In any other school, the dark skinned, silver-haired girl lounging in the hallway would have been THE school beauty, surrounded by a hoard of eager young admirers. But at Whateley, she was just another Exemplar chick; after a while, you got used to them. She’d buffed her nails to perfection, and was reduced to reading a bit of homework to while away the time. Then the door opened, and a classically handsome young man in a Whateley Academy uniform walked out. “Well, Keith? Did you get the gig?”
Keith ‘Farrago’ Fairleigh snarled, “No! They gave it to that whacko from Poe, Beltane!”
Sylvia ‘Silver Rose’ Lytton slipped her arm through her boyfriend’s, but still winced. “Oh, this is NOT good. I mean, it was only a special Manifestation project, but getting bumped from it is not going to help our standing with the Alphas any.”
“Hey, it was just a stupid research project.” Keith stuck his lower lip out, putting the lie to his words.
“You’re not seeing the Big Picture here, darling.” Sylvie used her polished - if largely affected - ‘British Public School’ to its best advantage. “Being an Alpha isn’t just about getting the best of everything - it’s about being able to make sure that you get the best of everything! If we let you get shoved aside for that pushy little bourgeois upstart-” Silver Rose had the contempt for the British Middle Classes that only a Middle Class Brit can have- “well, that only says that we CAN be shoved aside for anything!”
“It wouldn’t be so damn bad,” Farrago said through gritted teeth, “if it weren’t that damn wise-ass Beltane! It isn’t bad enough that she shows me up, but she had to go and make me look like a fool doing it!”
Silver Rose leaned against Farrago as they walked down the hallway. “Oh, you don’t have to tell me! Lord, the indignities that trumped up little snip has poured on my head!” Alphas were one of Beltane’s favorite targets for her ectoplasm-based pranks. And as a fellow British subject, Belle seemed to take a special pleasure in puncturing Silver Rose’s pretensions.
Farrago slipped an arm around her waist and produced a perfect white rose in his other hand. He handed the rose to Sylvie, and it erupted into a cascade of glittering butterflies as she touched it. Silver Rose cooed appreciatively.
They left Kane Hall and walked over to the Crystal Dome. They picked up a little something to nosh on, and headed out to the bistro tables. Before Farrago could avoid it, Don Sebastiano hailed him. “So, Farrago! How goes your endeavors in Science?”
Farrago knew that The Don didn’t give a rat’s ass about Science - that is, unless Science was coming up with a better hair gel - so he was really asking if Farrago had managed to push his way into the project. “Oh, swimmingly! I’ve met the first obstacle, and it’s barely worth talking about.”
“Obstacle?” Sebastiano asked.
“Just that little screwball from Poe, Beltane. But, it strikes me that I should get a little advice from the master.” Sebastiano accepted the flattery with a single raised eyebrow. “Which would be more effective in setting the right tone for any further obstacles: a spectacularly nasty squishing, or a nice quiet removal?”
Sebastiano chewed it over. “A good question, Farrago. I’d say that the best showing would be something nicely physical, which, of course, everyone would KNOW that you were the cause of, but no one could prove that you actually DID.”
“Perfect,” Farrago purred. “The best of both options. And that is why YOU are the king.” Farrago caused a glowing golden crown to appear on Sebastiano’s long dark locks.
Sebastiano nodded graciously, and waved them off. “Well, now I’m in for it!” Farrago moaned as they walked away.
“I told you not to brag about it, before the fact.”
They walked over to one of the tables, where a couple of friends were enjoying a snack. Or, at least, Talos, the buff young Greek boy was enjoying a snack that would have been a full meal for an entire normal family. Petite Glissade was toying with a small bowl of sherbet. “What’s this?” Glissade asked, her question a minor symphony in all eight octaves.
Farrago slumped down in one of the chairs. “Oh, I just finished painting myself into a corner.”
Silver Rose sat down beside him. “He didn’t get the position with the Manifestation experiment. What reason did they give, dear?”
“They said that my manifestations weren’t substantial enough.”
“Oh, dear.” Glissade looked worried. “And you assured The Don that you’d get the job, no problem.”
“And I just got through telling His Mentality that I’d mash the little bitch that upstaged me.”
“Oh? Who was it?”
“That smart-ass little bitch from Poe, Beltane,” Sylvie offered for her b.f.
At the sound of Beltane’s name, Talos stopped eating, and unwittingly snapped his fork in his hand. “You want help with that?”
“Oh? And what has the giddy little twit done to you, to earn her your enmity?” Sylvia asked.
Talos just glowered, so Glissade answered for him, “Well, you know that lovely bronze-like carapace that Talos manifests?”
“Yes. Haven’t seen you walking around in your statue mode for a while, Evangelos. Did Beltane have something to do with that?”
Talos nodded vigorously. “She—she—“
“The little chalerya did something to his carapace,” Glissade offered, clearly as incensed, if more eloquent, as Talos was about it. “Now, whenever he ‘armors up’, he creates those,” she waved her hands, her command of English failing her, “those hair things that idiot American cheerleaders have.”
Farrago telepathically picked up the image that Glissade was projecting. “Ponytails?”
“Yes! That’s it! Little she-asses wearing ponies’ tails! Now, Evangelos can’t show off his glory as a Greek God, without looking like asinine American cheerleader!”
Silver Rose grimaced, and Farrago felt for the Greek boy. If there was anything the Alphas understood, it was personal dignity. If nothing else, it made such a wonderful weapon. To use on others. “So, you’re willing to help me with this?”
“Da.” Glissade put an eager viciousness into the single word that put one in mind of a beautiful Cossack about to pillage a village. Talos just nodded. Keith looked at Sylvie, who just laid her hand on his.
