Thursday, February 8, 2007
I’ve got a new roommate. Her name is Misty, she’s from some place in Washington state that I’ve never heard of, and she’s just SO EXCITED to be at a real school for mutants! Well, from the looks of her, she’s probably an Exemplar- a sixteen-year old doesn’t get that body or that bland mixture of popular looks honestly. A little Britney here, a little Gwen there, a little Christina over there, some Hillary there, and you have your generic blonde airhead with a killer body. From the way that she’s handling her bags and stuff, I’d say that they stuck me with another brick. Well, maybe I’ll luck out, and this one won’t think that being a super-powered henchwoman is a one-way ticket out of nowheresville. I stuck out my hand. “Hey. My name’s Jadis. Welcome to Melville Cottage.”
“Like, this is a COTTAGE?” Misty said, still bubbling over. “This place is, like, HUGE! I mean, this is the dorm? It’s bigger than the entire high school back in Darrington!”
Oh, both trailers of it? Fortunately, I didn’t actually SAY that. Yep, I admit it, I picked up a bit of a reflex attitude, going to some of the best private schools in New York, before my mutation kicked in. But I don’t like that reflex, so I drew in the claws. “Well, Melville is both the largest and the newest of the dorms here at Whateley. Eight stories high, the largest selection of Singles rooms, and an entire floor for in-house activities. The penthouse units are rated as luxury accommodations, and they mean it.”
“Penthouses?” Misty squeaked as if she’d just found a hundred-dollar bill on the ground.
“Yeah, but don’t get your hopes up. Strictly Senior country. That is, unless you’re one of the Alphas.”
“Oh well, I’d have had to give you the down-lo on them anyway. Did you have a ‘top crowd’ back in Darrington? The most popular girls, the hunkiest boys, the biggest attitudes, like that?” Misty nodded. “Well, the Alphas are Whateley’s version of the ‘top crowd’. They are REALLY into the whole ‘we are the elite’ thing. And they’re into pranks, big time.”
“Enh, that happens at every school,” Misty scoffed.
“The kids at other schools don’t have super powers or reality-bending technology. The Alphas do. Misty? Do yourself a favor- find out who the Alphas are. The first rule of survival here at Melville is- you WILL get pranked. If it’s an Alpha, let it slide. If someone who’s not an Alpha slams you, you slam her back, HARD.”
Misty gave me a worried look. “Is it really that bad?”
I shrugged. “It wasn’t that bad last year, but this year the ‘Alpha Alpha’ is a real jerk. But it looks like he double-parked his karma; he got ticketed last month, and he hasn’t been quite so obnoxious lately.”
Misty wrapped her head around that and beamed at me. “So, Gladys-”
“Not Gladys- Jadis.”
“What kind of name is that?”
“It’s a literary name. My dad cribbed it from the Chronicles of Narnia.”
“Oh, I LOVE that book!” Misty gushed. “So, Jadis, uhm, exactly what…”
“What’s my mutant power?” She nodded. “Not to worry. It’s like ‘What’s your sign’ or ‘what’s your major’ are at other schools. Well, first of all, I’m rated as a level 2 Wizard.”
“WHAOW!” Misty gushed, “You can do, like, Magic?”
“Ah… yeah… but I’m not really all that great at it. I’m not one of those mages who can cast big blazing magics off the cuff all Dr. Strange-style. I gotta prepare my stuff beforehand, and… well, let’s just say that all that it means to you, is not to mess with any of my books that has this symbol on the spine.” I picked up one of my Enchantment texts and showed her the Magic Curriculum symbol. “I love magic, but it’s not really my big thing.”
“So, what IS your big thing?”
I grimaced. “Weelll… I could tell you, but it would be easier if I just showed you.” She crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows, so I showed her. Her eyes popped open, and she scurried back until her back was against the wall. Not that I blame her. In my ‘Beast Skin’, I stand about eight feet tall or so, and I have translucent black skin, forward sweeping horns, a mane, glowing red eyes, a muzzle with fangs, large clawed hands, and large hooves. Though, for all that, they tell me that I’m still very feminine looking, and that’s something. I let her sink in the situation, and get used to the idea that I wasn’t going to rip her apart. When you’ve had as many roommates as I have, you learn that that it’s very important that your roomie isn’t afraid that you’re going to rip her apart while she’s sleeping.
When she was brave enough to step away from the wall, I dropped the shell. “And that’s why they call me ‘She-Beast’.”
“Whooaaa…” she breathed, “How did you DO that? Your clothing ain’t torn or nothin’!”
“You willing to sit through a lecture, your first day here?” She gave me the ‘kinda- sorta- maybe’ shrug. “Okay, you’re heard of psychokinesis?”
“Sure, movin’ stuff with your mind, right?”
“Close enough for your first day. Anyway, I’m a psychokinetic, and a pretty high level one. Basically, what I do, is I form what’s called a ‘psychokinetic shell’ around myself.” I demonstrated by putting on one of my ‘gloves’ forming a dark claw over my hand. “With most PKs, the ‘shell’ is almost form-fitting. Your basic ‘PK superman’ type does this, and it’s invisible. With others, like me, it isn’t invisible. And in my case, the shell is a lot bigger’n me. I’m not really sure why. Most PK shells can take a lot of damage, but I can actually absorb energy with mine.” I pointed one of my ‘claws’ at the light fixture, stretched it, and the light went dim for a second. “I don’t absorb the energy directly into myself, I just sort of store it in the shell. As you can see, I can ‘stretch’ my shell a good ways. I can do a few more things with it,” I created a pair of bat wings to demonstrate, “but that’s the meat n’ p’tatoes of it.” Another thing I’ve learned: don’t overload the newb with too much technical information.
“Keeewwlll…” she breathed, “But why do you create that big ugly monster thing when you put up your shell?”
Ick. Misty may be smarter than she looks. It took Scalpel a week to frame that question. Okay, get it out of the way… at the worst, I’ll have a single again. “Well, the devil that my dad bound to my spirit may have something to do with that.”
“Yeah. Not a demon, but a devil.”
“What’s the difference?”
“A demon is a spirit within an infernal hierarchy. A devil is a predatory spirit that exists in the here and now. You can’t kill a demon, but you can banish it. You can’t banish a devil, but you can kill it. Sort of.”
“WHY did your daddy bind a demo- I mean, devil into you?”
“To be honest, I dunno. But then, it’s the sort of thing that supervillains do to their kids.”
“SUPERVILLAIN? Your daddy’s a supervillain? Who?”
I sent a silent prayer up to whatever saint looks out for the children of professional criminals- God knows, we need one!- and owned up. “Doctor Diabolik.”
“Doctor Diabolik?” Misty rolled it around in her mouth for a bit. “Didn’t he try to set off Mount Rainier a few years back?”
“Mount Rainier?” I made a production of racking my memory. People get antsy around girls with photographic memories. “Yeah, now I remember. Six years back, right? I remember, because it was right about then, when I had braces put on.” Nertz! Fifty-two people died in that cluster fuck! With my luck, she lost her favorite gramma in the fallout. “So, were you involved in all of that?”
“Nah. Rainier’s down in Pierce county, Darrington’s up in Snohomish, over a hundred miles away.”
A hundred miles away. Good lord, that anyone who lives that close to multiple volcanoes can be that clueless about the scale of destruction they can leave. “So! Enough about me! What do you do, Misty?”
“Oh me?” Misty brightened, delighted to show off how special she was. “I can do THIS!” she pointed at my bed, and all the small stuff, like my plushy octopus started floating. From the way that it was sort of just hanging there, and the way that she was hefting her bags around, I’d say that she’s probably a gravitic warper, maybe a gravity version of a PK superman. “And I can lift really heavy stuff, like I threw a pickup truck-” Yep, gravitic supergirl. “And I can fly like Superman, which is why I decided to call myself-” she whipped open her parka, showing off a blue T-shirt with a big ‘S’ inside a red diamond screened onto the front, “SUPERCHICK!” So much for her being smarter than she looks.
Oh well, maybe she’s into the whole ‘superhero’ thing. I could use someone in the Cape Squad who doesn’t think that I’m just biding my time before I make my big move to TAKE OVER THE WORLD! Bwah-ha-ha-hah!
We chatted about a few things as she put her stuff away. Good Lord, how can anyone still be THAT into unicorns? As she stashed her stuff, she noticed something, “Hey, Maddy-”
“Where do you stash your stuff?”
“In here.” I pointed at my wardrobe.
“You got ALL your stuff in that ONE li’l cabinet?”
“Misty, welcome to Whateley.” I opened the wardrobe, and showed her Selection A. Then I closed the door, knocked on it three times and opened it to reveal Selection B. I repeated for Selections C through H.
Misty started off surprised and worked her way to dragging her jaw on the rug. “Is it magic?”
“Yep! I got everything that I need in here, except a pathway to Narnia. And I’m working on that.” Part of the ‘everything that I need’ includes a ‘shortcut’ to the Bad Seeds’ hang but she doesn’t have to know that.
After explaining to ‘Superchick’ that my ‘Infinite Wardrobe’ had been my Freshman year magic course term project, and it wasn’t something that I could just whip up another copy of, I looked at my watch. “Wow!” I said, “Check out the time! I gotta get to the caff, before the ravening hoard clears away all the good food!” Not really, but I needed something to keep her busy while I figure out what I’m going to do. One thing you learn being the kid of an evil genius: always keep planning.
I pulled a parka out of Selection E and headed out. Misty followed, which wasn’t bad in of itself, but if she’d stayed behind and gone to the cafeteria on her own, I’d have felt better. Tagging along is the first sign of a roommate wanting to get on the Lackey-track. Why can’t Administration give me a roomie who has nefarious plans of her own?
We were at the stairwell that separates Chick Country from Boystown, when the cargo elevator opened its doors.
“Sheba! So good to find someone with some actual brains in this half-vast wasteland!”
I paused at my nickname, but it wasn’t until I placed the whiny nasal voice, that what the Scots would call a ‘cauld grue’ crawled down my spine. I turned around and, despite a speed-dialed prayer to that uncertain saint, there, standing at the mouth of the elevator, was Jobe Wilkins, the boy most likely to exterminate the human race by accident. “Jobe?” I croaked, “What are you doing here?” The fact that he was standing in an elevator car crammed with crates of various kinds of technical gear only increased the lowering sense of dread that I felt descend upon fair Melville Cottage.
“We’re moving in,” said an absolutely gorgeous girl with long silky white hair pulled back into an absurdly long ponytail that reached down to the rise of her ass. She was weird- she was, as I said, utterly, despicably lovely, but she was wearing an Izod polo shirt and some chinos, neither of which really fit her. She had a beautiful contralto voice with a polished British Public School accent, but there was something about her voice that made my ears itch. She had tons of grace and she almost glowed with physical vigor, but she moved like a schlump. She had all the raw material for a real heart-stopper, but she used it the wrong way. It was like seeing a vintage 1920s Rolls Royce Silver Ghost being used to haul dead fish.
“Moving in?” I said in the voice that I imagine the mayor of Tokyo must use when he hears that Godzilla is coming out of the harbor. “You’re moving in HERE?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Jads,” Jobe said in his patent-pending ‘get on the Dali Lama’s nerves’ way. “This is a hallway! We can’t move into a hallway, getting dressed would be a nightmare! We’re moving into room 409. Which, as you can see, is already being evacuated.” He pointed down the hallway, to where, indeed, Paloma was moving boxes of her stuff with the air of a new orphan being thrown out of the place of her birth by a heartless banker.
“Ah, Jobe…” I said with ever increasing dread, “409 is Chick Country. You can’t move into Chick Country.”
Jobe gave one of his stock ‘the world is out to get me’ sighs, “I only wish that were so. This is from on high. Carson herself made the arrangements.” He shot a withering glare at the girl. “Including my roommate.”
What? Carson arranged for him to cohabitate with a drop-dead gorgeous blonde, and he’s not licking his chops? The blonde draped an arm over his shoulder with a snide smile and said, “Oh, it won’t be so bad, Mother Dear! We’ll be one big happy family, and you’ll teach me everything that I need to know!”
“Hold your breath dearie,” Jobe snarled back, “you’d look good in blue.”
“MOTHER?” I asked, sensing that that this conversation had taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque on the road to Reality.
Jobe gave out a low growl. “Do you remember that Drow transformation complex that I created?”
“The one that you accidentally injected yourself with?” I asked, “How can I NOT remember it? It’s all that you talk about these days! That, and that missing equipment you say someone stole.”
“Precisely, Jads- you place your finger on the exact pulsing, revolting, treacherous, incompetent, moronic, FAT-”
“What?” blurted the blonde, “I’m not FAT! I’m just-”
“FAT!” Jobe out-shouted her, “Weaseling, thieving crux of this entire tragedy! Besides stealing my cloning chamber and several other pieces of proprietary technology, that bargain basement Baron Harkonnen, Belphegor, stole samples of my Drow complex. He used the cloning chamber to fast-grow the culture into a near-adult body.” He reached over and literally tore a strip of skin off the girl’s face. The ‘skin’ came off like a coat of paint, leaving a patch of slate black, but still quite healthy, skin showing underneath.
“So, she’s your ‘dream girl’?” I asked, “No, wait… if you force grew a clone just from a few cells, then she’d be tabula ralsa, a blank slate.”
Jobe nodded. “Exactly. Nice to talk to someone who can, if not keep up, at least lag behind at a respectable pace. That bloated packrat Belphegor, besides raiding MY stash of gear for his reprehensible hijacking, added bits and pieces of equipment from every gadgeteer and devisor worth ripping off. He stole two Engramic Read/Write helmets from Knick-knack’s BIT-splicer. Unfortunately for the entire COSMOS, Knick-knack hadn’t gotten all the bugs out of it before Dr. Stickyfingers lifted it. So, instead of placing the mind of that sow, Phobos, into this perfect form, he wound up polluting my lovely, perfect drow-maiden with his OWN sick, twisted, shabby morass of third-rate associations, memories and neuroses!
“AND! And, just to cap off a tragedy of Biblical- and I’m talking Old Testament tragedy, none of that touchy-feely New Testament drivel- Biblical proportions, when we all get dragged in front of Carson, she decides that I’M to blame for all of this! ME! I’M the injured party here! Belly-flop rips off MY equipment and MY serums to hijack MY perfect girlfriend, but _I’m_ supposed to share the blame for it! That sack of suet creates this… travesty! And *I’m* supposed to raise her!”
“Yes,” Jobe ground out through clenched teeth, “By fait accompli, Carson has adjudicated that this is a newborn child, that Belfatso is her father, and that _I_ am her mother.”
“Her… mother…?” I asked, trying to think of anyone with less maternal instincts than the weasel in Abercrombie & Fitch before me.
“Yes,” the drow-girl purred, “after all, a gel’s mumsie must be the WOMAN of the couple, right? And dear, studly Belphegor is still every inch the man.”
“Yeah, all two and a half inches of man,” Jobe snarled back. He looked at me. “Another of Carson’s irrational and completely unwarranted dictats. She has officially declared me- by what authority, I don’t KNOW- but she has declared me female!”
“Yes,” the drow girl drawled, “and Mater Dearest, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that allowance-”
“ALLOWANCE?” Jobe yelped, “You should be grateful that I don’t just boil you down for recyke!”
“What the HELL is going on here?” Misty asked, clearly out of her depth by about a mile.
“Oh?” Jobe took finally notice of Misty. “Who’s this?” his (?) trademark leering smirk settled on his face. “Have you been holding out on me, Jads?”
I let out a gusty sigh- maybe, if I’m lucky, Jobe will scare Misty into transferring over to Dickinson. “Jobe, this is my new roommate, Superchick.”
“Superchick?” Jobe smirked with barely restrained derision.
“YEAH. She’s new, so don’t turn her into a mermaid or anything.”
“What happened to the big redhead, the one with the big *ahem!* ‘biceps’?”
“Cutlass? Oh, she transferred over to Whitman, to be with her buddy, Sapper.” Jobe started to say something that would probably make me want to clock him, so I turned to Misty. “Misty, this is Jobe Wilkins. No code-name, just Jobe Wilkins. His father is Gizmatic, the supervillain who conquered that little postage stamp island down in the Caribbean. Jobe’s a Bio-Devisor. That means that he plays with test tubes and makes monsters. Misty, if Jobe offers to help you with anything, anything at all- RUN.”
Jobe let out a martyred gasp. “Really! You try to help people, ease the suffering-”
Jobe was in the middle of yet another of his thumb sucking whines, so I pushed him aside and got up in the face of the drow-clone. “So, you’re Belphegor 2.0, eh?” I put on my beast-skin, stretched my hand around her body, and picked her up in one fell move. I gave her a bone-crunching squeeze with my hand. “*So, be an improvement on the original*” When I have my beast-skin on, the same factors that protect me from all sorts of harm, including sonic attacks, give my voice this weird rasping reverb effect. Of course, that may just be the devil in me, as well.
“Who’s Belphegor?” Misty asked.
“Belphegor is another devisor,” I explained as I let 2.0 drop. “A big fat slob with an ego even bigger than Jobe’s. He has a habit of picking on my little brother and shaking him down for bits and pieces of high-tech, and I have a habit of squishing him like a bug when he does it.”
“I knew that there was something that I liked about you, Jads,” Jobe muttered.
“With that in mind,” I said, looking down at the still gasping drow-babe, “what are we gonna call her?”
“I AM right here, you know,” the drow-bitch snarled up at me. “No need to speak of me in the third bloody person!”
“Belpho already beat you to it, Sheeb,” Jobe drawled. “He named her ‘Belphebe’, after something in the ‘Illiterate Enchanter’ or something.”
“Oh!” I said, the connection clicking immediately. “Are you talking about that bit in L. Sprague DeCamp’s ‘The Incomplete Enchanter’, where he points out that Spenser based the character of Belphoebe in his ‘Faerie Queene’ on a similar character from Ariosto’s ‘Orlando Furioso’, named ‘Belphegor’?”
Jobe just gave me a dirty look and muttered something about ‘Humanities Majors’.
As Belphoebe got up, I couldn’t help but figure that they’d come straight over here from Twain. She wasn’t even wearing a bra under the polo shirt that she’d borrowed. I let out a disgusted sigh. “Well, I guess that there’s nothing that we can do. You’d have an easier time reversing the Law of Entropy, than getting Carson to reverse one of her decisions. Misty? She looks about your size- could she borrow one of your bras until she can go shopping for clothes of her own?”
“Bra? Why would I need a bra?” Belphoebe stood up, shoulders back, pushing her chest out. “I’m strong enough that I don’t need help keeping these beauties up!”
“Yeah,” I leered, “I’ll bet that you’ll be REAL popular with the guys waving those things around!” I pinched one of her nipples, which was poking the fabric. Belphoebe gasped and covered her offended gland, but let Misty guide her into our room for a fitting.
“That’s real nice of you, Jads, real neighborly,” Jobe smarmed. “And while you’re being all Welcome Wagon-y, how’s about giving me a hand with these crates?”
I looked in the elevator and gave a despairing gasp. “Will you look at all this junk! What are you doing, moving your entire lab?”
“Oh don’t be ridiculous! This is just the stuff that I had in my old digs.”
“You kept a re-sequencing laser and a culture centrifuge in your old room?”
“HEY!” I shouted, recognizing a piece of equipment, “What’s this?”
“Oh that? That’s just some bit of obsolete junk that Belphegor let Feebs have, in order to keep her from bawling too much. I swear, that man’s gonna spoil her rotten, and I’ll be the one who has to clean up the spit and change her diapers…” Jobe left off with a speculative leer at powdering Belphoebe’s behind.
“PUT THAT DOWN!” Belphoebe screeched as she trotted out of my room, tugging on a pink T-shirt with kittens on the front. “That’s MINE! I designed it from scratch and-”
“YEAH?” I snarled, “You designed it? Then howcum it looks exactly like the metal fatigue inducer that my brother Mal built three months ago, which promptly ‘got mislaid’?”
“What are you talking about you spiky-haired twit? I, and I alone conceived of, designed, and built this with these two hands!” she snarled back right back at me.
“Well, not exactly THOSE two hands…” Jobe drawled.
“Oh? Really? Then howcum you included Mal’s ‘Techno-Devil’ logo in your design?” I pointed at the ‘Transformers’ rip-off logo that was worked into the control panel of the unit.
“Are you calling me a thief?” She pulled herself up in indignation.
“No, I’m calling Belphegor a thief! YOU are just receiving stolen property.”
“Ladies, ladies, LADIES!” Jobe oiled soothingly, “there’s no need to get all upset about… HEY! That’s my neural-implant splicing-servo that disappeared in November! Why you little…”
Belphoebe looked around and didn’t see anyone on her side, so she experimented with her new equipment. To wit, she let out a scream of terrified femininity, the sort that rattles windowpanes, pierces eardrums, and brings the nearest male with delusions of heroism. And, just to prove that I really was having one of THOSE days, something whizzed up the stairs, paused for a nano-second and then zipped back down into Froshzone. I turned to Jobe and said, “Look, if you move now, you can be inside your new room before-”
Too late. A guy who looked like a live-action version of a cartoon parody of the ‘All-American Hero’, from the barrel chest to the lantern jaw flew up the stair well and hovered in the air in front of us. He was wearing blue jeans, a blue T-shirt with a gold foil ‘B’ on the chest, a yellow belt with a big ‘B’ buckle, and a yellow cape clipped to the T-shirt. Yes, I said ‘yellow cape’. “HALT fowl miscreant! Unhand that young lady, or you’ll answer to CAPTAIN BRAVO!”
I stepped forward and folded my arms across my chest. “What are you doing up here, Bravo? You gotta graduate freshman year to come up here without an invitation.”
“That’s CAPTAIN Bravo!”
“No, it’s not,” I said as matter-of-factly as I could, “You’re not Captain Bravo, or Lieutenant Bravo, or Sergeant Bravo or even PFC Bravo. You can’t use a military rank or a degree title in your code-name, and you know it. Now go back to the nursery, or I’ll sic Winter on you.”
Jobe had the incredible lapse of judgement to snicker. “Whoa… And I thought that Stormwolf was a piece of work!”
“Jobe… Just-” I moaned.
“JOBE?” Bravo blurted out. “Jobe Wilkins? The most notorious flaming fruitcake and pervert in Whateley?”
“Flaming?” Jobe sneered, “Big talk, coming from a guy whose biggest dream is to fly around wearing tights!”
Bravo showed the first signs of good sense that I’ve ever seen come from the big gomer and ignored Jobe. “Young lady, is this depraved queen forcing his loathsome attentions on you?” he asked Belphoebe.
“Excuse me?” Jobe asked, “ ‘Queen’? Let’s leave aside the issue of mere slander, and focus on the illogic of your question- if I’m forcing my attentions on her, then I’m not homosexual; if I’m a homosexual, then I’m the last person that she needs to be worried about.”
Then Hyper, Bravo’s super-quick (in the feet, if not the head) buddy zoomed up the stairs, towing Long John, who is sort of ‘Arthur’ to Bravo’s Tick, after him. “Seenowwegotthewholeteamand wecankicksomeseriousass!”
Jobe looked around. “I didn’t hear anybody say ‘send in the clowns’…”
“Look, guys,” I said, trying to come between Bravo and Jobe, “Jobe here is moving in, and he’s having a few issues with his new roommate.”
“Moving in?” Bravo blared, “Not into MY cottage!”
