Kayda 3: Two Spirits (Chapter 2)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
Kayda 3: Two Spirits
Chapter 2 - Ichimani (the Travelers)
Friday, April 6, 2007, afternoon
"Have a good time," Nikki said as I carried my bag out into the hall.
I gave her a hug. I know it was a girly thing to do, but I was getting to like hugging my friends more and more. "You, too. Is there anything you need?"
She smiled - a little. "No.
Giving Evvie a hug, I picked up my bag and scooted down the hall and toward Schuster. As I passed Melville, Adalie and Alicia joined me, carrying their bags and already chatting excitedly about the break. Even though she'd been reluctant at first to come with me to South Dakota, Adalie seemed quite pleased at the chance to get away from campus for a week.
At Schuster, we piled into a shuttle bus that would take us to Berlin's airport. This was one of those days when the buses were running frequently and full, because everyone wanted to get away from campus for a bit. In Berlin, the three of us would go in different directions - Adalie and I had a direct flight to Chicago, while Alicia would catch a different flight to La Guardia in New York.
With trepidation, the three of us approached the MCO security checkpoint. They'd dealt with the MCO in airports before, but I hadn't. All I knew was the horror stories that students told about their experiences with airport checkpoints, like Ayla being delayed deliberately so he missed flights, and being detained after saving a host of teen beauty-pageant contestants from a demon. With the misadventure I'd had with the Sioux Falls MCO office, I was nervous, even though my experience with the Chicago office had been very positive. One bad agent could make a hundred good agents look bad too, or, as Dad always said, "one 'aw, shit' wipes out a hundred 'attaboys'."
Because it was Berlin, there was a line at the MCO checkpoint. For security reasons, the checkpoint was in the middle of a heavily-reinforced 'tunnel' that could be almost instantly sealed at both ends in case of problems with a mutant. Only one mutant at a time was allowed within the 'trap' in the security zone - again, for obvious reasons. Trying to keep my nerves calm, I stepped to the officer when it was my turn and handed him my MID. Without looking away from my eyes, he gestured toward a scanner, which I'd watched other kids place their hands on. I did likewise, and the machine did some kind of scan on me.
The officer frowned; no doubt he'd heard of the agents in Sioux Falls being arrested. I hoped he wasn't friends with them. "Anything to declare?"
I knew we had to declare anything that could be dangerous; some kids were authorized to carry even handguns while traveling. "My ritual Lakota knife, and my tomahawk."
"Let me see them." He still hadn't taken his eyes from me.
Dutifully, I unsheathed and handed Wakan Mila to him, and then handed him a tomahawk that Mr. Two Knives had given me - just in case, he said.
"I meant, do you have anything more dangerous than a little cutlery?" the agent snapped scornfully.
Behind me, Alicia and Adalie snorted as they tried to contain an outburst of laughter at the agent's remark. He turned his head and shot them a disapproving stare, before returning his attention to me.
"This knife is longer than permissible under TSA guidelines."
"It's a ritual Lakota knife, part of my religious heritage." I heard my friends snort again; no doubt they would have thought it hilarious if I mentioned that I was a channeler for the object of my 'religion'. "It's permissible within regulations."
"Do you have any confirmation that you're legitimately entitled to the religious exception?" He was being a bit pissy.
I nodded, reaching into my purse. Bless Grandma Little Doe - she'd faxed copies of two separate enrollment forms, one for Kayda Franks, and the other for Pejuta. They didn't have BIA approval yet, but everything else was legit. "You should encode this type of pertinent information on the MID," I observed, trying to sound helpful. "It would simplify things and help verify exceptions." I saw him looking at me through narrowed eyes, frowning. "And it would cut down on people attempting to game the system by claiming exceptions they're not entitled to," I added. The frown lessened a bit as he realized that my suggestion would add security to the MID.
"You're clear. Step out of the check zone." He'd already dismissed me. "Next!"
I waited while Adalie and Alicia went through the checkpoint, grinning at the agent's naiveti the whole time. The agent took a little longer with Adalie, probably because her foreign MID, and he also made her show her passport and visa.
"If he'd seen y'all in action with that tomahawk, he'd have never let y'all on the plane," Alicia chuckled.
"Me?" I asked, giggling. "What about Mr. Two Knives?"
Alicia's plane was already starting to board, so we wished her well, hoping she had an exciting time in New York City, and then we got a snack while we waited for our flight. Since there were few major connections out of Berlin to the rest of the country, I wasn't surprised to see fifteen or twenty kids that I recognized, also waiting for the Chicago flight.
"Evvie!" I called to my roommate when I saw her sitting, reading.
She perked up and looked around. "Kayda!"
"What happened? You were supposed to be on an earlier flight."
Evvie scowled. "Mechanical problems on the inbound flight, so they changed flights for a lot of us."
"I wonder if we can change seats so we can sit together," I speculated.
Evvie smiled. "We won't know unless we try."
We managed to talk the gate attendants into shuffling things around so the three of us could sit together, and then we engaged in that favorite pastime of school-girls - gossiping about who was seeing whom, and who had broken up. Of course, the gossip had a unique Whateley twist, and we quickly got to the rumors that Jobe - JOBE - was going home for a betrothal party. Our collective big question was who in their right mind would want to marry Jobe? Sure, the family was rich, and they ruled a Caribbean island, but it was Jobe! Daughter of a villain, and arrogant as sin. But she was cute. In a very unique way. But still an asshole. We giggled for over half an hour figuring out what husband would be proper payback for all Jobe's arrogance and condescending behavior
So I was behaving like a schoolgirl. Well guess what? I was a schoolgirl, and I was slowly getting more and more into the role without realizing it. And Wakan Tanka said I wasn't accepting my female spirit? Pbthhhh.
While waiting for the plane, and again on the flight, we were getting a bit silly about what exactly a betrothal celebration was, and what Jobe's wedding - and wedding night - would be like. Frankly, I hadn't realized that Adalie was so creative and colorful with her verbal imagery; we were either laughing like hyenas or blushing furiously whenever she added commentary. I think Evvie's ribs hurt as much as mine from laughing so hard. People around us seemed to be getting annoyed because they didn't completely understand what we were laughing about, not understanding the school life at Whateley, with all its zaniness.
It was almost a relief to land in Chicago and disembark. Both Evvie and I needed a break from the rib-splitting chuckles and guffaws. As soon as I was off the plane, I turned to find the flight information monitors to check on the time and location of our connecting flight. As late as it was, very few flights were on-time due to the daily propagation of delays through the air travel system.
"Our flight to Sioux Falls is delayed," I told Adalie. "We've got an extra half hour."
"To do what?" she asked. "I never liked waiting in airports, unless they 'ave a first-class lounge."
I chuckled. "Sorry. I'm not a priority club member."
"Kayda!" Evvie called to me from a ways down the concourse.
I looked around, and after a bit, I found her - mostly because she was waving her arms like semaphore signal flags to catch my attention. There was someone standing beside her, wearing a super-hero costume that looked like an old world war 1 flying getup, with leather helmet and goggles, and an ascot around his neck. I'd seen that before - here in Chicago. "Wing Nut?" I stammered.
Wing Nut grinned, his arm around his little sister. "You remember me, Kayda! I'm touched."
I chuckled, shaking his hand. I wasn't about to try a hug, not with my PTSD and Evvie's caution about how he'd found me attractive. "Hard to forget someone who drops from the sky and plays superhero to a damsel in distress. Or two of them." I turned to quickly explain to Adalie. "On our way to Whateley, Mom and I had car problems. Wing Nut came to help out."
"It was nothing," Wing Nut said, half blushing. At least the half of his face visible beneath his costume headpiece.
"What are you doing here? They only let ticketed passengers past the checkpoint," I observed.
Wing Nut smiled. I had to admit that his smile was friendly. "And law enforcement, which includes licensed heroes. So I took the opportunity to meet my little sis."
"Oh, this is my friend, Adalie Vitesse," I added, having overlooked, momentarily, social niceties. "She's also a student at Whateley."
Wing Nut gave her a very appreciative glance. "Welcome to the Windy City."
"We are only traveling through," Adalie said, her French accent plain to hear. "So we won't 'ave time for, as you say, seeing the sights."
Wing Nut's eyes widened, and if anything, his smile broadened. "Ah, bonsoir, Mademoiselle," he said, oozing charm. "Do I detect the accent of la Belle France?"
Adalie beamed. "Oui, monsieur," she replied. "I am from near Bordeaux."
"I have never visited Bordeaux," Wing Nut replied. "I did spend three weeks in Paris studying with some European superheroes. Paris is such a lovely city."
Adalie chuckled, and Wing Nut frowned. "What? Did I say something wrong?"
She shook her head. "Non," she giggled. "It's just a pleasant change to listen to an Americain speaking French without a Cajun accent!"
"Adalie's roommate is from Louisiana," I explained, seeing Wing Nut's baffled expression, "and while she speaks French, she has an ... unique accent."
"Since you two have an extended layover," Wing Nut offered charmingly, gazing directly at Adalie, "why don't you let me buy you something for dinner and we can visit a while so you don't get bored."
I glanced at Evvie; either her brother was enchanted by the latest attractive girl he saw, or she'd told him that I was spoken for. She smiled knowingly; I had a feeling I was going to be regaled with tales of her brother's amorous peccadillos when we got back to Whateley.
Wing Nut bought us a nice dinner, as nice as could be gotten in a major airport, and we sat for a while chatting - all the while Wing Nut was flirting with Adalie and me - but mostly Adalie. Eventually, though, it was time to board our flight, so I thanked Wing Nut for his hospitality and then hugged Evvie goodbye again.
It was nearly midnight when we landed at Joe Foss Field. It would be very dishonest to say that I wasn't nervous about seeing Debra again. I was trembling as we walked off the plane, and Adalie clutched my hand to reassure me, because she'd noticed how disquieted I was. I smiled nervously at her, and then we continued walking down the concourse. My heart was pounding with anticipation, and a little trepidation. What if she wasn't attracted to me anymore? What if she was mad about me going to the hot tub party after Spring Break? What if she was jealous that I was in a cottage full of hot girls? Rationally, I knew we kept few things secret, since we dream-walked and talked often. But what if she hadn't come to meet me? My heart felt like it was going to pound its way out of my chest.
As I neared the security checkpoint, my feet started moving a little faster, and I pulled my hand free of Adalie as I began to trot, and then to run. I couldn't move fast enough, and it seemed to take forever to cross the few last yards into Debra's waiting arms. My lips sought hers as we wrapped our arms around each other, but she dodged my kiss so we were just hugging.
"Not here, sweetie," she whispered to me.
"I missed you so much," I blubbered, crying with happiness at being in her arms. I was surprised by how emotional I was being.
"I missed you, too," she echoed.
It seemed that I hugged her forever; I know people streamed past us, but I didn't want to let go. I felt secure and loved in her arms, and I didn't want that feeling to ever end. I even momentarily forgot that Adalie was standing behind me.
"We're making a scene," Debra whispered, lowering her arms from hugging me. "And you need to introduce your friend."
"Yeah," I giggled. I let one hand slide down to her hand as I reluctantly ended the warm embrace. "Debra, this is my friend Adalie."
"I'm very glad you could come with Kayda," Debra said warmly as she gave Adalie a hug. "I worry about her."
Adalie laughed aloud. "We _all_ worry about 'er," she said with a grin. "It seems she 'as a talent for finding trouble. I think Madame Carson is glad to 'ave 'er off campus for a week because of all that 'appens around 'er."
Debra put an arm around each of our waists and turned us toward the baggage claim area. "We'll have a lot of time to visit this week, but right now, I bet you two are pretty tired after a long day of classes and a long flight."
"Oui," Adalie answered. "It 'as been a very long day."
"And you only had _one_ martial arts class today," I replied with a smile. "Are you the only one who came?" I asked Debra.
"Yeah. We figured it would be too much trouble to bring everyone who wanted to come, and since I'd volunteered first ...." We reached the baggage claim area, where we sat to wait for the baggage-handling apes to thoroughly trash and abuse all the luggage. Debra turned to me. "Now tell me all about the fight you had _this_ week."
Sioux Falls League Headquarters, South Dakota
The ride to the headquarters was interminably long, mostly because I was almost dying to kiss Debra, but I couldn't while she was driving. Instead of going through the mall entrance, we drove to the League's warehouse, or rather, that owned by a corporation whose members were the real-life identities of the League members. I knew what to expect from my last visit, but it was fun to watch Charge's reaction.
Debra touched a wall panel on which was mounted a huge breaker box with conduits snaking out of it in all directions. Surprisingly to Charge, the hardware all stayed where it was, but the wall swung back from behind it, revealing an opening to a small concrete-lined room. When the concealed door shut again, the floor began to lower rapidly, until we were in the underground tunnels.
"Mon Dieu," Adalie exclaimed softly. "This is fantastique! Nothing at all like the 'eadquarters of the 'Eroes glorieux de Bordeaux!"
"You have some experience with a superhero group?" Debra asked.
"They ... rescued me," Adalie replied. "From the Bureau Francais de la Commission de Mutants.
I patted Adalie's arm reassuringly. "It seems that Addy and I share bad experiences with the MCO," I explained to Debra as we loaded our luggage into the small underground car.
"Oui." Addy sat back, looking around in wonder as the door closed and we glided away from the little stopping station noiselessly. "Magnifique! This is like something from a Bond movie! In France, the 'eroes do not 'ide away like superspies," she added.
Debra chuckled. "Perhaps we're a little more paranoid," she commented. "But it serves our safety well."
"The MCO would not 'ave 'ad such an easy time finding me if the 'eadquarters of the HGB 'ad been secret," she commented thoughtfully.
"One thing you need to know," I changed the subject. "Farm Boy has an attraction aura that he can't turn off. You might find it ... distracting."
Adalie glanced at me, not quite sure if she should believe me or not, but when she saw a confirming nod from Debra, she swallowed nervously. Before any of us could say another word, the very short trip ended as the little rail car stopped at the underground entrance. Adalie continued to gawk in disbelief as we went through the blast doors and security doors into the main area of the heroes' facility.
Before I'd even released the handle of my suitcase, Vanity Girl wrapped me in a huge hug. Beyond them, Tractor grinned at me, and Farm Boy smiled, standing a bit apart so I wouldn't be overwhelmed by his aura. As soon as I was released from the bear-hug, I gave Tractor a quick, but nervous, hug, and then did the same to Farm Boy. Unsurprisingly to me, Twinkletoes was formally dressed even this late at night, and I knew from the past that he wasn't a hugger, so I offered a handshake. Then I got to the interns - Wish List and Card Trick.
