Tuesday, September 6, 2016 - Evening
Room 211, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
"Knock, knock!" a girl's voice sounded hesitantly. Laura looked up from putting clothes into the dresser on 'her' side, the left side of the cottage room as she faced the window. One of the girls from the tour - Bailey? - was shyly poking her head in, looking like she was afraid of being yelled at.
"Oh, hey!" Laura replied, trying to sound friendly. "Bailey, right?" The other girl smiled that Laura had remembered her name. "What can I do for you?"
"Um ...," Bailey said nervously. "You're Laura?" When the blue girl nodded, Bailey continued, looking at the empty bed on the right side of the room. "Um, I'm ... I ... um ..."
Laura noticed her glance. "You don't have a roommate?" she asked after some rather simple deductive reasoning. "And you're wondering if maybe you and I could room together?"
"Um, no. And then yes," Bailey replied. "There's ... Mrs. Horton said she doesn't want single rooms except for special cases, and, well," she blushed a little, "she said I'm not a special case."
"Being a changeling isn't a special case?" Laura chuckled, which seemed to set Bailey a little more at ease.
"There are two other ... girls," Bailey replied, "but ... they ... um ...."
"Do you snore?"
"What?" Bailey asked, astonished at the sudden change in direction of the conversation.
"Do you snore? Are you a murderous psychopath? Are you a rager?"
"No, no, and no," Bailey answered quickly, perplexed by the combination of questions.
"Okay, that's good."
"Does that mean I can room with you?" Bailey asked hopefully.
"Depends," Laura replied, sitting down on her newly-spread comforter and gesturing for Bailey to sit on the other bed. "Are you ... into girls?" She saw the confused look. "Are you a lesbian?"
"Um, no," Bailey stammered. "At least, I don't think so."
"Well, that's one strike," Laura giggled, and then she grinned so broadly that the other girl had to know she was joking. "Seriously, though, I am. A lesbian, I mean. That won't bother you, will it?"
"Um, I don't think so," Bailey said cautiously.
"How about my GSD? Is that going to bother you? Can you deal with a roommate who's 'naturally blue', if you know what I mean? You won't be put off that ... um, my ... nipples are kind of purple?"
Bailey wasn't sure whether to blush or laugh at how blunt the girl was. "Kind of direct, aren't you?"
"It saves on potential confusion. So ...?"
"You're wondering if I'm going to gawk and stare at your ... blue ... bush?" the newcomer blurted out. "Or your ... boobs?"
Laura grinned playfully. "If you're going to stare a lot, I'll have to spend extra time with my makeup, you know, 'cuz you might be scoping me out to try to seduce me, maybe? And I'd want to look my best?" She couldn't help but giggle as she spoke.
Bailey, too, started laughing. "Are you going to gawk and stare at me, or try to seduce me?"
"We'll see," the blue girl giggled before standing and extending her hand to the girl with reddish-copper hair. "Roomies?"
The other girl stood to shake Laura's hand, but the blue girl surprised her by instead wrapping Bailey in a welcoming hug. "You get that side," Laura giggled, gesturing to the empty bed. "Need help moving in?"
"Yeah, I've got a couple of suitcases down in the lobby."
Laura took her by the elbow. "Let's go get 'em, then. I've only got a couple of things to put away, so I'll help you move."
Tuesday, September 6, 2016 - Evening
Room 212, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
Morgana sat on her bed, watching with a certain amount of amusement as Bianca kept putting her stuff away. There had been a considerable amount of baggage awaiting her when they'd got to the cottage, and there wasn't a huge amount of space to stash it all away. Bianca paused in her attempt to squeeze a bit more in a drawer, looking at Morgana with a slightly envious expression.
Morgana nodded. "I only had the one suitcase."
Bianca frowned slightly. "For the whole term? Isn't that travelling a bit light?"
"Yeah, it is, but there wasn't time for me to get anything shipped over. So I went shopping once, with my sister, and she made me get all the sort of stuff I probably couldn't pick up on Campus." Morgana blushed slightly. "Some of the selections do make me wonder a bit about my big sister .... Anyway, they said there was a big store on campus, so I'm going to buy stuff like uniforms and so on now that I'm here."
Bianca nodded, looking at the case she still hadn't opened, mainly because she was running out of places to store her belongings. "That makes sense." She sighed. "They aren't exactly generous with storage space, are they?"
Morgana nodded, then looked around thoughtfully. "Hmm, I have an idea ...." seeing Bianca's expectant look, she carried on. "Looks like there's room under the beds for a fair bit of stuff. If we can get, say, some plastic storage units, we can slide them under the beds out of the way."
Bianca thought for a second, then smiled. "That sounds like a solution! Even if we can't get some at the store, we can always order some on the net."
Morgana was about to offer some of her storage space as an interim solution when they were interrupted by an enthusiastic knocking on the door. "Wing meeting in the common room, right now!"
Bianca frowned slightly. "Hmm, these doors aren't exactly soundproof, are they?"
"Doesn't look like it." Morgana looked at her roommate with a slow grin. "But I'm sure there's a spell for that..."
Tuesday, September 6, 2016 - Evening
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
As the two girls walked, each carrying one of Bailey's suitcases, Krystal popped her head out of her RA suite, a single room with its own bath that was one of the perks of helping with the wing. "Wing meeting in the common room," she gestured toward an open door diagonally across the hall from her, in an area that had been pointed out as "no man's land" between the changelings and 'Boyztown', the male wing.
"But ...," Bailey started to protest.
"You can unpack later. C'mon," Krystal said enthusiastically.
The two roommates dumped Bailey's luggage on the floor of their room and began down the hall, knocking on doors as their RA had ordered and sending the occupants to the gathering room.
A few minutes later, over a dozen girls had gathered in the cozy little room with a sofa and casual chairs and even a faux fireplace in one corner. A couple of desks were tucked in corners - obviously for studying, and a narrow table lined one wall - currently adorned with two vases of fresh flowers to add color and warmth to the room. No doubt the room could be arranged for many other purposes; it wouldn't surprise the girls if there were folding chairs and a folding table in a storage room somewhere for just that purpose.
"We're still short one," Krystal commented when she looked around the room, counting heads.
"That's all the wing," Bailey retorted defensively, as if she was about to be blamed for missing someone.
The senior girl held up a hand to reassure her. "Not a problem." She stepped to the door and looked into the hall. "Ah, right on time," she said to someone outside the room. When she stepped back in, she had a boy in tow.
"Hold on," Morgana objected, bolting upright in one of the plushest chairs, "this is ...."
The RA nodded. "A meeting of changelings. And this ... traitor ...," she pointed to the boy, "has decided to forego the joys of femininity and join ranks with the testosterone-poisoned herd of sub-human brutes!" she chuckled, joined by several of the girls.
"Hey, Flower," the tall, lanky boy with chocolate-colored skin, short kinky hair, and unforgettable gold eyes, protested. "You're just jealous you lost your junk!"
"Hey!" several girls who seemed to know the boy objected loudly. No doubt they were sophomores and knew the boy.
"As if!" the RA laughed. "Have a seat and we'll get started."
The tall boy looked around, settling his gaze on a pair of stacking chairs in the corner. "Looks like the girls hogged all the good seats - as usual!" he said in mock annoyance, his teasing betrayed by a broad grin. "See, never trust a woman to leave you anything but leftovers!" A few wadded-up papers responded to his comment.
"Now," Flower said, closing the door, "welcome, or welcome back, as the case may be." Sitting down, she continued. "I'm Krystal, I'm your wing Resident Advisor," she glanced at the boy, "except you," and then looked back at the girls, "and more importantly, I'm your first-line advisor and go-to person for any issues you may have related to your change. I'm not a doc or a shrink, but I know who to send you to, so if something comes up, you can always ask me if you don't know who else to ask. Sometimes, I'll point you to the cottage fixer, whose job it is to help you navigate all the bureaucratic reefs and shoals the administration and faculty have put in our way."
"Let's get to the next part," she continued, "introducing ourselves." She pointedly glared at the girls from the afternoon tour. "And no short, one-word answers," she added. "You've all had the 'talk', this is the cottage for alternative sexualities, et cetera, et cetera, so I'm not going to repeat it. And while you girls," she glanced at the older girls, "know me and each other, not all the freshmen do because they were on different tours. So we'll go around and introduce ourselves." She looked specifically around the room, letting her gaze pause on each of the new students. "I expect you to be a little more verbose than this afternoon." She smiled pleasantly, but her eyes held a steely fire that promised the freshmen that she wasn't kidding.
"Let me start," Krystal began, obviously trying to set a friendly precedent to help the so-far-reluctant freshies open up. "I was born in Miami as an incredibly average, destined-to-be-a-nerd boy, but alas, that was not to be. When I manifested, things started ... changing." She gestured down to her trim, curvy body. "So instead of being a linebacker like every boy dreams, I had to start getting used to the idea of being a curvy blonde - with assorted other colored highlights," she said with a friendly smile. Her steel-blue eyes twinkled with delight as she broke the ice with the new students. "Some changelings keep their attraction to girls, some change to wanting boys. I ... am not quite sure which way I want to go," she admitted with a shy smile. "Meanwhile, I've got parents that are glad I'm adjusting well, and my studies and my job shepherding all of you."
"Yeah, but what do you do?" a dark-haired girl asked, not having been on the tour.
"I'm a manifester," Krystal said, focusing on her hands, and suddenly, a single, long-stemmed red rose coalesced out of thin air. She lifted it to her nose and smelled the fragrance, and then, with a mischievous grin, handed it to Laura, who blushed in a lovely lavender shade. "As you can imagine, I'm very popular at Valentine's Day, but I'm also underestimated a lot. Imagine that you're fighting me, and suddenly you're tangled up in rose branches - complete with big, nasty thorns. Or imagine that instead, I manifest a bunch of flower petals right inside your windpipe."
Laura gulped; Flower wasn't nearly as helpless as everyone had first thought, but instead had learned creative ways to use her power more effectively than many would have guessed. No doubt others would have learned similar skills; her warning about the Underdogs seemed a lot more germane than she'd originally thought.
"Let's start with you," Krystal said, nodding to Laura on her right.
Laura glanced around nervously; her wish that she wasn't first was plain to see in her expression. Nonetheless, she swallowed almost audibly and then pasted on a smile. "Hi," she said, her voice trembling a bit from her unease with the new group, "I'm Laura. Laura Samuels," she added to clarify. "and I'm a freshman. But ... I wasn't always ... like this." She looked around and saw that all eyes were riveted on her, which added significantly to her sense of unease at speaking to the group. "I was ... I grew up in Kansas City, and I used to be ... Larry. Larry Thorson," she blurted. "I was a kind of a small boy - a normal-colored boy," she added quickly. "My older brothers always teased and picked on me, and my dad didn't really pay attention except to brag about his college football days to kind of rub it in that he thought I was scrawny and weak."
"What an asshole!" one of the sophomore girls spat angrily.
That little outburst broke the ice, and Laura suddenly realized that she really was with a group that would understand. "I ... I always did stuff with Mom and my little sister Julie; after I changed, my counselor said I was probably gender dysphoric when I was a boy. Anyway, one day I was playing with Julie - she liked to play Barbie things, you know, and while we were playing, I ... kind of passed out," Laura admitted sheepishly. "When I woke up, she was gone - she got scared and ran out on the estate to find Mom or Dad, and ...."
"Wait," Bailey said slowly. "You said estate?"
"Yeah," Laura cringed. "Dad ... he and his partners own 'Big Bob's Barbeque' restaurants."
"Your father is Big Bob? Big Bob Thorson? I love Big Bob's!" another girl stammered, eyes wide in awe. "That means you're ... rich!"
Laura hung her head, cringing. "It's not that simple," she admitted, fighting back a sudden onrush of tears as brutal memories of her family situation came flooding back. "Dad ... is a big H1 supporter, and his restaurants are really big with the H1 groups. He ... kind of got mad that I manifested, and he wouldn't let me leave the house, especially when I started turning blue and the doctors confirmed I was turning into a girl. He ... got so angry that Mom left him, taking me and Julie. My ... parents are getting divorced over the whole thing," she added, futilely wiping at the tears which were leaking onto her sky-blue cheeks.
A girl beside her, a taller, lithe, very pretty girl with long, wavy auburn hair and big soft brown eyes, leaned close and wrapped Laura in a comforting hug. "That's awful!" A moment later, Krystal joined from the other side, tenderly wiping the drops from Laura's face.
There were a few seconds of awkward silence while Laura accepted the two girls' support, and then she forced a smile. "It's all working out, though - except for the blue part. And," she looked down, her cheeks flushing lavender as she blushed, "I ... I really like how I changed," she admitted in a very soft voice. "I ... always ... felt more comfortable doing 'girl' things with Mom and Julie ...."
