With everything I've ever done
I'd give it all to everyone for one more day
Another night I'm walking through
Another door I walk intro
I can't break
It's a winding road
It's a long way home
So don't wait for someone to tell you it's too late
Cuz these are the best days
There's always something tomorrow
So I say let's make the best of tonight
Here comes the rest of our lives
Best Days - Graham Colton
Friday, June 15, 2007 - Late Afternoon
Sioux Falls, SD
"I know it's only four, and you could drive for another four or five hours," I protested strongly, "but after ...," I hesitated, wincing at the memories of our little misadventure. Or big misadventure, if Debra's view of the situation was to be believed. We'd taken Lanie's car from Whateley through the standing portal to the Salt Flats in Utah, and had driven - with some distractions - to Sioux Falls. As usual, I was wearing one of my tight buckskin dresses, befitting my Lakota heritage and appearance, with my long black hair in two braids suitably adorned with Lakota-themed accessories. I liked how I looked in that attire - exotic and beautiful. I think my friends were right - I really was used to my changes.
'Baby Girl', Elaine Nalley's customized, restored Mustang, sat inside a large, empty warehouse, with Elaine - Lanie - leaning against the front fender in a carefree posture, wearing shorts and a buttoned shirt that was mostly open and tied beneath her large bosom, exposing a light blue tank-top underneath it. It was a 'car porn' poster-girl pose, and it could have graced any month of a mechanic's calendar showcasing hot cars and hot girls.
Tansy Walcutt, just as casually dressed but somehow looking more like a runway model than either Lanie or I even in such attire, stood a bit aloof, while I stood beside my girlfriend Debra Matson, our arms around each other's waists affectionately and possessively. The warehouse was the property of the Sioux Falls League group of superheroes, one of the entrances to their secret underground headquarters and occasionally a storage space for equipment.
"We've got a long drive to Atlanta," Lanie countered, "and Ah'd rather get on the road. Besides, Tansy has to fly from Atlanta back to Whateley for summer classes," she added.
"Which don't start for a week, so you have plenty of time," Debra - a member of the Sioux Falls League with the code-name Cornflower - rebutted. She was a stunning beauty, with long, silky, blonde tresses that were the epitome of sexy, wavy hair, and gorgeous cornflower-blue eyes set in a face that was somehow both gorgeous and approachably-friendly at the same time. "Kayda's mom is coming down later this evening to spend a little time with us before Kayda jets off to Louisiana to meet up with Addy and Headrush, so we can have a pleasant 'ladies night' tonight." She smiled warmly at the two girls. "Besides, you haven't met Vanity Girl, Wish List, or Card Trick yet."
Tansy stiffened a bit; she most likely had met Wish List and Card Trick the year before when all were at Whateley, and no doubt she was nervous about how they were going to react to her.
"Come on, stay," I pleaded with my best friend, cuwe ki, my older sister - which was at least how we felt about our relationship. "I know you're a bit tired, and a nice home-cooked meal ..."
"We're going out tonight," Debra interrupted me. "Your mom wants Japanese again tonight." She smiled. "Your mom really is developing a taste for sukiyaki and sushi."
"Hmmph!" I snorted. "Figures she'd do that - after I left for boarding school!" My feigned fit elicited giggles from Lanie and a wry smile from Tansy.
"No, really," Lanie protested, "we should get on the road."
"Lanie," Debra dropped her arm from my waist and slipped out of my embrace, "you've been driving for hours ...."
"Kayda and Tansy took turns," Lanie protested.
"Let's take a walk so you can stretch." She took Lanie's arm and the two strolled across the warehouse, away from Tansy and me. I could see that Debra was talking to Lanie, but they were too far away, and the noise of the fans in the warehouse made it impossible to hear their private conversation.
"I wonder what that's about," Tansy commented with a slight smirk.
I shrugged. "I don't know." A few weeks ago, I would have been put off by what seemed to be a haughty attitude from Tansy; now, though, after our little interesting road trip, I thought I had Tansy figured out. Despite outward airs which could be interpreted as a sense of superiority and entitlement, Tansy was lonely inside. From stories I'd heard in Poe, something had changed in her; I didn't know what, but she was different, at least when I took the time to get to know her.
Debra and Lanie stopped, and Lanie kept glancing over at me, which made me a little uneasy. Or she was glancing at Tansy; that thought made me even more uneasy for some reason. Eventually, Lanie nodded, and the two walked back toward us.
"Well?" Tansy asked with a knowing smile.
"Debra," Lanie said with a resigned tone, "made a strong argument for staying a day to rest."
I glanced suspiciously at Debra, but she had a sweet, innocent smile. "After your injuries ..." she started to explain.
"Which have healed, since Ah'm a regenerator," Lanie protested.
"It wouldn't hurt to have Dr. Winkler have a look, just to make sure." Debra glanced at Tansy. "And yours, too," she added warmly. Still holding Lanie's arm, Debra put her arm around my waist again. "Your car will be safe here," she assured Lanie. "Let me show you our modest little headquarters."
I couldn't help snorting derisively at her description. The headquarters was anything but modest, having been fashioned from very well-equipped and appointed, top-secret military emergency command bunker - where officers with stars would have resided and operated. Of course it hadn't spared creature comforts then, and the League hadn't found a need to change any of that.
Friday, June 15, 2007 - Late Afternoon
Sioux Falls League HQ, Sioux Falls SD
"Kayda!" Mom called, rushing through the door into the bunker to me, arms already outstretched. We had only just gotten into the bunker 'foyer' if you could call it that; Mom must have been right behind us. "You look great!" she said with a smile, but that quickly faded into a concerned motherly frown. "Considering!" she added, glancing unhappily at Lanie as if she was to blame for our little misadventure. Danny stood behind and to one side of her in the doorway, trying, I think, to be unobtrusive in his gawking, and from the look on his face, I gathered that he was already somewhat embarrassed. Since Tansy and Lanie were easily 9s by the Whateley Scale, he had to be dealing with seething teen hormones by the gallon, and their presence - in the shorts and shirts they were wearing - probably intimidated him. That, and he was probably highly aroused and didn't want them to know. Mom had intended to be in Sioux Falls to greet us when we arrived, but Aunt Ida had to deal with a family emergency, so she couldn't get to our farm until late afternoon, which delayed Mom's departure.
"Ah swear, Mrs. Franks," Lanie said defensively, anticipating Mom's reaction, "Ah tried to keep us out of that little fracas!"
An impish smile flitted across Mom face before she worked it into an indignant frown. "So then it was your fault!" she feigned an accusation to Tansy.
The look on Tansy's face was precious. Goggling at mom, horrified that she was being so accused, it took her a couple of seconds to recover. "I'm sorry there was trouble, Mrs. Franks, but I ..." she half-stammered, before realizing from Lanie's and my huge grins that she was being played.
"I really appreciate that you and Lanie were there to help keep Kayda out of trouble," Mom admitted, walking over to give Tansy a hug. "Or should I say, out of worse trouble. She attracts more than her share, sometimes."
"You can say that again!" A strong, masculine voice echoed from behind us. I immediately recognized Tractor's voice, and I dashed to give him a welcoming hug, which he seemed a little surprised to receive and hesitant to reciprocate. Vanity Girl, right beside him, was eager to welcome me with a hug though.
Behind the couple were Wish List and Farm Boy. "Where's Card Trick? And Twinkletoes?" I asked out of curiosity. "I wanted Lanie to meet all the gang!"
"Twinkletoes is in Salt Lake City visiting his brother and nieces, but Card Trick is around here somewhere," Tractor replied easily.
"Everyone," I cut in, "these are my friends from school, Elaine Nalley - who goes by Lanie, and Tansy Walcutt."
"Lanie?" Wish List squealed as she darted to give the redhead a big hug. "Goodness girl, I hardly recognize you!"
Lanie smiled as she returned the hug. "Ah had a little growth spurt last summer."
Wish List's expression hardened a bit when she looked at my other traveling companion. "Tansy," she said stiffly, holding out her hand toward the blonde bombshell in a forced gesture of unwilling politeness. I could tell she didn't like or trust Tansy, and I knew there was a story behind that somehow.
Despite Wish List's cool reception, Tansy took the high road. "Gina," she replied to Wish List, her voice warm and friendly. "You're looking well."
I decided to cut off any possible hostilities based on whatever past the two had. Stepping between the two, I took both their hands. "I'll tell you about things later," I whispered to Wish List. She seemed mollified by my confidence in Tansy, at least enough to not make a scene.
"They're the ones who were with Kayda in Lanie's crash combat final," Debra explained; mom paled at her choice of phrasing.
"Eagle Claw," Farm Boy said reflectively as he stepped to shake hands with Lanie. She seemed a bit taken in by him, her cheeks flushing red as her breath visibly quickened a tiny bit, even though I’d warned the girls about his glamour. "You three did a hell of a job on that. Winning a no-win scenario?"
"And you," Vanity Girl looked squarely at me, "three combat finals? What do you think you are, an upperclassman?" She shook her head reprovingly. "And after you were injured in the first one?"
I winced; no doubt Mom was going to have even more words for me. "I couldn't let Lanie face a final on her own!" I protested.
"Injured?" Mom asked me with a worried frown. I didn't reply, but just grimaced at the tone of disapproval in her voice.
"I've got copies of them from a friend in the sim department," Tractor said to Debra with a wicked grin. "Kayda was injured in her first final, and despite that, participated in," he glanced warily at Lanie, "her final, although I'd like to know the story behind that."
"And despite the injury," Farm Boy said with more than a hint of respect in his voice, "the three of them made a pretty good team." He got a wry smile. "I'd like to know exactly what you were screaming while you ... nutted ... the ... um ... bad guy." Despite his smile, he and Tractor both involuntarily flinched at the memory of what they'd seen in that final.
I glanced at Lanie, who was glancing uneasily at me, with Debra looking back and forth between the two of us, both Lanie and I blushing rather significantly. Fortunately, politely, no-one said anything.
"We've got the finals recorded," Vanity Girl added, perhaps sensing something awkward, to get the conversation back on a safe track, "so we can watch them tonight. I know you'll want our opinions of ...."
I couldn't help grimacing. "Uh, I'd rather not. I heard more than enough from Gunny and Ito!"
"Well, I wanna see them!" Danny piped up, peeking out from behind mom.
"I wondered if you'd come along!" Wish List said when she spied him. She practically dashed to his side, wrapping an arm around him and starting to rub his hair. As his cheeks flushed red with embarrassment, his body shifted slightly; he grew fuzzy fur on his face and exposed skin, his nose changed a little, and triangular ears sprouted on top of his head as his regular ears vanished.
"You ... you're a shifter?" I stammered in disbelief; Wish List, too, was shocked as his body changed.
Danny looked like he was about to cry. "I don't know," he admitted. "It just ... happened!"
"It happened again?" Mom was quite distraught at his change.
"Again?" I goggled at Danny, trying to figure out the implications of what Mom had said.
"Isn't he cute!" Wish List said as soon as she was sure he wasn't changing any more. As she began to rub his shoulders, Danny, to complete his humiliation, started purring involuntarily at her attention, which really made me giggle. At least Valerie - Card Trick - with whom Danny had been and still might be seriously infatuated, wasn't here to make things any worse for the brat.
"It happened before?" I demanded of Danny and Mom.
"A couple of days ago," Mom said with a wincing nod. "Danny had a headache that suddenly went away when ... this happened!" She was almost in tears. "Does this mean ... he's going to stay like this? That he's a shifter or something?"
Tractor chuckled at Danny's embarrassing situation. "They came down here, we tested, and we pretty well ruled out him being a shifter. The form was only temporary."
"But ... what then?" I asked, as puzzled as they sounded.
"We think what's happening now is a partial display of his spirit's form," Vanity Girl explained. "So it might be possible for Danny to display multiple forms."
"Like mine?" Lanie volunteered. "And Wyatt's? But ...." She shrugged.
"Like Lanie's spirit," I said with a firm nod. "I wonder what it means that Wihinape has at least two forms in dream-space." I thought for a moment. "And this just started - how long ago?"
"The first one was ... um ... Tuesday," Mom interjected before Danny could speak.
I looked quizzically at him, and he nodded glumly. "Does this mean I'm going to change more?"
I shook my head, grimacing. "I don't know." I glanced around, seeing his worried, even slightly frightened expression, and the concern on Mom's and Debra's faces. "Can we go talk a little bit?"
"Sure," Debra agreed quickly. "Why don't you show Lanie and Tansy around a bit?" she suggested to Tractor, while she wrapped her arm around my waist and led me, Mom, and Danny to a quiet study.
"Okay," I said as I sat down in a comfortable stuffed chair in the quiet study, "how much have you changed?" I could tell he'd lost some muscle mass because his arms looked a lot less bulky. "Show me."
Glancing uneasily at Debra, Danny pulled off his shirt. He was obviously struggling not to be embarrassed in front of her and me.
I gasped when I saw him; his body was sleek, muscular but in a very .... I started when I realized his body seemed more cat-like - and not the fat tabby-cat lounging by the fireplace kind of cat-like. Graceful, muscular, well-toned like a ballet dancer - he looked like a mountain lion in human form. I couldn't help glancing down at his waist, which he noticed, to his embarrassment and mine. "Okay, so you've changed some. How ... much?" I asked, wincing, knowing that if he was changing in that way, he was going to get highly embarrassed again.
"Um," Danny stammered, fighting to stay calm and in control, "I don't think any. At least not that I can tell."
"Okay," I said, noting a bit of relief on Mom's face.
"Is that about what you look like when you're not ... fuzzy?"
Danny nodded slowly, wiping one eye; no doubt he was terrified of what the changes meant to him, and a leaking tear wasn't unexpected.
"Are you still changing? How fast?"
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm still changing, but it's pretty slow, I think." He looked down, and I knew he was feeling humiliated at having to show us. "Can I, um, put my shirt back on?"
