Granier's Office, New York City
"Go ahead, Ms. Kelly," the receptionist, Ms. Halifax, said somewhat blandly. "He's expecting you."
"Thank you," the tall woman said with nary a hint of emotion. Given the intense negative - creepy - feelings that Jennifer felt every time she visited the office, she wondered if Ms. Halifax felt the same thing, or if she'd simply learned how to deal with it. Or Jennifer was being paranoid - which in her line of work was often a good thing.
"Do you have it?" Granier demanded practically before Jennifer got into his office. He was studying a large map of New England on the wall, a large, red X in the northern part of the map.
Jennifer extracted a pouch and removed a Hessonite Garnet, finely cut in an oval shape about 4 centimeters long by 2.5 centimeters. Remarkably, in the middle of the stone was a flaw - a very dark, almond-shape inclusion which, in combination with the stone's orange color, made the gem look remarkably like a cat's eye. "The Eye of Li Shou."
"Let me see!" Granier stepped to Jennifer, reaching for the stone. Extracting a jeweler's loupe, he scanned the stone slowly. "Magnificent!" he muttered to himself. Shaking free of his momentary reverie, he turned back to the map. "That'll be all," he said dismissively, even arrogantly, as if speaking to a servant.
"You'll get my bill, as ..." Jennifer started to say, but then her eye caught more detail on the map. "Whateley," she said softly, with dead certainty in her voice.
"What?" Granier spun, startled that she was still here and that she'd spoken.
"That's ... Whateley," Jennifer said again, looking a little startled as unfamiliar thoughts and memories cascaded through her brain. "Whateley Academy."
"What? How do you know what this area is?" Granier demanded, his eyes narrow and intense.
"I ... I don't ... know," Jennifer said hesitantly. "It's ... like a ... something I should know."
Granier scowled deeply. "What can you tell me about the place?" he demanded, taking Jennifer's arm firmly. "How. Do. You. Know?"
She was tough, a lot tougher than anyone would guess, and no person could manhandle her, but his strength and determination startled her. "I ... I don't know!" she complained, fighting her own brain to release its hold on whatever mysterious information she'd gotten a mere glimpse of.
Granier glared at her for several very long seconds, and then he released her arm. "Go. I'll find out."
Somewhat unnerved by his disturbing gaze and unexpected strength, Jennifer turned and quickly strode out of the man's office.
When the door shut, Granier sat down at his computer, and after typing in a series of passwords to increasingly cryptic and hidden websites, the computer displayed information from the dark web, the hidden recesses of the Internet that few knew of and many dared not go. Typing in the phrase 'Whateley Academy' into a search engine which served this hidden internet realm, he clicked the 'enter' key and waited for results.
He didn't have to wait long. As he read through the data, opening page after page that the search engine had found, his frown deepened. Finally, totally frustrated, he shoved the mouse and keyboard angrily away from himself.
"Damn!" he swore, resting his forehead on his steepled fingers, elbows on his desk. "Damn!" he muttered again. For several minutes, he sat, statue-like, frowning, as he thought, and then he rose. Glaring at the map, he shook his head. "Damn. If he couldn't crack it, no way I can." He sighed and slumped down in a large stuffed chair in one corner of the office. "I guess that leaves the Outback or Istanbul."
Monday September 12, 2016. Just after dawn.
Twain Cottage, Whateley Academy
“You've got mail,” Tavi announced cheerfully, shattering Jimmy's morning dream sequence from a range about two inches from his ear. This specific dream had involved a number of his pretty, new teammates and wasn't going to be shared in public where word could get back to them. The wiry teen bounced a foot and a half off his mattress from the surprise, his PK shell flashing on long enough to absorb the impact of the landing. He sleepily swatted at the ferret, who moved to avoid significantly faster than an alarm clock had any right to.
It was fairly obvious that it was time to get up, anyway. Even just a few days getting used to the room told him the morning sunlight filled the room nicely once it crested the hills to the East of the campus and this much light meant he needed to get moving if he wanted any exercise before breakfast. His roommate was gone, also, starting his day even before Jimmy felt a need to be up and moving. Waaay before.
The Japanese teen Taka would be out on the grassy grounds of the Quad doing his morning work out, katas. Some day, Jimmy planned to join the Japanese swordsman in his routine... some day when the American boy had a better clue what he was doing than having watched a few old martial arts movies and a lot of anime. Nothing like practicing next to an expert to make a novice feel like a complete idiot.
“What sort of mail?” he asked the ferret as he rolled to the edge of the bed and dropped lightly to the floor. The cottage rooms had a fair amount of flexibility in set up and unlike a number of pairs, they'd quickly decided that they preferred the extra floor space they'd gain by putting the beds in bunk format. And after seeing what time his roommate got up in the mornings, Jimmy had volunteered to take the top bunk and minimize the chances of one of them waking the other.
The upper bunk was a lot higher than normal, using components generally designed for fliers. They'd added a pair of poles at the foot of the bed that ran from floor to ceiling where there were supports or mounts for them. On each pole, there were retractable crossbars that could be used to climb just a single pole or could be extended to connect with a second pole's crossbars. With all the cross pieces connected, you had a ladder all the way to the ceiling. Lower bars could be left in their retracted position, creating a set of hanging locations or a pull up bar, or any number of similar uses. As long as it wasn't a red flag day, Jimmy was confident that he would eventually have just one crossbar near the ceiling set up for use as a catch point for a PK shell assisted vertical jump from which he could swing into bed.
“A package. From Broggy,” the ferret advised as the teen slipped into a pair of sweat pants. He paused before pulling on a t-shirt to admire the definition he was getting on his abs. Of course, he looked like a couch potato compared to his roommate. That guy was hardcore cut. Like Bruce Lee cut. It had been noted by the fashion model set pretty quickly. They were trying to 'rush' the martial artist into spending time with them. Other guys, the ones that would probably have been the football team in any school other than one where even the geek set could bench a small tractor; weren't happy about it... and had been accusing Taka of being gay... among other things. Jimmy didn't understand how anyone with ANY survival sense didn't treat his roommate with the same caution as, say, a thermal detonator... or a lightsaber. Both of which, he guessed, his roomie was trained to use.