Long John struggled to his feet and stretched a hand onto Bravo’s shoulder. “Hold on, Greg! We don’t know-”
“AhscrewthatletskicksomeASS!” Hyper- who is one of the most aptly named people that I’ve ever met- speed talked.
Long John took Bravo by both shoulders. “WE DON’T KNOW WHAT WE’RE GETTING INTO!” he yelped. “For all we know, someone dropped a box on his foot!”
“Lookitsthatfagjobewilks!” Hyper yammered, “ArewegonnaletthatfagdisUS?”
“Fag?” Jobe sniped, “Hey, *I’m* not the one getting all huggy in the hallway!” Ah, Jobe- he always knows just the thing to make things worse.
Bravo let out a zap from his eyes that sent me sprawling. Hyper zipped over and pegged Jobe in the eye in a classic move-by strike. Hyper zoomed down the length of the hallway, circled, and came back for another punch. But, just as he closed in, Misty stepped in his line of attack. Hyper zigged, but something went wrong and he zagged right into the wall, about two feet off the floor.
“Hey!” Bravo yelled, “What are you doing? We’re the GOOD GUYS!”
Right. As if. Jobe may be seven different kinds of scum, but nobody comes onto my floor and pulls off a fag bashing, no matter how they dress it up! I pulled on my beast skin, stretched out a claw, grabbed Bravo by his little pin head, and started to drain him. Y’see, I learned after the first time that this yutz gave me a hard time about my dad, that Bravo isn’t a PK ‘superman’- he’s an energizer who charges up his own body that way. So, he’s an electromagnetic sponge and now I’m gonna squeeze.
Bravo struggled, but that only made it easier to drain him. Long John was tugging futilely at me, trying to get his big dumb buddy free. Jobe spritzed something into his mouth. Then he tapped Long John on the shoulder and blew him a kiss.
Yes, I said, ‘blew him a kiss’.
I know that Jobe’s turning into a girl, but Jeez Louise, that’s fast!
I let Bravo slump to the floor, and tried to get him to listen, but all he did was glare at me. So, Jobe blew him another kiss. And then he blew one to Hyper, who was trying to get to his feet without rocketing to the ceiling.
“Is THAT your best, Mister Big Deal Faggot Monster Maker?” Bravo heckled. He laughed at his own joke. And I do mean, laughed. A lot longer and a lot louder than a not-really joke like that deserved, even from him. Long John and Hyper seemed to get the joke, though and they joined in. After a bit, they were giggling like hyenas, and rolling on the floor. The more they laughed, the more they seemed to need to laugh.
Misty looked down at them and asked, “What did you DO to them?”
Jobe held up a finger and spritzed his mouth again. “Oh, it’s nothing, just a little anti-riot measure that I came up with. I seeded my mouth with an air vectored bacteria- don’t worry, only the initial iteration was contagious, and I just killed that- and delivered the seeding iterations with those kisses that I blew. The bacteria lodges in the upper respiratory system and simulates the stimulus that triggers the ‘tickle reflex’.”
“So, basically, you’re tickling them to death?”
“Oh, not to death,” Jobe said aggrieved, “Just to unconsciousness. The bacteria have a very fast breeding cycle, one iteration per three seconds. Each iteration needs incrementally more oxygen to breed and survive. As long as they’re laughing, they’re feeding the bacteria all the oxygen needed to keep it up. But eventually, they’ll pass out from lack of breath, the oxygen will cut off, and the bacteria will die.”
“Nice touch with the ‘little girl giggles’,” I managed to say over the really irritating titters.
“The harder they laugh, the more stress they’re putting on both their vocal chords and their diaphragm, sending the pitch higher,” he went on.
Never ask a devisor those sort of leading questions, they’ll just go on and on explaining. Fortunately, Mr. Forrest, one of the Melville ‘house mothers’ (just don’t call him that to his face- he used to be a LARP) came barreling up the stairs. “Okay, what’s going on? I heard that there was a fight up here!”
“Oh no,” Jobe lied. “These guys offered to help us get our stuff to our room, and I was telling them this great joke to repay their kindness. And I haven’t even gotten to the punch line! Anyway, so the guy says to the booking agent, ‘It’s called The Aristocrats!” Bravo, Hyper, and Long John broke out in even fiercer paroxysms of giggling.
I stepped up. “Oh, ‘Captain’ Bravo and his crew tried to beat up Jobe, pretty much for the crime of being Jobe, and we stopped it before there could be any real property damage. It’s harmless- isn’t it, Jobe? And it should pass any minute now.”
As we watched, Hyper, Bravo and then Long John each gave out a last giggle one at time, and collapsed. Jobe looked in among the boxes. “You can come out now, Barfy honey. The big bad fight that you started is all over.” He dug around in the boxes and pulled out a canister of oxygen with a breathing mask. Starting with Long Tom, he opened their mouths, sprayed in some of whatever he’d spritzed into his own mouth, and then administered some oxygen.
When Bravo came to as the last of them, Mr. Forrest crossed his arms and glowered at them. “So, care to explain what you were doing up here?”
“Hey, it’s no big deal,” Jobe breezed. “No harm- no foul, boys will be boys, and all that jazz. Just chalk me down as having been properly hazed.” Then he looked down at Bravo, Hyper and Long John. “Well, what are you waiting for? You offered to help us get these things stowed away- so, chop-chop!” He clapped his hands, “Get movin’ guys! Those crates aren’t gonna stow themselves y’know!”
Bravo Company took one look at Forrest’s stormy gaze and started picking up crates. “And what about that shiner?” Forrest asked.
“Oh THIS?” Jobe held a hand up to his right eye, which already had purpled and swollen nearly shut. “What? You call this a shiner? Please! I’ve gotten hurt worse than this thumb wrestling! What do you want, it’s February in New Hampshire! Gotta expect a little cabin fever. Just have them do the heavy lifting, and we’ll call it all square.” Jobe glowered at Belphoebe. “And as for you, Miss Thing, go make sure that they don’t put it down wrong-side up. Go! Or no beddy-bye story tonight.”
Seeing that things were in hand, Forrest went back down to the concierge office. Jobe stuck his hands in his pockets, rocked on his heels and beamed at me. “Well, hully gee willikers, Jads! Nice of you to stand up for me like that. I could'a handled those noids myself, but it’s always nice to see an example of Bad Seed solidarity. What say I put this implant splicer to good use and build on that corymbic plug that your daddy put into you?”
“Co-rhythmic plug?” Misty asked, “What’s a co-rhythmic plug?”
“Not ‘co-rhythmic’,” Jobe corrected her, as if he was talking to a five-year old, “Corymbic. As in ‘When Gravity Fails’? You’ve never read, ‘When Gravity Fails’?” Misty shook her head. “Oh. You remind me of my mother. Anyway, a Corymbic plug is this cyber-punky little thing that She-Beast’s father, Dr. Diabolik- you DID tell her about Daddy Dearest, didn’t you, Jads?” I scowled at him. “Her father implanted this little plug at the base of her skull. Scans reveal that there are nano-fine filaments going from the plug and winding all the way into almost every part of her brain. They can’t scan the plug itself, and they have no idea as to what it does.” Jobe wound up his lecture and gave me his used-car salesman smile. “So… JADIS! What say we jack up those combat reflexes?” He chopped at the air in a few patently phony ‘kung fu’ moves.
“I already have reflexes consistent with an Exemplar: 4, Jobe.”
“Okay, how about a port for instructional software?”
I gave a gusty sigh. “Jobe, my father put this thing in. He has his reasons, and I really doubt that messing with it for the sake of messing with it will make things any better.”
Jobe shrugged. “Okay, but I think that you’re passing up on a huge opportunity; think about it- a full immersion entertainment center- INSIDE YOUR HEAD!”
I was about to tell him where he could fully immerse his entertainment center, when he shuddered and shook his head. “Jobe?” I asked, genuinely worried- though God alone knows why. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, ‘m fine, ‘m fine…” he muttered. “That twinkle-toed twerp’s cheap shot must have bruised my right eye enough to force it to complete its transition to a fully drow state, that’s all. The inconsistencies between my right and left eyes are giving me a headache like you wouldn’t believe!”
“Oh, is that all? I can take care of that for you, Jobe!” I cocked a fist and aimed it at his head. “You just hold still- this will only hurt for a few minutes… or more…”
“NO!” Jobe held up his hands. “Thanks, Sheeb, but I’ll just work through it on my own.”
“Really? Hey, it strikes me that you’re doing all wrong, dragging your heels like this, Jobe. Why don’t you go over to Whitman and ask for volunteers? I’m sure that the girls there would be more than happy to knock you around until you’re completely one of the sisterhood.”
Joabe gave a pained sarcastic non-laugh, turned and headed over to 409, from where I heard him yelp, “You put that THERE?”
Finally free of Jobe- for the moment. Jobe Wilkins! In my cottage! On my floor! Dear God, how have I so offended you? I headed to the stairs again. “Shouldn’t we, like, y’know, help them get their stuff in?”
“Misty, that is very sweet,” I pulled my cell phone from my belt. “But right now, we are in the middle of a CRISIS, and I’m gonna have to make some very fast moves, if I’m going to prevent the end of life as we know it in Melville!” I flipped open my phone and went to the Alpha’s social calendar web site. I found Imperious’ pager number, and fed it into my phone’s mapping function. The function placed Imperious in the Crystal Dome.
“Wow!” Misty said looking over my shoulder, “Is that one of those iPhones that I’ve heard about?”
“iPhone…” I made a dismissive noise, “My father’s third rank henchmen get better gear than iPhones…” I checked the locations of the other Bad Seeds on campus, and… score! Dragonrider’s in the Crystal Dome as well! I speed-dialed her. “Lindsay! Jadis. Is Imperious in the caff? Good! I’m at Melville, but I’m headed your way. Be a sweetheart, and let Imperious know that I’m coming, and that I need to talk to him, it’s URGENT! Yeah, I know that it’ll be tough, lightning-boy hates snowy weather… Yer a doll, Hon!”
Misty started to ask me something as we rounded the flight onto the Froshes’ floor, but I cut her off. Coming down the hallway was a large chair, floating on some sort of invisible cushion. Sitting in the chair, angrily scarfing down a box of jelly-babies was the proud new father himself, Belphegor. I stopped Misty and made a beeline for Bellyflop. “Weeellll. Belphegor!” I called out.
Belfatso (I must remember to thank Jobe for that one) blanched and almost choked on his jelly-babies. “She-Beast,” he croaked.
“Oh, don’t BE like that, Belfo!” I said through a grin that threatened to split my face apart, “I’m just here to offer congratulations! I just heard the good news! You’re a daddy! I mean, you and Jobe? I never wood’a thunk it! I’ve just seen the blushing mother with her child, and she’s absolutely adorable!”
Belfrog scowled at me and sort of burrowed deeper into the recesses of his floating chair. “*Humphf!* You would come to grind salt into the festering wounds of mine soul, so aptly named She-Beast! I am distraught! Not only has my hard, grueling work of months-”
“Ah, don’cha mean, the hard grueling work of OTHERS, like Jobe and Knick-knack, and God alone knows who else?” I shot back.
“Adapting existing technologies to new applications IS hard work!” he insisted. “My hopes of providing poor, afflicted Phobos with a form to fit the beauty of her soul-”
“In other words, you were just about to fulfill the geek-boy’s cherished dream of building a perfect date, instead of actually going out and interacting with a real GIRL.”
“-when I was BETRAYED!” Belphegor all but sobbed. “I relied on that hack Knick-knack’s so-called ‘magic touch’ with technology, but his shoddy workmanship turned my wonderful dream into a nightmare!”
“Translation-” I provided for Misty, “- he stole someone else’s hardware, and kludged it into other systems without making sure that they were all compatible. So instead of a drow bimbo who’d trampoline wrestle with him, he got a girl who knew right down to the atom how big a sleazewad he was.”
Bel-lame-o glowered up at me. “Do you actually have anything that anyone might actually want to HEAR to say to me, or are you just going to make manifest all the stereotypes of the vicious nattering American virago?”
I leaned my face down into his. “Oh, I got something to say to you, Puddin’ boy- sixteen is way too young to be a deadbeat dad. From what I heard from Jobe, you got stuck with equal responsibility for Belphoebe. If I hear from either one of them that you been slacking off on your commitments, you’re gonna wish that you’d been committed to a nice safe insane asylum. Oh, and another thing- having Jobe and Belfy upstairs does NOT give you carte blanche to go up to the Sophomore floor!”
“But I’m a *Sophomore*!”
“NO, this is just your second year here. You’re still a Freshman!”
“That’s only because I got caught che- er, I was framed for cheating on the finals last year!”
“So? You’re still a Frosh, and you’re still not welcome on the Sophomore floor! And one last little thing-” I extruded a claw from one finger and sliced a cable leading to the right stabilizing panel and the steering vane, sending the chair spinning wildly, “- you’re not supposed to fly that thing in the dorm! Use your LEGS for a change, you lazy slob!”
As Belphegor went screaming and spinning down the hallway, scattering jelly-babies all over the place, Misty said, “That was mean!”
“Yeah,” I admitted, “but I’m not sorry. Jobe is a global-scale pain in the ass, but at least he does his own work. Belfart is named after the patron demon of Invention, Feces and Sloth, and he honors his namesake by trying to get everyone else to do his work for him. He’s always leaning on my little brother Mal for this do-dad or another.”
“Feces is a polite word for the brown lumps that you leave in the toilet, Misty.”
“Oh? We just-”
“I’m sure that you do.”
By this time, we were down in the lobby, where was something very troubling waiting for us. It was a small mountain of crates waiting to be loaded onto the cargo elevator. How much stuff does Jobe HAVE? And how is he gonna cram all of that into a room?
I looked out at the snow-covered hill that Melville sits atop and took a deep breath. “Pretty thick,” Misty said. “Y’know, there’s no reason to go sloggin’ through all this! I can carry you to where yer headed!”
“Misty, I appreciate the offer, but that wouldn’t be a very good idea.” I pointed at the amber flag flying. “See that flag? There are rules about showing off your powers out in the open. It’s like a traffic light- green means go, red means stop, yellow means watch it. If the school flag has a green border, it’s cool to show off what you can do. If the border is red, it means that there are people on campus who aren’t clued in, and we gotta lay low with the weird. But if it’s a yellow-flag day, use your best judgement. If you use your powers, do so in a way that won’t set off anyone looking too close. Like this!” I picked Misty up in my arms and jumped down the slope. As I hit the snow, I extended my beast-skin around my feet, like when I put on my ‘gloves’, only to form a ski-board. I don’t have the ‘no friction’ thing down, like Thrash does, but I can get pretty slick.
I made a point of going down the roughest, most slalom-tempting way, to give Misty a memorable ride. And from the whoops that she was making, she’d remember it for a while. But, unfortunately, O. Henry hill isn’t exactly what you’d call a world-class slope, and it was over all too soon.
“WHOA!” Misty gushed. “You do that all the time?”
“Don’t be ridiculous! I only do it during the winter. In the spring, we get REALLY wild!” I put her down and we started for the Crystal Bowl.
“Where are we going?” Misty asked.
“What? But you was just talkin’ about how it was an emergency and all like that.”
“It is. The guy that I gotta talk to is at the caff. Hopefully, I’ll be the first one to tell him about Jobe, and I can head off a ton of grief.”
When we got to the cafeteria, Misty had another ‘wow, I’m really in a school for superheroes’ moment. As she looked up at the big glittering glassine dome that gave the Crystal Hall its name and the splashing fountain with the tropical plants in the center, I searched around for any signs of Lindsay. She spotted me and trotted over, with her dragonet Pern close behind as always. “Sheba!” she said as she came up, “I managed to get Imperious to listen, and he says that he’ll spare you a few seconds. But I -”
What Lindsay had to say was cut off when Misty let out a delighted squeal. “Oh, he is SO kyute!” Misty gushed when she saw Pern. “Ohwhatisheisheoneofthosedevisorthingslike jobemade-” Misty yammered on like that in a high-pitched prattle. And Lindsay, well, all that Lindsay needs is a cue and they were chittering at each other like a couple of oversized squirrels. Pern was, as always, digging on the attention, the little pseudo-reptilian hambone.
I looked around, and sure enough Imperious and Majestic had more or less commandeered the ‘Alpha table’ and were holding court. After Hekate up and disappeared over the Christmas vacation, for some reason Skybolt and Cavalier turned on Don Sebastiano, big time. Big, ugly, nasty, and worst of all, nobody had a camera. As his hold on Sky and Cav had been his big playing card, Sebastiano’s bubble of power and influence popped. At the moment, there were two or three ‘courts’ that were trying to make noises like they were the true successors to Freya’s rule and all that faux-royalty crap. But my money was on the two who weren’t even openly trying to be the next big cheeses. Imperious and Majestic may be pompous stuck-up borderline psychos, but damn it all the only people on campus who can match them for sheer presence are Headmistress Carson, Ito-sensei, the head martial arts instructor, and maybe that Poe kid, Fey. They got IT in spades, and give ‘em their due, they don’t seem to feel the need to ram it down your throat, the way that Don Sebastiano did- or, at least not quite as viciously. Looking down their noses at everyone seems to be enough for them.
As I walked over to the table, I noticed that Counterpoint wasn’t there. Thank God! Dealing with those two was gonna be hard enough without Mister ‘Take everything as a challenge’ mucking things up. “Yo! Imperious!”
He turned a profile that belonged on a statue adorning the Acropolis, and deigned to notice me. “Ah. Yes. ‘She-Beast’, isn’t it? What can I do for the daughter of the dreaded Dr. Diabolik?” He said it in a way that suggested a lion asking what it might do for a mouse. Did I say that maybe Imperious would be an improvement over Don Sebastiano? What was I *thinking*? At least Don Sebastiano didn’t think that he was the reincarnation of some ancient Greek god!
I sat down without being asked, and Majestic gave me a glare that would have turned all three gorgons to stone. “It’s important. For me, for you, for the entire cottage.”
“Oh, how dreadful,” Majestic said with the sort of saccharine tone that a nasty person might use with a child spouting nonsense.
“Have you heard about Jobe Wilkins?” That surprised them a bit. Good! Getting here before anyone else was crucial. I shouldn’t have stopped to razz Belphegor, but hey, I’m only meta-human!
Majestic chewed on it a bit and recalled. “Oh yes! That technological wizard boy, the one that accidentally drank his own witches’ brew, and according to some, is turning into a girl.” She gave a malicious grin.
“What a pity that he’s taking so much grief for it,” Imperious murmured. “In ancient times, hermaphrodites were regarded as touched by the divine. And what is this Jobe’s fate to you or us?”
“Well, as of a half-hour ago it sort of became our business. Jobe and his- her- whatever- daughter just moved across the hall from me, in Melville.” I ran down what happened with the clone and Belphegor.
They were splendidly unimpressed. “Again, what is this Jobe, or his new creation, to us?”
“I’d like to arrange a ‘honeymoon’ of sorts for Jobe and Belphoebe.”
“Oh? Should we send the young lovers linen or china?”
“No, Jason,” Majestic corrected him, “they aren’t young lovers, but mother and daughter. Baby things, then.”
“Very funny,” I growled. “What I mean, is a truce. A getting settled in period, before the practical jokes start. Pass around among the Alphas that pranking Jobe while he’s setting up shop isn’t cool. I’m not asking you to protect them or anything. I just want a few days- five days at the very least, ten days tops- for Jobe and Phoebe to get their room put together.”
Imperious raised a lofty eyebrow. “And what do you bring to the table for this favor, She-Beast?"
Oh right, like I’m gonna let myself owe YOU anything, putz. “I’m not asking for a favor- this is strictly self-preservation. Melville cottage is heading for an iceberg, and I just want you to deign to turn the wheel a little, before things get frosty.” They gave me ‘why are you wasting my time’ glares in unison. “HEY, you guys just don’t GET IT! Jobe is dangerous!” They gave me synchronized attitude. “Okay, not dangerous in an immediate ‘swat you like a fly’ way like you guys are, but believe me, in his own weasely way, Jobe is possibly the most dangerous person at Whateley! Jobe isn’t just a devisor; he’s a BIO-devisor! He plays with the very building blocks of life like they were tinker-toys! Three days ago, I personally saw him blind Sledge, Aries and your boy Counterpoint, and they never saw it coming. And that was just playing around for Jobe! Right now, even as we’re speaking, Jobe is setting up his ‘lab away from lab’ on the Sophomore floor. He has stuff in that room that could do anything from wipe out all life as we know it, to cause squirrels to turn bright purple and glow in the dark!”
Majestic relented a bit. “You’re worried that a war of practical jokes with this Jobe might get out of hand?”
I shook my head. “Not the point. Jobe has two redeeming virtues. One, he knows, to the micrometer, how far to push a prank. Two, DARPA’s bio-war division envies Jobe his safety and security standards and practices. Remember, Jobe is going to LIVE in that room and even he isn’t fool enough to keep that stuff around without ironclad controls. Like he said himself, as he was blinding Counterpoint, ‘Remember: control. That’s the key. You should always be in control’. His exact words.”
“So, what are you worried about?”
“I’m worried that some idiot prankster will break into Jobe and Belphoebe’s room while they’re not there and let something loose.”
Imperious waved a hand. “So, some twisted thing that shouldn’t be gets loose on the floor. I have faith that you sophomores are up to squishing anything that your mad biologist could create.”
I blinked my eyes at them, keeping my temper in check with a discipline that Master Ito would envy. “Imperious, do you know what a ‘prion’ is?”
“A prion is a protein particle without any nucleic acid. It’s even smaller and simpler than viruses, and we think that it’s the cause of contagious nervous diseases like scrapie, Creutzfeld-Jakob, and Mad Cow. All of which are fatal. Oh? And mutations like Exemplars, which would normally make a mutant immune to a bacteria or virus, don’t affect prion infections, the effect is too small and pervasive. Two years ago, when Mal and I were visiting Karedonia with our dad, Jobe was pitching the idea of using prions as an alternative to binary circuits for computers. Imperious, Jobe was TWELVE. And it could have worked, except for the core deviation problem.”
“You’re afraid of him?”
“Right down to my socks,” I said in a tone that implied that if they had two brain cells to rub together, they’d be scared too. “Look, you both have big time mutant powers, I get that. But what you aren’t getting, is that you don’t have to worry about Jobe creating big slavering monsters- you have to worry about prions, viruses, bacteria, molds, funguses and slimes. Things that you can’t even see, let alone blast! And, even *if* your mutant physiognomies are up to resisting them, do you really want to take the chance? And even if it’s not a disease, there’s the chance of disgusting molds in the carpets, toxic slime in the showers, vile gunk in the water, things that destroy plastics chewing up the fiber optics. If something goes wrong in Jobe’s room, they might have to tear Melville down and rebuild it from scratch!”
Imperious turned to Majestic. “She’s right. We can’t allow this. Have them transfer Jobe and his monster to another cottage.”
“Nice idea,” I said. “It won’t work. Jobe’s changing sex- he’s becoming too female to stay at Twain or Emerson, and he’s still too male to fit in at Whitman, let alone Dickinson. They gotta stay at a coed dorm.”
“What about Poe?” Majestic demanded. “It’s an insane situation, let them stay at the nuthouse!”
I glared at her. “Jobe. Team Kimba. Think about it.”
Everybody at the table shuddered. “What about Hawthorne?”
“Nice idea,” I admitted, “and what I would personally have chosen. But it’s not up to any of us here. This came down from Carson herself. She put Jobe in Melville, and she’s the only one who can change that order. And we all know that that’s not gonna happen in our lifetimes. I think that she’s punishing us for Sebastiano’s sins.”