"That explains shopping last night," Bianca said, half to herself but loud enough that most of the girls heard.
Laura smiled at the white girl. "Yeah. So I'm ... glad I turned into a girl." She looked uncertainly around the room, expecting to see looks of contempt or scorn, but there were several girls looking at her with understanding and sympathy. "Anyway, when I woke up after I passed out, I knew how to fix and improve Julie's toys and make her Barbie car radio-controlled with computer programming, so they said I'm a gadgeteer or devisor. And that's the short version of my story."
"Toni? Your turn." She smiled; the girl who'd hugged Laura for support was still sitting very close to her and looking at the blue girl with a bit of longing in her gaze.
"Yeah, I'm Antonia Warren, but once I was called Antonio. Yes, it's an Italian name, and yes, I'm from an Italian-American family from Chicago. I had four older brothers, so I kind of felt like a spare, and my brothers and their friends always picked on me as the runt. So I ended up spending a lot of time with Mama and Grandma, and some of the neighbor girls." She turned slightly to shoot a smile and a wink at Laura. Like Laura, she'd been more comfortable with her Mom, and in contrast to Laura, when she changed, her dad was happy to get a daughter. Her grandparents, too, were ecstatic and tried to spoil her as their only granddaughter. Of her brothers, the second-oldest disliked her because of all the attention she got, and the next one was quite jealous because he thought he should be a mutant, too. The funny thing was that her three-year old nephew thought she was someone completely different from "uncle Tony"; this caused a few girls to giggle when they heard the merriment in her voice and saw the twinkle in her eye at the improbable tale.
A sophomore, she was sponsored by the Windy City Guardians. Because she was a power mimic, she got the code-name "Ditto." Her eyes narrowed for a second. "By the way, if any of you freshies are power mimics, do yourselves a huge favor and do not mimic an avatar. It's ... bad." With a visible shudder, she shook off what was quite obviously a very bad memory and pasted her warm smile back on her face. "And I love dancing and martial arts."
"And Laura," Krystal chuckled, "just as a warning - Toni is between girlfriends, so you might want to tone down your glamour."
Laura's eyes bugged out slightly, and she glanced at the slightly-fawning look of interest she was getting from Toni. "I don't have a glamour!" she protested.
"They'll tell you more in testing," Krystal rebutted with a smile, "but I'm pretty sure you do - just based on how the girls are all reacting to you." The junior looked at the next girl in the room, Laura's new roommate. "Your turn."
"I'm Bailey George, and I'm a freshman, too," the girl introduced herself nervously; she seemed quite reticent to speak to the gathering, even if it was girls she'd have to associate with for the next school year. She was a couple inches taller than average for a freshman, built like a dancer - lithe and shapely, like Antonia, although the sophomore had a little more in the curve department. "I'm from North Carolina - near the Virginia border." There seemed to be a slight southern accent to her voice - not a Texas drawl, but noticeable; Bailey read the expressions of the people in the room. "So yes, I am a Southern girl - after my change, anyway, but I am definitely not a Georgia belle or a backwoods hick!" She could have sounded defensive, but her words and tone came off as friendly and jocular.
"I ... don't know my dad; he left when Mom found out she was pregnant, so it's just been the two of us all my life. And don't say you're sorry," she added as the looks of sympathy started to dawn on all the faces. "From what Mom said, he was an asshole anyway. I was home-schooled, and Mom and I - and sometimes my aunt or cousin - traveled a lot for school 'field trips.' Like when I was studying art, Mom and I went to the Louvre in Paris because Mom said art was best appreciated in person."
"Wow! I wish I'd have had your mom for a teacher," one of the girls giggled.
"When I was tested for my MID, they said I'm an exemplar three, and an Esper 2, with a danger sense." She blushed. "When I sense danger, I ... kind of sneeze."
Krystal laughed aloud. "When that gets out, and it will, then if you get a regular cold and start sneezing a lot, everyone is going to be running for cover thinking we're about to be hit by an asteroid or something!" Her wry observation caused Bailey to chuckle with the other changelings as she realized the implication of her peculiar danger sense, and that Krystal was probably correct.
"My code-name is Backtrack," Bailey continued, "because my esper power is related to psychometry. So ... yeah, not very powerful, I guess."
Krystal looked to the next girl - Morgana. "Next?"
Morgana looked around the expectant crowd and sighed. "I suppose I might as well get embarrassing myself over with," she muttered, half to herself.
"You're not alone, here, Morgana," Krystal reassured her. "So instead of thinking of it as embarrassing, think of it as helping your support group understand you."
"OK," Morgana said, trying to force a smile, but it was a nervous one. "I was born Rob Jones, which was a condition I was perfectly happy with." She shot a look toward Laura and Toni - whether it was jealousy that the two were happy about their changes, or annoyance for the same reason, they couldn't tell. "I guess I was a pretty ordinary guy, rather a nerd, but there wasn't anything unusual about me. Anyway, thanks to a group of maniac cultists, I got kidnapped and used in an experiment to turn me into a sort of living magic battery." The girl shuddered involuntarily; Krystal knew that Morgana had some issues which required counseling.
"That didn't go too well," the Brit continued, "and in order to save me, the girl running it, Thulia, had to do some stuff which turned me female. Apparently I have a BIT now, so there's no way of reversing it." She shrugged. "I didn't defect to the pink side so much as got drafted at gunpoint, but ... one has to make the best of it." Her last words were well shy of sounding convincing.
"So what are your powers?" Krystal prompted.
"Well, so far they think I'm an Exemplar and a Mage. There are some oddities that they said the Power Testing wonks here would be fascinated with...." There were a few slightly worried looks on a couple of the older kids, which made the girl believe that she was a potential lab rat - again. "In any case, they didn't have time to do thorough tests on me. Apart from that, the unusual thing I can do is turn dragon." She sat up straighter in her chair, and the girls close to her felt a waft of warm air as Morgana shimmered for a moment, her skin color darkening a little as she sprouted a rather impressive and pretty set of horns as well as claws and fangs. "Unfortunately I can't control it properly yet, and I tend to shift accidentally when I get scared or surprised, but that should improve with practice." She grinned and held up a claw. "And in the meantime, I'm your go-to girl if you need cans or bottles opened..."
When the uneasy chuckling died down, Krystal prompted the next girl. "I believe it's your turn, Marisa."
The girl - average height and weight but with significant developing curves, long, brown hair with a slightly red cast to it, and a caramel Hispanic complexion - gave a tiny, embarrassed wave as her cheeks flushed; she was clearly beyond nervous about talking. "I'm Misty," she began, her voice trembling a bit, "but my real name is Marisa Isabela Angelica Rangel."
"Misty will do just fine," Antonia chuckled. "So we don't have to remember all seventeen names!"
"It's only four!" Misty said defensively before she realized that Antonia was joking. "Sorry," she apologized, looking at the floor. "I'm ... it's kind of ...."
"You don't need to be shy," Krystal reassured the Hispanic girl. "We're all here for mutual support. You don't have anything to be embarrassed about."
Misty shook her head and tears gushed forth. "Yes, I do!" she wailed. "And ... and ... and I know you're all going to hate me for it!" she wailed, looking down in embarrassment and afraid to face the other girls.
Krystal crossed the room and sat beside Misty, giving her a hug. "We're very open-minded here. We're all different in one way or another."
"But ... but ...," Misty blubbered, her face on Krystal's shoulder, "it's ... really embarrassing. And ... and it made my parents ... hate me! They think ... I'm possessed or something, and they won't let me see my sisters anymore."
"Some families react poorly when their son or daughter mutates," one of the other girls explained.
Laura nodded. "Look at me - my dad hated that I was a mutant and changed into a girl!"
"That's the problem," Misty sniffled. "I ... I was always me - a girl. It's just that ... when I changed ... I ... something extra ... grew."
"Oh," Krystal said softly. "Ooohhhh. So are you a ... functional hermaphrodite?" Misty simply nodded, not looking up out of shame, unwilling to face what she was certain would be condemning or mocking looks from the others. "You aren't the first," she reassured Misty, "and you won't be the last. Poe is for us 'special' people."
"Stay away from the third-floor bathroom!" Antonia's chuckle was friendly and jovial, surprising Misty, who looked up at her. Antonia glanced at Krystal. "Cheri and Deci?" she asked cryptically.
Krystal chuckled. "I was thinking more about Cynthia and Kandace," she replied. Sensing Misty's confusion, she explained, "A couple of the girls upstairs are so aggressively bi that when they find out what you're packing, they'll trip you and beat you to the floor. Once the word gets out, you'll have at least four Poe girls lined up auditioning to be your ... girlfriend!"
"And don't forget the sophs, like Karla and Pam," Antonia added. She smiled at Misty, who looked up, quite confused by the lack of condemnation and ridicule directed her way. "You're going to be a very popular girl!" she predicted with a chuckle.
Brought back from the depths of despair about her situation, Misty nodded, trying to wipe her eyes. "I ... I grew up in Oakland," she continued softly. "My parents are pretty devout, so they really didn't like what I turned into. I ... I was excited at first, because I'd been a plain, dumpy little girl, and becoming an exemplar was wonderful - until it started growing."
"How big is it, anyway?" one of the sophomore girls asked, curious, which earned her a disapproving glare from Krystal. "Sorry."
"I've been living with my aunt - she's an exemplar and esper, and she got the Bay Area Mutant Society to sponsor me for a scholarship." She anticipated the question that was forming on Laura's lips. "I'm an Exemplar two, and a PK-four," Misty replied. "And I can fly. Which is why they call me 'Halcon Peregrino'"
"Peregrine Falcon," Misty answered, cheering up slowly because no-one was being judgmental, but were instead very friendly to her. "Because when I fight, I kind of ... dive-bomb opponents - really fast and hard. When I did testing with the supers, they clocked me at over two-hundred miles an hour in a dive. Usually, I'm not going so fast, and I just smack into someone. My PK field protects me, but the faster I'm going, the more I can hurt whoever I dive-bomb." Several girls winced at the implications of her comment; a PK brick hitting someone at two-hundred mph would put a serious hurt on them.
"Misty," Krystal said softly, "I really suggest that you go visit the counseling staff, because your change is so drastic, and they can help. And you need to know that we're all here to support you. Poesies stick together, okay?"
Misty stared at her for a moment, and then nodded, her lower lip still trembling with uncertainty about her situation and giving away her secret, not that it'd stay secret for long in the bathrooms anyway. "Okay."
"Chris?" Krystal continued around the room.
The girl beside Misty smiled warmly. "I'm Celerity - Christina Cobryn, but I go by Chris, too." She glossed over her family and home life, and the circumstances of her mutation, because she drilled into her on-campus role with gusto. Unsurprisingly to Laura; Chris was a member of the Future Super Heroes of America - the Capes - and she had the 'all-American girl' look down pat - shoulder-length blonde hair, blue eyes, pretty and curvy, and with an expression that practically screamed 'cheerleader'. She was an Exemplar - no surprise there - and an Esper and Warper, able to accelerate or decelerate things that passed through her warp field. Laura imagined how a teammate could use Celerity's field to accelerate projectiles or even punches toward an opponent, or use it to rush across a field of battle; no wonder she was a member of the Capes!
"Bianca, I believe you're up next," Krystal prompted when Chris finished, smiling at the all-white girl sitting silently.
Bianca nervously looked around the room, knowing that it was her turn to tell everyone about herself, but she was hesitant to do so. As had been firmly impressed on her back home, if the wrong people learned about who she'd been, it could be very bad for her. Of course, there were some things she could talk about without any risk.
"I am an avatar and a mage," Bianca started off carefully, remembering Flower's warning that one word answers would not do. "Technically, my mutant power is that I'm an avatar, and I can only do magic because of my spirit ... I use rune magic ... spells based off writing and symbols."
Bianca reached into her pocket for a piece of chalk, then bent down and drew a symbol on the floor. A moment later, the symbol began to glow, though it did nothing but release a small amount of light. Still, that brief demonstration was enough for now.
"Let's see," she mused, trying to think of what else she could safely say. "I also have some permanent spells that are built in, and that I can use without having to draw anything."
With that, she held out her hand, where a glowing orange symbol appeared on her palm. At the same time, her pale silvery eyes began to glow with the same orange color. A ball of fire appeared in her palm, where it remained for several seconds before vanishing.
As the glow faded from her eyes and palms, Bianca gave a self-conscious smile and added, "And I have some regeneration ...."
At first, Bianca had fully intended to stop right there, telling everyone about her powers, but not about anything more personal. However, everyone else was sharing, and she suddenly realized, that this was her opportunity to unburden herself with people who might be sympathetic, and who held no expectations for her. Almost without consciously intending to, Bianca took a deep breath to steady herself, then continued.