“Don't they just send packages to the dorms?” he asked the VI, not knowing if it could find the answer or not. “Check if there's anything in the handbook or the app?”
“Not a regular package. This package delivered directly to Range.”
“The Range?” Jimmy wondered curiously... the detective had been hinting at sending him some things that he would need to know how to use. Maybe not immediately, but some day... with the understanding that it would take time and practice to use well. So... if it went straight to the Range... that meant... “He sent me a gun?”
“Maybe a ray gun. You Hero,” the ferret pulled a blaster pistol out of the air and started firing little blue pellets of hard light around the room. Most of them broke down on impact, but a few at wider angles managed to ricochet off and flew out of cohesion range.With the appropriate added sound effects, a la Looney Tunes.
“Where in the world would Broggy come up with a ray gun?
“Hunting bad guys,” Tavi advised, adding an Elmer Fudd hunting cap to his outfit.
“I don't think Broggy is sending me a ray gun, Tavi. But he probably is sending me a gun. It makes sense. Set me up an appointment at the range, after classes if that's possible? And find out what it takes to schedule regular range times.”
“Scheduled. After suppertime. Tavi remind, if distracted by girls.”
“Ya, thanks Tavi. You keep me out of trouble with the girls and I'll buy you all the widgets you want.”
“Yep. How much time do I have to run if I want to get breakfast before class?”
“Forty minutes. Thirty minutes for breakfast under dome. Best run thirty minutes. Shower, so not stink with girls.”
“I don't stink,” Jimmy complained as he headed into the hall.
“Stink so much Tavi smell you.”
“Tavi, you don't have a real nose.”
“See, that is bad smell.”
Jimmy reached out and swatted the ferret into the wall, causing it to explode into pixel shards. The cloud raced after him as he picked up speed and headed down the main stairs. By the time he'd crossed the front room, with a quick wave to the RA manning the desk, Tavi had reformed into his default ferret shape.
“Ows,” it complained.
“Tavi, you don't feel pain any more than you can smell,” the teen admonished the VI as he stretched out a bit, using the stone stairs. The morning air was crisp, a bit cooler than it would be in the beginning of September in Philly. Not cool enough to keep him from running, though.
“Is ferret abuse.”
“Give it up, Tavi... there are no girls handy to rescue you. Or that cute VI Taka's friend has. Maybe you're trying to impress her?”
“Is not cute. Or VI. Scary, scary AI. Like dragon in disguise as mouse.”
“That doesn't sound likely,” Jimmy pointed out, starting up the path. The loop he had in mind should take right around twenty minutes, which would give him time for a shower and to take a little longer at breakfast and scope out some more of the upperclassmen. “I don't think too many individuals have real AI's. Isn't it mostly just the military?”
“Mostly. Still AI. Thinks Tavi is bug, maybe?”
“Well, even if it is an AI, Tavi; I think you're safe. Hikaru isn't going to let her squish you like a bug.”
“Sure. You'll see,” Jimmy reassured the VI, picking up his pace. “Help me keep the pace here. Time out the loop checkpoints to get back to the room with 50 minutes before first period.”
“Done. Tavi pace car.” The VI jumped out about 8 feet ahead of Jimmy. A panel appeared above the running animal, showing two needles. The needle with a T on it was dead center in the green of the panel and the ferret was still pulling away from Jimmy, whose needle with its J was slightly into the yellow on the low end. He quickly picked up his pace to match the VI's.
The scruffy, brown haired teen wasn't built much like a runner. If anything, he was built more like a gymnast. Not short or thin, or tall and broad... wiry and quick. But he knew it wasn't enough to be able to bolt out of trouble... he wanted the stamina to bolt and cross ground quickly, but then keep pushing beyond when any opposition would expect him to fall aside. He wanted to be relentless, once he tracked down a Perp using his skill as a detective; he wanted them to know they would never get away again. Even if he had to run them to ground the old fashioned way.
Ten minutes later, Jimmy was regretting his decision to let Tavi set his pace. It wasn't outrageous... and it probably would work out to drop him exactly at the doors to his cottage just as he'd asked; but he'd swear the little rodent had picked checkpoints that extended the run just enough distance to make it seem like it was the right route for this pace... but slightly further than expected. But right this moment? He was at least two breaths past "if I keep pushing I'm going to hurl"... and not slowing.
"Tavi, music?" he gasped out. One technical trick the GridGear had over a lot of mobiles was the ability to use hardlight projections as sound sources. That allowed the system to present music or video in a full personal surround sound or, in cases like this, to project the hardlight equivalent of headphones near Jimmy's ears and generate sound at a level only those nearby might hear. It also allowed the system to speak to its user privately, though quiet responses had to be typed or subvocalized... and the latter had to be specially trained for recognition, something Jimmy had yet to take the time to do. Subvocalization generated different sounds than the normal phonemes that speech recognition algorithms relied on, so specific elements had to be taught to the user much like learning a new language.
As usual, the ferret picked rock and roll from the 70's as the go-to running music. Something about the strong, regular drum beats and power chords and tempos in the 150 beats per minute range made them just right for pushing through a run. Current pop... seemed out of focus somehow. Angry but without direction, looking for guidance but afraid it wouldn't be found. There was anger and determination in the older music too, but it still felt like it had hope where so much contemporary stuff seemed... hollow.
Lost in his thoughts about music, Jimmy's breathing settled and with a second wind, headed into the last third of his run. He was used to activity around the cottages picking up at this time, especially if his roommate was still running through his morning routines and drawing a crowd on the Quad, but enough of the students had early classes that the breakfast crowd got to be pretty large. He'd also learned that many power sets needed a much higher calorie count that usual, so teens who might otherwise sleep until the last minute tended to make time for breakfast. So far, it seemed like he'd avoided that part of being a mutant, but he'd been warned that PK mutants often had heightened energy demands and that as he trained, his needs would rise.
