couple of seats closer. "Thank you. Not want to...intrude."
Morgana smiled. "Hey, it's OK. No need to apologise for being polite. You're on your way to Whateley too?"
Kenshin gave a small nod. "Hai. Is...necessary after...happenings in Japan."
Tanya's eyes glinted with curiosity. "Happenings?"
The boy looked a little embarrassed, obviously trying to find the correct words. "Was involved with some... wrong people. Criminals. To Whateley I am sent. Otherwise...would be problem."
Tanya sat back, not having expected that sort of revelation. It was Bianca who broke the embarrassing silence.
"Was it just after you manifested?"
"Ah...just got your mutant powers?"
The confusion on Kenshin's face cleared. "Ah, yes. Then it was."
Bianca looked understanding. "I wouldn't worry too much. It happens a lot - kids manifest, some unfortunate stuff happens. No-one is going to hold it against you."
Despite Bianca's reassuring words, the conversation had taken a somewhat awkward turn. So Tanya decided to try and steer it in a different direction.
"I suppose everyone has an MID, right? Since we all flew? My codename's Invictus." She was quite proud of her codename, since it had originally been her Mom's, and she looked around expectantly at the others.
The pale girl smiled. "I decided to call myself Glyph. It fits in with my powers. You, Laura?"
“Um, I don’t have an MID,” Laura said shyly.
“But … you have to have an MID to fly!” Tanya said, astonished. “It’s the law! How did you get past the MCO without one?”
Laura winced uneasily. “There’s … a loophole. A special waiver to travel to certain special schools.”
“Like Whateley?” Bianca asked with certainty, to which Laura just nodded.
“You’ll have to get one,” Lucretia said to Laura. “A code name. And an MID. Before you can go home on breaks, I mean.” She saw the girls stiffen, and her lip trembled, hinting at a story she hadn’t shared.
“Hey!” Morgana said excitedly, “Since your skin and hair are blue, you can use a code name like … Azure?”
Bianca shrugged. “What about Cerulean? Like the color? It sounds more exotic.”
Tanya shook her head. “Not Cerulean. Maybe drop the n, so it sounds more feminine? Cerulea?”
Laura goggled at the suggestion, and then a grin crept across her face. “That’s … cool!” she squealed with excitement. “Thanks!” She excitedly hugged Tanya. “I knew I had to have a code name, but I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound stupid.” Then she leaned back suddenly, her eyes wide with uncertainty, or even fear.
Tanya knew instantly what the girl was thinking. “You didn’t smudge it.” Laura sighed with relief.
Lucretia looked a bit embarrassed. "I'm called Lapin. "She paused, almost as if expecting some sort of reaction, then shrugged slightly when none seemed to come. "And what about you, Morgana?"
The redhead gave a grin. "DragonsFyre. For - certain reasons. And how about our Japanese friend?"
The boy looked a bit puzzled. "Ah...name Kenshin. Just Kenshin."
Tanya waited for something else from him, but he just sat back in his seat a bit. Oh well, maybe things were different in Japan. Then she shifted in her seat a bit before casting a quick glance at Tia, wondering why that name sounded so familiar. She could swear she’d heard it somewhere before, but the exact origin eluded her. She’d have to give it more thought and wait to see if the girl said anything else that might jog her memory.
Comfort Inn Hotel foyer.
Their hotel was a nice one, Erica could admit. Uncle Adolf had made the arrangements, and that meant class, comfort, and a certain element of "no questions asked" that meant nobody would ask about Calliope's nonstandard hair or eyes. They had already stayed there four nights, with her Cousin Penny and Aunt Margit dropping by for two of them. But her cousin and aunt were already gone, since Penny's school in Muncie was already in session. Erica was thinking that the cuz was the lucky one here.
Her grandmother was at the counter of the hotel right now, settling some business. The two girls were left to sit on one of the little couches up front, in a sort of limbo that included luggage.
"This stinks. All those plans, just out the window like that." She shook her head, sending golden bangs flying. "And if Uncle Adolf's message was right, we don't have any way of going anywhere right now."
Cally giggled at Erica's face and its studied level of aggravation. The Italian mutant was enjoying the trip immensely, for all that she and Erica shared a low attitude towards clothes shopping that the other girl's cousin could not fathom. "Four days, five days," she said in lyrically accented English. "What does it matter? We don't check in till the end of the week, and your business is all done. It has been all wonderful -- how do you say? -- R and R?"
Erica pulled out her new passport and admired its maroon cover. As of last Friday, she was officially a dual citizen of the Bundesrepublik and the United States, with several special agreements underlying it all. Her German MMID was just a part of that. As for the rest, well, her future was shaping up to be just as interesting as her family's past.
Just this summer had been crazy enough, with the Nazis, secret bases, newfound relatives, MCO, terrorists, and whatnot. Still, she thought as she thought about her new cousin and newer best friend / future roommate, things were turning out alright.
"Okay, girls," her grandmother announced. "Grab your bags; we're headed back up to our old room. Now, now," she said as the girls groaned. "It's just for one more night until they get this plane nonsense sorted out. The school's already aware of the problem and is making arrangements for other kids to spend the night hither and yon, so at the worst we can put the two of you on a train with them tomorrow."
As they pushed and pulled luggage to the elevators, Erica scanned the room with her eyes one last time and knew her grandmother was doing so too. Oma and Aunt Margit had drilled the habit into her quite thoroughly, and they'd been working on getting Cally into the same habits of watchfulness. Healthy amounts of paranoia did help sometimes.
"Okay, girls," her grandmother said once they were headed up. "Pop quiz. What was odd about downstairs when we left?" The older ladies were always doing things like this, putting the junior partners' powers of observation on the spot. It was all a familiar game at this point.
"Um..." Cally raised her hand timidly. Erica nodded encouragement. The Italian girl wasn't as used to this game, so they tried to let her field the easy answers first. "There were a lot of kids without parents coming in?"
"Six by my count, one guy and five girls and all about our age," added Erica. "Well, about the same age as Cally and me, at least." The two of them were going to be high school freshmen this year while her cousin was currently a senior at a different school back west.
"Anything else?" asked Oma as they left the elevator and headed down the hall.
"They were a little confused, it felt like. Maybe a little nervous. And... colorful?" ventured Cally. She tugged at her own dark brown and gold tresses.
"One with blue hair, one with red, one with all white, one purple and one who had her hoodie up the entire time," Erica said. "And that boy looked kind of Japanese or something?"
Hair color didn't necessarily mean a lot in this day and age, what with all the fancy new dyes and washes on the market, but all those colors together was still an odd sight. For that matter, Erica's own mop hadn't been its golden blonde color for more than three months at this point, and it still surprised her sometimes.
"So... shall we go down and say hi?" she added. "Maybe show them where to get some good grub? We have been in the area for a few days, after all."
"That sounds like a marvelous idea," said Oma, clapping her hands. "Who knows? You might all have something in common. The woman at Whateley did say that there were other children with upset travel plans," she noted. "And we do know that this hotel turns a blind eye to mutants, don't we. So run along then, and let this old biddy have her afternoon nap. "
"Yeah, 'old.' Right." Erica had to giggle at that. Even on vacation, and with Penny not at her best, the grandmas had insisted on maintaining the daily exercise regimen of calisthenics and krav maga practice. She just wanted time to enjoy her soaps.
"And girls," Winifred von Abendritter called to her granddaughter and Calliope. "Try to stay out of too much trouble. And failing that, remember to keep it out of the newspapers, at least."
"Yes, Oma..." Erica rolled her eyes and hustled her friend back to the elevator.
The two girls took a moment to get a better look at the group of kids still clustered around the concierge before exchanging a look.
"Well, we might as well go over and say hi, right?"
Cally nodded. "After you, Erica."
Erica nodded, licking her lips as she walked over to introduce herself. She wasn't trying to be subtle, but in any case the group turned, examining her and her friends with looks that ranged from questioning to deep suspicion.
"Hi. I'm Erica, and this is my friend Cally. Were you guys diverted here from the airport?"
The group exchanged some glances among themselves as if trying to work out what the trap was, or perhaps just deciding who was going to answer.
Tanya finally realised she seemed to be the only one not drawing back. "We might have been, why?"
Erica thought about her answer. She hadn't expected a group of kids to be quite so suspicious, but Tanya's carefully guarded tone was obvious.
"Well, we're staying here before we head up to … to a school in New Hampshire, and we thought you might be doing that. too."
The kids had another exchange of looks, but none of them seemed quite ready to admit their destination. The silence started to stretch out to an uncomfortable length as the two groups exchanged cautious looks.
"Erica, I think I can sort this out."
Everyone turned to look at Cally, as she continued. "I can feel that they are worried, and suspicious, that's only reasonable." She dug in her purse, then held out our her MID card. "Here. And also..." she took her sunglasses off, showing a pair of golden eyes. "There. Now you know what we are."
The larger group looked at her, and then Morgana shrugged. "OK." She slid her glasses up onto her hair, showing even more unusual eyes. Not a dissimilar shade from Cally's gold, but with scarlet flecks radiating outwards over the iris.
There was an immediate easing of the tension, along with a few sighs of relief. Apart from Kenshin, who was still looking cautiously at the gathering of girls. Tanya was grinning happily, although most of the other girls were still looking rather reserved. So she decided to introduce everyone to everyone else, which at least broke the ice even if she did stumble slightly over some of the names.
"So, why did they dump you all on the hotel? We heard something about travel problems, but there weren’t many details."
"We don't know either. All the guy who collected us said was that there was some sort of incident going on, and they'd temporarily suspended flights." Morgana shrugged. "So they brought us all here for the night. Apparently we are due to head out tomorrow by train. There was some big to-do with the MCO at the airport, and that rather worried us. Something seems to have got them all squirrely. They said we had to hang around the hotel and not do anything fun!"
Laura and Lucretia exchanged glances at that. A quiet time, even if it wasn't so much fun, was what both of them would happily settle for. Preferably for about the next year or so.
"It does seem a shame that we're in New York and just have to hang around a hotel. I've never been to New York before." There was a definite edge of wistfulness in Morgana's voice.
"Well, we wondered if you guys wanted to find something to eat? There are quite a few places to eat around here, as long as you don't want anything too fancy."
Tanya perked up at Erica's casual remark. "Oh, food would be great, I'm starving! Uh...would there be any chance of getting a real New York hot dog around here? I've always wanted to try one."
"Actually I could use some food. I haven't really had anything since breakfast, and that was a long time ago."
Laura looked at the British girl in some surprise. "Didn't they feed you on the plane, Morgana?"
The tall girl grimaced. "Well, they did serve us something on a plastic tray they said was food, but I wasn't convinced. A few hot dogs sounds like a great idea."
"Do you guys have any idea where we can go to get something to eat?" Tanya sounded optimistic at the idea of food.
Cally shook her head. "Not really, but I can always ask." She walked over to the concierge, speaking quietly for a few minutes, before heading back with a big grin on her face.
"We just turn left when we go out it and walk a few blocks south, he says there are food stands along the road there - and if we miss them, there are some cheap places to eat a bit further along."
That was all that was needed to convince the group of hungry teens, as they left the hotel in a mob, the concierge watching them leave with a smile, before turning back to watch the television on the wall. It was talking about some sort of mutant incident in the centre of New York, and those always fascinated him. He wondered where in the city they were talking about; it would be great actually to see some heroes in action.
The man strode unobtrusively along the crowded street with his head down and hands in pockets, barely noticeable to anyone because he was so incredibly average. And yet, if anyone was to manage to stop his purposeful stride, they might have found themselves staring into an intense gaze, unsettling in it's naked ferocity.
He paused, dodging out of the way like others on the sidewalk as a small crowd of teenagers with brightly colored hair and hoodies walked casually along, peering around them with typical tourist interest as they chatted. His irritation at being forced to move out of the way clearly showed in his demeanor, suggesting he was not used to having to dodge out of the way of others.
He watched the teens, and as he carefully scrutinized them his gaze was drawn to one girl with very light skin who was mostly covered with a hoodie, and another taller girl, more athletic in build, with long, straight red hair. The two girls were a total contrast; the redhead seeming confident, and the pale girl cautious and withdrawn, but both had attracted the man's attention for a few moments. Pausing to watch them pass, he resumed his journey.
Two blocks and an elevator ride later, the man walked into a plain office, pausing by the desk of his secretary. "Anything new?"
"No, sir," the secretary reported dutifully, barely taking her attention off her computer screen.