I looked around, puzzled, after hugging Card Trick. "Where's Ping Pong?" I asked.
"He had a family emergency, so he's home," Debra explained quickly so I wouldn't think the worst had happened to him.
"Okay." I took Adalie by the elbow. "This is my friend Adalie Vitesse."
"Vitesse, as in Vitesse Cognac?" Twinkletoes asked immediately, raising his eyebrows curiously.
"Oui, monsieur," Adalie answered, a little surprised. As far as she'd told me, Vitesse Cognacs and wines weren't imported into the US. "'Ow do you know of my father's cognac?"
Twinkletoes chuckled. "A classmate of mine works around Bordeaux as a superhero."
"Oh? I am from near Bordeaux," Adalie replied in surprise.
"Then perhaps you know her. Mage Astre?"
"Oui, monsieur," Adalie squealed delightedly. "The 'Eroes Glorieux de Bordeaux are my friends! They rescued me from ... a few problems."
"Really?" Twinkletoes smiled pleasantly, as if fond memories were replaying in his mind. "She was a ... friend ... while we went to Whateley."
"Don't let him fool you," Farm Boy chuckled to Adalie. "From what I heard, the two of them were quite an item when they were at Whateley together."
"How is she doing?" Twinkletoes asked simply, ignoring the razzing.
"She is quite well," Adalie replied, and then she studied his expression for a moment. "If I were to 'azard a guess," she continued, "you would be interested to know that she 'as no-one significant in 'er life, at least the last time I saw 'er."
This time, Twinkletoes _did_ blush, while Vanity Girl giggled, "We know where he's spending _his_ vacation this year!"
I finished the introductions, and then because it was so late, Debra, Card Trick, and Vanity Girl escorted us to one of the bedrooms. "I hope you don't mind sharing," Vanity Girl said, giving Debra a furtive glance, "but two of our guest rooms are being remodeled, and with your family coming tomorrow, we're out of singles for the moment."
"That's fine," I answered, feeling both relief and disappointment at the same time. I knew precisely why they'd put us together - Debra and VG wanted to eliminate any temptation for either Debra or I.
Card Trick smiled at us. "Since we're friends, you can call me by my real name."
I nodded, and then started. I didn't even know her real name. "Uh ...."
She laughed. "I never did tell you, did I? I'm Valerie. Valerie Hinson."
I gave her another hug. Knowing her real name made me feel even closer to her. "Good night, Valerie. Or is it Val?"
She laughed. "Either is fine. I've been called both all my life." The older girls left Addy and I alone so we could get some sleep.
While Adalie got herself ready for bed, I slipped out of our room to Debra's. No sooner had the door shut than we were wrapped in each other's arms, kissing passionately. I wanted so much to tackle her on her bed so we could ravish each other, but she held firm.
"I missed you so much," she said when we finally finished kissing.
"And I you," I echoed, and then I giggled, "This is _so_ much better than dream-walking."
Debra giggled and kissed me again. "Yeah," she agreed. "I think so, too."
"But the rest ...."
"We have our dreams," Debra answered for both of us. "And after your birthday...."
We kissed and hugged for nearly half an hour before I went back to our room. The whole time, I was at battle with my desires, which were to spend the night frolicking naked with Debra, giving each other pleasure as we loved one another. When I got back to the room, Adalie was in bed, but was reading something. She eyed me knowingly when I started to change.
"You and Cornflower," she said with certainty, "you are lovers, non?"
"No," I answered, trembling that she knew our secret.
Adalie giggled. "You don't do a good job of 'iding it." She looked wistfully at me. "Once, I 'ad a friend ...." Her voice choked and she wiped at one eye. "Collette and I ... were amies. Very special amies," she added. "We ...." She broke off and looked down for a moment before she looked back at me. "If you 'ave a girl as a lover, I understand."
"I ... we ... have to keep it secret," I said nervously, implicitly acknowledging her speculation. "In this country, being gay is ... dangerous."
"Oui," Adalie agreed. "I 'ave seen 'ow dangerous it can be." She smiled. "But it is worse for boys than for us," she added. "Some'ow, boys find the thought of girls loving girls very erotic."
I excused myself to do my nightly ablutions, and then slid into bed and turned out the light. "Night, Addy," I said.
I lay awake for a while, thinking about Debra and how wonderful it was to hold her and kiss her after missing her so much. And about how wonderful it would be when I was older, and we could love each other.
"'Ow well do you know Phase?" Addy asked out of the blue.
"We talk occasionally," I replied. She'd stirred my curiosity. "And sometimes a group gathers in Ayla's room for movies."
"I see." Addy paused, and I hoped she'd gone to sleep. "Is it true that Ayla was dating a girl, but now they've broken up?"
"You're getting into Ayla's private life," I replied.
"So 'e was, then?"
"No reason," Addy replied almost immediately. "Ayla eats with us sometimes, and, well, 'e's pleasant company. I just wished to know a little more about 'im."
In hindsight, it was perfectly obvious why she was asking, but at the time, being nearly exhausted after a very long day, I didn't put the pieces together. When she asked no more questions, I let myself drift to sleep, knowing I'd be meeting Debra in dream-space.
Saturday, April 7, 2007
Sioux Falls League Headquarters
Part of me wanted to stay in bed and catch up on sleep, but the other part of me was excited about spending time with Debra and seeing my family, so I rose early and got my shower, taking my time like I usually did on weekends. I was a bit afraid that Adalie would be upset that I was taking such a leisurely shower, but when I finished, she was just stirring.
"You don't want to miss breakfast," I encouraged her. "The cooks are wonderful."
"As good as Chef Marcel?" Adalie asked skeptically.
"Well, no," I admitted, "but they're not cooking for seven or eight hundred people, so they can put more care into the food."
"What are we doing today?" Adalie asked, shucking off her nightie. I caught myself staring at her; she was very attractive. While not as stunningly gorgeous and curvy as some of the exemplars at school, she would easily rate 9.6 or higher in an average high school. She wasn't ever going to make pinup in a "Double D" type of magazine, but she had nearly flawless proportions and curves, with perky breasts that were big enough without crossing the nebulous line to "too big". Her waist was narrowed nicely, but not ridiculously so, and she had nice rounded hips and bottom.
She turned, and looked at me, and I looked away quickly, my cheeks burning at being caught staring at her. She chuckled softly as she grabbed her toiletries and walked into the bathroom. Damn, it was embarrassing to be caught staring at her like that. And yet, in a way, it was reassuring, because it demonstrated only too clearly that I was a lesbian and found girls very attractive.
While I waited for her to finish, I slipped into dream space to talk with my mentor.
Wakan Tanka sat by her tepee, sewing a deerskin garment, putting great care into each and every stitch. She glanced up and bade me sit beside her. "It is important to learn the crafts of the People, she said simply.
I frowned. "I can just buy things I need."
She 'tsk, tsked' me, shaking her head disapprovingly. "You are the Ptesanwi. You are of the People. The People will expect you to know how to do certain things that the Ptesanwi taught them in a past age." She smiled. "Besides, it is comforting to make something with your hands instead of bartering for everything. You know that, though, don't you?"
I nodded sheepishly. "Yeah. I used to like ... making things in Dad's shop, and working on my car."
"So you shall learn to do traditional crafts of the People, and I suspect you will find them equally rewarding."
"I guess," I muttered, not convinced.
"Besides, how would your maske feel if you were to give her a gift of a handmade dress like the one you have?"
I blushed, immediately thinking of how Debra would look in such a dress - her creamy bosom trying to peek over the low-cut neckline, her curves displayed in the tight-fitting buckskin, her long, shapely legs protruding from beneath the short-hemmed skirt. I felt flush thinking about how utterly totally sexy Debra would look, and how I'd want to hold her close, and .... I caught myself, realizing that I was more than a bit aroused.
Wakan Tanka laughed. "You find this appealing? I'm not surprised. It's part of your two-spirits nature. You're a girl, but you think of girls the way a man should. _That_ is one aspect of your male spirit which still burns within your breast."
"You're not going to stop with the Two Spirits thing, are you?"
"Not until you accept it and all that it means," Wakan Tanka replied easily.
"What do I have to do to make my female spirit come to me?" I asked, confused.
"Nothing," Wakan Tanka replied immediately. "You do not _make_ the female spirit come to you."
"Then ... how?"
"You accept that it is already there. You quit trying to fight that which is already part of you. You embrace and cherish that aspect of your being."
"And ... the same for my male spirit, I suppose?"
"Yes." Wakan Tanka put down her needle and stood. "Stand up, and undress. I want to see how this fits on you."
Puzzled by her sudden interest in tailoring outfits for me, I did as requested, surprisingly without any shame or embarrassment. No sooner had I tried it on than her clothing changed to match. I gawked at her in stunned silence. Ho. Lee. Shit! She was hawwt in that dress. Which meant that I was also uber-hawwt in it. That made me blush a bit.
Wakan Tanka smiled. "This dress shows your feminine spirit well."
"Yeah, but if I wear it around Debra ...."
"True," Wakan Tanka agreed. "But you should have a dress made like this. Or better still, you should _make_ a dress like this."
"I don't know how to sew!"
"Then you will learn, and I will teach you. With your new campus group, you will have opportunities to learn traditional crafts."
I snorted. "Somehow, I don't think the administration is going to let us import bison to hunt, skin, and use for projects." In the back of my mind, though, I was thinking about what we _could_ do with these types of crafts. Deer hunting _was_ allowed, if we could negotiate with the Medawihla tribe, and we could learn many Native American skills and crafts hunting deer. I also considered that with a private tutor in my dream-space, I'd have a leg up on learning, so I could teach, too."
"Sit," Wakan Tanka ordered, so I sat beside her. She took out some buckskin, some sinew thread, and bone needles. Surprised, I took them, and painstakingly, she began to teach me how to sew.
I snapped out of dream space, which was usually an indication that something was going on in the real world. The transition was getting easier and less disorienting, so it only took a fraction of a second to realize that Adalie was ready to go, and staring at me with a bemused expression. "Visiting your dream world again?" she asked.
"I thought I should wait for you," I replied, "since you've never been here."
"What was your spirit telling you this time?" she asked, making conversation as we walked toward the dining room.
"How to sew buckskin."
"Mon Dieu," Adalie exclaimed softly. "Your spirit 'as you learn very strange things."
Debra was seated already, her plate overflowing, though it was impossible to tell whether this was her first course, or second. Or possibly even third. She beamed at me between bites, and I felt almost as comforted by her smile as if she'd been actually hugging me.
As soon as I put my tray beside Debra and sat down, she wrapped her arms around me and gave me a very nice 'good morning' kiss, which I eagerly returned. "Did you sleep well?" she asked, knowing that I must have since I had a good dream-walk.
"I especially liked the company in my dreams," I answered coyly. I noticed that Adalie was watching us with a curious expression, while Valerie and Vanity Girl barely seemed to notice us.
"Did you sleep well?" Wish List asked Adalie.
"Oui," Adalie answered. "Except for Kayda's snoring."
I noticed. "Hey, I don't snore!" I protested.
Adalie and Debra giggled, and I realized that Adalie had been joking.
Tractor sat down across from me, his plate practically overflowing with food, just like Debra's. It suddenly struck me that a downside to being in a relationship with an energizer like Debra would be a huge food bill if we went on a date, or if we lived together. When I heard Wish List giggle suddenly, I realized that I must have been practically broadcasting my emotions, and she'd picked up on my concern.
I frowned, which made her giggle more, which in turn got Debra's attention. "What?" Debra demanded of Wish List.
"Nothing. Kayda was just thinking about grocery shopping."
I blushed furiously, which set Wish List off on another burst of giggles. She whispered something to Vanity Girl, who likewise began to giggle. Amidst this, Adalie looked among us girls, puzzled. "Inside joke," I muttered in frustration. Wish List in turn whispered to Adalie, who laughed aloud, making me even more flustered.
Tractor was giving them a look that said, 'girls!' "How are you doing with history?" he asked, attempting to divert attention from whatever the girls were giggling about.
I shrugged, giving one final disapproving glance toward Vanity Girl and Wish List. "Not so well," I answered hesitantly. "I've got two martial arts classes a day, after-class electronics, then I have a private tutor for Lakota fighting skills, and on top of that, I'm tutoring a few girls."
"Kayda is un precepteur fantastique!" Adalie gushed. "I would be failing algebra if it weren't for 'er 'elp."
I shrugged, blushing again but for a different reason. "Adalie is helping me with my French," I noted, "or I'd be struggling in _that_ class."
Tractor shrugged. "I was hoping you'd find more time for history, so you could call once in a while and make me feel needed."
"Oh, poor baby!" Vanity Girl cooed with a parental tone. "You _are_ needed!"
"Yeah," Debra said between bites. "Someone around here needs to be strong enough to haul out all our trash!"
"Girls!" Tractor repeated, shaking his head. "Are you going to keep studying ancient Greek history?"
"Yeah," I answered. "I like it, but I need to get my schedule organized. Things have been a little ... hectic ... so far."
A commotion outside the dining room interrupted us, but before any of us could rise - except maybe Adalie if she had been curious - my family came noisily in to the room. I couldn't help squealing with delight and practically jumping from my seat when I saw Mom. I wrapped myself around her, sobbing happily as I clutched her tightly. I hadn't realized just how much I missed my family because life at Whateley had kept me occupied. Dad joined in the hug, and I continued to sob and blubber how much I loved them and had missed them.
I gradually became aware that Danny the brat was with Mom and Dad, as well as ... Julie? My eyes practically bugged out of their sockets as I disengaged from hugging Mom and Dad. "Julie?" I stammered. "What ... what are you doing here?" I dashed to wrap her in my arms.
"I ... I'm ...." She shook her head, unable to speak much as her voice choked.
"Kayda," Mom explained quickly, "Julie is staying with us, at least for the time being."
"What?" I asked, stupefied. "Why?"
"I can't stay at my home anymore. I ... I'm ...," Julie said, her voice trembling, "I'm a mutant."
"You're ... a mutant?"
"I ... manifested about a year ago," she confessed. "I never told anyone, because Daddy hates mutants so much, and everyone is afraid of them ... of us."
"Honey," Mom interrupted, "Julie called me a few days ago. Mr. Robinson and Humanity First! arranged for genetic testing of everyone in school, and every kid with the gene thing ..."
"It's called the meta-gene complex, Mom," Danny chimed in, being a smart-ass.
Mom scowled at him for a second. "Every kid who tested positive got more tests."