Even knowing that many of the students would be heading for breakfast, they barely missed knocking down several boys clustered near the back corner of the cottage as they rounded it. Jimmy skidded to a stop a moment later as his brain caught up with what his eyes had seen and body had avoided... a cluster of boys crowded around one who had been pushed to the ground.
"Oh come on... it's a school for kids with super powers and you're bullying someone?" he grumbled. "How lame is that?"
Jimmy's PK shell flickered on, shielding him in its royal blue glow. He 'pushed' it, causing it to leap from him to the boy pulling himself up off the ground. The blue energy shell flashed forward to englobe the other kid and then flickered again as a fresh shell came on around Jimmy.
"Tavi calls Security... is no connection," the ferret reported quietly.
"What is that...?" one of the bullies demanded.
"Looks like some sort of VI."
"Not the ferret, you idiot... what he did with his PK. Is that a PK shell... or a force field?" he demanded again, stepping towards Jimmy.
"PK... or so they tell me. I just happen to be able to shell someone else, in addition to me. 'Quite unusual'" he intoned, mimicking the tester who had spent more than an hour trying to prove that it was a TK Force field instead. That got a bit of a laugh from the minions.
"Tavi video for FaceSpace!" the ferret announced, holding up a smartphone almost as large as he was, looking every bit like a vlogger getting a scoop. This got all their attention. No one wanted video of their asshole moments out on the net... not only did that sort of thing have a bad tendency to go viral and make your life miserable, Security and Admin would eventually find out about it.
Jimmy slipped to the side while his VI played a four-fool version of keep away. He gestured to the kid who had been on the ground to start moving towards the Quad. He did, if slowly. That was one unfortunate side effect of the thrown PK shell... it took some time to attune to the person it was on. In the meantime, they had to work to move it. It was a bit like moving in jello or molassus, Jimmy had been told. But it made them as strong and safe from attacks as Jimmy's own shell made him.
"Enough of this..." one of the minions took a shooting stance and blasted a half meter wide beam of energy through Tavi's path. The ferret skidded to a stop just short of getting blasted and blinked wide eyed at the boy. The others threw themselves in various directions, far too late to actually avoid anything, but Jimmy winced as a long scorch mark appeared in the grass. A cloud of steam floated lazily to one side where the beam had punched through the path of a water sprinkler. Drops landing on the scorched area sizzled before evaporating off.
Into the following silence, Tavi let the projected smartphone drop and shatter into pixels at some arbitrary 'ground' level beneath him. The target of their chase gone; the four bullies took another look at the scorch mark, noted that their original victim was gone, and scattered without even giving Jimmy another look.
“Well... fuck...” the teen muttered, running his hand through his scruffy hair.
“Is bad language,” the ferret scolded him. Tavi watch the other boys disappear around the corners of buildings before returning to Jimmy. “Wasn't even real camera. Bullies dumb.”
“I noticed. Why would you bully someone at a school like this? That kid could go back to his dorm tonight, chant some wierd spell, and drop a meteor on their heads tomorrow...”
“No... well... maybe, I don't know. I guess anything's possible Tavi... these people aren't going to be like the people on the streets back home. Broggy tried to prepare me, but I don't think just how different hit me until just now. The people are really different. I mean, look at the girls on the team. But at the same time, everyone still has habits... acting like they're still normal. The sooner we recognize we aren't... the better we'll do, I think.”
“Tavi can be different,” the ferret assured him, turning plaid.
“Tavi... if we go to breakfast with you like that, you're going to be wearing someone's breakfast.”
The ferret pulled a sunny side up fried egg out of no where and donned it like a sombraro. “Tavi wear breakfast and look good doing it. You finish run and take shower, or go to breakfast smelling bad.”
Jimmy got his bearings and pointed himself directly torwards the cottage. “It's good we had to interrupt some bullying, anyway. I think you were trying to kill me with that pace.”
“Tavi not kill. Is rule for VI. Can torture for own benefit, but not maim or kill.”
“What?! I think I need to check your operating laws...”
“Is joke. Tavi good VI?”
Fifteen minutes later with his hair still wet from a quick shower, Jimmy grabbed a tray off the stack at the check in register before heading towards the pancake island. In moments he had a gorgeous stack of fluffy light brown disks of cake, a small bowl of blueberries and a large scoop of soft whipped butter. He folded the butter between pancakes like a card shark shuffling a poker deck and added a couple spoonfuls of fruit between each before dousing the whole stack liberally with real maple syrup from someplace local. He slipped the now empty fruit bowl and cup for the butter into the disposal rack and snagged a side plate with several perfectly crispy pieces of bacon as he passed the island with breakfast meats. He usually liked to get a couple fried eggs as well, but wanted to get to the pancakes while they were fresh, so took a good sized scoop of scrambled instead.
Most of the girls were already at the table as he slid into the seat opposite Kenshin and nodded hello to his Japanese roommate. He dug in, knowing that the girls would keep the conversation moving forward.
Tavi appeared on his shoulder, still plaid from the waist down and wearing the fried egg hat. For some reason, the ferret had added a set of bagpipes and set about serenaiding the dining hall. That lasted about eight seconds before security was standing at the table. Tavi stopped abruptly, hiding the bagpipes behind his back.
“Is fast response for playing music too loud... no bullying if responded this fast to fighting.”
Jimmy groaned and tried to slide away from the ferret, disassociating himself. The projection slid with him.
“We received a report that someone fitting your discription... with a ferret... was involved in a fight outside of Hawthorn a short while ago. Can you account for your location during the past half hour to an hour?” the student auxilary inquired. He had a tablet out, ready to record anything being said.
“I was on my morning run and stumbled into something that looked like bullying. We,” Jimmy gestured to Tavi, “attempted to contact Security but there was something wrong with the network.”