“And how do you think that this ‘honeymoon’ will protect us?”
I leaned forward. At last, they’re getting the situation. “Look, it’s not all as bleak as it might be. Like I said, Jobe maintains standards of care and security that the CDC would envy. Right now, he and Belphoebe are up in their room, cobbling the damn thing together. BUT, it’s gonna take time. If it were only Jobe in there, I’d say that it would take two or three days before the situation was safe. But, he’s got Belphoebe in there ‘helping’ him, so it’s gonna take at least five days, maybe more. My point being, that if Jobe has to cope with idiot pranksters, it’ll take even longer than THAT.
“But, once the security protocols are in place, room 409 should be safe again. So, what I’m saying is, give the little creep his honeymoon, let him get his security and safety gear set up, and when it’s finished- let the games begin!”
“You don’t seem terribly worried about your friend, She-Beast.”
“Oh, Jobe can take care of himself- just ask anyone at Twain. The second that that biohazard sign goes up on his door, I only have one request.”
“If you prank Jobe, give me a five-minute warning. I might want to nuke some popcorn.”
I worked the cafeteria for a while, getting similar agreements out of Deadeye, the top man for the Grunts and Hazard of the Masterminds. I briefly thought about the Ninjas and maybe Venus, Inc., but the Ninjas wouldn’t listen, and the little princesses of Venus Inc. wouldn’t go into Jobe’s room if you put a gun to their heads. Having done my duty as I saw it, I loaded up a tray and went over to where Misty and Lindsay were still chatting away. Lightweight, one of Lindsay’s buds from Dickinson, had joined them so the conversation was back down to the human range of hearing. When I sat down with my dinner, Misty’s eyes popped wide. “You’re going to EAT all of that?”
“Of course I am,” I said defensively. “I’m a growing girl.”
“So, what were you saying to all those people?” Lindsay asked.
“I negotiated a cease-fire in Chick Country, at least until Jobe can get his Bio-tainment stuff up and running.”
“Is it TRUE?” Lightweight asked, her eyes a-glitter and her mouth fighting unsuccessfully to keep from grinning off of her face. “Jobe made a clone of himself, but he screwed up and it turned out as some sort of drow-girl thing like he was trying to keep from becoming, and now he literally has to live with himself? Or herself?”
“WELL,” I admitted, “it IS sort of hard to think of Jobe as a girl, but here’s what really happened-” I gave her the 4-1-1 on the Jobe- Belphegor- Belphoebe debacle. “And so, now Jobe is legally both female and Belphoebe’s mother. So, she has to live with both her dream-girl and her worst enemy, at the same time.”
“Still, you gotta feel sorry for the poor thing,” Misty said.
“Jobe?” I asked, amazed that Misty hadn’t picked up on the epic scale of Jobe’s sleaze.
“No, not him! Her! Belphoebe! I mean, think about it! She’s just a baby.”
“A baby,” I said in a flat voice. “With that body.”
“Yes! It’s not her fault that that slob Belphegor imprinted his brain onto hers,” Misty insisted. Pern squeaked in agreement.
Imprinted? An image of a clean slate with a stencil spelling out ‘asshole’ being spray-painted onto it sprang to mind. But that triggered a few memories, and things started clicking together. I pulled a few things out of their ‘think about this when the sky isn’t falling’ drawer and added them to the equation. What I came up with added up to: “SHIT!”
“What’s the matter, Sheba?” Lindsay asked.
“Hey, I could be wrong- Carson’s too slick not to have picked up on it,” I said more to myself than anyone else. “But what if it just never occurred to her?”
I looked around the cafeteria, casting about for someone, anyone who could help us out of the pit that we’d fallen into. Just as I was looking at Pendragon, Gloriana and the rest of the Cape Squad, Misty said, “I mean, the poor thing doesn’t even have clothes of her own! She had to borrow a bra and a T-shirt and a-”
“THAT’S IT!” I gushed, “Misty! You’re a genius!”
“Linds, Gloriana’s in Dickinson, do you know her to talk to?”
“Yeah, well, we’ve talked a little in the halls, you know how it is.”
“It’ll have to do. I need an introduction.”
“ah… Okay,” Lindsay said with eyes crossed in confusion. With a shrug she got up and walked over to the Cape Squad table. I saw her interrupt Gloriana’s conversation, and the attention of the entire Cape Squad turned to me. I gave them a rather weak wave. They talked among each other a bit.
“Who are they?” Misty asked. “What do they have to do with Belphoebe?”
“That’s the ‘Cape Squad’,” Lightweight told her. “They’re sort of the ‘Future Superheroes of America Club’. Or at least the ‘Future Superheroes Club’, since the three big heavy hitters, Pendragon, Gloriana and Mr. Mystic are all British.”
“REALLY?” Misty goggled, “Real superheroes?”
“Not yet, they ain’t,” I said, waiting for them to make up their alleged minds.
“Jadis, thank you very much.”
“Jadis, don’t that your daddy is a supervillain sorta make you and them sworn enemies?”
“Well, not strictly speaking. I mean, they’re not superheroes YET, so they haven’t actually fought my father or anything.”
“But they’re gonna be superheroes.”
“So? I have nothing against superheroes. I’ve met a few. Heck, I owe my life to superheroes!”
“Really? What happened?”
“Long story, I’ll tell you about it sometime. Unfortunately, while *I* don’t think that the fact that my father’s a supervillain makes us enemies, I can’t say the same for all of the Capes.”
“You mean like that Bravo guy, back at the Dorm?”
“Oh, Bravo’s not one of the Capes. He’d LIKE to be, but give ‘em their due, the Capes do have standards.” I saw Magni-Girl give me the evil eye. “Still, a creep or two does sneak in.”
Then they made up what passes for their minds, and Lindsay waved me over. I walked up, and right off the bat, Pendragon says, “Look, She-Beast, I’m afraid that your friend Marian-”
I interrupted him with a shrill whistle. “This isn’t about Winter.”
“We’re here about the weather?” Misty said at my elbow, startling me. I hadn’t realized that she’d followed me.
“NO, Misty, the ‘Winter’ we’re talking about is the code-name of a friend of mine. She lives down the hall, and she wants to get into the Cape Squad.”
“Who’s this?” Iron Star said.
“This is Mi-er, ‘Superchick’, my new roommate.”
“Superchick?” the blonde girl sitting next to Iron Star chuckled.
“Don’t start, _Mega-Girl_,” I said warningly.
“So, what can the Future Superheroes of America do for you, Miss…” Pendragon started cautiously.
“Diabolik?” Went around the table. “Your family name is Diabolik?”
Magni-Girl said, “Her father is that creep, Dr. Diabolik.”
‘Mr. Mystic’ crossed his eyes and said, “Your father changed your family name to Diabolik?”
“Look, my father isn’t the issue here, and to be honest, my business here isn’t with the Cape Squad,” I pointed at Gloriana. “It’s with you.”
“Me? But I’ve never met your father or you.”
I gave a heavy sigh. “Look, this is gonna take some foundation.” I sat down. “Have you heard what happened to Jobe?” From there, I gave them the 4-1-1, right up to the point where I cut the deal for Jobe and Belphoebe’s ‘honeymoon’. “And then I sat down, and Misty said something about it not being Belphy’s fault that she got imprinted with Belphegor’s mind, and it occurred to me that Carson had made a mistake.”
“CARSON?” ‘Mr. Mystic’ hooted, “Carson made a mistake? Are you sure about that?”
“As a matter of fact, NO,” I admitted. “But check this out- Carson’s making some very big moves regarding Belphy and Jobe’s legal statuses. What I think is really going on, is that Carson doesn’t expect Belphy to survive for very long, and she’s using this as a way of shoving Jobe’s nose in his own dirt.”
“What do you mean, ‘she won’t survive for very long’?” Gloriana asked.
“Have you ever wondered why there aren’t more clones running around, especially with forced maturation technologies?” I asked. Raised eyebrows, in an ‘and this has to do with WHAT?’ volley. “Look, when you create a clone, you either have to let it grow at a normal rate like a regular baby, or you have to increase its rate of cell growth artificially. The problem is when you force cells to replicate too fast you get a biological version of ‘metal fatigue’. It’s called ‘Protein Antagonism’. Y’know the bit where the evil villain whips up a clone of the hero in a few minutes, but in the middle of the fight, as the evil clone is whupping the hero’s butt, it suddenly dissolves into goo, bones, teeth, hair and all? That’s Protein Antagonism. The rule of thumb is, the quicker you build a clone, the faster it falls apart.”
“So…” ‘Mister Mystic’ said, struggling with the concept, “you think that this ‘Belphoebe’ is going to… dissolve?”
“Can you think of another reason why Carson put someone who is simultaneously a sexy 16-year-old girl AND a newborn baby into the care of a couple of horny 15-year-old tech geeks?”
Pendragon nodded. “Well, it’s not like we didn’t already know that Carson plays hardball.”
“I don’t understand,” Gloriana said. “From what you say, Gladys-”
“Sorry, Jadis- but from what you say, then Carson has it well in hand. Jobe and Belphegore get a taste of what real responsibility is like, and most likely just as they’re getting used to her, Belphoebe breaks down into her component materials, thus teaching them a much-needed lesson as to consequences. What’s the problem?”
I gave a pained smile. “It would seem so. But there are four factors that Carson may not have taken into consideration. First, Belphegor used not only Jobe’s drow cell culture as the basis for his clone, but he used Jobe’s cloning tank to grow her to maturity. Jobe lost a couple of clones to protein antagonism last year in Karedonia, and he swore up and down that his new cloning equipment wouldn’t use nano-technology. Nano-tech does increase the maturation rate dramatically, but it really kicks up the protein antagonism something fierce.
“Second, back in December, Belphegor stole my brother Mal’s metal fatigue inducer. When I saw it in Belphoebe’s stash earlier, I noticed that Belphegor had modified it. I’m guessing that he realized that he was really pushing the maturation rate, and as he didn’t want his perfect girlfriend turning into sludge in the tube, he altered the metal fatigue inducer to inhibit similar effects in organic tissue. And, give the lardass his due, he’s very good at that sort of thing.
“Third, there’s the fact that Jobe created his perfect girlfriend with a healing factor that’s roughly the equivalent of a Regen-5. Even as we speak, those insanely tough leukocytes in Belfy’s body are seeking out rupturing cells and healing them to a fare-thee-well. On that factor alone, I think that Belphoebe is going to be with us for a while.
“And lastly- bear with me, I think that it just never occurred to Carson to check this out- Belfy is magically active.”
“Magically active?” Gloriana, Pendragon and the rest looked at Mr. Mystic. He just shrugged vigorously. “Don’t look at me! I just play the role of Merlin; I’m not a real mage, I’m a Package Deal Psychic. I don’t know what she’s talking about.”
I let out a disgusted sigh. “Earlier, during that idiotic scene with your buddy, Bravo-” they all gave me an icy glare at being associated with a yutz like Bravo. Can’t say that I blame them; I feel the same way about being associated with Nephandus. “Anyway, during that fracas with Bravo, I felt Belfy reflexively gather her energies for defense. She didn’t actually DO anything with those energies, but she’s mystically defined enough to have a etheric identity.” Blank stares. Another sigh. “An etheric identity is the imprint that things have on the higher planes. Inanimate objects and dead bodies don’t have etheric identities. Part of enchanting an item is to attune it to the higher planes, giving it an etheric identity. Conversely, one of the ways to harm people and things is to injure their etheric identity. This is part of how the classic ‘voodoo doll’ works.”
Gloriana nodded. “So, are you saying that this ‘etheric identity’ will somehow keep Belphoebe together, or that the fact that she has one means that we won’t fall apart?”
I waved my hand in a ‘so-so’ gesture. “Both and neither. Hey, I’m only a sophomore! But put all of them together, and suddenly, instead of Belfy falling apart in a messy (if dramaturgically tidy) puddle, she turns out to be someone who’s gonna be hanging around for a while.”
Gloriana nodded again. “And the problem with this IS?”
“She’s got BELPHEGOR in her brain! You don’t know Belphegor? Lucky You!” I looked around for confirmation. “Hey! Hazard! C’mere!” Hazard slinked over. “Hey, Haz, Gloriana isn’t familiar with our cottage-mate, Belphegor. Care to enlighten her?”
Hazard copped a pose. “The only problem with calling Belphegor a gross bullying, slobbering wanker is that it only scratches the surface. It’s like calling the Normandy Invasion an excursion to the seashore.” From there, she regaled us with a few choice Belphegore anecdotes. “And then there was the time that he field tested his ‘Randiness Wave Generator’ on the floor-”
Gloriana waved the reminiscence to a halt. “Yes, I can see where that would be most unpleasant, but I fail to see how I can help you.”
I nodded, good, she was getting on the right track. “Look, Belphoebe isn’t the lost cause that Belphegor is. Y’see, Belphegor didn’t really switch minds with Belphoebe, what he did turned out to be what’s called an ‘engram imprint’. It’s sort of like he scanned his mind and faxed it into Belphoebe’s brain. It’s like he xeroxed his mind. But, there’s no such thing as a perfect copy. Without mRNA from the original to give the engrams context, it’s like… well, it’s sort of the difference between watching a war movie and actually being in a fire fight. Belphoebe doesn’t have any real experiences of her own. All of the memories and traumas and so forth that make Belphegor the ass-hat that he is, don’t really mean anything to her. Also, there’s the fact that a female brain really IS set up differently than a male one. Right now, Belphoebe’s brain is frantically soaking up impressions and images to give her world context. And, unfortunately, all of those impressions are of Jobe screaming at her.
“If Jobe is her sole role model, Belphoebe will turn into an utter raving bitch of epic proportions. The absolute worst of both Belphegor AND Jobe. And she’ll be living RIGHT ACROSS THE HALL FROM ME.”
“Ah!” Pendragon said, picking up somewhat. “And you want Gloriana to take this fair Belphoebe in hand, and teach her how to be a lady.”
“On target,” I returned, “but not a bullseye, oh once and future king. I figure that the first 48 hours will be crucial. Belfy is going to need, and I do mean need some positive influences, to counterbalance Jobe’s… ickiness. Basically, what I want is for you-” I pointed at Gloriana, “-to spend some quality time with Belphoebe, let her get an impression of what a class act is like.”
Gloriana flushed prettily, and said, “I think that you overestimate me, Jadis.”
“Oh, please!” Hazard tisked, “There is a point where false modesty is just a way of fishing for praise. The Beast here is right. I don’t have to tell you that you’re gorgeous, that’s obvious. But the really important thing, if I’m reading her right, is that you have that whole ‘noble lady’ act down pat. And truth be told, it works for you.”
“Yep,” I agreed, wondering what Hazard was fishing for, “you got the ‘Lady Di’ thing going for you in spades.”
“And Belfo’s nothing if not a petit bourgeois poser panting for the approval of the Nobility,” Hazard offered. “ One raised eyebrow from you, and this Belphoebe will put on her best lace glove manners.”
“Exactly!” I agreed. “The idea is not just to give Belfy a role model that she can copy, but one that she’ll WANT to copy. I figure that you show up, give her a toned-down version of one of your patented ‘Glory Bursts’-” Gloriana is an energizer, specializing in light waves, but she does this thing with light that creates a subliminal effect. Think about the first time that you saw the Aurora Borealis in the sky for yourself. Magnify it twenty times. “- and then you turn on the charm. She’ll be putty in your hands.”
“And I’m supposed to show up at Melville, dazzle her with my blue-blooded ways and show her the paths of righteousness?" Gloriana said with a saccharine smile.
“Ooohh… nice one! I didn’t know that you did snarky. No, what I had in mind was a shopping trip. Last time that I saw Belphoebe, she was wearing some of Jobe’s Eddie Bauer™ castoffs. She’s gonna need clothing. If we leave it up to Jobe, he’ll just go to Dunwich and get her anything that fits- sort of. It’ll be a cluster fuck. Instead, I will graciously offer to take Belphoebe shopping. Lindsay here will come along. She’s the other positive roll model.”
“Me?” Lindsay asked.
I tweaked her cheek. “Belfy’s gotta learn what a true sweetheart is like, from up close. And you’re the real McCoy, Linds. But freshmen and sophomores can’t leave the school without either a member of the staff or a Senior accompanying us.”
“Ah…” Gloriana smiled knowingly. “And you want me to help you get to Dunwich and-”
“DUNWICH? Are you kidding?”
I shook my head. “Boston. An all-out no-holds-barred blitz on Newbury street. Weekend trip, all expenses covered. And I DO mean ALL EXPENSES. We start out getting her hair styled and her nails done, and proceed from there.”
Gloriana raised an eyebrow. “And you’re going to foot the bill for this?”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous! *I’m* not going to pay for this- JOBE is.”
“Jobe? Won’t he raise the roof?”
“Gloriana, you must understand, that while Jobe has far too many vices to mention in polite company, one thing that he’s NOT is cheap. I’ll just tell him that I’ll send him the bill, and he’ll just pass it along to his father’s accountant without bothering to look at it.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Let me put it to you this way- would you prefer your new wardrobe in Armani, Oleg Cassini or Liz Claiborne?”
“She-Beast, I think that we have a deal.”
I deflected offers from a few of the other Capettes to share the ride on Jobe’s credit card, and finished my meal. Letting out a satisfied belch, I said, “Linds, would you help me make up a doggybag?”
Lindsay looked at me like I was screwy. “After what you just put away?”
“Not for me, silly- for Belphoebe!” I laughed, “Unless I miss my guess, she and Jobe got shot over to the cottage from Twain on a rocket, and they’ve been going at it hammer and tongs since we left, so she hasn’t eaten in- well, EVER. So let’s put together a nice mini-buffet platter, so her first meal is a memorable one. We don’t want her falling back into Belphegor’s ‘shovel-away-crap’ habits of eating, now do we? And while we’re at it, let’s get some cold pizza or chicken or gruel for Jobe as well.”
Back at Melville, as expected, the sound of shrill screaming was coming from 409. But, at least it was ‘two people yelling at each other’ screaming, not ‘*Ew* How do we get that stain out of the rug?’ screaming. I banged on the door to be heard over the clamor. The door ripped open and Jobe poked his head out with the pseudo- skin on the right side of his face in tatters and some still draping off his needle nose. “LOOK, I KNOW THAT YOU’RE-“ he stopped in mid-bellow. “Oh, Sheba. It’s you.”
“Welcome Wagon!” I caroled, holding up the takeout.
“Sorry about that,” Jobe recollected some of the frazzled remains of what he laughingly referred to as his good manners. “I thought that you were that big Cuban dyke again.”
“Oh, Aztecka?” I pushed my way past him into the room. “Don’t mess with her, Jobe. She fights for keeps.” I looked around at the cluttered mess of technical gear, crates and packing materials. Belphoebe was sullenly squatting on one of the crates. Her pink T-shirt was in tatters, and the faux-skin on her face and forearms was in a similar state. She glowered up at me. “Oh, I just LOVE what you’ve done with the place! Nice to see that you’ve gotten over your ‘H.R. Geiger’ period. Personally, I prefer a nice conservative Queen Anne motif, but Techno-Industrial works, I suppose.”
“Very funny, Beast. Food?” He held out his hands for the container that I was holding.
“Here.” I took the much smaller carton that Misty was carrying and dropped it in his hands. “Moo Goo Gai Pan. Enjoy.”
“Moo Goo Gai Pan,” he muttered, clearly under-whelmed.
“We threw in an egg roll!” Misty chirped.
“You SO remind me of my mother…” Jobe drawled.
“THIS,” I held up the much larger carrying carton, “is for Belphoebe.” I opened the lid and presented it to her. “This is my way of saying that maybe we got off on the wrong foot. It’s not your fault that that idiot Belphegor crammed his mind inside of your head, any more than it is my fault that my dad’s a supervillain. You’re not Belphegor, you’re Belphoebe, and you deserve a chance to find out find out who Belphoebe IS.” Belfy startled and started to rise, most probably to loudly confirm that she regarded herself as Belphegore, trapped by an experiment that was someone else’s fault (It’s always someone else’s fault, never Belfo’s). I squelched her, saying loudly, “AND to further extend the olive branch, I think that you two need a time out from each other. Jobe, what say that I take your darkling bundle of joy here off your hands for a while, let you both get out of each other’s hair for a bit. She can sleep over with Misty and me.”
“Oh YES!” Jobe said around a mouthful of noodles, “YES! YES! TAKE HER! Sure, do all that estrogen-bonding stuff. Knock yourself out. Teach her how to apply ear-shadow, or whatever the hell girls do when they're in private and not discussing valence bonding or organelle evolution or something that someone cares about. Hey, you want to keep her all week? Because, as her official mother, that would be FINE with me!”
Belphoebe started to quibble again, but I whispered in her sharp (in every sense of the word) ear, “Do you really want to get undressed to shower in front of HIM?”
Belfy got to her feet, grabbed the take-out and was out the door in a shot. “Misty, will you watch Belfy for a minute? I have a few things to sort out with the young mother.” I paused and took in Jobe. Most of the faux-skin was dangling from his face in tatters, and large areas of his real skin was slate black in contrast. “Woof! You look like a Manx cat that a neighbor of mine used to have.”
“Are you going somewhere with this, or are you just indulging in some typical feminine sadism at my expense?” he snarled as he shoveled in more Moo Goo.
“Hey, Patches, who says that I can’t do both?” I gave him a critical look. “Y’know, you’re screwing the pooch here.”
“I haven’t laid a finger on her, except in strict self-defense.”
“Carson isn’t gonna let you out of this, just because you and Belfy don’t get along. She thinks that Belfy’s gonna dissolve into a puddle of goo.”
“Protein Antagonism?” Jobe groaned, “I should be so lucky! That cloning chamber was going to be my payment to Dr. Gellmar! No WAY that anything I sell to Gellmar would be so shoddy as to create protein antagonism.”
“So I figured,” I told him. “So, you’re stuck with her, at least for the next three years.”
He gave me a sneaky look. “So… Jads… are you telling me that you know some *ahem!* ‘Diabolik’ way of inducing protein antagonism in a stable organism?"
“If I did, I sure as hell wouldn’t tell you.” I changed the topic onto what I really wanted to talk about. “So, what source did you use for the mRNA for Belfy’s brain?”
“mRNA? Nada! Why would I? I wasn’t going to create a clone- that was Belfroggo’s brainfart. I was going to select an appropriate female with the requisite brains, wit, charm and incisive vision to-”
“Okay, okay, I get it, I get it. I thought so. My point is, that right now, what’s got your panties in a bunch is that your dream-girl has Belfinko’s mind, right?”
“The solution is simple, Genius-Not.”
Jobe slumped over, grated his teeth and ground out. “And your solution IS?”
“Make her not Belphegor.”
“I THOUGHT about that, uterus-for-brains! Overwriting an engramic template like that would-”
“NOT an overwrite,” I said, keeping my composure. “High Tech isn’t the answer to everything, Patches. We do this the old-fashioned way.” I explained my ‘baby bird’ theory.
Jobe nodded, “Yeah, Carson did say something about Feeb’s personality diverging from Bellyflop’s, but-”
“In that case, I say that we give the process a hand and steer her in the right direction. Give her a full immersion session in all-out femininity. Provide her with some influences that are easier on the psyche than Baron Harko-nerd’s neuroses, or you trying to kill her. Give her a few role models that might add up to someone who’ll be easier to live with than Jabba the Halfwit.”
“And this little ‘girl’s night’ thing?”