"Like me," Danny said, almost proud that he, too, had the genes.
"And Daddy got really suspicious," Julie said. "I've been having some ... problems ... with my powers, and Daddy remembered a lot of strange things that had been happening around the house ...." She shook her head. "When he realized I was a mutant, he got really drunk, beat me up pretty badly, and then locked me in my room while he went to get his anti-mutant friends."
I goggled at that news. We all knew Mr. Robinson was rabidly anti-mutant, but to turn on his daughter like that? "How ... how did you get away?"
Julie shook her head. "I don't know," she admitted. "I was screaming and banging on the door, trying to get someone to let me out, and the next thing I knew, I was outside by our big cottonwood tree. I called your mom, because I didn't know who else to call."
"She forgot to tell you that she was also rather ... naked," Mom added, causing Julie to blush furiously. "However she got to the tree, it seems her clothes didn't go with her."
Debra rose and gave her a reassuring hug. "You're safe with us," my sweetie said.
I realized we hadn't done basic social niceties. "Julie, Danny, this is my ... friend, Debra, from the Sioux Falls League. And this ...." I stopped when the seat Adalie had been sitting in was empty. I glanced around, frowning. "Where's Adalie?"
"The other girl who was here?" Dad asked. "She ... left, in a big hurry. She looked a little upset."
"Can you guys wait here a moment? I've got to go and see if something's wrong."
Debra took my arm. "I'll come with you."
It wasn't hard to find Adalie; she was in our room, lying on her bed sobbing softly. "Adalie?" I asked tentatively.
She ignored me, so I went inside and sat on the edge of her bed. "Addy?" I asked, putting my hand gently on her shoulder. She rolled away from me, or rather, tried to, but I stopped her. "What's wrong, Addy?"
"It is ... nothing," she sniffled, not looking at me.
"Addy," I chided softly. "We're friends. What's wrong?"
"I ... I miss ... Mama," she sniffled.
That was when I noticed how tear-stained her cheeks were. "I'm sorry my family reminded you that you didn't get to go home over break," I said softly.
"Non," she replied in a whisper. "That is not it."
She closed her eyes in thought, lost in a world of her own innermost feelings for a moment. "Dr. Bellows said that I should talk to someone about it," she finally said, sounding more like she was convincing herself than me. I took her hand and clasped it reassuringly. If she was going to talk, I knew that she'd do it on her schedule, not mine.
"My Mama ... died," Adalie said softly, "when I was ten."
"Oh, Addy," I replied, puzzled about what to say or do. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"No-one knows. I 'ave never told anyone, except Alicia. And Donza might 'ave deduced the ... situation when we went to Boston."
I pried her up off the bed into my arms, and she didn't fight. Hugging her tightly, I let her cry on my shoulder. "It's okay, Addy," I said softly over and over.
"Please do not tell anyone," Adalie said when she'd stopped sobbing. "It is ... very personal to me."
"I promise," I said. "Now go get cleaned up." I glanced at Debra. "Why don't you go let everyone know we'll be back in a little bit."
Mom and Dad were smart enough to pretend that Adalie hadn't been in the room before so she wouldn't feel embarrassed, and Danny was too busy gawking at Adalie, Debra, and Wish List - and he wasn't in the slightest subtle about it.
"What are we going to do this week?" I asked once all the introductions were complete. "Hang around here?"
Mom shook her head. "Mom has been talking with the tribal elders, and she's very insistent that we go out to Mission for a day or so. Apparently they want to meet the newest member of the tribe."
I groaned. Knowing how enthusiastic Grandma Little Doe was about my being enrolled and hosting the spirit of Ptesanwi, she'd probably told someone that I was important, and wanted to introduce me to all the important people. "I hope Grandma didn't tell anyone about my spirit," I muttered.
"You know your Grandma," Dad chuckled. "I'm sure she's told everyone she knows, because she's proud of you, and because she knows how important your spirit is to the People."
Tractor and Vanity Girl had joined us. "Personally," Tractor said, "I want to find out if Kayda's learning to defend herself."
"She can always have her buffalo gore you again," Debra chuckled, to which Tractor frowned. "But seriously, I'd like to see what you're learning as well, so we should plan time in the gym. Maybe at the end of the week, before you go home." She smiled at me. "I know you had a busy day with martial arts yesterday, so you'd probably like to take a day or two off."
I winced visibly. "I'm supposed to spend time working out anyway. My tutor, Mr. Two Knives, told me I'm supposed to practice every day."
"Your tutor? You have a private tutor?" Julie asked, astonished.
"My ... spirit insisted that I learn Native American fighting techniques and weapons," I groused. "It wasn't my idea, and it really makes my days ... busy."
"Ah," Tractor said with a sigh, "I suppose you're using _that_ as an excuse to not study history. In that case, you're going to _have_ to show me that it's a worthwhile use of your time."
"And I'd like to see what kind of ... self-defense you're learning," Dad added for pretty obvious reasons.
Slowly, the group migrated from the dining room to the living room, where I sat down near, but not cuddled with Debra, my desires notwithstanding. Julie didn't know I was a lesbian, and a display of affection might have resulted in some uncomfortable looks or questions.
"What's the plan for the day?" I asked.
"We figured us girls would go shopping this afternoon," Vanity Girl said, flashing a smile at Mom.
"No jewelry stores?" I asked warily.
"No jewelry stores," Debra assured me.
I saw the puzzled look on Julie's face, so I briefly explained what happened the last time we were in a jewelry store. Her horrified expression spoke volumes about how much I'd changed in a few short weeks; taking two martial arts classes plus Native American fighting every day, with the fighting and action on Whateley campus, made the jewelry store robbery seem almost routine, or even boring.
"I've got to stop by the Native American store in the mall," I added. "Someone," I rolled my eyes, "wants me to get some Native American sewing supplies, and I need to get more herbs for my teas. A _lot_ more herbs."
"Oh? Didn't Mom send enough?" Mom asked me. "And sewing supplies?"
"Yeah," I snorted, "until a few students got kind of ... hooked on my tea."
"Your ... tea?" Julie asked, once again puzzled.
I chuckled. "My spirit taught me to make a healing beverage, which is becoming quite popular at Whateley. One of the Wild Pack ..."
"Are _they_ still active?" Wish List interrupted.
"Did Stormwolf ever get that cob out of his ass, or is he still obnoxiously straight-arrow?" Debra asked with a laugh.
"He's still a pain," I chuckled. "But he's been ... helpful once or twice. But Mindbird is a lot more helpful, and a lot less annoying."
"Dale always was pretty nice. How she got hanging around with Stormwolf, I'll never know!" Valerie said.
"Sewing supplies?" Mom asked again.
I'd hoped she'd forgotten that comment. "Wakan Tanka, my spirit," I added for Julie's benefit, "is adamant that I learn some Native American skills, like fighting and sewing. She'll probably add cooking to the list before too long."
"Anything interesting you're going to make?" Debra asked, wiggling her eyebrows.
"Um, she ... had me make something in dream space," I said, blushing.
"I can't wait to see," Debra whispered to me in a lusty voice, making my cheeks burn even more.
Debra and Wish List then proceeded to humiliate me by showing Julie and Adalie the pictures from our photography session, including some of the ... ahem ... racier ones that had Dad frowning, which made Julie and Adalie laugh. Somehow, in the midst of all that, I got pushed into agreeing to another photography session with Debra later in the week - mostly by Vanity Girl and Wish List implying that I was chicken if I didn't. What can I say? Being called chicken has been my downfall many times. I _had_ to learn to not overreact to that.
Even in a bulky gi, Debra looked sexy, and it was all I could do to focus on the match. Since I had to practice, the girls had talked me into working out with them, and Adalie had enthusiastically joined in. That miniscule distraction was enough, and I found myself being slammed to the mat, ending up in a hold from which I couldn't escape. I slapped the mat, and as soon as I did, she bent forward and kissed me.
"Are you trying to make me _want_ to lose?" I sputtered at her.
I heard a laugh from Adalie, followed by a surprised cry and a thud as she hit the mat. "That'll teach you to not let yourself be distracted," Wish List chided her playfully.
We all took a breather, and then Debra wanted to see me spar against Adalie. "Oh, gods, no!" I muttered.
"Why?" Debra asked.
"Because I'm awful against speedsters!
"All the more reason to practice," Wish List grinned at me. "You noticed that _I_ didn't have much trouble sparring with her." She looked at Adalie. "How fast are you? Eighty? Ninety?"
Adalie frowned. "Ninety?"
"Oh, yeah, sorry," Wish List apologized. "Your top speed. One hundred forty kph? One fifty?"
"Oh," Adalie understood. "Oui, about one 'undred forty-five kilometer per 'our."
"And yet I was able to beat her in a fight."
Adalie nodded. "'Ow? I don't understand 'ow you did it, unless you have exemplar speed, too."
Wish List exchanged knowing smiles with Debra. "Shall we tell them, or let them figure it out for themselves?"
Debra grinned wickedly. "Let them spar a round, and then we'll see if Adalie can figure out the difference."
I scowled at her as I walked to one side of the sparring circle, while Adalie glanced warily at me and then at Wish List.
"Hajime!" Wish List snapped.
I'd sparred with Adalie enough before - and never successfully - so I knew to duck the moment Wish List started to speak - for all the good that did. Adalie started to move, and I tried to reverse my motion, but a kick caught me in the ribs, stunning me momentarily. While I tried to recover, she punched me twice more before I ducked back out of her range. That earned me a fraction of a second of relief before she dashed in again.
I missed a block, and mycounterpunch swished through the air. Despite not getting off balance, Adalie did a roundhouse kick, catching me in the other side of my ribs. I tried to circle away from the edge of the ring, but she was quicker, and kept me against the edge, limiting my movement options.
As soon as she started to move, I dropped to my hands and knees in a desperate gamble, hoping to get under her kicks and punches. It didn't work; she started a low kick, so it only took a tiny adjustment, and the kick hit me in the side of my face, knocking me over. I rolled, trying to get back out of her range and to get back to my feet, but as I rose, I got a side kick in my chest, which knocked me back out of the ring.
"I hate fighting speedsters," I grumbled as Debra assisted me to my feet. Despite her petite size, Adalie managed to get a lot of momentum behind her blows, and I certainly felt everywhere she'd punched and kicked.
"Almost everyone hates fighting speedsters," Debra chuckled, walking with me back to the sparring circle. "Only bricks don't care."
"Why is it always my ribs?" I said, wincing at the pain as I joined the others on the mat.
"Adalie," Wish List began, "what was the difference in the two fights?"
Addy thought a moment. "You're much quicker," she said to Wish List. "You were ducking out of my way the 'ole time, and I could not 'it you." She frowned. "You must be an Exemplar-4 or more to 'ave reflexes like that."
Wish List smirked at Debra. "Hardly," she replied. "I'm definitely not a speedster or exemplar."
"But 'ow?" Adalie asked, baffled. "I was 'aving trouble 'itting you!"
"And Kayda is an Exemplar, so her reflexes are faster than mine."
I frowned at that. "Then how were _you_ able to beat her, while I wasn't?"
Wish List shot a grin toward Debra, the type of expression that screamed, 'should we tell them'? "What does a speedster like Adalie have going for her?"
"She's fast," I said, stating the obvious. "And she's got quicker reflexes."
Debra nodded knowingly. "And she can accelerate much faster than you. But there are a couple of problems with those abilities."
"You're not making sense," I complained.
Debra started to say something, but then she halted and thought a second. "You haven't had physics. Otherwise the answer would be obvious."
"Just tell me already," I grumbled.
"Try this. Say you're driving ten miles per hour. How tight a circle can the car turn?" Wish List asked.
"Pretty tight, I guess," I replied, not quite sure where she was going.
"And if you're driving twenty?"
"Not as tight."
"Not nearly as tight as ten or twenty," I answered, still not quite putting it together.
"It turns out that for the same turning force, the radius of a circle increases as the square of the speed," Wish List explained. "So if you're going twice as fast, it takes four times as big a circle to turn."
My eyes narrowed as my brain churned on what she was saying. Almost immediately, equations popped into my head, and the answer popped out. I goggled at her and Debra. "So - the faster a speedster is going, the larger their turning radius? The harder it is for them to change direction, even if they have faster reflexes?" I asked, pretty certain that my speculation was correct based on what Wish List had said.
"When you add in the biomechanics of movement and acceleration of the human body, speedsters can end up at a distinct disadvantage - _if_ you know how to take advantage of it."
"Didn't they cover this in power theory and lab?" Debra asked.
"Speedsters have _some_ very fast reflexes built-in, but some actions, like fighting, require thought, which is almost _always_ slower than their reflexes, even if it's faster than non-speedsters," Wish List continued.
"Speedsters usually attack at maximum acceleration. That gives _you_ very little time to react, unless you're watching them for hints and clues of motion," Debra took over the explanation. "Don't you have some sky and earth spirit thing?"
I groaned. "Yeah. Feeling the sky spirit like Cetan, and the earth spirit like Mato."
Without warning, Tatanka manifested, really startling Dad, Danny, and Julie, who were in the gym watching.
"Go ahead and say it," I snapped at Tatanka in Lakota, a hint of disgust in my voice.
Tatanka smiled, which I'm sure surprised my family even more. "I don't need to say it," he replied in English. "You _know_ that you need to practice with the spirits until you're as comfortable reading the sky spirit as Cetan and the earth spirit as Mato."
Wish List and Adalie giggled at my spirit lecturing me, but Debra continued, trying her best to not smile or laugh. "Even without the spirits," she said, "a baseline can read, from body language, what a speedster is going to do."
"And once a speedster commits, before they even start moving, you have to react. All you have to do is move - a little bit and seemingly randomly, at least to the speedster, and you throw off their timing. They've committed, and by the time you're moving, they've already accelerated to a high speed, and thus their turning circle is large," Wish List explained.
"You're making them have to _think_ of how to adjust to your unexpected move, and during that split second, momentum and acceleration are working against them, not for them. That gives you a fraction of a second of opportunity."
"Ah, mais oui," Adalie said, her face lit up in a classic 'eureka' moment.
"I _think_ I understand," I said slowly.
"It's hard work," Debra added. "It takes _all_ your focus, and you have to have already planned out your _random_ moves. You don't have time to think, because the speedster will react and adjust while you're thinking."
"Now, let's see you two spar again," Wish List directed.
I nodded, and glanced around; not only was my family gathered to watch, but the League members and staff had drifted in, including Tractor, Vanity Girl, Twinkletoes, Valerie, Don, Romeo Foxtrot, and Yvonne. My palms were suddenly sweaty, and my mouth dry.