“We don't have any indication of any outages this morning,” the second member of the security team commented.
“Just telling you what happened. Tavi,” Jimmy directed the ferret, “give them the full recording of the encounter, starting with the moment we could first get line of sight on the group and ending with loss of visual on the last runner.”
The security auxilary's tablet chirped as the file transferred. “Uh... thanks. That's... that's a pretty big file...” he noted.
“Thats the GridGear's standard HD holographic map file. There's a higher quality one, but this model can't record at that level and project the VI at the same time... so we don't use it much.”
“Oh... I see.”
“I'm hoping to be able to use it for police work, eventually.”
“For reconstructing a crime scene?” Tanya asked. Bianca raised a white eyebrow at the interruption, while the rest of the girls hid behind their breakfasts, eating studiously.
“Exactly. Being able to holographically map out a crime scene could be a huge leap in forensics technology, but specialized software doesn't really exist for it yet... but maybe by the time Tavi and I are ready to be out there, it will. Or maybe we'll develop it...”
“That's all very ...” the Security auxiliary interrupted.
“Oh right... sorry. Everything you should need is in that video. If you need me to give a statement or something for verification of what I saw, I'm happy to come to the security office between classes later. I need to set up a range class or something anyway.”
“But we need you to come... you were accused of...”
“And now you have video showing that any accusation you received was nonsense, right?”
“That's not our call.”
“Is it your call to prevent a student from being able to eat breakfast?”
“The OIC said to bring you in to the office.”
Jimmy looked back at his tray, the butter on the pancakes congealing atop soggy cakes that had absorbed all the syrup... eggs and bacon that were no longer steaming... and sighed in frustration. “No good deed,” he admonished his teammates. “Come on Tavi... evidently someone thinks we need to be hardened criminals this week. Hungry hardened criminals.” He looked pointedly at the head of the security group, “You know this is messed up, right?”
The auxiliary security team had the decency to look a bit ashamed of their part in what was happening, but they marched Jimmy out of the Crystal Hall as if he was heading for trial.
Jimmy rushed into the locker room for Martial Arts in time to catch most of the class heading out to the mats. Muttering to himself over the hassle he'd been put through at Security, he raced through putting on his gi in an attempt to not be late. He had an excuse, but he'd rather not have to use it. First impressions mattered and in classes based on discipline and old fashioned honor, like martial arts would probably be, it would matter that much more. Disrespecting the teacher would be a huge step down the road to being unsuccessful...
Fortunately, a gi is not a complex thing to dress in... and Jimmy wasn't even the last one out of the locker room. He gave a quiet wave to the people he knew, in fact, most of the kids from the train were in this class too. He considered joining a couple of them were they'd gathered, but didn't have time to navigate before one of the teachers started the class.
After a quick introduction, the teachers... sensei... had them divided up and doing some simple exchanges. Well, simple for the "we know nothings" group that Jimmy was in. He knew how to throw a punch, for example, but the jabs and strikes that they were having them use were a very different sort of attack. Mostly, it looked like the teachers were letting everyone get comfortable around other people with a variety of powers that might get turned on you. The kids who did have some experience were actually doing some sparring.
In a moment where most people were wrapped up in one activity or another, Jimmy was able to talk to one of the teachers about having Tavi available in class.
"How durable is this tech that the VI runs on?" Sensei Tolman asked him.
"Not very," the boy admitted. "But... the GridGear does sit under my PK shell. So unless I'm surprised or it is something that goes through PK shells, it should be ok."
"Or something shatters your shell... you are only a PK 4, Shieldwall. There are lots of people stronger than that," she warned.
"I could take it off for my own fights. The advantage is in having the VI available to learn and record what I am taught, so it can integrate it into its own knowledge base and tutor me outside of the classroom. It can't do that if its locked in a locker during class."
"As it happens, I think it's a good idea. I just want you to be prepared for it to be damaged. Especially if you are unable to fix it yourself. Students use all sorts of technological gadgets as part of their basic technique, for holdouts or a variety of things. There's no reason to restrict yours just because its commercially available."
"If you are going to use it though, you might consider how you might get a larger advantage out of it than just recording for your VI's benefit. What if your VI could advise you on target weak points? Provide 360 degree heads up display? Map kinetic movement and gunfire to identify shooter positions? Generate hard light distractions?"
"I.. uh... hadn't thought about that."
"As I said, we have students who use technology as part of their basic costume and battle technique; your Tavi will hardly be the first VI involved in sparring on our mats. And as the technology matures, he will doubtless not be the last."
"I will have to look into what sort of programs I can get for him."
"Talk to our Computer people. The students and faculty who work with the Sims and Arena tech will probably be able to help you get far more advanced options than anything that's on the commercial market."
A pair was finishing up on the mat and Sensei Tolman gestured for Jimmy to join her there. He did so, as she drew the attention of most of the other new students.
"Shield yourself," she warned.
Jimmy's royal blue PK shell flashed on as the sensei moved towards him. Her movements were quick and sharp, a couple sharp jabs jolted him around but didn't have the strength behind them to actually break his shell. Then she slipped close and after a grapple that happened so quickly he wasn't even sure how she'd gotten hold of him, she brought him up over her head and body slammed him into the mat. Again, showing all of them that PK shells were not nearly the invulnerability that people believed them to be.
"I believe you have a bit of an unusual trick to your shell," she asked, as she helped him back to his feet.
Jimmy, still a little dazed from the quick attack, though not the impact, agreed. "I can shield someone else as if they were PK."
"On me?" she suggested.
Jimmy gestured with his hands towards her, throwing his shell onto the sensei. As it landed, the Jimmy-shaped shell stretched and twisted over the woman's larger and much more curved form, looking a bit thin and irregular in some spots while normal solid blue in others. It settled some, flaring at various points as energy transferred around the shell to other parts.