"Sure." I glanced at Mom worriedly.
"You don't look like a weightlifter," Debra spoke confidently, "but you do look very toned and in shape. Kind of like a bishi-boy or something. If you look like that when you're not fuzzy, I mean."
Mom frowned at the term. "Bishi-boy?"
"Bishonen," I explained to Mom and Danny. "It sort of means beautiful boy, and it's used to describe a boy whose physical attractiveness is ... bisexual in nature."
"Some people think bishi-boys look gay," Debra corrected me. "In some areas, bishi-boys are very popular with girls and ladies," she added to try to calm Danny.
Danny scowled. "But not here," he protested.
"Anything else? Besides your eyes, your fuzz form, some general body toning, and purring?" I got back to a more clinical discussion to avoid tormenting Danny more. The poor kid looked like he'd been condemned to death, and it wasn't my nature to overdo torturing him - at least not right at that moment.
"No," Danny answered hesitantly.
"Yes," Mom corrected him. "He's had some recurring headaches."
"Recurring headaches? Not just the one?" That got my attention. "How bad? How frequent?" I asked, sitting a little more upright and attentive.
Danny winced, but Mom spoke before he could. "He said they were pretty mild after he first manifested, and maybe one every eight or ten days," she explained. "Nothing an ibuprofen couldn't handle." She shot a worried glance at Danny that spoke volumes. "But ... we took him down to Mitchell to get checked, and Doc Martin gave him Vicodin for the pain, and the headaches are happening every few days - at least once a week." She read my expression. "What?"
I glanced nervously at Debra. "Um, it's probably nothing," I hedged, "but ... that's one of the signs of hallow-spirit mismatch."
It was Danny's turn to look at Mom, fear on his features. "So ... does that mean ...?" he started to say.
"I don't know what it means," I answered quickly and firmly, determined to squash any speculation on his or Mom's parts. "I think we'll have to dream walk with Wakan Tanka and your spirit Wihinape ..."
"Slut-kitty," Mom practically spat. She hadn't been thrilled the first time she'd met Wihinape, and her impression of Danny's spirit hadn't improved.
"Wakan Tanka told me there's a ritual to ... measure ... Danny's hallow, so we can see how mismatched Wihinape is to your hallow." I saw a mixture of hope and dread on both Danny's and Mom's faces; if there was a mismatch, it was pretty certain that he'd change. If there wasn't, it wasn't proof that he wouldn't change more.
I looked at my kid brother, sitting, looking pitiful and miserable. "Can I talk with Danny alone?"
Mom and Debra nodded, and with a worried glance over her shoulder, Mom followed Debra out, closing the door behind herself.
"You ... didn't exactly answer Mom's question," Danny accused, looking warily at me.
I sighed. "Okay, Danny," I said slowly, "I'm going to be honest with you. Headaches like Mom describes are a symptom of mismatch. Have you had other pains? Tightness in your chest? Abdominal pain? Muscle aches and pains?"
Fearfully, eyes wide-open with fright, Danny nodded a little bit.
Another heavy sigh slipped out. "Then it's highly probable you have mismatch syndrome," I finally admitted. "Those are all symptoms. If that's true, it means you are going to change more. But how much more?" I saw the look of fear in his eyes. "No-one - even at Whateley - can tell."
"Am ... am I going to turn ... into a girl?" The boy was nearly in tears.
"I ... I don't know," I answered honestly. "We'll dream-walk to consult with Wakan Tanka, and see what Wihinape thinks, but ... even they can't predict what will happen." I slid over beside him and wrapped him in a hug, which, even though he was a brat, he desperately needed. "I don't know if you'll change into a girl, or a mountain lion, or if you'll get kitty ears, or a tail, or what. But no matter what, I'll be here for you. Okay?" I tried to smile reassuringly for him.
"Okay." His answer was less than convincing.
"Now, you still have a thing for Valerie?" I decided to distract him a bit from his troubles.
Danny blushed, and as he did so, the fuzz, which had seemed to start to fade, appeared again. It was amazing to watch; eventually, I'd probably get used to seeing him grow cat ears, a nose, and light cat fur all over his body, but for now, it was quite novel. It didn't take Sherlock Holmes to realize there was a story there.
"What happened?" I pried.
"Um," he said hesitantly, "there was a girl, who, um, came by the farm last week."
"She ... wanted to see a farm and learn how to milk a cow and stuff," he continued. I could tell from his tone of voice that it was embarrassing and at the same time, the memories of the girl were exciting to him. "Her name is Cassie - and she's a mutant, too, and she's got pretty pink hair and ..." He realized he was rambling and stopped. "I ... kind of helped rescue her from her supervillain dad."
"Oooh," I purred at him. "The knight-in-shining-armor approach, huh?" This made him blush even more - which was a cute shade of pink beneath his tawny fur. "Was she cute?"
"Yeah," he admitted. "He wanted her to be a villain too, but she didn't want that, so she was hiding out with her aunt, and ... she kind of wandered out to the farm."
"Did you kiss her?"
"Um, she kissed me." He looked down so I wouldn't see the look in his eyes.
The sad, slow headshake wasn't what I expected. "With her dad in jail, it was safe for her to go back home with her mom." He sighed. "I don't even know where her home is. And ... and I'll probably never see her again."
"And Valerie?" I poked again.
"Um," Danny looked away from me toward the wall. "She's ... nice."
"You still like her?"
Danny sighed. "She's ... I don't know. It's embarrassing when she pets me and I purr and she says it's so cute, but ... it's real nice, too. And ... yeah."
I couldn't help chuckling. "Danny, looking the way you do right now in your fuzzy form? You're going to have girls all over Whateley saying how cute you are!"
"I don't want to be cute!" he protested with a wail. "I ... I want to be, you know, a macho kind of guy, not a cute kitty-boy!"
I hated to have to admit it to the little pest, but I had to give him some encouragement. "Danny, you aren't a buff muscular macho he-man type anymore," I began, "but you are very well built and toned, and I think my friends would all say you're attractive. Just not in a he-man way."
"I don't want gay boys thinking I'm attractive or pretty or ..."
"I'm talking about the girls," I quickly countered. "Even some of the Poe girls would find you sexy."
He looked up at me, his eyes brimming with hope - maybe for the first time since he'd started to change. "Do you really think so?"
Friday, June 15, 2007 - After Dinner
Sioux Falls League HQ, Sioux Falls SD
We were all sprawled around the 'family room', with me and Deb sharing a large, overstuffed chair, while the heroes and Mom and Danny sat on the two sofas. That left two other large chairs, one occupied by Tractor and Vanity Girl. With a shrug toward Tansy, Lanie eased herself into the chair, scooting hard to one side to make room for Tansy, who joined her. I couldn’t help feeling a pang of anguish at that seating arrangement.
By ill fortune, Danny ended up in the corner section of the sectional sofas, caught between Card Trick and Wish List, and it took precisely ten seconds for the two comely heroines to pet him, flirt with him, and get him embarrassed enough to fuzz, after which they cuddled close and began to pet him until he was purring contentedly.
"What shall we watch?" Farm Boy asked, trying to sound wise and philosophical, but from his grin, I knew he already had a plan.
"I want to see Kayda's combat finals," Mom said with determination. "If she's going to have to fight for grades, I want to know what that's all about!" Based on the reaction, nearly everyone else agreed, no matter how much Lanie and I protested.
"Let's start with Kayda's first final," Valerie suggested. "And let one of the girls narrate what we're seeing, so we get the inside scoop."
Lanie, Tansy, and I glanced among ourselves, with me and Lanie definitely shaking our heads 'no'. Tansy shook her head with a smile. "You two might not like my style of narration."
As Farm Boy queued up the recording, Tansy explained the setup - a kidnapping, unknown number of mooks, unknown powers in the villain, and there were two of us competing to be the one who made the rescue. The video started, and it didn't show a lot, mostly because I was invisible. I thought I'd have to jump in to explain where I was going, but Tansy did a good job of tracking my invisible actions. Then I saved Chou from the thugs in front of the store, led her around the corner, and we spoke. "Is this where you decided to partner?" Wish List asked.
"Yeah," I admitted. "We'd both scouted enough to know we couldn't win alone. So ...."
"Good strategy to adapt to the circumstances," Farm Boy said approvingly.
Tansy added some color commentary to our attacks - first on the stooges in the alley, and then Chou's bow attacks on the front guards and my tomahawk attack on the regenerating goon. She included the critique that I should have done the work with the bow, because Chou's weapon would have been better suited for close quarters and I was better with the bow. She sounded like she'd listened in on our debrief, because she sounded almost exactly like Gunny and Ito. My cheeks burned at her analysis; though it lacked the punch Ito and Bardue had put into their critique, it still reminded me of a major tactical failure. Tansy continued her narration, occasionally pausing the vid to highlight a particular item. Eventually we got through the escape, right up to the point the ANT launched at me as the horn sounded, grinding me into the dirt. "And that's where Kayda was injured," she concluded.
Honestly, Ito and Bardue were pussycats compared to my so-called friends; they ripped my performance into shreds, finding each and every miniscule flaw and error. But they also found a lot of things that I'd done right, and they made sure to tell me; that left me feeling content that I hadn't screwed up everything in the final. As Mrs. Carson had told me, while I had to consider what I'd done wrong, I couldn't lose sight of praise for what I'd done right.
Next up on the hit parade was Lanie's final - the crash that Tansy and I volunteered to help Lanie with. Once more, the microscopic dissection of tactics and performance was conducted, leaving me glancing uneasily at Lanie. From the critique, it sounded like we hadn't even survived! And naturally, when asked, Tansy explained - with full color commentary - what had happened when the guy threatened to rape her and I appeared to stop him. I noticed that the guys had their hands across their crotches at that point of the film. Mom was very concerned - to the point of demanding that I should never, ever participate in these barbaric combat finals again!
It took the whole team - minus me - to convince mom of the utility of the finals. She wasn't about to listen to me since she was mother and I was her child.
Deb had the most compelling argument. "They show the students and the instructors how well prepared the students are to deal with surprises, and force feed them a little humble pie at the same time, disabusing them of the notion that just because they're mutants and understand their powers, that they're somehow gods or invulnerable. So the fights are tough, the scenario always changes, and you never know who you'll be teamed with or have to fight."
"June," Debra said soothingly, "without the martial arts training, Kayda would have had ... serious problems this last term." She was a master of understatement. "Combat finals are a way for the staff to see what they're learning." She put her hand on Mom's. "You don't want our girl out in the world not knowing how to defend herself, do you?"
"No," Mom said, looking like she was being outmaneuvered, which she was. "But ...."
"Ah've done this a few times, Mrs. Franks," Lanie piped up. "There are safeties on the simulators, but the sims are realistic so they're a challenge."
The group made the case for combat finals for several minutes, with every Whateley alum pointing out the benefits, but based on the dubious look on her face, I don't think we convinced Mom. Danny, however, got more and more excited to learn to fight so he could participate in the arena, too.
Mom sat through the third final, the one where all three of us fought in Venus Inc.'s crash. The analysis of that situation was even more brutal than Ito and Bardue had delivered to us, starting with our team compositions. From that point, in their estimation, our performance had gone downhill. At the end, though, they once again noted the positive things we'd done, and the potential victims we'd saved. With the memories of that fiasco still relatively fresh, their compliments rang sort of hollow.
Then, just for fun, we watched Generator's final, which had everyone laughing despite most of them having already seen it, and Headrush's Great Pie Fight final. Then the heroes were highly amused to see a Cape go in with a Seed to rob a Goodkind National Bank to pay the ransom, and then, while robbing the bank, G-Force hit on the ANT dressed like a teller. Even Mom was laughing at that one.
Tractor had recorded all of the combat finals, but it was late, and after a day of driving, Lanie and Tansy and I were more than a bit tired. Debra seemed to be a little tired, too. We could watch more of them later if we wanted.
As we staggered down the hall into the bedroom area, Lanie slipped an arm around my waist and pulled me to her. "You were right," she said, leaning her head against mine. "Ah'm a lot more tired than Ah realized, and this is a perfect place to stop and rest."
I couldn't help smiling. "They're good people. They're my friends."
"If we weren't on a schedule so Tansy can get back to Whateley for summer school," Lanie added wistfully, "Ah'd enjoy relaxin' here for a few days." She spied Mom going into the bathroom. "Well, here and at your folk's place," she added. "Ah haven't seen your farm or home yet."
"We'll do that next break," I replied with a grin that turned into a yawn. "And I've got to spend time at your home, too. Night, cuwe ki."
"Night, mitaka ki," Lanie replied, giving me a hug and a kiss on my forehead.
Friday, June 15, 2007 - Late Evening
Sioux Falls League HQ, Sioux Falls SD
"I don't get it," I said to Debra as we snuggled in her bedroom. "I wasn't complaining, mind you," I added quickly in my best 'naughty voice'. Unlike the last time I'd visited the League, no-one cared that Debra and I were sharing a room. "Why ...?"
"No need for any pretense anymore," Debra said with a shrug as she gently stroked my head. "You're sixteen, it's legal, and everyone knows."
A knock sounded on the door, and I bolted upright, but Deb pulled my negligee-clad body tightly against her. I had the distinct feeling she expected whoever was knocking. "Come in," she answered the knock.
The door opened hesitantly, and a redhead poked hesitantly into the faint pool of light from the lamp on my nightstand. "Ah hope Ah'm not interruptin'," Lanie said meekly.
"Not at all," Deb answered with a smile. She gently urged me to sit forward, and she wriggled from behind me. "I was about to go to bed."
Lanie giggled. "It looked to me like you already had!"
Ever the mature one, I replied in a responsible, adult-like manner and stuck my tongue out at her, while my sweetie hurled a small pillow at Lanie. "You ... rascal!" Deb chuckled at her.