Farrago grinned. “All right! Now, this is the Alpha spirit! Like Sylvie told me, ‘Being an Alpha isn’t just about getting the best of everything - it’s about being able to make sure that you get the best of everything’. And, it’s about taking problems like Little Miss Mojo, and turning them into opportunities.”
“And how do we turn smart-alecky little witch-girl into an opportunity?” Talos asked.
“Well, just now, I asked The Don on how best to handle this, and he said - and I quote - that ‘the best showing would be something nicely physical, which, of course, everyone would KNOW that you were the cause of, but no one could prove that you actually DID’. So, this is our chance to prove that we’ve got the right stuff to be Alphas.”
“And, since we’re taking advice from The Don on how to do it,” Sylvie pointed out, “we let His Highness in on the glory, without lessening ourselves.”
“And so, we don’t have to worry about him getting all jealous, as he’s part of the scene, the ‘wise mentor’, and all that,” Glissade finished.
“But, we gotta do it in a way that we've got an alibi,” Talos pointed out. “Since that big blow up with the Kimba Kooks, Hartford ain’t allowed to handle Alpha matters anymore. If we don’t have a rock solid cover story, we could get detention, or worse.”
“Well, of course, Talos, old buddy!” Farrago breezed. “That’s the whole point! We don’t just go and beat somebody up, we gotta do it in a way that proves we’re slick enough to do it and get away with it! See? This just gets better and better!”
Silver Rose leaned her chin on one hand. “We do it in such a way that Beltane isn’t just battered up, but she looks like a fool or worse for it.” She let a feral grin cross her face at the prospect.
“We make it look like she was setting up one of her idiot pranks, and it backfired on her,” Farrago suggested.
“Better,” Glissade corrected. “We make it look like she was doing something illegal or disgraceful, was trying to hide the evidence of it, and that backfired on her.”
“YES!” Farrago slapped the tabletop. “Insult AND Injury! Now, that’s Alpha thinking! Okay, we have our basic idea. Now, we need to get our alibis straight. Okay, if Sylvie’s thorns rip the little bitch up, then she automatically falls under direct suspicion. If she shows signs of sonic damage, then Karine is one of the suspects. I can’t directly damage her. BUT, Talos, one set of super-strong punch marks looks incredibly like another. And there are how many super-strong people in this school?”
“And how many of them owe Beltane a pounding?” Sylvie added.
“And, punching-marks are only blunt trauma,” Glissade added. “And, as you said, one sort of blunt trauma looks like another. We could arrange some sort of accident that, oh say, drops a lot of heavy boxes on her. Nothing fatal, of course, we don’t want Security asking real questions. There she is, a ton of boxes on top of her, a box of, oh say, blackmail photographs beside her-”
“Where would we get blackmail pictures?”
“We shake down Peeper. What else is he good for?”
“There she is.” Farrago set the scene. “Whatever the blackmail pictures are doing there, how the boxes or whatever fell on her, that’s not important. There she is, with the incriminating whatevers. She says that some mysterious brick attacked her. But she’s obviously trying to cover up for the fact that she had an accident that exposed her blackmail scheme. And, even if anyone believes her, well, there are so many bricks on campus.”
“Hold it.” Talos stopped the storyboard. “If anyone’s gonna believe her, it’ll be those Kimba bitches. They don’t give a shit about getting detention. They’ll just start playing detective, until they have a brick who doesn’t have an alibi. And that would be ME.”
“Not to worry, Evangelos!” Farrago breezed, “We just make sure that you have an iron-clad alibi! Even that freako demon bitch wouldn’t start going around killing all the bricks that Beltane’s pissed off, if she wasn’t sure that she’s getting the right one.”
“Are you sure about that?”
Farrago put on his ‘evil mastermind’ hat. “Okay, all the Agatha Christie tricks are dead out. They always fall apart, anyway. This one’s our shot at glory. It’s gotta be seamless. No, the only way for you to be free and clear, Talos, is if someone SEES you somewhere else, when it goes down. I could use the old hocus-pocus-” Farrago created an illusion of a bronze carapace around himself.
“NO! You gotta be there. I’ll help you, but I won’t do it for you.”
“AND, you have to do something for him as well!” Glissade insisted.
“You have to make that little bitch take those idiot horsie-tails off his head!”
“But then she’ll know that it was Talos!”
“So? We have his body-double appear as him, in his statue form, without the horsie-tails. Then, if she says that he had the horsie-tails, she looks like a liar for sure!”
Farrago nodded. “Yep, it works. And, if she names Talos, but can’t prove it, then everyone knows that he’s behind it. Nobody’ll be able to prove shit, but they’ll know it. Even Team Nutjob won’t be able to do anything. That’s real Street Cred. But we’ll need a body double that, first, we can talk into it, and second, we can be sure won’t blab.”
“Bogus,” Sylvie, Karine, and Evangelos said in one voice. They weren’t saying that Keith was full of it. ‘Bogus’ was the code name of one of Don Sebastiano’s ‘Inner Court’. He was an extremely adept shape shifter, and an expert on impersonation. Also, it was well known that he’d do almost anything that The Don told him to do.
“Okay. But how do we get Bogus to go along with us? He does what Sebastiano tells him to, but we aren’t in the Inner Court - yet.”
“Simple, Don Sebastiano will tell him to impersonate Talos at a specific time and place, with orders not to embarrass him,” Glissade said in an almost perfect impression of The Don’s voice. “If it works, I rather doubt that The Don will put the lie to us.”