"I come from a family with a ... legacy," she quietly stated. "We have a family business ... and a magic power that has been passed down through the women in my family for centuries. Until recently, my grandmother had that power and ran the family business, but then ...." She paused at that, remaining silent for nearly ten seconds. "Sorry," Bianca apologized in a choked voice before wiping the tears that were starting to form. She gave a weak smile before continuing. "My family ... died."
"How?" someone asked. Bianca didn't pay attention to who.
"They were murdered," Bianca answered grimly, her eyes flashing with anger. There were gasps from around the room. "Anyway," she continued, her voice shaking. "Because I'm an avatar, I absorbed my grandmother's power ... my family legacy ... when I shouldn't have been able to. It can only bond to a woman from my family bloodline." She paused at that, then gestured down at herself while giving a weak smile. "Since I was already hosting it anyway ... it turned me into a suitable host."
There were a few murmurs and sympathetic comments, with one girl even putting a comforting hand on Bianca's shoulder. She just stared at the floor, unable to meet anyone's eye.
"Now, here I am," Bianca finished with a forced smile. "I'm a girl. I'm expected to take over the family business when I turn eighteen. And was sent to Whateley because it's too dangerous back home in Chicago. The guy responsible for what happened to my family is still out there, and he's been trying to kill me too."
"You have all my sympathy."
Eyes then converged on the boy who had been silent so far.
"I know how hard it is, my family has an old grudge with a supervillain that ... claimed my Dad already," he added, staring at the ground with a sad look.
"Noah, you want to go next?"; said Krystal after a long pause.
"Do I have to? You know I hate it, Krystal," the boy replied, but after a moment, he sighed and stood up.
"Go ahead, Bewitched," Krystal urged him. "Everyone will know sooner or later; the whole purpose of this meeting is to cut down on later misunderstandings."
Flesh started to flow and shift, hair lengthened and lightened, and in a matter of moments a beautiful teenage girl was standing where the boy used to.
"My codename is Bewitched and I'm a sophomore," the girl began in a much softer and higher voice, "I was born Noah Blake, but I'm an avatar of a spirit of femininity called Glee who can change me into a girl and back. She's excited to meet you all, by the way. I have no powers whatsoever when I'm a boy, but I can manifest a combat outfit when I'm a girl. I don't want the whole campus to know about it, so for all intents, outside of Poe, I'm Nina Blake. I'm a legacy student of sort; my parents studied at Whateley and my little sister Darcy is here in Junior high too. I think she goes by Derring-D now, but it's hard to know with the speed she goes through codenames."
The girl sat down, her mannerism being distinctly different and much more feminine than when she was a boy. "I think I'm going to stay Nina for a while; I hate being Noah. His life is so boring, really depressing."
Some of the new arrivals were left with a quizzical look, so Krystal stepped up. "Bewitched has two distinct personalities when he's Noah and when she's Nina. It's weird, and I don't know how... he? She? Can put up with it, but you get used to it after a while. As you can guess, Bewitched is one of the lucky few of us with a single room."
"It's not really a single room. I have a permanent roomie in my head," Nina replied somewhat sarcastically.
The next kid to speak was a slender, slightly androgynous girl whose hair didn't really seem to be any particular color. She stood up, made a bow, and said, "Hello, my name is Pat Barnes, codename Hat Trick, and I am a boy."
Krystal rolled her eyes. "That's what they all say."
"And yes," Pat continued, "I am technically female in terms of physical anatomy, but so what? I am a boy, and as far as the outside world is concerned, I am officially a female-to-male pre-operative transgender. Please do not forget."
"So... why are you wearing a skirt and lipstick?" Morgana asked.
"She lost a bet with our big sister!" giggled the girl sitting next to Pat. She was skinny with copper hair, a ridged nose, and a hyperactive demeanor. In contrast to the so-called boy, she was dressed up very girlishly, with a ponytail and pink poodle skirt.
"And as of tomorrow I shall be back in 'boring' clothing like jeans," said Pat. "Trust me; you might not recognize me like that. Anyway, this is my now-official 'twin sister'." He made air quotes as he said it. "Chessa?"
"Na'Chessa Rakia Barnes, but you can call me Chessa! My codename is Maidenclaw! Nice to meet you all!"
"Twin sister?" Several people asked that one, pretty much simultaneously.
Pat grimaced. "Yeah... we all needed to get new official identities for various reasons..."
"I took a header off a water tower!" said Chessa. Everyone stared, and she added, "Um... I missed the ground?"
"And by sheer coincidence we both put down the same date for our birthday and didn't realize till it was too late."
"Yeah, because my new body hatched on July 4th, and Pat got transformed on that day, too!"
The not-a-girl sighed. "Seriously, people. If you find a magic item and get asked what you wish for, be certain to word the damn wish as carefully as possible. That's all I'm saying."
"Can we get back to the part about the water tower?" asked Bianca. The pale girl was looking concerned.
"Yeah, um..." Chessa's cheer collapsed like a soufflé. "Er, back before, well, this..." she said, waving a hand over her body, "my dad, well, he wasn't the best or most supportive, and things never seemed good enough..."
Her faux-twin had her hand, patting it gently.
"And one day, one... hic..." She sniffed loudly. "I... ah... ah..."
"Oh crap." Pat dropped her hand like a hot potato. "Sit back, everyone!"
"AH-CHOO!" There was a flash of light and a loud crack as Chessa sneezed. A short bolt of electricity shot from her nose, only to be caught by a hand covering her mouth. Everyone watched in shock as the girl absorbed back the miniature lightning. "Um, excuse me. It doesn't happen that often..."
"Daily," Pat said with a sigh. "This is what I have to live with, folks. Anyway. Me, empath. Her, energizer. If you want to borrow some trans literature or get a tarot reading, our room's the one with the big sign on it that says 'The Barne.' You can't miss it. Oh, and our little brother Marcus is down on the first floor. He's out with our big sis -- you'll meet her eventually -- but he'll probably be up here too from time to time for emotional support."
"Yours or hers?" Morgana wondered.
"His. Trust me, if you think Chessa here's got issues..." The boy shrugged with his whole body, which did crazy things to his skirt. "A story for another time. How about... you?" he asked, pointing to the next kid in the circle.
That happened to be a leggy Chinese girl with fire-engine red hair. She had the oddest look on her face, like she'd zoned out for just a moment. "Oh! Sorry, there was a radio transmission passing through, er... hello!" A bright smile flashed and emerald eyes twinkled. "My name's Lesley Wainwright, but you can call me Ping! This is my second year here so, obviously, a sophomore is me!" She giggled. "Um, I'm a gadgeteer, specializing in electronics, and technically I used to be Lester before a devise happened. I don't, um, actually remember that, to tell you the truth." Now she was blushing. "I guess that's, um, a long story too? Anyhoo, that's the past, and I'm here in the present."
Next up was Damon Carpenter - Mganga, the single changeling who'd gone the other way, from female to male. Tall, lanky, with an oval face and a broad nose under a head of short, kinky black hair, he had a self-assured look about him, with a half-goofy grin and eyes that sparkled with life while at the same time appearing quite focused and even a bit intense. He hailed from Denver, where his Nigerian parents had settled to raise their daughter. Once she manifested, the shocked parents tried several traditional 'cures' to rid their daughter of her 'affliction' before a social worker got them in touch with an expert. Over several months, the child became more and more masculine. His confident appearance was deceiving, however, because he was clearly nervous around girls, confessing that he feared rejection if they found out he was a changeling. For powers, he was gifted with strong healing and weak empathy, which landed him a work-study job in the Doyle Medical Center.
"I'm Beverly Taylor," a younger-looking, shorter girl announced; there was no mistaking the anger in her voice. "I don't want this!" she declared flatly. "I didn't ask for it, but my stupid fucking sister ...."
"Beverly!" Krystal chided her gently, "you don't need to swear."
"Why the fuck not?" Beverly fairly screamed. "If she hadn't insisted on fooling around with her stupid inventions, I wouldn't be stuck like this!" She stood up to emphasize the point that she was entirely girl, from her curly brown hair to her junior-high-but-unmistakably-female body shape. Shorter than the others - not yet five feet, she couldn't have weighed more than ninety pounds dripping wet. "And she's so scatterbrained that she keeps forgetting that she promised me she'd fix it!"
"How about if you go a little slower?" Toni prompted.
"My sister is ... a devisor," Beverly pouted, still angry enough to spit nails. "She ... experimented with something, and it made me manifest and turned me into ... this!" she looked down, sweeping her arms down and open in a way that, despite protestations to the contrary, looked quite feminine. "I was happy being a boy!" she grumbled. "And now ... I'm stuck like this until Liz remembers to undo it!"
"Wait," Bianca and Bailey said almost simultaneously. "Your ... sister ... can undo this?" They sounded more than a little eager to find a way to undo their involuntary changes.
"Whoa, girls!" Krystal interrupted sharply, holding up her hands. "Hold on!" When she had everyone's attention, she glanced around at the girls she _knew_ were unhappy with their changes. "Every few years, some devisor tries to come up with a way of altering a BIT, or changing a body back from GSD or MATD." She frowned deeply, shaking her head in an emphatic 'no'. "It never ends well!" She saw several of the girls gulp nervously. "That's why there are significant rules against anything like that. Don't try anything stupid."
"Remember, what happens in Poe stays in Poe. What you learn in Poe stays in Poe," she said solemnly. "Our secrets could get us seriously injured or killed. Keep your mouth shut." She glanced around the room again, steely-eyed, to reinforce the point. "Unless you're resistant to magic, you will receive a spell from Mrs. Horton that will make it all but impossible for you to accidentally betray Poe's secret. This is not optional. Now we've got a movie starting in a few minutes, so let's see if anyone has any final questions before we all head down to the theater."
"Theater?" Bianca asked, a little surprised.
"Sure," Toni said with a grin. "Down in the basement, we have a ballroom, a couple of small theaters, hot tubs, spas, a couple of gyms .... It's like a luxury hotel!"
"Yeah, Damon?" the senior asked, the pleasant smile back on her face after she'd put it aside to give a stern and grim warning.
"There have been some rumors ... you know, about ... the staff, and why we're a week late starting," he said very hesitantly, wincing as if swallowing something distasteful. "Have you gotten any word on what's really going on?"
Krystal sighed, shaking her head wearily, her countenance suddenly sad. "I ... I don't know," she replied honestly, her voice cracking slightly. "I've heard the same rumors, but nobody has told us anything."
"So ... do you have any idea what's true?" Celerity asked, her voice echoing her uncertainty and even fear of the answer.
"Not even Mrs. Horton is talking," Krystal said somberly. "Something happened, something that seems kind of big, but the administration and staff are keeping us all in the dark about it."
"I heard that ... Ms. Hartford ...."
"Nobody I've talked to knows anything for certain, or is confirming or denying any rumor. Hopefully in the formal RA briefing in the morning, I'll find out something more concrete. If I hear anything, I promise I'll let you guys know immediately."
Tuesday, September 6, 2016 - Late Evening
Room 211, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
"So, what do you think?" Bailey asked, lying in her bed in the dark. The movie had run a little longer than they expected, so it was nearly midnight and the girls were tired.
"I didn't like it," Laura replied softly. Her bed was against the wall that was shared with Flower's room, and she was a little hesitant about making enough noise to disturb their RA.
"I didn't either," Bailey chuckled, "but I wasn't talking about the movie."
Laura sighed. "Long day." A wry smile crept across her face, unseen in the darkness of the room. "But ... this could be interesting."
Bailey laughed aloud. "Remember, that's an old curse - may you live in interesting times!"
"No thanks," Laura replied. "I've had all the interesting times I want for a long while. Got up yesterday obscenely early, got harassed by the MCO, had our flight out of New York cancelled, had one of my bags stolen, got into a fight with a villain, got chewed out by a Whateley teacher who happened to be in the area, got another short night of sleep, got my stolen bag back, and took two boring train rides to get here, where we got chewed out again!"
"Everyone is pretty spooked by rumors that they won't talk about. I wonder what's going on?" Bailey asked out of the blue.
Laura shook her head. "I don't know," she admitted, "but it's kind of creepy."
"Yeah." Bailey let that line of conversation drop. "What are you taking ... for classes, I mean?"
"We gotta take English, and basic martial arts," Laura said. "That one got assigned because of our little fight in New York," she added distastefully. "Not that I'm complaining, but still ...."
"Maybe we can try to get in the same classes for those?" Bailey asked hopefully.
"Yeah, it'd be nice to be in class with someone I know," Laura agreed readily. "We have to take some social studies, so I want to take US History, 'cause I always liked history. Electronics ...."
"You're going to take electronics?" Bailey asked hopefully.