"Good." He paused in the doorway of his office, glancing back. "Miss Halifax, you may take the rest of the day off." When he saw her start to protest, he shook his head. "I insist." The office door closed behind him, and Miss Halifax, used to his peculiar ways, saved the file she'd been working on, then grabbed her purse and departed.
Inside the office, the man waited patiently until he knew that his secretary had gone. Locking his door, he rose, crossed to his bookshelf, and depressed a hidden catch. A very large section of the bookcase swung open, and as he entered his hidden inner sanctum, a sense of darkness exuded out of the room, sufficiently unnerving that people in adjoining offices were momentarily filled with a sudden sense of dread.
Following the directions of the concierge, the group ambled southwards. It didn't take them long to find a hot dog vendor; being a holiday in New York, the little street carts were out in full force even if the location the teens had been directed towards wasn't anywhere near the main tourist attractions. The only problem was convincing the vendor, through a rather thick foreign accent of some type, how much food they wanted. He obviously thought that the six extra large hot dogs with all the works ordered by Morgana and Tanya were for the whole group. He stared slack-jawed as the pair stepped back happily and rapidly munching their trove of fully-laden foot-long hot dogs with no obvious intent of sharing - indeed the way they held them protectively suggested they were quite prepared to fight to defend them - while the other teens queued up for their food. It didn't help his composure when Morgana and Tanya rejoined the line for more - Tanya looking rather sheepish at going back for seconds - and it was probably just as well they couldn't understand some of his muttered comments.
The group of teens waited impatiently while Tanya and Morgana finished the second round of dogs, and then they all milled about murmuring and talking, not quite sure where to go or what to do now that their hunger had been sated. Of course, they left behind a New York hot dog vendor in wide-eyed shock at just how many of his wares some of these cute teenage girls had devoured. It wasn't only the vendor who was shocked by Tanya's and Morgana's ravenous appetite; the other girls were gawking at how much the two had packed away, especially the diminutive Tanya, who blushed as she realised most of the group was staring at her. For her part, Morgana just carefully wiped her fingers clean of some sauce and smiled innocently at the others.
"Umm...I suppose we should get back to the hotel now?" Tanya's tone of voice didn't sound terribly convincing, but they had been told to wait there. While going out for food was reasonable, she felt quite uncomfortable about just wandering around New York, even if it was more interesting than staring at the Hotel walls. Or being stared at by people who probably hadn't realised her dietary requirements.
"I suppose so." Morgana's dubious tone made her words sound even less convincing than Tanya's. After eight hours in the air, followed by the minor excitement at the airport, she was enjoying being able to walk around. And despite the somewhat unusual look of the group, none of the passers-by had paid them the slightest attention. She couldn't help wondering if it was an American thing or just a peculiarity of New York. The city did, after all, have a certain reputation. Or it might have just been the universal habit of people to ignore obvious tourists in the hope they might go away.
Despite the half-hearted comments from Tanya and Morgana, none of the group except Tia seemed terribly keen about the idea of returning to the hotel, but no-one seemed to have an alternative. A quick poll revealed the awkward fact that none of them actually knew the city. What was shaping up to be an Olympic-level event of dithering didn't last long, as it was abruptly interrupted by a screech of brakes, loud even by the standards of New York City driving, as a large, off-white cargo van careered into a space that wasn't quite large enough to take it. The space issue was solved in a simple, if rather drastic, way by shoving forward the car parked in front with an impressively loud metallic crunch. Human nature, being what it was, dictated that everyone in the immediate vicinity turned to look - this was pretty poor driving even by local standards - as the damaged car settled with a despairing and completely redundant wail of its alarm.
The small pack of teens, as well as everyone else in the vicinity, watched with anticipation as the back door rattled a few times, accompanied by some muffled cursing, and then crashed open as if it had been kicked violently. A stream of men in costumes flowed from the back, assembling themselves into a group that looked around menacingly. The scene would have been more impressive if their uniforms hadn't been poorly-fitted and obviously off the rack. The men themselves were walking arguments for why some people really shouldn't wear spandex in public. This might have had something to do with most of them being noticeably overweight or with the dreadful color scheme - purple and orange with a fluorescent yellow squid on the chest that was a criminal act against acceptable attire, if not against the whole visual spectrum. And then, of course, there were the hats they were wearing.
Cally's voice was almost a squeak. "Oh my Gawd, they have Squid Hats!!"
Her comment went without response since most of the rest of the group stood slack-jawed and goggling at the spectacle. Only Morgana seemed unaffected as she demonstrated her mastery of classic British understatement.
"I know I'm not from around here, but does anyone else think this looks a little odd?"
Before the others could turn and glare at her in disbelief, the group of men spread out in a semi-circle around the side door of the van, and an even more bizarre figure climbed out and stood tall, fists on hips in a classic super-villain pose for the now completely entranced crowd. Vibrant green and scarlet were the primary - and almost nauseating - colour scheme of his armoured costume. Behind him, a cluster of cerulean tentacles waved and curled, the picture completed by two long, chrome-plated tentacles waving menacingly in the air. It would have looked even more impressive if he had stood more than five and a half feet tall in his armoured boots.
"I...am...THE MIGHTY SQUID!!" he boomed in deep, resonant voice.
Bianca gawked at the motley collection of villains, a shocked expression on her face. "Are you kidding!? What kind of idiots ARE these guys?" Judging by the expression of the other girls, this was a shared sentiment, apart from Kenshin, who was obviously befuddled by this strange American spectacle. He looked around a bit, before asking "Where cameras?" of no-one in particular, then tugged on Laura's sleeve. "Excuse please," he said in his broken, accented English."This… normal?"
Laura rolled her eyes, sighing at the Japanese boy's question. "Uh, yeah," she replied sarcastically. "We have fat men in bad costumes crashing into cars all the time," she said sarcastically. She glanced at Bianca by her side. "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."
Bianca suppressed a giggle. "You can say that again!"
Ignoring the crowd, the tentacled apparition strode arrogantly across the wide sidewalk towards a small jewelry store, while his minions spread out and started menacing the crowd, intending to push them back so they couldn't interfere. For the most part, the people grudgingly cooperated, albeit with a constant stream of mutterings and curses, as well as the flash of phone cameras, but a couple of men weren't prepared to move. Instead of backing off, one hero wannabe swore and took a swing at the nearest minion, who easily dodged with a curse of his own. Yanking a small whip with a heavy stock from his belt, he snapped it at the man. As a whip, it was rather pathetic, but a bright, electric-blue flash of the built-in taser sent the man to the floor convulsing helplessly. The crowd gasped collectively and inched a little further back lest they, too, ended up collapsed on the concrete. The flashing of phone cameras redoubled.
"Hey! Stop that!" Tanya's cry of outrage at the bystander's treatment broke the teens out of their fascination with the scene. Dropping her backpack on the ground at Cally's feet, she dashed forward toward the nearest costumed man, followed a split-second later by Erica, who had already tossed her bag to Cally. The Italian girl sighed resignedly. "Oh well, so much for keeping a low profile".
Morgana stared at the backs of the two girls for a moment, and then likewise tossed her bag to Cally, who snatched it out of the air and added it to her growing collection. The tall girl rolled her shoulders as her body changed. Small ram-like horns curled from her head, as her fingernails stretched into claws and she grinned, showing a rather effective looking pair of fangs. Then she charged after the other two.
Despite knowing intellectually that all her compatriots were mutants, Laura Samuels gulped, her fear having rooted her in place. "Oh, shit!" she mouthed softly. Seeing a girl she'd just been happily chatting with turn into some sort of monster wasn't something she was prepared for.
Beside her, the Japanese boy Kenshin frowned, muttering something in Japanese that, from its tone, was most probably swearing. Or some line from a Japanese sci-fi B-movie when a monster was attacking Tokyo. It could have been both, for all Laura knew.
Grasping at his waist automatically, Kenshin swore again; he was used to carrying his sword, and it felt unnatural to not have it. Again speaking in his native language, he cursed his luck and circumstances. He had very strict orders not to interfere, to not get in trouble, and to not use any of his weapons. He hesitated a moment, trying to make sense of the situation in light of the conflict between his instincts and his very explicit instructions.
Beside him, Laura sighed, seeing her new friends rushing forward to meet the ugly minions with no fashion sense. "Damn!" she muttered. Now that she was with the group, she felt an obligation to help, and she took a step toward the minions, but then stopped, realizing that Bianca was hanging back out of harm's way and that rushing in like her more impulsive companions to mix it up with the minions was foolish. "No need to use brute force," she chided herself. So far, the portly and apparently out-of-shape henchmen hadn't seemed to notice her. She took a step back and began rummaging through the contents of her small handbag, looking for the small parts of techno-stuff that seemed to have suddenly hidden beneath the normal clutter of a girl’s purse. Dumping some of the miscellanies on the ground in frustration, she pulled out bits and pieces of something.
Taking a split second to glance to the side, she saw Bianca, who had likewise been digging through her purse and now clutched a couple of pieces of chalk as if they were lethal weapons or defensive shields.
Tia looked on with disbelief at the spectacle of honest-to-god grown men in squid hats, following a guy in a squid suit no less, robbing a store in front of everyone. While she'd read about the things that went on in New York, this seemed over the top even for a city with such a reputation for craziness. It was so bizarre she actually gave a quick look around for movie cameras - the last thing she needed was to be on candid camera. But it looked like it was real enough - the reaction of the crowd to the men's whips made that point.
Seeing some of her companions wade into the cluster of chubby minions, seemingly without any concern for how quickly something like this could turn bad, she ducked behind a convenient car as she fumbled in her bag for her phone. She almost dropped it as the British girl grew horns and claws - even in California, that wasn't the sort of thing you saw every day - before she hit the speed dial for 911. It seemed to her like forever before the call was answered, but the none of the running girls had reached a target yet.
"911, what is the nature of your emergency?"
Despite the situation, Tia took a moment to compose herself, trying to speak as calmly as possible. She needed to get backup to cover the groups collective butts, and sounding like a hysterical teenager wasn't going to help.
"There's what looks like a costumed villain and his henchmen attacking and robbing people. I'm on 29th street, near the corner of 29th and 8th Avenue. Please send some police and ambulances, there are people hurt.
It did help a little that the woman on the other end of the phone was keeping her voice professionally cool and calm. Or maybe this was just another day in New York.
"Can you describe the villain and the weapons? How many are there?"
Tia opened her mouth to reply, then quickly shut it again. Yeah, describe this lot and the cops wouldn't turn up because they'd be laughing too hard to drive. Maybe calling the Fashion Police to report a flagrant violation would have been a better choice. Still she made herself describe the weapons and guessed a number. That wasn't easy, her companions had reached their targets, and between them tossing minions around and the men themselves trying to stop them the situation had rapidly got confused. Besides, stopping to do an accurate count would be dangerous, and she wasn't that stupid.
Tanya barely had time to think as the glow of her power surrounded her and she hurled straight at the man who had tasered the bystander. He was close, and she ignored the glimpses out of the corner of her eye of some of her new friends taking their own actions to concentrate on her target. His eyes widened at the sight of a young, glowing and airborne teenage girl heading straight at him, his squid-hat bobbling foolishly on his head as he instinctively tried to crack his taser-whip at her. He would have done far better to dodge, as, her force field was more than capable of handling the relatively feeble attack, the whip skittering across its surface in a shower of sparks. Her fist took him straight in the stomach, bending him over with a pained grunt. He collapsed to the ground, moaning and trying to get his breath back, as Tanya grinned in triumph and looked around for a new target.
Following Tanya, Erica was looking forward to using her training for real. The speed of her attack had caught the minion in front of her by surprise - while she couldn't fly, she could sprint surprisingly fast although as she saw Tanya speed ahead of her with a purple glow outlining her airborne body she did feel a momentary twinge of envy. Flying was such a cool power. The weirdly-dressed man tried to get his whip out to use on her, and instead fumbled it and dropped it. She kicked the fallen weapon hard, sending it spinning into the avidly watching crowd, where it vanished instantly as someone took it as a souvenir. The fool in front of her automatically followed his disappearing weapon with his eyes, only turning back to his attacker in time for her to close and try one of her freshly learned moves on him. A few second later he was airborne, before skidding along the ground in a tangle of limbs and a smattering of applause from the nearby spectators. Despite the circumstances, Erica couldn't resist giving herself a small cheer.