“Okay, this is coming together nicely.” Farrago rubbed his hands together. “But Beltane’s a slippery little bitch, he might not be able to handle her all by himself. Sylvie, you know most of Beltane’s tricks, right?”
“No one knows all of Beltane’s tricks. She sits up nights, thinking up new ones.”
“Okay, what say we make it a group effort? Talos is there to do the ‘heavy lifting’, Sylvie backs him up, I make sure that no one interferes, and Karine is our utility. Heck, a nice little disorienting sonic blast would be good for openers - nothing too nasty, just shake her up, don’t wanna leave too many clues.”
“But then she knows that I am part of the attack!” Glissade protested.
“Not if you ‘hide’ behind a pair of powerful amplifiers,” Silver Rose offered. “Like the set they have in the area behind the stage in the auditorium.”
“And how do we get the speakers out of the auditorium?” Talos asked, “It’s not the size, but not being noticed will be a bitch!”
“So, who says we move them?” Farrago asked, palms open. “The area behind the stage is perfect! It’s soundproofed, there are a limited number of doors, they have every reason to be locked, and nobody uses it for the most part. I can sneak us in and out without anyone noticing, and best of all, it’s centrally located to the freak tunnels, so we won’t be seen coming and going, and we don’t have to rush too hard to maintain whatever alibis we cook up. Nothing says ‘suspicious’ like showing up some place out of breath.” He spread his hands out, as if the deed were already done. “See? This is the Alpha Way: Put your mind to something, and find a way.”
Sylvie raised a glass of soft drink. “Here’s to Beltane.”
“To her health,” Glissade corrected, “for as long as it lasts.”
All four drank to this, tapping their glasses together with uniform feral grins.
Kendall ‘Beltane’ Forbes stopped, and pulled the Walkman© from her ears. Mister Profitt, one of the teachers associated with the Manifestation project walked up with a clipboard. “Those idiots in Supply mis-delivered a shipment of sample boxes. It will take them a couple of hours to get around to correcting it, and I need a couple of boxes, STAT. I need another pair of hands. Come along.”
Belle started to argue, but Mr. Profitt wasn’t having any of it. She followed him in peevish silence through the tunnels, and to the auditorium. “Mr. Profitt, why did they bring-” Belle’s question was cut short when ‘Profitt’ locked the door. She looked around, and saw the repositioned speakers.
She reached around, grabbed ‘Profitt’ and leveraged him between her and the speakers just as Glissade let out an ear-bursting shriek. ‘Profitt’ absorbed most of the impact, and his illusory seeming dropped, revealing him as Farrago.
“Really, Farrago! I know that you Alpha types aren’t exactly known for your sportsmanship, but really!”
As Farrago shook his head and popped his ears trying to get his hearing back, Glissade, Silver Rose and Talos came forward, dressed all in black with hoods over their faces.
“Oh, really!” Belle said, as they approached. “You lot are much too hot under the collar about this! You should really, as the locals say-” she pointed a finger, spraying a fine mist at the ground, “-chill.”
Ice radiated out from her with unnatural speed, covering the floor, creating a huge slick under their feet. First Talos, then Silver Rose and then Glissade started slipping. Glissade pulled herself up first and pulled her hood up to speak. “Get UP, you idiots! It’s not REAL! It’s just a fancy illusion!”
“Well, my mind knows that,” Sylvie grated, “but try telling that to my feet!”
Glissade let out another shriek at Beltane, who just pointed to the oversized ear protectors that were suddenly on her head. “So, another filthy Alpha ambush, is it? How many has this made?” Belle marched furiously at Glissade, who was scrambling to get some distance between them. “How many traps does this make? How many vicious pranks? How many vile rumors?” As she walked and spoke, Belle’s rage took the form of a demonic wreath of flame that wrapped around her. “‘Oh, it was just a JOKE, Belle’. ‘Oh, I didn’t MEAN to completely RUIN your project, Belle!’ 'Oh, did _I_ just pitch you down that flight of stairs? My Bad!’" By the time Glissade had her back to a set of crates, Belle was a towering inferno of rage.
The flaming titan reached down for a cowering Karine, and-
-a pie came out of the hand. “PSYCHE!”
Glissade struggled to pull the ectoplasmic ‘pie’ from her face, but her system was already reacting to being ‘told’ that it had just been overwhelmed by a massive influx of muscle relaxants. Every muscle in her body went limp as a boiled noodle, and she was having a hard time keeping her eyes open, let alone getting her larynx to focus her psychokinetic energy into a sonic attack.
Narrowing her mind to ignore the flames, Silver Rose sent a tendril of her name silverish ‘vines’ into the ‘ice’ to anchor her. Once she was on her feet, she sent a flurry of vines to wrap around Beltane. Figuring that once she shattered Beltane’s concentration, Talos could get to his feet, and their plan could still work, she made sure that the vines didn’t have any thorns on them.
Belle turned as much as her snare would allow and gave Sylvie one of those smirks that made Sylvie so angry. “Oh, very well done, dear! But, Rosie dear - you ARE aware that silver is an excellent conductor of-” a flash of blue lightning flared around Belle, and ran down the vines to Silver Rose, “-electricity.”
Farrago finally cleared his head of the ringing that Glissade’s attack had left in his ears, just in time to see his ladylove go down. “Smart-ass little WITCH!” he snarled as he summoned up an image of his own. A mass of electrified cables seemed to spring from the palm of his hand, and wrap themselves around Belle.
Despite herself, Belle gave a brief spasm. “Not bad, Farrago.” She grabbed the cables, which turned into a tangle of hissing snakes instead of cables. “Nowhere up to my standard, but not bad.” She threw the snakes back at him. “I give you a ‘C’.”