After dodging the pillow projectile, Lanie smiled, but I could see something was wrong; her smile seemed a little forced. "Um, Kayda?" she asked hesitantly. "Can we talk?"
Instantly, Debra's little side-conversation earlier that afternoon loomed large in my mind; I wondered what the two of them had discussed, and I couldn't help wondering if that had anything to do with her desire to talk. I know I had an uncertain look on my face when I glanced at Debra, but she just kissed me and smiled reassuringly. "Go on," she said softly. "I'll come back in a bit to ... tuck you in." She scooted to the edge of the bed, leaned back and gave me another, slightly longer kiss, and then padded softly and confidently from the room.
I pushed myself back so I was sitting upright on the bed, my back against the headboard, and then looked at Lanie. I saw the glint in her eye, and I couldn't help glancing down to see how exposed I was in my sexy nightie. Clutching a pillow to the front of my chest, I looked back at Lanie. "What do you want to talk about?"
"Besides you spoilin' the view?" Lanie said with a wry grin. "Um, Ah noticed that you were a little uneasy toward the end of our trip, and Ah couldn't help wonderin' why."
I winced; I knew what was bothering me, but it was embarrassing, and seemed rather self-centered. "Um, I ... I guess I ... got kind of tired, and after that ... adventure ..."
Lanie strode confidently to my bed and sat on the edge of it, taking my hands. "Bullshit," she called me on my bluff. "Somethin's botherin' you, and Ah'm not leavin' until we talk about it. And Ah bet Ah know what it is. So does Deb."
I let my chin drop so I was looking at the bed, not her. "It's ... I ... I don't know."
Lanie was strong; I'd forgotten how strong she was until she lifted my chin so I was looking eye-to-eye with her. "Mitaka ki, I know you better than that. What's wrong?"
"I ... I'm scared," I finally admitted, lifting my chin off her hand and looking away as tears started to flow. "Okay?"
"Of ... of Tansy," I admitted, sobbing as my emotional dam burst. "That ... that she'll ..." I couldn't finish because I started openly crying.
Lanie gasped, and then I was gathered up in her arms. "Oh, Kayda," she said softly, "You don't have to worry. You'll always be mitaka ki, my little sister!"
"But ... but ... Tansy ... she's spending a lot of time with you, and she's ... I mean, while we were driving, she was talking like ...."
"Tansy is confused, and she's trying to find out who she is," Lanie explained. "She wants to find real love, not someone who's using her while she's using them." She wiped at my tears. "Ah don't think she ever had a real friend, at least not until you and Ah came along, so it's natural she's a little ... clingy."
"A little clingy?" I asked, mouth agape. "She's ... she was practically begging you to make love to her! She's like a puppy dog who doesn't want to leave your side." I felt tears flowing anew, and I looked down. "And ... and even though we're not ...." I shook my head, "we had something special, and it feels like ... like that doesn't matter and she's taking you away from me."
Lanie leaned forward, pulling me into a tight hug so I could cry on her shoulder. "Kayda, Ah'll always be here for you! You'll always be mah special sister!" After a moment, she kissed the side of my head. "You and Ah shared something that Ah'll never share with Tansy! We're soul-sisters!" she added. "You and Ah will be neighbors in Poe and we'll be in a lot of classes together, remember?"
"I'm ... I never had a best friend," I sobbed, unable to control my waterworks as I gave vent to my fears. "Not until you. And ... and I don't want to lose that!"
Through the contact of our cheeks, I could feel Lanie smiling. "You’re mah BFF, too," she said soothingly. "And Ah'm not going to let anything - not even Tansy - come between us." She clutched me tightly. "Ah ... Ah love you, Kayda," she whispered. "As mah best friend, as mah soul-sister, as mah one-time lover. And ...." She hesitated.
"And what?" I asked, leaning back so I could look her in the eyes.
"And if we didn't have Deb and Wyatt," she said softly, "Ah'd want to claim you for mah own." She hugged me tightly again.
I clutched her tightly, letting my hug speak for me, because I was afraid to say what I felt, which was exactly what Lanie said.
After hugging for a few moments, Lanie wiggled around the bed until I was on my side and she was spooning with me, cuddled tightly against me to reassure me through our non-sexual but intimate contact. Eventually, as I slowly drifted to sleep, I realized that at some point Deb had slipped into bed with the two of us, sandwiching me between the two women I loved.
Saturday, June 16, 2007 - Early Morning
Sioux Falls League HQ, Sioux Falls SD
The smell of breakfast was a better alarm clock than anything; sausage and bacon aromas wafted through the entire complex, overcoming even the scent of coffee brewing. Like a magnet, the wonderful scents drew everyone toward the dining area, some more zombie-like than others. Debra and I giggled when I saw Wish List stumbling forward, eyes half-closed; all she needed to do was raise her arms and mumble, "Brains!" and the physical image would match my mental one.
Vanity Girl had snuck up behind me, and she snickered when she heard me giggle and saw where I was staring. "Yeah, it's like Dawn of the Dead around here until some people," she glanced over her shoulder at Tractor, who also seemed a bit out of it, "get enough caffeine in their systems."
"Oh, hush, woman!" Tractor muttered at Vanity Girl. "Just 'cause you have energy in the morning!"
"And some evenings, too, in case you forgot," she purred at him in a very sultry voice, which made him blush a bit, and made me blush more, especially when VG glanced at me and chuckled.
Valerie came bouncing into the dining area, chipper and energetic and smiling, and when she saw Danny, her smile broadened. "Good morning, Danny," she beamed, practically skipping to his side and playfully rubbing his hair. "How's our kitty this morning?"
"Okay," he said, trying not to get embarrassed and 'fuzz out'. Given the others gathering and the attention focused on him, it was a losing battle, and the ears and fur appeared, which only heightened his embarrassment.
"Oops!" Val said with a grin, and then she gave him a quick hug as she petted him, which caused him to purr, much to his chagrin.
"Where's Mom?" I asked Danny and the others. I didn't want her to miss time with Lanie before she and Tansy headed to Georgia, after which Tansy would fly back to Whateley for the summer term.
Farm Boy stuck his head out of the kitchen area. "She's in here - cooking!" A broad grin spread over his face. "And based on how good her cooking is, we might just keep her here!"
"I don't think Dad would like that," I shot back.
"Might not be a bad idea," Danny observed softly, having escaped Val's embarrassing embrace. When my eyebrows arched, he sighed. "Things in town are ... tense. There's talk of a formal Humanity First! chapter forming."
My jaw dropped. "What?"
"Yeah," Danny continued. "A couple of guys - old man Harkins among them - were even hassling Dad." A grin spread across his face. "Dad got him, though. He needed a part for a PTO in his tractor, and Dad wouldn't sell him one."
I scowled. "He'll just drive to Huron or Mitchell ..."
Danny smirked. "Nope. Dad's got such a good reputation that when he called the other dealers, they agreed that if Harkins called, they wouldn't be able to find the part he needed, either."
I couldn't help laughing - that was my dad. The others found it kind of funny as well.
Mom interrupted before Danny could say more, carrying a large tray of food. "Deb, you'll have to eat last so everyone else gets some." My girlfriend start to pout, to which Mom just laughed. "Don't worry - there's a huge bowl of scrambled eggs and hash browns in the kitchen. But first ..." She took a cover off the tray, exposing crepes, eggs Benedict, toast, fresh fruit, hash browns, and other breakfast goodies. My eyes settled on the breakfast burritos on one end of the large tray as my mouth began to water; Mom made the best breakfast burritos on the planet!
"You didn't have to cook for us," Vanity Girl protested as Mom put some on her plate.
"But we're not complaining," Tractor grinned.
Wish List nodded enthusiastically. "And we won't be so ungracious as to turn down your culinary treats."
Lanie looked at her plate and then at me. "Do you always eat like this?"
I winked at Mom and then turned back to Lanie. "Nah. Most of the time Mom cooks good food instead of peasant scraps like this." Tansy was in the middle of a sip of coffee, and consequently, she sprayed the table when she chortled at my comment, and she shot me a look that said, 'you got me.'
"This isn't her good cooking?" Lanie gawked at me. She turned to Tansy. "New plan. Ah'm stayin' with mah soul sister for a while. Ah assume there's air service from here that'll get you back to Whateley?"
"You better watch it," I giggled. "Mom is apt to take you up on that! And then your mom will be upset with me! Besides," I imitated Lanie's gestures and mannerisms and placed my hand over my heart like a southern belle, "Ah'm flyin' down to Louisiana to spend time with mah other friends!"
Tansy was watching us with a strange expression that was something between a bemused smile and a calculating sneer, and that made me nervous. Was she enjoying our friendly banter, or was she plotting how to cut me out of the picture? Was I being too paranoid? She had been very helpful and friendly after our combat final, and during the trip, she seemed almost ... meek? If her comments and stories from that trip were to be believed, she'd changed a lot; Lanie certainly believed so. But she also needed friends, which included a best friend. And she'd more than hinted that after dozens of disappointing trysts with men, she thought she was ready to try things on my side of the street. Of course, that meant that she was interested in Lanie ....
I stopped that train of thought. Lanie and I had talked and cuddled like the soul sisters we were. It was possible for Lanie to have other friends without displacing me as her BFF. I hoped.
I started, realizing that Deb was talking to me, or more precisely, trying to get my attention. "Um, sorry," I muttered. "I was ... thinking." I saw Lanie's expression. "About our trip here," I added quickly but I suspected rather unconvincingly.
"Did you even hear Lanie's question?" Deb chided me lightly.
"Um," I stammered, wincing, "I was ...." I could feel my cheeks burning at being so distracted. "No, I didn't."
Lanie rolled her eyes. "Typical sister. Your cuwe has something important to say, and you don't pay any attention!" When my blush deepened, she laughed. "Ah asked, do you think it would work if Ah drove up here at the end of the summer, and then we drove back to the portal at the Salt Flats to get to Whateley?"
The idea had more than a little appeal to me. "Um, that sounds like fun," I replied, feeling more and more enthusiastic about spending time with cuwe ki. Then another couple of thoughts intruded, spoiling the good mood. "But Danny's going to Whateley this fall, and he'd have to ride along."
"He can ride in the back seat," Lanie said easily.
"And ... to be honest, my last drive to Whateley wasn't exactly fun," I said hesitantly.
"I'd worry about you driving here from Georgia all by yourself," Tansy interjected. "But ... I could fly down and we could make another road trip out of it!"
"As adventurous as this last one was?" Mom asked, casting a dubious eye at Tansy. "I'm not sure that's a good idea."
"I agree with you, June," Deb added with a firm nod, staring at me with 'the look' in her eyes. "I don't want you getting hurt."
"It can't be any worse than the Mishibijiw," I countered firmly. If Lanie was going to invite me on a road trip, I was going to go on a road trip with her, if for no other reason than to keep my place as her BFF. "Or Snakey. Or Officer Matthews. Or ...."
"We get the point," Debra interrupted me firmly.
"Or mah combat final," Lanie added with a grin, which earned her a reproving look from Mom and Deb. The others around the table were smiling or chuckling at the conversation.
"Well, we've got a while to think about it," I replied to Lanie, staring Debra eye-to-eye and practically daring her to try to stop me. Of course, if she did ask me to not take a road trip, I'd agree, and she knew it.
"Are you keeping up with your history studies?" Tractor mercifully changed the subject before the idea could get an outright veto from Mom or Debra. Of course, that led to a lot of observations and comments about my studies, which in turn led to a conversation about Whateley subjects in general. Through it all, Ping Pong, Wish List, and Card Trick were still very cool toward Tansy.
After breakfast, Tansy and Lanie packed their things; most of the goodbyes were in the main room of the headquarters. Deb and I decided to escort them to the warehouse and Lanie's car. As soon as we got in the little transport car, I turned to Tansy. "I'm sorry they weren't very nice," I apologized.
Tansy shook her head sadly. "That's alright," she said, a wistful tone in her voice. "I earned every bit of scorn and mistrust and skepticism that they - and a lot of others - have toward me." She pasted on a sad smile. "With some people, I'll never overcome that, no matter how hard I try." She shrugged, trying to appear indifferent, but it was plain to see that she was troubled by the fact that some people would never allow her to recover. "It's my punishment for being such a manipulative bitch."
"Well, not everyone is like that," I said, gently touching her arm. When I glanced at Debra, I could see that my girlfriend had a wary look. "Right?" I asked Debra.
Deb glanced away quickly, and then after composing herself, turned back. "I ... I have to confess that I'm one of the doubters," she said softly. "Or more precisely, I was." She shook her head with a wry half-chuckle. "When I heard you were going with Kayda on this road trip, I was ... rather upset."
"But...?" Tansy left the question hanging awkwardly.
"I talked to Lanie," Debra answered, "when Kayda told me about the trip." She glanced at the redhead. "Lanie convinced me that your change of heart is the real deal, not some masquerade you've put on for some ... nefarious ... purpose."
The little transport vehicle stopped, and we disembarked, Lanie and Tansy carrying their overnight bags. "Um," Tansy started hesitantly, but stopped, her expression betraying that she was thinking of a subject that was probably awkward.
Debra read her expression immediately. "Yes," she answered confidently, putting her arm around my waist, "Kayda is my girlfriend."
"But ...." Tansy started, glancing between the two of us and Lanie. "At ... on campus, in the hut ...." She was trying to make sense of things. "Last year - you and Songbird," she stammered to Lanie. "I ... I could feel ...," she said to me, confused. Finally, she simply blurted out the question puzzling her. "Are you three ....?"
Both Debra or Lanie laughed aloud. "They wish!" Lanie managed to get a suggestive eyebrow-lift in toward us, which made Debra laugh even more.
"Nothing salacious like that," Debra explained. "You know that Lanie and I are friends from Venus Inc. And she's got Wyatt." She grinned. "But if those two ever break up, I don't think Kayda would mind making a little love-nest with the two of us!"