“Just the tip of the iceberg, Dr. Gluegenes.”
“You already have a plan?”
“PLAN? For your information, I’ve already cut a deal for the Alphas, Masterminds and Grunts to lay off you for a few days, while you get all this-” I poked a foot at an electronic panel, “-up and running. But I warn you, if you futz around, they’ll assume that everything’s green-light. Take the time, and use it, Boy Wondering. And, as for Belfy, well, I have a few potential role models on the line, and appropriate paperwork is filtering through the system.” I briefly considered telling him about my shopping trip idea. Nah, hit him with it at the last minute. If I give him too much time to think about it, he’ll start tacking on chores and shit.
“Thank GOD!” Jobe clasped his hands before him and looked heavenward. “The tide of injustice trowled atop insult heaped upon injury is beginning to ebb! Sheba, you would not believe what I have been going through! I have been taking it on the CHIN here!”
“Chin? What chin?” I looked at him. “ah… Jobe… you have a chin.”
“Of course, I have a chin!”
“I’m not talking about that Don Knotts thing that you used to have, Jobe. You have an actual chin there.”
“What? That’s impossible! I can’t be… The chin is too much hard tissue…” He scrambled for a mirror and peered at his jaw.
“You might wanna look into changing your meds, Jobe; I think those drow-regen cells are building up an immunity to them.” I poked him in the chest. “And yer getting’ kind’a squishy up top. Kind of a reversal there- you used to be hard on top and squishy around the middle, now it’s the other way around. Though your top was never all that hard. More like shallow and sunken. Oh, and you might want to put a stopper in all the screaming- it’s hurting your vocal chords. Right now, instead of your usual reedy tenor, you’re talking in a contralto that’s very sexy- for a girl.”
Jobe gave me a look. “Admit it, Jads- this is killing you.”
“Only if I fall down stairs laughing.”
“Admit it! You want me. It’s breaking your heart that I might not only turn into a woman, but a woman who’d blow you off the stage.”
I pulled out a pocket recorder. “What was that again?”
“C’mon! You’re warm for my form. The reason that you’re doing all of this, is so that I won’t be distracted, and I’ll find the cure that returns me to a hot, hunka, hunka burnin’ man…”
I burst out laughing. When I mastered myself, I turned off the recorder and said, “Oh, thank you, thank you! I’ll save that for when I need a good laugh. Well, I’ll leave you to your labors, Jobe. Oh, and one last little thing?” I stopped halfway out the door. “If you ever DO manage to reverse this drow thing, leave the eyes alone- that shade of lavender in your black eye is absolutely to Die for!”
Back in my room, Misty was introducing Belfy to all her plushy unicorns by name. “And this one is Sprinkles…” Belphoebe was looking at her in a way that anyone else would have recognized as an ‘are you nuts?’ stare. I stepped into save Belfy from ‘the dance of the unicorns’.
“So! Belphoebe! You’ve had a hard day, hunh?”
“You have NO bloody idea…”
“Look, I promise, tomorrow will be a lot better.”
“Well, for one thing, you won’t be stuck in a room with Jobe. And tomorrow, we’ll see about getting you squared away.”
“It’ll be fun!” Misty chirped, holding ‘Sprinkles’ to her chest. “We’ll go-”
“But for now, I think that the best thing is to get you out of that phony skin and into a shower. They dragged you straight out of the nutrient solution, didn’t they?”
“It IS a little… tacky…”
I fingered her long silky white hair. “Ah, man, they didn’t even rise out your hair when they brought you out of the soup, did they? Typical men, they have no appreciation for what we have to go through, keeping something like this a thing of beauty. Well, nothing for it!” I went over to my wardrobe and knocked for Section G (body and hair care). I took out some shampoo and a hair dryer. “We’ll just wash it today- the stylist will want to handle the conditioning and all that.”
“Sure! There’s no way that you’re gonna want to take the time and effort to keep all of THIS,” I hefted a handful of three-foot long hair, “in shape. It’s gonna take an hour, just to get it dry, even with the dryer! So, we’ll have them trim it off to something manageable, and cut it into a nice simple style that you’ll be able to keep up. But first, we get you out of that funky-ass fake skin.” Fortunately, she’d only covered her face, arms and hands with it. In a minute, she was there in all her darkling glory. I gotta admit- the contrast between the stark white hair and the flat black skin is killer. First I fished a terrycloth robe out of my wardrobe, and then I thought better of it. Terrycloth and tender new skin is not a good combination. I pulled my red silk kimono dressing gown out, and prayed that I’d get it back some day.
Wrapping that it-oughta-be-illegal body in the gown, Belfy asked, “So, who’s going to show me the ins and outs of the girls’ shower, hmm?” There was a lecherous twinkle in her sapphire blue eyes, the unnatural perv.
“Oh, I will, I will!” Misty bounced on her bed like a puppy wanting to be picked up.
“Misty, do you know where the girls’ shower IS?”
“Ah, no… But I still gotta take a shower, y’know. I been movin’ all day, since first thing in the mornin’!”
I sighed, let her borrow the terrycloth robe, and distributed the shampoos and body oils. “You’re not taking a shower with us?” Misty asked as I showed them the way to the girls’ showers.
“Sorry, I’d love to, but you know how it is- there’s always something.”
Both Misty and Belfy were suitably awed by the girls’ shower room. “Stone o’ Crows!” Belfy gasped, losing her fake posh accent. “The Boys’ showers aren’t anything LIKE this!”
“Of course not!” I said smugly. “All those genius type boy gadgeteers and devisors, but it takes a GIRL genius to come up with anything as obvious as this. Madelyn, the tech-head who did all of this, does this to the showers on each floor as she graduates. The senior girls have been leaning on her to do Sorority Row a year early, but they know if they lean on Maddy too hard, the rest of us will rise up in revolt.” And give Maddy her due, the Melville girls’ showers are what girls’ showers should be. Comfortable but still stable shower matting, permeated with anti-fungus agents. Steam-proof triplex mirrors in the shower with you. Each stall has its own miniature propane water heater in decorator brass, with an easily readable temperature gauge. Not one, or two, or even three, but five hand-held showerheads with all the pulsing settings. The stall doors were frosted shatterproof glass with Art Nouveau designs. Dispensing brackets for shampoo and oils that warm the bottles in the bracket. Padded waterproof benches in the shower. Warm-air blowers to help drying off. And decorator tile all over everything. I kicked in ten grand to have Maddy upgrade this shower (she’s a Junior now), and I still think that it was worth every penny. Senior girls will sometimes try to crash the lower showers, but the underclass-girls guard these showers with our lives.
I looked at Misty and Belfy. “I want it understood- you will tell the boys nothing, and I do mean nothing about this! Understood?” Misty and Belfy nodded in awed obedience.
As Misty and Belfy went into to celebrate the sacred mystery that is the Melville girls’ showers, I headed back to my room. I had work to do before they got done. I knocked on my wardrobe, but this time, instead of mere storage, I opened Section M- my ritual magic work station. Hey, Jobe isn’t the only one who takes her schoolwork home with her. I quickly but unhurriedly looked through my Enchantment textbooks, and found what I was looking for. A simple but effective calming charm. It took the energies of fear and anxiety, twisted them around, and turned it into feeling of calm and peace. Just the thing for handling a neurotic relative or a colicky newborn drow. I laid out my spell-cards, and tweaked their arrangement until it was perfect. It took me the better part of a half-hour, but the girls’ showers are meant for lingering in. I finally had the charm ready, and I needed something to cast it on. It’s more of a temporary talisman-creating spell than a direct spell in of its own.
Okay the obvious thing is for a cuddly toy, something to hold onto. Misty’s unicorns are the obvious choice, but I don’t really wanna taint this by taking something that belongs to someone else. Given the basis of this whole cluster-fuck, that just strikes me as asking for trouble. So, what? Knowing Belphegor, Belfy’d probably latch onto it if was any good, so it has to be something that I wouldn’t miss. Well, I never really liked that plushy spider that Vipra gave me when she was sucking me up for an intro to my dad. And Jobe seems to like spiders… maybe it’s a drow thing…
In a matter of minutes, I had the magical energy from the diagram coursing through ‘Webby’. I triple-checked the power matrix, and sealed it off. Hey, I may not be able to throw around LAWS-round level spell blasts like Majestic or screw around with a person’s luck until they trip over their own shoelaces and fell down the stairs, the way that Hekate used to, but I manage. After I got all my equipment stored away, I gave ‘Webby’ a big hug, and felt my tension about this whole insane day ebb away. One magical Valium, good to go!
Belfy came back from the showers with a smug smirk on her face, but Misty seemed fine, so I guess that little miss monochrome had the good sense not to try anything. Belfy managed to maneuver us into powdering her, but after that, she said, “So, do either of you have any pyjamas that I could use?” Hmmm… gotta be careful with this one, or we could be creating a mooch of epic proportions.
“Pajamas?” I jeered, “Silly girl! Why would you settle for flannel…” I went back to my wardrobe, “…when you could have silk?” I pulled out a truly decadent crème silk nightgown. I ran a sleeve across Belfy’s cheek, and she shivered with delight.
“So, tell me,” Belfy asked, as Misty and I got her into the nightgown, “do girls have it this good all the time?”
“Oh, good lord, NO!” I told her. “On the other hand, we don’t make a big thing about enjoying being uncomfortable, the way that boys do. ‘Hawh! SILK!” I jeered in a faux-rough, tough, burly man voice.“I don’t sleep on no sissy SILK! Just gimme some good old fashioned sandpaper t’sack out on, cuz I’m a MAN!”
Belfy giggled at that, and Misty and I started combing out her hair. I gave her Webby to hold, and we did that thing where you chat as you brush and comb out each other’s hair. Like you do with your mom. Or, at least, like I would have done with my Mom. If she’d been around. We just talked about little things, things that you don’t even remember five minutes later. Finally, Belfy’s hair was dry and draped like white silk across her back, and Belfy herself was relaxed and beginning to droop. Poor baby had had a hard day. We pulled back the sheets and tucked her away, with Webby still in her arms.
“Ooohhh… just look at her,” Misty cooed. “She looks just like a little angel.”
“Actually,” I muttered, “she looks more like one of those sorta-smutty-but-not-really mattress commercials.”
Well, it was getting late, and neither of us had exactly been lounging around eating peeled grapes, so we decided to call it a night. I got into my flannel pee-jays and Misty put on a Seattle Seahawks jersey.
“Well, Misty, all this was my idea, and there’s no way that I’m asking you to share a bed with THAT-” I jerked a thumb at Belfy’s sleeping form, “so I’ll bite the bullet and sleep on the floor.”
“Oh, don’t be silly Mavis!”
“I have three sisters, I’m used to sharing a bed. C’mon.” Hey, what would I know about sisters? I only have one weasely little brother. I climbed in. I was beginning to doze myself, when I heard Misty murmur, “I knew you was a good person, Jadis. No matter what anyone says.”
*Yawn* “Thanks, Misty, I… HEY, WADDYA MEAN, ‘NO MATTER WHAT ANYONE SAYS’?”
Due to that implant in my brain that Jobe was so chatty about, I wake up completely first thing in the morning without the confusion that most people seem to have. So, when I was jarred out of a deep sleep by the sound of screaming, I had a pretty good idea as to what was happening. I fell out of Misty’s bed onto the floor and went straight for the desk. Belphoebe was sitting bolt up straight in my bed clutching at her breasts and sounding like an air raid siren. I grabbed the magically charged card that I’d prepared while I was enchanting the spider plushy, and rammed it into Belphoebe’s face. “Belphoebe! Your name is Belphoebe! Not Belphegor! Remember! Remember the cloning chamber, and Phobos?”
The charm on the card forced Belphoebe to focus. “Phobos? She- I… I was going to transfer her mind into the drow clone… and she would be so grateful that she would… but Knick-knack’s helmet wouldn’t work… I was trying to get a sample signal… and…” She looked down at her body, things clicking together. She screwed up her face and started to bawl.
I grabbed Webby and pushed it into her arms and wrapped my arms around Belfy in what I hoped was a reassuring hug. Misty came over and added to the hug. Eventually, the charm kicked in, and Belfy settled down to a sniffle. “Thanks, Mates- I needed that,” she snuffled. She turned the hug around and got both of us in a crushing grip.
“Belfy, don’t make me get beastly on you,” I warned in a level voice.
Belfy let go, and Misty went to tell the girls out in the hallway that it was just a bad dream. Well, we were up, it was morning, and the best that you could say about the situation was that it was Friday. I managed to get my red silk kimono back, and headed for the showers. Normally, I shower in the evening, for two reasons. One, I prefer to sleep clean. Two, I hate the morning line for the showers. Like I said before, the girls’ showers are built for lingering, but it’s damn hard to linger while there are twenty super-powered girls growling at you to hurry up and finish.
Oh, and today, there’s a new reason to hate morning showers! Jobe was in line, wearing a maroon satin and velvet dressing gown, and none-too-covertly checking out the nubile young flesh that was covered only in towels and gowns. The general consensus in line was, ‘what the HELL is HE doing here?’
“Actually, it’s ‘what the hell is she doing here’,” Jobe said. He reached into the pocket of his dressing gown and pulled out a laminated sheet. “In her infinite wisdom- or whatever- Headmistress Carson has decreed that I, Jobe Wilkins, am now officially female. Ladies! Please! I agree with you! This is an outrage! I encourage you to go to Carson and insist- no, DEMAND!- that she recognize my intrinsic manliness and at least move me into a room with a northern exposure. In the mean time,” he tucked away the photocopy, “there is the matter of personal hygiene. Oh, don’t mind me, according to Carson, we’re all girls here.” He looked past Laura, into the glory that is our shower room. “On the other hand, as long as I’m here, let me say that I AM impressed with the accommodations! Ooohh… Milan Tile! Very Nice!”
I just know that I’m gonna get shit for this somehow.
Jobe has a talent, honed by years of practice to near-genius, for pissing people off. It wasn’t a matter of if someone went off on him; it was a matter of when. Normally, I’d step up and try to extract Jobe from his folly before somebody did something that damaged the showers. On the other hand, knowing Jobe, he may be pulling this on purpose. So, I decided to hang back and let Jobe play his cards. Jobe’s pigeon turned out to be Alakazam, N’Dizi’s main girl in the Tigers. Kaz is grumpy at the best of times, testy first thing in the morning, surly before she’s had her breakfast, and downright nasty in the line for the showers. She had about as much intention of sitting still for this as she had of voting for Donald Duke. “Listen up, Malomar-boy, I don’t give a shit if you got a piece a’ paper or not. I am NOT gonna just stand here while some speckled up fancy-nancy whiteboy stands there and rapes my sisters with his eyes!” She raised one hand and a ball of emerald-green flame flickered into existence. Alakazam sort of fancies herself a free willed djinn (as if the shaved head with the long ponytail weren’t a giveaway) and she lives to show off her power.
“Now, now Oprah,” Jobe laid a hand on Kaz’s shoulder, “leave that sort of trash-talk to Springer!” Kaz bridled and the other girls stiffened, but I was the only one who knew Jobe well enough to spot the little move that he made with his ring finger on his little finger. He had just armed some sort of tiny needle on his little finger. Alakazam pulled away and set her arm back to charbroil Jobe. As she did, she took in a deep breath. And then she took another deep breath, almost against her will. And then another deep breath, very much against her will. And then she started huffing and puffing like she was playing the little engine that could. She dropped her fireball, and her hands went to her breasts. Kaz is ‘full-figured’ but not fat, and she already has a pretty good rack. Then I noticed that her boobs were getting bigger. You could see her hands being pushed away from her chest. I knew that it was biologically impossible, but there was in unmistakable impression that she was inflating her knockers. She kept puffing away, apparently unable to do anything else. Like me, the other girls watched in mute horror. Within a minute, her breasts had gone from the size of good-sized grapefruits to casaba melons, and were well on their way to watermelons. Her boobs burst free of her bathrobe, and they were already officially ridiculous. Offended dignity aside, Kaz looked like she was in real pain there; y’gotta remember that a woman’s breasts are sensitive. Finally, her breasts were the size of the kind of watermelon that you gotta hold with two hands, and the girls were stepping away, in case they popped or something. Then twin fountains burst from her nipples, gushing out streams of some white liquid that I was pretty sure wasn’t milk. The girls gave out a loud *EeeWWW!!!* and stepped well away from the liquid as it splattered on the tile of the shower wall. Kaz’s breasts shrank down to normal size as at least a couple of gallons of the white stuff splattered. As her breasts shrank, Kaz sagged, and she fainted just as the geysers dribbled to an end.
Jobe looked down at Alakazam with his perpetual smirk. “Don’t worry girls, it’s all right. The edema isn’t contagious and it should wipe right up, no problem. As for her- give her a few glasses of water, she should be pretty dehydrated after that. Oh, Look! A stall has opened up, lucky me…” Jobe strolled past the gaping girls and took the open stall. Then he regaled us with selections from The Barber of Seville.
As Kaz was being dragged out, I took advantage of the confusion to get a stall of my own. As I washed the coloring that I usually favor out of my hair, I studiously ignored whispered guesses as to how Jobe pulled that off. I dunno, I don’t wanna know, and I have a feeling that knowing would be a bad thing. Once I was done, I quietly walked out of the showers before someone associated me with the doink mangling Rossini. Amazing, all that gene-work, and he still can’t carry a tune in a bucket.
Back in my room, Misty had put Belfy’s hair up in a high, if improbably long ponytail, and they were trying to put together an outfit for Belfy. Unfortunately for Belfy, Misty’s jeans just weren’t fitting. “Would you be a dear, and open up that wardrobe of yours, so that I can find something?” Belfy asked.
Okay, the mooch-train ends here. “Sorry, Belfy, but if you can’t wear Misty’s jeans, then there’s no way that you’re gonna fit into my stuff. Looks like yer gonna have to bite the bullet and wear a skirt.”
“Hey, it’s not like you don’t have the legs for a miniskirt.”
“MINISKIRT?” Belfy’s eyes went wide with near panic. “Are you insane? It’s February! In New Hampshire!”
“Hey, not to worry! If I remember Jobe’s infodump, the drow genome was geared to withstand extremes of heat and cold.” I smirked. “Or is that what you’re really worried about? Maybe you’re worried that a boy might get the wrong message, and check out the hot new chick in school?”
Belfy screwed up her face, and I think that she as blushing- who can tell with her complexion? We split the difference (precisely according to my nefarious plan! *Bwah-ha-ha-hah!*) and went with a full-length tweed skirt, mid-calf boots, a crème knit cowl-necked sweater, and really thick hose. Belfy was worried about walking around without Jobe’s faux-skin, but she really didn’t like the idea of going across the hall and asking Jobe for some.
There was a knock on the door, and Nacht walked in. Somehow, don’t ask me how she does it, but she always manages to make it look like she’s looming out of the darkness when she does that. Belfy looked at who was walking in, spotted Nacht, and went white as a sheet, ebon-black skin or not. She scrambled back onto my bed, grabbed Webby and held onto the plushy for dear life. “Pleasemakethescarygirlgoaway, makethescarygirlgoaway, makethescarygirlgoaway,” Belfy whimpered.
“Oh, so it’s true,” Nacht purred. Can you purr in a monotone? Her half-lidded eyes twinkled in sadistic glee. Nacht scares the bejeezus out of Belphegore, and she loves rubbing that fact in. Apparently, Belphoebe still has that reaction, and Nacht looks like she’s spotted a new pigeon. Nacht, or Kate- as I and a few select others are allowed to call her- has that ‘Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams’ thing going on in spades. She’s been known to unnerve full-grown men just with one of her creepy little smiles. She makes me happy.
“Hi there!” Misty bubbled as she bounced forward to meet a new friend. “I’m Misty! I’m new here!”
“THAT is abundantly obvious,” Kate said in her chilly monotone.
“My code-name’s gonna be Superchick! Isn’t that KEWL?”
“And me without my kryptonite.”
“So, who are you? Do you live on this floor? What are your powers?” Misty rattled on like that for a while.
Nacht gave her a bland ‘what the hell are YOU?’ look for a bit, and then turned to me. “I heard that you’re planning some sort of shopping trip. I was thinking that I could come along and offer… support…” she aimed one of her patented creepy smiles at Belfy on the bed, who whimpered.
“KATE!” I snapped, “Stop scaring the day-old baby!”
“Oh, don’t be like that, Belfy!” Misty said as she pulled the drow-chick from the bed. She wrapped both Kate and Belfy together in a big hug. “We’re gonna all live on the same floor, so we gotta be FRIENDS! Best Buds!”
“Jadis,” Kate droned, “who IS this?”
“My new roommate.”
“What happened to Cutlass?”
“She moved over to Whitman.”
“Nuts.” Kate put… something… (I don’t know, I don’t WANT to know) back in a pocket. “Is she like this all the time?” she asked, flickering a glance at Misty.
“You are very strong, Misty,” Kate said in the voice of ultimate reasonableness. “You are crushing me. Please let go before I spew dark masses of unspeakable horror all over everything.” I managed to separate them before Kate ruined Belfy’s outfit (and quite likely emotionally scarred Belfy for life). After that, I just herded Misty and Belfy to breakfast and then Orientation, and I was able to get to class.
And so, another day at Whateley. Or, half-day, at any rate. I got together with Belfy at lunch, and together we headed for the Workshop and ‘Mom’.
Belfy may know her way around the Workshop better than I do (even if it is second hand knowledge), but I’m the one that the Security Guards know. And the security guard told me that Jobe was in Bio-Devisor Lab- 5, where I presume that he was wasting time trying to slow down those pesky regenerant cells, instead of picking up his room like he should be. “THERE you are!” I said in my best Park Avenue matron voice, “We’ve been looking simply everywhere for you, haven’t we, Belfy darling?”
Jobe just barely managed to keep from dropping a sample. “BEAST! What are you two doing here? Shouldn’t you be off… teaching her how to wax her legs or something insipid like that?”
“That’s what we’re here for. As you may have noticed, those Ralph Lauren things of yours don’t really FIT Belfy, and-”
“And, I AM still here, you know!” Belfy snapped.
“Yes, you are, dear,” I comforted her, “but we have to get permission from the cranky Sister Jeckyll to leave campus to buy you some clothing that actually fits.”
“She can just buy some things online, like I do,” Jobe said.
“I said ‘clothing that actually fits.” I reminded him, “And for that, we need permission for Belfy to leave campus and go to Boston for some real shopping.”
Jobe looked bored until he heard the word ‘Boston’. “She'll be gone for how long?”
“Friday evening to Sunday evening.”
“We'll need your credit card...”
Jobe smirked, as if I’d just confirmed some cynical expectation of his. “Oh ho, so that's how it goes! Well, it so happens that I need a new amino sequencer. I'm sure either you or Belphoebe could pick one out from the Harvard suppliers. I know they sell them at Longwood. Belfy will know the address.”
“And that would run?” I asked, knowing the first of a list of chores when I saw it. Best to get this over, get the card, and get gone as quickly as possible.
“Oh, you should be able to get one for under 30k.” He looked at Belphoebe speculatively. “With bunk beds, I think we can fit it in the corner of our new room. If you get a good, durable model, I'll let you have some time on it.”
Belphoebe just stared at Jobe in disbelief. This apparently didn't match Belphegore's relationship with Jobe. Well, sharing time on an amino sequencer is Jobe’s idea of parent/child bonding, I guess.
“So, the card?” Hey, keep your eyes on the prize.