Farrago dispelled the snakes into a mist. “Everyone! Enough of this ‘one at a time’ nonsense! All together!”
Belle made a ‘tsk’ noise. “Idiots.” She held her hands slightly apart, an electrical arc ran across the space, and a blinding light erupted. When they managed to get the spots dancing out of their eyes, the ‘ice’ had disappeared, but Belle was still standing unafraid in front of them. Of course, the fact that she was wearing a suit of ‘Iron Man’ grade power armor, complete with forearm blasters, over the shoulder plasma cannon and rocket launcher, and gauntlets glowing purple with barely restrained power, may have had something to do with it.
“Now, let me show you WHY I got that berth on that Manifestation project.” The ‘cannon’ went off and hit Talos squarely in the chest. The rational part of his brain told him that Beltane didn’t have enough raw power to knock him back, but the part of his brain that was picking up PAIN from his chest wasn’t on speaking terms with the rational part. He went flying, and the manifested ‘bronze’ on his chest exploded in the shape of a crater from a plasma burst. Talos went flying, but he refused to give up.
Beltane was pelting Silver Rose with a hail of physically indeterminate ‘energy bolts’ from her forearm blasters. Sylvie had created a barrier of thorny vines, but Beltane’s barrage was cutting through it. Talos gestured to Farrago to cause some sort of distraction. Farrago nodded, and created a ‘mask’ of total darkness in front of Beltane’s faceplate.
That was just the opening that Talos needed. He rushed at Beltane and just as Beltane got rid of the blinder, the raw physical reality of Talos’ fist came screaming through Belle’s finely crafted illusion. The bronze fist smashed through the ectoplamsic visor. Talos had the fleeting impression of Belle’s eyes widening as his knuckles came at them. Then his fist connected, and there was a very satisfying *crunch!* as his fist proceeded to mash into her. GOT the little Witch!
But Beltane didn’t bounce back. The ‘power armor’ around Belle’s body dissipated, and her body itself slumped, but it didn’t drop completely.
Talos’ fist was firmly embedded deep in Belle’s head.
Farrago walked up and felt the body as Talos pulled his hand from Belle’s head. He looked at it. It was covered in blood. Even through his metallic carapace, he could feel the warmth and stickiness of the blood, and he could smell the scent of it.
“Is, is she,” Karine slurred, her voice not yet back to itself - but then, neither was her own sphincter, “is she DEAD?”
There was a rude noise from the vicinity of Belle’s backside, and a foul, filthy reek filled the room. “Oh my god,” Silver Rose said in a very small voice.
Farrago felt at the neck, as if he really expected to get a pulse. He’d seen Talos put his fist through reinforced concrete walls, and he’d just put that fist into the middle of a girl’s head. “If she isn’t dead, she’ll wish that she was.”
“Oh, My GOD!” Sylvie wailed.
“NOBODY PANIC!” Farrago said in a loud, clear, firm voice. “There are TWO WAYS that this can go down: One, we start pointing fingers at each other, and we’re ALL doing hard time! Assault with a Paranormal Ability is a Felony, and a death that’s the result of a Felony is automatically kicked up to First Degree Murder. Two, we hang together, keep our heads, and we walk away from this, free and clear. And if anyone’s even thinking about ratting the rest of us out, just keep this in mind - Beltane here was chummy with Team Kimba. That means that she was buds with the Demon Princess. Do any of you honestly think that she’ll give a shit about any of you turning State’s Evidence? NO! One word of this, and we’re all dust in the wind!”
Keith took a deep centering breath, and projected a focused calm at his friends. They were all calming down, though the rank stench and the hard-to-ignore body on the floor made that hard.
Farrago focused his mind, and set about putting the situation in perspective. “Okay, first and foremost, our primary assets are that no one knows that Beltane is dead, nobody knows that she came here, and no one knows that we’re here. No one knows that a crime has been committed, let alone that we did it.”
“We-” *honk!* Glissade coughed to get her throat working again. "We have to use that.”
“Agatha Christie time,” Silver Rose summed up. “We have to confuse the time of death, we have to get people to think that she was somewhere else-”
“Why do they have to know that she’s dead?” Talos asked. “Why not just leave her here, hidden?”
“Actually, he’s right, y’know,” Farrago admitted, calming down a bit. “If she’s MISSING, not dead, then they’re concentrating on finding her, not on figuring out if Colonel Mustard was in the Billiard Room with the Candlestick. We can’t just leave her here, of course, eventually she’d start stinking up the place. Well, more than she already has.”
Farrago started pacing up and down. “Okay, first, Glissade and I will leave-”
“Why you two?”
“Because we can lay down a false trail; like you said, confuse the time of death, have her ‘last seen’ somewhere else, stuff like that. I can improvise an image of Beltane walking down the halls, and Karine can do her voice. Sylvie, you and Evangelos find a crate to stash the body in, pack it in, and leave. Make a note of exactly which crate, and phone it to Karine. She’ll call Maintenance as Hartford and have them move the crate to Melville Hall’s storage area. From there, we can figure out someplace to bury her, where they won’t be digging her up for a few years.”
“Why don’t I carry her out myself?” Talos asked. “I already have an alibi, and it’s a lot simpler.”
“Because you might be seen,” Sylvie explained carefully. Evangelos may have been an Exemplar, but being an Exemplar didn’t automatically mean that you were the sharpest knife in the drawer. Talos liked things nice and simple. “And as for our alibis, we have to get back to them as quickly as possible. The first rule of Agatha Christie is, never lean on a manufactured alibi too hard. They tend to start unraveling if people start poking at them.”
“So, I get seen? I’ll be wearing the hood.”