"Like Ah'd share if Ah had Kayda in bed with me!" Lanie retorted with a laugh. The combination had me beet red, my cheeks burning with embarrassment; I didn't know how they could be so casual and carefree joking about that.
To avoid more commentary from the peanut gallery, I led the group up into the garage, where Lanie and Tansy threw their bags into the trunk of Lanie's car.
"Be careful, cuwe ki!" I admonished Lanie as I gave her a hug and kiss.
"You, too!" Lanie echoed. "Don't get into trouble in Louisiana or France!" Her eyes were watering a little bit, just like my own.
Debra and I switched places, and I gave Tansy a hug. "Good luck," I told her.
Tansy leaned back a bit and looked me eye-to-eye. "Don't worry," she whispered, "I'm not going to take your best friend away from you." My jaw dropped; how had she known that such was my fear? "Lanie has a heart big enough for more than one friend, and I know she'd hate me if I tried to push you away." She laughed softly and melodiously. "The old Tansy might have done that, just for spite, but not the new Tansy."
The two got into Lanie's car, and with a roar and screech of tires as they pulled out of the garage, Lanie set out on the remainder of her journey home, leaving me standing with Debra watching them drive off, one arm around each other's waist. After the previous week with the two, it was a little melancholic to watch them go.
Once the huge warehouse door was closed, Debra and I climbed back down to the tunnel, to the waiting vehicle. "You love her, don't you?" she said with certainty as she settled in the seat close to me. "More than just as a friend, I mean."
I started to deny it, but I couldn't. Debra was right. "Um, yeah," I muttered softly. "I ... guess so." I looked up quickly into her eyes. "But not as much as I love you!"
"If I wasn't around ...?" she continued.
I winced at her line of questioning. "I ... I'd ... probably want to be with her," I admitted in barely a whisper. "But ..."
Debra put her finger across my lips to silence me. "I figured as much."
"Are ... are you mad at me?" I couldn't keep my voice from trembling with fear of her reaction.
"No," she smiled at me. "I'd have been surprised at anything less. She is very loveable."
"And cute," I added.
"Yeah." Debra agreed. "And I wasn't kidding when I said I'd enjoy quality time with both of you. Lanie is just that sexy and friendly and fun."
Saturday, June 16, 2007 - Mid Morning
Dream Space of the Ptesanwi
It was a nice, warm, sunny afternoon, with only a few cottony puffs of clouds scooting across the azure sky. Mom, Debra, Wakan Tanka, Danny, and I sat around the fire circle, over which cooked some venison, while we all sipped the herbal tea. Since my flight to Louisiana was early the next day and we didn't have anything to do for the rest of the morning, I'd suggested that we meet in the dream world to get answers about Danny - if Wakan Tanka had any answers.
"Where is she?" Mom asked with a deep scowl. "You said she'd be here."
I shrugged and looked at Danny. "She told me she'd come!" he retorted. 'She' of course was Wihinape.
"I'll go look for her," I said with a sigh. Being a medicine girl and dream-walking guide was turning out to be more a game of hide-and-seek than anything else, and it was getting tiresome.
No sooner had I risen to my feet than Wihinape, in cougar form, slunk silently between two tents toward Danny. Mom flinched and let out a yelp of surprise and fear before she controlled herself. No doubt, she was not used to dealing with an animal spirit. I smiled to myself; in all our dream walking, Debra had met a lot of animal spirits, and she managed to not be startled. I sat back beside her and squeezed her hand appreciatively.
"Where were you?" Danny demanded. He might have been a little brat, but I was proud of how he was trying to be assertive with the spirit that now dwelt within him. "You said you'd ..."
Wihinape turned, and as her body flowed from cougar to woman, a chunk of raw meat fell from her mouth. "You are eating. Should I do no less?" she asked. Around her mouth was blood from her meal, and Deb turned away, holding her hand over her mouth. Seeing a person gnawing on raw meat wasn't something she was used to. From working on the farm, though, Mom and Danny and I just shrugged off the sight. Butchering livestock was a lot messier, and we were accustomed to that chore.
"Would you at least put some clothes on, slut-kitty?" Mom demanded, glaring at the nude woman who was confidently and sexily strutting to Danny's side.
Wihinape looked at Mom, her expression a mixture of amusement and annoyance. "Why should I? Do I wear human garments when I'm in my other form? When I hunt?" A pout crept onto her features. "And my name is not slut-kitty!"
"You must be patient with the humans," Wakan Tanka said to try to soothe tensions. "Humans usually wear clothing, and nakedness is usually taboo."
"That's stupid," Wihinape grumbled. Nevertheless, her image shimmered and she appeared in a dress that looked remarkably like mine, or rather, it would have if my neckline had been significantly lower and I'd been wearing a push-up bra. "Is that better?" she asked sarcastically.
"Yes," Mom snapped at her. "At least my son's eyes aren't about to pop from their sockets!"
"We are concerned," I got right to the point, "about you fitting in Danny's hallow. He's been having headaches and muscle aches, which is a symptom they teach at my school about spirits not fitting the host's hallow."
Wihinape frowned. "Your hallow is too tight," she said, leaning against Danny. "But we'll make it work," she smiled, "won't we, sweetie?" She leaned her head on his shoulder, which, given that she'd just taken a bite of raw meat, seemed a little off-putting to Danny.
"Are you pushing out against his hallow?" I asked bluntly.
"Not on purpose," Wihinape replied, to which Danny winced. He knew as well as I that if she was pushing against the hallow, she'd cause deformation of his body. "But it does get very uncomfortable at times." She looked up into Danny's eyes and smiled. "When he's a kitty, it's more comfortable."
I glanced at Mom, worry etched on my features. It sounded like she was changing him, despite her promise not to.
Wihinape read my expression. "I'm trying to not change him," she said defensively.
Wakan Tanka nodded. "They may not believe you, Wihinape, but I do."
"What about ... that ritual?" Mom blurted out, grasping at straws to find a way to preserve her son from bodily changes.
Wakan Tanka and I both winced simultaneously. "Wihinape," I explained to her, "there is a shaman ritual to expand a person's hallow ..."
"That'd make it more comfortable," she said. "Do it."
"It's not that simple," I grimaced.
"That figures," she grumbled.
"When the ritual is performed on a person already with a spirit," I hesitated, knowing she wasn't going to like what I had to say, "the spirit is ripped from the hallow ...."
"No!" Wihinape declared, standing suddenly, her hands defiantly on her hips. "Absolutely not!"
"With my instructors' help," I pleaded with the annoyed cat-woman, "you can be placed back in Danny immediately."
"No!" she repeated, more angrily. "Do you know how painful it is to a spirit to be yanked from a hallow?" She glared at me for even proposing such a thing. "I've seen spirits torn asunder when they were yanked out of their hallows! I will not risk such a thing!"
"I could do the ritual without your permission," I countered her objection, upset at the way she was treating Danny as if he were her possession.
"And risk injuring him?" she asked, a triumphant smirk on her lips. "In the spirit world, we can see much that is beyond your reckoning. I've seen spirits torn from their hosts, and witnessed harm to both the spirit and the host. Would you do that to your son?" she demanded of Mom. "Would you risk injuring him?"
Mom had been starting to rise to defend Danny, but she sank back to the ground, her face ashen. "N ... n ... no!" she muttered softly.
I slowly sat down, too, and after glaring at us for another moment, Wihinape took her seat. "If I were ripped from my host," she said solemnly, "what makes you think I could find him again before another spirit occupied his hallow?" She leaned her head back on Danny's shoulder, and he squirmed uncomfortably. "Or that I'd want to come back if my host let such a thing happen to me?"
"So ... Danny is going to have to spend part of his time ... as a kitty?" Mom asked hesitantly.
Danny flinched at Mom's words; he already knew how Wihinape was going to respond.
"If he doesn't, I may not have control of what changes happen," the cat-woman answered. "Even in kitty form, though, it's a little uncomfortable." She shrugged. "Perhaps I will adjust, in time."
I gulped nervously at her comment, and Debra squeezed my hand to reassure me. Unlike Mom and Danny, Debra and I had classes in supernatural and extra-dimensional beings, and I had a class in avatars and their spirits. Spirits did not adjust their form; their nature set their form in the spirit plane and it didn't change - not unless the nature of the spirit changed. The spirit's form wasn't a physical characteristic, either. Wihinape could never adjust her form.
"I promised that I would try to not change him," Wihinape added. "I intend to keep that promise if I can."
Debra and I exchanged nervous glances; she had no more control over how she affected Danny than I had over the weather in a month's time. If he was going to change, he'd change, and nothing I, Wihinape, or Danny could do would influence that fact. Not without the ritual, and as I'd found with Peccary and Lanie, that could have lasting, negative implications for my brother.
Saturday, June 16, 2007 - Mid-Morning
Sioux Falls League Headquarters, South Dakota
"Can we use the lounge for a bit?" Debra asked Tractor and Farmboy. They were sitting in their favorite comfy chairs with a movie that they weren't really watching on the screen. I was beside Debra, and Mom and Danny were behind us.
Tractor looked up at us and shrugged. "Sure." The guys pulled themselves up from their chairs and trudged to the door, leaving the room to us.
Mom sat down beside Danny on a sofa, an arm around his shoulder to be supportive, while I took a chair, and after closing the door, Debra sat as well.
"I think it'll be best if you put 'Complex' under Danny's sexuality," Debra suggested to Mom.
"And under gender, mark 'Male' and write a note that Danny has a female spirit and is still changing," I added.
"That should ensure he's put in Poe."
Danny's eyes nearly bugged out of their sockets. "With ... with the ... gay boys?" His voice trembled with fear.
Debra nodded, but shot him a disapproving look. "Just because they're gay doesn't mean they're going to uncontrollably molest you!"
Mom gulped; she probably had the same mistaken stereotype in mind. "If you change," she said, trying to put on a positive spin, "they won't be interested anyway!"
"But the girls will?"
I sighed. "You say that like it's a bad thing. Look, I was attracted to girls before, and I still am now. It'll probably be the same for you."
"But ... I'd have ..." Danny looked down at his chest, whimpering. "And ...?" He was a pitiful sight, like he was about to break down in tears. "But .. but I want to stay a boy!"
Debra looked sympathetically at him. "So did Kayda," she said calmly. "But sometimes, you don't have a choice. How a person handles adversity is a measure of their character, not their physical appearance."
"I don't want my son to change!" Mom protested, as if that would do any good. "Slut-kitty promised him she wouldn't change him! So he shouldn't change."
"But if I'm in Poe and I don't change, I'll have a gay roommate?"
"No," Debra and I said at the same time. "They always put changelings together," I continued. "With the remodel happening this summer, there'll be more than enough rooms."
Debra turned toward Mom. "That's why it's very important that you note that Danny is still changing and has a female spirit. That'll keep him with the changelings."
"They always keep changelings together," I added. "You could very well end up rooming with Hank."
"Hank?" Mom and Danny both asked.
"Friend of mine," I started to explain. "Female to male changeling."
"But ... if I change ...?"
"They'd move you. Besides, Hank has a girlfriend. And his roommate last year, his best friend, was constantly changing - part of the time a boy, part of the time a girl. Hank never had any problem with it."
Danny seemed a little reassured by what we were telling him. Mom, though, was still unconvinced. "Won't he be rooming with his best friend again?" His forehead wrinkled with concern and puzzlement when he saw the look on my face.
"Heyoka was ... murdered," I said softly, feeling my lip tremble at all the bad memories dredged up by that simple statement. It had been a hell of an ordeal for a lot of us, and in my opinion, Hank was still suffering emotionally. And I was a little, too.
"He's the one whose murder they tried to frame Kayda with," Debra added for Danny's benefit.
"Oh." Danny's eyebrows arched; the question in his mind was practically visible.
"And no, it wasn't because Heyoka was a changeling," I interjected quickly. "It wasn't because someone thought he looked gay. It was because he was Lakota, and there was a Crow boy there who hated us for being Lakota."
"Oh." Danny accepted my explanation.
"Given how he looks, isn't he going to have trouble with ... gay-bashers?" Mom asked meekly.
"With my friends and power," I said bluntly, "you won't have any problems."
"Besides, if someone does, all of Poe will stick up for you," Debra added. "Poesies stick together."
"And if you change partially ..." I began.
Mom's eyes widened. "Partially?"
"We've got two girls in the dorm .... Well, Alex is a hermaphrodite, and Ayla's really a guy, where it counts, anyway. The rest of Ayla - he prefers to think of himself as a 'he' - looks very female. None of the girls pay any attention to him in the restrooms or showers."
"You've got a guy showering with you?" Mom screeched.
"Poe is ... different," Debra explained patiently. "In a cottage of gay, lesbian, and changeling students, they have to still keep up appearances, so girls room and shower with girls, and boys with boys - even if most of them are gay or lesbian."
"You'll be on the changeling wing, so if you do change, you won't have girls lusting after you," I said.
"But if I don't? Does that mean I'd be showering with ... the gay boys?"
Danny and Mom sat silently for a few moments; I could see that something was eating at Danny, but he probably didn't quite know how to ask. "What are you thinking about?" I asked to nudge the conversation.
"What's ... what's it like?" he asked. "If ... I change?"
I glanced uneasily at Mom and Debra, but they couldn't help with the question; I was the only changeling.
My mouth opened, but I suddenly realized I didn't have anything to say. I hadn't thought about it for so long that I honestly didn't remember. "It's ... scary," I finally admitted. "Not knowing what's happening to you. And then when you do know, it's even scarier. Afraid you won't look completely like a girl and people will know from just looking at you. Afraid you won't act right, and people will know. Scared to death that you'll be found out and laughed at or mocked or beat up or shunned." I gulped as memories came back.
"You got those parts down pretty well," Debra smiled at me.