Jobe handed over his Visa platinum card. “I want a full wardrobe, and cosmetics, and lessons. She needs to be able to stand up in front of stockholders. And you, young lady, go in your real skin color. None of that fake white skin.”
I snatched the card from Jobe’s hand. “That doesn't come cheap. What's your limit? Besides, all your stuff is privately held. What do you care about stockholders?”
Jobe sighed, as if it should be obvious. “Hello? There was a dial tone. Have I been connected to dial-a-dunce? Takeovers, Jadis. She's not going to be a little girl forever. I need to give her some skills to live in the real world. That means eveningwear, because she needs to stalk the opposition, power suits, because she needs to dominate in the boardroom, and sleepwear, because I live here too. And maybe something for around school. Anything else I need to explain?”
I giggled and tweaked his cheek. “Oh, you are just so CUTE! So close to being a woman, yet still so much a boy. You actually believe that, don’t you? Jobe, this is just the first trip! This is for Winter Wear. In a few months, the Spring line will be out, and we’ll have to go and get an whole NEW wardrobe just for that! And then there’ll be the Summer ensemble- I mean you can’t expect her to go to Karedonia in her Winter outfits, now can you? Though I will say, Belfy, that you will look absolutely fabulous in Summer Whites!”
Jobe ground his teeth. “Okay, okay! But the power suits and eveningwear-”
“Jobe, you’re a freshman. You’re damn smart, I know, but they’re not gonna let you pull any major moves until you’re at least a Junior. I’ll pick up some Office and Formal wear, on general principles. But they’ll be out of fashion by the time that she wears them for real effect. And God HELP you, when she discovers Couture! And the makeup lessons? Jobe, makeup is NOT like learning Windoze Ripoff; you don’t just sit down, listen and you know how to use makeup. Learning the subtle and nuance-laden art of cosmetics is a lifelong journey of discovery and wonder. And speaking of wonder, it’s a wonder that you thought that anyone even MAKES cosmetics for black skin. I mean, look at her! She’s black! But comely,” I consoled Belfy.
“They do make makeup for black women,” Jobe said, obviously wondering WHY he was arguing such a triviality when he could be splicing up a cure.
“NO, they make cosmetics for African Ethnic women. African Ethnic women are brown, not black. Belfy is not ‘Bronze’, or ‘Tan’, or ‘Dark’, or ‘Eggplant’ or even ‘Skillet’- she is Black! Like ink! Even the ‘Ebony’ shades they make will look wonky on her. We’ll have to start off with really basic stuff and just keep experimenting until we find some combinations that work.”
“OKAY! What EVER!” Jobe waved his hands, obviously desperate to get some control over the matter. “BUT, I insist that you get the best! No matter what sort of inferior software that idiot Belphegor may have downloaded, she’s a WILKINS! She is the best, she gets the best!”
“Whoops! Did I hear the price go up by another 20k? I did!” I shook the card. “Hey, is this thing empty already?”
Jobe swapped the Visa for his AmEx, which he handed to Belphoebe. “Okay, okay. But this is Feebs' card -- she signs for everything. And stay out until after dinner Sunday, or I tell Nephandus that you have a secret crush on him.”
“Hold it!” Belphoebe snapped. “One thing!”
“What IS it?” Jobe groaned. “You want your wubbie or something?”
“I want at least a gallon of that spray on skin!”
“Hey, I said you go as IS, little missy! You have to learn to love your skin!”
“Do you really expect me to travel on public transportation like this?” Belfy countered. “Just because YOU fly around everywhere in a private jet, doesn’t mean that I can.”
“Haven’t you been listening? Yes, it does! You’re a Wilkins now! We don’t DO public transportation!”
“Hey, Belfy!” I cut in, “Jobe’s springing for his father’s jet! SCORE!”
Jobe stopped, obviously thinking about calling in that kind of favor would cost him with his father. “I’ll get the liquid skin.”
On our way back to Melville, Belfy asked me, “Why are you going to such trouble, just to get me some clothes?”
I gave her my patent-pending ‘Diabolik’ evil grin. “What makes you think that YOU’RE the only one who’s getting a new wardrobe, hhmmm?”
Belfy and I found Gloriana and Lindsay in the front hall of Shuster Hall- along with Misty and Hazard. Who both had overnight bags with them. “What are you two doing here?”
“We’re going to Boston with you!” Misty said, as if it were settled.
It turned out that it was. “I have their names right here on my permission request,” Gloriana said.
“Why did you think I’d want to bring them along?” I asked.
“Well, Hazard told me that you wanted her and Misty along and well, two more girls just didn’t seem that unreasonable.” The pixie-ish Asian Brit gave me smile of innocence that wouldn’t have fooled a five-year-old.
“Ah, well- it’s not like it’s MY money… But, if you would, Hazard? Might I have a word in private?” I led Haz into a disused office. Then I got beastly and slammed her into one of the walls. *So, what are you up to, Hazard?* I snarled at her.
“God’s TEETH, Be-er, Sheba!” Hazard gasped. “No need to get all beastly!”
*If the Masterminds have anything planned…*
“What ARE you talking about?”
*I’ve HEARD things about your last little trip down to Boston, the one where Team Koo-koo saved your collective asses from the Necromancer and his freaks. I am NOT getting mixed up in any of your stupid ‘Mission Impossible’ games!*
“Chill, Sheeb, Chill! Nothing nefarious on this trip. You know that Stopwatch doesn’t pull anything unless he’s got a plan that would give Willie Sutton a headache.”
*Then what ARE you after, Hazard?*
“Does the name ‘Donna Karan New York’ mean anything to you?”
I kept her hanging a foot off the ground *No shoplifting, Hazard*
“Shoplift? Why would I shoplift?”
*I’ve heard about your ‘five finger discounts’*
“SO, who needs to shoplift? We’ve got Mixmaster Jobe’s Platinum Card? Who NEEDS to shoplift with that?”
*You’d do it just because you can, just for the kicks. Look, you little bitch, I can’t afford to get involved in any penny-ante rip-offs that you have planned. The Feds leave me alone because of the ‘Hands Off Family’ rule. But if I get busted doing anything- and I do mean ANYTHING!- then it’ll be a feeding frenzy of FBI, MCO, CIA, NSA and everyone else who wants the credit for bringing in Dr. Diabolik, trying to use me to manipulate him. If that happens, I’m screwed. And if I’m screwed-*
“Yeah, yeah, I get it- you get beastly all over me,” Hazard said, clearly used to being threatened.
*Oh, I won’t get ‘beastly’, Haz. I’ll get… Diabolik…* I let Hazard drop, and dropped the ‘beast-skin’ as well. “As long as you’re coming along, let’s understand each other. If you just want to dip into Jobe’s AmEx-”
“AMEX?” Hazard said, her face alight with expectation.
“-then I’m fine with it,” I finished. “Anything else, and I’ll sic Jobe on you. And, it’s not a free ride either, sweetie. You wanna come along? You had better offer more than snippy little barbs. You have a good sense of style, Haz. I’ll expect you to be an asset to this mission, and not just pick at Belfy while you load up on name brands. This is about more than just getting clothes- it’s about-”
“Oy! I was there when you pitched this to her highness, remember?”
“Then you’ll know what’s expected of you, won’t you?” Haz nodded, stuck out her hand, and we shook on it. Haz won’t cross me- I know where she lives.
In the van, as Belfy carefully sprayed her hands and arms with Jobe’s neo-dermis, Gloriana carefully spelled out the agenda. “I’ve already made an appointment at Cordell’s for Belphoebe to have her hair washed, cut and styled. Dragonrider will stay with Belphoebe, and the rest of us will pick up the last minute necessities.”
“Why are you wasting time in Dunwich?” Hazard asked. “Why not go straight to Boston and have her done there?”
“Because Mrs. Cordell’s been cutting hair for Whateley students for twenty years. Compared to some of the heads that she’s done, a black scalp and pointed ears won’t even raise an eyebrow.”
“Besides,” I added, “Cordell offers a near-unique service. They have a small furnace on the premises for burning all hair and nail trimmings.”
“Why would they offer something like that?”
“Think about it, Hazard, just think about it.”
Belphy came back from the loo to our compartment on the Concord-Boston Express. Cordell had cut her hair to just about shoulder length, saying any shorter would be a crime, and styled it into a simple fall and bangs arrangement that managed to make the most of her facial shape, while being almost ridiculously easy to maintain. With the pseudo-derm and tweed outfit, Belfy looked like the Prep School girl of most men’s dreams. She looked at a man who had just passed her and then closed the door. “The oddest thing… I think that that chap who just passed was trying to make a pass at me!”
“He was,” Hazard, Misty, Lindsay, Gloriana and I all said in unison.
“Belphoebe, dear,” Gloriana turned on the upper-crust charm and patted the seat next to her. “Come, we must discuss something. Now, you must understand that you are absolutely gob-smackingly gorgeous. Period. You can either be victimized or empowered by this, but the choice is ultimately yours. As is what you do with it-”
“What she’s trying to say in her own Girl Guides way, Belfy dear,” Hazard cut off Gloriana’s well-meant lecture (thank god!), “ is that no matter what you’re going to do, you’re going to attract men. Period. Men are going to do strange, stupid things, just because they think that it’ll make you happy. And they’ll blame you for what happens to them, whether you asked them to do it or not. What that means, is that you’ll sort of have to learn how to use men-”
“That’s NOT what I meant!” Glor insisted. “It just means that you’ll have to learn how to… be clear as to what your intentions are. You’ll have to learn how to make it clear that you’re not interested, or busy, or otherwise engaged, in ways that won’t hurt the poor dears’ feelings.”
I had my own take on that. “Lucky for you, you’re going to Whateley, where about 20% or better of the student body is Exemplars. After a while, even the non-Exemplar boys just get used to the idea of devastatingly beautiful women in their lives. Sort of like fashion editors. After a bit, they just become part of the background. You’ll get a lot of offers at first, but after a while, it’ll settle down and you can get to know people, and learn how to do things at your own pace. Not to worry, Hon, you’ll do fine.”
Belfy looked like she’d just been told that the dentist was ready to see her. “Are you sure about that? Because when those boys were looking at me in Orientation…”
“THAT is precisely what I was talking about!” Gloriana insisted. “You ARE a lovely girl! If you’re afraid of it, then you’ll always be its victim! But if you just throw back your shoulders-”
“Not the best advice,” Hazard muttered, “after what happened in the showers this morning.”
“-and face it head on, then YOU are in control of the situation!”
“What I think she really means,” Lindsay offered, “is just have fun with it! Think of it as a game, and try to win!” Belfy smiled at Lindsay, and relaxed a little.
“That reminds me,” Misty said, “I been meaning to ask- Jada-”
“Jadis.” Well, at least she’s getting close.
“You said that you was a exemplar. But exemplars are supposed to be all built, and strong, and smart and stuff. Well, you’re strong and smart, howcum you ain’t more… well, built?”
Oh, thank you very much, Misty. Rub my face in the fact that ‘my incidentals are no bigger than two lentils’. Why don’t you point out that I inherited my father’s hatchet face, or his Roman nose, or those stupid ‘devil’s horns’ forelocks that are practically a Diabolik trademark, while you’re at it? Thank God, I didn’t inherit that knob chin of his like Malachai did. And at least, I have my mother’s eyes (I think), or I’d look like the wicked witch of the prom. I gave Misty a sere smile and struggled valiantly to keep my temper. “I don’t know, Misty. Maybe I’m just a late bloomer. Maybe that Corymbic implant that my father put in just mimics the effects of being an Exemplar. We don’t know exactly what it does, and every time that I ask my father about it, he just changes the topic.”
Gloriana gave me an odd look. “Your father put some sort of neural implant in you? Why?”
“Dunno. He won’t say.”
“Well, when did he implant it?”
“Dunno. I only found out about it when I came to Whateley. They found it during my initial physical, and when they scanned my head, they found all these nano-filaments going through by brain. The plug itself is lined with an osmium compound, and they can’t penetrate the lining. When they asked Dr. Dad about it, he just said that removing it would be- and I quote- ‘disastrous’- unquote.”
“Well, he’s a supervillain, and supervillains do that sort of thing,” Lindsay offered. And she should know- she’s got worries like that, all on her own, poor thing.
That left an awkward silence. Gloriana rose to the occasion and changed the topic. “I’ve been meaning to ask you, Jadis- what ARE you doing with those playing cards?”
I had a couple of my Enchantment texts out, a calculator, and notepad, and I was marking a deck of playing cards with a special marker. “Oh, I’m just stacking a deck.”
“You’re marking cards, out in the open?” Hazard asked askance. “Remind me to never play Whist with you.”
I flashed a not-funny smile at Haz. “As I’m sure you’re all aware-” then I remembered Misty, “- modern playing cards equate to the Lesser Arcana of the Tarot deck. Those are the fortune telling cards that you see Gypsies use in movies, when they’re not reading tea leaves or a crystal ball. Anyway, the suit of Spades was originally the suit of Swords, the Hearts were originally Cups, and so on. Each of them has a symbolic and numerological value. The point being, that while I’m a Mage- in training, anyway- I just can’t draw on magical energies in that off-handed way that the heavy hitters like Majestic or Hekate do. So, I can’t improvise spells to suit the occasion, I have to prepare them beforehand.”
“So, you’re enchanting spells into those cards?”
“On the train? Are you nuts?” I shook my head. “No, I’m just prepping them. I’ll enchant the entire deck in a single ritual, when we get to the hotel. It’s a lot safer and more efficient this way. The only real problem is setting the proper arrangement of effects. Getting the balance of effects right can be a real bitch.”
Belfy made a rude noise. “Yanks! You’ve always got to have a gun of some kind with you.”
I sensed a subtle shift along transatlantic lines, with Hazard and Gloriana silently siding with Belphoebe. “Actually, Belfy, that is the exact opposite of what I’m going for. These spells aren’t the ‘fireball and lightning bolt’ stuff that you’re thinking of. They’re far more subtle, mental and causal effects for the most part. The blend that I’m going for are ‘defusing and derailing’ effects.”
“ ‘Defusing and derailing’,” Gloriana said in a flat voice, giving me the eye.
“Yes,” I said keeping my sangfroid. “Things like mental effects that make a person bored with what’s happening, or keenly interested in whatever they’re looking at. Causal effects like mechanisms jamming, and electronics glitching. Little things that won’t be very effective in a stand-up fight, but could very well be very useful in keeping a situation from getting nasty, or letting us run away without having to resort to violence.”
“Really?” Gloriana seemed mildly surprised. “I would have thought that the daughter of Dr. Diabolik wouldn’t have welcomed the chance to mix it up a little.”
“Glor, you have no idea what being the child of a supervillain is like.” I said in a level voice. “Both Mal and I are very practiced, old hands even, at avoiding violence.” Hazard made an amused noise. “Check it out- the townhouse where I live in Manhattan is under surveillance 24/7, just for the chance, the possibility that my dad might screw up. Just once, that’s all they need. The Feds won’t mess with Mal or me directly, because there’s that ‘Don’t Bring Family Into It’ understanding that started with La Cosa Nostra. But, if either Mal or I ever got caught doing anything- and I do mean ANYTHING- illegal, the judge would throw the book at us, on general principles. If I get caught committing any kind of violence, they’ll lock me up until I’m 21- and that’s IF they let me out then.”
“Well, that’s what happens, when your father is a mass murderer,” Gloriana said repressively.
“You make it sound like I went to ‘Parents R Us’, bypassed the Pillar of the Community aisle, the Philanthropist aisle and the Martyred Saint aisles and went straight to the Mass Murderer section.”
Lindsay noticed the nasty trend the conversation, and tried to get it back on a friendlier track. “Well, we can’t choose our parents, now can we? For instance- Gloriana, are your parents superheroes?”
“er- No. My father’s an Actuary and my mother is a Solicitor,” Glor admitted.
“Well, you’re going to be a superhero, aren’t you?”
Gloriana preened visibly. “Yes, of course! I have-”
“Why aren’t you going into your father’s line of work?” Lindsay asked, all innocent-like. “Are you ashamed of him?”
“Of course not! I LOVE my father! But-”
“So do I.” Lindsay said, her mouth tight. “I love my daddy. I don’t like what he does, but he’s still my daddy. No matter what he does, he’s still my daddy, and I know that he loves me… and… and nothing that you say will ever change that.” Lindsay’s big gray eyes were getting misty, and her voice was beginning to crack.
I could see the beginnings of one of Lindsay’s weepy jags, so I said, “It’s okay, sweetie. It’s okay. C’mere.” I waved her over to me and I gave her a big hug. When Lindsay was okay, I explained to the others. “Lindsay’s a lot closer to her dad than I am. He has the whole ‘secret identity’ thing going, and Lindsay only found out about him being a supervillain when some villain work that he brought home got loose.”
“Oh? Who is he?” Gloriana asked, all innocent-like.
I just gave her the cold fish eye. “Secret Identity, remember?”
“Oh, right, right…” Glor had the good grace to grimace with embarrassment.
“So, Sheba…” Hazard fished around for a new topic, “why did you wash the red out of your horns?”
I reflexively touched my forelocks. “Oh, equal parts getting ready to lay low in Boston, and showing a little solidarity with Belfy, what with the premature white hair and all.”
And, bless Hazard, we finally got off the sticky topics, and got into the nice safe discussion of hair, clothes and how the hell we were gonna find makeup that wouldn’t make Belfy look like an evil clown.
Through the modern miracle of cellular communications, I arranged for a limo to be waiting for us at Boston’s Back Bay Station. Yes, a limo. I arranged for it to be leased to us for the weekend. Hey, like I said, I’m not paying for it, so why lug tons of boxes around, or throw ourselves on the mercy of grubby taxi drivers? The uniformed driver of the limo handed Belfy the credit card box and accepted her signature. “Just a second!” Belfy reached into her purse, pulled out a little gizmo that she’d been tinkering with on the train and pulled it up to her eye. “Smile!”
The driver, a stocky Hibernian type, must be used to chauffeuring giddy prep school girls around, because he drew himself up and posed with an open door to have his picture taken. That done, Belfy allowed herself to be lowered into the limo, and we piled in after her.
“So, Belfy dear, what was all that with the digital camera?” Gloriana said, once the privacy shield was up.
“Oh, this isn’t a digital camera,” Belfy said. “Perchance you remember the movie, ‘Men In Black?”
“You mean that’s one of those ‘flashy thingies’ that they use to erase people’s memories?” Misty asked, agog.
“Your basic gadgeteer and devisor loves to copy gadgets that they see in movies and on TV,” I explained. “Down in the Workshop, you’re not regarded as a REAL devisor, until you’ve built a working lightsaber. But where did you get that? And why’d you mess with the driver’s head?”
“Oh, when we were in the Workshop, getting Mater’s credit card, I popped over to visit the Pater. He wasn’t in, so I, ah, presumed upon his generosity and availed myself of a few minor items that might be useful.”
“Belfy, you’re gonna fit right in, in the Workshop. And the driver?”
“Well, I- that is, the Pater- never got that incremental memory erasure function to work properly. However, I, ah, HE found that if you gave a subject a preliminary flash, it sort of ‘doped’ the subject’s memory, so that things never passed from short-term recall to long-term memory. And a second flash washes out the short-term recall.” I think I see how Belfo manages to steal as much stuff as he does, given that he’s not exactly inconspicuous. I made a mental note to drop a word to Mal about that. And to put the word out on the floor.
“So, when you flash him the next time, he’ll forget everything?” Misty asked. “Won’t he be kind of curious about what he was doing all weekend?”
“Not quite, Misty darling,” Belfy was already starting to pick up some of Gloriana’s act. “It won’t be a blank slate. Rather, all of his memories of the time between exposures will sort of wash together with all his other memories of all his similar experiences.”
“So, we’ll sort of blend in with all the other drop-dead gorgeous girls that he’s driven around?” Hazard asked.
“Yes, Hazard darling, though I’m sure that it will be quite an effort to forget a pulchritude as striking as yours.” Okay, so the Gloriana is getting mixed in with the Belphegor. It’s still an improvement.
Malloy, our driver, took us to the Mayfair, and I told him to wait for us to check in. At the front desk, Gloriana signed in for us, but I made sure that the clerk understood. “We called ahead for the ‘Shultz’ service?”
“Yes,” he said with equanimity, “we see nnnuuuthing, we hear nnnuuuthing!” He looked me straight in the eye. “And you do realize that we ARE a respectable hotel?”
I nodded. “Nothing wilder than a friendly card game.”
“What was all that about?” Gloriana asked quietly as we were taken up to our rooms.
“The Mayfair is a favorite place for supervillains, covert operatives and like that to stay. There’s an understanding between the staff and the guests- as long as the guests don’t do anything overtly illegal, the staff doesn’t look too closely at anything. No hostages, no assassinations, no hot merchandise. The worst that they’ll put up with is an intense conspiratory meeting. Past that, weird costumes, bizarre equipment, safely stored weapons- they just don’t notice. The Mayfair is sort of a neutral ground for the Boston area. Nobody messes with it, and everyone minds their own business. If you jump another guest, they mark you as persona non grata. NO violence, whatsoever.”
“You brought us to a supervillain hotel?” Gloriana said with asperity.
“NO, I got us reservations at a four-and-a-half star hotel that has a standing understanding with the professional criminal community. Most of the guests here aren’t in the Biz, and if you wanna stay here, you really don’t mess with the civilians. Ironically, this may be one of the safest places in Boston.”
“And, what if someone ‘in the Biz’ does mess with the civilians?”
“Then they aren’t professionals, and they’ll be encouraged to go take a room in some sleazy little dive, where they’ll probably be more at home. Won’t do their career any good, either.”
We got three doubles. Since the entire idea here (past the Liz Arden, anyway) was for Belfy to pick up some of Glor’s ladylike ways, they roomed together. Misty sort of took it as a given that she’d bunk with me. And that left Hazard and Lindsay to share a room. As Belfy was checking out the bathroom (I don’t think that she really understood why, she just knew that it was something that women did in hotel rooms, in the movies) I told Gloriana about ‘Webby’. Give Glor her due, she seemed to pick up on it quick enough.
When that was wrapped up, we were finally able to get down to serious business- SHOPPING!
I held up Jobe’s Platinum AmEx card, as if it were an object of worship. “Behold! Our key to the most hallowed halls of fashion and haut couture! BUT, before we begin, there are things that you must understand- First, you must show NO FEAR! Countergirls can smell fear, and they will tear you apart like a pack of ravening dingos! Remember, no matter how superior and uber-cool they may ACT, in reality, they’re just a bunch of wage-slaves working on commission! WE, on the other hand, are customers! WE have the real power! WE are teenage girls! WE, not THEY, have the ultimate say in what’s cool and hip! WE can take _this_-” I held the card up on high again, “and go somewhere else! If anything, they should fear US!
“Second, sales people are NOT your friends. They don’t really care how something looks on you. They just want to sell something, something really high-end, preferably. Sales people will LIE, right to your face. Not only will they sell you complete and utter CRAP, but they get bonuses for getting that crap out the door. If you have a question, come to one of us.
“Third, always remember, that this is about the clothes- not the designer label, not the PR and advertising campaign, not the size tag, and most certainly not the price tag, but the clothes. Color, pattern, fabric, cut, stitching, design- THESE are what’s really important-”
“Is this the part where you tell us that nobody ever won a shopping spree by buying rubbish?” Hazard said wryly, “That you win sprees by making the OTHER girl buy rubbish?”
“And may God bless…” I said a ‘George C. Scott as Patton’ voice and saluted.