Morgana had been held back by her need to change her form, but she needed the extra power of what she thought of as her Dragonform if these guys had weapons. While they didn't look terribly threatening - well, unless you were sensitive to bad fashion statements - she had unpleasant memories of armed goons with shock weapons. The extra advantage of her new look was the terrified expression on the face of the minion in front of her, his eyes wide as she bared her fangs and bore down on him. She had no intention of biting him - he probably tasted bad, and anyway she didn't have any ketchup - but the possibility seemed to unnerve him. His attempt to lash at her with his whip was pitiful; it never got even close to her, although she did have to dodge aside as another of the minions skidded along the pavement in her direction as Erica tossed her chosen victim to one side. It occurred to her that maybe she should be a bit more careful where she threw people. Then gathering herself she hurled herself at the retreating man, arms wrapping around him as her shoulder took him in the belly and took him down hard, slamming his head, squid hat notwithstanding, onto the hard pavement. His eyes rolled up in his head as he groaned and fell back. Untangling her claws from the front of his costume, she crouched over his body as she looked around for fresh prey.
Lillian Dennon looked at the scene in front of her and sighed in annoyance. What was it with New York? One couldn't even get in a quiet day's shopping without some costumed nutbar trying something.
"Um, shouldn't we move away, Lillian? This looks dangerous."
Lillian smiled reassuringly at her friend. "We will, but don't worry. They aren't coming in our direction." She assessed the situation with an expert glance. "I think that gang came to rob that jewellery store. I just hope those foolish kids aren't in over their heads." She had no intention of leaving yet, just in case these kids did get into trouble. She knew the Squid by reputation, and while he wasn't known to be a ruthless villain, she worried he might hurt them through his sheer incompetence. She much preferred not to do more than watch - explaining after the fact why she'd got into a fight was always an issue, especially if they checked her MID card. On the other hand, explanations were preferable to letting a bunch of teenage would-be heroes get hurt. So for the moment, as she inched a little closer to the action, she slipped her hand into her purse, quietly turning on one of her favourite little devisor toys - one that would blur photos in a ten-meter radius and stop anyone getting a good clear image of the kids faces - just in case. She shook her head sadly at the lack of sense of modern kids. Hadn't they even heard of masks? First selfies, then sexting, then fighting villains in public while showing their faces. Honestly, she thought, it was like they didn't have a clue about personal privacy.
Under normal circumstances, the reaction of a crowd seeing a metahuman fight would be, very sensibly, to get as far away as possible. This being New York, however, the people had only moved back a little, mainly so they could get a better view and cheer for whichever faction they felt like supporting. This also allowed them to get themselves better positioned for selfies with the fight in the background. Most of them were supporting the girls, but the Squidettes had their cheering section as well.
While the group's attack had surprised the minions nearest to them, the remaining villains had enough time to realise that they were suddenly under siege. Seeing what was happening to their compatriots, a few of them decided to grab other people in the hope that some hostages might give them a better chance. Immediately, they noticed some of the other girls standing out a bit at the front of the crowd, so three of the goons decided quite logically that they must be together, in which case the girls not fighting would make good hostages. These teenagers obviously weren't fighters themselves, or they would have already joined in, and if they were friends with the ones who were fighting, they'd be good leverage. It was always better to grab a helpless teenage girl than a man who might have some fight in him.
The first obvious target was the girl in the hoodie, who was busy with her phone making a call - no doubt to the police. She was very preoccupied; not only hadn't she retreated into the crowd, but she'd also barely noticed a minion skid face-down along the pavement near to her, and her attempt to hide behind a car just made her look more suspicious.
“Hey, girlie! You in the hoodie!”
Tia looked to her left; there was only one other girl nearby wearing a hoodie, and no one was talking to her. With a sinking feeling, she guessed that one of the more enterprising squid-heads had seen her duck behind the car because he was standing looking down at her with the strange whip in one hand, other hand held out. She gulped nervously, feeling foolish at having made herself so obvious.
“Hand me the phone, girlie.”
A quick glance revealed to her that everyone else around was already occupied, and there would be no help there. She knew that the police needed any information she could give them, and with a wince she knew that she had to take a chance. Besides, the guy didn't look to be in the best shape, his gut bulging out inside his spandex in a most unappealing manner. If she could just avoid his weapon.
“You'll have to catch me first.”
A quick vault over the car put it between her and the antagonists again. As Tia hit the ground running, she heard the whip snap behind her with the crackle of high voltage. One thing her ears were very good at was pinpointing exactly where sounds came from. This time, it was from the left, so she ducked, dashing away from the fat henchman, who responded by chasing her, cursing loudly between gasps for breath.
She was still on the line with the police, and with the Benny Hill theme running through her head, she calmly raised her voice to make sure the operator could hear what was going on over the increased background noise.“I'm being chased by a couple of them so this call may end abruptly," she calmly warned the dispatcher, belying the urgency with which she ran. "There are about a dozen of them, and they're armed with some kind of electrical whip as well as guns. And they've all got a really ugly squid motif going on. I need to focus on running now, but I'll leave the line open so you can find me regardless of what happens, O.K.?”
Having provided enough information to get the nearest police out of their donut shop and heading to the scene, Tia focused on staying away from the taser-whip and second, perhaps, keeping him away from the main fight. Judging by the heavy panting and occasional gasping curse, this was very likely the first exercise of any kind he'd had in years. A quick glance over her shoulder revealed that none of her compatriots were in immediate trouble, but she also saw that one lady was also being accosted by a fat minion. Why, Tia didn't know, but so far as she could tell, good prey management was not the minions' strong suit.
The rabbit-girl altered course and managed to get close to the other woman before the minion could catch her, grabbing her and swinging the woman clear of her pursuer. She suppressed a smirk when her pursuer crashed headlong into the henchman that had been chasing the other woman.
“No problem," Tia said, a bit winded herself. "Keep running, and if you get the chance, please tell the cops what happened here. I don't want me or my friends blamed.”
“You got it. I'm gone.” The woman needed no further urging, and dashed away from the crime scene, impressively quickly even though she was wearing at least two-inch heels.
Behind her, the two portly stooges were untangling themselves as they levered themselves back to their feet, and with a glance at the elusive rabbit-girl, they visibly cringed and turned back toward the main fight.
While Tia had been demonstrating the advantage of a proper fitness regime to her personal squid-minion, the remaining pair had split up. One had gone for Bianca, who had been carefully brushing an area of the paving clear, the second had headed for Laura, obviously having worked out that she had been part of the collective from the start.
Bianca jerked her head up at the sound of heavy feet beating the pavement in her direction. The squid-dude who'd been trying to menace the crowd on the other side of the villain's semi-circle had apparently taken notice of a group of teens who didn't seem cowed and was now running toward her, waving a large, hefty gun-like device in his hands as he trotted. She was so startled that she dropped one of her pieces of chalk as he drew nearer, his hat bobbing foolishly as he swung his gun around to aim it at her. Bianca decided immediately that she didn't want to find out what the gun did. Given her luck, it probably did something even worse than just a semi-automatic pistol. So she steadied herself, reaching out her hand toward the oncoming goon as she concentrated and then unleashed the Air Rune that was inscribed on her skin. The rune glowed brightly on the palm of her hand, there was a howl of wind, and a blast of air hit the man straight on, sending him tumbling back across the sidewalk until a wall finally impeded his motion. He slowly slid down until he was sitting, looking dazed and trying to shake off enough of the blow to get himself upright. Satisfied, Bianca smiled smugly to herself and continued to inscribe one of her magical glyphs on the paving in chalk, tongue slightly between her teeth as she concentrated on getting it right.
As she dug through her purse, Laura thought she noticed something from the corner of her eye, and she glanced up, fearing that possibly she'd attracted the attention of one of the henchmen. One of the goons who'd probably been doing crowd-menacing on the other side of the semicircle of villains was flying backwards away from Bianca, who had a glowing tattoo on her arm. The blast of wind also caught her in its periphery, and she was temporarily distracted as she struggled to keep her feet. Once it had passed, she again turned her attention to her purse, pulling out odd bits and pieces and clutching them in her left hand.
She was so distracted by her task - a normal trait of devisors and gadgeteers - and so situationally unaware, that one of the minions, finally getting a clue that the group of odd teenagers were the ones resisting, decided that Laura would make a good hostage. The man trotted toward her - if one could call a panting, shuffling, belly-fat-jiggling movement a trot - with the expectation of easily capturing her.
Standing slightly behind Laura, puzzled by the scene and a little frustrated that he hadn't been free to wade into the fight as the girls did, Kenshin watched the unfolding scene with jealousy. But when he saw the minion charging at Laura, hands outstretched to grab her, Kenshin reacted, almost without thought. Before the corpulent stooge in a bad outfit could grasp the girl, Kenshin stepped forward, dropping into a proper fighting stance even as his arm swept up to deflect the minion outstretched arms. Surely, he felt as he blocked the attack, defending a helpless girl against an armed villain wouldn't be considered a breach of his orders.
The motion of the minion and Kenshin blocking him penetrated Laura's intent focus. She looked up, pausing a moment to take in the situation. "Wha...?" she stammered, realizing that a minion had noticed her.
Ignoring the minion, who was trying to regain his balance from his foolish charge that Kenshin had deflected, Kenshin turned partially to the girl, smartly keeping the foiled squid guy in sight.
"Pardon... are men criminals?"
Laura's mouth dropped open a moment, and she sighed heavily, rolling her eyes. "Duh! What did you think they were, part of a parade?"
Kenshin's frowned, his eyes darting around to take in more of the scene. "Parade?"
The girl's caustic retort was interrupted as the minion, having regained the initiative, grabbed her wrist, holding her so painfully that she dropped the component in her hand back into her bag. Startled, she followed the arm up to the minion's grinning face; he obviously thought he'd successfully grabbed a hostage. "Hey, you moron, I NEEDED that !" Her features clouding with anger, she turned the incomplete device to point at the man's impressive beer gut.
Ignoring the sarcastic and misleading comments from the girl, Kenshin hit the minion again, driving the heel of his hand into the man's chin. His real chin, not the three or four imitations hanging on his neck below it. The minion's head snapped back, and he collapsed; Laura had to twist her arm free of the man's grasp so that she wasn't pulled off balance.
"Hey!" Kenshin turned, wondering why the girl was so agitated. He'd saved her, so she was no longer in any immediate danger. "I had him, you idiot!" she yelled as she fished a final part out of her purse and snapped it onto her gizmo.
Kenshin's eyebrows arched and his jaw dropped a little. "You ... not ready to fight! You ... make gadget! Why ... you upset I fight and give you time?"
While the two of them glared at each other - Laura angry and Kenshin confused - the minion laboriously pulled himself up to his knees. Without taking her angry gaze from the Japanese interloper, Laura pointed her neural inhibitor gun at the fat man and pulled the trigger. Obligingly he squeaked and collapsed again.
Kenshin's head spun in confusion. The three girls - Tanya, Morgana, and Erica, had charged unbidden into a fight, and as he saw another of the badly-dressed lard-balls collapse as Morgana's fist caught him on the side of the head, he tried to mentally reconcile things. This was a very odd scene, far more bizarre than anything he'd seen of the America he was familiar with from television. And the girls seemed to enjoy fighting!
"Ah, pardon - these men are bad guys, yes?"
Laura, ignoring the twitching man at her feet who was struggling to shake off the temporary effects of her weapon, shook her head in disbelief, rolling her eyes and sighing. "No, they're a group of fashion-challenged lardballs doing street theater!"
Laura's explanation made no sense to Kenshin, who didn't quite understand just how sarcastic she was being. He glanced around to try to understand the fight. One very large minion sailed through the air, thrown by Tanya, who seemed to have held back from using her full strength. Still, it was enough that the man crashed into one of his compatriots, and the two collapsed in a heap on the sidewalk. Seeing motion from the corner of his eye, Kenshin wheeled fluidly and gracefully toward the minion who was trying yet again to get to his feet. The man groaned from Kenshin's blow and sank to his knees.
"Excuse - men in odd costumes seem to be bad guys?" A light dawned on Kenshin. "Ah. You... joke with me?"
"Aaarrgh!" For her part, Laura was running out of patience with having to explain the ongoing battle to the foreign boy. "For crying out loud! Yes, they are BAD GUYS, you idiot!
"Ah. Why you say no?"
This time, the abused minion didn't even try to get to his feet - that strategy hadn't worked out at all the last two times. Instead he raised his gun in a somewhat shaky arm, pointing it toward Kenshin. He seemed a safer target than the girl. Laura growled - how long would it take before these two idiots would let her get on with her IMPORTANT job? - and delivered a well-placed round-kick to the side of the man's head, dropping him and sending his gun skittering across the pavement. "See, I had him!" This time her scowl was fully on the hapless Kenshin "Don't you understand sarcasm?"