“Yeah,” Farrago drawled sarcastically, “a hood with two ponytails sticking out of it.”
“Oh. Right.” Talos reached up and painfully pulled them off.
“Still, it’s better if we get back to our alibis as quickly as we can,” Sylvie said. “Be seen as being somewhere else. It’s a good plan, Evangelos, let’s run with it.”
At Ten o’clock that night, Farrago helped Silver Rose sneak out of Melville, and together they carefully dug up a shrub so that it could be replanted over the body. More to the point, Sylvie dug up the shrub, while Farrago created an illusion that covered her work. When they were done, Farrago gave Talos his cue, and he brought the body from where it was stored. Glissade didn’t come anywhere near the scene, but held up her end by acting as scout. Security came past them a few times, but Glissade gave them enough warning to lay low. When they finished planting over the shrubbery, which Silver Rose had specifically chosen for being in an out of the way spot, you could barely see that it had been disturbed.
The two couples walked away without exchanging a word during the entire nasty business, but there was a definite sense of an experience shared. When Farrago got Silver Rose to Melville, she quickly wrapped an arm around him and pulled him up. “Sylvie, what?”
Sylvie took his face in her two hands and planted a passionate kiss on him. Her eyes glittering brightly, she said in a fierce whisper, “We got away with it!” Even Glissade couldn’t have packed more passion into those five words. “We GOT the snotty little bitch!” She pulled herself to him and rubbed her body against his.
Keith started to reciprocate, but he paused. “What about your roommate?” He indicated the girl dead asleep in the next bed.
“Poor dear had a hard day, so she took a sleeping powder,” Silvie exulted. “Or, at any rate, I felt sorry for her, and let her have one of mine,” she finished with relish.
“You. Are a very. Bad. Girl.” Keith grinned at her.
“Oh, yes. So Bad.” Sylvie slipped off her black turtleneck sweater. “Let’s get really bad.”
Keith reached over and ripped the bra off her with one hand. Sylvie just grinned invitingly as her breasts jiggled free.
Evangelos ‘Talos’ Geronyas didn’t have as much fun that night in his room in the boys’ wing of Melville, but he did wake up the next morning feeling refreshed. The memory of what he’d done yesterday didn’t bother him. Hell, he was relieved. They say that your first kill was always the hardest. Well, he had that behind him now. Farrago, Silver Rose and Glissade knew about it, but that was cool. They had as much to lose as he did, and they’d cover for him.
And The Don would know. Not that The Don would be able to rat him out - psychic evidence was hearsay at best. But The Don would know that Farrago’s crew could handle the really nasty stuff and get away with it.
Talos accepted that what had happened last night more or less fixed him as being part of Farrago’s crew, and it didn’t bother him. Being part of a crew meant that you had someone watching your back. And Farrago wasn’t that bad, as leaders go. He had an eye for the open chance, he listened to what the others had to say, he watched out for everyone, and he didn’t freak out when things got bad. Talos didn’t begrudge Keith the Leader’s slot. Someone had to do it, and Farrago doing the job meant that Talos didn’t have to strain himself thinking.
Not a bad balance, as teams go, either. Might stand to add a few others though, to even things out. An energizer maybe, or maybe an acrobat or a speed freak or a stretcher. He’d talk with Farrago about it.
But the best thing was, he’d gotten even with that snickering little bitch, Beltane. No more dumb brick jokes. No more ‘empty-headed pretty-boy’ cracks. And he’d gotten away with it.
With a cavernous yawn, he rolled out of bed and stretched. And there, at the end of his arm, embedded on his right hand, was a severed head. A girl’s head. Beltane’s head. “Hello!” the head chirped at him merrily. “Have a good night’s sleep?”
“I’m telling you, her HEAD was there, stuck on my hand!”
Sylvie blinked at him in dry disbelief. “Her head. I suppose that it spoke to you?”
Glissade just shook her head sadly. “Evangelos, you were still half asleep. You just imagined it.”
“Er, actually, Karine,” Farrago disagreed, “while I don’t think that Talos here is cursed or anything, there IS one big problem with that theory.”
“Evangelos doesn’t have an imagination.”
“Hey!” Talos completely missed the point. “Am I imagining this?” He ‘bronzed up’. The rest of his body was the usual greek statue perfection, but the carapace covering his face was formed as a very realistic skull.
“How’d you do that?” Glissade asked in a small voice.
“I didn’t! It just happened!”
“Well...at least the ponytails are gone!” Sylvie said in a weak voice, with an equally weak grin. Talos just glowered at her.
Farrago almost said something, but held it back. Glissade slapped him with the back of her hand. “Spit it out. You were thinking something.”
“I was trying to think of a Manifester who was skilled enough to affect your manifestation matrix.”
“Well, there are maybe five or six on campus. But-”
“There’s only one sick enough to pull something like that.”
Sylvie’s eyes hardened. “But she’s dead,” she pointed out sotto voce.
“There IS something...” Glissade started.
“You’re not gonna start talking ‘vengeful ghost’ are you?” Farrago said with a groan.
“No. But Beltane wasn’t just a manifester. She was also studying Magic. Real Magic, like the Mages do. She wasn’t anywhere in the Mages’ league, of course - who is? - but she was studying. Maybe she had some sort of curse thingie on her, a ‘Revenge Spell’ of some sort.”
“Well, she was the sort who’d go for that sort of thing...” Sylvie began.
Farrago just crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow at Talos. “More likely, it’s just Evangelos’ way of coping with his guilt.”
“Guilt? Why should I feel guilty?”
“I dunno, but then, I’m not the one wearing a death’s head.”