Debra noticed. "Think of this as just another class," she reassured me, her arm around my shoulders and squeezing to comfort me.
"Great," I mumbled. "I always get my ass kicked in class!"
I glanced around, and realized that my little brother was busy watching Valerie. "Do you think Danny realizes how far out of his league he is?" I chuckled.
"Would you rather he was watching you?" Debra joked right back.
"Good point." I took my place on one side of the circle while Adalie walked to the other side.
Wish List looked back and forth between the two of us. "Approach and bow," she directed. Warily, as we always did in class, Adalie and I walked to the center, and never taking eyes off each other, we bowed formally and then backed up to our spots. "Hajime!"
Before Wish List started the fight, I reached out to the spirits, letting them touch my senses, feeling their eddies and currents. I was also watching Adalie carefully, looking for any sign of commitment from her.
Even before I saw a sign of her movement, I felt a flow in the earth spirit, a directing of energy, and I knew it was the earth spirit reacting to the force of her intended move. I had a partial mental picture of how she intended to strike. As the girls had said, I didn't think, but reacted instead, rolling low and right and coming up facing where I had been.
Adalie's opening strike missed me entirely, and as she struggled for a split-second to counter her own inertia and react to my move, I launched a kick at her. Unfortunately for me, she was quicker to react than I'd expected; she blocked my kick and grabbed my kicking leg. I twisted my body to break her hold and free my leg, but as I did so, she kicked at me, catching me in the thigh and making me gasp in pain. I rolled to the side and back, using the additional force of my fall to pull my leg free, and I was on my feet just in time to catch a backhand to the side of my face. Damn, but she'd gotten the advantage again, and being so close, I had a lot less time to react.
I pushed the distraction from my mind, allowing the feel of the spirits to flow through me while I watched her. There! A precursor to motion, a feel from the earth spirit, and I ducked to my left, my right arm sweeping outward to block. It almost worked; I partially blocked the blow, but she still connected and my head snapped to one side from the force of her strike.
Without thinking, I rolled backward to get out of range, coming to my feet as my head cleared. I saw another strike coming at me, and I barely had time to block it, but the follow-up kick at my knee connected, and I crumpled to the mat, pain shooting through my leg.
After many hours of martial arts instruction, my roll upon hitting the mat was almost instinctive, and that reaction saved me from being grappled while I was helpless on the mat.
I got back to my feet, and with a couple of quick feints, dodged another jab and ridge-hand. She grasped my arm as I tried to counter-strike, pulling me over her hip and throwing me toward the edge of the ring. I rolled as I hit the mat, coming to my feet just in time to get a side kick to my chest, which knocked me back out of the ring onto my ass.
Debra gave me a hand and tugged me to my feet. "Better," she said with a smile.
"I didn't hit her once!" I grumbled. "And she beat the crap out of me, as usual."
We sat down in the center of the circle again. "Well?" Wish List asked.
"Same story, different verse," I groused.
"Non," Adalie countered immediately. "There were a couple of points where you had me off balance, and I thought I was going to be 'it."
"That'll be the day," I grumbled. I didn't like the fact that I couldn't do _anything_ to counter her speed.
"Addy's right," Wish List observed. "How often, in past matches, have you dodged her strikes?"
I thought a moment, trying to absorb the fact that I _had_ done something better. "Not many, I suppose. Maybe two or three."
"In how many matches?" Debra continued.
I shrugged, glancing at Adalie. "Maybe twenty or so."
"And yet you dodged her attacks, at least partially, five times in one round."
I closed my eyes and sighed. "Yeah, I guess," I said unenthusiastically.
"The problem, sweetie," Debra observed softly so others wouldn't hear, "is that you're trying to think while you're fighting. Against a baseline or a low-powered opponent, you can get away with that. Against a speedster, thinking will get you every time."
"It was very obvious to us when you were reacting, and when you were thinking," Wish List continued. "When you had to think, you got hit."
"It'll take more practice, but eventually, it'll be natural." Debra smiled. "I'll have to call Sensei Ito and tell him about this little lesson, so you can practice more when you get back to school."
I stuck my tongue out at her to indicate my displeasure at her threat to call Ito. "And until then, I'm a punching bag for speedsters," I snorted. "And bricks, and telekinetics."
Adalie laughed. "And I suppose you think that I am _not_?"
"Excuse me, ladies," Tractor interrupted, walking toward us.
"I suppose _you_ want to torture them by sparring with them?" Wish List joked.
"Actually, yes," Tractor said with a straight face. "A friend at Whateley told me that Kayda is learning to fight with a knife and tomahawk. I want to see a demonstration."
A light dawned in my brain. "And since you're a brick, I couldnt hurt you if I accidentally hit you, right?"
"That _had_ occurred to me," Tractor grinned.
I shot a worried glance at Debra, who responded by putting her hand on mine. "You're shaking!" she whispered, surprised.
I nodded slightly. "Every time ... I fight a guy," I whispered, "I ... have a ... panic attack." I was already feeling like my chest was being squeezed in a vise.
"Honey," Debra whispered soothingly, leaning closer, "you're going to have to get over that. You _trust_ Tractor, don't you?"
I nodded, my head moving only fractionally. "Yeah," I squeaked.
"Try. I'll be right here, and if it gets to be too much for you, we'll stop the round, okay?"
"Okay." I wasn't sure my voice was even audible. "I've got one tomahawk in the locker room, because I carry it with me all the time, and the other is in my luggage."
"Let's go get them." She walked with me, and as soon as we were out of sight of the spectators, she took my hand to reassure me. In my room, she paused to give me a kiss to bolster my confidence.
Back in the gym, we watched while Adalie finished sparring with Tractor. Even with him taking it easy, Addy was having serious problems fighting him, but it wasn't for lack of trying. She did throw him once while we watched, but with his PK shell, she really couldn't stop him. Eventually, they quit. Remarkably, though, she was in a good mood about the fight. I'd have to ask her later about that.
"Aren't you going to use that fancy knife of yours?" Tractor asked.
"It's imbued with magic," I replied, shaking my head. "I don't know if it would hurt you, and they didn't test that in powers testing, so I don't want to take a chance."
"Hmm," Tractor mused. "Maybe we can set up an experiment." He chatted briefly with Wish List, who went to talk to Don, the League's resident devisor and gadgeteer.
"I'm going to hold my attacks to baseline-strength," Tractor said as we walked to the sparring ring. "You can go full-out, though, because basic weapons won't penetrate my shield."
Tractor made the first move, throwing a punch at me. That was when I went all Hoka on him. I intercepted the punch by hooking his forearm between the handle and blade of the tomahawk, pushing it to the side, while I let my momentum spin me into a strike on his shoulder. He tried a few more punches and kicks, careful to control his speed and power to baseline levels, but I blocked them all and counterattacked with my tomahawks. Then he tried to grab me, as a mugger might. I ... reacted, retaliating against the arm-hold, blocking his attempted strikes and hacking quite viciously. If it had been real, Vanity Girl would have been quite upset with me for one attack, while another couple would have disemboweled him. Others would have left his limbs torn and bloodied, and a couple of the head blows would have been instantly fatal.
After a couple of minutes of my brutal attacks, he finally caught my arms and held me to stop the demonstration. "I think that's enough, Kayda," he said firmly.
I was sweating and breathing hard from the relentless attack, but as he held me, I started shaking again and felt like I couldn't breathe. As the room started to blur, Debra and Adalie rushed to my side. "It's okay, Kayda," Debra said reassuringly. "It's okay. It's over." They lowered me, shaking almost uncontrollably, to the mat, and Debra hugged me tightly. "It's okay, honey," she whispered intensely into my ear. "It's over."
My breathing and trembling slowed. I looked around, wide-eyed, feeling panicky, trying to control my shaking. Debra held me tight, and Adalie was holding my hand reassuringly. Mom, too, was close, holding a hand. It took a moment for me to realize that she was totally confused.
"When she fights ... boys," Adalie was explaining to Mom, "sometimes Kayda 'as difficulty because of what 'appened to 'er." She must have read a surprised look from Mom. "Oui, Madame," she continued politely. "Kayda 'as told me and Alicia about the ... attacks. We 'elp 'er in Martial Arts. She _is_ getting better." I'm sure Mom looked stunned. "In the past, she 'as completely collapsed and we 'ave 'ad to take 'er to the 'ospital."
It took a bit for me to regain all my composure, during which time Debra never let me out of her embrace. "Are you okay now?" she asked softly.
I nodded hesitantly. "It's ... over?"
Adalie squeezed my hand. "You did well, Kayda," she said.
"It doesn't feel like it," I said, shuddering involuntarily. I looked at Mom and tried to smile. "Dr. Bellows thinks I'm making progress. I only had one full panic attack this week."
"One ... panic attack?" Mom looked horrified. "This week? You've had more?"
"Yeah," I acknowledged softly. "I've been taken to Doyle a couple times because they say I was ... kind of catatonic."
"Oh, honey!" Mom cried, completely surprised. "I don't think you should be doing ...."
"No, Mom," I countered immediately, not even letting her finish. "Debra and Wish List are right. Wakan Tanka is right. Dr. Bellows is right. I have to work through this, no matter how hard it is. I _need_ to do this." A strange thought occurred to me, and I lowered my head, shaking it. "And I guess this means that Ito is right, too," I spat.
"You and Sensei Ito aren't getting along?" Debra asked.
"'Ardly," Adalie chuckled. "'E pushes us all very 'ard, but especially Kayda, because of 'er enemies and 'er condition."
"He's ...," my lip trembled as I tried to control my anger at the thought of the sadistic little instructor, "sunkce!" I spat.
"Kayda!" Mom barked at me. "That's no way to talk about your teacher."
I'd forgotten that Mom spoke Lakota. I blushed and looked down, a bit ashamed - mostly at being called out on it by Mom. She leaned close to Debra and whispered in Debra's ear. "He's been called much worse," Debra giggled, "and often to his face." She saw Adalie's puzzled look, so she whispered the translation to Adalie.
Adalie's eyes widened. "You are lucky 'e didn't understand!"
I blushed. "From the way Sensei Tolman reacted, I think she got the gist of my comment. She wasn't too happy, either."
"Let's shower so we can go shopping," Wish List suggested. There was no objection.
"You guys can fool around here if you want," Mom said to Dad and Danny. "I'm sure you'd rather do this than go shopping with us girls."
Tractor grinned. "I think we can entertain them with some demonstrations while you're out. And if you take as long as you _usually_ do," he added, grinning, "we've got some good _guy_ movies we can watch."
Danny paused, glancing at the girls. "Is Card Trick going with you?" he asked, and then he flinched, realizing what he'd said. "I mean, you might need someone to help," he added quickly, trying to recover to hide his obvious crush on Valerie, "to carry stuff."
Dad put his hand on Danny's shoulder. "You've never experienced women shopping," he said to the young man. "Trust me, you do _not_ want to go. Besides trying on everything in every store, they'll be talking 'girl stuff', and that can get pretty embarrassing."
Walking into the locker room, Wish List smiled. "Your little brother is really crushing on Val, isn't he?"
I felt a little embarrassed for Danny, and how obvious he was being. "Yeah."
"Should we disappoint him and tell him that she's got a boyfriend in St. Paul?" Debra asked.
Wish List shook her head. "Nah. Let him have his fantasy for a couple of days."
Sioux Falls League Headquarters, dinnertime
"You really didn't have to do this for dinner, Pete," Farm Boy repeated as he loaded up his plate for seconds. "We have a very good cook on staff."
"Nonsense," Dad rebutted cheerfully. He'd ordered Japanese food from the restaurant we'd enjoyed the last time I was in Sioux Falls. Given how Debra and Tractor ate, he'd ordered a rather huge quantity, and had placed the order a couple of days ago so they'd have time to prepare the massive order. That also meant that the League couldn't object too strongly. The restaurant probably though they were catering a party of sixty to seventy people. "After all you guys have done for my s...." He stopped himself, giving a half-chuckle. "You know that's kind of hard to get used to."
"Tell me about it," I snorted. Debra paused from shoveling in a mouthful of food to give me a 'look'.
"Fifteen years of saying, 'my boy', and suddenly, poof - I've got to get used to saying 'my little girl'."
"You think you've got it tough?" I sputtered. "Imagine how I feel! I went through it too, you know, and it was a little more personal for me!" I chuckled. "You're not the one who changed, and who keeps having dreams about a stupid black deer, and getting lectured by a spirit in your head about accepting both spirits, and about being 'two spirits'."
Addy chose that moment to return from the restroom; fortunately, at least _she_ hadn't heard Dad's inadvertent revelation of my sex change.
Mom's eyes widened. "You're winkte," she said, a strange look on her face.
I gazed at her for a moment, trying to discern exactly what she was thinking, but I couldn't read her expression. "Yes," I finally said softly. Mom smiled knowingly, looking even a bit proud, while those around me puzzled at the very brief exchange. I wasn't going to be able to hide that facts from Addy; eventually, someone would say something or she'd figure it out. I was going to have to explain it to Adalie sooner or later. And I was going to have to explain the meaning of winkte to Julie and Addy.
"Did you ladies enjoy shopping?" Tractor asked Vanity Girl to change the subject.
"We had a very nice afternoon," she replied to Tractor.
Julie was beaming. "It was very nice," she replied. "Your mom bought me some outfits to replace the stuff I had to leave at home." She beamed at Mom. "Thank you, Mrs. Franks."
Mom gave her a politely scolding look. "It's June, remember? And you're very welcome."
"Did you leave any money in the account?" Dad joked to Mom.
"What are we doing tomorrow?" I asked, interrupting the money talk.
Mom and Dad shrugged and looked at Debra for answers.
"Tomorrow after lunch, we're flying to the Hills. The folks at HPARC want to talk to you a bit about some of your experiences."
"There aren't a lot of direct flights," Dad observed.
"We'll be on a private plane that HPARC is borrowing from the Air National Guard. In exchange for a few hours of time consulting about Native American demons and spirits," Debra continued, "they're providing us use of the plane, lodging, and a van to drive around the Hills."
"We?" I asked, not quite sure I'd heard her correctly.
"Yes, _we_," Debra smiled coyly at me. "You don't think I'm going to have you _this_ close and not spend the whole week with you, do you? Anyway, your grandmother has set up something with the Sicangu tribe in Mission on the Rosebud Reservation, and then we'll return to your home."
"I can't go home!" I protested, paling at the thought. Last time I'd been there wasn't a pleasant memory.