"Sarcasm? Ah, no."
Laura rolled her eyes in total disbelief while the Squidlet got very unsteadily to his feet. He tried to pull out his secondary weapon as he tottered unsteadily back from these two, just trying to get a safe distance away from them. Seeing the motion, Laura, scowling deeply, turned to give him another dose of her neural inhibitor, when Kenshin gave him a vicious side-kick right into the man's chest, knocking him back down. Inadvertently, he also knocked the device from the girl's hand, and it shattered on the pavement with a despairing tinkle. Instead of thanking him, she gawked in disbelief at the broken device for a second, then wheeled to face Kenshin, her face a mask of rage. "You...IDIOT!" Her scream was loud enough the boy flinched. "You broke my neural inhibitor!"
"Ah. Not right not to defend you from attacker. Bushido."
Laura's anger went up another few notches, but before she could do or say anything else to the hapless Japanese boy, the battered squidlet pulled himself to his hands and knees, turning to get the hell away from this enraged banshee and the karate kid at her side. Laura turned, and with surprising fluidity, kicked the man full in the face, administering the coup de grace. "I told you, I had this one!"
"Ah, you did not. Required assistance."
"I had him, dammit! Go find your own bad guys to beat up!"
That didn't prove to be necessary. The two men who had been chasing Tia - an endeavor that had only gotten them hot, sweaty and panting for breath - decided that other victims that weren't leaping all over the place like a hyperactive bunny on amphetamines would be a better bet. It was a rather foolish bet, as it turned out. Kenshin wasn't even looking at them as he stared in bafflement at the girl, but as one of the overweight henchmen closed with him, he reacted without thinking, a furious combination of blows that left the man moaning on the ground. Still glaring at Kenshin, Laura was more direct with her new attacker - a side kick to the balls left her squidlet kneeling on the ground desperately clutching his groin and trying to hold in his lunch. A hammer-on the back of the squid-man's neck dropped him unceremoniously to the concrete sidewalk. Kenshin winced slightly as the delicate-looking girl so viciously kicked the man in the balls; cringing slightly, he backed away a step.
"Ah, I see. Can handle yourself. So sorry."
"Damn RIGHT I could handle it!" Laura growled.
Something was disturbing traffic, causing the diplomatic limo to stop in a traffic tie-up, much to the annoyance of the elegantly-dressed girl in the back seat. <Excuse me, driver,> the teen girl said politely even though she was frustrated, <what is the holdup?>
<I do not know, Myoujin-sama,> the driver answered. <Traffic jams in the city are unpredictable.>
The girl sighed heavily but then touched the bangle on one arm. Instantly, her holographic virtual assistant appeared. <How may I be of service, Hikaru-sama>
<Can you locate the phone of the girl we met at the airport? The one who was to watch the fool Ono Taka?> Hikaru asked.
<Certainly, Hikaru-sama. The girl’s phone is located approximately sixty meters from here, around the next corner to the right.>
Hikaru thought a moment. If she was to locate her charge, the girl was the key. <Is the girl moving?>
<No. In the last five minutes, her phone hasn’t moved more than eight meters from her current location.>
It took the girl only a fraction of a second to decide on a course of action. <Driver, I am going to walk around the next corner. Please circle the block until I signal for you again.>
“Hai” the driver acknowledged.
The girl stepped out of the limo and walked gracefully but quickly to the sidewalk, and then to the corner, where she realized from the noise and crowd that something unusual was probably happening. However, given her height, she couldn’t see, so she began to thread her way through the throng of people. “Excuse me,” she repeated over and over as she dodged various spectators.
A groan escaped her lips as she observed the spectacle on the sidewalk. A group of teenagers, including Kenshin and the girl who was supposed to be keeping him out of trouble, were battling some misbegotten, poorly-dressed thugs in matching uniforms - obviously some villain’s gang.
“Why me?” she muttered to herself, cringing as the fool Kenshin argued with some teen girl as the two of them fought one of the overweight henchmen. Rubbing her temples as if a sudden severe headache had struck her, she started slipping back into the crowd. “Why me?” she asked herself again.
She touched her bangle again. <Please scan for law enforcement radios and communications equipment,> Hikaru ordered.
It only took her VI moments to comply with her request. <Five police radios appear to be converging on this spot. The number of officers is unknown, however.>
Hikaru made a decision. <Track the girl’s cell phone. If her location moves to a police station, alert me.> She touched the bangle, and the hologram disappeared. She’d walk back to the limo and then wait until the kids were taken to a police station, as she was certain was inevitable. Then Hikaru could assess the situation to determine a course of action to deal with Taka Ono.
The Mighty Squid strutted arrogantly out of the store, frowning as he realised that his minions, instead of making a space for him to stride triumphally back to the van - and, of course, show off his success to the watching crowd - seemed to be scattered all over the ground, either unconscious or moaning feebly. This was more annoying from the loss of the people admiring his success - from a supervillains point of view, the good thing about minions was that they were expendable - than from a tactical point of view. So watching the remaining two men fall victim to some teenage girls had let the Mighty Squid decide on his plan. Stepping forward with a sneer, he readied his two primary tentacles as the closest girl, some sort of mutant freak with horns and claws, headed for him. He waited for a moment as she got a little closer - the foolish child was heading straight for him as if she were actually capable of challenging him - then the metal tentacle lashed out, so fast it was just a blur, to hit the girl right in the stomach. She folded around the tip with commendable rapidity and a gasp of pain, the tentacle slamming her back into the nearest wall, leaving a shower of broken bricks and a girl-shaped indentation in the wall as she slowly slumped to the ground with a moan.
Tanya glared at the man in armour as Morgana was hurled past her in the opposite direction, and her aura grew brighter as she went airborne in an attempt to put him down quickly.
Squid turned slightly to look at the girl who'd shouted. This one was even younger than the first, a pale violet glow surrounding her as she flew towards him. Ah, a flier with a force-field no doubt. No match for the power of his armour, then. This time the tentacle shot at her more slowly, inviting a grapple, and the girl obliged him by grabbing it. As soon as she did, curls of electrical charge wound down its length, and the girl screamed, her aura flashing as it tried in vain to absorb the current. She slumped to her knees, shuddering as she tried to regain control of her muscles, her hair sticking out like a puffball.
Erica hesitated as she saw what the man had done to her two companions. She didn't know how tough this guy actually was, but he seemed to have no problem taking down the others, so maybe she needed to try something other than just a frontal attack. The trouble was that there was a gaping hole in her training - at no time had her aunt or grandmother explained what to do against an antagonist with tentacles, and she made a quick mental note to complain to them about it later. Squid took advantage of her hesitation, a thick puff of his patent squid-smoke enveloping her in an inky cloud and leaving her temporarily blinded. Pah, such foolish children to think they could match themselves against HIM!
The Squid strutted a few steps before taking a pose.
"See what happens to all who defy the Mighty Squid! Their prone bodies showing their humiliation, these so-called heroes are helpless before my might!" he paused for a moment, eyes taking in the joyous spectacle of heroes prostrate around him. His gesture with one tentacle managed to take in the girls, a few of his no-longer-standing minions, and a rather dilapidated garbage can. He looked directly at one of the girls, a strange pale creature who seemed to be preoccupied with drawing on the sidewalk.
"Kneel before Squid!"
The girl stopped her frantic scribbling to look up at him in annoyance.
The Mighty Squid stood nonplussed for a second. "Why? Because I am the MIGHTY SQUID! All must bow before me or suffer their well-deserved fate."
"And what fate would that be exactly?"
The Squid turned automatically to face the girl who'd growled at him - ah, it was the freak with horns. Who was now standing a few feet away from him and looking extremely annoyed as she ground her fist into her palm. "What do you mean what fate!" the man almost screamed at her, spittle flying from the corner of his mouth. Then the girl punched him hard in the chest, sending him flying back. While his magnificent squid-armour protected him against such crude violence, he was stunned at the effrontery from a girl he'd already beaten. Then something else belatedly occurred to him. Hadn't there been two other girls he'd defeated?
Tanya started to sidle around behind the villain as she watched him scream distractedly at Morgana. Judging by the violently-coloured armour he was sporting, as well as they way he'd yelled at Morgana, she strongly suspected a devisor with Deidricks syndrome. That would be a help if it didn't make him go totally nuts on them and the crowd. The Squid himself was far too preoccupied to notice her, but the same couldn't be said for the last minion standing, who waved his gun at her in what he presumably thought was a threatening manner. She wasn't worried about the pistol itself - unless there was something very unusual about it, she didn't think it could get past her force-field - but she was worried about a ricochet into the crowd. So even as he pointed it straight at her, she reached out and squeezed down on the gun as hard as she could - turning it into an interesting piece of mangled art deco with added bullets, and in the process breaking a couple of the man's fingers. Deciding to get him out of the way so she could concentrate on the boss, she knocked him sideways, right into the path of Kenshin, who delivered a flurry of blows even as the henchman collapsed unconscious.
Satisfied, Tanya rubbed her hands together, then turned back to the still gesticulating Squid. She completely missed the stunned expression on Bianca's face as she looked down at her almost-complete spell pattern, now scuffed into uselessness by the passage of the minion across it, courtesy of Tanya. She opened her mouth to swear, then thought better of it, as she started to redraw the pattern, although she did spare the time for a quick glare at Tanya. At least now there didn't seem to be any more minions to mess up her glyphs and ruin her work, Bianca thought darkly.
While Tanya had been dealing with the minion and ruining Bianca's efforts, Erica and Morgana were attacking the Squid. This time with little more success than their first efforts. Although they were managing not to get sucker-punched like before, they were finding eight defensive tentacles and two rather long attacking ones a difficult combination to get past, especially as they had no real idea how to coordinate their attacks. Neither of the girls wanted to risk a direct hit from the tentacles, especially when they saw the sparkles of electric current curling along them, but every time they managed to evade one, they still couldn't get past the writhing array of smaller appendages. The addition of Tanya to the fight gave them hope the villain couldn't keep blocking all three of them - hope that lasted only seconds, as the Squid showed that he had other resources than his tentacles, as he used them to lob three spheres in the general direction of Erica. She dodged all three quite easily, but a direct hit hadn't been the Squids objective. Instead the globes burst on impact, sending tacky strings of polymer spraying into the air, leaving the girl struggling to extract herself from them. He was only stopped by following this up with blows from his attacking tentacles by Tanya hurling an impressively heavy ornamental plant pot at him.
Cally and Tia exchanged glances as they watched the action. What had seemed to be going pretty well was turning into something worse as the villain demonstrated that, bad fashion sense or no, he was quite capable of taking on a few untrained girls.
"Can we do something?"
Tia shook her head. "I've already called the police, and if those three can't stop him, I don't think we can do anything. " She looked hopefully at the Italian girl. "Unless you have a useful ability?"
Cally bit her lip and shook her head. "I don't think I can do anything while he's fighting; I don't have a combat power."
Tia sighed. "Me neither. Well, keep looking, maybe we can think of something."
Cally looked around, then trotted over to the man who'd been the first target of the minions tasers, and who was now lying in a heap on the pavement. She knelt and carefully felt his throat for a pulse.
"What are you doing?" Tia had followed her, curious as to what the Italian girl had in mind.
"Checking he's OK. I have some first aid training." Even as she was speaking, Cally was loosening the man's clothing, turning him onto his back. "His pulse and breathing seem OK, but I don't have any actual healing abilities.
Tia nodded. "Neither do I, but we can still check out the people who got hurt." Leaving Cally to make the man as comfortable as possible, she walked over to a woman who was leaning unsteadily against a low wall, holding her arm carefully. "Can I help you? I have some First Aid training."
The woman smiled gratefully, not seeming to notice the slightly odd appearance of Tia in her hoodie. Well, Tia thought, even if the two of them couldn't help in the actual fight, at least they could be of some help to the people who'd been caught up in it.
"We have to keep him distracted!"
Morgana leaped over the horizontal sweep of a tentacle. "Yes, thanks, Tanya, I had worked that out!" As the tentacle swept back, she raked the gleaming metal with her claws, but only succeeded in gouging a few shining slivers off the tough surface.