Farrago put the incident behind him, and got back to the task of having ‘Belle’ be seen in various places around campus. Between Second and Third Periods, he and Glissade were teaming up to have ‘Belle’ hold a conversation with someone. He clad Karine in one of his ‘Beltane’ images, and she went to talk with one of the ‘Poesies’, a rather dense sort called ‘Plastic Girl’ of all things. The idea was that Beltane would make an even bigger pain in the ass of herself than usual, which would suggest that she was having some kind of emotional breakdown. This would create a context for her ‘disappearance’. They’d also have ‘Beltane’ start picking on people who, let’s face it, most people know better than to mess with. The Ultra-Violents, like Bloodwolf or Scythe, came immediately to mind. Then after a few days of this, ‘Beltane’ would disappear completely, with far too many suspects, and no real clues.
Karine approached ‘Plastic Girl’, and Farrago warmed up something that he thought Belle might come up with, if she wanted to embarrass someone called ‘Plastic Girl’ - a hoard of ‘Ken’ dolls. They’d swarm all over ‘Plastic Girl’, clutching at her and fondling her. Glissade assumed a posture and started to speak, but instead of the planned set-up line, a snake slithered out of Glissade’s mouth. Even through the ‘Belle’ mask, you could see Karine’s revulsion as the scaly thing came wriggling out of her mouth.
Karine clapped both of her hands over her mouth, and skittered off in the direction of the nearest Girls’ Room. Plastic Girl was right after her, but Farrago dropped the disguise effect the second that Glissade was on the other side of the door. A few moments later, Glissade came out as herself, gargling furiously. She kept gargling until she came to the first water fountain, and spat the water out. She shuddered and said. “I’m never going to get the taste of that thing out of my mouth!”
“You should know!”
“Why would I screw up covering my own ass, just to play a particularly nasty prank on a friend?”
Glissade shook her head. “No, you’re right. That’s not even your sense of humor. That’s something that-” she broke off and went pale. “It’s something that Beltane would do!”
“Shit!” Farrago whispered, “She’s still alive!”
“Alive? How? Talos put his fist through her head! Rasputin wouldn’t have been able to survive that!”
“Rasputin wasn’t a mutant.” Farrago paused. “At least as far as we know.” He shook that irrelevancy away. “Anyway, tonight, we dig up where we thought that we buried her body.”
“So that we’ll know. If her body isn’t there, we’ll know that she managed to survive somehow.”
“But what if her body IS there?”
Farrago smirked. “It won’t be. Ghosts don’t go haunting their killers.”
Glissade gave Farrago a frosty glare. “Are you SURE that you’re not new to Whateley?”
They used a variation on the combination they’d used to inter the body the first time. Glissade was lookout, Farrago provided cover, and Talos and Silver Rose did the actual digging. When they pulled the sod up, they found the body, with its mashed in head, none the better for a day in the dirt.
“Hold on,” Farrago muttered. “This can’t be.” He knelt down and prodded the form. He was rewarded by a burbling, as half-clotted blood came bubbling up out of the ruined head, followed by some escaping gasses.
Talos lost his commodious lunch, and wasn’t much help getting the shrubbery back in place.
Maybe Talos and Karine are just having some sort of delayed stress reactions, Farrago thought to himself. They’ll probably have nasty nightmares about it for a few nights, but once their subconscious minds got used to the fact, they’ll be fine. Unfortunately, digging up a body, and dealing with Talos’ upheavals didn’t have the same reaction on Sylvie that putting Beltane down the first time did.
He made his way back to his room at Emerson. Well, he wasn’t going to let this idiocy get him down. A few phantasmal ‘Belle’ sightings tomorrow, and he’d call it quits. The trail would be confused enough that they’d never backtrack her to his team. Well, Evangelos and Karine could be forgiven, he supposed. It was their first killing, after all. As a matter of fact, them showing their stress afterwards was a good sign. They didn’t go to pieces at the time, and that was a good thing. And Sylvie, bless her hot little bod, was still as cool as a cucumber. Ah, Sylvie - all the good points of dating a black chick, and none of the downside.
He mused on Sylvie’s body as he changed into his Pee-Jays. He stretched, relaxed a bit, and pulled back the sheets on his bed-
-where Beltane’s rotting corpse was lying under the blanket. A dirt-encrusted hand rose up and grabbed him by the lapel of his pajama top.
The entire floor of Emerson was roused by the sound of his scream, and they found him huddled by the wall, pointing at an empty bed, gibbering.
Sylvie yawned and stretched as she woke up. Last night had NOT been what she’d hooked up with the Alphas for. Maybe what the team needed was something to get their collective minds off what happened with Beltane. They needed to pit their wits against someone else, so they wouldn’t be fretting about the teachers figuring out that Beltane was missing. Besides, they’d laid enough of a false trail as it was. Any more, and they ran the risk of exposing themselves.
So, who to aim her team at? Well, it wasn’t like she had any shortage of enemies. But after getting rid of Beltane-
-well, of course! Stunner. Stunner was the Brit member of those damn pushy, mouthy niggers, the ‘Tigers’. Stunner was always after her, calling her an ‘Oreo’, and the rest weren’t any better. Loud, vulgar gits who rolled around in the very worst filth of American ‘culture’, claiming that it was the ‘Black Experience’, or something. Like dressing up as a bunch of street trash made them more ‘Black’ or something. Yes, N’Dizi, their Big Noise - and what kind of name was ‘N’Dizi’, anyway? - was always up The Don’s nose about being racist. Hell, the Tigers were as racists as it got, but if anyone looked at THEM cross-eyed, then they were a flipping Nazi!