And with that, we descended upon Newbury Street, with the genteel restraint of the Mongol hoard entering Krakow. Of course, the Mongol hoard never had to drag Genghis Khan through the door of Victoria’s Secret.
It was 7 PM, just after dark, so we decided to keep it simple- lingerie. Sleepwear and underwear. Even so, in those three hours, we left a wake of havoc and despair among the shop girls of Boston. Many of them went to sleep with images of white silk and lace against slate black skin filling their dreams. Which probably confused the hell out of them, as Belfy ‘flashy-thingied’ them the minute that we were done at that store.
By Ten, we had just enough time to get to our dinner reservation at the Capitol Grille. Of course, we left our purchases in the limo with Malloy. There was a raised eyebrow at a party of six young girls at that hour, but between a quick check as to the balance on the AmEx card, Glor’s charisma, and a quick $100 in the maitre-d’s hand, we were quickly lead to our table.
The Capitol Grille isn’t the hottest restaurant in Boston, but it’s a mainstay of the carriage trade. Believe me, we needed Glor’s charisma to get in with just a $100. But the steak and seafood are justifiably lauded, and the clientele is a cut above. But it was Friday night, and apparently if high school girls can get in, so can college boys.
“Heads up,” Hazard said, “we’re being checked out.” Sure enough, there were three college-age guys a few tables over, being about as subtle as a Klan rally in Harlem. The beers in front of them probably had something to do with it. The only way that they could have been more obvious about being Harvard types would have been if they were wearing Crimson varsity jackets.
“Why are they looking over here?” Belfy whispered in a near panic.
“Why do you THINK?” I asked with asperity, “In order of attraction: Glor, You, Hazard, and Misty.”
“Not me?” Lindsay asked, more than a little disappointed.
“In two or three years, maybe,” I said with a smile, “but there’s no way that those mugs have enough class to see that you’re gonna be a heartbreaker in a couple of years.”
“And what about you?”
“That’s very sweet, Linds, but the sad fact is that I’m the homely one in this bunch.”
“A dog in a pack of foxes, the mealy-bug among butterflies, an ugly duckling paddling with a flock of swans,” Belphoebe gave into some perverse urge from her Belphegore programming.
“Oh, get off yourself, Sheba!” Hazard insisted, “you’re not that bad looking!”
“Yeah, right. Check me out- a face that you could use to chop wood, a figure like Olive Oyl, legs like pipe cleaners, and I turn into a big scary monster. The boys are busting down my door- to get out.”
“Oh, that’s not true!” Lindsay insisted, “What about Fracas?”
“Fracas?” Misty asked.
“Australian boy who lives in Twain, calls himself ‘Fracas’,” Haz explained. “He’s been sniffing around after Jadis here, but she hasn’t been giving the poor lad the time of day.”
Belfy puckered up an impish smile. “Alas, the bereft swain is rent in Twain.”
I threw a dinner roll at her. “Oh, please! Fracas is just the Whateley version of the sort of social climbing creeps that all the kids of VIPs have to learn to deal with.”
“You regard your father as a VIP, dear?” Glor asked.
“I regard Fracas as a manipulative punk who wants to get a leg-up on a supervillain career by hooking up with an established operator like my dad. Cutlass, Vipra and Stiletto were just like that.”
“Cutlass? You keep mentioning Cutlass, who is she?” Misty asked.
“She was Sheeb’s roommate before you, Misty,” Hazard explained. “She wasn’t very… subtle… about lobbying to get an intro to Dr. Diabolik.” Haz gave me an odd look. “Though, she DID go packing in an awful hurry. What did you do to her, Jads?”
I gave her my ‘diabolik’ grin. “I gave her what she wanted. I introduced her to my father. It wasn’t what she was expecting.”
Out of left field Misty asked, “Jadis, why did your father try to set off Mount Rainier?”
I shot her a frosty glare. “Oh, I don’t know, Misty. You see, my father never tells us about his, ah, ‘projects’ before the fact. You see, if he did, then we’d be Accessories before the Fact, which in relation to a Capitol Offense, is a felony.”
“JEEZ! I didn’t mean it like that!” Misty went wide-eyed. “I just meant, well, y’know, you’re real smart, and your dad must be real smart just to pull somethin’ like that off, so WHY would he do sumthin’ like that? I mean, what was in it for him?”
Y’know, neither Vipra or Cutlass ever even thought of that? To them, Dr. Diabolik was a supervillain, and supervillains just do shit like that. “Well, to be honest, Misty, I suspect that he did the Rainier job as a service for Crucible, the guy who goes around arranging disasters, so that people will be ‘tested’ in a strive or die situation. Y’see, Misty, both my dad and Crucible aren’t in the supervillain business for money or power. Unlike Jobe’s dad, Gizmatic. Gawd, what a creep!”
“You’ve met Gizmatic, Jadis?” Hazard asked.
“Yeah. My dad has a time-share villa/lair on Karedonia.”
“What’s he like? Gizmatic, I mean.”
“Think Jobe, only without the easygoing warmth and charm.”
“If not for personal power or profit, then why DO your father and Crucible do the horrible things that they do?” Glor asked, one eyebrow arched.
“You may not believe this, but my father’s an idealist,” I said with what I hoped was quiet conviction and poise. “The way that he sees it, there a ton of things that need- and I do mean NEED- to be done, and the people in charge just aren’t doing it. Like Global Warming. They were talking about it back in the Eighties, but since it would have meant that companies that made big political donations would have had to spend that money conforming to emissions standards and like that, instead of to campaign funds, nothing got done. Hell, it’s only now that we have runs of killer hurricanes, the polar ice caps are melting, bees are dying off and all that that the Powers That Be are getting off their duffs! And Bush still won’t admit that he was wrong! Also, there are simply things that can’t be done in a nice civilized way, or they’ll get screwed up by petty politics and superstition and like that. So, my dad, and supervillains like him, are doing what they think needs to be done, in the most direct and effective way.”
“Ways that have killed 15,000 people, so far,” Gloriana said, icily.
“17,246,” I corrected her. I’m not proud of it; I just figure that keeping an accurate count is the very least that I can do for those people. Maybe the only thing that I could do for them.
“What could be worth killing 17 thousand and change people?”
“It’s an acronym that Timothy Leary came up with. It’s a formula for the next stage in human development: Space Migration, Intelligence Increase, Life Extension. Leary figured that if Humanity was going to live up to its potential, it needed to leave the nurturing confines of Mother Earth and take responsibility for itself. That’s Space Migration. He also figured that we have to make everyone smarter- not just an elite, but everyone, so that Democracy can make decisions intelligently for a change. And the Life Extension bit is that even with increased intelligence, it takes a while for people to really get good at what they do. But by the time that someone gets really good at something, their body starts falling apart. SMILE is sort of my dad’s credo. He likes to point out that when he escaped Yugoslavia in the 1960s, the Space Race was in full swing, and the economy was booming. Then the American Congress wasn’t getting any more props for it, so they shut it down, and the American economy never really recovered. And he has a whole rant about people who whine about millions being spent in space while there’s hunger on Earth, that doesn’t make any sense, and the Space Program is one of the few things that the American Federal Government does that actually turns a profit in the long run.
“Anyway, everything that he does is either in pursuit of his ‘SMILE’ agenda, or doing a service for another supervillain so they’ll do something that serves his SMILE agenda, or scrounging up money to make his SMILE agenda work. Okay, okay, he has a couple of vendettas going, too.”
“And you approve of this?” Gloriana kept on it.
“My father doesn’t ask for my approval.”
“You could tell him that you don’t approve. You could disown him, or something.”
I gave Glor the cold fish eye. “Glor, my father’s Dr. Diabolik. You do NOT diss Dr. Diabolik. Ever.”
Lindsay saw, from experience, that this was going nowhere on a nasty road, so she changed the subject. “Okay, okay, maybe Fracas isn’t your cup of tea- big, muscular, friendly, folksy-” she said with a sigh.
“-Fosters-swilling lager-lout,” I cut in. “Playing fucking Paul Hogan with both hands.”
“But what about Nightlord?” Lindsay asked.
“Ah, the poor man’s Dracula?” Belfy said with relish. “What’s the matter, Beast? Passionate scenes on rooftops in the moonlight with tall, well developed, classically gorgeous gothboys not your cup of tea, either?”
“Oh Please!” I groaned, “Nightloser is even worse than Fracas! I swear, the fact that I don’t know what he’s rooting around for, only makes it more annoying!”
“Well, what’s your problem, Jadis?” Misty asked. “You’ve got TWO guys after you, so what’s wrong?”
“Hello? I have an aversion to being used!”
“You know,” Gloriana said in the sort of uber-reasonable tone of voice that makes you wanna poke them, “you’re not as ugly as you make yourself out to be. They could genuinely be interested in you for yourself.”
I gave her a frosty glare. “Oh, thank you very much, your ladyship, I feel completely condescended to. I know that I’m not that bad looking. But I fade into the background, when exemplars like you, Majestic or Fey are around.”
“Jadis, you’re just letting your insecurities get the better of you.” Glor said smugly.
“Yeah? Wanna bet?”
Let’s see. Oh, Yeah… “Tell you what. You give those college guys over there a smile. When they come over, if they talk to me or Lindsay AT ALL, I’ll get my brother Mal to build you a special harness that will focus and magnify your light powers- flight, damaging ability, targeting, the whole schmeer. If they talk only to you or Belfy, then you get Pendragon to rush Winter.”
“Winter?” Gloriana yelped, aghast.
“I’m not asking you to TAKE her, just rush her.” There, that should shut Marian up about me not taking her on this trip. I can tell her that I couldn’t very well pitch her to Gloriana, with her hanging over our shoulders.
“And what if they talk to Hazard or Misty?”
“Then it’s a draw.”
“And what’s the matter with me?” Hazard asked me icily.
“Too young, too obviously in high school.”
“You’re on,” Gloriana said. Give the blonde her due, she does seem to believe in putting her money where her mouth is. She waved the college boys over, and they immediately took over the table. They arranged themselves so that there were two guys on Belfy and Glor each, and they managed to just ignore the fact that the rest of us were there. The only reason that Belfy wasn’t as red as a beet was that Jobe’s faux-skin didn’t seem to have a blush option. Despite the Frat-rats’ boorish behavior, Glor managed to shine. There really is something to all that upper-crust noblesse oblige stuff after all. Glor handled them beautifully, and Belfy was soaking it up like a sponge. Hazard and Lindsay were taking notes on Glor’s technique. Heck, *I* was taking notes!
After about a half-hour, Belfy had relaxed and was holding up Glor’s side beautifully. After a few unsuccessful attempts to insert either Lindsay or myself into the conversation, she graciously pleaded the late hour, and excused us en masse. In the limo, Glor grumbled, “Very well, I’ll see what I can do about Winter.”
Back at the Mayfair, I made sure again that Gloriana understood about ‘Webby’. “So, if Belfy flips out again, just give her the spider to hug and talk nice to her. Once she gets her train of memory all hooked up, she may break down and start crying again.”
“D’you really that she’ll have that bad a reaction?”
I shrugged. “Dunno. It depends how many mRNA traces from the gene donor Jobe let through into his cell culture, how complete the engram matrix was that transferred, a whole bunch’a things about Belphegor’s psychological makeup, how many real breaks Belfy’s made from the imprint. Basically, too many things to really keep track of. I think that how Belfy wakes up will be a good measuring stick of how she’s developing, so please let me know what she does and says, Glor.”
Gloriana assured me that she’d make sure that Belfy worked her way through it. With that, I retired to the room that I was sharing with Misty. Then I had the interesting experience of enchanting a deck of cards with audience participation.
The next morning, I didn’t hear any screams from Glor and Belfy’s room, so I phoned down for a Room Service breakfast. Then I went over and knocked on their door. Gloriana answered the door with a spooked look on her face. “So, Glor! Is Belfy up yet?”
“Oh, Belphoebe’s been up for a couple of hours now. She, ah, woke me up.”
“I didn’t hear any screams.”
“She wasn’t screaming, Jadis. She was moaning.”
“Moaning? She’s in agony?”
“Hardly agony, Jadis. She was… pleasuring… herself.”
“She’s that comfortable with her vagina already?”
“She wasn’t masturbating. At least not the normal way. She was… just… playing with ‘the twins’.” She cupped her hands in front of her admittedly admirable breasts. “It went on for quite a while. She kept coming back- for thirds, for fourths, for fifths…”
“Wait a minute- are you telling me that she… pleasured… herself to orgasm?”
“Multiple Orgasms. Several times.”
“Just by playing with her breasts?”
“Can you DO that?”
“Well… SHE can…”
I was trying to decide whether Jobe had finally gone too far, or had finally done something really RIGHT, when Belfy came in from the bathroom, in just her panties and bra. She ignored me, and went straight to the long mirror. She adjusted both the fit of the straps and the way that her breasts were settled into the cups. She fiddled with the way that she was set in the bra for a while, and then just gave up. “It’s hopeless! This is simply too plain! What was I *THINKING*? Well, there’s nothing for it- we’ll just have to go back and get some proper settings for my black pearls.”
“She’s been doing that for an hour,” Gloriana grumbled under her breath. “Don’t get her started on lotions…”
Yesterday, we’d had to drag Belfy through the doors of Victoria’s Secret. Today, we had to literally drag her OUT of Victoria’s Secret, because we couldn’t dress only in lingerie. She didn’t even put on that spray-on skin of Jobe’s, as she wanted to get the full contrast effect when she tried various lacy patterns and colored silks! And then she noticed a rash, and Lindsay remembered hearing that Fey was allergic to synthetics, and we hadda find lingerie for Belfy with only natural fibers. For the rest of the day, I think that you can just Cut & Paste your favorite Hollywood ‘Shopping Spree’ montage. Just add heavy snowfall.
“Well, it’s a MassART project. We’re testing out a new kind of skin paint. I’ll bet that you can’t even tell it from her own skin tone!”
“Just phone in to confirm the approval on that card, and then, clear the decks!”
“Do you have anything that shows off a little more cleavage?”
“Okay, I admit it- I’m stumped. Roxy, do you have any IDEA of what sort of eye shadow to use with matte black skin?”
“Would you mind if I took a digital photo of you? Thank you ever so much! <flash!>
“Really, dear- anyone who looks as much like Megan Follows as you do, shouldn’t dress QUITE so much like Anne of Green Gables!”
“Do you have anything that shows off a little more cleavage?”
“It’s Anne Klein? Really? I had NO IDEA that Anne was subcontracting to Singapore!”
“Okay, I admit it- I’m stumped. Madeline, is matte black skin a Spring, a Summer or what?”
“Do you have anything that shows off a little more cleavage?”
“NO, we do NOT sell Disney merchandise!”
“Honest, my dad had NO INTENTION of crashing Apophis into the Earth! He was going to tow it into a lunar orbit and mine it! I’m telling you, if the Gulf Coast Legion hadn’t interfered, we’d have a steady supply of perfect ball bearings! Trashing those satellites was the last thing on his mind!”
“Would you mind if I took a digital photo of you? Thank you ever so much! <flash!>
“Hazard, dear, you DO know that they DO make clothes in things other than leather, don’t you?
“Hello, Jobe? Jadis here. We’re at Longwood. Yes, they have the Amino Sequencer you wanted. I just wanted to let you know that they have a model with a built-in sample flash-freezer. Do you want that one, or the stock one? The one with the freezer is only $5,000 more, and it doubles as an apartment cooler. Very wise of you, Jobe. Also, Belfy is drooling over a new compact MRI scanner. Very well. Maybe you can get it for her, for Christmas. Also, they have an Indiana Integrated Instrumentation CAD-guided Auto-lathe… Yes, I know that you’re not into that, but Malachai IS. And if you have an III CAD-Lathe, then he’ll be ripping his stock apart for things that you might want to trade for it. Yes, even that… After all, he can build an even better one, with an III CAD-Lathe, now won’t he? I thought so. No need to thank me, Jobe… well, you could at least make a token effort… Well, shopping waits for no one! TA! Excuse me? Yes, it’s all arranged. We’ll take one each of the amino sequencer WITH the flash-freeze, the MRI scanner, and the CAD-Lathe. Send it C.O.D. to Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy, outside Dunwich New Hampshire, care of Jobe Wilkins.”
“Do you have anything that shows off a little more cleavage?”
“Yes, thank you, you’re very kind, but no, I’m afraid that I have other plans than a career in modeling.”
“Yes, I’m afraid that it IS rather late in the season for mink.”
“Is it supposed to be that short?”
“Oh My- a Giorgio purse with gold-plated pot-metal clasps… Well, someone is skating by on their PR!”
“Would you mind if I took a digital photo of you? Thank you ever so much! <flash!>
“I thought that black was supposed to go with everything!”
“No, the only thing ‘secret’ about that moon base was the way that my father built it. He WANTED the United States to send in a responsible, well-trained squad of Marines. Well, he couldn’t very well just GIVE the US a moonbase, not without everyone freaking out and thinking that he was planning something really sinister, now could he? But instead, they sent in those goons at the Justice Brigade, and because Pachyderm couldn’t wrap his little pin head around basic hard vacuum safety procedures, FIVE BILLION dollars worth of functioning moon base is now a heap of scrap on the lunar surface!”
“Do you have anything that shows off a little more cleavage?”
“Are you sure that you want THOSE heels?”
“Put it back, Hazard. No, I don’t want to talk about it, just put it back.”
“I mean, I know, at Whateley, I’m *Gloriana ‘Queen of the Cape Squad’*, but after Graduation, I’ll just be another freshman at the Sorbonne.” <nnnrrrgg… pretty people, with pretty problems…>
“What IS that thing you have in your bag?”
“Not to worry, dear. The booby fairy comes to all of us, each in her own special time.”
“Yes, I KNOW they don’t carry this at Wal-Mart.”
“Aruba, here I come!”
“Yes, I agree, dumping THX-1138 into the drinking supply of Biloxi WAS going too far, but try telling that to my father! I know, 11% of the population had bad reactions to it, but the public schools in the greater Biloxi area showed a 23% increase in test scores. That’s got to mean something!”
“Yes, OF COURSE it makes you look like Britney Spears!”
“Do you have anything that shows off a little more cleavage?”
“Okay, I have your order- but where’s the rest of the school that’s going to eat all this?”
“Wow. Pink does go with black. Who’d a thunk it?”
“Would you mind if I took a digital photo of you? Thank you ever so much! <flash!>
At the end of a long hard day shopping, Hazard insisted that we jump at the chance and go clubbing. Haz, Misty and I would be squeaking by, so we had to leave Lindsay behind. If the attitude that Pern was giving us was any clue (and it should be, it mirrors what Lindsay’s hiding), Linds wasn’t happy about that. New York may have the big rep for nightclubs, but Boston does all right by itself in that department as well. We told Malloy to take us to all the hot spots, and the man earned his paycheck. Glor just breezed in like it was her birthright, and Misty, Hazard and I managed to get in as the door king was enraptured by the mysterious abyss that lurked within Belfy’s décolletage.
Belfy’s drow look was a big hit, and I think that full-body paint is gonna be a big thing on the Boston party circuit for a while. We managed to finagle some drinks, and we were well into the party mood. Now, if ‘Daddy’ Belphegor has a redeeming trait, it’s that he’s a party monster. Indeed, the only reason that he’s still alive after some of the crap that he’s pulled may be that at the Melville parties, you can trust Belfo to Belushi on down and party hardy. It seems that whatever else she may have gotten from Belfo in that download, she picked up his party animal streak. She was out there, shaking her groove thing like there was no tomorrow. Heck, she, Glor, Misty, Haz and I got into one of those ‘synchronized babe’ dance things, and for what may be the first time in my life, I was actually HAWT.
We hit a couple of clubs, and we were on our way out to the limo, when three klubby boys followed us out the door. “Hey, hey, hey! I were are you sweet things goin’?”
“Hey, there’s a party out there somewhere!” Belfy giggled, frisky with the whisky. “And we’re gonna find it!”
“Yeah, okay, okay- but you still gotta settle your bill!”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, getting a certain vibe off these guys, “I paid our tab at the bar!”
“Yeah, well, that’s the BAR. It didn’t, ah, cover the, ah, nose candy at the table.”
“Are you nuts?” Haz asked, “We didn’t do any drugs!”
“Nooo… but some of the crowd at yer table did, and well- that stuff ain’t free y’know.”
I gave him the gorgon glare. “Let me get this straight- you invite a bunch of YOUR buddies over to our table, you all help yourself to some blow, and WE’RE supposed to pick up the tab?”
“Hey, it was YOUR table!”
“Piss off, wanker,” Belfy growled, pissed that these pissants were harshing her good time.
“Really? And what are you girls gonna do, if your parents hear that you been out after yer curfew, drinkin’ when yer too young, and doin’ drugs, hah?” the guy with the too-trendy haircut smirked.
Haz and I looked at each other and burst out in derisive laughter. “Oh, I would pay good money to listen in, when these tossers tell your father what a bad girl you’ve been!” Haz managed to gasp out. Even Gloriana joined in the cackling with that one.
Haircut stopped smirking. “Okay. BE like that.” He reached behind his back and pulled out a switchblade, which he opened with the requisite sinister *snikt!*
“Oh, go bugger yourself with that thing, pipsqueak,” Belfy muttered.
“Oh. Switchblade. How retro,” Glor murmured.
“At least it’s not a gun,” Hazard commiserated.
“Maybe he’s saving up for one,” I sniped.
The three punks completely shed their klubby personas, and tried to be intimidating. “Stop shittin’ around! I want your purses and your watches! NOW!”
I looked at Gloriana. We came to a silent agreement. “Nnnaaahhh…” I drawled nasally.
“Too easy,” she agreed. “Hazard, what are the odds of a police cruiser coming by in the next, oh, three or four minutes?”
Haz screwed up her face. “This part of town… Saturday night… this hour… pretty close to nil.”
“Feel like handling this one, dear?”
“Not worth getting worked up enough to do right. What about the newbs?”
Well, Belfy may not have been merry with the sherry anymore, but she was still… well, not six sheets to the wind. Maybe four sheets and a reef. I looked at Misty. “So, feel like doing the ‘Superchick’ thing?”
Misty looked dubious, but before she could make up her mind, Haircut lost his temper. “Screw this shit!” He reached over, grabbed Belphoebe and pulled her over to him. “You think we’re screwin’ around? Try screwin’ THIS!” He jabbed her in the side with his switchblade.
“HEY!” Belfy screeched, “You STABBED me!” She effortlessly pulled out of his grasp, and put a hand to her side. “I’m bleeding! Look at my dress! It’s ruined!”
“Oh, now you’re in for it,” Hazard snickered.
“Oh! Belfy! And you just bought that dress!” Misty gasped.
“And it’s silk,” Glor commiserated. “It’s bloody murder getting blood out of silk.”
“That HURT! And do you know how much this dress cost?” Belfy demanded of the three croggled would-be muggers.
“$750,” I offered, courtesy of my photographic memory. “It would’a cost more, but it was straight off the rack. That reminds me, we gotta go to Rogers’ and get some of the stuff we got fitted.”
Haircut tried to grab Belfy again, but she intercepted his arm as if he had offered it to and bent it backwards. He struggled, but Belfy just kept twisting until there was an audible *snap!* of his arm breaking. She kept twisting until his arm was bent at an angle that it simply shouldn’t have been able to make, and she heard two more snaps. The punk with the leather blazer tried to jump Belfy, but the other one, the one with too much jewelry, bolted for the alley opening.