Tanya looked around for something else to throw - after all, it had worked once - but there wasn't much around that was convenient and heavy enough to cause the villain a problem. She didn't want to get another shock, the first one, while it hadn't done anything more lasting than frizz up her hair, had been quite unpleasant. But there was a nice chunk of concrete curbing, broken from the sidewalk by a downward smash of one of the tentacles, so she hefted it and hurled it straight at the man's head. He didn't seem to notice the projectile, but his defensive tentacles certainly did. To her dismay, they caught the jagged object and hurled it straight back at her. Surprising her enough she was sent flying backwards by its momentum, not hurt but thoroughly annoyed with herself for falling for that. The impact itself wasn't an issue for her, but the way it threw her back over Bianca's spell pattern was. Bianca had just stood up with a satisfied smile, but before she could open her mouth to attract the attention of the other girls, Tanya went straight over it. Or would have if there hadn't been a loud sizzling sound as she was hurled thirty feet into the air in a tower of flame. Bianca just gaped, stunned at the latest effort of the fates to thwart her, as Tanya hit the sidewalk with a thud, moaning softly as smoke curled up from her body.
With the other two girls down for the moment, Morgana was uncomfortably aware she was now the sole target of the villain. It was making her more and more frustrated - she didn't have a way of attacking him from a distance, and every time she tried to close she had to dodge tentacles. It was like a bad anime. Not only that but every so often she was getting hit by them - nothing enough to damage her - yet - but she was picking up a set of bruises and scrapes that she knew she'd be feeling later. She made a mental note - learn some spells for long range attacks - even as a tentacle hit her across the face hard enough to split her lip. While she was tough enough to take the damage, her clothing was starting to suffer, and if she hadn't been so busy dodging the blows, she might have realised what some of the appreciative whistles from the crowd were in aid of. Luckily for her modesty, the Under-armour she was wearing was a more robust proposition.
Bianca straightened up from drawing her finally-complete diagram, hoping that wouldn't be the signal for someone to smudge it into uselessness again. Since this was her third try, she was starting to think that the universe was conspiring against her. She'd only caught glimpses of the fight, her main concern being her spell pattern and checking that no-one was heading towards her in a menacing fashion. However, the three girls were still fighting the idiot in the squid costume, which was good, although she was a bit puzzled by the way Erica seemed to have strands of something hanging off her clothing. At least her spell hadn't seriously damaged Tanya after the girl had cleared her head she'd swung back into action. She waited for a small lull in the insults and blows her new friends were trading with the villain before she finally managed to catch Morgana's eye, pointing at her completed diagram. It took a second for the redhead to realise, then she nodded, giving Bianca a quick thumbs-up before turning back to the raging squid.
Tanya was trying to get the attention of the Squids two primary tentacles to let Erica get around behind him. Unfortunately, the length and speed of the tentacles were making that difficult, and their attempted pincer movement had ended abruptly when Erica had been tossed into a garbage can accompanied by some quite surprisingly inventive cursing, and her main aim wasn't working out. So she wasn't in the most receptive mood when Morgana tried to get her attention.
"We need to distract him."
Tanya glared at the redhead. "Yes, I'd sorta worked that one out, thanks!"
"No, we need to throw him over that spell diagram - you know, the one that got you. If it zaps him too, we can take him down while he's stunned."
Tanya thought for a second. That idea actually made sense. Which was a welcome change in this fiasco.
“Okay, let’s try this then,” Tanya suggested quickly even as Erica leapt angrily back into the fray and drew the squid’s attention for the moment.
After listening to Tanya’s plan, Morgana nodded with a quick grin, then leapt back into the fracas and tried her best to occupy the villain's attention, an effort which seemed to work quite well apart from the occasional blows she was taking from his tentacles. She was beginning to think that the Squid was getting annoyed with her, judging by the way he glared at her each time she slipped away from a blow. Meanwhile, Tanya was muttering to Erica, who was nodding her head rapidly. Then the two moved right in front of the Squid, waving to get his attention.
The man almost frothed at the mouth - Morgana was getting the distinct feeling he was quite emotionally fragile - as he turned to face the two teenage girls. Tanya waved cheerfully at him, then grabbed Erica and tossed her right over the Squid. Instinctively he tried to grab her with both main tentacles at once, but the result was that they clashed and tangled in a shower of sparks as the girl sailed through the gap. She landed on her feet right behind him, spun, and immediately started to attack his back, trying to get past the group of small tentacles he was using to protect himself. Fortunately, succeeding at this wasn't necessary, she had done what was intended - Squid was giving her all his attention, having momentarily forgotten about the other two girls. Tanya and Morgana nodded to each other as each of them grabbed a long tentacle tightly. Setting their feet firmly, the two yanked hard, snapping the surprised cephalopod forward, away from Erica and straight over Bianca's spell pattern. There was a sound rather like a giant piece of bacon being dropped into a pan, as with a scarlet flash and a scream of outraged pain the Squid was hurled helplessly into the air before landing heavily a few feet away from the girls in a twitching tangle of tentacles.
"Is he done yet?"
Erica shook her head at Morgana’s hopeful question, watching as the man started to stagger back to his feet, tentacles writhing feebly. Damn, it was like trying to squash a cockroach.
"Get out of the way, I've got this!"
All four teenagers turned in unison as Laura stepped forward, halting with her legs apart in a something that vaguely resembled a shooting stance with some sort of technological thing clasped firmly in both hands. Weapon wasn't quite the thought that came to mind; it looked more like an electric drill had done something naughty in a menage a troi with an iPhone and an egg beater, without practicing safe sex. Discretion being the better part of not getting involved with mad science, the four girls hurled themselves to the sidewalk in an impressively synchronized display of survival instinct. There was a very loud ZAP, and a halo of crackling lightning surrounded the villain for a moment before his armour started to pour smoke and sparks and he collapsed to the ground, held in a rigid, and likely uncomfortable, posture by his own frozen costume.
Everything went quiet for a moment before there was a spontaneous round of applause from the audience. Laura looked around, blushed, then grinned from ear to ear as she bowed in acknowledgment.
The group's moment of triumph was broken when - finally - the sound of police sirens heralded the arrival of some cars of New York's Finest, who poured out with impressive alacrity now that it was all over, grabbing the minions and cuffing them. One of the officers walked over to the immobile (and volubly cursing) Squid, poking him gingerly with his foot.
"Is he going to stay like this a while?"
Laura nodded enthusiastically. "Oh yes, his armour will stay locked like that until I free him, or it runs out of power. Would you like me to unfreeze him?"
The cop looked more than a little worried at the girls bubbling enthusiasm for releasing the villain. "Ah, thanks, but he's best like this until we get him down to the station. Please, don't trouble yourself."
New York City Traffic
<Hikaru-sama,> the holographic apparition appeared in the air over Hikaru’s wrist, <the phone you asked me to track is now stationary at a location that corresponds to a police station.>
<Thank you,> Hikaru replied. She turned her attention toward the front of the car. <Driver, please take me to …> she looked at her VA hologram. <Kureani, please provide the address to this car’s navigation system,> Hikaru ordered her VI.
The driver nodded. “Un!”
< Kureani,> the girl spoke again to her VI. <Please call Whateley security.>
<Hai, Hikaru-sama.> The inside of the car was quiet as the virtual assistant completed the phone call. <Whateley security is answering, Hikaru-sama.>
“Whateley security,” a weary voice answered. Given what had happened with travel, Hikaru couldn’t blame them.
“Several students traveling to Whateley have been involved in a battle with some type of gang. They are at a police station in New York City.”
The operator on the other end groaned. “Please provide your identity so we can verify.”
“Just a moment.” The line went still for a moment. “Thank you for reporting the incident. We have had another report of this event.”
“What action should I take?” Hikaru asked simply.
“Take no action. A representative of Whateley Academy will be sent to take care of the situation. We would like you to wait outside the police station to meet our representative if you could.”
“Very well.” Hikaru touched her bangle and cut off the phone call. <Driver, we will wait at the police station for a representative from Whateley Academy.>
New York Mariotte Marquis, Theatre District, NYC
Lillian Dennon had just put her bags of shopping down on the hotel bed when her phone beeped at her. She scowled at the flashing icon with annoyance but picked the call up anyway. Some days you couldn't even do a little shopping without getting bothered.
"Yes? Dennon here, what's the problem?"
"Hello Ms Dennon, this is the duty officer in security. We're sorry to bother you, but there has been a problem with some students in New York, and with the holidays we are short on people. Would it be possible for you to go over and help sort things out?"
Lillian sighed. She'd planned for a meal out later with some friends. Oh well, at least she'd gotten all her shopping done first, and with a bit of luck she could get whatever this was sorted out and still make dinner. "OK, what are the details?"
"Some street fight that involved our students. We don't have many details yet. We had a phone call from one of them; a girl codenamed Lapin.
The details were confirmed by another student who was not involved in the altercation.They're at the local precinct; I'm sending you the location details now."
She waited for a few moments until the address and location map popped up. Not that far from where she was, which was convenient. She frowned slightly. Too convenient? Well, she would see.
"OK, I have the details. Tell them I'll be there in about 15 minutes."
"Will do ma'am, and thanks."
Lillian looked again at the map before she called for a cab. The precinct station was fairly close, and she had a sudden worrying memory of the fight she'd watched. No, it had to be a coincidence...
Precinct #14, Midtown South NYPD, NYC
"Got some action for you, Lieutenant."
Theo Savalas looked up to see the grinning Sergeant. "It's a holiday in New York, half the supers in the state are involved in some sort of fracas in Central Park, so, of course, we have action down here. What is it this time?"
"Well, let me see." The Sergeant paused for a moment to look at his notes. "We have some super-powered kids involved in an attempted robbery - eight of them, no less."
"Eight kids trying to rob something? What were they after?"
"Oh, they weren't doing the robbery, they were the ones that stopped it. The robbery was by our old friend Squiddly."
Theo rubbed his forehead, feeling a migraine coming on already. Just great, all the interesting action going down in Central Park, everyone else trying to cope with the extra insanity that was part and parcel of a holiday in New York City, and now he had to deal with the idiot Squid, as well as a group of kids who seemed to have thwarted him. Not that thwarting the Squid was especially difficult, but it all added to the pile of paperwork that was already threatening to overwhelm his desk.
"OK, you know the procedure. Put Squiddly and his gang in the cells for now, make sure they get stripped, and we'll put the kids in the big room and take the details down. Tell the officers bringing them in to stay, if there are that many, I'll need help in taking the statements."
"Will do. Oh, and apparently they are all under 18. So it's their parents or Child Services as well. Won't that be fun."
Theo groaned again. Having the job of being the station expert in dealing with metas wasn't an easy task at the best of times, what with trying to juggle the pros and cons of well-meaning - if illegal - costumed vigilantes with the constant political issues of City Hall and the current Precinct Captain, but it got way worse when underage kids were involved. Maybe if he were lucky, the media sharks would still be hanging out in Central Park.
The large room was a scene of barely controlled chaos, seemingly filled with a mob of exuberantly excited teenagers, police officers, a few obvious bystanders to what had gone on, an aggrieved and loud man who seemed to be the owner of the store involved, and a line of obvious minions being led down to the cells. Theo looked it over in disgust, then gestured to one of the officers.
"OK, what's been going on? The quick version."
"Sure thing Lieutenant. Seems Squiddly and his gang were robbing a jewellery store when these kids stepped in, took down his minions then took down the Squid. No-one really hurt except the gang - a few people with minor injuries, no more."
"How about the kids?"
"Oh, they're fine. A few bruises and so on, but none of them are badly hurt."
Theo was a bit startled by that. Despite the derision directed - with reason - at the Squid Gang, they weren't quite the pushover that suggested. Whatever these kids were, they must be pretty tough to pull this off with so little damage to themselves.
"Are they some new hero group? I don't see any costumes."
The officer flipped through some more notes. "No, they claim to be a group on their way to school. They just happened to be there - check this out, they were getting hot dogs! - and they decided to help out when they saw the robbery."
"Good grief, where were they heading? Xavier's school for mutants?"
"Says here some place called Whateley, in New Hampshire."
Theo waved his hand dismissively. "Never heard of it. Anything else?"
"Well, a couple of things. First, most of them have MID's. Second, four of them have foreign passports - we got a Jap, a German, an Italian and a Brit."
Theo rubbed his eyes. Great, so now he had a group of what was probably all teenage mutants, and four of them were likely to scream for their Embassies at the slightest provocation. He started to consider his options for handling this quietly and getting rid of everyone as soon as possible before whatever this mess was got even more complicated and out of control.
"I don't suppose anyone bothered to take statements at the scene, did they?"
"Sorry Sir, it was all rather chaotic, and at least one of the kids looked like an obvious mutie, so we thought it best to get everyone here and off the streets, just in case."
Theo sighed again. "OK, carry on and get everyone statements. Once the first one is done, I'll start interviewing them. And start on the bystanders, I want some from people who weren't involved in the fight."