"I ... I don't want to wear ...," Danny looked down, embarrassed enough that he started to turn into kitty-boy, "you know - girl's clothes, and panties and ... bras and stuff!" He sniffled piteously.
"Danny," I said firmly, waiting until he looked up at me. "We don't know if you're going to change or not. So it doesn't do you any good to worry about that now, does it?"
"But ... you said I probably would change some!" He looked back and forth between Deb and me.
Debra and I winced. "Yeah," I answered hesitantly. "But we don't know how much. So don't worry about those things yet."
"I don't want to look like Wihinape," Danny pouted. "Not like her human form."
"What's wrong with my human form?" Wihinape asked when I suddenly found myself in dream space with Danny and Wihinape.
"I don't want to look like you," Danny protested to the cat-woman. "Guys will be after me!"
"What's wrong with that?" she purred.
I was concerned that I'd been so quickly yanked into dream space, almost like I was expected to referee a discussion between Danny and his spirit. "You didn't need to pull me here," I complained to the cat-woman.
"I thought it would be helpful," she said innocently. "You are a shaman."
"Don't do it again!" I commanded sternly. From the look on her face, she reluctantly agreed. "You two have to work things out yourselves!"
"It's not fair!" Danny blurted out, looking slightly more distraught.
"What?" Mom asked, to which Danny blushed and looked down at the floor.
Debra was prescient enough to have a clue; she slid over beside Mom and whispered something in her ear. Startled, goggling at Danny and blushing a tiny bit, Mom quickly stood. "Um, I ... um ... I'm going to the restroom." She beat a hasty retreat from the room, closing the door behind herself.
"What's not fair?" I asked, not having clued in like my girlfriend had.
"Danny's still a virgin," Debra said with certainty, which caused him to look down; I could practically see his cheeks glowing from the embarrassment. If he hadn't already gone kitty, he would have probably set a record for changing into his kitty-boy form.
"Ooooohh," I said softly.
Danny forced himself to look up at me, anger in his eyes. "You ... you had a girlfriend. When you were a boy, I mean. And you got to have sex ... with Julie. And ... and other girls."
Deb glanced at me. "How many other girls?" she asked in a semi-accusing tone.
Danny looked down again, and I heard him sniffle. I slipped to the sofa and pulled his head onto my shoulder, startled that he was trembling with .... I realized suddenly that he was sobbing! "I ... I don't want ... to like guys!" he stammered through his tears. "Not ... that way! Not to ... to ...!" He couldn't complete the thought.
"Oh, Danny," I said, wrapping an arm around him, "if - and I said if - you turn into a girl, you don't have to be attracted to guys! Look at me - like I said before, I was sexually attracted to girls before, and I didn't suddenly change to liking guys! It may be the same for you."
He turned toward me, moisture glistening on his furry cheeks. "Do ... do you think so?"
"We don't even know how much you'll change. Don't worry about that right now. It might never happen."
"Danny, you're going to be at Whateley, in Poe, with a lot of kids who know exactly how you feel. And Kayda will always be there for you, right?"
"What if ... I forget ... who I am?"
"You did!" Danny accused.
"What?" I was stunned by his accusation. "I haven't forgotten!"
"It seems like it," Danny said, almost bitterly. "It's like ... you were never a boy! I don't want that to happen to me!"
"Danny," I tried to assure him, "I haven't forgotten. It's just ...." My voice trailed off.
"Kayda's change was pretty traumatic," Debra said. "Every changeling is different. It may take you longer to adjust, because you won't have gone through the same ... experience Kayda had."
"Danny," I said again, my tone a little firmer, "we don't know if you're going to change more, or how much! Don't start worrying about something that might not happen."
"And if it does happen, you'll have a lot of people to look after you and help you adjust."
Danny stared at me for a few seconds, trying to see if I was just mollifying him. "Okay," he finally said softly.
Sunday, June 17, 2007 - Early Afternoon
Alicia's Home, near Baton Rouge, Louisiana
No sooner had the car parked than I crawled out of the back seat of the Thacker's Suburban. I'd been sitting in a confined seat in a plane, then spent over an hour in the vehicle, sandwiched between Addy and Alicia, as Alicia's dad drove rather recklessly from New Orleans to the Thacker homestead outside a bitty town called Livonia, west of Baton Rouge. It had proven much easier to fly to New Orleans than to Baton Rouge, and the Thackers thought nothing of driving to fetch me. Addy and Alicia followed me out of the Suburban, and before Alicia's mom could say anything, I fetched my luggage from the back.
"I appreciate you picking me up," I said politely to Mr. and Mrs. Thacker before Mrs. Thacker could order one of her two sons to help with my luggage. Mr. Thacker, or Dave as he insisted that he be called, was about Dad's age, but the similarities ended there. He was smaller, less stocky than Dad, and the line of curly brown hair was receding from his forehead. His eyes sparkled with mirth, and where I expected a backwoods Southern accent, he spoke softly and with only a faint accent. No jeans for him; he wore Dockers and a polo shirt, almost like it was business casual - or like he was trying to make a good first impression on me.
Mrs. Thacker, on the other hand, spoke with a Cajun accent that was thick enough to cut. Equally joyous as her husband, she was as dominant in conversation as he was quiet. At least for the ride to New Orleans, she'd worn a modest dress; Alicia told me she usually wore a dress, unless she was doing chores outside. She seemed to believe, according to Alicia, that a woman not in a dress wasn't really a woman.
The two boys were a total nuisance. Rusty and Mike, eleven and thirteen, were in the gangly, awkward pre-teen and early-teen stage of development. Both were already taller than their mom, and Mike was easily going to be taller than his dad. They'd had a gazillion questions about Native Americans until their parents finally shut them up. Afterwards, they sat silently gawking at me as if they expected me to snatch a tomahawk and scalp them. I don't suppose it helped quell their curiosity that I had a tomahawk at my belt on one side, and my magic knife on the other. Their presence dampened the conversation considerably; lots of subjects among us girls were answered with, "I'll tell you later," - later being a euphemism for 'when there aren't any boys or parents listening in.'
"Let's take your things to mah room," Alicia said eagerly, putting a hand on my forearm to guide me as we escaped the oppressive presence of the brothers, who I could already tell were even brattier than Danny. The three of us practically skipped up onto the porch and then through the large house, up a flight of stairs, and into Addy's room.
"Ah hope you don't mind," Alicia said apologetically, "but I figured we'd all sleep in one room, like a sleepover."
"No, not at all," I answered quickly. There were two beds - one twin bed for Alicia, a trundle bed which obviously Adalie had been using, and a futon sofa folded down into a bed for me. I dropped my bags on the hardwood floor and flopped down, sprawling on the bed and stretching for the first time in hours. "Ahhh," I purred. "This is heaven compared to airplane seats!"
"Okay," Addy said, sitting down on the trundle bed, "what 'appened on your little trip?"
"What makes you think something happened?" I asked, feigning innocence.
"You wouldn't talk about it in the car," Alicia chuckled. "So spill it!"
"I know you didn't want me to go with them," I began hesitantly, "but Tansy, Lanie, and I had a good trip. Mostly." I winced, thinking about the swirl of activities on the road trip. "There was a research lab in Colorado, and a mercenary called War Horse stole some gadget," I began a narrative. From the pair's reaction, they were in a state of shocked disbelief, which seemed to grow as I told the story. "So we got it back, but he got away," I finished the tale. "And then we met a guy from the government who took it, barely said 'thank you', and sent us on our way."
"If it was that important," Alicia said with a frown, "Ah think they should have given y'all a reward!"
"That's what Lanie said, too," I chuckled. "But Tansy reminded us that we were lucky they didn't run us in as mutant accomplices, and that discretion was always a good strategy."
"And what else?" Alicia asked with a leer, expecting perhaps some lewd details.
I shrugged and smiled. "And we drove to Sioux Falls. We stopped in the Black Hills, though, and I showed them Mount Rushmore, and Crazy Horse, and ..."
"You didn't do that buffalo trick again, did you?" Addy interjected with a frown.
"It's not a 'buffalo trick'," I shot back, scowling, but then the scowl faded, replaced with a sheepish grin. "Yeah, we got close to some of them." My cheeks reddened a bit. "A park ranger kind of yelled at me a bit for endangering myself and Lanie and Tansy - even though I told him I'm a shaman and I have the spirit of Tatanka!"
Addy and Alicia shook their heads in disbelief. "Girl," Alicia said slowly, "you're going to get in serious trouble one of these days."
"And there was a Lakota family with some kids - they named their youngest Running Buffalo, so I let the boy meet a real Tatanka!"
Addy turned to Alicia. "Why do I suspect that she did a ritual to bind a buffalo spirit to the boy?"
Alicia laughed. "Because you know her as well as Ah do." The looked back at me expectantly.
"Um," I winced, "yeah, I kind of did."
Addy goggled at me in surprise. "The same ritual you did with Elaine? The one that made her 'allow so she could 'ave a spirit?" I nodded. "But ... didn't Mrs. Carson say ...?
"That' I'm not supposed to do that again?" I finished. "Yeah. But Lanie and Tansy agreed they wouldn't tell her."
Alicia chuckled, shaking her head. "I bet she finds out anyway."
I grimaced; I suspected that she would find out and I'd be in trouble. But technically, since I wasn't on school grounds and not in school at the time, she didn't have grounds to punish me. "So what have you two been up to?" I decided to change the subject.
Addy groaned like she'd been sorely put upon during her time there. "Mrs. Thacker and Alicia's aunt 'ave introduced me to every boy in the family!" she said in an exasperated tone. "And one of the gatherings was a dance, with that awful Zydeco music, and most of the boys wanted to dance with me!"
"Ah told you Aunt Flo was a match-maker!" Alicia giggled. "She wouldn't let up even when Addy told her she had a boyfriend!"
"You'll get your turn," Addy grinned. "It will take the attention off me, n'est ce pas?"
"Oh, great!" I moaned unhappily. "That's all I need - a bunch of horny teenage boys drooling after me!"
"Ah'd suggest y'all change out of your dress, then," Alicia advised with a chuckle. "Somethin' like jeans and a T-shirt, maybe. 'Cuz if y'all are wearin' that dress, boys from all the neighboring parishes'll be here droolin', too!"
"Oh, great!" I muttered in despair.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007 - Early Afternoon
Alicia's Home, Louisiana
"Ah think we got enough fish," Alicia drawled, setting her pole down in the boat carefully so she didn't hit either Addy or me. She'd just finished putting a nice bass on a stringer hanging over one side of the fourteen-foot jon boat.
"Eeep!" Addy screamed as she clutched at her pole. "I think I 'ave a bite!" The fiberglass pole bent as whatever had taken her bait swam away from the boat. The reel whined as line played out.
"It's a big one, that's for sure," Alicia said with a grin.
I put my rod down in the boat to watch, ready to help Addy if needed. It wasn't her first catch, but this was definitely her biggest. The little boat rocked a bit as she fought against whatever she had on the line.
For five or six minutes, Addy played the fish, reeling it in, not letting the line go slack, until it broke the water a ways from the boat, then dived down again. It was a respectable-sized bass, and Addy grinned at what she'd caught - if she managed to get it to the boat. Alicia had the net ready as Addy reeled the fish closer and closer.
A sudden massive thrashing roiled the water, and Addy's pole was nearly ripped from her hands. Desperately she tried to hold the rod against the new force as something big thrashed again and again, a huge something splashing through the surface and creating quite a disturbance.
With lightning-like reflexes, Alicia dropped the net into the boat and whipped out a knife, slashing and cutting Addy's line in one stroke. Before the stunned girl could ask what she'd done, Alicia, refolding her pocket-knife, explained. "Gator." My eyes were as wide as Addy's. "Probably four and a half or five feet." Alicia shrugged and pulled the stringer of fish into the boat. "Best to let them have the fish. And get these in the boat before he comes back for a captive snack."
"Gator?" Addy stammered, wide-eyed. "As in alligator?"
"Yeah," Alicia answered matter-of-factly. "These backwaters are full of 'em. Sometimes they spoil the fishin'." Having retrieved the dozen-and-a-half or so fish we'd already caught, Addy gingerly stepped to the back of the boat, to the small outboard motor. "If'n Ah'd have brought mah gun, we coulda had gator tail for dinner!" she lamented. Then she got a wicked grin. "Ah didn't think y'all would like wrestlin' an angry gator."
"Um, no," Addy said. She was a little pale at the thought of an ancient lizard-like predator swimming and eating in the waters she was in - even if we were on a boat. I wasn't too keen on the idea either.
In short order, Alicia started the motor and steered the boat back to the bank where we'd launched it, and with the three of us and a winch, we had it in the back of the pickup in no time.
I found it odd that, even without a license, Alicia's parents didn't seem to mind her driving around their property - or the neighboring lands, but then again, in South Dakota, kids generally started driving long before they were old enough for a license. And Alicia had learned from her dad - the ride back to the house was as 'adventurous' as Mr. Thacker's drive from New Orleans, if not slightly wilder.
Once Alicia parked the truck at home, Addy and I went to the boat to unload it, but Addy stopped us. "Don't bother. Dad and the boys are plannin' on goin' out huntin' gators' tonight, so it's best t' just leave it." She hefted the stringer of fish from a cooler of water in the truck.
"Hunting alligators - in that tiny boat?" Addy's jaw almost hit the ground.
"Yeah. It's fun," Alicia replied with a broad grin. "Course, the big ones are kinda hard to wrestle into the boat, and ya gotta make sure they're good and dead, cuz a big gator thrashin' around in a boat ain't a whole lot of fun. Even in the small ones, their tails pack a pretty good wallop!"
"I think if they want us to go," Addy said nervously, "I'll stay 'ere."
I nodded my agreement with her sensibility. "Me, too."
"Well, it woulda been fun," Alicia sighed.
"Now what? Is your mama going to ...?" Addy started to ask, changing the subject quickly.