Misty did a vaulting leap and headed him off at the street. She sort of gave him a push at his chest as he rushed her, and he went flying back. “Nice technique,” Glor murmured, “G-Force does that bit as well.”
Leather Blazer pulled a gun (a .32 Smith & Wesson revolver, if you gotta be anal about it), but Belfy sent it flying out of his hand before he even got it aimed at her. Haz caught it on the fly and had it field stripped and disassembled before you could say ‘Jack Robinson’. WHY you’d say Jack Robinson at a time like this, I dunno… Belfy gave Leather Blazer a quick punch to the solar plexus and knocked the wind out of him. Then she grabbed his head and got it in an underarm lock. She was about to twist when I said, “BELFY! NO!”
“You’ll kill him.”
“If he’s DEAD, then he won’t feel pain anymore, now will he?”
“Oh. I see your point.” She settled for battering his face ruthlessly. She was about to smash his face through the windshield when I stopped her again. “What is it NOW?”
“That’s OUR windshield. Are we supposed to drive back to the hotel with a goon hanging out of our window?”
“Try that one over there,” Hazard suggested. “I think that it’s one of theirs.” She picked a set of car keys from the ground and hit the car alarm button. Sure enough, the alarm whooped once and flashed its lights as the system turned off.
“How’d you know that it was his?” Belfy asked after she’d placed Leather Blazer through the proper windshield.
“The license reads ‘STUD MNSTR’- even if its NOT their car, the owner has at least a broken windshield coming to him.”
The excitement and the booze must have gotten to be too much for Belfy, because right in the middle of mauling Jewelry Boy, she suddenly stopped and yarked up all over him.
Gloriana, who had the unexpected good sense to know that Truth, Justice and Decency were one thing, and getting in front of Belfy while she was venting for the sake of a street punk was another, came over. “Now, now, Belfy- I think that it’s time that we got back to the hotel and went to bed.”
“Oh?” Belfy said groggily. “We gonna have sex now?”
“aaahhh… Maybe later, dear.”
Glor steered Belfy towards the limo. “But they gotta pay for what they did to my dress…” Belfy muttered.
“Too True, Belfy!” Haz said, as she produced three wallets, seemingly from nowhere. “You said that that dress cost $1,250 didn’t you, Sheba?” Not giving me a chance to correct her (yeah, right!) she pulled a wad of cash out of the wallet. So much for crime not paying. “Looks like we have more than enough to cover that. And that leaves a few thousand… Belfy doesn’t need any more cash, she has that card. Sheeb doesn’t need the money either… And Glor wouldn’t stain her hands, so it looks like we split the rest between us, Misty!”
I snapped my fingers. “Gimme a couple of hundred.”
“Why? You don’t need the money.”
“No, but Malloy does,” I jerked a thumb at the wide-eyed Celt peering out the front window of the limo.
$300 richer, Malloy drove us back to the Mayfair without a word.
Just to prove, as if you ever had any doubts, that there is NO justice in the world, Belfy’s hangover, which should have taught her a good lesson about moderation and restraint, lasted all of ten minutes. Belfy was disgustingly chipper as we shared breakfast, and babbled on about which stores we’d be going to.
“Let’s see,” I took stock, “we’ve done underwear and lingerie, we’ve done high fashion, eveningwear, clubwear, accessories and office wear. Okay, ONE ‘power suit’ for form’s sake. Let’s face it, there’s no way that Jobe is taking over Genentech this year. So, today, I’d say that we go for sporting wear and casual wear. After that, we see what we can find in the way of techno-toys and music.”
“Sporting wear?” Belfy said with trepidation. Belfatso didn’t get his signature sylph-like figure by doing triathlons.
“Well, think about it, Belphoebe darling,” Glor drawled, “what better way to differentiate yourself from the template, than try something that Belphegor would never even consider. And, you’d look absolutely stunning in tennis whites.”
Even as Belfy’s Sloth was wrestling with her Vanity, Hazard put the nail in that cavil’s coffin by leaning over and whispering, “Biiikiiiniiis…” And we had her.
“No, Belfy, they DON’T make a sports bra that lifts and separates.”
“Why would YOU care if ski boarding is safe? You’re a Regen-5!”
“Skiing wear… in natural fibers… that shows off cleavage…”
“Yes, you NEED more than one stuffed animal. Yes, you can have Webby. But do you really want Webby getting lonely in your room, while you’re out?”
“Okay, okay, OKAY! We’ll visit the Disney Store!”
“Sure, I’ve met the Amazing Three! I was Eleven, and they rescued me and my brother Mal from the Iron Warlord. Personally, I think that Dr. Amazing rocks. My dad hates his guts, but I guess he’s still pissed about the time that the Amazing Three foiled his attempt to use an Anti-Gravity Sphere to lift Pittsburg into orbit.”
“Oh, get it, definitely. If you’re going for the ‘Paris Hilton dipped in ink’ look.”
“Hazard, put it back. No, I don’t want to talk about it, just put it back!”
“Yes, I know, but if I don’t buy Winter something, she’ll just whine at me for a week!”
“ooohhh… Look! A White Noise Generator! Just the thing, for when Jobe’s on one of his whining binges, and you wanna tune him out!”
“No, Glor, for once, I’m with my dad on this one. He’s not forcing anyone to use Solon-3. I think that if someone wants to use an Intelligence Boosting drug, that’s their right. It’s only addictive in that people really LIKE being smarter. As a matter of fact, I think that in the light of the initial FDA test results, it’s very suspicious that the FDA made illegal a drug that would make the average American smarter and let them learn more easily.”
“Well, if YOU have to get something for Winter, then *I* have to get something for Heartbreaker and Jello…”
“Old Yeller? I can see The Incredibles, or even Sky High, but Old Yeller?”
“Okay, now, be brutally honest- is the silver spider cell phone ornament too much?”
“So, do you think that the nerds in the Workshop would still take me seriously if I went for the designer flash-memory thumb drive, or should I stick with the industrial-chic drive?”
“Belfy, it just occurred to me… you know ALL of Belfo’s passwords and security measures, right?”
“Oh, Pendragon would look SO CUTE in this!”
“Okay, I admit it, I’m stumped- HOW do you choose a signature scent for a girl who can change her pheromone cues at will?”
“Okay, we’re agreed then- One unicorn per person per shopping trip. It’s not just a good idea, it’s a RULE!”
“But Lightweight and Glass can’t AFFORD cool stuff like this and I was figuring…”
We had just stashed our stuff in the limo, and were ready to go back, if only to pick up a few more ‘See, I remembered you’ gifts for friends and roomies. We finally gave in, and Gloriana took us to this ‘Romantic Fantasy’ specialty shop that had as much knights and dragons and princess stuff as you could legally carry, without having D&D crap. Apparently it was absolutely HUGE with the Ren Faire noids. We were just about to go into ‘Scarborough Fair’ (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyyymmme…), when Hazard stopped us. “STROOTH!”
“What’sa matta, Haz?”
“I just picked up the weirdest fluctuation of probabilities…”
“What are we talking about?”
“Last time that I sensed anything this off the wall was last Halloween.”
Glor, Lindsay and I goggled at her. “You mean, last year when-”
Hazard just barely managed to knock Lindsay to the ground as a suit of kitchy faux-plate jousting armor came crashing through the cutesy diamond-paned storefront windows at us.
#Do you have any IDEA of how LONG I’ve been WAITING for you? What KEPT you?#
Okay, I admit, I did rather assume that the person who came floating out of ‘Scarborogh Fair’ was a supervillain. But please, he was wearing purple power armor. I mean, how many superheroes wear purple, let alone with green trim? And, he had the sinister high collar on his green cape; there seems to be a rule that only semi-sinister supernatural-type superheroes can wear the sinister high collar on their capes. And, he was using a really annoying voice changer that screeched rather badly. All right, there might be one or two superheroes that use that bit, but put it all together and add recklessly endangering innocent bystanders by committing wanton property damage, and it pretty much tots up to ‘supervillain’.
“Bedlam!” Gloriana snapped.
#Oh, you guessed# the fashion disaster mocked.
“Old Boyfriend?” I quipped, trying to defuse the tension a bit.
#Oh, you are so funny, funny, She-Beast! I’ll have to remember to rip your guts out last! Your dying words will be a scream!# Bedlam gestured, and various bits and pieces of metal from the store started whirling about him. Apparently, this ‘Bedlam’ guy was your basic ‘Magneto’ style super-energizer.
Now Lindsay’s codename is ‘Dragonrider’, and she’s a pretty high potential Mage who at the moment seems to be stuck manifesting dragon forms. Pern, her pet ‘dragon’ is actually one of those manifestations that somehow managed to stabilize. The point here being, that Pern isn’t always a foot long (not counting the tail) and cute as a new penny. When Lindsay gets really pissed off, or she really wills it, Pern grows to fifteen feet long, with a 25’ wide wingspan, and he can claw through reinforced concrete, breathe fire, and most of that dragon schtick. Pern zipped out of Lindsay’s carryall purse, got big and launched himself at Bedlam.
The rest of us took it as our cue to get the hell out of Scarborough Fair.
“Who the Hell IS that?” Belphoebe squeaked, scared out of her mind.
“His name is Bedlam,” Gloriana said.
“Well, DUH!” Misty, Hazard, and I said in perfect synchronization.
“He’s a veteran supervillain, been around for years. For some reason, he’s taken it upon himself to give the Future Superheroes as much grief as he possibly can.”
“Well, I’m not a hundred percent sure of this, but leading indicators suggest that he’s stark raving bonkers.” Even as she said that, Bedlam and Pern came rolling out of the shop into the street, punching, biting, and scratching. Bedlam was laughing. Score one for ‘leading indicators’.
“Okay, let’s get the fuck OUT of here!”
“We Can’t!” Glor snapped.
“The last time that Bedlam came after us, he took innocent bystanders hostage to force us to face him on his ground, on his terms. We have to take him out before he can get any hostages.”
“Ah, MAN!” Misty moaned, “Wouldn’t you know it? There isn’t a phone booth, like, ANYWHERE!”
“Phone booth?” we all hooted at her. “You have your ‘Superchick’ shirt on you?” I asked.
“Sure!” she chirped. “It’s like, a rule, right? You always gotta have your supersuit with you at all time, ‘cause you never know when the forces of Evil will strike, right?”
I gave an apologetic grin to the rest of the crew. “ah… she’s new…”
“Well, _actually_,” Glor hedged.
“You have your supersuit with you? And some actual combat gear?”
“Just the focusing gauntlets and the force field reinforcing belt.”
“WELL? What are you waiting for?” Hazard snapped. “Get in there and pop that prannock’s clogs for ‘im!”
“I’m supposed to change out here in the street?” Haz glacially pointed into the clothing store that we were huddled in front of, especially the changing booths. “Oh. Quite.”
“OKAY!” I took charge, since the big-shot superheroine was having problems switching gears from bargain hunter to crime fighter. “Lindsay see if you can scrounge up some backup for Pern. Misty, Glor, CHANGE! NOW! Haz, you keep the store clerks off their backs. Belfy, see if you can kludge something together to, I dunno, give him a headache or something.”
“Me?” Belfy bleated as she cowered behind a car. “What am I supposed to do?”
“You’re a tech genius, with a shopping bag full of techno-toys! Improvise!”
“What are YOU going to do?”
I pulled on my ‘beast-skin’. *I’m gonna get beastly* Now, if this were a cartoon, I’d have copped a pose and said something stirring and dramatic. But hey, get real- I just charged and totally blindsided Bed-lame-o. He’s a Magneto rip-off, so he’s probably used to fighting at range. So, I got right up and started ripping away at his armor.
Gloriana, Misty and Hazard charged into the ‘Something Blue’ lingerie boutique. “May I-” the salesgirl started, but she stopped as the two blondes dashed past her straight over to the curtained changing stalls. “What are-” she was interrupted again when the Chinese girl flashed her with a cell phone.
Belphoebe looked back and forth from the pile of electronic gear in her hands, to the sight of what appeared to be a dragon and a demon mauling a knight in purple & green, and back. They expected her to pull something out of a hat, like on the telly! But everyone knows that you don’t really DO things like that in real life! No, you can’t really fight people who are bigger like Bedlam, or Perry Crocker back at Petersham, or those three hooligans outside the disco last night…
Then it suddenly occurred to her that she HAD fought those three oafs at the club last night. She’d probably sent them to the hospital, and she’d done it all by herself. Glor, Sheba, Misty and Hazard had been there, but they’d let her do it all on her own. Why had she thought that she couldn’t do that? She retreated, and she realized that she’d automatically gone into panic mode. But she wasn’t really all that afraid. She-Beast and Pern had Bedlam covered at the moment. And WHY would she associate a real menace like Bedlam with a cocky schoolyard bully like Crocker? Indeed, even as she thought about Crocker and Stoatley and Bauer, she realized that they were somehow tagged as ‘dangerous’ and ‘fearsome’ in her mind. But why? They were three obnoxious boys who would probably grow up to be obnoxious middle-class nobodies like their parents. Then she realized that Belphegor was afraid of them. But she wasn’t. The panic thing was something that she’d inherited from Belphegor. But while Belphegor would have had to done hundreds of hours of psychotherapy to cope with it- even Belphegor realized that he was neurotic in the extreme- she could simply label that reaction as ‘invalid’ and ignore it. Suddenly, the images of Crocker, Stoatley and Bauer tormenting young Pip Blackadar seemed like a scene from a badly done schoolboy telly show- boring, trite, and happening to someone else.
Looking at the situation with new eyes, Belphoebe realized that she was in a combat situation, and if she didn’t DO something, that there was a very great chance that Bedlam would trash them all. She looked at the tangle of electronics in her hands again. There was the half-finished Energizer Complex Simulation Generator that she’d snitched from the Pater’s locker. When finished, it was supposed to enable Belphegor to duplicate the effects of the Energizer syndrome within his own body. Maybe he’d even get it to burn off some of that hideous fat! But currently, it was glitchy and tended to induce seizures in anyone fool enough to test it…
Suddenly, it struck Belfy that Bill Gates was right- you CAN exploit a flaw as a feature!
#This is getting boring#, Bedlam said as he used a bunch of scrap metal to drag me off of him. #Let’s make it more… interesting…# With a wave of his hand, an entire fire escape structure started ripping itself from it’s moorings on a nearby building. There was a knot of people right underneath, huddling together for safety from the fight going on. #Well, ‘hero’, aren’t you going to save them?# As the bystanders started to bolt, trash cans and other metallic bits of everyday street litter hemmed them in.
God, I hope the judge throws the book at this asshole, when he gets out of the hospital that I’m gonna put him in! I dashed over to the alley, jumped over the improvised barrier and stretched my arms out to catch the dropping fire escape.
#Ooohh… that looks heavy! Here, let me make it heavier…# He lifted a late model Mercedes and dropped it on top of the wreckage of the fire escape. Y’know, I can only lift a little over five tons with my PK shell- and I think that Bedbug knows that…
Pern dragged himself over to where Lindsay was waiting for him with motherly arms. Pern didn’t know that he was just a mystic manifestation that Lindsay created. All that he knew was that Lindsay loved him, and she’d make all the hurting better.
The curtains pulled back at the same time, and the two blonde girls, one wearing a gold-and-white leather bustier with a matching half-mask, boots and gauntlets, and the other wearing a blue T-shirt with a red diamond on the front, a red miniskirt, pink cross-trainers, and a red kerchief over her face, came bustling out at a full gallop. “Hey!” the salesgirl snapped, “Come BACK here! You didn’t pay for that bustier!”
“She came IN with it!” Hazard shot back, as she pulled Gloriana and Misty’s things from the stall.
“Oh yeah,” the salesgirl sneered, “she came in here, with a gold-and-white bustier in her bags, just to change.”
“aaahhh…” Seeing that once again, the facts and common sense weren’t up to coping with authority, Hazard pulled Belphoebe’s ‘cell phone’ out and flashed the salesgirl. Before the salesgirl’s associates could react, Hazard was out the door, bag and baggage. ‘Demmed useful things these,’ Haz mused to herself, ‘wonder what I could offer Belphoebe to whack up a batch of these for the Masterminds…’
While she wasn’t fond of admitting it, Gloria ‘Gloriana’ Everett had been a chubby and unappealing girl before her Exemplar trait kicked in. This may have had something to do with why she chose a structurally reinforced bustier as her ‘superhero’ costume. And she was used to wearing the skimpy, very revealing outfit for many occasions. So, it wasn’t until she left the warmth of the lingerie shop that it occurred to her that a glorified one-piece bathing suit might not be the best thing to wear onto a wind-swept Boston street in the beginning of February, during one of the harshest winters in memory.
As Bedlam added another late-model sedan on top of what I was already just barely managing to hold up, I got the impression that at least the civilians had wrapped their collective heads around the idea that I wasn’t going to try to eviscerate them. Unfortunately, those stupid trashcans were still keeping them hemmed in, so the civilians couldn’t get out and to safety. Then, just as I was about to buckle under the weight, it suddenly got lighter. I heard Misty’s voice yell, “HEY, BEDBUG! Catch!” And one of the cars that Bedlam had thrown on top of me went flying at him.
Bedlam just deflected the car, of course. But he sent it flying down to the ground, where it crashed into another car just below where he was hovering. The two crashing cars exploded (which is odd, as any devout watcher of Mythbusters will tell you) sending a big column of fire up. Bedlam reeled, and my freshman Physics classes suddenly paid off- electromagnetic fields are disrupted by sudden increases in heat. So, Bedloon doesn’t like fire, eh? *Mi- er, Superchick! Don’t bother with the cars! Get these people out of here!*
Misty immediately saw what I was talking about- adding fuel to the ‘Is Misty a dingbat, or smarter than she acts?’ debate- and pushed the trashcans aside. As soon as the last of the civilians skittered to safety, I ducked out from under the fire escape and let it crash. I charged right at Bedlam, who was trading shots with Gloriana. *Hey, Bedbug!* I shouted as I charged, *You like playing games? I got a new game for you! It’s called Fifty-two Card Pickup!* With that, I sprayed my entire deck of bespelled cards at him. Now, this might not seem like very much, and to be honest, each of the effects that I coded onto each of the cards was pretty minor. On the other hand, Bedlame was suddenly coping with Fifty-Two separate and distinct magical effects ALL AT ONCE.
And, as a capper, I pulled off something that I’ve been planning for months, but haven’t had any real opportunity to do yet. You may have asked yourself, ‘Why, being the apotheosis of coolness and savvy that she is, didn’t She-Beast just drain Bedlard-for-brains of his energy while she was shredding his armor, the way that she did with Bravo?’ The answer is simple- I did, and it didn’t make any difference. I saturated my shell with energy and he was still large and in charge. Whatever else he may be, Bedlam has LOTS of energy. Of course, that energy packed away in my shell didn’t just go away. As a matter of fact that electromagnetism in my shell was the only reason that I was able to hold up a fire escape, a SUV and two more reasonably sized sedans, which would normally have been WAY over my limit. The point to all of this is that I’ve been planning this uber-cool move where I use my shell to compact the oxygen and nitrogen in the air, and ignite it by using thermokinesis to move enough heat to create the necessary spark. The problem that I’d been having was that it was COLD on that street! But, I was able to substitute all that electromagnetic energy for heat energy.
Short form- I breathed fire all over him.
He didn’t like it.
But he really didn’t like it when Misty dropped a big slab of broken sidewalk on his pointy little head. Then Belphy came out of nowhere. “Hold him!” As I pinned his arms and Misty sat on his back, Belfy scrambled to affix this electronic thing to the remnants of his electro-magnetic power harness, which I’d done such a good job of shredding. Then Bedlam reared back and threw all three of us off of him.
He rose up, and the air rippled with his power. #Well, it’s been fun playing with you little bitches, but now I think that it’s time that I got down to the business of ripping your guts out. Any funny last words, She-Beast?# He paused and then he started to spin like a top. #What? What’s this? What did you DO?# He rose up into the air, still spinning out of control.
As we gathered together, Gloriana asked, “What DID you do to him, Belfy?”
“LATER!” Hazard said, looking at her Blackberry. “Look up there!” She pointed up in the sky, where a streak of light was approaching. “It’s the Lamplighter! Scatter!” In Boston, ‘It’s the Lamplighter’ is sort of like saying ‘It’s Green Lantern!’ Or it would be, if Green Lantern were a notoriously humorless SOB who didn’t really care about little trivialities like proportion or self-defense. If we hung around, he’d probably kick the shit out of all of us on general principles and hand us over to the MCO. There are superheroes in Boston who are pretty reasonable men and women- the Lamplighter ain’t one of ‘em.
“Meet back at the hotel!”
Gloriana and Misty all took off in different directions, Lindsay gave Belfy a ride on Pern’s back, and Hazard did a series of acrobatic leaps up to the rooftops. Me? I let the cops chase me for a few blocks, hid, dropped my ‘beast skin’ and did the classic ‘He went that-a-way!’ bit. Then I calmly walked back to the limo, and told Malloy to drive me back to the hotel.
Back at the Mayfair, Belfy was bubbling over with excitement. “I don’t believe it!” she said for about the thousandth time. “That was fan-bloody-tastic! I just did it! I didn’t run, or go cowering around in corners like that slug Pip-”
“I think she’s talking about Belphegor.”
“Only two days old, and already rebelling against Daddy.”
“What a precocious little tyke.”
Misty looked over my shoulder as I banged away at my laptop. “What are you doing, Jadis?”
“Changing our travel arrangements.”
“Because we gotta get out of town, like NOW!”
There was a general consensus of ‘What?’ “But our train doesn’t leave until Seven!” Gloriana complained.
“One of the first things that you learn, living with supervillains,” I said, “is that the first thing that you do when grit hits the fan is pull up stakes and move!”
“But we didn’t do anything wrong!”
“Glor, do you know what the opening charge against superheroes usually is, when the Authorities decide to press charges?”
“Property damage? Reckless Endangerment?”
“No, it’s leaving the scene of a crime. Proving who wrecked what is always problematic, and ‘Reckless Endangerment’ is so subjective that a good lawyer can argue around it. But they can prove that you left the scene of a crime, and they use that to leverage you into bigger charges.”
“She’s RIGHT, Glor,” Hazard said with a weary hard voice. “We can’t afford to get arrested, and as a group, we stand out too much.”
“Spot on, Haz,” I said. “After Belfy, the ones that stand out the most are Me, You, then Lindsay. Belfy, start putting on your faux-skin NOW!”
“What about our packages?” Glor asked, picking up on the problem. “They’ll be watching the trains, and anyone trotting about the station with the kinds of packages that we’ve got will be sure to catch the eyes of the police.”
“I’ve contacted FedEx,” I explained. “They’ll pick up our packages at the front desk, just like they did with the things we picked up yesterday, and deliver them to the concierge at Melville.”
“We’ll have to break up,” Hazard said. “A teenage Asian girl palling around with a bunch of round-eyes wouldn’t normally be that odd, but it would be the first thing that the Peelers would look for. I can make my way back to Whateley on my own, no problem.”
“How?” Lindsay asked.
“Don’t bother going all the way to Whateley by yourself,” I suggested. “Just get to the train station in Manchester by 8 PM.”
“Even so, it would help if we split up even more. Lindsay and I will take an air taxi from one of the smaller airports to Manchester, and Glor, you take Misty and Belfy with you on the train. We all meet in the coffee shop at the train station in Manchester, and take the next-to-last Miskatonic Shuttle back to school.”
“Why are you two taking a plane, while we have to take the train?” Belfy asked peevishly.