"Advanced," Laura said. "If I can test out of basic electronics, that is. And I'm gonna try to test out of algebra, so I can take a programming class." She glanced across the room out of habit, even though the room was dark. "What about you?"
"I only glanced at the catalog," Bailey admitted softly, "but I'm probably gonna take algebra. And I think I have to take a class in esper powers or power theory or something like that." There were a few moments of silence. "Hey," Bailey said suddenly when an idea hit her. "If you test out of electronics and algebra, that means that if I get stuck, you could help me!"
Laura chuckled. "Did you decide to room with me so you could have a private tutor?"
"Wha ....?" the other girl sputtered. "I ... I mean ...."
"Chill out a little," Laura said, giggling. "It was just a joke."
"Sorry," Bailey said sheepishly. "It's ... I'm not used to ... being around kids my own age. Mom ... was kind of protective, and, um, with being home-schooled and all, I guess ... I'm not sure how I'm supposed to act and stuff."
"Plus there's the whole 'girl' thing," Laura mused. "But that's just like all of us ...."
"Cept you!" Bailey blurted out. "I mean, you're so ... so feminine! Like ... you were always a girl! When I look at the others, I can kind of tell that they don't quite seem ... right, you know, but you do."
Laura gasped in shock at what her roommate had said. Sure, she recognized the signs - in hindsight - in Bianca and Morgana, but she thought that she was just as obviously adjusting and awkward. "Do you want to learn how to be a girl? Like ... no-one could tell you never had been?"
Bailey thought a moment or two. "Um, yeah, I guess," she stammered softly. "Because I'm kind of stuck like this."
"Okay," Laura said with a smile. "Then let's start with lesson one."
"Now? Lesson one?" Bailey said, her mouth agape with surprise.
"Lesson one," the blue girl said solemnly. "Get some sleep."
"We've had long days. Get some sleep so you're rested, and more importantly, so I'm rested." Her smirk could practically be heard. "My little sister says that when I'm tired, I get cranky, and if I'm cranky, I'll be a lousy teacher. So it's time we get some shut-eye."
"Okay," Bailey agreed. "G'nite."
"Nite," Laura echoed. "Roomie."
Bailey smiled, liking the sound of that.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016 - Early Morning
Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
Tia entered the house, a mounting feeling of dread rising. She shouldn't feel it; it was her house, her home. She was safe here, right?
The laughter was her first clue, that mad cackle that she couldn't forget, no matter how hard she tried. The second was the bright beam that struck her; she had just enough time to think 'at least it didn't burn this time', before the fur started sprouting. Jamie came out of the hall shadows, even though there shouldn't be shadows in the hall.
"There we go. Correcting the problem, slut-bunny."
Tia did the only thing she could; she ran. Jamie was close behind ... and was she getting bigger? She was. The walls were growing too; the stairs down looked enormous. She tried to make it down them, but the last few steps felt like a five foot drop. It was hard to make the jump with her feet changing the way they were.
The room wasn't growing, she was shrinking.
Jamie picked her up by the scruff of her neck at the bottom, laughing all the while; it didn't hurt. She could fit easily in the palm of her hand. A blur, and Tia found herself gently placed ... in a cage. There was a water bottle set upside down, and chopped up carrots in a dish.
A quick stroke on her head, between her ears and her nose started to twitch. There were male bunnies in the cage with her, she could hear and smell them, and they were approaching.
....Then she woke up.
At least she managed not to scream - at least not too loud. She had been warned that a change of locale could cause the nightmares to return, but this latest one had been different. She turned on the small bedside lamp to check the clock. It was just shy of six AM; way too late to go back to bed, and way too early for her first shrink appointment ... but not too early for a run. Well, a run after some morning tea and a light breakfast.
Unfortunately, she hadn't checked her clothes. Ibby had one more surprise in store for her, as if the car hadn't been enough. None of her old clothes had made the trip, despite Tia packing them herself. There were analogues to them, but all new, replacing her old, familiar, and comfortable casual wear, and all in exactly her size.
Tia hated clothes that were her proper size; they didn't help hide her changes, although perhaps it wouldn't be that bad here; every second or third person she'd seen so far looked like a model too, so she could blend in - maybe.
Aside from the dirty clothes she wore yesterday and what she'd carried in her bag, she had none of her old, familiar stuff. There were even dresses in there; the little black dress that Ibby swore was essential, a dark maroon one that had a bit more conservative cut to it, and a full length shimmering blue one that sparkled in the faint light.
There was a note taped to the three designer (Rogers originals) Whateley Academy uniforms, likely shipped directly to the school. It said: "Can't be a wallflower at school now, little sis! Have fun - Ibby."
Tia wasted no time texting a response: -I will have my vengeance!-
She hoped the note would irritate Ibby; it would serve her right, though counting the time difference, Ibby might not even be asleep yet ....
Tia pulled on the new, custom track suit which, unsurprisingly, fit perfectly, accentuating every curve as if it was made to - which it probably was. It was a dark blue, at least, instead of bright pink, so Tia knew it could have been worse. Her tail blended well with dark blue, especially in low light, and it might be a yellow flag day.
The cottage was quiet and seemed deserted; even the front desk was empty. The coffee place, Devisor Donuts, was open however. A bored looking barista without a name tag, a little too old to be a student, stood behind the counter, and Tia could hear someone rattling around in the back ... probably baking donuts. The barista perked up as she approached.
"I'd like a tea please, one sugar."
He yawned as he served her without comment; he was definitely not getting a tip. Well, much of one. After ensuring that he'd rung up the correct price - since he was sleepy, after all - Tia used her phone to pay, then snapped a lid on the cup and walked out of the cottage into the morning air.
The doors were open, which seemed a little lax, but she guessed it was okay with all the security guys around. A long look around showed no one watching, so she did her stretches in between sips. The cameras had to be there, so they were probably hidden in the trees or something. She wasn't worried about security anyway, they could watch as much as they wanted; the students were the real problem.
Or could be; she was borrowing trouble again.
She decided to just do a quick circuit of the campus; that would be enough of a start. There was plenty of time to work out a route later.
There were a few other joggers around; most of them faculty. She avoided them as best she could, and nodded politely to those she couldn't, focusing on her breathing. At least until she saw something outside Twain cottage that stopped her cold.
Someone she knew was dancing; that was the only way she could really describe it. It was really some kind of martial arts thing, she knew that, but it looked like a dance. Kenshin was whirling around, fists and feet flying with what she knew had to be better than average precision since they were all landing in the same spot in the air no matter where he started from, working up a sweat with his shirt off. He noticed her and without stopping worked a wave in. She waved back and continued to run.
The final leg around she sprinted, pushing hard and ducking around things as best she could. It wasn't back home, but she needed the practice, as well as the firsthand knowledge of the place. One never knew when ducking a tree limb on the run could mean the difference between getting away or eating dirt. Borrowing trouble was one thing, being prepared was another. The cool down walk back to Melville was uneventfully nice.
The desk was still empty as she came back in; according to the clock, the jog had only lasted about thirty minutes; she had made good time, for her. This time she went past the coffee shop and to the vending machines on her floor; there was a green tea there that she liked. A quick stop at her room, and she had her car's owner's manual.
She curled up in one of the lounge chairs, watching the sun rise through the trick wall, and opened the book to page 1. She only had a few days to prepare for her driving test, after all, and studying was always a good habit to get into, no matter the subject.
Breakfast was almost fruit from the basket in her room; but Tia remembered the cafeteria was going to stock pancakes. The information was on the intranet; what the cooks were making, and in what amounts, or at least rough estimates. Tia almost felt that some of the numbers had to be a typo, but knowing what she did, probably not.
There was nothing for it; she was going to have to brave the potential crowds and lines and drama ... alone - in a school for mutants, many of whom could probably flatten her in less than a second if they wanted to. All she had to do was make sure they didn't want to; simple. Unless of course they recognized her and had heard the rumors, and took offense. She was going to have to hope security was on the ball; the alternative would be shutting herself in her room, and she was pretty sure that wouldn't be allowed.
There were more people up and about, and Concierge was at the desk, going over some form of paperwork. Tia didn't know her real name yet, and was rather hesitant to ask in case she offended the woman. She nodded as Tia went past, and Tia nodded back to be polite. Being polite was good. A quick check outside revealed there were more students; not a flood yet, but more than a trickle, and all invariably headed in the direction of either Schuster Hall or Crystal Hall. In the small clusters of students, Tia didn't see anyone she recognized.
Thanks to Ibby, she didn't even have a hoody, other than the grungy one she knew needed to be thrown away. She should probably also shower and change; a track suit wouldn't make the best impression among the student body. Sure she wanted to be able to run, but looking like she was prepared to do it all the time? That was probably more blood in the water than she wanted.
She went back to her room, swiped herself in, and grabbed her overnight bag, and emptied it of dirty clothes. Some underwear, socks, a pair of new jeans and a nice purple tee made their way inside next to a clean and fluffy white towel, and she was off to her shower. If there was any gripe she had about this place, it was that the showers and bathrooms were communal; it kind of ruined the luxury hotel vibe a little.
The bathroom was rather large, with marble tile of various colors, again worked into a floor mosaic; a ship with dolphins swimming alongside, and whales in the foreground. The pipes and fittings were visible rising from the floor, in that style of bathrooms from a hundred years ago when people still used claw footed tubs, and every inch of it was gold in color; even the screws. The sinks were mostly normal at least, white clam shells made of porcelain that seemed to grow out of the wall. There was a spigot in every one, but no knobs, which meant sensors.
That was almost mundane by the standards of this place. The stalls - stool and shower both - were all coves crafted of dark cut stone. The entire large place was completely empty. With a shrug Tia picked a cove-stall farthest from the door and answered nature's call ... then walked across the spacious room to the other coves and started a shower.
The shower head looked a little weird, but Tia shrugged it off and adjusted the temperature. A quick lather up and rinse, and a slightly longer hair care regimen, and she shut off the water. A glance outside showed that the place was still empty, which was almost creepy.
Sonic brushes removed most of the water from her hair, ears, and tail; towels dried the rest of her body. Regular brushes finished her haircare - indeed her entire showering - ritual. Even while she dressed, the room stayed empty, sending a nervous shiver coursing down her spine. It'd be better, she convinced herself, when more girls were in the bathroom.
The hall was a different story however; there was someone there. She was an inch or two shorter than Tia, with long copper hair left loose and blue eyes that were almost green. She was built in a way that screamed exemplar, and was staring at one of the murals, studying it, the bag in her hands forgotten. Tia stopped as the other girl turned and gave her a heavy lidded once over before speaking with a clear British accent, though one slightly different than Morgana's.
"Good morning and hello. I'm Michelle Brown, and you are ...?"
"Tia Del Bosque," Tia replied, shaking hands with Michelle.
"Ah, just missed you, huh?" She pointed to the bathroom to clarify her meaning.
"Yeah, I'm done. It's all yours now; there don't seem to be any other students around."
"What a shame." As she walked into the bathroom, Michelle added an extra sway to her hips that Tia was sure she wasn't imagining, pausing to look over her shoulder. "See you around, Tia," she said in a seductive tone.
Tia shook her head and retreated to her room, dropping her stuff at the door and heading down. She could always clean up later; it was best to get breakfast out of the way.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016 - Early Morning
Between Poe and Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Bianca turned to look at the girl walking next to her as she made a hesitant sound in her throat. She hadn't had a chance to get to know Bailey yet; she seemed a normal, rather quiet girl, but Bianca wasn't certain about that quite yet. Appearances could be very deceiving.
"Um, Bianca?" Bailey asked in a soft voice, glancing nervously toward Morgana walking beside Laura ahead of her. "I don't want to seem nosey, but...did Morgana say why her back is so badly scarred? You didn't seem surprised in the showers this morning."
Bianca gave her companion a speculative glance, but the girl's face seemed innocent enough. "I don't know all the details. She showed me last night - she said she didn't want to startle me. I think it's what was done to her while she was held captive, but I didn't want to be too ... intrusive."
"It looked so nasty. Hasn't she had it treated?"
Bianca shrugged. "She said she's already had some healings, and it's just the scars now. Another couple of healings and even those should be gone."
Bailey looked again at the girls walking in front of them, and shook her head. "I don't know how she manages to be so casual about it all."
Bianca looked thoughtful. "I don't think she is; I think she's gotten good at hiding it." She pondered for a moment. "I think she's got mandatory counseling to help her with it, but she didn't say a lot more than that." Bianca didn't bother to mention her own requirement for counselling; after all Bailey didn't need to know, and information - especially about oneself - was a valuable commodity.
Meanwhile the object of their whispered discussion had been deep in conversation with her blue-skinned companion. "So it will sort of work on anyone, but it's best if you tune it?"