Alicia grinned. "Nope. We're gonna clean 'em," Addy paled and flinched a bit. "Rule around here - ya shoot it or catch it, ya clean it." From the corner of her eye, she saw a blur running from the house toward us. "Mike, y'all go away!"
"Ah kin help!" the tow-headed boy, about thirteen, said with a toothy grin. He was probably one of the taller boys in his class, and quite lanky, with a mop of dirty-blonde hair.
"We don't need your help," Alicia protested. "Go away!"
"Ma said I kin help," he said, glancing my way. "She figgers these city gals don't know nothin' 'bout cleanin' fish."
"Just go away!" Alicia complained. She looked at me and rolled her eyes at the boy's insistence on being a pest.
I grinned and winked at Alicia, which caused her eyebrows to lift. "Tell you what," I said to the boy, putting on a 'helpless girl' look and sounding sweet, "if you can clean and filet two fish faster than I can, you can stay and help."
Alicia gasped; she no doubt figured we'd be stuck with the brat. Addy just shook her head and rolled her eyes.
The boy was good, I'll grant that, but I'd had so much practice fileting fish growing up, and lately with my sacred knife, that he was only halfway done with his second fish when I tossed my knife to stick into a tree trunk near the truck. "Done," I said smugly.
Mike looked at my fish in amazement, a crestfallen expression creeping onto his features. "How ... how can y'all filet that fast?" he stammered. "City girls ain't supposed t' be able ..."
"I grew up on a farm," I said with a grin, "and I've been cleaning fish since I could hold a knife." I watched him finish up the second bass he was working on. "Now, why don't you run along and let us finish this?" I asked sweetly.
I thought Alicia and Addy were going to bust a gut laughing as Mike slunk off dejectedly. When he was out of earshot, Alicia turned to me. "Y'know," she began, "Ah think he's got a crush on you."
It was my turn to roll my eyes and groan. "That's all I need!"
Alicia and I set to fileting the fish, while Addy stood back, looking a bit ill. When Alicia noticed, she glanced over her shoulder. "Ain't y' gonna help?" She held out a bloody knife toward Addy, which caused the French girl to recoil as her stomach churned. "Ah take it you've never cleaned a fish before?"
"Non!" Addy said, looking a little green. "The times we went fishing with papa, 'e 'andled all the cleaning and such."
"It's a handy life-skill," I countered with a smile. "If you can catch, clean, and cook a fish, you should never go hungry."
"I will 'andle our share of the cooking part," Addy insisted, "if you two take care of the cleaning part."
"We might as well," Alicia giggled. "Mah roommate is a little slow, and by the time one of us manages to teach her how to filet a fish, the other would be done with the rest of 'em."
Addy's response was typical for the three of us when we were kidding around - she stuck out her tongue. "I will 'elp your mother with the cooking," she announced with her pert little Gallic nose stuck up in the air. "Besides, I did my share of catching them."
"And a gator!" Alicia chuckled. "Course, he doesn't count since we had t' let him go." She smiled wickedly. "You do realize that ma will probably cook these blackened with good Cajun spices, don't you?"
Addy looked worse than when she'd been asked to help clean the fish. "Merde!"
Thursday, June 21, 2007 - Early Afternoon
Alicia's Home, near Baton Rouge, Louisiana
The footsteps echoed through the earth spirit long before the person came into view, and I smiled to myself as I drew back on the bow once more. Naturally, I'd brought my weapons- a term at Whateley convinced me I'd never go anywhere without them, and I'd decided to practice a little. While Mr. Thacker had offered to lend me his compound bow, I strongly preferred the natural feel of the wood. The paper plate target was hung on a tree about forty or fifty yards away, and I could feel the energy of the sky spirit flowing about me, telling me which way it would carry my arrow. Drawing a deep breath, I exhaled slowly and let the arrow fly.
"You're pretty good with that thing, young lady," Mr. Thacker said approvingly after my arrow embedded itself in the target, joining a cluster of six other arrows that had unerringly struck home. "But I've always found a gun a little handier."
I glanced to the side, where Alicia and Addy sat, eating cookies and watching me shoot. Alicia grinned broadly and nodded at me, having a good idea of what was to come. "Is there a tree you'd like to have taken down?" I asked Mr. Thacker.
His forehead wrinkled in confusion. "Come again?"
"Kayda," Alicia said, "see that dying pine tree - about ten yards to the left of your target?"
"Take it down," Alicia chuckled. When I glanced at her, she nodded firmly, smiling.
"What? With a bow?" Mr. Thacker asked, astonished at the foolishness of his daughter's comment.
I silently incanted over an arrow, infusing it with one of Molly's and my 'special' spells, and then nocked it in the bow. Drawing the arrow, I felt the sky spirit, adjusted my aim accordingly, and then let the arrow fly.
The flash and silent fireball of essence exploding outward from the arrow consumed a large chunk of the tree trunk, and the top of the dead tree noisily crashed through its neighbors to the ground. Addy and Alicia giggled delightedly at the destruction I'd wrought, while Mr. Thacker stood, goggling at the sight.
"Can you hunt with that?" Mr. Thacker asked slowly. "Not with the exploding ones, I mean. To kill game?"
"Daddy," Alicia drawled, "Kayda hunts with her bow in the simulators all the time. She can one-shot a buffalo with that thing!"
Mr. Thacker's jaw dropped. "A ... buffalo?"
"From horseback," I clarified. "It's a little more challenging that way."
"Do you think you can take a deer?" he asked, careful to not sound condescending. I simply nodded; after hunting buffalo from horseback, a deer would be easy. Besides, the Nations had hunted deer and elk in the simulators.
"Alicia, why don't you girls get ready, and we'll go out on a little deer hunt. Your mom wants to serve a nice venison roast for dinner Saturday, and we're fresh out."
"It's not deer season, Mr. Thacker," I speculated.
"Well," he drawled, "I've got a fair chunk of land, and since I treat it like a wildlife preserve and don't let anyone else hunt on it, I've got an arrangement with the parish sheriff and the wildlife folks that they kind of look the other way when I take game."
"I see," I said hesitantly. It sounded like he was poaching wildlife and had sort-of bribed the authorities to let him.
"And I'm careful to never take a female animal when she might have young," he added.
"Kayda," Alicia assured me, standing and putting her hand lightly on my arm, "it's just like the way the Medawihla tribe manages their wildlife." She smiled. "Besides, you haven't lived until you've had mah mom's venison roast!"
"No doubt smothered in those spices and 'ot sauces you put on all your food," Addy interjected sarcastically.
"Well, now," Alicia drawled with a huge grin, "what's Cajun cooking without Cajun spices and Cayenne pepper?"
"A little tabasco sauce and cayenne pepper never hurt anyone," Mr. Thacker chuckled.
"Yes, but you don't know 'ow to put on only a little!" Addy retorted. Those who didn't know the two might think it was a serious spat, but I could sense the playful kidding in their interchange.
"You can't tell me that mah gumbo is too spicy, can you?"
"You almost killed 'alf the Euro Promotional League with that stuff!" Addy countered, and despite her tone, there was a playful twinkle in her eye that Mr. Thacker and I didn't miss. "Mrs. Carson wanted you to register it with security as a dangerous weapon!"
"I'm going to get ready," I excused myself quickly, lest I be drawn into a debate about Cajun cooking. I wasn't overly fond of excessively-spicy food, but I wasn't about to tell my hosts that.
Half an hour later, give or take, we assembled by the garage, where Mr. Thacker got bows for Alicia and himself, and a few arrows each with good, razor-sharp hunting points. I had my bow and arrows with flint-knapped points; the simulators showed they could be just as deadly as a steel tri-bladed hunting point. We rode out onto their property in two six-wheeled ATVs. Given that we were in swampy, wet, bayou country of Louisiana, the amphibious nature of the vehicles made perfect sense.
After parking the ATVs, we walked to a pair of tree stands - Mr. Thacker taking one, and the girls and I taking another, larger stand. While I'm certain Mr. Thacker was deathly quiet in his stand, I could read the earth and sky spirits, so I could talk to Addy and Alicia about the natural world, what animals were near us, spotting them long before either girl did, and telling them Lakota legends of the various animals. I suspect that, even though it was a very pleasant day, if slightly hot and humid, Addy really didn't enjoy the outing. Alicia, though, relished the time outdoors, even though no deer came within a half mile of our stand.
After two and a half or three hours, the sound of an ATV motor pierced the silence, so we scrambled down from the stand and followed the noise, meeting up with Mr. Thacker and the ATV a little over a mile from where we'd been sitting. He'd bagged a very nice buck, field-dressed it, and had walked back to the ATV so he could haul it back to the house. We helped him load the animal on the ATV, then Addy rode with Mr. Thacker while Alicia and I walked back to our ATV. Though we didn't get anything, it was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon, and Mrs. Thacker delivered a meal to remember.
Friday, June 22, 2007 - Early Afternoon
Alicia's home, near Baton Rouge, Louisiana
"But ... I couldn't!" Addy protested.
"Why not?" Alicia demanded of her roommate. The three of us were sitting on the porch, a broad, shaded traditional porch with a hanging swing and several comfortable chairs to lounge in. Half-empty glasses of lemonade sat on small tables near us.
"I ... I just couldn't!" Addy replied, not quite able to elucidate a real reason.
"There's nothing to be afraid of," Alicia tried to soothe her, looking at me for help. "You fought in a combat final, for goodness sake! This is a lot safer!"
"Addy," I jumped in, "I've been shooting since I was about six. It's safe if you follow some simple safety rules, and it's a lot of fun!"
"Dad's got a sort-of range set up, so it's safe to shoot! Come on! It'll be fun!" Alicia urged.
Seeing Addy's resistance fading, I took her arm, determined to not give her a choice. "Let's go. You might really like shooting!" I glanced to Alicia. "What are we going to shoot?"
"I figured we'd take the Beretta and Glock pistols in nine mil, and maybe a couple of dad's rifles. He's got a couple of old Russian rifles that are a blast to shoot, and a nice Remington 700 in .270, and maybe an AR-15. Those things are easy to shoot and don't have much recoil," she added, mostly for Adalie's sake. She glanced over her shoulder. "And no," she snapped at her younger brothers, who were hanging back by the door into the house, "you may not come along!"
"Aw, come on!" Mike, the older brat, whined. "We can help!"
I glanced at Alicia with a wicked grin. "We might need someone to run downrange to change targets!" As expected, the boys groaned with disappointment; no doubt they expected to 'help' us learn to shoot, especially Mike.
"Y'know," Alicia drawled to Mike after winking at me, "y'all could have a little shoot-off, t'see who's better!"
"Um, er ...," Mike stammered, his eyes reflecting his fear of being embarrassed again. "It's more fun shooting, um, when we don't get, um, competitive, you know?" He was really digging for excuses to avoid a shoot-off that he might lose without having to admit being afraid of losing.
"You ain't comin' with us!" Alicia insisted sternly. "Addy's never shot before, and I ain't gonna have you two pests distractin' her with bad advice and foolish behavior!"
"But ...." Mike started to protest.
"If'n Addy likes shootin', then we'll probably go out again, and if y'all behave between now and then, we might let y'all come with us. Now, Rusty, go get us an ATV from the garage. Mike, you can help - load guns and ammo in the ATV."
The boy was disappointed that he wasn't going to get to shoot with us, but at least he had the consolation of helping with something, which meant he got to spend a little time 'proving' how helpful he was while making moon-eyes at me and Addy.
Addy was such a neophyte to guns that she winced at merely the sight of an AR-15, while to Alicia and I, it was no big deal. I paused to admire the Russian Mosin that we were going to shoot; it was a crude gun compared to the AR, but as Alicia told me, it had a reputation for being rugged and reliable - and that model had been in service since eighteen-ninety-one! Alicia kept the Remington 700 in its case for the trip out; Mr. Thacker was a little particular about not jostling it around and upsetting the scope alignment.
Addy's eyes widened more when we got several .50cal ammo cans, each labeled with an ammo caliber; Alicia explained that her dad kept one for each different caliber of gun to keep the ammo separate. It was a very sensible idea; I'd have to mention it to Dad next time I talked to him. With the pistols, Alicia put one in a carrying case and slid the other into a holster she'd strapped on her waist.
Addy stared at her, a bit nervous. "I'm sorry," she explained hastily, "but my papa never 'ad guns around the 'ouse, and ... and I'm not used to them."
"We're gonna fix that," Alicia said with a huge grin as she slid behind the driving controls of the ATV. I let Addy hop in front, because the rider in the back seat would be sharing the seat with ammo cans and those probably would have made Addy even more nervous than she already was.
"Ah started shootin' when Ah was about six," Alicia commented as she drove the ATV through trees. "It was a .22 rifle, but it was shootin'."
"Yeah, me, too," I added. "And I was about nine or ten when I got a high-caliber rifle." I smiled at the memory of shooting it the first time - it had a lot more recoil than I'd expected and I was left with a bruised shoulder, but I refused to let Dad know that it hurt. I think he did figure it out, though, because the next time we went out shooting, he watched closely how I held the rifle and corrected me a bit, which really helped. I was determined to start Addy correctly so she didn't have the same lesson I'd had. We wanted her to enjoy shooting, not hate it.
When Mr. Thacker said he had a range for shooting, he made it sound like an informal little affair of a couple of targets in front of a rough berm or hillside. The range was anything but informal. He had constructed big berms as backstops for rifle shooting; I guessed they were at fifty, one hundred, and two hundred yards range, and the firing position had a concrete pad with permanent overhead cover and a couple of shooting benches. To one side, ninety-degrees from the rifle range, was a pistol bay, enclosed on three sides with berms and with its own covered shooting position.
Alicia noticed my surprise at the layout. "Yeah, Dad loves shootin', so when they found gas on the property and Dad got a little bit of money, he decided to do it right. We come out here all the time with our cousins and friends."