"We'll be okay," Debra reassured me - and Julie. "You have a trained, licensed superhero with you, and you and Adalie are much better able to use your powers if necessary. Besides, we might never go into town if you're too worried about it."
"We'll see," I replied nervously. There _were_ a couple of friends who hadn't been one of the attackers, and I did miss them.
"We'll come back here," Debra continued, "and then you and Adalie can fly back to Whateley."
Something caught my attention. "What about Julie?" I asked cautiously.
"We've made arrangements for her to stay with her aunt - on her mother's side - in the Twin Cities. She hates her father," she glanced at Julie, "no offense intended," she interjected.
"My aunt hates Daddy, too," Julie said, her voice dripping with venom, "so she's who I want to stay with."
"So," Vanity Girl changed the subject, "what did you guys do all afternoon? Watch 'guy' movies? Play in the gym?"
Danny grinned. "They showed me some real cool things, and we sparred a little in the gym. I hope I manifest so I can get cool powers like that! Just ... not like you did," he added a bit nervously. I could understand that; he was afraid that he'd change sex like I had, which would be a frightening prospect to _any_ teenage male.
After dinner, we adjourned to the living area, where we talked late into the night. Since most of us there were either students at Whateley, or alumni, there were a _lot_ of Whateley stories, which left Mom, Dad, and Julie kind of left out. Danny, though, was enraptured by the stories.
When I described the battle with snakey, Mom and Dad both got wide-eyed. In fact, all of the group except Debra were quite surprised. The League members, in particular, knew what it meant when I described snake-face as a Class X entity, but my family was confused. When I explained it, I thought Mom was going to faint. Of course, that led Danny to asking if I'd been in any other fights. Debra chuckled, knowing that my list of fights was rather long, especially since I'd only been on campus a few weeks. I gave them a short summary, omitting a lot of the details, so as not to cause Mom and Dad additional panic.
That inevitably led Wish List to ask about one fight that I'd omitted, which led to Debra asking about another one, and then Vanity Girl asked about a third. Valerie got in on the act, and as they ping-ponged back and forth, mentioning incident after incident, Mom's and Dad's eyes got wider and wider.
Mom finally scowled at me. "You didn't tell me all of that!" she huffed.
I winced. "I ... I thought I did," I said meekly, knowing it was a lame excuse. I purposefully hadn't told my parents, because I was afraid that they'd pull me out of Whateley.
Dad was frowning. "I think we're going to have a little talk, young lady," he said sternly. He's sure slipped into 'stern daddy mode' pretty quickly, even after protesting that earlier that he wasn't used to thinking of me as his little girl.
"Dad," I protested, "it's no worse than what happened to me before I got to Whateley. In fact, it's better, because I'm learning to defend myself, and I'm learning to use my powers, and campus security is pretty good about keeping things from getting out of hand."
"Unless it's security that's trying to kill you," Dad rebutted, a serious frown carved into his features, a very determined look that didn't exactly bode well. "And I don't like the idea of you having to fight snake demon things!"
"Dad, Whateley's a perfect place for me right now! My friends and the faculty there are helping me with everything!"
"We're going to have a talk about this nevertheless."
"Dad, the snake demon was _already_ chasing me as soon as I manifested! If you took me out of Whateley, I wouldn't have the protection I have there! Besides, compared to fighting Unhcegila's son, a few little fights here and there at school are good training for self-defense."
Valerie looked at me, eyes wide. "Good training?" She shook her head slowly. "That's _not_ the way I hear Debra tell it!"
Debra took my hand and turned directly to Dad. "Pete," she began, "I know what Kayda is facing, and the challenges she has as a mutant. We _all_ know. No matter what, it's going to be a very dangerous world for her just because of that." She shrugged. "Hell, living is dangerous. You can't take away all the risk. In my opinion, based on my experiences, Whateley is the best place for Kayda." She looked at me and clasped my hand with both of hers, a fairly intimate and blatant gesture. "You _know_ I wouldn't want her to be there if I thought it was more dangerous for her."
I gulped; Debra was practically declaring to all of the group that she was my sweetie, and I was going to have to explain some things to Julie and Adalie.
"I'm not going to lie to you," Twinkletoes interjected. "Whateley _is_ a dangerous school Kids get hurt and killed there every year. But for people like us, it's statistically safer than trying to go to school with baselines in a mutant-unfriendly world." He stared evenly at Dad. "You know that from what's happened already."
That sort-of defused the arguments from Mom and Dad, but I knew that there _was_ going to be more discussion before the week was over, just as Dad had promised. He seemed to have taken to the role of Daddy protecting his precious daughter like a duck to water, and unfortunately, I was on the receiving end of his suddenly-acquired over-protective instincts.
Wish List turned the conversation back to some of the unique aspects of Whateley, like magic classes, the rabbits' warren of devisor labs underground, the arenas and combat, and the various ranges - of which I'd seen one. Debra, Wish List, Valerie, Addy, and I had a lot of fun exchanging stories about the various cliques and clubs. I'd missed some of the activities and stories because I got there late; apparently, last year, a gal named Freya was running the Alphas, and she'd turned them into Bullies Central, which the Don and Hekate had continued into that school year, until their inevitable downfall - and there was much rejoicing. I, in turn, regaled them with tales I'd heard from my friends about Don and Hekate and how much better the Alphas had become under Kodiak.
The previous year, the three had seen the change in Cav and Skybolt, and they were very shocked to find that it had been a very dark spell from Hekate that had made them mind-slaves to the Don. Based on what I'd been told by Team Kimba, Hekate was a very nasty piece of work, which fit in with the girls' opinions of her. The girls, though, were almost in tears from laughing so hard when Adalie regaled them with the tale of the Don's lamp enema.
Eventually, we realized that the older crowd had gone to bed. Danny was still up, but that was less because of the Whateley tales and more because of his interest in Valerie. Julie probably would have felt a little left out, except several of the League had been suggesting that Julie should apply to Whateley to start next fall. If she didn't have an aunt in the Twin Cities, they would have helped her apply right then, and Mom and Dad were pretty adamant that they'd help her with tuition if needed. That's just how my parents were; when we'd been dating, they treated her as if she was part of the family. Now that she'd asked for help from them, they weren't going to deny her any help they could give.
"It's almost one," Debra finally noted. "We should get to bed."
That drew a couple of derisive snorts, but no-one really protested strongly, because we were all tired, and yawns were becoming much more frequent. Besides, Addy and I were used to a ten pm curfew and lights-out, and with the hour time change, we were up _way_ past our usual bed-time.
I hurried to get the bathroom first for my nightly duties before Julie and Adalie, and then slipped to Debra's room. She was waiting eagerly, and we wrapped ourselves into a passionate embrace, our lips desperately seeking the other's. Just kissing her was making me feel tingly all over, and I was in no hurry to end that wonderful sensation.
We must have smooched for five minutes without stopping, and my hand was definitely wandering to her breast because I was eager for so much more, but she was stronger-willed than I because when I let my hand start sliding down toward her waist, she gently caught it.
"Soon enough," she gently chided me. "Be patient, my love."
"I can't wait," I protested, knowing that she wouldn't listen.
"South Dakota and New Hampshire laws both say the age of consent is sixteen as long as there's a three-year or less age difference - which there is. So we only have to wait a couple of weeks until your birthday."
"Yeah, but I'll be at Whateley, and you'll be here! And the term doesn't end until June!" I was _really_ sexually frustrated at that point. "What if ...."
"What if _what_?"
"What if ... you come out to visit in a couple of weeks?" I prompted.
Debra chuckled. "Don't think that I haven't thought of that! But it'd be expensive, and ..."
"Mom and Dad could pay for it!"
"Yeah? How are you going to ask them? Mom? Would you please pay for a trip so Debra can come visit me after my birthday so we can have sex?" she giggled. "I'm sure that would go over _real_ well."
I conceded her point, unable to not giggle myself at the rather absurd way she'd phrased the conversation with Mom. "I suppose," I said reluctantly before returning to making out with Debra, sitting on her lap on her bed as we kissed and did a little light petting. Eventually, though, she reluctantly scooted me to the door, giving me one last kiss before I left.
Adalie and Julie were giving me knowing looks when I crawled into bed; I must have been with Debra longer than I realized.
"Kayda," Julie asked timidly, "can I ask you something?"
"Sure," I replied a little nervously. I hadn't talked much to Julie in the past few weeks, and I had no idea what was on her mind.
"What's it like - being a mutant in the open, I mean?"
I hesitated before answering. "It's ... hard sometimes," I admitted candidly. "I really miss home, but I know there are people who won't ever accept me."
Julie nodded. "That's kind of what I figured."
"I encountered the same thing at my 'ome," Addy put in. "Even with some super-'ero friends, some people are just afraid of mutants."
"At least your family didn't turn on you," Julie said, her voice a little bitter.
"It happens," I said. "One person in my cottage ... is Ayla Goodkind."
I heard a gasp from Julie. Everyone know how rabidly anti-mutant the Goodkinds were.
"Yeah. When Ayla manifested," I continued, "the Goodkinds turned ... her over to a mad scientist to experiment on for several days, then kicked her out and left her penniless."
"Yeah. And there are some students whose stories are worse."
Addy nodded. "Like yours," she deadpanned. I shot her a disapproving look because I really didn't like thinking about my first week after manifesting.
"That was awful!" Julie observed.
"Some mutants end up as criminals," Addy noted, "because their families and friends reject them, and they 'ave no choice if they want to survive." She sighed. "A criminal gang tried to make me work with them after I escaped from the French MCO."
"I'll always be your friend," I said to reassure Julie.
"I guess," Julie said, her voice trembling. "I'm glad of that," she continued.
I scooted to her bed to give her a hug. "Everything's going to be okay," I assured her. "Mom and Dad and I will do anything we can to help. From what I've seen, Mom and Dad treat you like their own daughter."
"Thanks," Julie sniffled, fighting to not be overwhelmed by her situation. "That ... helps to know you haven't forgotten about me. Even if you can't be my boyfriend anymore."
My eyes narrowed, which she couldn't see because my head was on her shoulder, and I looked directly into Addy's eyes, wide as they were with surprise at Julie's revelation.
"That explains a lot," Addy said softly.
Julie leaned back from me, staring at my face, reading the genuine fear that I was feeling. "Oh," she said, "I ... didn't know that you hadn't told Addy!"
I lowered my gaze, shaking my head. "I haven't told many people at all. You know what happened to me because I'm a mutant. Imagine the reaction I'd get if people knew I'd changed sex," I said to both of them. "My life would be in danger from both the anti-mutant crowd and from the anti-transgendered crowd."
Julie and Addy were silent; I knew Addy's story, or some of it, and she understood only too well how people could threaten the lives of mutants. It wasn't a stretch for either of them to extrapolate an understanding of the hatred they'd felt into my sex-change situation.
"Please promise to never tell anyone else," I said, my tone conveying the urgency of my request and the fear that was in my heart. Anti-gay bigotry was pretty bad, but anti-trans sentiment was that much worse.
"I promise," Addy said solemnly.
"Yeah. Me too," Julie added.
I crawled back into my own bed. "What's new back home?" I asked, changing the subject.
"The rumor is that Cheryl is knocked up," Julie reported the juicy gossip.
"Who? Wasn't she dating Harry a while ago?"
Julie giggled. "We didn't think he had it in him! But yeah, he's the daddy."
"That's going to mess up his college plans." I sighed. "He and Cheryl are two who didn't ... try to kill me," I added sadly.
"Speaking of _that_, Scott and Shelly are walking around like they're scared, and always looking over their shoulders."
"Really? Why?" I asked, curious.
"The ... guys ... aren't talking out loud, but _all_ of them seem to be _very_ nervous. They keep whispering about 'that damned mutant did it again,' and stuff like that."
"Did _what_?" I was a little outraged. "They _know_ I'm not living there anymore."
Julie shrugged. "From what I hear, there are some really weird things happening to them. Notes left on their dressers, bull ... parts ... hanging in their cars, threats, beatings. Strange things, and the sheriff can't find _any_ clues. Then the other night, Scott and JJ got beaten up pretty badly, and Rich to a lesser extent - in town, just down the street from the burger place."
"You're kidding!" I couldn't say I wasn't happy about bad things happening to them, but physical assault? The folks in town were going to blame me.
"Worse, though - all three had 'RAPIST' written in permanent marker on their foreheads."
"You're shitting me!"
Julie shook her head solemnly. "We all saw it. Everyone is asking what it means, but the guys are being pretty quiet about it."
"Serves them right," I said angrily. "That's what they are!" I suddenly realized how angry and tense I was, so I closed my eyes a moment and did an exercise Wakan Tanka had taught me to calm myself.
We talked a while longer; Addy was having fun comparing American high school drama and gossip to that of her own school. Amazingly, a lot of the themes were similar - who was dating who, who'd broken up, girls trying to sabotage each other to get the attention of the 'desirable' boy, and such. Finally, I realized that I wasn't catching all the conversation, but was nodding off a bit.
"I'm about to fall asleep, and it's going to be a busy day tomorrow."
"Okay. Dormez bien," Addy said. I turned out the light, and Julie and I could both hear her head hitting the pillow. She was probably asleep within moments.
"Uh, Kayda?" Julie asked softly as we lay on our beds in the darkness.
"Um," she started, halting and sounding nervous. "Um, I don't know if you want to talk about it," she continued nervously. "But ... well, are you ...?"
I thought only a brief moment. "Yes, I'm interested in girls."
"I can't say as I blame you," Julie replied quickly.
"How ... how did you know?"
Julie chuckled. "Is Debra your girlfriend?"
I lay in bed for a moment, astonished. I _thought_ we were being discrete. "Uh, why do you ask?"
Julie chuckled again. "So she _is_ your girlfriend.
"Yeah," I admitted softly. "How did you guess?"
"You two are about as subtle as a hurricane," Julie giggled. "It was pretty obvious." She thought for a moment, and I was too uneasy about the conversation to volunteer any information. "So, what's it like? Sex, I mean?"
It was a good thing that the light was out so Julie couldn't see me turn red. "I ... I don't know," I answered slowly.
"What? You mean you two haven't ...?"
"No. I'm not sixteen yet, so it's illegal and Debra could get in a lot of trouble."
"Oh. Isn't your birthday in a few weeks?"
"Yeah," I replied, a little unhappily. "But I'll be at Whateley, and she'll be back here."
"You'll have a break soon enough, and you'll be home for the summer I hope."
I nodded, but inside, I was in knots. I didn't want to wait that long. "Yeah, I suppose. Good night."