She started towards him again, causing Jimmy to jump back and bring up another shell quickly. He needn't have worried though, the initial attunement phase of using the shell had her moving much slower than normal. Her smile turned into a bit of a grimace as she tried to throw a couple fast punches.
"You should consider using this as a capture technique," she noted.
"For a little while, maybe..." Jimmy agreed, thinking through the idea. "... but once the shell starts to adapt to you, you'll speed back up."
"And I'll have a PK-4 shell... strength as well as toughness, right?"
"From what the testers said, yes. The people I shield measure in within about 10% under my normal strength... so once you get used to it, you will be almost as strong as I am with my shield up."
"Does this attunement thing happen every time?" she asked, her movements already starting to speed back up. She still had a ways to go before she would be able to land a hit, even with her skill.
"No," Jimmy complained. "Only until it figures out how to sync up with your aura, evidently. Then my PK ability can shell you 'normally' every time without a problem. So it 'could' be a capture technique... for a moment or two until we cuff someone. Any longer and it would just make them a tougher opponent to bring down."
"Yes, but you can remove the shell at any time?"
"So its not like they'll actually get any hits in with your shell on."
"Unless I'm unconscious or I don't see that they've gotten attuned/loose."
"Like..." she started, lunging forward. The shell around her flashed off and she aborted the attack on Jimmy before getting in arm range of him. "Good. We'll talk more. I'd like to have a couple sessions where you use your shell on different students. Learning how it feels to fight as a PK may help some students understand and counter them better."
Jimmy just nodded again, aware of how badly he was going to get his butt handed to him in this class. Even though HE had the supposed 'superman' power set, she had tossed him around like a rag doll. All his power meant for the purpose of a fight right now was that he could get up afterwards and take another round of it.
He hoped the girls were in a better mood than he was... or lunch was going to be ugly.
"Three hours," Jimmy complained again. "How could it possibly make sense to keep me out of classes for three hours to answer questions repeatedly about something they had holographic recordings of?"
They were back in the Crystal Hall, for lunch... and Jimmy had already devoured several chicken fajitas. Missing breakfast had left him with a huge appetite by lunch, and he was just waiting for the line to drop at the island with the fajita fixings to make another run. In the meantime, Security and their problem with the group was the topic.
"Could be enough science types here, even not counting Devisors, that they can't trust a recording from anything that isn't a secure system..." Laura suggested.
"Well, I'm not one of you science types," Jimmy countered Laura's idea. "And its not like I had hours to work on changing the file. I barely had enough time to shower before getting here for them to arrest me for causing a fight."
"Which raises the point... how did they get a report about the fight and get auxiliaries here to bring you over that fast?" Morgana asked, her question raising eyebrows around the table. "Especially if the network was offline and Tavi couldn't call in?"
"That's... " Jimmy started, but trailed off. "That is a really good question. Tavi, when did you get network access back?"
The ferret grabbed its tail and rolled, in place, counterclockwise as if rewinding itself. It stopped once, then continued a moment longer and stopped a second time before pulling a couple hard light push pins out of no where and 'pinning' a pair of 2D photos like old fashioned screenshots on the table. One showed a timestamp and moment of Jimmy's run just prior to coming around that last corner. The second image was at almost the identical time that he'd ended the video he'd given Security... Tavi had reconnected at the same time as all the bullies were out of line of sight.
"Huh... that... can't be coincedence."
The girls looked similarly skeptical, especially Bianca. "They were expecting to have to respond to a report, even though there was supposed to be no evidence of it. The network outage was part of it... maybe someone's power?"
"But I didn't know I was going to run there... even if someone had a reason to set up something like this to mess with me... how could they have planned it?"
Tavi chimed in "Tavi pick route. Not same as other times."
"Not for you," Bianca corrected them. "That's why you got harassed. You messed up something that was set up for someone else. Maybe the victim of the bullying... but whoever it was, Security was part of it. Or at the very least, Security was aware of it and intentionally accounted for as 'out of the loop.'"
"So they're corrupt?" Shieldwall grimaced.
"Everyone has a price..." Biance responded casually.
"Not everyone," the boy growled. He pushed away from the table, and took a quick loop around the food islands before returning to the one with fajitas. He made several piles of fixings on his plate and got a good stack of tortillas and headed back to the table. When he returned, Bianca had gone and he breathed a little sigh of relief. The girl was cute, in an exotic sort of fashion, but she had some strange magick thing going on... and it made him uneasy. At least, he blamed it on the magick. That left Morgana, Laura, and Tanya to talk with... and Taka, who was having trouble figuring out fajitas. He wanted to spend some time getting to know his roommate... but everything took twice as long because of the language barrier. Trying to use Tavi to interpret hadn't worked very well either. Either Jimmy needed to learn Japanese or Taka needed to learn English. Unfortunately, neither one of them was an Exemplar with hyper-learning skills. So it was going to take some time.
Jimmy sat back down to an awkward silence, wondering what he'd missed. While the girls focused on their food, he took the opportunity to build some fajitas... and watch the girls eat. The girls in the group were an unusual bunch, almost all of them with some GSD or visibly mutant difference just like Bianca. Laura was blue. Morgana was inhumanly exotic, a bit like the Sidhe kids but not quite. Bianca was hyper-albino, Tia had bunny ears... and a tail. Only Erica and Tanya looked like normal girls. Of course, if any of them showed the slightest interest, he'd date any one of them. They were all pretty... in fact, most of the girls he'd met at Whateley would put the cheerleaders back in Philly to shame. But of them... he felt that he had the most in common with Tanya. She had basically grown up with a superhero group as her family. She cared about the law and helping people. And their powers were similar, both being moderate range PK's.
"Tavi checked volume setting. Is not off." The ferret had a microphone in its hands and was tapping it without effect.
"Just thinking, Tavi" Jimmy assured the VI. The girls nodded quietly, not revealing anything about what had dampened their mood.