Theatre District, NYC
Lillian scowled to herself as she paid off the taxi, wondering how yet again she'd let herself get talked into one of the babysitting jobs she hated. Lillian, it's only a precaution, you know we hardly ever need to call on you. Martial Arts is the least affected department by the disruption; surely you won't mind helping out. And the ever-popular pointing out that you were planning a shopping trip to New York anyway. Bah, some days she felt going straight wasn't nearly what the comics made it out to be. No-one ever asked Doctor Doom to do the babysitting for them. At least not twice.
To Lillian’s surprise, a diplomatic limousine with Japanese flags was waiting outside the police station. She sighed as a feeling that the limo was somehow involved overtook her. She stopped, looking around; one of the students was supposed to be waiting for her.
The rear door of the limo opened, and a well-dressed teenage Japanese girl stepped out, stepping toward Lillian. “You are Ms. Lillian Dennon?” the girl asked, sounding more certain than questioning.
“Yes,” Lillian asked. “You would be Myoujin Hikaru?”
“Yes, ma’am,” the girl said politely.
“You called in the incident to Whateley Security?” Hikaru nodded. “Please tell me what happened.” Hikaru gave the Whateley instructor a quick rundown of what she’d seen, which was really only a tiny fraction of the fight.
“Your countryman and fellow students were involved in a fight with villains?”
“And you didn’t feel the need to help them?”
“I arrived at the scene late,” Hikaru said, shrugging, then she looked down, spreading her hands as if to show off her attire. “And I’m not exactly dressed for a fight.”
Lillian shook her head, a chuckle or two sounding. “Your discretion is wise. Your action in calling Whateley Security shows maturity many of our students lack.”
“Thank you,” Hikaru answered.
“But if you think you are cannot assist other students in a fight because of your attire,” Lillian said in a stern voice, “then you need to take my class in Exemplar Grace to learn how to fight when so dressed.” She saw the girl goggling at her. “That will not be optional. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Hikaru replied curtly.
“Very good. Since the others found it necessary not to follow instruction, and since you are assigned to be a Resident Assistant, I would like you to ensure that the kids get in no further trouble for the duration of their stay here, okay?”
Hikaru winced; she had a diplomatic function to attend at the Consulate, and now she was being told to babysit not only the fool Kenshin but his new friends as well? “Yes, ma’am,” she said begrudgingly.
“Now unless there is a reason for you to wait, I can handle things from here.”
The girl walked back to the limo, climbing into the back again. <Kenshin, you idiot!> she practically yelled to herself. <I WILL get you for this!> Seeing the confused look from the driver, she sighed. <Back to my hotel, please.>
<Un, Myoujin-sama>. The limo pulled easily away from the curb, merging into traffic and already forgotten by the Whateley instructor.
Lillian Dennon turned and strode purposefully into the building, stopping at the front desk to dig out her Whateley identification.
"I've come to see some students of ours; I believe they were involved in an incident earlier this afternoon."
The man peered at her documents, then took a look at some of his own paperwork.
"Ah, yes ma'am. We are talking to them right now, would you like to wait until we're done?"
This time, Lillian's expression was less friendly. "You are interviewing minors? I DO trust they have legal representation?"
Police sergeant or no, the man paled slightly at her expression. "Ah, I'm not sure, ma'am. I believe we are just taking a preliminary statement first..." he trailed off as her expression grew even more stormy. "Uh... maybe you'd like to see them?"
She nodded as she tucked her paperwork away. "Yes, I think that would be a very good idea. Before any more unfortunate mistakes are made, don't you think?"
Precinct #14, Midtown South NYPD, NYC
Theo looked at the girl on the other side of the table and hoped she'd be a little more helpful than the last. Glyph, her codename had been, and for a 14-year-old she'd possessed an annoyingly accurate idea of what the proper procedure was for being questioned by him. Fifteen minutes of talking had led him around in useless circles of questions without telling him anything usable. So much so that he'd thanked her, told her that yes indeed a school representative was on her way, and no she didn't have to answer anything until that representative, and if she wished a lawyer, were present. He didn't get the feel she was a juvie; she'd probably watched way too many cop shows on the TV. So he'd decided to have a try with one of the foreign kids, maybe they'd be less aware of the real limits imposed on him.
"Now let me get this straight, Ms...?"
Morgana smiled cheerfully at him, despite her slightly battered appearance. "DragonsFyre. Like it says on my MID."
"And your real name is?"
This time, the girl inspected him with a considering look. "I don't think I'm supposed to give you that, do I? I mean you have my MID..."
Theo was beginning to wonder if the school these kids were on their way to was for junior lawyers. The girl looked rather bedraggled - at least, her clothing hadn't come out of the fight well - but although she seemed quite happy despite a few bruises, she didn't seem too interested in telling him about herself. He looked at her again, then down at one of the photos on his desk. "Didn't you have horns and stuff when you were fighting? You look normal enough now."
She shrugged. "I didn't think it would help looking like that here. So I changed back."
Before he could take this any further, there was a knock on the door. Turning in annoyance, he watched it being opened to let a middle-aged woman in. Judging by her body language, she wasn't in a good mood, and her obvious displeasure was aimed right at him. Before he could open his mouth to ask just why he was being interrupted, she scowled at him.
"Are you the person in charge of this circus?"
"Yes, ma'am, I am, And who might you be?"
"My name is Lillian Dennon. I'm a teacher at Whateley Academy, and as of the moment they boarded planes to travel to the school, these children are in our care. And I would like to know why you are interrogating them without a responsible adult or a legal representative being present?"
Oh damn. He'd hoped to get some useful information from the kids before anyone had rumbled the things he'd 'forgotten' to tell them. Despite the circumstances, he managed a weak smile.
"Ma'am, this isn't an interrogation, I'm just asking some questions to help with our enquiries."
This time, Lillian looked at the girl, who was watching the exchange with fascination.
"I think it would be best if you let the Lieutenant and I have a little private discussion." She turned back to Theo. "Don't you?"
"Ah... that might be best, ma'am. Miss, please go and wait outside with the others."
Lillian waited till the girl slipped out, then calmly sat opposite the officer and smiled. It wasn't a humorous smile, but rather a predatory, bone-chilling smile. "Now, Lieutenant, we are going to have a little discussion about how you've been bending the rules. Followed by what you are going to do to make it up to my charges..."
Comfort Inn Hotel, NYC
Lillian Dennon looked at the group of teenagers she'd gathered in one corner of the hotel lounge. There had been a couple of other kids, likely more proto-students, present, but seeing the assembly and the stormy look on her face, they had prudently made themselves scarce. Lillian gave each of her motley group a stern look before starting in on them.
"I hope you all realise how much trouble you are in." Judging by the expression on their faces, most of them still didn't seem to accept that. She sighed to herself.
"Whateley is a school for mutants. It is NOT a school for heroes, despite what some of you may think. What you did was against school rules" - she paused for a moment to let that sink it - "and having metahuman fights in public is normally punishable by detention - severe detention. Or expulsion." She watched some of the teens pale at her words, making a mental note of which ones for later. "The only reason you're not setting new records for getting detention before you even arrive at Whateley is the mitigating fact that you intervened to save innocent bystanders, rather than to stop the robbery itself."
Lillian had more than sneaking suspicion that they would have found a different excuse if needed - she certainly wasn't going to tell them that, technically, the school couldn't punish them for actions that hapenned off campus, but she thought she'd made her point, judging by the worried expressions on their faces. There were times it was good to rule by fear.
"So this time, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. There are a number of things that do, however, attract my personal attention since I'm one of the Whateley Martial Arts instructors."
"Calliope. You were the only one who acted sensibly - in that you didn't get involved, and made sure no-one noticed you. I would suggest you take Survival class to reinforce those sensible impulses."
"Lapin" The bunny-eared girl looked at her expectantly, then with a more worried look as she saw the expression on Mrs. Dennons' face. "Yes, calling the police was a good idea. They are paid to handle this sort of thing - you aren't. However, running around making yourself an obvious target while yelling into a cell phone is NOT a good way to accomplish this. You should take survival or martial arts; either will show you how NOT to be such a blatant target."
Tia blushed and nodded. "Yes, ma'am."
"Laura. Your devise finished the fight, which was good." The girl grinned happily, but the smile slid off her face as Lillian continued. "However it would have been a lot more effective if you hadn't wasted all that time arguing with one of your own people, wouldn't it? What if the Squid had hurt one of them while you were distracted?" The blue-haired girl nodded contritely, her head down.
"Now, Kenshin. You are the only one of this - gaggle - trained in martial arts." She wheeled on Laura when she heard the girl gasp and from the corner of her eye, saw the girl flinch. "What?"
"Um, I've ... kind of had some ... um ... martial arts training," the girl admitted sheepishly. Seeing the withering stare of the adult, she continued. "Um, since I was ... about eight. Mom made me, so my brothers couldn't beat me up all the time," she added hastily.
Lillian stared at her a moment and then shook her head sadly. "Damned devisors!" she muttered under her breath. "Always thinking their toys can get them out of trouble." She looked at the girl again, annoyed. "And you don't have an MID yet, do you?" When Laura shook her head, worrying her lip, Lillian sighed. "Do you know how dangerous it is for a mutant to get involved with any police matter without an MID?" She let that sink into the girl's brain, watching her eyes widen in shocked realization.
After a heavy pause, Mrs. Dennon continued, “Since you have some martial art training, more will help. We’ll see if you know enough to be placed in an advanced class or if you’ll need Basic Martial Arts.” Then she turned back to the Japanese boy."What in God's name possessed you to spend all your time arguing with a girl rather than helping take the opposition down?"
Kenshin looked at her, a puzzled expression on his face as he tried to translate mentally what she'd said. Lillian frowned and responded with a quick burst of angry-sounding Japanese, which brought the boys head up sharply and an embarrassed blush to his face. When she finished her tongue-lashing, he bowed slightly in apology.
"Glyph. Your spells seem quite effective, but standing in plain view drawing them is likely to be hazardous to your health. You need to learn how to do it with less exposure - you cannot count on others to keep an enemy distracted while you draw things. Basic Martial Arts for you when you get to Whateley."
"Eisenmadel. Just because high-velocity bullets aren't a problem for you, it doesn't mean other things aren't." She looked at the teenager, the dark blotches from the ink-guns all over her face and clothes, and the large bruise already purpling on her arm making Lillian's point. "Another candidate for basic martial arts, it will help teach you how to avoid weapons - not every exotic weapon is as harmless as an ink gun."
"Yes ma'am, I understand."
"See that you do. Now, DragonsFyre." She looked at the tall redhead with a small frown. "Your MID says you're a mage, so why on earth didn't you use magic, like Glyph?"
The girl looked at her feet. "Um. Well you see, ma'am, I don't actually know any magic yet."
"Then what were you doing turning into some sort of monster and pretending to be a brick?"
"Well, it's not a spell, exactly - it's just what I do."
Lillian shook her head. Mages... "Well, if you are going to try and be a brick, then learn how to fight like one. Also..." She took another look at the girl's appearance - not only did she have a number of bruises and scrapes, but her clothes had also suffered, her t-shirt, in particular, looking like rags. "while Under Armour is very useful as an extra protection, fighting in it is likely to draw attention. Either dodge better or get some tougher clothing."
Dragonsfyre looked at the sorry remains of her t-shirt, which showed clearly the sports top she was wearing under it, and nodded. "I understand, ma'am. It would be... distracting..."
Lillian sternly repressed any sign of amusement at the girls dry comment, as she turned to the final girl. At least her clothing was intact, although her hair was frizzed up in what looked like the bad-hair day to end all bad-hair days.
"Invictus. I’ll start by saying that I’m rather disappointed with you, in particular, given what your student file reveals about your family background. You should know better.” As the young girl’s face flushed and she lowered her eyes to the floor, Lillian gave a stern nod. “A PK Supergirl is hardly invulnerable, despite being fairly resistant to physical damage. Trust me, I know that for an absolute fact. You're lucky they weren't carrying much in the way of energy weapons or had any training in how to take you out."
The girl nodded. "Martial Arts, ma'am?"
This time, Lillian allowed herself a small smile. "You're getting the idea." She looked slowly around the group again. "I want to make two things very clear to you. First, you were lucky today. Squid is a C-class villain, and the only reason he isn't D-class is that we don't have a D-class. Beating him is NOT the same as fighting a competent villain, and don't think for a moment your age would stop them killing you." She allowed herself to smile inwardly while maintaining her outward drill-instructor frown. At least some of them were getting the message, judging by the looks on their faces. "Second, my thoughts on your courses I mentioned are not optional. I will make a full report to the administration, and you will take them, or the school will have to reconsider punishment." This time, there was a mumbled, ragged chorus of "yes ma'am". Lillian suspected with an internal sigh that this was probably about the most she was going to get from a group of teens who had, after all, won. She just hoped they would learn enough to keep them alive the next time they got into trouble. Her years of experience at Whateley made her certain that there would be a next time.