Laura shook her head. "Well, not quite, but..." she dove off into a highly technical discussion of the waveforms and energy her pet devise was projecting, slightly surprised that Morgana was following quite a bit of it.
"Uh, Morgana? You're a mage, right? Not a gadgeteer too?" Laura finally let her curiosity get the better of her.
The tall redhead grinned. "Nope, they checked for that. I was a tech geek before I manifested, so I can follow the basics, but I don't have any mutant abilities to help."
"Oh. That's sort of a shame."
"Because you'd love to have someone to chat about the techie stuff, right?" Laura blushed a rather pretty shade of blue, which brought a laugh from her friend. "Geek, remember? I know how you think. Don't worry, I'm sure you'll find plenty of people to chat with in this Workshop thingie. And you can always talk to me - I may not understand all the details, but I still like talking about tech stuff."
Laura smiled brightly. "I'd like that."
The doors to Crystal Hall beckoned them. "Do you think we can find somewhere better to eat than last night? I don't really want to sit under an air-vent all term," Morgana grumbled.
"Oh...I've been thinking about that! I have an idea I think will solve that," Laura said happily.
"Yeah. I couldn't sleep last night, because I was thinking about how fragile my neural neutralizer was in our fight with Squidley, and about how I could make it better, so I got up and unpacked my 3D printer and hooked it up to my computer," Laura began excitedly, rummaging in her purse for a moment and pulling out what looked, for all intents and purposes, to be a Star Trek Original Series hand phaser. "So I figured I could rearrange a few components, and use a smaller power-pack, and I printed a plastic case - isn't it cool?" She was waving the device around like it was a toy, making Morgana nervous. Several other students walking toward Crystal Hall were also watching the device in Laura's hand cautiously. "Anyway, once I got done with it - and it looks cool, doesn't it? - I couldn't get to sleep, so I started reading the Whateley handbook, and you know what I found?"
Morgana gave her a curious look, but she just smiled. "No, I want it to be a surprise."
Wednesday, September 7, 2016 - Early Morning
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Crystal Hall was still breathtaking, but less so than it had seemed during the previous evening's sunset. More people - most of them students, but some obviously faculty and staff - meandered along the walkways, most heading toward it. Tia joined the sleepy procession even though she felt out of place because she was wide awake and because of her ears. It was a yellow-flag day, but she hadn't gotten official word that she had to hide her ears, so she wasn't going to until someone did tell her.
With a tray-full of vegan food, fresh vegetables, pancakes, and trail mix, Tia turned reflexively toward the Underdog's table, but started when she didn't recognize any of the students seated at the table. Frowning, she looked around the other tables on the first floor, again seeing no-one she recognized. Her nerves jangling, she looked through the serving lines and the cashiers' lines, too, but there were no sign of her group. Was she too late? Had they eaten and not included her?
Unless, she thought to herself, and found her gaze drifting toward the stairs up to the higher levels, the tables for the socially acceptable. "They wouldn't!" she muttered in disbelief, even as the cold, hard reality tried to batter its way into her mind.
"Tia!" The girl looked up to where Laura and an unknown girl leaned against a second floor railing by a table, waving at her in an attempt to get her attention from a large table that seemed to float on a concrete lily-pad from the central support walkways. She could see Morgana and Bianca at the table with them.
'Um," Tia hesitated, wincing as she contemplated the social faux pas they were creating. "Um, upper levels are for ranking groups who've earned it!" And that list most definitely did NOT include a bunch of punk-ass freshmen who were, like, totally new here! She cautiously crept up the stairs toward her waiting friends, feeling like all eyes were on her. Luckily one of the chairs facing the stairs was open, probably because it faced away from the view outside.
"Good morning, Tia," Bianca said warmly. She didn't seem at all fazed by Tia's ears being on display so openly.
"Hi Tia. Glad to see you survived the evil and rich Melvillains." Laura really liked that nickname.
"Yeah, funny thing about that, there was hardly anyone there this morning. Just one girl and some of the staff." She glanced about the second level nervously. "So, um, what's with sitting up here? I bet we're going to get in trouble for it," Tia said softly. "That's what Flower said last night while we were having dinner, remember?"
Morgana snorted. "I'm not going to sit down there in the cold air, especially with no one here. This table suits me just fine, and if anyone has a problem, well, they can come see me about it."
Laura nodded in agreement. "Us. They can see us about it."
"Hmphhh," Bianca smiled, nodding at Laura. "Yeah. They can see me or the Smurfette about it!"
"Watch it!" Laura growled menacingly, visibly angered by the name Bianca had called her, even if the girl had been joking. "I have devises and I'm not afraid to use them!"
"I'm sorry," Bianca apologized very quickly for everyone. "I guess we should have figured that you'd be kind of sensitive about that."
Laura gulped down her anger, calmed completely by the sincerity in Bianca's voice. She put her hand on the pale girl's. "That's okay," she apologized herself. "You didn't know."
"Okay, new rule," Bianca announced solemnly. "The S-word is off limits when talking about Laura!"
"And we'll smack anyone who does call you that," Morgana added with a firm nod, offering her support as a form of apology.
"Thanks, guys," Laura felt tears of happiness coming on at how her friends had reacted and promised to protect her.
"I heard stories about ... events in New York," Bailey said cautiously.
"Um, don't believe the rumors," Bianca said softly.
"Now, about the table," Laura continued, a sly grin creeping across her blue lips. "I read part of the handbook this morning while I was waiting for certain slow-pokes to finish showering," she shot a quick glare at Bianca, "and do you know what it says about priority use of the tables?"
"You're going to explain it anyway," Bianca grumbled, "so let's get it over with."
"Groups who have disbanded or haven't filled out the reservation form lose claim to a table - with some exception like permanent clubs."
"Like the Alphas," Bailey suggested. "That's what my mom told me, anyway!" she added when she realized everyone was staring at her in disbelief.
Laura continued, "Any group can then move in to stake claim and register themselves as 'occupants'"
Bianca caught on quickly. "Are you saying that if we find an unreserved table, we can own it by squatter's rights?"
"Well, that's kind of right," Laura winced a bit. "We have to make sure the table is truly abandoned by having no official Whateley reservation sticker, and then we have to be the first to file a claim." She smiled as she pointed to a neighboring table. "See that decal on the table - in the center? That's the claim sticker."
"But while we go get the sticker for this table, someone else will come in and takes it," Morgana predicted with a fatalistic groan.
"One thing, though," Laura said, half-wincing. "It has to be an organization name or team name. Like the Capes, or a training team."
"Well, there goes that idea," Bianca grumbled.
"Not so fast," Morgana held up her hands in a gesture to slow down. "We did talk about the need to be a training team and we will be put on teams next year, so we could register as one and then claim the table."
"Worth a try," Laura said with a hopeful raised eyebrow. Seeing no resistance, she pulled a paper and pen from her purse. "Okay, who all do we have? Me." She scribbled her name on the paper, "and Bianca and Bailey and Morgana." She scribbled more, watching carefully to see if anyone objected to her new roommate being part of their team.
"Don't forget Taka!" Bianca chimed in.
"Callie and Erica and Vic!"
"What about Taka's roommate Jimmy?" Morgana asked. "He seemed okay."
"And don't forget Tanya!" Everyone turned, and the excited tone waned quickly under the withering stare from Tanya, who'd just found the group at the second-level table and had carried her tray to join them.
"Sorry," Laura apologized quickly. "We were trying to remember all of our group so we could go register as a team so we can get this table!"
"Huh?" Tanya muttered, as she stared open-mouthed at the girls. "Team? Table?"
Laura quickly filled in Tanya on the plan of being a training team and reserving the table. Granted, it wasn't a primo spot near the waterfall or the stairs, but it was on the second floor, and more importantly, not directly under the air vents.
Tanya gave Laura one of those looks that her mother had always given - one that said very clearly, 'are you kidding?' "Don't you think you should ask everyone if they want to be on a team?"
"Yeah," Tia said nervously. "I'm not sure about this."
"It's not a real team!" Laura countered. "It's just so we can keep the table."
Tanya sighed heavily. "Why do I get the feeling this isn't going to end well?"
"So - don't you want to do this?" Laura pleaded, looking at Tanya with puppy-dog eyes.
"I know I'm going to regret this," Morgana, muttered, then broke out in a broad grin, "but ... if it keeps us out from under the air vents, yeah, I'm all for it."
"So let's go register our team, and then claim the table!" Laura said enthusiastically. "By the way, Tanya, this is Bailey, my roommate!"
"Nice to meet you," Tanya said, extending her hand to Bailey. "Hopefully, you won't be as much trouble as Laura!"
"Hey! I'm not trouble!" She realized that Tanya was pulling her leg, and she sheepishly shrugged and smiled. "So let's go get the team registered."
Morgana sighed heavily. "We haven't even EATEN yet!"
"How about this?" Tanya interrupted to play peacekeeper, "we get breakfast, but a few at a time so no-one else claims the table. Then whoever's done first," she glanced conspicuously at Laura, "can go register a team, and then come back here and reserve the table while some of us hungry ones finish breakfast."
Bianca set her fork carefully on the table, a habit of being graceful at table, and looked out over the railing. "Most of the students here are from Poe or Hawthorne I think, plus a few more obvious GSD students for Twain and Whitman," she said. "The rest are supposed to arrive today and tomorrow from what our RA said."
"So, did you have a movie in Melville last night, Tia?" Bianca asked.
Tanya screwed up her expression. "Huh?" she muttered, staring at Tia. "Melville? But ... you're in Poe!"
"Was in Poe," Tia said dejectedly. "Someone messed up paperwork, and they put me in Melville instead."
"But ... but your forms said Poe!" Tanya protested. "It's ... I mean, you're supposed to be with them," she looked at the Poesies at the table, "and ... "
Tia was touched by Tanya's sense of protectiveness; the unspoken part was that Bianca, Morgana, Laura, and Tia would all look out for each other - the four musketeers kind of thing.
"Well, Mrs. Horton said she'd get everything straightened out today," Tia repeated what the Poe housemother had told her the night before.
"And no movie, either?" Bianca returned to the previous topic.
"Honestly I wouldn't know; I fell asleep right after getting to my room, and slept till this morning. Jet lag finally caught up with me.' Tia replied. 'What was the movie for Poe? Was there one for Whitman?"
Tanya shook her head. "Nah, same boat here. Not enough students. We're supposed to have one tonight, though."
Morgana finally came up for air, having inhaled the entire contents of her first plate." Honestly I wouldn't know. I crashed, too."
"The movie was interesting. It was the one with the bumbling devisor, and I hadn't seen it yet."
"It's unfair typecasting is what it is!" Laura fumed.
Tanya rolled her eyes at Laura's protest.
Taka, Vic, and Jimmy found the table of girls at that point. "What's typecasting?" Jimmy asked as the three boys set their trays on the table. Before anyone could answer, he continued. "And I thought these tables were for, you know, upperclassmen and stuff."
"The movie they watched last night. Laura objects to the stereotypical characterization of a mad kid devisor," Tanya replied laughingly. Seeing the confusion, she continued, "The pampered Poe girls had a movie last night, but we didn't in Whitman."
Jimmy shrugged. "They put on some oldie in Twain, mostly to keep us from going bat-crap crazy. An old war movie - Kelly's Heroes or something like that. But we're supposed to have a good movie tonight. Now, what's with the table? I thought you guys said you were down under the air vent," he sort-of-pointed, "on the first floor."
"That's Underdog Corner, according to our RA," Laura explained before anyone else could. "So I found a dodge to get us a better table."
"Cool - until some upperclassman kicks our asses because we're where we're not supposed to be," Jimmy said sarcastically.
"There's just one little hitch," Morgana interrupted, bringing Laura's optimism crashing back down. "Hey, Erica, Cally!" she paused and waved over the railing, having spotted two more of the minor herd. "Up here!"
"Why do the pampered Poe girls get a movie and we don't?" Vic grumbled.
"Cuz they're all 'special', is what I heard," Tanya chuckled, doing air-quotes around the word special. "You know - a little cuckoo, need extra time, and all that!"
Laura replied in a thoroughly adult manner - by sticking her tongue out at Tanya. "Says you!"
"Hey, I'm just saying it like it is,"; Tanya replied with a teasing grin, "Nagual back home used to be in Poe and told me all about it, and given how crazy she can be at times, I almost believe it!" Then she gave her assembled Poesie friends a mischievous wink. "Almost."
Erica and Calley strode from the stairs to the table, perched on one of the 'lily pads' of the second level. "What's with sitting up here?" Erica asked as she sat.
Laura rolled her eyes. "Is this everyone?" she demanded in an exasperated voice. "Cuz I'm only gonna explain this one more time, okay?"