"Good night, Kayda."
I turned out the light and let my head flop on my pillow. I think I was asleep in seconds, and almost immediately, I entered my dream world, where Debra awaited.
Kayda's Hometown, nearly midnight
A hand across his mouth startled JJ out of sleep. His eyes were wide open instantly, and he struggled to sit up, but there were enough hands holding him that he couldn't move. Looking around, or trying to look around fearfully, he saw only a shadowy figure with a face hidden by a mask. Quickly, professionally, he was passed out his bedroom window, and still held immobile, his arms and legs were trussed up with duct tape, including a gag across his mouth. Someone else was in the bed of the truck, not that he could tell in the inky blackness of night. The truck rolled a ways down the street away from his house, and then the motor started and the truck sped away from JJ's house.
Bound and gagged and bouncing around roughly, JJ had no idea how far the pickup drove, or how long; it felt like hours, and with each passing second, his sense of terror increased and his body got more banged up from the road bumps.
It felt to JJ like the pickup turned off the road, and then it stopped. JJ and his mysterious companion were roughly pulled out of the pickup and held upright.
The men facing JJ were wearing all black, with masks that seemed ethereal and ghostly. "You had your chance," one of the men snarled. "You were given more opportunities to avoid consequences, but you chose to ignore us."
"How do your friends, family, and teachers feel about you committing rape and attempted murder? Are your parents proud of you?" a second deep voice asked mockingly.
JJ tried to whimper, but a hammer-fist smashing onto his collarbone shocked him and a cry came from behind the duct tape. He tried to collapse, but rough hands held him firmly.
"Every blow that was delivered will be returned many times over," the first voice said, echoing like it was from a tomb. "This is your _first_ judgment day."
Another fist pounded into JJ's side hard, causing the boy to flinch. His eyes were wide with terror, knowing that he was going to be beaten almost to death.
The group of men taunted JJ and his compatriot, who JJ finally caught a glimpse of. Skelly was taking as vicious a beating as JJ, and he was openly whimpering. If he could have spoken, no doubt he'd have been begging for mercy, but the duct tape made that impossible, and the men made it clear that the time for confession was gone for these two.
The beating seemed to go on four hours; massive pulses of pain radiated from everywhere on JJ's body, and he'd felt like he was going to pass out many times. Finally, sure he was going to be beaten to death, the men sat him up, leaning against a wheel of the truck.
A cup was held in front of his face, and the duct tape was painfully torn from his skin. "Drink this," the voice ordered.
JJ was going to refuse, but his nose was pinched shut, and his head tilted back. When he had to breathe, the liquid - foul-tasting and hot - was poured into his mouth, and he couldn't help but swallow the fluid. Coughing, gasping for breath, he was forced again and again to drink the beverage. Surprisingly to him, as he drank, the aches seemed to fade, and bones he _knew_ were broken tingled as if they were knitting back together.
"Did you enjoy the last few hours?" the commanding voice boomed at him.
JJ looked up, terror in his eyes. He weakly shook his head no.
"The sheriff ... will find you," he said, somehow finding a tiny reserve of defiance.
"And charge us with what?" the man laughed, joined by his fellows. "By the time you are home, you'll be completely healed. There will be no trace of our fun."
Another leaned forward, his ghostly face inches from JJ. "We can do this as often as we want, and there will be no evidence. Ever." He watched as his words sank into the terrified teen's sleep- and pain-addled brain. "And you'll never know when we'll come for you again. Nowhere will be safe."
JJ heard Skelly whimpering with fright, and the smell of urine permeated the air. He didn't know if it was from him or Skelly, though. No doubt, he'd pissed himself at least once during the hours of torture.
"Drink this," another man said, shoving another cup in front of JJ. He hesitated, and immediately the men pinched his nose and forced the draught into his mouth. Coughing from beside him told JJ that Skelly was being forced to drink as well.
As he was bundled and hoisted into the truck, the world started to get fuzzy, and his limbs started tingling and not responding to JJ's mental commands. The boys were both asleep within seconds, their bodies stressed by the beating, the healing drinks, and the sleeping draught.
The leader pulled his hood back and took out his cell phone. "Grey Skies?"
"Yes. How did it go?" the raspy voice sounded through the speaker.
In answer, the man tilted his head back and gave a war victory cry, a primal scream of triumph. The others joined his vocal celebration. "It went as you said," the man finally said into the phone.
"Celebrate later. You must get them back without leaving a clue."
"We are ghost walkers," one of the men snapped. "We don't leave clues."
"Remember who you're talking to," the voice on the phone snapped. "It is only through my power that you can do as you do."
"Understood," the man who'd been arrogant replied, his voice now humble.
"We will need more of the special drinks," the leader said.
"You will have everything you need," Gray Skies replied coolly. "Get them home, and then go to the house to rest. I have two more names for tomorrow night."
"Will we have to beat the girls?" another of the ghost-warriors asked, worriedly.
"Would you have me make you break your oath to the societies? Would you have me make you disgrace your tribe and your families?" Gray Skies demanded. "You will not beat the girls. You know that it's against our laws. But I have a way to shame them that is allowable."
"We will do as you say, Gray Skies." The man hung up the phone, and the men couldn't help letting out another victorious cry.
Sunday, April 8, 2007
After church and brunch, which Dad again generously treated, Julie had some quick power tests done, which I got a kick out of. It was fun to watch someone else in the torture chamber instead of myself, and I probably laughed a little too much at seeing her endure the unpleasant testing. It turned out that she had a very low-level ability to feel or sense magic, but no wizard abilities. She was a warper, and to the best of their ability to test her, Wish List and Tractor felt that her warping ability went along with plant sensitivity explained how she suddenly teleported to a tree when she'd escaped her dad's drunken rage.
We went to the MCO office to get Julie a provisional MID. I didn't go in, but Debra, Valerie, and Tractor all accompanied her - just in case. Less than fifteen minutes later she had her card, which see seemed both sad and giddy about. Because it was only a provisional card so she could travel, she hadn't had to pick out a code-name yet, but the card, and presumably her file, were marked 'Jane Doe 627-51'.
The group of us who were traveling - Mom, Dad, Danny, Julie, Adalie, Debra, Valerie, and I - drove to the airport, bypassing the main terminal and going instead to one of the Fixed Base Operators. Even then, an MCO agent met us to review our MID cards. After dealing with the Sioux Falls MCO before, I was genuinely nervous, but Debra and Valerie helped me stay calm through the surprisingly quick and non-confrontational check. After we were through, Debra noted that the new MCO agents were a lot more cordial than the pair that had been removed.
The airplane waiting for us was a small twin-engine military turboprop called a C-12, with luxury seating for eight - which was exactly the size of our party. It was normally used to ferry generals around, so the interior was pretty plush, and the seats swiveled to allow little conversation groups if desired. Normally, this plane held nineteen passengers, so we had a lot of extra space. I was surprised that the pilot wasn't a 'blue suiter', an Air Force officer, but rather an Army National Guard officer; I'd assumed that if it had wings, the Air Force flew it. He greeted us politely as we boarded, and I assumed that he gave me the admiring once-over that I saw him direct at Valerie and Debra. That was a little creepy, but since I was with Debra, I kept myself from having a panic attack at the thought of being mentally undressed by the lech. Then again, I remembered when I was a guy - a couple of months ago. I would have done the same thing, but perhaps a little less obviously. I _hoped_ that I had been able to be less obvious back then.
The 'preflight' safety briefing from the pilot was short and to the point, without a steward roaming up and down the aisles checking our seat belts and tray tables and giving us the lecture about the yellow oxygen masks. The pilot also pointed out the small lavatory and the refreshments in the rear of the plane, and then he pulled the door closed, started the engines, and got us in the air.
I assumed that Julie had never flown before, because she was visibly nervous. Debra and I took it upon ourselves to distract her - and in turn, we were distracted by Adalie who was absolutely dumbfounded at the lack of small cities and towns and the wide-open space beneath us that characterized rural South Dakota. In France, she told us, the average population density in the rural areas was between forty and a hundred people per square kilometer, whereas beneath us, the average rural population density was less than ten per square mile! Naturally, with so much space, she assumed that everyone was a 'cowboy' like the French stereotype of "les Americains", which led to a game of comparing stereotypes, which in turn led to a game of comparing 'folk sayings' between Addy's home region in France and South Dakota. Some of the expressions were quite ... naughty and even downright crude, and we were giggling like schoolgirls as we explained them. I could see that Danny, sitting on the other side of the plane in front of Julie, was blushing furiously because he was listening in. We figured that he was learning a lesson about eavesdropping on girls, given how racy some of the sayings were getting.
With our conversations and games, it seemed like the flight took no time at all, and before we knew it, we landed at the Spearfish airport. No sooner had we disembarked than two people walked toward us, one a tall, slender, thirty-something man with his eyes ablaze with energy, wearing a suit and tie and having a generous dose of worry hovering about him like a personal raincloud, and the other a shorter woman in a casual shirt and blue jeans, with her white hair in a ponytail, and a weathered, dark-toned face replete with, and even celebrating, wrinkles and lines of her age. It was hard to tell if she was sixty or eighty, and she bore herself with the demeanor of a wise grandmother.
Dad was first in line to greet them, possibly out a sense of masculine protectiveness. "I'm Pete Franks," he said, shaking hands with the suited gentleman.
"Dr. Ernst Schmidt," the man introduced himself. "I'm the director of HPARC." He turned to mom. "You must be Mrs. Franks?"
Mom nodded, shaking his hand. "Please just call me June."
Debra leaned closer. "She doesn't want him to call her until June?" she whispered loudly enough that Addy, Julie, Valerie, and I could hear
"No, she said call her June," I shot back, trying to stifle giggles.
"That's what I asked," Debra chuckled.
"Call her June today?" Valerie asked?
"But it's not June today. It's March," Julie joined in, giggling right along with us. Addy, though, looked a little confused by the wordplay
"No, it's June."
"It won't be June for a couple of months. What do I call you?" Valerie asked.
"I said what, not when. And it's today."
"Today? Not June?"
"I said, call me June."
"I thought you said call you today!"
We continued this for a bit, until I saw Dad giving me a 'stern parent' look. Somehow, after dealing with Mrs. Carson and her 'glare of supreme authority', Dad's determined scowl seemed rather ... unimpressive.
"This is my daughter," Dad began to introduce me to Dr. Schmidt.
"Ah," he said, shaking my hand. "You must be Kayda. We've heard a lot about you."
"Oh?" I was nervous, both because a man was touching me, and because he indicated that he knew about me.
"Charlie Lodgeman speaks very highly of you."
"You honor us with your presence, Kayda," the woman said in perfect Lakota. "I am Hazel Two Bears." She clasped my hand firmly with both of hers and stared deeply into my eyes. It was a little unnerving. "Yes," she said after a moment. "You _are_ the Ptesanwi. I can feel it."
I flinched. "I don't want to make a big fuss over that," I replied softly. "I'm afraid of what will happen if everyone finds out who my spirit is."
Hazel chuckled. "You can't keep who you are secret from our People. They _will_ recognize the Ptesanwi."
"Great," I grumbled.
"Celebrate it. You give the people a reason to be happy and hopeful. Would you be so selfish as to deny them that?"
Great. Now in addition to a crotchety white buffalo and a Lakota demi-goddess, I had an old Lakota woman nagging me, too.
We finished the introductions and then piled into two vans - one of which was larger and would be ours to use while we were in the Hills. Debra, Addy, Julie, and I were in the van Hazel was driving. "You guys are being awfully generous to us," I commented as we drove down Spearfish Canyon. I noticed that Addy was enraptured by the scenery around us. I chuckled, "This is nothing. I wish it was autumn so you could see it when the leaves change color. _That's_ spectacular."
"We _do_ expect a little consulting out of you," Hazel chuckled.
"Yeah." I saw her wince. "We've got a few ... items ... here that we want to talk with you about. Things that I've heard you're pretty familiar with."
"Like?" I tried to draw out more information.
"We'll talk more when we get to the facility." Hazel was being circumspect, probably because she didn't know much she could talk in front of Addy, Julie, and Debra.
Addy's 'tourist' fascination jumped into high gear when we drove down into Deadwood and I told her of the town's history from the Gold Rush days. Naturally, she wanted to see more of the town and its history. It was a very short drive from there to Lead, site of the HPARC, and we drove into a non-descript building, followed closely by the other van. After the outside doors had shut, we walked to an elevator that carried us from the garage down into the former mine, to a well-lighted, well-appointed area that looked like it was out of a Star Trek set. Addy, Julie, and I exchanged nervous glances at the number of security checks and devices we were passing through.
"Who was your interior decorator," Mom asked, smiling. "Gene Roddenberry?"
Hazel and Dr. Schmidt chuckled.
Addy shook her head in disgust at the dicor. "Bah!" she scoffed. "So ... ugly. So lifeless. Even in my sleep, I could design an interior that was better than this ... sterile utilitarian garbage!"
I smiled. "Addy wants to be an interior architect and designer."
Hazel and Mom nodded knowingly, while my little brother just rolled his eyes. When we went into a conference room, Mom deadpanned, "Isn't there supposed to be a little triangular display thing on the table?"
"And a couple of red-shirt guards," I added. "Don't forget the red-shirt guards." Dad chuckled, which surprised me.
"Sorry," Dr. Schmidt chuckled, "Scotty has it in the shop for repair." The room did, though, have a holographic projector, so I knew that a computer display wouldn't be an issue if we needed it.
"There are a couple of Native American spirit creatures that we have recently ... acquired," Hazel said, glancing at me as we all sat down around the table, "and we want to find out anything you can tell us about them."
I shrugged. "Sure." Across the table, Mom and Dad both had worry written all over their faces.
"According to Charlie," Dr. Schmidt said, "you fought against a spirit creature on your way to Whateley." He fiddled with a computer and a sketch of a water panther was displayed on the monitor.
"The Mishibijiw? Yeah." Gak - that seemed so long ago. Had it really only been a month? And had I had that many adventures that it seemed almost dull? "It attacked me, somewhere in Pennsylvania, I think. I killed it."
"You ... killed it? By yourself?" Dr. Schmidt seemed skeptical.
"Well, I did have this," I said, pulling out Wakan Mila.
Hazel focused on it, and I could feel some magic energy swimming about her as she studied the knife. Her eyes nearly bugged out of their sockets when she recognized the dagger from its mystical signature. "That's ... the knife of Ptesanwi."
"Yeah," I acknowledged with a diffident shrug. "Wakan Ta...." I belatedly realized that I should shut up.