"Now, before I let you go and clean up, I may as well take the opportunity to tell you what's going to happen for the rest of your journey. You will stay here tonight" - she paused to give the assembled teens the benefit of her most lethal stare - "and you will NOT get into any more trouble! Be assembled in the lobby ready to travel at 6.50am, we have made arrangements for a bus to take you to the train station. Your train doesn't leave for Boston until 8.20, so you will have time to get breakfast at the station. Don't forget to pick up your tickets from the concierge before you leave. Once you get to Boston you will travel on by the original arrangements, so make sure you have your train tickets. Any questions?"
There was a mutual shaking of heads from the group, who looked suitably cowed by her presence. Oh well, she thought cynically, hopefully they'd do as they were told at least until they got to school, after which it would be Securities problem, not hers.
Comfort Inn Hotel Room, NYC
Morgana sat down on the bed with a sigh, easing her trainers off and examining them with a critical eye. At least they were salvageable, even if they did need a good cleaning. She prodded morosely at her t-shirt, her finger easily poking through a charred line in the fabric.
"I'm going to have to toss this," she grumbled.
"And probably the pants, too," Laura said wryly, not even looking up from where she was trying to touch up her body makeup with her remaining too-meager supplies - even resorting to trying to smear makeup from areas that were well-covered to some of the more obvious patches of blue skin.
Tanya gave the older girl a curious glance as she started to rummage through her own bag."Yeah, they look trashed. What's with that?"
Laura nodded her agreement."I thought you told us that you were a mage! What's with fighting like a brick?"
Morgana looked slightly embarrassed. "I am a mage. I just - well, I don't actually know any spells yet. But I can do this trick with my magic" - she paused for a moment - "a faux-energizer, I think that's what they called me."
The small frown on Tanya's face cleared. "Ah! So you use your power to boost your strength and stuff. I never heard of someone using magic for that, though, at least not without a pretty complicated enchantment- that's kind of cool."
Morgana picked at the remains of her t-shirt again, ripping another section. "I guess it is. Unfortunately, it doesn't do anything to protect my clothes from things like those tentacles." She gave the smaller girl an envious look. "How come your clothes aren't damaged?"
Tanya grinned, then concentrated slightly as her body started to glow with a faint violet light. "I'm what's known as a PK Supergirl. I have this kind of telekinetic aura that gives me strength and lets me fly - and it also protects me and my clothes from damage." She looked at Laura. "And you," she said with an attempt at indignation that would have been more believable without her grin, "you were too busy fiddling with your gadgets while we were going toe-to-toe with the bad guys!"
"Give me time! I'll build a force-field generator, and then I can fight too!" Laura protested, feeling a little picked on for having had the discretion to keep out of the thick of the fighting. "And I did my share - I took out a couple of the squid-goons, and it was my EM field inhibitor that kept Squidly down!"
Morgana nodded as she slid her belt out of her ruined pants. "A force field would be a lot more useful than my power. Apparently, it only affects my body; it doesn't extend past my skin like Tanya's does. And what Squiddly didn't rip, those electric tentacles of his singed."
"Yeah, but it's a lot better than me getting seriously hurt. After all, clothes I can replace. They told me I could probably get some stuff at Whateley that will stand up better." She finally slid her pants off. "I hope so, or I'm gonna end up fighting naked."
"That'd be an interesting sight," Laura waggled her eyebrows suggestively.
Morgana snorted with amusement as she eyed the blue girl. "It might, but I suspect that teacher that chewed us out wouldn't consider it a viable combat tactic. Even if it does help distract the bad guys."
"Whateley has all sorts of special clothing," Tanya interjected, "And if they can't help, there's a place in Dunwich called Roger's Fabric Boutique that's supposed to be really good for very durable clothes. But she's a little pricey."
Morgana nodded to Tanya as she pulled the remains of her t-shirt off, balling it up and tossing it with impeccable accuracy into the waste bin. "I did manage to get some special underwear before I left London - Under Armor does a special range for supers that's supposed to be tough and fireproof. It's holding up so far, anyway."
Tanya blushed and started to look away, not comfortable at seeing the slender girl in her underwear, then gasped out loud as Morgana turned to look through her luggage. The skin of the older girl’s back was covered in an array of ragged, purple scar lines, standing out starkly against her bronzed skin, almost like pieces of her skin had been ripped and gouged from her back.
"Oh my gosh, your back! Was that from the fight?" Tanya's shocked comment drew Laura's attention from the mirror, and the blue-haired girl gasped at the sight, fighting the bile rising from her stomach at the gruesome scarring on Morgana's back.
Morgana looked puzzled for a second, before understanding what her two roommates were looking at, then she grimaced, embarrassed by the unexpected attention as she half-turned in an attempt to make her scars less blatantly on display to her new friends. "Ah, no. They are from a few weeks ago. They're mostly fixed now. I've had a couple of healings since then, and they helped a lot."
Tanya shuddered. "A few weeks and some healings and they still look that bad? What happened?"
The older girl just shrugged. "I got captured and experimented on by a cult" - she gestured at herself -"that's why I manifested and look like this now."
Tanya goggled at Morgana briefly until she realized she was still staring at a mostly-naked girl, which prompted her to blush immediately and turn away. "Umm... you mean you didn't use to look like you do? And what do you mean by captured and experimented on?"
Laura, though, had no compunctions against staring at Morgana's shapely body. "The way you said it, it really doesn't sound like I want to hear details!" she said, torn between ogling the girl’s curves and flinching from the horrific scars and the story that probably accompanied them.
Morgana turned to face the girls. "The short story? The cult was looking for people to be the subject of an experiment - I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. One of them had a plan on how to connect a new mutant to one of the Prime Magic planes so that they could be used as a power source. It didn't go … quite … as they'd planned. I manifested and ended up looking like this, and now I'm apparently attuned to the fire plane. The cult wasn’t happy, but they reckoned I'd be useful anyway. I was lucky; Thulia warned me not to agree to swear an oath to them." She cringed and shuddered as if looking at something nasty only she could see. "If I had…. Anyway, they chained me up naked in a cell for a few weeks to soften me up, and when I still refused, they started on some more serious torture. Lucky for me, some supers rescued me before they did anything worse."
Tanya was looking stunned and a little bit green about the gills. "I... I'm sorry, I had no idea..."
Laura gulped nervously and forced her attention back to the mirror, shaking and struggling to not vomit at the horrific sight and story; in comparison, her manifestation had been a cake-walk.
Morgana forced her face into a semblance of a smile. "Hey, it's over now. And the people responsible won't be doing it again." For a moment, a violent expression flickered across her face. "Ever!" she added, and for a moment, she visibly relished that though before she once again forced herself to look cool and collected. "But I'm fine now."
Tanya said nothing, but that momentary glimpse of something ugly on the girl's face left her a bit worried that 'fine' was relative. By the time she'd got herself centered again, Morgana was undressed and was gingerly prodding a few discolored patches on her body. "I'm going to have some bruises tomorrow. Those tentacles hit a lot harder than I thought at the time. And my hair is filthy; I think it's full of brick dust from that building."
Tanya was doing her best not to look at the naked girl who seemed completely unworried about her state. "Ah...you can have the shower first. I need to get some fresh clothes out."
"Hey, thanks!" Morgana beamed at her two companions, then stood gracefully and sauntered over to the shower. Laura and Tanya were trying hard NOT to look at her scarred back as she moved. Somewhere deep inside, though, Tanya was also wishing that she could look that good. As she heard the shower go on, she slowly stripped off her shirt to look at the wall mirror, her expression disconsolate. How was it fair that Morgana’s manifestation had made her look so feminine while she still looked just average at best? She glanced at Laura as well, cringing as she realized that even with her GSD, Laura was probably cuter than her, too, and was definitely shapelier.
"She's got a nice voice," Laura commented about the singing coming from the shower, eager to make small talk to avoid any further discussion of what they'd seen and heard. 'She has a nice ass too' was a comment she really felt was better thought rather than spoken.
"Yeah," Tanya grumbled. "It's so not fair, either!"
"You're telling me?" Laura chuckled. "The only time my … mom … would let me sing," she continued, a hesitation tinged with pain at the mention of her mom, "is if they needed to evacuate a building in an emergency!"
Realizing that she could do no more with the smudged makeup on her arms, Laura disconsolately plopped down on the small roll-away bed that was hers for the night, pulling her bag up beside her. A little rummaging produced a blouse with three-quarter length sleeves and a bit more modest neckline that would hide most of the damage without being stiflingly hot like the hoodie she'd borrowed. She slipped easily out of her short-sleeve knit shirt without a hint of modesty, tossing it casually to the side. After a momentary consideration, she tugged her bra-straps down off her shoulders and took it off, too, digging into her clothing for a less sweaty replacement.
Though her cheeks burned with embarrassment, there was something about a girl with light blue skin on her torso and bluish-purple nipples that riveted Tanya's attention, albeit not in a sexual way. Laura glanced up and saw Tanya staring, which made the purple-haired girl blush even more. "Oops," Laura said, wincing. "Sorry. I'm just …." She turned her back toward Tanya and finished dressing. "I … I know I'm kind of different, and …."
It was Tanya's turn to grimace, forcing herself to look away from Laura's body to her face - which was a little harder than she thought it should have been. "No, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to embarrass you."
"But you're not used to GSD?" Laura offered.
"No," Tanya replied quickly. "The River City Wardens have a guy with a severe case. It's just …."
Laura pulled her shirt down. "No, I get it." She turned back toward Tanya. "I guess maybe I need to practice a little more modesty. For the last year, it was just my mom and sister and me..." Her voice trailed off a little sadly as she reflected on her remaining family back home.
"Do you want the shower next?" Tanya asked, perhaps trying to make up for seeming a little rude as well as changing the subject.
"No," Laura said, shaking her head and making her royal blue tresses bob about her shoulders. "I lost my makeup, remember? And if I shower …."
Tanya winced again, realizing she'd spoken without thinking. "Uh, sorry." Turning away from Laura, she began to undress, taking care to wrap a towel around herself to preserve her modesty, and perhaps to hide what she considered to be her lack of a figure.
When Morgana came out of the bathroom - fortunately for Tanya's already-battered sense of modesty, wrapped in a towel - Tanya slipped past her to take her own shower. Laura had slid over to the room's tiny desk and was occupying herself with some electronic components she'd retrieved from her suitcase and purse.
"Hmmph," the blue-haired girl snorted as she examined her devises. "At least that idiot didn't break it too badly."
Morgana paused from trying to dry her thick mop of hair. "Who? That Japanese boy, Kenshin? And what didn't he break?"
"My neural inhibitor," Laura grumbled. "And it wasn't deliberate on his part, but he kept getting in the way, trying to play the gallant hero or something, and he distracted me, so one of the squid-heads broke it!"
"I'm glad he didn't break whatever it was you used to put Squidley down," Morgana commented as she tried to pull a brush through her tangled mane without wincing too obviously.
After the second frustrated outcry, Laura turned from her tinkering. Morgana sat on the edge of her bed, now in a hotel robe, with a brush she was using in a futile attempt to untangle her hair. She walked to the girl's side, holding out her hand. "Here," Laura said simply. "Let me give you a hand with that."
Morgana turned, startled, and eyed the blue-haired girl suspiciously.
"I used to help my little sister all the time," Laura explained, emphasizing her outstretched hand.
Very reluctantly, Morgana surrendered the brush and sat still as Laura scrambled onto the bed behind her. "Did you run out of conditioner or something?" Laura asked as she began to attack the ends of Morgana's hair.
"I only brought a small toiletry kit for traveling," she gestured at her obviously-stuffed suitcase "I figured I could pick up more here, and I didn't plan on needing it quite so soon. And of course, the hotel didn't provide any."
Laura got a very thoughtful look on her face as she worked through the tangles in Morgana's long hair. She wondered..."Um, did you use to..." then stopped abruptly, realizing that the question she'd been about to ask was very personal and not at all appropriate.
She couldn't see the expression on Morgana's face, but she did feel the girl tense slightly, her tone suddenly a bit more wary. "Did I use to what?"