"No Tavi..." the boy started before the ferret dived into a one VI interpretation of "Bohemian Rhapsody." A badly done interpretation.
"Shut that thing up!" someone shouted over the railing on the level above them. "Seriously...," an upperclassman in a kilt added as he walked by with his tray, "he's awful."
"Tavi, stop before you get us all lynched," Jimmy pleaded.
The ferret stopped and curled up around the salt shaker, visibly pouting.
"Tavi, you're awesome... but sometimes, my friend... you need to know your limits."
The Sim Staff had given Jimmy a half dozen different fighting and ballistics programs that might work with Tavi as the beginning of a forensics suite. Most of them were older versions of interface systems designed to build Sim fighting VI's and environments, to run 'unmanned' characters in scenarios. The process was surprisingly similar to mapping out what had happened on a crime scene... only backwards. They had wanted him to leave the GridGear with them... had seemed too eager, really, for technical guys who could probably build something like it out of the spare parts bin. Jimmy hadn't wanted to give up Tavi to them; the ferret might not have been with him for long, but he already was the closest thing to a best friend the boy had had in... well, maybe ever, if he didn't count Broggy.
That was why, in the middle of an English Lit classroom, the teen was hunched over his GridGear, eight or nine hard light configurations menus open on the table in front of him, and Tavi was running back and forth from shoulder to shoulder watching as he pieced things together. They'd been assigned reading to do, and while the teacher was out of the room, also given some time to get a start on it. Best guess, it was a test of some sort to see how quickly the were reading as a benchmark for the rest of the semester. He'd already read this one, though, "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin." Not something normally in the classical canon, he suspected, but it was easy to understand why Franklin might be interesting at a school like this. If the man hadn't been a Gadgeteer, he'd certainly spent his share of time thinking outside the box for a 'normal' inventor. And then there was everything else he'd accomplished...
The sound startled Jimmy enough to close one of the menu accidently, firing off a series of holographic tracking lines around the room. Tavi raced out along the line, rebounding off each wall, until he returned along the final line back to the device. The ferret then stopped, looking dazed, while Jimmy quickly reopened the menu and make a final adjustment to the options within. By the time the poor pixellated creature had its senses sorted back out, Jimmy was sitting back, innocently, idly flipping through the pages of the book he was supposed to be reading.
This time the sound registered consciously and he glanced up to find Tia sitting across the classroom, just as distracted. The rabbit-eared girl had her books out on the table but wasn't giving them any more attention than she was the tennis ball that had just returned to her hand. Not that anyone else in the class was doing the assigned reading either. A few students furthest from the door had begun chatting with each other... it was only a matter of time before the whole class was off-assignment and heading for catastrophe when the teacher returned. But that was high school...
Bonk-thwap, the padded ball sounded, hitting the near wall and returning to her hand. Bonk-thwap.
Jimmy turned his attention back to the ballistics system, opening a couple specific menus for a few final adjustments and then closing them out by saving all the changes.A final tweak adjusted the tracking mechanism from the VI's PoV... so poor Tavi wouldn't get dragged around by the plotter the next time something was graphed visibly. Tavi, unaware of his new freedom, continued to watch Tia, his head swivelling to track the ball.
Jimmy looked up again, in time to see the ball hit the wall and return again. His nose crinkled as he considered the point on the wall. Meanwhile, Tia continued to toss it that direction.
Right through that shadow from the lampshade and into the edge of the slightly off-color spot on the wall. The exact same spot... every time.
"Tia?" he called out, his voice rasping a bit and then squeaking in an upper register momentarily before returning to his normal tenor, as he tried to get her attention. "Tia, what are you doing?"
"Just tossing a ball around," she answered guiltily. "I found this one earlier, and it reminded me of the stuff I did over the summer for therapy. You know, reflexes, hand-eye co-ordination, body response. I'm sorry I...”
Jimmy brushed off the apology. "I don't think it's bothering anyone." Half the kids in the seats between them were literally asleep in their books. The rest... well... the two of them might just be the most motivated students in the class. "Were you hitting the same spot every time?"
Tia glanced at the wall, her nose scrunching. "Well, yeah. It was a little challenge I made with myself, to test my reflexes."
"Tavi, can you mark the impacts?" The ferret raced to the wall, pasting a bunch of colorful X's in the spot that Jimmy had through the ball hit each time, and then back to a point on the floor where it had bounced each time. The same number of X's piled up in that spot. "Plot it?" A holographic ballistics arc sketched its way across the room from Tia's hand to the point on the wall, rebounded and dropped to the point and the floor and then returned to the original position, precisely. There was so little deviation, you could barely see more than two or three unique lines or marks.
Tia tossed the ball again, right along the mapped arc, generating a fresh X on the wall, then the floor, before returning just as accurately to her hand as all the other times. She grinned at the wide eyed looks her teammate and his digital ferret were giving her.
"Can you do it from further away?" Jimmy asked.
Tia slipped out of her chair and moved back five or six feet. The arc changed, but ball hit both wall and floor marks dead on and returned right to her hand. They had the attention of a few of the other kids now, but no one else had really figured out what was going on.
"Oh come on... that's not even. You can't even do that without changing the force you're using or adding a backspin to the ball..." Jimmy complained, despite two new sets of X's marking clearly that she could. And had. "Further out?" he begged.
The girl backed up again, as far as the small classroom allowed, and almost offhandedly tossed the ball another time.
"No way..." muttered one of the nearby students as Tavi sketched the third trajectory arc across the room, with each rebound marked perfectly layered atop the previous ones.
It was that moment that their teacher returned, catching only a couple students asleep, the rest having been woken by the suprised comments following the long range toss of the ball.
"While mapping trajectories is an admirable display of academic persistance, the use of math and physics to do so belongs more appropriately in a classroom dedicated to more nerdy pursuits than English Literature. Please..." the teacher paused to consider the appropriate word "clean up these displays... "
Jimmy hissed at Tavi and the holograms winked out.
"... so we can discuss the reading you have been doing."