"Dayum," I mouthed softly. "I'm gonna' have to talk to Dad about getting a setup like this."
Alicia grinned from ear to ear. "Wait til you see his reloadin' setup! And Ah'll show you his entire gun collection!"
We unloaded the gear, and Alicia asked Addy the obvious question. "What do you want to start with?"
"Rifles," I suggested. "My dad said it's easiest to start bench rifle, and then go from there. Pistol recoil can take a bit of getting used to."
Addy looked back and forth between the two of us, confused. "Whatever you think," she answered.
"Start with the AR?" I asked, to which Alicia firmly nodded. Between Alicia and me, we gave Addy a short-course in sight picture and sight alignment - and probably confused the snot out of her - and then went through the basic safety rules and principles of shooting and put on our earmuffs and safety glasses. I expected that Addy would have a hard time with the breathing and trigger-squeeze sequence, since she was a speedster, but we'd have to see. I don't know what Alicia thought, but to me, it was very important that Addy hit the target with some rounds from the first magazine so she wouldn't become disenchanted or frustrated.
"There isn't a lot of recoil," I advised her as she got the rifle positioned and started on her sight alignment. "But it's noisy, so don't be scared."
"Noisier than a brick fight?" Addy asked with a grin.
Addy took her first shot, and far from flinching as Alicia and I had expected, she squealed with delight, and again when she saw that she'd at least hit the paper. Granted it was only 25 yards, but it was a good first effort.
Alicia signaled me to shoot while she instructed and assisted her roommate, so I took the Russian Mosin-Nagant and went to another bench. There was a target at one hundred yards, so I calmly loaded the magazine and cycled the bolt, then prepared for my first shot.
Alicia hadn't been kidding when she told me the rifle had something of a kick! I shouldn't have been surprised; it was a relatively light gun - at least in comparison to Dad's M-1 Garand, and the rounds we were shooting were military surplus and probably had a little extra 'punch'. Setting the rifle down, I looked through a spotting scope to see where I'd hit. At a hundred yards, my first shot was high; I automatically noted how far so I could compensate with successive shots. And working the bolt was a bit of a surprise, too - it took a lot of effort to operate that beast of a gun.
But it was fun! A LOT of fun! I'd have to tell Dad so he could buy one for me. And a bucket-load of ammo! After adjusting for the sights, I put a magazine-worth of rounds into a circle about two inches in diameter - with open sights.
Addy was very rapidly improving her skill - no doubt thanks to her exemplar trait, but also because she seemed to be enjoying the heck out of the sport. She pretty quickly moved to a fifty-yard target, and by the time I was done with the Mosin, she was shooting at a target at a hundred yards - after Alicia had put a red-dot sight on the rail to help her aim.
And then Alicia and I started getting competitive. After changing targets, we took turns with the Mosin at one- and two-hundred yards, and then we repeated our informal competition with the Remington, although for that, Addy set out targets at three- and four-hundred yards. Hard as it was for me to admit, "Annie Oakley" Thacker was a much better shot than I was. I knew I'd never hear the end of it!
While the two of us had our little shoot-off, Addy tried the Mosin, and contrary to my expectations that she'd find its recoil a little off-putting, she loved the gun. She didn't want to quit shooting it when we said it was time to fire the pistols.
Since Alicia had helped Addy shooting rifles, I helped her on the pistol range. We started at five yards with the Glock, which doesn't seem like much, but for a novice like Addy, it was best to not have too many challenges at once. She picked up quickly that the basics of rules, sight alignment, and the five steps of a shot were the same, and after I showed her stance and grip with a mag-worth of rounds, I loaded a single round for her.
The shot startled her, and she almost dropped the gun, but then she started giggling with delight. A few more shots, and she was on the paper, although her aim wasn't consistent because she was anticipating the shot. While Alicia continued to shoot, I took Addy aside, and after clearing the gun, I showed her a trick for learning trigger control - by balancing a dime on the front sight and going through trigger squeeze, dry-firing the pistol without disturbing the dime. Addy was frustrated at first, but after a few minutes of determined practice, she was consistently dry-firing without knocking the dime off the sight. Satisfied that she was improving, we went back to the target.
When they tell you that an exemplar has outstanding muscle memory, believe them, because it's true. That simple exercise had instilled enough muscle memory in Addy that she was consistently hitting within an eight or nine-inch circle, so we moved back to ten yards. Again, she was hitting the paper consistently - we were using the silhouette targets, and she was putting a good fraction of her rounds in center-of-mass such that her rounds would stop a baseline. Eventually, Alicia realized that I was probably bored, so we traded places.
I hadn't had an opportunity to shoot since I'd manifested, and while I saw Addy's rapid improvement, somehow it didn't register that I'd have equal advantages now because I was an exemplar, too. My shots were consistently well-placed, though I really didn't see any difference from the last time I'd shot with Danny and Dad, probably because we spent a lot of time shooting pistols.
Naturally, Alicia and I had another shoot-off, and she grudgingly admitted that with pistols, I was a little bit better than she was, but then she reminded me of her superior performance with the rifles, especially at long ranges. With a smug smile on her face. Okay, it was more than a smug smile, it was positively a triumphant grin.
Much later, back at the house, Alicia called in favors her brothers owed her so they ended up cleaning the guns for us, while we washed up and then sat on the porch drinking lemonade. Addy was talking a million miles an hour about how much fun it was shooting, especially with the pistols! I suspected that Addy's dad was going to be shocked if she enrolled in Combat Pistol in the fall like she was talking about doing. As would Ms. Hartford, Sensei Ito, and numerous other people. I really, really wanted to see the looks on their faces.
Saturday, June 23, 2007 - Early Evening
Alicia's home, near Baton Rouge, Louisiana
I gawked from the swinging chair on the porch at the number of cars pulling into the yard, like a veritable convoy of kinfolk. "How many relatives do you have?" I blurted out.
"Bah! This is nothing!" Addy scoffed at my comment. "You should 'ave been 'ere last week! There must 'ave been a 'undred at the reunion!" She looked at her roommate. "'Ow many cousins did you say you 'ave?"
Alicia grinned; after a week with Addy and having answered that question, she was prepared. "Thirteen on Ma's side. Twenty-one on Pa's. And Ah've got nineteen nieces and nephews so far. Ah think. Plus a couple more on the way." She shrugged. "Ma's the baby of her family, and Pa's second youngest, so Ah've got nieces and nephews older'n me."
Alicia giggled. "We're Catholic," she said, as if that explained everything - which in fact it did for me, as I'm sure it was for Addy last week. "The current generation is slowin' down a bit from Ma's and Pa's generation, though. Otherwise Ah'd have probably fifty nieces and nephews."
I had an amusing thought, and I burst into laughter, which drew odd looks from the two. "Imagine Mrs. Carson's reaction if even a fraction of your cousins, nieces, and nephews all manifested about the same time!"
"A whole floor of Dickinson or Melville for Thacker relatives!" Alicia was nearly holding her sides thinking about it. "Ito'd retire!"
"And Madame Carson, too, I think," Addy added.
As we went downstairs so I could be introduced to the 'herd', a couple of ATVs drove noisily out of the yard. Addy and I raced to a window in time to see Mr. Thacker, Mike, and three other men and another boy were riding full tilt out onto their property. Guns were slung over shoulders or strapped to the ATVs.
Alicia noticed my curious stare. "Hogs," she said. Seeing that I didn't quite get it, she expanded on her explanation. "Feral hogs. Tear the hell out of the fields, so when any family come over, Dad and a few of the quote menfolk unquote head out to try to kill some of 'em." She made the silly little airquote gesture around the word, punctuating the sour expression on her face and indicating her disdain for the male-centric hunt routine.
"That sounds like fun," I groused, noticing the number of cousins - many with girlfriends or boyfriends based on how some seemed to be clingy couples - who were congregating in the family room and on the porch, as well as starting an impromptu football game.
"It's not," Alicia said in an ominous tone. "Feral hogs are mean. Really mean. And they can really do a number on a person. A neighbor, Jean Baptiste, had his leg torn up pretty bad by a hog - bad enough that he lost it."
Addy turned a little green, matching the T-shirt she was wearing, while I nodded. "Dad's got a few pigs. I know how mean a sow with piglets can get."
"And y'all still think that'd be fun?" Alicia gawked at me.
"Just like hunting bison from horseback is fun!" I grinned.
"Well, they've gone out huntin', so all we can do is make the best of it."
The 'best' of it, I realized with a groan, included at least four older teenage male cousins or possibly nephews, and then, to make matters worse, as the herd of kids began to coalesce on the porch, they noticed me and Addy.
"Hey, Adalie," one of the boys, about eighteen and of average height with brown hair, called out to Addy, "nice to see you again!"
"Good evening, Troy," Adalie replied icily. "And for your information, I still 'ave a boyfriend, and I'm not interested in changing that situation."
"Ah'm hurt," Troy replied with mock indignation. No doubt Addy had met him during the previous week. "Ah respect that. Ah just wanted to say hi, and hoped you or Alicia would introduce me to ..." he was gazing at me like a hungry man looking at a buffet, "your very pretty friend." He made a move to take my hand, perhaps to raise it to kiss.
I pulled my hand away from his grasp as Alicia spoke. "Troy, this is mah friend from school, Kayda Franks." She rolled her eyes when she glanced at me. "Kayda, this is mah cousin Troy." She glanced at the other three. "And mah cousins Nick, Reme, and John."
"You go to high school with Alicia?" Troy asked smoothly, shifting his hand to lean on the railing as if that was his original plan. "Ah just graduated, and Ah'm going to LSU next fall. Baseball scholarship," he added with a smug smile. There was no question that he was trying to impress me. "Where are you from?"
I was glad I was wearing a modest T-shirt and jeans instead of my buckskin dress; as it was, his eyes drifted down to my boobs several times. "A small town in South Dakota," I answered, trying to be as unfriendly in tone as Addy had been. "I grew up on a farm."
"Farmer's daughter, eh?" he replied with a leer and a chuckle in his voice. Seeing my expression of extreme displeasure at his suggestive comment, he dropped the light laugh. "Are you originally from a foreign country like Adalie?" He put on what I'm sure he thought was being charming. "You look like an exotic, foreign model."
"No," I replied coldly. "I'm Lakota, from South Dakota."
"Do all Lakota girls look like you?" Reme piped up smoothly and eagerly.
"No," I replied, glaring at the boy sternly enough that he flinched a bit, "some of the girls are really pretty."
"I think we need to make a road trip!" John said as an aside to Nick, not even trying to be discrete as he drooled at the prospects of pretty Lakota girls.
"In case you're wondering," Alicia chimed in, "Kayda has someone special in her life, so she's not available."
The look on Troy's face led me to believe that Alicia's comment was a direct challenge to him; his appearance took on that of a predator, a boy who knew he was attractive to girls and who expected to get his way with them. I felt an ominous shudder.
Saturday, June 23, 2007 - Late Evening
Alicia's home, near Baton Rouge, Louisiana
The summer evening breeze felt invigorating as I padded slowly through the field, my senses alert to the sky and earth spirits. I felt free, like I hadn't in hours, not since the hordes of aunts, uncles, kids, girlfriends and boyfriends, and Alicia's grandma had descended on Alicia's house like a swarm of locust. It was smothering in a way I hadn't experienced in a long time; boys my age or a little older trying to hit on me, aunts and uncles and smaller kids fascinated because I was Lakota, Aunt Vicky trying to play matchmaker to get me spending time with her son Troy - ah, yes, Troy. A shudder coursed up and down my spine. What an arrogant asshole!
Since he'd first spotted me, I was certain - from my experience of having been a boy and listening to locker-room swagger - that he'd decided he was going to bang me. And he was convinced, no doubt, that he would succeed; for a baseline, he wasn't an unattractive guy, and he did have that confidence and air about him that all the guys used to envy and try to mimic. He had game. There was no question in my mind that he'd been a stud in his high school, and college would only see him increase his notch count. Unfortunately for me, he'd decided I should be one of those notches. It wouldn't have been so bad, but after Aunt Vicky heard my family background, she'd no doubt decided that I'd be right for her precious Troy.
Maneuvered repeatedly into talking with Troy, suggestions of sitting to chat on the porch swing, even offers to take me to a movie or dance, I'd wearied of it quickly. Hints and even blunt statements that I had a 'special someone' didn't make any difference. I thought about revealing my like of girls, but I knew that seducing a lesbian was a huge fantasy of many a boy, and I didn't want to take a chance on making Troy even more aggressive, to say nothing of the possibility of scorn and rejection from the extended Thacker family.
Worse was the fact that, like they did with so many such gatherings, Mr. Thacker had cleaned out his vast garage, and besides serving the food from there, a stereo in the corner played obnoxiously-loud music - including that awful Zydeco stuff - and many of the kids danced with boyfriends or girlfriends. I think the dancing was mostly because there was precious little else to do.
When Troy had tried to drag me by the hand to the dance floor, I panicked. Yanking my hand free, I bolted into the house, no doubt leaving a lot of the family gawking and wondering what had happened. Grabbing my bow 'in case', I ran into the woods to escape the oppressive gathering, to get away from people into nature to de-stress. I guess I'd subconsciously known what I wanted to do to - hunt.
I was hunting. The earth spirit told me that there were animals ahead of me, and the sounds confirmed that they were hogs. The feral hogs Alicia had been talking about. A surge of adrenaline coursed through me, and I felt alive.
Sensing the sky spirit, I began to slowly circle around the noise, using the earth spirit as a guide to be as silent as possible, my senses alert. The straps holding my tomahawks in their 'holsters' were unfastened, and I had an arrow nocked. For some stupid reason, as soon as I was downwind of the hogs, I pulled a small case from my pocket. Opening it, I smeared some of the greasy contents onto a finger, which I then smudged in two vertical stripes on each cheek below the eye. Even if it was just hunting hogs, I felt like I was going to war. I felt a thrill course down my spine like I'd never felt before. It was ... exhilarating.