"Uh, nothing." Laura lied quickly in an attempt to cover up her runaway tongue, pulling the brush down a little more forcefully as a distraction.
Luckily for Laura, before Morgana could press the point Tanya emerged from the bathroom, wrapped in her towel. Seeing the other two girls still occupied, she used the opportunity to slip into a clean pair of cargo pants and a knit T-shirt quickly, smoothing down the shirt.
"Sorry," Laura apologized sincerely. "Hey!" she exclaimed as she worked through Morgana's hair. "You've got elf-ears!" She parted the hair to reveal the pointed ears, one of which she'd no doubt hit with the brush.
Tanya turned at the disturbance. "Wow! I didn't realize …. Your ears - they look so cool!"
Morgana smiled at the compliment. "Mmm, I try to keep them hidden under my hair, but that doesn't always work." She stroked a fingertip along the edge of one. "Maybe I should audition for the next Star Trek movie. She grinned and made a rather credible Vulcan salute. "Live long and prosper..." Sadly her Spock imitation was far worse than her gesture. "I suppose it could be worse. At least I'm not like poor Tia." She stiffened when she realized what she'd just said and who had been helping her brush her hair. "Eep! Sorry, Laura" she said contritely.
Laura flinched slightly at the reminder of her difference. "That's okay," she said, stung by the reference to GSD but trying hard not to show it. Morgana looked upset at the girl's response, before turning and taking her hand carefully. "Laura? I really AM sorry - it was rude of me. I'm afraid this is all very new to me." She gazed into the distance for a long moment. "I know I changed a lot, physically - but, well, I'm still me. Inside." muttering very quietly, too faint for Tanya to hear "At least I hope so."
"Of course you are still you. No-one can take that away from you."
Morgana smiled slightly at Tanya's resolute statement. "Thanks." Then she gave Tanya a curious look. "So what happened to you? Bitten by a glowing purple radioactive spider?" With her hair combed out, she took the brush from Laura with a quick thank-you smile. Laura smiled back as she moved back to the chair by the desk, but she ignored the lure of the beckoning gadgets and faced her roommates to be part of their conversation.
Tanya chuckled a bit as she sat down on her own bed. "No, nothing like that."
The other girl nodded as she started to dig through her case for some clean - and undamaged - clothing. "Oh, come on! I told you mine! Yours was probably a bit less - exciting - than mine was."
"Actually my story is pretty boring." Tanya stopped for a moment as Morgana slipped her robe off, having forgotten already that Tanya seemed to have an issue looking at her body. This time, Tanya blushed deeply, trying to hide it by making a show of massaging her temples. "Well, if you really want to know - I just kind of woke up like this one morning."
Morgana paused from slipping into a clean sports top. "Wow, that must have been a shock."
Tanya kept her hands concealing her face until her color had returned to normal. "Yeah, it kind of was - and I really didn't handle it very well at first..."
"I'm sure you did just fine, Tanya. You seem to have your powers a lot more under control than I do."
Instead of answering, the younger girl turned away, pulling her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them, her lower lip trembling and eyes misting as she visibly fought her emotions. Morgana quickly pulled her t-shirt down over her body and slipped over beside Tanya, kneeling next to her while Laura dashed to Tanya's other side. “What’s wrong? Was it something I said?”
Tanya didn’t look at either girl but responded with a deep sigh. “There’s … a reason that I already know a lot about my powers.”
"Would it help to tell us?" Laura asked in a very comforting voice.
Tanya again didn't answer, but instead reached over and grabbed her phone from where she’d set it on the nightstand, pulling up a picture and showing it. All the other girls could see was the image of a young lavender haired girl, who they assumed was Tanya. Looking puzzled, Morgana looked back at Tanya's face with raised eyebrows.
"This is a picture of my … Mom ... when she attended Whateley," Tanya said, her voice cracking despite her best efforts to keep her emotions in check.
Morgana blinked. Twice. "Your MOM! Uh..she looks just like you" her eyes narrowed she looked at the picture again, examining it more carefully before exchanging a quick glance with Laura. "Oh. EXACTLY like you, right?"
Tanya nodded sadly. "Pretty much. The Wardens aren't sure why, but not only is my BIT is almost identical to my Mom's, but my powers are almost exactly the same too. There are still some differences, but not major ones, and they still might change with time." She shook her head, sighing sadly. "Heck, I'm not even left-handed anymore. Mom was right-handed..."
"So, what did your Mom say when you manifested?" Morgana asked, not catching the warning look that Laura was trying to send her over Tanya's head.
Tanya's response was to swallow hard as tears formed at the corners of her eyes. "She didn't. She … died … just before my ninth birthday."
Morgana gasped softly, already cursing her stupidity at not catching Tanya's clue word, while Laura slipped close and wrapped Tanya in a big comforting hug that she instinctively knew Tanya needed. "I think she would be proud of you." Morgana said in an attempt to comfort Tanya.
At that, Tanya broke down into a flood of tears. Morgana cringed, knowing that her attempt at comforting Tanya had backfired, and now she wasn't quite sure what to do to comfort the girl she'd inadvertently caused distress. Following Laura's lead, she wrapped her arms around Tanya's shoulders in an embrace, which it seemed the safest thing to do after Tanya's reaction. Morgana knew that a real girl would probably handle the situation a lot better, but a hug - and keeping her mouth shut - at least seemed a non-dangerous option. After several minutes Tanya recovered a bit of her composure, wiping the tears from her eyes. "Thanks, guys, I needed that."
"Hey, that's OK." Still looking uncomfortable herself, Morgana avoided the subject by sitting and wriggling with some difficulty into a pair of tight jeans. "I guess we should go down and see if any of the others want to hang out. Everyone else will be wondering what's happened to us."
Tanya nodded, wiping her eyes with a tissue. "Yeah... that might be a good idea. Though I don’t suppose it’s likely there will be any food available. I could sure use some right about now…"
"I hope there is. I'm starving after that fight." Morgana was rummaging through her case. "Come on, come on, I KNOW I have a pair of boots in here somewhere....ah!" She held the offending footwear up and glared at it. "You aren't supposed to hide! What do you think you are, socks?"
Tanya couldn't help but giggle at the 'conversation'. "Maybe they're shy?"
Morgana nodded, shaking a finger at the boots. "BAD shoes, no cookie..." noticing that her little antics had, as she'd hoped, distracted Tanya from the accidental reminder of her past. As she sat and wriggled a foot into one, she looked up at Tanya. "Hey, I just had a thought..."
"Oh? Was it lonely?" Laura giggled.
Morgana looked at Laura, shaking her head in mock-sadness. "We really need to work on your jokes. Anyway...you lost your makeup, right? You'll need some more, so we could slip out and get you some, and at the same time, find some food for us!"
Laura nodded thoughtfully, but Tanya looked leery at the suggestion. “I don’t know about that. I mean, yeah, I’d like to help Laura out and get some more to eat as well, but Ms. Dennon DID tell us to stay here and not get into anymore trouble.”
Laura gave Tanya a pleading look. “Please, Tanya? I know it might be bending the rules a bit, but I really could use some more makeup if I can get it. I think I MIGHT be okay to make it for the rest of the trip tomorrow if nothing else goes wrong, but I’d rather not take the chance if it can be helped.”
Morgana looked thoughtful. "Actually she didn't order us to stay in the hotel, she just said make sure we don't get into any trouble."
Tanya opened her mouth as if to respond a few times but came up short each time, as if she was struggling to come up with a good response. Finally she gave a resigned sigh. “Okay, I guess I can’t argue with that. How hard do you think it will be to find you some more makeup that will work?”
"I can get by with common drugstore makeup for the time being," Laura agreed, "so it shouldn't be hard to find. And I'd appreciate the company - especially given how much weirdness we've already found here!"
"Okay, I guess we can make a quick shopping trip then, and if we’re already going to be out we might as well find something for dinner too. As long as we don't get into any more trouble," Tanya added a stipulation.
Morgana finally managed to squeeze her foot into the second boot. "Trouble? Come on, how many aggressive squids can there be hanging around, even in New York?"
Comfort Inn Hotel Room, NYC
Back in the hotel suite they shared with Oma, Erica and Calliope were dutifully watching TV and not at all thinking about stepping a foot outside the front door. Honestly. Erica's grandmother had put them through a very thorough debriefing earlier in the evening, punctuated by frequent bits of angry German and German-accented Italian. The older woman had spent ten minutes in private conversation with Ms. Dennon from Whateley, discussing just what her granddaughter had gotten up to that afternoon, and it seemed that Oma shared the instructor's general opinion of the whole mess.
"So have we learned our lesson?" she'd demanded as soon as Erica and Cally had told her the entire tale three times over.
"Yes, Oma..." the two girls said in chorus.
"Gut. You two are to stay out of trouble until you are safely at school. There will be an accounting for everything afterward. Now, your grandfather should be arriving by train soon, and I shall meet him and have a wonderfully romantic dinner, and you two shall stay put. Verstehen sie?"
Erica nodded. Calliope gulped.
The TV was full of reporting on whatever the heck had happened in Central Park. No one really seemed to be sure what was up with that, but it was the big story. A brawl between a bunch of kids and some idiot with a squid fetish didn't even warrant a blurb, much to Erica's relief. She was just about to suggest they put on a movie when an icon flashed in the upper-right corner of the screen. Incoming Call, it read.
This hotel had a lot of interesting amenities, and Uncle Adolf hadn't scrimped when adding them into the package. It took her and Cally a minute to figure out the right button on the remote control, but when they did, blip, they had her cousin smiling straight at them from the TV screen.
"Hey, cuz. Hey, Cally." Penelope Stein's head wasn't quite as big as it appeared on-screen, but the image got her big-sisterly smirk down just right. "What's this I hear about you two getting into a fight?"
"We did not get into a fight," said Calliope. "One found us instead. And I did not do the fighting at all," she added primly. "Erica and the other girls were the ones who ran right into it."
"Cuz! What have I told you about doing stuff like that?"
"When we're talking just the two of us, or when the grandmas are in earshot?" Erica said back. "Or don't you remember that time last July with those would-be muggers?"
"Hey now! Ix-nay on the uggers-may!" Penny made a quick cutting motion across her throat.
"Or that time we had to call Agent Ruby with a 'Code Moron' after..."
"Peace! Peace! Time out! Oy vey, cuz, no need to get into that."
Calliope was giggling and getting into the mood of the conversation. "Or what about," the Italian girl added, "when the terroristi falsi attacked the labs where my brother worked, and..."
"Oy, not you too!" Penny shrugged her shoulders in a ridiculous and overdramatic pose. "Anyhoo, Sava Adolf got some details through his usual channels. Said he'd forward on his analysis later this evening."
"Great..." Somehow, Erica was not looking forward to that. Uncle Adolf might be an ex-mercenary and serial shadow government agent, but that 'ex-' was so new that it practically shone like chrome. She expected his analysis to make Ms. Dennon's look like mild praise.
"Better you than me," agreed her cousin.
"Oh! but we met some new friends!" cried Calliope. "They are all going to our school, too! There are a British girl and a Japanese boy and a girl who is all blue and another that is all white..."
"And one who's got purple hair," added Erica.
"Ah yes, her too!"
"Sounds like you all are making out all right," said her cousin. "And school hasn't even started yet. Good for you. I'll just take my plain old normal high school where nobody knows me."
"Yet," said Erica. Penelope Stein had the sort of personality that got people's attention. Sometimes ballistically, in her experience. "And really, you've had like two weeks, right? What's the hold-up?"
"Let me tell you..." The rest of the conversation passed with Cousin Penny regaling the two girls with strange and improbable tales of a completely, banally normal high school experience. After an afternoon spent in combat against spandex-clad minions in squid hats, it was exactly what they needed.
Erica was saying her farewells when there was a tapping on the door. Curious, Cally got up and took a look, only relaxing when she saw it was Tanya. Opening the door, she smiled at her.
"Is there something you want?"
"Um, not exactly. You see, Laura needs some makeup and stuff - one of her bags was stolen at the airport - and some of us could do with stuff too because we weren't expecting the extra night, and well, Morgana and I are hungry, and..."
Cally grinned. "You wanted to see if we wanted to come out with you, right?"
Tanya nodded, as Cally continued. "That would be fun, BUT..." she waved a finger at the small girl. "No more fights, please! We promised Oma we wouldn't and anyway they are far too stressful on my nerves!"
"Oh, nothing like that, really! Just a little shopping and a meal."
Erica looked over from the now-silent television. "Sounds good to me, Just let me leave a note for Oma, in case she gets back early so she doesn't worry, and we'll meet you downstairs in a few."