“Because, we’re the ones who can least afford to get picked up. Besides, Pern gets real aggressive when Lindsay feels threatened; that would only make things worse. Like, calling out the National Guard worse. I know how to keep Lindsay calm, but the sooner that we’re safely in New Hampshire, the better. Besides, as long as you don’t do anything stupid, the only attention that three gorgeous blonde teenage girls will get will be the usual kind.”
The next three hours were tense, but not particularly noteworthy. Hazard somehow managed to beat us there, and we waited for about an hour for the last three to make it. By Eight o’clock, we were on the next-to-last Grand Miskatonic Shuttle and on our way to Dunwich. Once the real danger was past, we were able to enjoy retelling what happened. Which I’m sure was a vast help in Gloriana typing up her incident report for the Administration. <smug evil grin>
By the time that we actually got back to Whateley, it was rising Ten o’clock, and Lindsay was drooping. Gloriana all but carried her over to Dickinson, and the rest of us trooped up the hill to Melville.
You know that you’ve overdone the shopping, when you need superpowers to carry all your boodle up the stairs. Belfy was all abuzz about her big adventure again, now that it was completely over, and Misty was bubbling right along with her. “That was SO KEWL, the way that you-”
“-and the way that you threw those-”
“-and then he-”
And they kept it up all the way to room 409. I piled my boxes on top of Misty’s and knocked. I heard Jobe’s (?) voice say that he was coming, and after a while, Jobe did in fact open his door. He was wearing that maroon satin and velvet dressing gown and sunglasses “Sheba? What are- oh, right. Shopping trip.”
He opened the door and we came trooping in. “So, Jobe, how much did you get done?” I asked, “Oh, nice work! Say, what’s with the Hugh Hefner get-up? Are we interrupting a hot date? And what’s with the almonds?”
Jobe peered imperiously at Belfy through the sunglasses. “Young lady, do you know what time it is? As your putative mother I must say that I do NOT approve of you staying out to all hours with hooligans like these.”
I almost rose to the bait, but then I noticed something. “Jobe, what’s the matter with your voice?”
“What do you mean, ‘what’s the matter with my voice’?” He back-pedaled. “My voice is just like it’s always been!”
“No, and it’s not like the contralto that I remember hearing the last time that I saw you…” I peered at him, and he wilted slightly under my scrutiny. “And, come to think of it, what IS the deal with the sunglasses at night?”
“Oh, that’s so I can… so I can…” Jobe didn’t even try to make his voice more masculine as he struggled to think up a plausible lie.
I reached over and pulled the sunglasses from his needle nose. A pair of inhumanly large and falsely innocent-seeming almond shaped lavender-colored eyes looked back at me in near panic. “What the hell…?” I snatched at the cheek that should have still been pasty white, and underneath it was matte black skin. I stripped off the rest of the bogus dermis, and a minor prosthetic for the nose came off with it. Somehow, I was looking at Belphoebe, except for the purple eyes. “Belfy, what are you doing, wearing Jobe’s clothes?”
Jobe started to prattle, and I fixed him with the ‘severe big sister’ look that I’ve perfected with Malachai. “You’re all girl, aren’t you, Jobe? Did someone attack you? They DID, and they really beat the crap out of you, and you regenerated back completely as a girl! Aaarrrggghh!! I don’t BELIEVE this!” I pulled out my cell phone and started dialing Ray’s number. “Who did it, Jobe? This is WAY over the line! I’m calling an All-Out Bad Seed Retribution Strike! It was Counterpoint, wasn’t it? I knew that I shouldn’t have trusted those two refugees from Bullfinch’s Mythology, Imperious and Majestic, to keep him in line!”
“Oh, I’m not doing this for YOU, y’know! Dammit all, when I negotiate a truce, I damn well expect that truce to be observed! I think that it’s about damned time that people around here wrapped their heads around the face that we Bad Seeds aren’t just related to dangerous people, that we’re pretty damned deadly all on our own!”
“It wasn’t Counterpoint!”
“Oh? Who was it then?”
“It’s not your problem,” he- or, now, she said with totally uncharacteristic humility. She even did that bit where you trace circles on the floor with your foot- where the hell did she pick THAT up?
“I beg to differ, Jobe,” I kept at him. “Like I said, when I negotiate a truce, I expect it to be honored. Who beat you up, Jobe?”
“Nobody beat me up,” she droned like a whiny four-year old. Which eliminates any doubt that this is, indeed, Jobe.
“Then what happened?” I gave him the look that I learned from Mrs. Hirschfeldt, the mother of one of my friends back in New York; that woman had a black belt in browbeat.
“Well, I’d exhausted all conventional methods of restoring myself, so I was forced to resort to an unconventional means. The idea was that I’d- well, do you remember what happened last month, when that moron Newt got into my stuff and spread my Super Flu all around the school?”
“Do I? I don’t know which was worse, the sniffling, or the quarantine, or having to go to Hawthorne and letting that Waite chick stick her- omigawd…! You didn’t!”
Jobe looked like she’d just sucked on a rotten lemon, but she nodded. “You went to the Demon Princess? The one that you’ve been spending the better part of three months trying to KILL? The one that you sent the carnivorous cross-trainers after? The radium-impregnated black widow spiders? The Killer Kudzu? The acidic fungus? The mock shoggoth? The Ebola impregnated soap? THAT demon princess?”
“Demon Princess?” I heard Misty ask.
“Not now,” Hazard whispered, “it’s just getting good!”
“I figured that if I offered to call off the vendetta, that she’d agree to… do what she did to the Super Flu, only with the Drow cells.”
“Just like that? You walk up, say ‘let’s be buds’, and then you put your life in her hands?”
“Of course not!” Jobe was genuinely offended. “I had her sign a contract first.”
“What? Jay-Arm screwed up a contract?” That surprised me. While Nephandus has more shortcomings that I personally care to list, he writes a demonic contract that Mephistopheles couldn’t wriggle out of.
“Jay-Arm?” Misty again.
“Hush!” Hazard again.
“I didn’t bring Nephandus into it,” Jobe said mulishly. “I wrote the contract myself.”
“WHAT?” I exploded, “What’s the point of this whole ‘Bad Seed’ jazz, if you don’t use the pool of expertise at hand? I mean, we’ve put up with Jay-Arm for how long, and the first time that he’d actually be USEFUL, you forget about him? How can anyone who talks as much as you do about how big a frickin’ GENIUS he is, be so fucking STUPID?”
“HEY, I DID my HOMEWORK!”
“Let me guess- the Internet? Jobe, how many classified Bio-War processes are listed on the Internet? Zip, right? Now, tell me- what makes you think that anyone… ANY ONE with even the slightest idea of how trafficking with demons is done, would put ANYTHING about that on the Internet?”
“My contract was perfect,” Jobe pouted. “Damn sex demon cheated when she signed.”
“What was it? A complex diagram that looked like a name, but was actually ‘go fuck yourself’ written all jumbled together?” Jobe looked sheepish. I let out a long disgusted noise. “Okay, how badly did she screw you over?”
“Well, she ate up all of my unaltered cells. I’m 100% Drow now. Oh, yes- and 100% female.”
“Really?” I asked, amazed. “Is that all? No curses, no gaesa, no taboos, no compulsions? Woof! Did YOU get off light!”
“LIGHT?” Jobe yelped. She ripped her robe and pajamas top open, revealing two ripe, budding B-cup at least breasts with bright, eye-catching pink nipples. “You call this LIGHT?”
Jobe. Not only do I have to live across the hall from Jobe fucking Wilkins. Not only is he a girl now, but he has bigger tits that I do! OH GOD, HOW HAVE I SO OFFENDED YOU?
I mastered my emotions with a discipline that, screw Master Ito, Guittama Siddhartha would have envied. “Yes,” I said with equanimity, “you did. You gave a demon, a freaking demon princess, free and unrestricted access to your body, and by extension your mind and soul. Remember, this is the girl that you sent the Rape Squid and Dildo Viper after! She could have done anything to you! She could have implanted a compulsion to go down on every male that you saw!”
“Yes…” Jobe hedged- he… no, dammit, Jobe’s a she now! But the little bitch was hiding something! “I’ll keep that in mind, and let you know if any… untoward impulses occur.”
Dammit, she looked so miserable, so completely unlike the smug, snide, smirking butthead that has made me want to maul him on more occasions than I want to think about, that I just had to give her a reassuring hug. She wrapped her arms around me, and I was just thinking that maybe, just maybe, this might be good for Jobe, that maybe she’ll learn… “Jobe… are you rubbing your tits against mine?”
“Well, that’s what girls DO, isn’t it?”
I pulled away and was about to save the world from whatever horrific doom that this monstrosity was fated to bring about with a single swipe of my psychokinetic claws, when Misty stepped in gushing, “Oh Jobe, don’t be so down! We’re here for you!” She gave Jobe a big hug, but somehow avoided the ‘dog humping your leg’ reflex that Jobe seems to have. “And you would be SO PROUD of Belfy! She was absolutely Awesome!”
“Yeah!” Misty launched into a disjointed recollection of our adventures in Beantown as Belfy stood by and glowed with pride. “And she looks totally hawt in the stuff she got! I mean, for someone who’s supposed to think that she’s a guy, Belfy is rilly getting into it.”
“Yes,” Belfy breathed in stroked vanity, “while I- er, that is, the Pater, would never admit it, you ARE the very best Jobe. And this,” she waved a hand to indicate her entire body, “is a true masterpiece.”
“If you’re going to steal, steal from the very best?” Jobe said in an acidulous sneer.
“I mean, looking back, I am SO GLAD that Pip didn’t try to build this all by himself!” Belfy continued. “Can you IMAGINE the cock-up that he’d have made of it?”
Jobe nodded in appreciation of her own handiwork. Then that speculative gleam, the one that usually meant that she was trying to set someone up, got in her eye. “Well, as I remember, I sent you lot out three days ago to buy clothing. Well, let's see what you got... yourself.”
Belfy didn’t need to have her arm twisted, “Ooohh... well, maybe I'll show you a few. Now don't peek.” Belfy was wriggling into that yummy yellow (take it from me, you wouldn’t believe how well that shade of yellow goes with Belfy’s complexion!) Versace number, when the door opened. Darcy ‘Sizzle’ Dreyer waltzed in like she owned the joint. Darcy is one of those girls who give Melville cottage the unfortunate reputation that it has on campus. I mean, it’s one thing to be nouveau riche (heck, Malachai and I are nouveau riche), it’s another to passionately embrace the stereotype.
“a-HEM!” Hazard snapped. “There is a quaint little Old World practice, one that you MAY have heard of- it’s called ‘knocking’!”
“Oh, don’t mind me-“ Darcy breezed, “I just heard that you’d come back from the big shopping expedition.” I cast a look at Jobe. It was his- no, I keep forgetting, HER room, and it would do Darcy a world of good to get the business from an expert. Instead, Jobe was just casting greedy eyes at the bags and boxes. Okay… something happened while I was away. I wonder who I’m gonna have to torture to find out what.
Befly finished shimmying into the Versace. We girls turned back around, and everyone gave an admiring ‘oohhh..” . It was obviously THE latest thing, and it made Belfy look absolutely fabulous. Then Jobe or Sizzle noticed something.
Darcy copped a pose with a finger against her cheek. “Hmm, could be a touch snugger in the waist, couldn't it? Can't say I'm that impressed with their job. Who...?”
In sudden ‘realization’, Jobe scrambled for one of the dress boxes. She roughly pulled out the dress, looking at the tag.
Jobe said in faux horror, “It's got a ... *size*!”
Darcy gasped in shock.
Jobe, gasped, “Where did you get this?”
Darcy said, very catty, “I hear she got it at Saks.”
Jobe asked, obviously recognizing the joke, “Fifth Avenue?”
Darcy snickered, “No-- Gunny's!”
Jobe and Darcy laughed like twin harpies. (Get it? Gunny sacks? Sorry, but that’s the sort of joke that petit bourgeois snobs like Sizzle tell.) I snapped, “That's enough, Jobe! It's not about the labels or the PR; it's about the clothes. And we brought back some FABULOUS outfits.”
“Yes, I'm sure the Sears collection is very ... sensible,” Jobe said dismissively. “Please tell me you had a fitting for at least ONE of the outfits in here!”
Hazard wasn’t having it. “Oh, come on! It was a raid. Quick'n'dirty. In and out. That's all we had time for.”
“Jobe,” I said in a ‘don’t mess with me, I knew you when’ voice, “nobody, and I do mean NOBODY wears straight of the rack. We bought these with the explicit idea of taking them to Rogers in Dunwich for alteration. And nobody does better at fitting and alterations than Mrs. Rogers.”
Jobe massaged her forehead. “I blame myself. Well, there's no help for it. You can wear these things until we can get something decent. Afterward, perhaps I can use some extra rags in the lab.”
Belfy gasped, “But this is a Versace!”
Darcy sneered, “Donatella or Gianni? Anyway, darling, haven't you heard? Versace was dropped from the official Haute list.”
Jobe peered intently at Belfy, and received an inspiration. “You know, Dontatella might be interested. What do you think of Feebs as a model? She'd need training of course. A ton of training. But still... I'm thinking, ‘Black is the new black’.”
Darcy considered it. “She'd like the hair. Hers isn't quite that white. But if you offered her what you offered me...
Jobe was suddenly inspired. “I'll need photos and biometrics of everyone going. Someone to train Feebs in modeling. Darce -- can you contact Gianni Versace? I'll get the jet from Dad -- oh, yeah, we could open a clinic in Karadonia. This could be BIG, couldn't it?”
I rubbed the bridge of my nose, and sighed, “Jobe- Gianni Versace is dead.”
“He was murdered in Miami’s South Beach.”
“WHAT? This is an outrage! When did this happen?”
“1997.” That shut the little turd up.
I reached over and patted her cheek. “Look, Jobe, I know that all this has been very hard, very trying for you. Fortunately, I know JUST the thing to get you into the swing of things.” I pulled out my cell phone. “Glor? Jadis. Do you have anything planned for next weekend? Well then, pencil it booked! No, we’re not going to Boston. We’ve DONE Boston. Like they’d let us back in. Nope, there’s nowhere to go but… NEW YORK! That’s right, Fifth Avenue, here we come! Why? Well, Glor, hold onto your hair, wait till you hear THIS ONE!”
The next day, as expected, after classes all six of us were called into Headmistress Carson’s office. Hey, if you haven’t been called into Carson’s office at least once, then you’re not really trying. She glowered at us over the tops of her reading glasses (reading glasses, to be more intimidating. Really!) and tapped her pen on her blotter. “At this rate, the Boston Police is going to require that we give them 72 hours notice, every time that a group of our students travels to the greater Boston area. Miss Everett, despite the impressions that many seem to have, Whateley is NOT a school for superheroes! By engaging Bedlam the way that you did, you not only risked massive collateral property damage and endangered bystanders, but you risked being arrested. Why didn’t you just leave him to the police?”
I stepped forward. There’s no reason for Glor to take all the heat when she doesn’t have to. “Miz Carson, we didn’t pull a Team Kimba and go looking for this guy- he came looking for US.”
“How do you know that?”
“He was waiting for us in the store. He even complained that we kept him waiting.”
Carson tapped her pen on her desk again. “I see. So, Miss Diabolik, dragging outside vendettas into school matters?”
I shook my head. “I never heard of this guy before, and he’s not involved in any vendettas with my dad. Or, at least, he wasn’t before.”
“How are you sure about that?”
“I initiated a blind contact with Dad, and asked him. Dad says that the last time that he had anything to do with Bedlam, it was twenty years ago, pure business, and he hasn’t heard anything about him since.”
Hazard stepped forward. “Ma’am, this Bedlam poses a threat to school safety, and Security should look into it immediately.”
Carson leaned back. “And exactly why is that, Miss Conroy-Xiao?”
Haz ticked off her reasons, “First, he knew that we were coming to Boston. Second, he knew that Gloriana would head for that ‘Scarborough Faire’ place. Third, your average thug at least blinks twice when a flipping dragon jumps them. Bedlam just laughed. Fourth, he knew She-Beast, by her code-name. Not as Dr. Diabolik’s daughter, but as the She-Beast. Lump that all together, and you have someone who knows an awful lot about plans that were thrown together at the last minute.”
“AND, he had a pretty good idea of how much I can lift,” I added. “Even if he has been rumbling with the Capes pretty regular, I’ve never heard of this guy before, so how does he know so much about me?”
Carson nodded. “And there’s the question as to why a veteran supervillain is picking on a bunch of high school kids in the first place.”
“I don’t think that this person is the Bedlam who’s associated with that costume,” I offered.
“Oh? Enlighten me.”
“Well, first, Bedlam was unmasked as Herbert Ladzig in 1985. I took the liberty of googling him while we were on the train back. His face and voice are a matter of record. So, he has no ‘secret identity’ to conceal. He had no reason to wear that bucket helmet or use that voice changer. Also, while he used a power booster for his magnetic powers, he wasn’t all that into power armor. And, Ladzig hasn’t been seen or heard from since that incident in Bogota in ’94. And a fruitcake like Bedlam isn’t the type to lay low for very long. So, the ‘Bedlam’ that we went toe-to-toe with in Boston was someone whose face, voice, body frame, age, ethnicity and even SEX we can’t be sure about, who’s using the nom de guerre and motif of someone who they would have every reason to believe isn’t operative anymore.”
Carson nodded, but kept up her poker face. “Miss Everett, why did you avoid the police?”
Hazard stepped forward again. “My fault, Ma’am. I had reasons to wish to avoid speaking with the Boston Police. Also, it would have been best if She-Beast and Dragonrider had as little to do with either the Police or the MCO as possible. Belphoebe doesn’t really EXIST yet, at least not on paper, if I understand correctly, so there would be nothing but snarls and complications there. And, er, *snicker* ‘Superchick’ doesn’t have a MID yet, so more of the same. And if Gloriana had stuck around, she’d have had all sorts of ‘why did your friends leave, and who are they’ questions to answer.”
“Nicely justified, Hazard.” Carson picked up a newspaper. “At least you all took reasonable precautions to keep your faces hidden.” She flickered a look at Gloriana. “Miss Everett, was that outfit really appropriate for this time of year?”
“A point that I was keenly aware of, from the moment that I hit the open air,” Glor replied.
“Not even a cape?”
“It was a matter of carrying space- capes take up a surprising lot of room.”
“Don’t I know it,” Carson sighed. “At least the Press seems to be painting you as the heroes of the situation-this time.” She threw the newspaper, the Boston Globe, in front of us. There were dramatic glamour shots of Glor doing her energy thing and Misty hefting a car over her head, but the front page was dominated by a big picture of me- or at least my ‘beast-skin’- protecting the civilians from being crushed by the collapsed fire escape.
Carson turned her attention to Belfy. “So, Belphoebe! How are you coming along?”
Belfy stuck out her chest proudly (she does that a lot lately) and said, “Well… it’s… odd… But I definitely see what you meant- about me becoming more than just a copy of Be- er, my father. I have developed an… appreciation for my situation that I didn’t have before. And I think that I owe a lot of that to this crew.”
Carson gave a sour half-smile. “And speaking of ‘this crew’- can we expect to hear more from you lot, as a group? Shall we register you as a team?”
We looked around at each other, and managed to come to a consensus. “No, not really…”
“It was fun, but I do have friends of my own…”
“I’d love to do it again, but not as a regular thing.”
“One is fun, more’s a war.”
Carson seemed strangely relieved by that answer. “Well then- Belphoebe! According to Miss Everett’s incident report, you affixed some sort of device to Bedlam’s armor that seemed to settle the matter. Precisely what did you DO to him?”
Belfy beamed. “Well, I- that is, the p- my father, Belphegor, has been working on a devise to duplicate the Energizer state in a non-energizer body. He- er, we have had some success with it, but only with cats and dogs, and even then, it’s glitchy as all get out. I had picked up his latest iteration with an eye towards working on it for a bit. When faced with Bedlam, I realized that the unit’s defects would work perfectly as an Energizer-disrupter when patched into his power booster.” Belfy paused, something apparently occurring to her. “Though, in practice, it didn’t so much disrupt his magnetic matrix, as it locked it into a set pattern that he couldn’t control.” She pulled out a PDA and started making notes. “I’ll have to look into that…”
“By the way, Mrs. Carson,” I cut in, “when will Belfy begin Magical Concepts 101?”
“Why would she need MC 101?”
Gotcha! “Because she’s magically active.”
“I am?” Belfy chirped.
“Yes, I noticed it each time that you reacted to a danger situation. It was pure luck the first time, but I noticed the same thing each time. You’re going to have to be tested for the specifics, but look at the bright side! Besides putting you one up on Belphegor, it should completely alter your schedule so that you won’t have to share classes with him!” I mean, talk about the embarrassing parent from Hell!
“Yes, Belphoebe, you will have to be tested and classified,” Carson said smoothly. Man, she has a good poker face. I couldn’t tell whether she was hiding the fact that she’d been blindsided by the information that Belfy wouldn’t go Protein Antagonist, or if she was laughing at me for thinking that she’d missed it.
Satisfied that she wasn’t dealing with the next iteration of Team Kimba, Carson let us go. Misty and I lead Belfy, who still had her nose in her PDA out of the office. “So, Jadis!” Misty chirped, “I hear that the Crystal Hall is a cool place to hang. Wanna come with me and Belfy, and check out the scene?” It looks like Misty has designated Belfy and me as her two new best buds.
“aaahhh… Sure! But first, I gotta take care of something back at Melville. I’ll catch up with you at the Crystal Hall.”
In my room, I made sure that the door was shut, the lock was set, and the anti-intrusion charm was running. Once I was sure, I walked up to my wardrobe, and knocked out the Morse Code for ‘W’. Section W is my very own special secret, never to be shown to anyone, for it holds my greatest secret.
Section W is my shrine. I lit the tea-candles and gazed, yes, I admit it, worshipfully at the large picture of HER. The White Witch. Denver’s greatest superheroine. Guiding light of Heaven’s Thunder, the superhero team that guards Denver and the greater Rockies area. Mistress of magic and the winter winds. She has magic but her powers are mostly psychokinetic, like mine. She’s tall and slender, but graceful and regal- not like me. But her face is long and thin, like mine. But her features are well composed, and her lips are full and warm- not like mine. And her eyes- she has my eyes- or, do I have hers? Her eyes are large, round, and golden, like the snowy owl that is her familiar and companion- and mine.
I have every picture of her and article that I could find. I have drawings of every version of her classic white-on-white outfit. I have every figure and doll that they ever made of her, even that cheesy 12” thing that Heaven’s Thunder’s lawyers made them stop production of. I’ve learned everything that I possibly could about her. For instance, I learned that seventeen years ago, she mysteriously went missing for two years. Right about the time that I was born. I’ve asked Dad about who my mom was, and he always shuts up like a steel trap. None of his lieutenants will talk about it.
So, she MIGHT be.
I don’t know for sure.
When I was little, I used to spend a lot of time spinning elaborate tales of how my mother and father met, fell in love, and had to part.
But these days, I’ve developed another theory. It’s not as sweet, but it’s a lot more likely.
So, she MIGHT be. My name, ‘Jadis’, is the name of the main villain in the Chronicles of Narnia- better known as ‘the White Witch’.
She has the same eyes as me.
I unfolded the newspaper, and showed it to the main picture, which looked back at me with my own golden eyes. “Mom? Look! I made the newspaper! I did good? I’m a hero?”
Do I dare hope that someday, she’ll look back with real eyes, smile, and tell me that she’s proud of me?