Yes, The Don would appreciate someone slapping the Tigers down, showing them their proper place. He’d probably been waiting for someone to show the personal initiative. Yes, get the team’s mind off the stress AND more a touch more ahead. As Keith would say, ‘That’s Alpha Thinking’.
Sylvie flushed slightly at the thought of Keith, and got out of bed. She got her brush and automatically started brushing out her lovely silky silvery hair. One hand brushed against her face, and she saw something red on it. She touched her face, and felt a sticky warmth there. She rushed to the mirror and looked into it.
Her entire face was covered in blood.
Silver Rose’s roommate, Frostbite, woke up to the sound of Sylvie screaming. Looking around she found her roomie huddled on the floor, covering her face. When Frostbite pulled Sylvie’s hands away from her face, there was nothing that she could see wrong.
The four friends met at a secluded table in the library. “Okay,” Farrago opened, “What happened with Talos, Sylvie and me MIGHT be unresolved guilt. It might, but it’s not fucking likely. But, what happened with to Karine couldn’t. The odds of her suddenly developing a Manifestation trait that’s keyed to her Siren trait? Well, I’m no egghead, but I’m willing to bet that they’re pretty damn thin.”
“Which means someone’s fucking with us,” Karine said in a flat voice that was totally at odds with her usual symphonic expression.
“More to the point, it means that someone knows what we did,” Sylvie pointed out.
“So, we find them, we step on them,” Evangelos summed it up.
“You got it, big guy,” Farrago agreed. “Or, at the very least, we set them up, so that it looks like THEY killed Beltane, and are trying to frame us for it. That way, any ‘Agatha Christie’ letters saying that WE did it, will just look like another lame attempt to frame us.”
“Well, we have only ONE lead-“ Sylvie started the investigation, “the back room in the auditorium. That’s the only place where we could have been spotted.”
“Well?” Keith said, “We know what we have to do, so let’s go do it!”
Three days later, they were back at the library table. “Well,” Farrago asked wearily, “what do we have?”
“The same thing we had three days ago - nothin’!” Talos shot back. “Nobody saw us go into the room. Nobody saw us leave the room. Nobody saw us plant the body. We did it clean, so howcum we ain’t getting’ away with it?”
“Karine, dear,” Sylvie asked blurrily, “what did the doctors at the Powers Theory lab say?”
“They didn’t find anything. And yes, I asked them to try all the tests. They ran them. Now, they’re starting to think that I’m some sort of hypochondriac.”
“Okay, we’ve exhausted Detective Work and Science,” Farrago spelled out. “That leaves Psychology and Magic.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, either we ARE being haunted, or something like that, or for some bizarre reason, we’re sabotaging ourselves. It could be me, I have the ability to do all of this, but to be honest, I just don't feel guilty about this! And even if I did, I wouldn’t drag the rest of you guys down with me.” Farrago paused and looked around. “Nope, I don’t feel any guilt at this table, especially not from me. So, that leaves something magical. Karine, see if you can ‘convince’ someone to leave the Mystic Arts building open, so we can have a séance.”
“And what if the seance turns up a cropper, and we really ARE doing this to ourselves?”
“Then we don’t really have anything to worry about. We deal with it.”
Karine lit the candles, and the other three arranged themselves around the table. “Farrago, I know it’s a little late to ask, but if we DO manage to contact something, what are we supposed to do about it?”
“Nothing at the moment. Right now, what we’re after is information. We get that, then we go get whatever it is that we need.”
“Can we just get this OVER with?” Sylvie snapped.
“What’s the matter, dear?” Karine teased, “Is the spooky place getting to you?”
“NO! I just don’t like all this superstition garbage. My people - I mean, my family has been trying to get away from this sort of mumbo-jumbo for centuries! Savages make their decisions by consulting the spirits! Civilized people make rational decisions based on sound evidence.”
Farrago patted her hand. “And that’s why we’re doing this last, sweetheart. We’ve exhausted all the other possibilities.”
Sylvie pouted, but they went ahead. The séance was almost exactly like millions of séances that had gone before. Almost. This one was performed under optimum conditions, with three proven manifesters and a telepath.
The candles went dim, the room got dark, and a chill swept over them. A darkness pooled in the middle of the table, and gathered up in a column, which formed into first a general human form, and then into the form of a girl. Sylvie gasped when she recognized Beltane’s face on the figure. It didn’t last long. Her face imploded, as if an invisible fist had mashed it in. The figure sprawled onto the table and became formless. Tendrils reached out in four directions, and clawed hands reached out for each of them.
All four of the Alphas scrambled out of their chairs. Farrago blurted out the spell to stop the séance, and the lights went up, and the thing on the table faded away. “Shit! We ARE haunted!”
The four Alphas spent the next few days hanging around the library, looking for ways to dispel a haunting. They were bogged down by not being able to ask any who knew what they were doing. And they were having problems getting to sleep, so they were all a little punchy.
Talos, Glissade and Farrago were sitting at a table, going through book after thick, densely written book, and learning more about things that go bump in the night than they really wanted to. Then Silver Rose came stumbling out of the stacks, holding yet another book. She plopped down in a chair. “Sylvie, sweetheart, are you okay?” Farrago asked.
“ah? Oh, yes, I’m all right,” Sylvie slurred a bit. “Better than all right. I think I’ve found it!”
“What do you think, idiot?” She held up the book. Its title was ‘Universals In Worldwide Burial Practices’. She opened the book to a marked page. “It says here that the Mantusi bushmen were traditional enemies of another tribe, the Anagu. The Anangu were famous in Africa for cursing their enemies as they died, and haunting them after death. But the Mantusi managed to wipe out the Anangu, because they had a ceremony that could bind a vengeful ghost to the spot where it died. After each battle with the Anangu, they’d hold this ceremony, and bind the ghosts so that they couldn’t bother them.”