Jimmy let out a breath he hadn't realized he was still holding. Tavi hid behind a stack of books.
"And Shieldwall... see me after class. You too, Tia."
Jimmy didn't need Tavi to tell him that Tia's scowl was burning a hole in the side of his head... he could feel every bit of it hitting him. He hoped she'd at least listen to him when he explained to her that people don't just bounce a ball with that precision... he didn't know what it was, but it was a power of some sort. And what else could she throw around with that sort of precision? That was important.
Jimmy was at the range with close to forty minutes prior to the Intro to Firearms course that he was going to have to take in order to have access to the weapons Broggy had arranged for him. He was, under the watchful eyes of one of the Range Instructors, unpacking those weapons to check out what he had been sent. The first case made its contents fairly obvious, even as little as Jimmy knew about guns, he knew at least vaguely what a Glock was. What specifically a Gen 4 Model 19 had that differed from any other models, was a different story. The Range Instructor nodded solemnly as the case opened and revealed the pistol.
"Let me...?" he asked, only pausing for a moment while Jimmy confirmed that it was ok for him to check over the weapon. The teen had already agreed, generally, with the policy that any weapons had to be checked out by the instructors and stored in the armory at the range until he was capable of maintaining it himself. Even knowing it was coming, Jimmy and Tavi both watched with wide eyes as the pistol was quickly broken down into an array of parts, each carefully checked and placed in a specific location on the cloth covered table between them. "Start learning how to do this. It'll be one of the things you'll be tested on... but more importantly, this is the only way you'll ever know with confidence that your weapon will work when you need it to. You need to know each part and what it does, to recognize when something is worn and unreliable... or if someone has slipped something into it that will alter how it works."
Jimmy nodded. Tavi was already recording what was going on, and he could just as easily put together a hard light version of the pistol for practice as the real thing... so that already gave him an advantage over kids who would have to spend time at the range practicing.
"This is a good choice... it's not flashy, but its known for its reliability and accuracy. You might get more stopping power out of a larger pistol with a heavier caliber bullet, but most things that you can't stop with this; you aren't going to want to be relying on a pistol to stop."
And just that fast, the pistol was reassembled and tucked back in the hard shell case. The instructor left the two booklets that had been inside sitting in front of Jimmy. He glanced at them quickly: the owners manual and a safety guide. He took the hint and tucked them in his backpack with his other textbooks.
"Open ray gun now?" Tavi asked, tentatively entering the conversation for the first time since meeting the... large, and gruff... Range Instructor.
"It's not a ray gun," Jimmy hushed the VI.
"Your rat isn't far off..."
"Tavi not rat!"
The Instructor eyed Tavi piercingly, causing him to cringe back. "Your rodent..."
"Tavi is ferret. Tuition Assisting Virtual Intelligence. Teacher... like Range Instructor. Just smaller."
The Instructor gave Jimmy a wicked grin before repeating, "Your rodent... has the right of it. It's not quite a ray gun..." he added, gesturing for Jimmy to open up the second case, "but it's closer to that than a standard firearm. I hadn't heard that a Police force was adopting these over a regular taser, but it was only a matter of time. They have some advantages, but they aren't perfect. You'll need to be aware of those limitations."
Inside the box was something that looked a bit like a Star Trek phaser pistol, sleek and electronic. In addition to the pistol, there were three charge cartridges and a charging station in the case. Jimmy pushed the hard case towards the Instructor, a quick check to make sure that Tavi was still recording.
"We're not going to tear it down," he explained, pulling the pistol out of the case and seating one of the charge cartridges into the grip. The pistol emitted a low whine as he walked over to one of the far firing lanes and spoke into a hand radio. A series of panels dropped in, isolating the lane and the target at the end... and all the panels shimmered with the energy of force fields or hard light constructs. "Even if we had the specs, these aren't designed to be opened or adjusted... which is too bad, because the first thing I'd do is disable the charging whine and the chirp if gives when its complete." As if obliging him, the pistol gave off a sound not unlike a car alarm being deactivated. "Those give away that the pistol can't be fired yet. Fortunately, its only there when you put in a new charge. Once ready, the pistol is good for five shots."
"Yes," the older man nodded. "But considering that most tasers are single shot affairs, five is a nice improvement."
"That's the second time you compared it to a taser... does that mean its a... what... a stun gun? Of some sort?" Jimmy asked.
Nodding, the instructor turned down the firing lane and barked out a warning about test firing a low powered energy weapon. There was no one else present, so Jimmy didn't get to see how that sort of warning could normally clear the range as people ducked into safe locations for the testing of devisor weapons.
The Instructor aimed down range and squeezed the trigger, causing the pistol to toss a softball sized ball of sparks towards the mannequin target. Jimmy frowned as it splashed the target with sparks. The look was still on his face as the Instructor lowered the pistol and turned to look at him.
"Something wrong?" he asked.
"It seems... slow," Jimmy observed, glancing back at the target. He noted that this was one of the longer ranged lanes. "You picked this lane so it would have enough travel time that I'd see that, didn't you?"
"Yes. Good eye," the Instructor agreed, approval in his voice. "At short ranges... what a normal taser would work in, it's quick enough. But it does have a longer range than a taser... something that 'should' be an advantage. But it does have a travel time limitation... and at longer ranges, it can be dodged. Especially by someone with a quick reaction time."
He turned back to the range and fired three quick pulses back at the target. Each was slightly displaced, but still close to the other shots. The center one splashed on the target while the other two barely clipped it and splashed on the back wall.
"So several quick shots can bracket in someone so they can't dodge?" Jimmy asked.
"Right. It's not insurmountable, but it limits dodging by baselines. A lot of mutants will still be able to dodge it at anything other than point blank... and even if it does hit them, there's no guarantee the stun will work. Of course, the same problems might exist with the Glock."
"Great..." Jimmy muttered.