Hazel exchanged a glance with Dr. Schmidt, and then she pasted on a smile. "We have a lot of questions," she said to Mom and Dad, "and they're probably going to be rather boring. Rather than sit around listening to this dry, dull discussion, you could take advantage of the time and go see Deadwood. If you had more time, hiking to the top of Harney Peak would be fun; the view from the top is spectacular."
I knew instantly what was going on. They wanted to talk about a few things that they considered sensitive, and they didn't want to alarm my family. "Why don't you go do that?" I asked Mom. "This is going to be pretty boring if it's anything like what I did at Whateley."
"I'll stay with her," Debra immediately volunteered. "I did all the tourist stuff when I was a little girl, but I'm sure Addy and Julie want to see the sights."
It took a little arguing and persuading, but eventually they all left to play tourist while Debra and I stayed.
"You were saying?" Hazel picked right up where I'd left off as soon as the others were gone. I glanced warily at Debra, wondering how much I should tell them. Hazel picked up on that. "It's okay, dear," she said reassuringly with a smile. "I know that you channel Wakan Tanka. That _is_ the role of the Ptesanwi."
"Yeah," I acknowledged. "She somehow gave me the knife in our world. Good thing, too," I snorted."
"And that's how you killed the underwater panther?" Dr. Schmidt asked.
"Yeah. And it's the only reason I was able to fight off a snake demon in my dream world." I shuddered at that memory. Debra noticed; under the table, she clutched my hand reassuringly.
"The snake-demon ... in your dream-world?" Hazel asked, practically awe-struck.
"Yeah. I was dream walking."
I swear if Hazel's eyes bugged out any further, they were going to smack against the opposite wall. "You ... dream-walk? At _your_ age?"
I shrugged, glancing at Debra and trying to keep my mind focused away from our intimate dream walks. "Yeah. So?"
"We'll get to that. First, the Mishibijiw," Dr. Schmidt guided the conversation back to the underwater panther.
I answered more questions, and then they displayed a picture from somewhere in one of their labs. "Yeah, that's the ugly thing," I acknowledged.
Hazel fiddled with the display, zooming in. "The first person who touched it went insane."
"Yeah, it's got the taint from Unhcegila's spawn on it. Just like Officer Matthews and snakey himself."
"What we're worried about is here," Hazel said with a frown as she zoomed in the display to its tail.
"Oh, yeah. The spikes. Wakan Tanka told me to cut them off because they have powerful magic."
"_You_ cut them off?" Dr. Schmidt was astonished. "That ... carcass is a Class X item! They'd be just as dangerous!"
"Yeah," I acknowledged. "But Wakan Tanka said that because Unhcegila is an old enemy, she and I are attuned to his evil energy, so we're kind of immune to it."
"But the spikes - are contaminated," Dr. Schmidt protested.
"And _you_ killed the snake demon? Unhcegila's spawn?" Hazel continued the questioning.
I shrugged. "The second time. I couldnt kill him the first time in my dream-world, but the second time, I had a lot of help." I couldn't help but chuckle. "It turns out that he's allergic to Wakan Mila."
"And you can look at _him_ too?" Dr. Schmidt asked.
I nodded. "Yeah. But I was afraid when we were fighting that someone else was going to look at him and go insane."
"Let's get back to those copper spikes," Dr. Schmidt said. "They're probably Class X, just like the rest of the body."
I shrugged. "Wakan Tanka taught me how to remove the taint," I replied like it was no big deal. "Good thing, too. The bullets Officer Matthews shot me with were tainted as well, and the taint was interfering with my healing. Just like this week when someone stabbed me with the missing spike."
"Missing spike?" Hazel asked, visibly upset. "What do you mean?"
I sighed. "Somehow, someone stole one of Mishibijiw's copper spikes from my room before I could put them in safe storage in the Mystical Arts department. I didn't notice until one of the instructors counted them."
"You mean to say that there's an uncontrolled, Class X-tainted copper spike somewhere on your school's grounds?" Dr. Schmidt asked in astonishment.
"Yeah," I answered, nodding slowly. "But Wakan Tanka says that as soon as I purify the rest of the spikes, the tainted one will stand out like a sore thumb, and we'll be able to track it and recover it."
"You ... purified the spikes?" Hazel asked, disbelief evident in her tone and features.
Hazel frowned, and then she practically leapt to her feet, grabbing my hand. "Come on," she urged me. "If you can remove the taint ...." I followed her determined pace into an elevator, with Debra and Dr. Schmidt close at our heels, and we descended several levels. After going through some really heavy security, we came to a small room that seemed like a nurse's station. Hazel looked at the monitors, and I followed her gaze.
I gasped in surprise at what I saw on three of the monitors. There were two boys who looked about ten or eleven, each propped up in a hospital bed in a room. They stared unseeing into space, their eyes hollow and their gazes vacant. In the third, a man struggled against a straitjacket, his eyes wild. He was totally disheveled, and his face bruised. I cringed as he fought his restraints, throwing himself violently against the padded walls. I tried to tear my eyes away from the horrible sights on the monitors, but I couldn't.
"The two boys were part of a scout troop," Dr. Schmidt explained, "that was attacked by _something_. We think it was your snake demon. They haven't responded to anything since they were found, and our experts think they were contaminated by that Class X entity. The man touched the carcass of the Mishibijiw in the park where it attacked you. He's been like this ever since."
"And you want me ... to try to heal them?"
Hazel nodded. "Yes. If you can."
After I'd mixed up three batches of the special brew, it took five orderlies to hold down the raving man while I poured some of the foul-smelling cleansing liquid into his mouth. He spat it out on us the first two times, and the third time, he swallowed most of what I'd given him. The boys were much easier - it was like feeding a baby. Once the taint was gone, I began to prepare a healing spell.
"Do not waste your time, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka said, her eyes brimming with sadness. "Their minds are gone. There is nothing left to heal."
I fought a sudden deluge of tears at the hopeless plight of the two boys. They seemed so young and ... innocent. "I have to try," I cried.
"Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka said, rising and holding me tightly, "there is nothing left to heal. The spawn of Unhcegila has taken their minds."
"Their parents ...." I was practically bawling as I thought of the kids' parents, they had to be heartbroken and totally distraught at losing their boys. I wondered if the parents even _knew_ of their fates. "I have to try."
I opened my medicine pouch and took out the ingredients. "Wakan Tanka," I mumbled softly, "doesn't think it'll work." I saw the look in Hazel's eyes. "She said there's nothing left to heal."
"And you're going to try anyway," Debra said with certainty.
"I _have_ to," I said, fighting tears. "If these were your children ...?"
HPARC Conference Room; late afternoon
Debra held me close, trying to comfort me, while Hazel held my hand. I couldn't stop the tears; every time I thought of the two boys, my eyes resumed watering. As Wakan Tanka had said, I wasn't able to help them, at least not much.
"At least their parents will know that they're alive," Hazel said, trying to put any kind of positive spin on things. "They'll be able to go home."
"As what? As one-year-olds in pre-teen bodies?" I wailed. "And their parents will have to care for them like they were infants for the rest of their lives." I wiped at my tears. "Tell me how that's any comfort to the families!"
"Honey," Debra whispered into my ear, "you're experiencing what any doctor or superhero experiences the first time they can't heal or help someone."
"How would you know?" I shot back, torn between anger and anguish.
"Because of the time I couldn't save a child from a rager," Debra said very softly. "So yes, I know _exactly_ what you're feeling."
I looked at her, totally surprised, seeing the glint of moisture in the corner of her eye - and the look of total understanding. I pulled her close and held her as I wept on her shoulder.
Eventually, the tears quit, even though the heaviness hadn't left my heart. Dr. Schmidt rejoined us, with one of his experts, a guy named Chris Patton, and we continued the discussion for another couple of hours.
We were just about done, and Dr. Schmidt confirmed that my family and friends were on their way back to the site. "Can we get a little of your time tomorrow morning?" Dr. Schmidt asked. "Since you can actually touch the snake demon, I'd like if you could do some exam for us."
I glanced at Debra, and nodded, still feeling the bitter disappointment of my failure to help the boys and the man. I didn't know _how_ I was going to forget that. "Yeah, I guess."
Rapid City, dinner
"Did you like Deadwood?" I asked Addy. We were sitting around a table in an Italian restaurant, Botticeli's or something like that, and as usual, Debra was shoveling in the food while Danny sat, slack-jawed, watching in amazement.
"Oui," Addy replied happily. On the way from the HPARC, we'd stopped in Deadwood because she wanted us to get an old-style picture with us posing in wild-west themed costumes, an idea she'd gotten that afternoon while they were touring and I was talking to Dr. Schmidt and Hazel Two Bears. All of us girls were dressed in saloon-girl costumes, and Danny was dressed like a straight-laced Cavalry trooper. To make things even more amusing, Dad was dressed like the saloon owner, and Mom was dressed like the Madame overseeing us 'working girls'. It was even funnier because Debra had persuaded Valerie to drape herself in Danny's lap, holding a whiskey bottle and wrapping a boa around his neck like she was teasing him - which she was. Planning to eat late, we went down to Mount Rushmore after the picture session, and Addy seemed almost in awe of the giant carving. I chuckled to myself; she was going to really be impressed by the much larger Crazy Horse monument that was under construction.
"Tomorrow," Mom interrupted, "we'll get up a little early, and after breakfast, we'll drive down to Hot Springs. I think you'll all find the mammoth dig interesting. We'll drive through Custer State Park on the way back up."
"Don't forget that they want me to stop at HPARC tomorrow," I interrupted.
"We'll have lunch at Crazy Horse, drive up to Lead for your meeting, and then we'll drive to the airport so we can fly to Mission."
"Do we have to go to Mission?" I griped. I really wanted to spend more time in the Hills. Tatanka and Wakan Tanka liked it there. "Addy hasn't seen Devil's Tower, and I thought we'd have a nice picnic up by Sylvan Lake."
"Sorry, not this time. Your grandmother has something special planned," Mom answered.
"That's what I'm afraid of," I groaned.
"Per'aps we can do that this summer," Addy said eagerly. "We 'ave to plan our trip when we all get back to Whateley."
"Trip?" Debra asked cautiously.
"Oui," Addy was almost giddy with excitement. "The three of us - Kayda, Alicia, and I - are going to visit our 'omes this summer. Alicia lives in Louisiana, and we will also go to la belle France, to my 'ome."
"I thought you said we'd go to Paris," I noted, a little disappointed. I wanted to see Paris, probably mostly because it was known as _the_ place to go if you went to France.
Addy scowled. "Bordeaux is so much nicer that Paris," she replied with a bit of regional snobbery. "Paris is so ... full of tourists, and the people there are very rude!" She shrugged off the thought. "My papa has a cognac business, and our chef makes the most wonderful desserts with cognac, like chocolate layer mouse cake with cognac."
I looked with pleading eyes at Mom and Dad. "It'll be a lot of fun," I said. "You _will_ let me go?"
"Oh, oui," Addy said, "you _must_ let 'er go! It will be marvellieux! You _have_ to meet mes amies Madame Rousseaux and Soeur Justice!" she babbled enthusiastically. "And if you like, maybe Daphne can teach us to make my very favorite dessert, apricots in caramel-cognac sauce." She half-smiled and shrugged. "I never could quite get the sauce right. Per'aps with a little more practice ...."
I decided to interrupt her, because she was very excited, and as a speedster, she might start babbling at five hundred words a minute. "Please, Mom?" I begged. "It'll be fun, and you always said it'd do us good to learn about other cultures!"
Mom shot me a look that expressed her displeasure at feeling placed on the spot in this public setting. "We'll talk," she said simply.
As long as the group was talking about the tourist things they'd done, I was fine, but when the girls started asking about what I'd done during the day, I found myself fighting my emotions. I couldn't stop thinking of the two boys that I hadn't been able to help. Debra noticed, and she squeezed my hand under the table. I realized that I was getting a lot of puzzled looks from others at the table.
"Supers, one-oh-one," Debra said cryptically. Valerie's eyes widened, and then she nodded knowingly.
"What?" Mom asked, concerned by my reticence to talk and the cryptic phrase from Debra.
"I ... I ...." I could barely speak due to the mental images of those two boys that were seared into my brain, the utterly blank, mindless stare of kids who would never recover and whom I couldn't help.
"It was a lot of discussion about mythical Native American creatures and stuff," Debra offered, coming to my rescue. "Mostly boring stuff, but some parts were probably a little ... upsetting to Kayda, because she had to fight some of them." She turned to Addy, still holding my hand under the table. "If you liked Mt. Rushmore, you're going to be amazed at Crazy Horse." Between Debra and Valerie, they steered the conversation to the touristy stuff and away from my day at HPARC.
Later, in the hotel, I went to Debra and Val's room. As soon as she saw me, Val made a rather lame excuse and hurried out, leaving me alone with Debra. We didn't say anything; she knew I'd had a rough, emotionally trying day, and provided what I needed most - a comforting hug. I couldn't understand how anyone could possibly continue being a hero after something like I'd experienced. Or a doctor or nurse or an EMT.
Monday, April 9, 2007, morning
Black Hills, SD
I'd hoped that Mom was kidding about our itinerary for Monday. She wasn't. We were on the road to Hot Springs by eight thirty, arriving in Hot Springs about half past nine. Danny and I had been to the mammoth dig a few years earlier, but Addy, Julie, Debra, and Valerie found the site fascinating. It was once a sinkhole into which mammoths had fallen when trying to drink, and their bones piled up as sediment eventually filled the sinkhole. Eventually, bones were found, and an archeological dig started, soon followed by a tourist trap, otherwise known as an 'educational attraction''.
I was bored before Mom and Dad decided we'd had enough; the MST3K routine we were doing about the various piled up mammoths might have given them a bit of a clue. After stopping to pick up a few snacks - which for Debra was a couple of grocery bags full, we set out north toward Custer State Park.
As we drove across one flat area, a small herd of bison decided to cross the road, and Dad stopped about fifty or sixty yards away from the meandering animals. Since we had a few supers with us, we all got out to stretch and gawk at the magnificent animals. Addy was practically shaking from nervousness at the large beasts, while Danny was thrilled. Valerie and Mom were somewhere between the two extremes - cautious about the famed ill tempers of the large animals, but enchanted at seeing them roaming so free and wild. Dad stayed protectively by Mom's side, his trusty 1911 pistol tucked at the ready inside his waistband.
A large bull bison stopped and stared directly at me. I could practically feel his presence, and it felt somehow right to be outdoors in the wild with him. After a few seconds, he turned and plodded slowly toward me, and I began to walk to him.