Once the little case was put away, I checked the earth spirit, and frowned. These hogs were wary as hell, and smart. Though I'd been silent as death, they'd sensed something, and had moved. Again, I moved quietly, stalking them. Now that I was closer, I could see ripples in the tall grass of the field, betraying the hogs' movements. My eyes watching the field carefully, I let the earth spirit flow through me.
There were two groups, or more precisely, one very large hog by itself, and twenty or thirty yards distant from it, another large hog with several smaller ones. A mama sow and her litter. I decided immediately that I was not going to mess with the mama. The other one, separated from the mama and her piglets, could be a solitary sow or a boar. In either case it was alone.
Far off, faintly, I heard Alicia and Addy and a few others calling my name. There were also the sounds of at least two ATVs running. My friends hadn't been nearby when Troy had pulled his asshole move, so it would have taken them time to hear that I'd run away from Troy, then to look around the garage and house, and finally to discover that my bow was missing.
I had to hurry my hunt before they spooked the hog.
Slowly, quietly, carefully, I stalked through the grass, half-crouching to minimize my visual presence. Everything seemed to slow, and I had to force myself to not focus exclusively on the hog, but listen to the spirits telling me all that was around me. The sow and her litter were moving a bit closer to the solitary hog, which was about twenty yards away from me.
I straightened slowly, and I could see the hog in the grass, a brute of a pig rooting around the grass and destroying the field. I drew back, silently mouthed a prayer to Wakan Tanka, and let the arrow fly. Even before it had hit, I drew back and sent a second arrow on its flight.
The squeal of the hog was thunderous in the silent evening. It had seen me, or at least my motion, and with two arrows sticking from its body, it turned and charged toward me, snorting and squealing with a combination of rage and pain.
The bow fell on the ground, replaced in my hands by my tomahawks, and just in time. A swipe with one weapon gashed the face of the hog while I dodged to the side of its mouth and dangerous teeth; almost in one motion, my dance to the side turned into a spin and I swung my second tomahawk down and around in a semi-circle that terminated in the lower side of the hog.
Squealing in its death throes, driven by instinct, it tried to turn on me, its attacker, but I danced out of the way again, swinging as I moved. The arc of my tomahawk ended at the hog's skull, where the fast-moving, metal blade split skin and bone. The hog collapsed for good.
A snort behind me and the earth spirit caused me to turn; rather than flee, the sow was coming at me. Timing it just right, I did a somersault over the charging hog, striking at its head and back with one weapon as I did so, but not in a blow that would be fatal. Now shit had gotten real; I was dealing with an injured mama sow. Even before I'd landed, she'd turned and was charging at me again. Adrenaline surged through my veins as I felt the thrill of the dangerous battle. Dodging to the side, I threw one tomahawk, which embedded in her side, and almost in the same motion, drew my ever-present knife. At some point, she'd gotten teeth into my arm, but I was too pumped to let that slow me. A combination of knife and tomahawk learned from Toni's kata ended the life of the second hog. To be certain that they stayed down, I slit the throats of both hogs
I stood, clad as a hunter, bow in one hand and tomahawk in the other, on the prairie. “Kukuse!” I called out.
A heavy snorting sound answered my call, and a huge hog with serious tusks charged at me, stopping at the last moment when I held my ground fearlessly.
“Why does the Ptesanwi call me?” Kukuse, the spirit of the boar, asked humbly.
“I wish to thank you for the gift of meat I have taken.”
Kukuse nodded. “You fought well, giving my children a fair fight. It is good to see you hunt like this, not the white man’s way with the fire sticks. You are brave, and it is an honor for my children to fall to you. Go in peace, Ptesanwi.”
It took a moment to re-orientate myself coming out of my dream world. Spreading my arms upward, I tilted my head back, and a high-pitched, ululating cry sounded over the field.
Saturday, June 23, 2007 - Late Evening
Alicia's home, near Baton Rouge, Louisiana
"What the hell do you think you were doing?" Alicia practically screamed at me as her mom tended to my injured arm. The sow's bite had been a lot deeper than I'd realized; adrenaline had dampened my feeling during the brief battle.
"I ... I needed to get away," I said softly, a little embarrassed at how much consternation I'd caused my friends and their family.
"When Pa heard your war cry, he was certain you'd been tore up by a hog!" Alicia continued chiding me. "Or a gator!"
"I'm sorry," I apologized, feeling more and more guilty about running off and then engaging wild hogs in a night-time battle. "I ... I just ..." I sighed, not sure how to tell Alicia and Addy with their mom and aunt present.
Out in the garage, the music still played, but I don't think anyone was dancing. Not after they'd discovered me missing and then had found me, bleeding and sore, in a field with two large dead hogs. The boar was almost two hundred fifty pounds - a very large pig, and the mama sow was over one-fifty.
"Kayda," Alicia said, wincing as she glanced at her mom and aunt, "Ah told Ma."
"What?!?" I demanded, my eyes wide open. That was all I needed - for her entire family to know I'd been gang-raped!
"Ah ... had to tell them," Alicia winced again, "that you were beat up and almost killed by the guys back home when you manifested. So they'd understand why you didn't like Troy's flirting."
My heart started beating again; she hadn't lied, but thankfully she'd only told part of the story.
Aunt Vicky stooped before me. "Ah'm so sorry, Kayda," she said, her voice profusely apologetic. "Ah had no idea! If Ah'd known, Ah'd have made sure the boys understood you weren't available."
"Ah suppose the story about you having a boyfriend is just a cover?" Alicia's mom asked. There was a look in her eye that made me suspect that she knew she was giving me an out.
"Yeah," I admitted with a heavy sigh. "Until I get over it, I can't even think about ... trusting boys, let alone going on dates or anything."
Alicia shot me a quick warning glance that I might have gone a bit too far with my explanation. "Kayda's got several friends that are boys, like RPG and Adrian on her training team, but they're both spoken for, so everyone knows they're just friends."
Alicia left with Aunt Vicky, leaving me alone with Mrs. Thacker. I was quite nervous because I feared she might have guessed one of my secrets - that I was attracted to girls and not boys. It was best to pre-empt her guessing. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Thacker," I said contritely. "I ... I shouldn't have run off like I did. It's just ... Troy was being too pushy."
She chuckled. "Yeah, he's like that. He's either gonna get himself killed by a jealous boyfriend or husband, or he's gonna meet a strong girl that'll have him totally whipped and followin' her around like a lost puppy."
I couldn't help but chuckle at the mental image that conjured - Troy obediently following around someone like Majestic or Cytherea or Jadis who'd have him licking their boots and saying 'yes, ma'am' to their every little whim. And if he pulled that kind of Don Juan stuff with Hippolyta, she'd rip his balls off and dance on them.
"Is it true what Alicia says, that y'all fought a big snake demon? And she beat up a mugger in Boston?" Clearly, the Thackers weren't sure how many of Alicia's stories to believe and how many to discount as flights of her imagination.
I chuckled. "Yeah, it's true. We train pretty hard because people generally don't like us mutants and we're almost always in danger. They teach us how to fight to survive."
"So last week when Adalie told Troy she'd feed him his own intestines after breaking every rib one-by-one ...?"
I laughed aloud at that one. "I don't think she'd go that far, but she has been training with Alicia and me, and she knows how to fight pretty well. She put a hurt on a guy in her combat final - a guy who beat the crap out of her in the fall."
Mrs. Thacker just shook her head. "Pa and Ah are gonna have t' make a trip up there. Ah gotta see this school of yours."
Monday, June 25, 2007 - Morning
Near New Orleans, Louisiana
I should have taken a tranquilizer - although with my regen, it wouldn't have done much good. Still, anything would have helped deal with Mr. Thacker's wild driving which scared me more than some of the sim fights I'd been in.
"Um, Ma?" Alicia said hesitantly as we neared the airport exit. From her tone, I knew there was something she'd been meaning to tell her folks but had been putting off until the last minute. Which was now.
"Um, Ah told you about Kayda's training team, right?"
"Yes. What about it?"
"Well, y'see," she hesitated, "Ah'm kinda on the team, too."
"What?!?" Mr. Thacker roared. "You're on one of them training teams? The kind that fights each other?"
"It's good training," Alicia protested. "If Ah'd have had that kind of experience, the mess in New York wouldn'ta happened! Or Ah coulda fought mah way out of it better."
"But ... from the way you describe Kayda's fights, it sounds awful!" Mrs. Thacker protested. "Ah don't want you gettin' hurt doin' things like that!"
"Ma, Kayda's on three training teams, and she's doin' alright!" Alicia pleaded. "Kayda, tell her it's okay!"
Great! She'd just put me on the spot. "I'm afraid that what Alicia says about the danger we'll face post-graduation is true," I replied. "I mean, look what happened to me." I shuddered at the merest mention of being beaten nearly to death twice; Mrs. Thacker noticed.
"But ... a team?" Mrs. Thacker asked. "Ah don't want her bein' no superhero!"
"And Ah don't wanna be a superhero, Ma! It's not about that! It's about learnin' t' defend mahself."
Mrs. Thacker looked at me, her eyes narrowed a bit. "Are you bein' a bit of a bad influence on Alicia?"
"Ma, it's not like that! Pa, you know what happened in New York - how that nutjob was gonna' sacrifice me to a demon! Ah didn't know how t' fight! Ah coulda been killed!"
"You'll get yourself killed if you get into fights!" Ma protested.
"But at least Ah'll know how t' fight so Ah have a chance!" Alicia countered. "If Ah don't learn, Ah won't have any chance."
"The simulations are very carefully supervised," I interjected, "and the lessons are planned to help learn to survive. Like Sensei Ito says, it doesn't do any good to spend all this money on a fancy education if we get ourselves killed the day after we graduate because we don't know how to survive."
"But ...." Mrs. Thacker started to protest.
"Ma," Mr. Thacker interjected strongly, "she's gotta learn."
"If it was the boys, you wouldn't be objectin' now, would you?" he continued.
Mrs. Thacker started to reply, but shut her mouth as she thought. Finally, after several minutes of considering what had been said, she turned to me. "Is it really safe?"
"I've gotten hurt a lot worse in the real world than I have in training," I replied honestly. I very specifically didn't mention Snakey or Officer Matthews or Magic Mikey or the other incidents. "And Alicia is learning very well. In fact, I bet that if she went one-on-one with a hog, she'd win if she had my tomahawks."
The Suburban pulled up to the drop-off curb at the airport. The three of us girls and Mrs. Thacker got out, and after we retrieved our luggage, Mr. Thacker drove off to a temporary parking spot, like maybe a cell phone lot or something.
At the security gate, Mrs. Thacker gave Alicia a huge hug. "Y'all be careful now, okay?"
"I will be," Alicia promised her. "Ah've got mah two best friends to help keep me out of trouble."
In turn, I got a hug. "Ah'm glad you came down t' visit, but Ah'm sorry about the other night," she apologized softly.
"I had a good time," I replied casually.
"You keep Alicia out of trouble up at your home, okay?"
I chuckled. "We live on a farm. There's not much that can go wrong!"
Mrs. Thacker turned to Addy. "Thank you for being such a good friend to mah girl. And thanks for helpin' her with her French! She sounds so ... sophisticated, so worldly!" She smiled. "Ah'm actually jealous."
"I'd do almost anything for my best friend," Addy replied. There were, I suspected, some tears in her eyes; from the interactions, it was obvious that she'd come to think of Alicia's family almost as a second home to her.
Several hugs later, the three of us strode down the concourse, having passed through the MCO checkpoint without any problem. "Thanks for putting me on the spot," I said sarcastically to Alicia.
"Ah didn't know what else to do," Alicia said, blushing apologetically. "You're so good at dealin' with adults, and ..."
I wrapped an arm around her waist and gave a small squeeze. "Just kidding. Although I'm starting to worry that you might start thinking of me as your own personal 'fixer'!"
Alicia and Addy giggled together. "With your ins with Mrs. Carson," Alicia said through her laughter, "you might be the best fixer on campus!"
"And you might find some blowback from all the trouble I seem to get in with Mrs. Carson," I shot back with a grin. "We've got time to get a bite to eat before our flight boards. I'll buy."
Monday, June 25, 2007 - Mid-Day
Near Kayda's Hometown, South Dakota
The serpent curled its huge body into the small tunnel it had carved out to protect itself from the blistering, crippling rays of the sun. It had been waiting patiently for several days for the shaman to return. It was only a matter of time, but the snake-demon had little in the way of patience.
"Father," he called out psychically to Unhcegila, held captive so far away at HPARC.
"Yes, my son?" the answer came.
"The shaman isn't coming! I should hunt for him!"
"The shaman will be there. You must continue to be patient."
"We are hunters, father! Waiting so long is ... difficult!"
"The shaman will come. And then you will take what I need - the Sacred Sphere. Your brother continues to work to free me, and he must be even more patient than you so he doesn't set off the traps around my prison. If he can do it, can you do less?"
"No, father," the snake demon said, feeling a little embarrassed, which was the whole point of his father's statement. "I will wait."
Monday, June 25, 2007 - Mid-Day
Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota
Little Doe sighed, stretching her tired, sore muscles that were cramped from sitting most of the day. It would be good to finish their business, an emergency discussion of all shamans about the sudden dangers they all faced. Three shamans in South Dakota and two more in Canada had been killed in violent, vicious attacks. It was more shamans than died in any typical year. Something was after them, and they needed to know what, and how to stop it. So far, though, inter-tribal bickering and politics had stymied any attempt at agreements for the collective good of ALL the people. It would be good to leave all of this behind and get home to see her granddaughter and to be with her family. Tomorrow, whether the assembled shamans had reached an agreement or not, she would go.
END of PART 1