“That’s nice,” Karine said, “but what does it have to do with us?”
“It’s a simple ceremony, and according to this, it WORKS.”
“That’s what ALL these books say,” Talos said dully.
“This isn’t a book of black magic,” Sylvie said severely, “it’s an Anthropology text. Do you honestly think an Anthropologist would put his reputation on something that off, if he wasn’t absolutely CERTAIN that it would work?”
The other three nodded wearily. “No sense in taking any chances. If we ever wanna sleep again, we’d better try anything that might work,” Karine said.
“Then we’d better get on it. There’s a catch.”
“Isnt’ there always?” Farrago moaned.
“This has to be done at the place of death, within Eight days of the death.”
The four looked around at each other. “It’s been a week.”
“And the back room of the auditorium is locked.”
“I’ll break it in,” Talos offered.
“No, then they’ll wonder why it was broken into.”
“I imitate Carson or Hartford’s voice and order it opened for some reason,” Glissade suggested.
“Better,” Sylvie said, “but it would still leave a trail, and not necessary.”
“Okay, then how DO we get in there, in time?”
“Simple. I snag the key off the ring of one of the janitors.”
“But the janitors won’t be back until tomorrow morning. We’d have to do it during the Assembly.”
“Better and better,” Sylvie yawned cavernously. “We sneak out as everyone’s going into Assembly, do the ritual, and rejoin the crowd after Carson’s bored them to tears.”
Farrago looked worried. “Perform a ceremony behind Carson’s back, WHILE she’s giving her address?”
“Well, as you say, daring and planning makes for a winning ploy - that’s the Alpha Way.” Sylvie picked up the tome. “I’ll make photocopies of this, and put the book back.”
Ten minutes later, Farrago found Sylvie in the stacks, sound asleep, the photocopies next to the book.
“I don’t like this!” Sylvie snapped, as she slipped into the costume.
“Oh, NOW you don’t like it!” Karine snapped back as she daubed her face with paint. “This was YOUR idea!”
“Yeah, Syl,” Farrago said as he slipped the lion’s tooth studded armlet on one bicep, “we were lucky that they had all this stuff in the Drama Department.”
“GOD, I will just DIE if anyone sees me like this!” Sylvie wailed quietly. “The Tigers would never let me live this down, if they ever heard of it!”
Farrago thought briefly of telling Sylvie that she looked fine in a leopard skin skirt and brass bangles, with bits of tooth and bone tied to various places. And then, having a healthy regard for his skin, he said nothing.
Sylvie started to put paint on her face, paused, and threw down the makeup. “I’m not doing this!” She turned to get her clothes.
Farrago shot a hand forward. “NO! Sylvie, I’m not any happier than you are about this. But I’m not going to let you do this to yourself. Maybe it will only take the three of us to pull this off, but I don’t KNOW that. If you’re not here, doing this with us, you might somehow screw up the rite for us all.” He paused, and covered his ass. “And maybe if you’re the only one that doesn’t do this, you’ll be the only one that Beltane comes after.”
“Still, it’s so embarrassing!”
Farrago pulled her to him. “Not to worry. After this, it’ll all be over.” He caressed one of her bare breasts. “And we’ll finally have some ‘Us’ time again.”
Sylvie sighed and nodded. As one, they picked up their spears and shields, and began the chant.
In the Auditorium, Carson was lecturing the assembled students about the need for respect for the cultures of other students. As a truly international school, internal harmony depended on leaving silly stereotypes and biases at home.
Beltane walked down the aisle to the rows where the Poe kids were seated. She squeezed past the others to behind where Bunny ‘Bugs’ Cormack was. “Hey, Bun, did you get that bit wired?”
Bunny handed two items back. “Yep. Video and RC. How did the ‘Stunt Double’ work out?”
“Wonderful. The ‘mashed in face’ was perfect, and the ‘bubbling rot’ bit was a piece of art.”
“Special Effects are my life,” Bunny glowed.
Bored by Carson’s PC pontification, Nikki Reilly leaned back. “Should you be discussing your Special Manifestation Project in Assembly?”
“Haven’t started on that.”
“Then what have you been up to, all week? We haven’t seen hide nor hair of you for days?”
Belle flipped up the vid-screen. They were so into their chant that an elephant herd could have come stampeding through and they wouldn’t notice. “Let me show you.” She pulled a digital camera out of her purse and readied it. When she was set, she hit the RC button.
The curtains behind Carson parted, and the soundproof divider rolled up, revealing Farrago, Silver Rose, Talos and Glissade, dressed only in leopard skins, paint and cheap baubles, in a parody of an African costume, standing, thumping spears onto the floor. Intently they chanted ‘OWA TASHMUH KIAM,’ over and over.
A tall African ethnic girl that Belle recognized as Daphne ‘Stunner’ Bosworth of the Tigers stood up and screamed, “Lytton, you GIT! What d’you think you’re DOING?”
As one, all four of the Alphas snapped out of their trance and looked out at Headmistress Carson, blood in her eye, and practically EVERYONE at that school, all looking at them.
Quick on the draw, Belle managed to snap a picture of the first expression of horrified realization as it spread over Silver Rose’s face.
Looking back and forth at the frozen Alphas on the stage and Beltane’s fevered snapping, as she tried to capture each and every anguished show of humiliation for posterity, Toni put two and two together. “MAN, am I glad you’re not pissed at me right now.”
Belle grinned as she kept snapping. “Good girl, Chaka. That’s real Poe Cottage thinking.”