"Then we better wait for Taka's and Tia's keeper - you know, Hikaru?" Erica snorted. Taka hung his head, shaking it slightly, muttering something in Japanese that was probably equivalent to 'why me?'
"She's probably sitting with the RAs," Tanya speculated.
Morgana shook her head, her red tresses dancing lightly. "Nope. She's right over there, and it looks like she's heading this way on a mission." Tia gulped nervously at that news, watching her RA's approach uneasily.
"Probably looking for Taka," Morgana continued.
"Or Tia," Bianca added with a chuckle just as Hikaru reached the table.
Before the Japanese girl could speak, Laura cut her off. "Sit down, and I'll explain all about the table. Then you can all ask questions, okay?" She waited until Hikaru, a little stunned by her impertinent attitude, sat down. "Okay, so here's the deal. We can reserve an unreserved table - this table - but only if we're an official group, like a campus organization or a training team."
"We're not a club," Cally observed.
"But we can register as a training team," Laura continued, "and since we'll have to be in one next year anyway, we get a jump on that, and we get a primo spot for dining!"
"So we all sign up to be on a team, and we get a few perks," Tanya said, nodding eagerly.
"You do know that it's a combat training team, don't you?" Hikaru asked sarcastically.
"Yeah, but freshmen don't have to train in simulators or anything," Laura defended her position. "It's just in name for right now."
"We're all for the idea," Morgana added. "Except Tia. She's not sure."
"Wise of her," Hikaru said. She looked at Taka. <And you?> she asked the boy in Japanese.
<It will be a requirement, Hikaru-san. It seems practical to start now with people I know.>
"Well, I don't think it's a good idea," Cally said softly. "In case you didn't notice, I'm not the fighting type."
Laura's spirits started to fall; it looked like her idea was being rejected after all.
"Erica?" Morgana asked simply.
"Sure, why not," the girl replied with a smile. "Opa will be pleased that I'm taking training seriously." The smile broadened. "Besides, it'll probably be fun."
"Vic?" The boy nodded. "Jimmy?" Another nod, but a little more reluctant. "Taka?" Looking squarely at Hikaru, almost defiantly, the boy gave a single nod. "Yes."
<As part of the team,> Hikaru observed coolly to Taka, <you have a duty to put the needs of your team and teammates first.>
<Hai!> Taka said, a solemn expression on his features. <I accept the duty to my teammates.>
Hikaru frowned. <You are ronin,> she said skeptically.
<Ronin may choose to serve an honorable cause.>
<You are the most experienced. You must provide leadership.>
<That decision is up to the others,> Taka replied coolly. <The daimyo chooses his generals, not the samurai who serve him.>
Hikaru scrutinized him for a long, awkward, silent moment, and then she simply nodded.
Sensing that the discussion was over, Bianca continued the conversation. "Well, we've got enough," Bianca observed, still eying Taka and Hikaru cautiously. "I guess we can sign up."
"Should we try to get in the same classes?" Morgana changed the subject. "I think most of us have to take Basic Martial Arts," she added. Quickly, the conversation devolved into a free-for-all of ideas of what classes to take and when, and who might be in the same classes together.
Then it changed again when it sounded like some semblance of order had been reached in the chaotic discussion.
"So, what do your cottages look like?" Tanya asked. "Whitman looks a little like an insane asylum in a movie. Well, with a fireplace."
Morgana smirked. "Really? Does it have bare halls and rubber rooms then?"
Tanya threw a berry at her. "No, it's just got this sort of institutional feel, mostly empty and a bit dreary in some places, though the common rooms aren't so bad."
Bianca nodded. "Yeah, Poe is kind of like that, but feels more ... lived in than that. More comfortable, like broken in shoes or something. We have wing lounges and a movie theater and a kitchen and a game room. And the showers are pretty fancy," she added.
"But that could be because we have a lot more people there at the moment," Laura said so Tanya, Cally, and Erica didn't think they'd drawn the short straw on cottages.
"Melville has a theater room too, and wing lounges, and pretty fancy bathrooms."
"So tell us more," Tanya prompted. "What's it like on the inside?"
"About like it looks from the outside - a luxury hotel, only with communal showers. You'd think a place like that would have individual bathrooms. I assume you have game rooms and a library in your cottages too?"
They all nodded.
"The library in Whitman at least feels pretty small. It's barely past the large closet stage; probably a victim of the times," Tanya complained a little.
Morgana didn't want to let it go. "So, luxury hotel, huh? What sort of extras? A pool?"
Tia nodded. "And a gym, and a theater. Well, a room on each floor that can double as one. The pool is in the basement; it's one of those endless ones. There's also a library and computer lab." Tia glanced at Hikaru, who was smiling knowingly as Tia waxed enthusiastic about the cottage.
Technically there was a lot more, but there was no reason to mention other amenities. Tia didn't want any potential jealousy issues, especially since Mrs. Horton was going to fix the cottage problem today. But she had to grudgingly admit that Melville was a really nice place, at least at first glance.
Laura whistled, drawing more than one set of eyes to her. "A pool! That's so neat! I wonder why the school doesn't have one for everyone?"
Tanya had an answer to that. ";Actually, there is a public pool on the north side of campus near the arena. And not just a pool, in fact, but a whole aquatic complex. The Everett Aquatic Center and Pool. One of my housemoms pointed it out to me this morning while we were out for a run." Tanya beamed with pride at being able to provide that little tidbit.
"Oh, is that what that building is next to Twain?" Jimmy asked as a look of comprehension dawned on his face. "It didn't look like another cottage, but I couldn't figure out what it might be instead."
"Yeah, it's kind of nestled between the arena, Twain, and the memorial garden, so that's probably what you're thinking of," Tanya replied. "Beyond that, I know there's also a lake just east of campus that's apparently popular for some water activities, and I could have sworn there's a small pool beneath the arena itself as well, judging from the stories Aunt Sylphie and Nagual have told me."
"Yeah, there is," Bailey said, surprising the others because she seemed so shy up to this point. "Or at least there used to be one there. My mom and aunt told me about their days here at the school too, and they said there was an indoor pool beneath Holbrook that was used for swim class and hydrokinetic training when they were here."
Tanya gave the new girl a smile at that, happy that someone else had heard stories that confirmed what she remembered.
Tia started as something caught her attention. Trying to be nonchalant she rotated her ears to better catch the sound.
The movement did not go unnoticed. "What is it?" Laura asked.
"You hear those whispers, right?" Tia had problems remembering how sensitive normal ears were anymore. She thought the whispers at least were audible to everyone. Laura nodded.
"Well the students, that is, most of the ones whispering, are talking about New York, and us. They know we were there, and in a fight."
The other whispered comments, Tia realized, could very well be about her.
Morgana was the nonchalant one this time, shrugging the whispers away. "Let them talk. We have nothing to hide. Besides, all rumors get inflated; before lunch time, we'll probably be the sole heroes who saved the world five times with our hands tied behind our backs."
"Some of you are the heroes," Hikaru stated flatly. "Some of us were wise enough to stay out of the fray."
"And then get in trouble for it, right?" Laura just had to remind the Japanese girl about Mrs. Dennon's comments.
"Are you guys planning on going to the store this afternoon?" Tia asked, changing the subject quickly before things got snarky.
Laura's smile was a thousand watt bulb. "Sure! After we register, I'll need books, and I know I need more underwear and some uniforms, and maybe a casual outfit or two. And I need more makeup. That is, if my mom put money in my school account like she said she would." Laura turned to her roommate. "In the meantime," she said eagerly to Bailey, "let's go get registered as a team, and then we can get this table reserved!"
"Um," Tia gulped, "count me out. I ... I don't want to get in trouble or anything."
Laura looked insulted. "But ...."
Bianca's hand on Laura's stilled her, and Bianca's head-shake told her to not argue the point.
"Um," Tanya said nervously, changing the subject because she could tell how uneasy Tia was about the whole team concept, "we'll need a team name, you know."
"Oh, yeah," Laura sighed, the wind out of her sails.''
"We can just call it Team ... um, how many of us are there? Eleven? My mom and aunt told me about teams. You could just call it Team Eleven, and then when all of you get together, you can change the name to something neat," Bailey explained.
Tanya shrugged, as did Bianca and Morgana. "Why don't we go with Team Squidbusters?" she asked jokingly.
"The Chaos Crew?" Bailey suggested to groans from the others.
"Kind of plain!" Morgana griped. "What about ... Mayhem Misfits?"
Laura perked up. "Mutant Mayhem Machine!" she enthused. She looked around the table and got unenthusiastic shrugs and indifferent expressions from everyone.
Tanya shrugged. "I guess that'll work for now."
Tia's phone chimed at that moment. "Oops, I have to be at my advisor's office in fifteen minutes," she said after glancing at it. "So we'll go shopping after lunch, then?"
Laura nodded enthusiastically. "Yep! That works. That'll give us time to register for our own classes. Remember, Flower said we should get registered as soon as we can so we get good classes. And I want to try to test out of a couple."
"I have to go as well," Hikaru said, standing gracefully. "There's a mandatory meeting for Resident Advisors this morning, and this afternoon I start testing."
"Power testing?" Tanya inquired.
"That, too," Hikaru answered cryptically. "When I manifested, I ... had a burnout," she explained curtly. "They're testing to see how much ... I was affected." It was clear to the others that she didn't want to discuss the details much. Without another word, she lifted her tray and strolled toward the staircase.
"I've got power testing tomorrow, and I got a note to meet with my advisor at 10, but I'm free the rest of today," Morgana noted. "And ...."
"What classes are you going to take?" Laura interrupted, her energy level having been raised. "'Cuz we can try to get in a bunch of classes together!"
"I really gotta run," Tia excused herself again. "I'll text you what my advisor gives me for a schedule, though, and you guys can try to match it?" When the others nodded, she continued, "And get in touch with everyone else as soon as you get your class schedule so we can match?"
Tanya nodded. "Okay. I need to eat a bit more, so I'll be around until everyone shows up and we can coordinate things. And Laura will come back after she registers our group, right?" She was looking directly at the blue girl as she pretty bluntly stated that since it was Laura's idea, Laura was going to have to go take care of the paperwork.
Morgana nodded. "I'll text you when I find out what classes I have to take.
"Alright. If I don't meet you before then, I'll see you at lunch?" Tia said. She headed back down the stairs, passing people who she'd overheard commenting about New York; they glanced at her curiously, but no one seemed to recognize her. She was safe for a little longer.
"They must be the ones!" one boy said, looking up from the first floor to the gathering on the second. "They're all froshies, aren't they?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"So why do they rate a table up there? Unless they're pretty bad-ass!"
"Last night, you said they were keeping things down."
"Oh, shut up! We know they were in a fight in New York. The one on the news. And now they've got a primo table? I tell you, they must be the ones!"
"You gonna go ask 'em?" the second boy asked.
"Hell no! Not if they're taking down villains before they even get here!" The boy paused, looking at the group. "Although that Japanese girl is pretty cute. And the redhead! Ooh la la! What a babe!"
"A babe that'd kick your ass!"
"Yeah, but what a way to go!"
Wednesday, September 7, 2016 - Mid-Morning
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
Tia waited, thumbing through her car's owner's manual. She had been looking at the magazines, until she found one that was two years old and had Ibby in an ad, hocking beauty cream. At least now Tia knew where the jars of that stuff she'd found in her bag had come from; Ibby probably got them for free.
The door opened and a boy walked out. The receptionist, a young pleasant-looking lady who seemed a bit too frazzled for this early in the morning, waited until he was gone and then called her name:
"You can go in now, Miss Del Bosque."
The inside of the office was warm, with dark brown wood, and light cream wallpaper. There were the customary diplomas hanging on one wall, and some pleasant landscape paintings that looked like something Bob Ross might have done. The two chairs in front of the desk were actual full-blown recliners. There was a large heavy steel stool with a cushion in the corner as well, painted to look like wood; the rivets gave it away.
The stained oak desk itself was free of most clutter. There was a blotter of all things, a notepad on the side, an older model phone (a landline!) and a jar full of pens. There was a hatch in the center however, that marked it as one of the newer models.
Dr. Bellows himself was an average man, average height and build, with neat straight hair beginning to show a little gray. His mustache and goatee were a little farther along, and his face was more than a little worn; his warm smile transformed it, however, into something welcoming. Tia thought she could see the intelligence swimming in his gentle blue eyes.
"Good morning, Miss Del Bosque, I'm Alfred Bellows. Please, take a seat. Do you mind if I call you Tia?"
"Good morning sir, I don't mind at all."
"Good, good. Please call me Alfred, if you like."
Tia mulled that one over. She was pretty sure Dr. or Sir were the correct forms of address for one's psychologist.
"So, Tia, I know it's silly, but I have to ask: how do you feel?"