"Kayda, no!" Dad and Debra called simultaneously, both sounding fearful for my safety as they repeatedly screamed at me to stop.
"It's okay," I said confidently without taking my eyes off the huge beast. "Tatanka is talking to him." I felt very peaceful going toward the lumbering bison, not at all afraid for my safety. I knew Tatanka wouldn't let me go into a situation where I was in danger, especially not from one of his kind.
Debra nearly ran, carefully, keeping a wary eye on me, until she was five or six yards behind me, in range to use her energy push to defend me if necessary. I waved my hand toward her motioning for her to stop. I knew she was terrified for my safety, but I also knew that Tatanka was with me. And I could always cast a shield spell.
The bison stopped, his eyes fixed on me, so I walked the last few steps until I could feel his hot breath. Slowly, I reached up and stroked his forehead, while he nodded deeply to me, almost like he was bowing.
"Hail, mighty tatanka," I said softly, almost reverently. "I am not here to hunt you. Instead, I wish you and your herd prosperity." Of course, he didn't answer, but we stood, facing each other, me scratching and petting his forehead, while he simply looked at me.
It wasn't my dream world, but it wasn't the real world either. I found myself in the prairie in the middle of a vast herd of bison, more animals than I could count. Tatanka was there as well, walking among the great bison like he was king, and given how the other animals nodded at him, he probably was. Or emperor, or prince, or whatever a supreme bison spirit would be called.
In the distance, I saw a few cows with calves, and further up a hillside, I was startled to see a small pack of wolves stalking a calf that was separated from its mother.
"Tatanka," I said urgently. "There are ...."
"There are wolves stalking that calf. I know, Wihakayda. Just watch," he said.
At almost the same moment that the wolves charged the calf, several mature bison, having smelled or heard the wolves, charged to surround it. The wolves, fearsome though they might appear, were no match for a ton of horns, hooves, and angry disposition. The wolf pack tried to distract and lure off the large animals, but they weren't distracted, snorting and stomping, quickly reacting to feints by the wolves. It didn't take long for the wolves to give up and leave, while the older bison prodded the wayward calf back to the safety of the herd.
"No, Wihakayda," Tatanka said to me, anticipating my question, "the herd cannot save all of the calves. They are young and weak, and if separated from the herd, they are easy prey for the wolves. It is the way of nature."
I thought about the majestic animals, large and formidable, and the indiscriminate and wholesale slaughter of the late eighteen hundreds, a successful effort to deprive the plains tribes of their primary means of support, and thus coerce them into surrender to a reservation. My stomach turned, and I fought a sudden urge to throw up from the thought of how these majestic animals had been senselessly slaughtered - for no legitimate reason.
"Wihakayda," Tatanka continued, "the fate of the People and the fate of the tatankas are intertwined. If the tatankas do not prosper, the People cannot prosper. Now the white man works to restore herds. It is a slow start, but it is a start." He nudged me gently. "I can tell that you understand how the People felt when the white man destroyed the herds of tatankas, the anguish in their hearts at having the balance of nature upset so stupidly."
"How do I help make it right?" I asked simply. It had to be made right.
I came back to the real world, to where I was petting a real, live bison. He bowed his head toward me again, and then backed slowly away before turning to walk to the rest of the herd.
Debra raced up and clutched me, with Dad right behind her. "Are you crazy?" she demanded.
"Tatanka said he would protect me," I repeated.
"That thing could have easily killed you!" Dad said, half afraid for my safety and half angry at what he considered reckless, foolish behavior on my part.
Debra took my elbow and turned me back toward the van. "That was reckless! Don't you _ever_ do something like that again! You scared me half to death!"
"Tatanka wouldn't have brought the bison to me without a reason," I countered.
Tatanka was suddenly standing before me, startling Dad and Debra. "Wihakayda speaks wisely," he said solemnly in his gruff voice. "She must learn about my kind, because the fate of my kind and the fate of the People are linked."
"That's my _daughter_!" Dad roared. "You can't expose her to danger like that!" In retrospect, it seemed silly that he was arguing with a white buffalo spirit. It was also strange that, after years of thinking of me as his son, he'd so quickly adjusted to the role of protective father doting over a daughter.
"Dad!" I protested. "He's going to teach me this stuff, whether you all like it or not."
"Wihakayda is speaking the truth," Tatanka said, a hint of pride in his voice at my statement. "She is important to the fate of the People. It is important that she learns of the spirit of not only the People, but also of the animals that are part of their natural world."
"Well _I_ don't like you putting her in danger!" Debra huffed.
At the van, Addy, Julie, and Danny scrambled inside, nervous at the presence of the white beast walking with me. Valerie and Mom had experience with Tatanka, so they weren't nearly as uneasy, but I could see Mom glancing around at the wild bison behind us.
I chuckled a bit at their reactions. "Uh, I suppose I should introduce you," I said through the window. "This is Tatanka, my avatar spirit."
Addy stared, wide-eyed, at the white animal, while Julie was almost as white as Tatanka's fur. Danny was trying to look cool and unafraid, but I could tell that he was nervous.
Tatanka nodded. "I know them from your memories." He turned toward Danny. "Your troublesome younger brother, Danny, correct?"
Danny stared at the talking manifestation, and then frowned. "What do you mean, troublesome?"
"Your former girlfriend, Julie, right?" His eyes widened in surprise as he looked at her, with something of a glimmer of recognition in them, like he was seeing something - or someone - he was familiar with, which was impossible, of course.
"Uh," Julie stammered, "you talk?"
"Sometimes, a little too much," I mumbled in Lakota, which got a chuckle from Mom.
Tatanka glared at me for a moment, and then turned back to face Adalie. "And your friend Adalie from Whateley?" He smiled. "Bonjour, mademoiselle. I am pleased to meet a friend of Wihakayda."
Addie's eyes were trying to bulge out of their sockets. "You ... speak French? But 'ow?"
I sighed, shaking my head. "Showoff!" I muttered. "He lives in my head. He knows what I know, and I know at least _that_ much French!"
"We've got an audience," Val said urgently. "A couple of cars are parked a ways back and the occupant have been watching us."
Tatanka vanished immediately. "Oh, shit," I swore softly. I saw the puzzled expression on my Dad's face. "What if they're filming us? They had to have seen Tatanka."
Val concentrated for a moment, and then nodded. "They _are_ filming." She had to have used her magic to determine that, because they were too far away to be certain.
"How much do you think they've seen?" Mom asked, worried. "Maybe they've seen you meeting that real bison?"
"Or manifesting Tatanka." Debra frowned. "We need to get out of here. Now." Julie and Mom looked at her, puzzled. "One thing they really emphasize at Whateley is to never, ever get photographed or filmed if you're doing anything ... with a special power."
HPARC, Late morning
The tunnels of HPARC were decorated to seem airy and futuristic, and I'm sure Addy would have found them interesting and aesthetically pleasing in a Star Trek way, but there was no mistaking the fact that we were enclosed, and knowing that we were about six thousand feed underground made it seem all the more closed in and claustrophobic. In my head, Tatanka was very uneasy at being this enclosed.
Everyone else was at a restaurant in Deadwood having lunch, while I fulfilled my obligations to HPARC. Actually, they hadn't _demanded_ that I spend time with them that morning, but they _did_ pay a lot for our transportation, so I felt a moral obligation to help them as much as I could. Besides, they specialized in Native American paranormal things, which was getting more and more interesting to me as I learned more and more about Native American culture.
I really wasn't thrilled, though, because they'd been pretty blunt that they wanted me to dissect Snakey. It wasn't that I was afraid of dissecting something; in biology, I'd been perfectly comfortable dissecting things. It was that it was snakey, a demon who'd given me a _lot_ of trouble, trying three times to kill me, and nearly succeeding once. Looking at him through the heavily-warded video monitors gave me chills; I fought the irrational thought that he was going to spring to life and try to kill me once more.
Dressed in a head-to-toe , glyph-covered biohazard suit, looking like an alien invader and monitored remotely through the magically protected cameras, I walked hesitantly - and alone - into a brightly-lit room whose walls were also festooned with glyphs and wards. Even though the walls and floor were cut from the bare rock, they had a very smooth finish, like polished granite. Construction lights on stands glared brightly to illuminate my work - almost too brightly, if you asked me. I'd been in a drama performance the previous year, and those stage lights had nothing on the massive amounts of candlepower pouring into the little polished cavern.
The surgical instruments they provided were unable to cut through Snakey's tough hide, which didn't surprise me. I heard Hazel chuckling through the two-way intercom when I tossed a scalpel aside in disgust and pulled out Wakan Mila. It didn't take long for me to slice open the creature, and then I had to extract organs one by one, photographing each step multiply as I worked. I was sweating profusely inside the suit, made worse by the heat pouring off the multiple lamps, and anxious to get the job done, but I needed to be precise so I didn't ruin whatever data Dr. Schmidt and Hazel could glean from this little exercise. As big as snakey was, dissecting him was hard and very messy work. Instead of blood, his vessels and heart were filled with some kind of black, gooey ichor that stunk to high heaven, even through the sealed suit I wore. I removed, cataloged, and photographed all its internal organs and other interesting body parts, and after what seemed like hours, with pieces of the snake-demon piled on carts and trays, the two scientists were satisfied. I was glad to be done as well; every time I looked at its razor-sharp claws and ugly face, I shuddered inwardly, remembering how dicey my battle with him had been.
I took a deep breath, and then, with Wakan Mila, began one more thing to do. Dr. Schmidt and Hazel were baffled at first, and then became very, very concerned when I explained what I was doing. Over their vehement protests, I completed my task, performed a significant and fatiguing purification ritual, and then carried my prize out of the room, startling those who were there to help me remove the biohazard suit. Even after I explained that the Class X taint was gone, they were still very uneasy. I was pretty pleased with myself; the project I had in mind was going to be SO worth it!
Dad wasn't happy when he had to pay for warper express to deliver my prize to the Dunwich area, but given the package, he was happier to do that than to tote my souvenir around. Fortunately, HPARC had a shower so I could clean off some of the sweat, and Mom got me a change of clothes, sealing my perspiration-soaked clothes in a bag until she'd have a chance to rinse it out. I found out later that she'd just pitched them, as they reeked from sweat and the foul odor of snakey's internal organs. I didn't mind; they weren't my favorite clothes.
Spearfish Canyon, mid-afternoon
"C'est magnifique!" Addy exclaimed, staring at Roughlock Falls. "In my part of France, we 'ave no such waterfalls as this! Pourquoi are they named as they are?"
Dad smiled; I think his native Dakotan pride was showing through. "When settlers and miners came to this area, to get the wagons down the steep, rocky hills and mountainsides, they had to jam logs into the wheels to 'rough lock' them so the wagons wouldn't roll out of control."
Addy was clearly enjoying this bit of Americana, especially the point about the western settlements; no doubt she had stereotypes of cowboys and Indians, and now she was getting to learn first-hand. "Can we 'ike up closer to the waterfall?" she asked eagerly.
"Of course," Dad answered.
"At least we can spend time outside before we get cooped back up in the van," I said, making the most of a bit of light exercise.
"Or the plane," Debra added with a smile. All of us began to walk up a trail toward the falls, a nice easy walk
"You weren't the one stuck in a tiny cave, sweating in a biosuit," I countered. "I need a little time outdoors."
"But we _do_ have a schedule to keep," Mom interjected. "Your grandmother _did_ say she wants us to be in Mission at seven."
"Why? What has she got cooked up that she's not telling us about?"
Mom chuckled. "She won't tell me either, but if I know Mom, she's probably got a small reception planned. And probably a presentation to the chief or something like that."
"Great," I groaned. "I told her I didn't want to make a big deal out of this."
Debra squeezed my hand. "Do you think she's going to do something ... over the top?"
Mom laughed. "You don't know Mom. Of _course_ she's doing to do something over the top." She glanced at me and smiled. "Remember your twelfth birthday?"
"I'm never going to forget it," I grumbled.
"What happened?" Debra and Valerie immediately asked.
Danny, paying attention to Val, saw a chance to impress her. "Grandma brought the tribal chief, a few warriors, and a shaman to give him a special blessing as a man. It's a Lakota tradition," he added quickly. "At the age of twelve, some tribes consider a boy to be a man, and ready to go on hunts and war parties."
"It was in front of all of my friends," I added at the unpleasant and embarrassing memories.
Mom nodded. "We let ... Brandon ... have a birthday party - out in the garage. We cleaned it up, and put up a few decorations ..."
"It looked like a little kid's party, Mom!"
"And invited his friends. They were dancing and having fun ...."
"And then Grandma burst in with all those elders, and they started making a big fuss over me," I continued. "The shaman did some things with herbs and stuff, and then they put on my first war paint."
"You looked so handsome."
"I looked stupid!"
"War paint?" Adalie asked, eyes wide. "Like you wear sometimes at Whateley?" Her comment caused a few eyes to be cast my way, curious about that little fact that I might have omitted mentioning to anyone.
"Kayda!" Wakan Tanka stood beside me in the woods, speaking urgently and looking around herself. "Something feels wrong."
I frowned. "What do you mean, it feels wrong?" I, too, looked around nervously.
"It is something that I've felt ...."
The hard blow to the side of my head snapped me out of my dream world as I tumbled off the trail. My head felt like it had been half-crushed, and stars swam before my eyes. As I struggled to rise, I thought I saw a booted foot suddenly appear from beside a tree and smash into my shoulder, knocking me back to the ground.
Still dazed, I instinctively cast my shield spell. All of the various assaults and pranks at Whateley had made it an almost reflexive action. My left arm dangled numbly from my aching shoulder, and my vision was a little fuzzy from a probable concussion. I cast a quick healing spell on myself to alleviate the blurry vision and pounding head so I could see what was happening.
Danny and Dad had both taken a pounding from something; Danny was lying on the side of the trail, doubled over in pain, and there was blood on head. Dad was also down, and as I was surveying him for injuries, I saw a glimmer of something beside a tree, and then what looked like an arm with a club swiped down at his leg, hitting and causing him to gasp in pain. Adrenaline took over, and I jumped to his side, bringing my shield around him; I was just in time to intercept a swipe from a club that had been aimed at his head.
Every time Valerie tried to incant something, she was hit or kicked, breaking her concentration, and Debra was getting hit as well. After she'd recovered from the first strike, Addy was moving too quickly to be hit, but I could see the flashing limbs and clubs trying. Even Mom was down, but unlike the others, she wasn't moving.