She had to remind herself that Dr. Bellows came highly recommended. "I feel fine, sir. I had a nightmare this morning, if you've read my file, it would be number three. I really don't want to talk about it right now; Mrs. Scheffield said it wouldn't be unusual for the nightmares to start up again if I went ... well, if I moved."
Dr. Bellows nodded quickly in agreement. "And so it wouldn't. You had no issues or health concerns caused by the move, or trouble in New York?"
Tia winced. "Does everyone know about New York?"
Dr. Bellows grinned. "Just the staff, and only those that need to know. For my line of work, well, I need to know. Good thinking by the way, calling the police. I also hear you tried to stay out of it."
"Of course I did! Even the henchmen, or minions, or whatever you want to call them, could squash me like a bug. I can't stop anything like that robbery directly."
"You did the right thing."
Tia sighed. "Yeah, but the right thing sucked. I would have gone into that with my fists raised, if I were the old me, you know? Jumped in to help people without a second thought. But I can't do anything like that anymore. Even Mrs. Dennon yelling at us made it clear; she said everyone had to take Basic Martial Arts - except me. She said I had to take Survival 1. I'm not ...."
"No." Dr. Bellows interrupted, reaching over to grasp her hands. "You aren't allowed to finish that thought. No thinking like that, Tia. You did a good job, and you have remarkable poise for a teenager." He looked as if he wanted to say more, but stopped and gathered himself. "So, Survival 1. I guess we can schedule that. Do you want to change any more of your schedule, while we do that?"
Dr. Bellows must have pressed a button, because the hatch on his desk popped open to reveal a computer placed in the hollow within; lifting the hatch raised the screen and brought it out of sleep.
"No, sir. I like my schedule as is. Well, the rest of it anyway."
He typed away for a moment.
"Hmm, it says here you're scheduled for both algebra 1 and calculus 1. Surely that's a mistake ...?"
Tia composed herself with effort. "No, sir. I want to take calculus."
Bellows raised a skeptical eyebrow. "But if you're taking algebra ...."
Tia cut him off. "I'd like to at least try it, sir. I took algebra last year, and I was always good at math. This remedial class taking is bad enough as is, I was always decent at math and at its heart it's just remembering formulae."
Bellows nodded. "Alright Tia, I'll schedule the test. If you fail it though, we may end up doing some juggling to put you in a different algebra class; some of our other classes have low availability."
"That's fine, sir. You have my phone number already, so the list will just update, right?"
Bellows nodded as he finished typing absently. Tia meanwhile looked around, trying not to focus on the clock. Dr. Bellows only had her for a half hour, to touch base he had said when he made the appointment, and that time was almost up. Her eyes lit on something on a shelf, that for all the world, looked like a genie bottle.
"Almost done here, unless there are other things you'd like to discuss?"
"No sir, I can't think of anything."
An old printer started to life somewhere under the desk, and Dr. Bellows turned and handed her an actual printout. Tia just stared at it; the list of classes was easily something he could have just e-mailed to her.
"Alright then, all done. Oh, before I forget ...."
Tia flinched guiltily, she was out of the chair already; overstuffed or not, she couldn't really get comfortable in it. "Yes sir?" Tia turned to find Dr. Bellows holding out a candy bar.
"I already ate, and chocolate is bad for me anyway. I don't suppose you'd want this? I hate to just throw it away, but I don't have any place to store it and it will be very hot later."
That seemed pretty reasonable to Tia, but she stopped herself. No, it was weird. "That was a test, wasn't it sir? After all, we don't really know each other yet, and that's candy."
He smiled. "Yes, it was a test, and you passed. Your medication is clearly working. Have a good morning, Tia."
"Thank you, Dr. Bellows. Have a good day."
He waited until she was down the hall before actually typing his notes and impressions up. Alfred Bellows knew that any writing, typing, or visible recording devices tended to distract patients, if they didn't shut down and close off as a result. And building trust was essential, especially in this case.
He turned to the computer again, where her file was open. Under the transcript of their conversation that the computer had made, he typed in his notes; the first thing he noticed was that she seemed stable mentally, at least insofar as mood swings. That was important. The second was the obvious depression she was wrestling with, and feelings of inadequacy; both were understandable.
And the third was perhaps the most important; her impulse control was worsening, judging by her file. He resolved to ask Tia's mother. Given what he'd seen so far, he would recommend a slight strengthening of her medication; she had actually reached for the candy bar, after all, and she had almost called him by his first name before checking herself.
He jotted in another note - it wouldn't do to tell her about the increase, it might cause a relapse. After closing the file, he pondered the blinking text sent to him by Boucher. She hadn't told him, which could just be an oversight, or it could be caution. He hoped it worked out; the poor girl needed something while here.
He opened the next file, and then set his computer desktop to screen saver and pressed the buzzer for his receptionist. There were more patients to see.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016 - Mid-Morning
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Laura squirmed on the vinyl-covered institutional sofa inside the History Department's office suite, outside the individual teachers' offices. She could almost feel the secretary's eyes on her as she waited. A quick glance showed that her advisor was late; she hoped she hadn't been forgotten.
The sound of a door opening caught her by surprise, and she looked up, startled. The man framed in the door was large, looking a tiny bit overweight, but dressed in a nice pair of Navy blue Dockers with a bright red shirt and a red and gray and blue blockish-patterned tie. "Miss Samuels?" the man asked with a friendly smile.
Laura nodded, wondering why she felt a little out-of-breath, and leaped to her feet. "Yes, sir," she said nervously. "I'm sorry I'm late," she blurted out without further prompting.
"Whoa, hold on there," the man said with a big grin. "You're not late. So, come in and let's see about getting your class schedules figured out." He stood to the side, gesturing with his arm for her to enter his office, and he shut the door behind them as Laura eased herself nervously into the 'guest' chair.
Rather than going immediately to his 'throne' behind the desk, the well-built man extended his hand to Laura. "I'm Dr. Jake Barton, and unfortunately I'm also chair of the History Department since I was dealing with a family issue when the rest of them ... drafted a sucker for the job!" He had a friendly, casual air about him that instantly put Laura at ease. "But I'm not a stickler for being called Dr. Barton if it intimidates you." He smiled charmingly. "I spent a lot more time as Mr. Barton than I have as Dr. Barton."
"And I have to apologize for making you wait. I was ...," his face clouded momentarily, "dealing with some issues with several of my closest friends." Though he tried to hide it, a flash of pain couldn't be completely disguised. He circled to his own office chair and sat down with surprising grace. As he called up a file on his computer, Laura looked around; one entire wall was full of books - all related to history of one period or another, and there were photos of him with a truly gorgeous woman. Judging from the ring on his hand and the setting of the picture, she had to be his wife. There were a few other photographs, one of which was Dr. Barton and his wife and another couple - a bear of a man with his arm wrapped protectively and possessively around a stunningly-curvaceous redhead; all of them were in a park somewhere, and looked to be having a picnic. In another, Mrs. Barton and the redhead were posing with two children who the redhead was clutching lovingly. The family had to be friends of Dr. and Mrs. Barton. Several of the pictures appeared to be a superhero team; it took only moments to pick out which of the heroes was her advisor. More surprisingly, it looked like his wife was also a member of the team. There were several others, including a stunningly curvaceous blond with her arm around the waist of a Native American-themed girl with braided, silky black hair.
"Is that you?" Laura blurted out, staring at the photo of the Sioux Falls League.
Dr. Barton's eyebrow arched. "What makes you think that one of those ... heroes ... is me?"
Laura gulped; she feared that she was annoying her advisor, which was a really bad way to start. "Um, that guy," she pointed at Tractor in the picture, "kind of looks like you. At least your lower face. And your build," she added quickly. "And why would you have that picture on your desk if it wasn't you?"
Jake Barton grinned. "Brilliant deduction, Sherlock," he chuckled. "What else do you think you can infer from the pictures?"
"Is she ..." Laura nodded toward the picture of the couple, "your wife? And she's also a member of the hero team?"
"Yeah. That's Vanessa, my wife. She's also known as Vanity Girl, although she hasn't used her code-name for ... for a few years." The angst flashed in his eyes again. "Back then, I was known as Tractor, and we were members of the Sioux Falls League." A slight sadness crept into his eyes. "But ... heroing is a young person's game, and ... we retired." With a visible shudder, he shook off thoughts which were obviously melancholic. "So we came to our alma mater to teach the next generation of heroes, instead."
Laura goggled. "Um, I don't want to be a hero!" she protested, afraid of what kind of reaction Dr. Barton would have to her aversion to superheroing.
Tractor just smiled warmly. "Being a hero isn't for everyone. Most of my friends from my school days are leading average lives, like it sounds you want to do."
"And I suppose the other couple - are they friends? And the kids - they're the other couple's, aren't they?" Laura blurted stream-of-consciousness as she examined the pictures again.
"Yeah," Dr. Barton said with a smile. "They're ..."
"Who ... who are the other ones? Are them alumnae too? Are they still ...?"
"Whoa! We'll have more time to talk about hero teams and old friends later. Right now, with all the insanity that has accompanied the start of this particular year, I've got a lot of students to advise, so let's keep it to classes."
"Oh, okay," Laura replied timidly, afraid she was really screwing up first impressions.
"Look, we - Vanessa and I - like to have get-togethers with students I advise and teach a few times every term. Thursday night I'm cooking burgers. If you want, I'll give you details."
"Oh," Laura gawked again. Being invited to socialize with her advisor? It felt ... strange. "Yeah, that'd be nice. I ... I'll have to see if my friends have plans."
"Good. Here are the details." He handed the girl a xeroxed sheet. "Now, about your classes?"
"Um, yeah," Laura regained a little confidence. "I ... um ... want to try to test out of Algebra 1 and basic electronics. I ... I know a lot about electronics."
"Gadgeteer or Devisor?" he asked with a knowing smile.
"Um, both, I think. I haven't had a lot of testing." Laura saw his eyebrows rise.
Tractor grinned. "Just like Don." He saw her quizzical stare. "The guy in the back right - the squirrely looking one? Don Pardo, our team gadgeteer."
"Back home, I built a lot of electronic gadgets for my sister." She rummaged through her purse, extracting a gadget of some kind. "Like my new neural inhibitor," she said proudly. "The one I used on Squidley was kind of clunky, and last night, I couldn't get to sleep, so I cannibalized my communicator, rebuilt the circuits, and 3-D printed a new case so it's more palm-sized and easier to carry."
"I believe you, I believe you," Tractor grinned, nervously gesturing for her to put her toy away, or at least not point it at him. "You're going to have to go by security to get that registered, you know - and you'll have to take firearm safety to be permitted to carry it."
"Oh." Laura seemed to deflate a little at the seeming restrictions that were going to be placed on her little toy. "My friends and I were talking at breakfast ...."
Dr. Barton grinned. "The same friends involved in that little Squidley incident in New York?"
Laura turned purple again; she was blushing so much, she realized, that people were going to think lavender was her normal color. "Um, yeah," she muttered. "How did you know?"
"It's in your file - with Lillian Dennon's mandate that you take BMA." He smiled to put the girl back at ease.
"Well, the idea is to get in power theory first period ..."
"Which you don't have to take," her advisor reminded her.
"And BMA in third period. And ... think I want to take advanced electronics and programming, and biology. And maybe a history class?"
"History, huh?" The big man grinned. "I think we can put you in a history class you'll enjoy. Okay, the department secretary will take you to a computer to take the tests, while I put together a schedule for you."
"Now?" Laura gulped.
"Of course. It's a lot better test of your knowledge if you don't have time to cram."
"Um," Laura stammered, stealing one last glance at the picture, "who are those two - the Indian-looking girl and the blonde she's ... close to?"
Tractor smiled. "Cornflower and Pejuta. They're ... best friends. They're damned good friends of ours." He waxed nostalgic for a few seconds. "We can talk more at the get-together," he said with a smile, gesturing again to the computer.
Laura gulped nervously as she looked at the two women in the picture. They looked a lot closer than just best-friends; she could practically read the twinkles in their eyes for each other in that picture. That made her think about what she wanted in a relationship.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016 - Mid-Morning
Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
Morgana wasn't quite sure what to expect from her advisor's office. With a few exceptions like Crystal Hall, Whateley was proving to look as boringly mundane as any other school. Madame Prudhomme's office lived down to her expectations; it could have been any other academic office she'd seen.
"Ah, Morgana. Please close the door and have a seat." The woman waited until Morgana did that, before continuing. "I'm Madame Prudhomme, and I'm the academic advisor for the freshman and sophomore European students." Unsurprisingly the woman had quite a strong French accent. She also was obviously keen to get on with things, as she carried on without even giving Morgana time to settle down, splitting her attention between her computer screen and the rather fidgety girl.
"As you haven't been in the American school system, let me explain the structure of our coursework here. We expect students to take at least six courses during this term. Some are normal high school classes and some are specialized subjects peculiar to Whateley. In your case, some of these are pre-arranged for you."
Morgana finally managed to slip a comment in. "Madame? Why am I listed as a Freshman?"
The advisor examined her computer again. "Your academic records should place you as a sophomore, but Whateley includes teaching how to use your powers, and notes about your powers indicate that you need a lot of special tutoring in that area."
"I guess that includes stuff like magic?"
"Indeed, in your case being ahead in the academic classes will be very helpful. Now, usually, we have freshmen take three academic classes, one PE class and two connected to their power. These are especially important in your first year for you to get control of your powers. In your case, though, we'll place you in four special classes. You'll be taking Magic Theory and Magic Practice as required by your Wizard rating, and also," she paused to check her computer, "since you have a physical power, we'll place you in Power Theory, but we'll skip Power Lab for now in favor of magic classes. And your file is flagged that you must be placed in Basic Martial Arts."
Morgana blushed slightly. "Uh, yes Madame. At breakfast, my friends and I talked about trying to get BMA in third period, Power Theory in first period, and magic lab in seventh period."
The woman gave her an amused glance as her fingers danced across her keyboard, which made Morgana suspect she knew about exactly why she was being pushed into BMA. "Those are currently open, so we'll put you in those sections. That leaves us with two periods free for academic classes. Since you placed well in English and Mathematics, we'll place you in French for your foreign language requirement since you have some earlier course work in it back home."
Morgana groaned internally. "What about science instead. I was expecting to take classes in those before I, uh, changed."
"You do have to meet the language requirement, so you might as well start with that now. You may find being an exemplar now helps with that. "
Morgana thought a moment. "If I take French, can I take Calculus? I don't want to fall behind in my sciences, because I don't know yet if I'm cut out for magic."
"That's quite advanced." She paused to look at her notes again. "But you do have the prerequisites, so we'll place you there as well. For next term, we'll see how you're doing in magic and adjust your courses appropriately."
"There was one other class I was hoping to take, Madame. A friend mentioned Costuming, and I thought it might be helpful to me. And it'd be something a little different."
"Hmm. Let me see." The woman played around with her mouse a little while Morgana waited patiently. "Yes, we can place you in the Saturday morning class. It's three hours. With your other classes, that's your only option if you want to keep BMA in third period."
"That would be fine, I think."
Madame Prudhomme nodded. "Good. It's best not to overload yourself during the first term, especially as you aren't used to the American system. Allow some free time until you get settled in." She clicked her mouse a few more times, and the printer on her desk pushed out a few sheets of paper.
"Your schedule," she said, handing a copy of the printout to Morgana, "includes a list of books you'll need for your classes, and any special requirements. You're in Power Theory in Period 1, Magic Theory 1 in Period 2, and BMA in Period 3. Period 4 is your lunch period. Then you have Calculus 1 in Period 5, French 1 in Period 6, and Magic Practical 1 in Period 7. Finally Costume 1 will be at 9am on Saturday. Do you have any questions?"
Morgana shook her head as she stood up. "No Madame."
The woman smiled. "Based on your past records, you should have no problems. If you have any questions or issues you can always come and see me about them."
Morgana took the paperwork and nodded. "Thank you Madame." She waited until she was out of the room before digging in her bag for her phone to text Tanya with her course schedule as promised. She still felt a little underwhelmed by it all, somehow she'd expected things like arranging magic and power classes to be bit more, well, exciting.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016 - Mid-Morning
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
"I'm sorry, Tia," Mrs. Horton said wearily, looking less immaculate in appearance, with some hairs out of place, her deep green dress a bit off center, and wearing a wrinkled shawl. She also looked as coldly angry as Tia had ever seen anyone, including her mom after ... it happened. "The administration is very insistent that our rooms in the freshman and sophomore wings are booked - despite my assurances that we have rooms. And for some reason Whitman and Dickinson are out too, even though I know that they have vacancies, too. I'm afraid that, for the time being, you'll have to stay in Melville." She held Tia's hand reassuringly. "I won't stop trying, though. I will find out what's going on and get you here where you belong." Then the house-mother smiled, and it all bled away as if it was never there. "But, you're alright at least. How was Melville? Did anyone there give you trouble?"
"No Ma'am. Everyone I met was very nice ... but there weren't that many people there, yet." Tia wasn't sure she wanted to move to Poe; Melville was very nice, and it wouldn't be so lonely because it would be rapidly filling with students.
"True, true. If you have any problems, any at all, speak to Miss Bellamy; she is aware of your circumstances and will assist you."
Tia was sure the entire staff was aware of her circumstances, even those in Administration stating the other cottages were booked. For all Tia knew they were, though Mrs. Horton seemed to believe otherwise. "Who is Miss Bellamy?"
Mrs. Horton gave her an odd look. "Your house mother; you might know her better as Concierge."
So that was her name! Tia had lucked out, after a fashion; now she didn't have to ask. She didn't think Hikaru knew Concierge's real name either. Or maybe she did, and Miss Bellamy preferred her codename.
Mrs. Horton continued "Also, if you come to visit your friends, for whatever reason, I don't think anyone will mind."
Tia did her best to keep her body language under control. That was huge! She was all but offering a safe haven, just in case. "Thank you, Mrs. Horton."
Mrs. Horton wasn't quite done. "I want you to know, Tia, I haven't given up. I will find out and correct the problem. But for now, you'll find your RA will be exceptionally helpful to you. She understands being in the limelight and, as an avatar, she understands waking up different. And you should probably see to that boy you brought with you. He looks a little lost."
Tia frowned and looked back to the lobby where Taka was examining the bust of Edgar Allen Poe. "Thanks. Mrs. Horton. And you're right, he does. I'd have thought he would have left already."
Mrs. Horton's laugh surprised her and there was a sparkle in her eye as she replied. "Oh, you have much to learn, young one."
Wednesday, September 7, 2016 - Late Morning
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Laura practically bounced down the steps from her advisor's office, feeling good about the tests; she was officially credited with Algebra 1, Programming 1, and Basic Electronics, so her schedule was first period English 1, then Dr. Barton for US history, basic martial arts - not unexpectedly, Mrs. Dennon had made a note in her file about that, but at least several of her friends were in the same class. Fourth period was lunch, followed by electronics 2, biology, and programming 2. Then she had time for the labs, after she had an orientation and safety briefings, and got assigned a lab bench.
The smile froze on her face, replaced by concern and confusion as she saw girls and boys streaming out of the big lecture hall, all of whom were at least in shock, if not openly weeping like many of the girls were.
Not having any clue of what had happened to cause such distress, Laura wove her way through the dazed or distraught students toward Flower, who was crying openly. "Are you okay?" Laura asked, taking Flower's arm because her RA seemed almost unable to walk from whatever had caused her the shock.
"What's wrong?" Laura asked, helping Krystal sit on an unoccupied bench.
Krystal looked up at Laura, her eyes red and puffy from crying, and wearing a look of profound shock and grief. "It's ...." She tried to keep from crying more, but the tears were almost pouring out. "Get everyone in the wing together for a meeting."
"No, Krystal," a tall, somber-looking boy said. He had the same crushed expression that Flower bore; so did the two girls - one of whom looked like a Teutonic poster-girl and the other was the overly-cute, sunny-smile girl from the lesbians' tour - only now she wasn't smiling, and her makeup was ruined by tears. "Annette, Brita and I were just talking. It should be an all-cottage meeting."
Krystal thought a moment, and then nodded, as if words were going to exacerbate whatever bad news had so thoroughly upset her. She turned to Laura. "Can you help round up everyone in the cottage? And call anyone you know who's out?"
Laura nodded, gulping nervously for two reasons: first, something really bad had happened judging by how the RAs were either gobsmacked or in tears, and second, Brita Baumann was examining her with a cold, calculating fury, as if sizing up a foe. There was not the slightest hint of friendliness in her steel-eyed expression.
Fifteen minutes later, most of the Poesies were assembled in the ballroom in the cottage basement, which was not set up with chairs, so everyone just stood on the floor. At the head of the room, the RAs all stood with Mrs. Horton and Mr. Babich on the elevated stage at the far end of the room, all of them wearing grim, funereal expressions.
Laura couldn't help gulping nervously. Her sense of something bad was contagious; many other students were mumbling nervously and glancing worriedly at the stage. In twos and threes, more Poesies came into the ballroom, some out of breath from running, all looking around uneasily at the herd gathered around the stage and the dour expressions of their RAs and house-parents.
Mrs. Horton glanced at Mr. Babich, then cleared her throat. She looked for a moment like she was trying hard to figure out what words to say, and failing. But then she composed herself.
"I'm sure you've all heard various rumors going around campus," she began, "and you've also been told to not speculate." She glanced at Mr. Babich again; he looked like he was forcing himself to be calm.
"The administration only just gave the house-parents permission to discuss the rumors." She looked like she was about to cry, just like the female RAs on stage. After biting her lower lip for a second, Mrs. Horton continued. "Mrs. Carson ... disappeared from campus two weeks ago."
"What?" The gasped question was followed by a silence in which an ant's footfall would have been loud as a hammer on an anvil.
"There isn't much more known than that. There was a trustees' meeting, and Mrs. Carson, with some facility assistance, went to the tunnels to ..." Her voice choked.
"Mrs. Carson was showing the trustees the state of the tunnels, and how fragile some sections are," Mr. Babich picked up the narrative. "They ... never came out of one section of the tunnels."
"So ... is Ms. Hartford headmistress now?"
Babich shook his head. "She ... was asked by the remaining trustees to resign, given how distracted she was. Her ... fiancé was among the trustees who were with Mrs. Carson, and she's taken his disappearance quite ... badly."
"Our bad fortune doesn't end there, unhappily," Mrs. Horton continued. "Our Dean of Students, Mrs. Shugendo, was rushing back to school, and she had the misfortune of being in a car wreck. She's alive," she said, pausing to wipe her eyes, "but very seriously injured and in a medically-induced coma, and the doctors don't think she'll be back to Whateley for several months."
"Under the circumstances, the opening of this school year was delayed by one week so the trustees could appoint a new Headmaster and Assistant Headmaster. Ms. Claire, Mrs. Shugendo's assistant Dean, is assuming the position of Dean."
"Um," one of the senior boys asked hesitantly, "who ... is the new Headmaster?"
"The new Headmaster is Geoffrey Mazarin," Babich said calmly. "He's retired, with a long history of successfully managing logistics and operations of ... very ... complex organizations. For those of you in the FSHA, you might know him as 'le Compte'."
"Syndicate?" Celerity gasped aloud.
"Retired," Mrs. Horton countered quickly. "Remember, Whateley is neutral. And he offsets our new Assistant Headmaster, Robert Turner, aka Falcon, a retired hero of the Star League. His wife Tabitha has been teaching off-and-on here, and she'll continue as an instructor with the PE department."
"Who else ... disappeared?" another upper-floor boy asked nervously.
Horton exchanged nervous glances with Babich. "Trustees Lord Paramount and Ty West. Langley Paulson from advanced Tech. Hakim Al Fayez from magic. Drs. Carstaires, Zalman, Quintain, and Hendricks, and Dr. Christy McBride." Another gasp echoed through the upperclassmen. "Assistant Security Chief Forsythe, and a team of officers."
But ... why would ... Mr. Al Fayez or Dr. Carstaires be down in the tunnels?"
Babich sighed; clearly the two had expected such questions. "A separate team - technical experts and security - were in the tunnels investigating strange power surges that were causing problems. They were trying to track down the source."
"The power surges interfered with the security cameras," Mrs. Horton added. "So nobody knows exactly what happened, or how both groups got caught in it."
"Are we safe ... down in the labs and tunnels?"
"That's part of the reason for the delay, to make sure you're safe. Three major tunnel sections - the ones that are most suspected, are sealed off to everyone but the forensic and investigative teams. That includes magic and psychic wards," Babich added. He pulled a notecard from his pocket. "Tunnel sections Baker 9 to 12, Charlie 7 to 17, and Moby Dick Avenue from the intersections of Baker and Charlie tunnels, are all closed and sealed. If you had labs or clubhouse space in those tunnel section, your belongings will be retrieved by the forensics and security teams, and you will be allocated new space."
"Be advised that if you attempt to go into those tunnel sections or break the seals, you will be severely disciplined," Mrs. Horton warned the shell-shocked kids. "Some ... thing happened in that area of the tunnels. Nobody knows what, and we're not going to take chances that it happens again. Or that your presence does something that interferes with the ... investigation and rescue."
Because of her family background, Bianca couldn't help but consider that if someone wanted to make a move against the school, this would be the perfect time.
(to be continued)