"Oh don't worry... the skills are still good to have. These commercial pistols may be of limited use against people like us, but that doesn't mean you can't make deals with your classmates to supplement your power set with weapons that won't be." Then he added, with a grin, "Do you need to test out that rodent launcher strapped on your arm?"
"Tavi no needing tests. Is lethal attack ferret."
"Don't listen to him, he's harmless," Jimmy reassured the teacher.
"Oh, I doubt that. There may be safeguards built into that system, but hard light projection can be effective in both offensive and defensive scenarios..."
"Sensei Tolman was suggesting some things to me about that."
"Good. We'll give you some suggestions too. You won't be able to use him for targetting at first though... once you can consistantly put a clip full of shots in your target where you want them, we'll let you incorporate the rodent. But you should explore the potential of the hard light projector too. Can it generate a shield or blade that will hold up to impacts? Will it cut flesh? Can you shoot a projectile or beam out with enough force to knock someone down? How long with your batteriest last if you do this?"
Jimmy and Tavi were looking at the Instructor with wide eyes again. Did everyone in this place have twenty ways to make you think about using everything you had on you as a weapon?
"I've another student to check in before class... use the time to read your owners manuals and safety guides," he suggested, pulling the charge cartridge from the pistol and placing both back in the case. "I'll go ahead and put these in the armory... you won't need either one for class tonight. We'll use some lighter weight, low caliber pistols for the basic safety training and familiarization." Then, as he came back out of the adjacent room, where he'd pass in the two cases to someone behind a cage, he added "Besides, you'll thank us for not wasting thousands of dollars of your money on higher caliber ammo before you get enough practice to actually be hitting a target."
As it turned out, the instructor's words had all the weight of prophecy. Just as BMA had been a soul crushing reminder that Jimmy had none of the skill set of a super-hero in a classroom full of kids that looked like they could put half the country's mixed martial arts competitors out of the running, his firearms intro made him look more like a bumbling third rate gang banger than a Tac Ops or SWAT sniper. Meeting the safety qualification seemed straight forward enough... but it looked like he was going to end up burning through some ammo meeting the accuracy requirements to carry on campus. Fortunately, he wasn't in a hurry for that... though it would be helpful to have the stun pistol as a hold out for regular use.
At least he wasn't alone in the class... or even alone in being unskilled. A couple of the girls on the team were in this class too and there was a better mix of experience with guns. It looked like he was the only one who had no skill with either one, though. No... that was being unfair to himself. One of the Sensei's had surprised him with a complement and told him not to resist using one of the dirty tricks a kid from back home had taught him. He hadn't expected a martial arts class to allow street fighting dirty tricks, like trapping an opponent's arms by pulling their shirt up over them, let alone encourage them. But he was certainly behind on the formal strikes and blocks and stuff like that. If he were going to have to face off with villains with skills like his roommate's, he had a lot to learn.
It was a bit funny though. For the first time in his life, he was going to have homework for PE classes. He would never have thought that would happen.
"I just wanted to arrange some time to see how you do things here," Jimmy explained to the Lieutenant at the desk. It wasn't the same officer who'd been there that morning when he'd been brought in for getting involved in bullying that he hadn't had anything to do with. "My sponsor said he'd talked with someone and gotten approval for it. Detective Broggy... Brougnaugh... Philly PD?"
From what he'd seen earlier in the day... and even just what was visible from where he was standing... these guys used a lot more tech to monitor the campus than he'd expected. There were some very high complexity systems with wall sized displays in each of a couple side rooms, as well as terminals on all the desks and some sort of high tech weapons locker within arms reach of almost everyone.
"Well, I haven't been briefed on anything... and we don't typically use freshman as security auxilaries, which would be the only way you'd get to spend any time observing procedure or following around any officers."
"What about...?" Jimmy started.
"Look kid, things are pretty chaotic around here right now. You know we lost a large group of staff right before the semester started, right? We're recruiting replacements pretty quickly, far more quickly than Carson would have ever vetted people. But even still, we're going to be understaffed and a bit ragged for a little while until we get everything handled. Then... you want to shadow some patrols or something, we can try to work something out. I think you're going to find that things don't work like you're expecting."
"How do you mean?"
"First of all... we're not cops," the officer growled, surprising Jimmy. "You spend time with some of these guys and you're going to get a good understanding for what it'd be like in the military... especially spec ops, because a lot of them have been on the teams. Or mercs, on the opposite side from the teams. They aren't law enforcement."
"But... aren't there police?"
"Why? It's a private campus, not a city. We're technically on Native land, so even most federal LEO would be out of place. If we need cops, we call them in from the County office. Or the Feds. Our job," he added, gesturing at the people in the office around him "... isn't to enforce campus policy... the faculty and staff handle that on their own. Our job is to defend the campus from outside incursion... or, in a really bad situation, to put down an internal problem if someone goes out of control."
"Shieldwall..." the officer stopped him, almost gently. "You seem like a smart kid who wants to help people. That's a good attitude to have with your abilities and the opportunities you have ahead of you. But I'm afraid that your Detective mentor... he's the exception, not the rule. You spend any time down here... you're not going to like what you find."
Jimmy nodded and walked dejectedly back out the door of the Security office. He'd hoped that someone in Security would want to get to the bottom of this bullying as much as he did and he'd be able to work with them... but it was sounding more like they didn't even care about it. If it wasn't an attack on the school and it wasn't someone on a rampage... they didn't even care about it.
Well, that was just fine, he considered, toggling Tavi's projection back on. "Come on Tavi... we've got some investigating to do."
Almost a dozen freshman sat in the lounge for their wing of Twain getting to know each other. As seemed to happen a lot in the first week at Whateley, meet and greet sessions inevitably involved either a breakdown in how one's powers worked... or their origin story. In this case, it was the latter... and Jimmy was up.
"Some of you may already know the story, it was on the national news for a bit duringt the Spring before the station got the press to stop making me so visible. There were some very angry people in Philladelphia upset with me for stopping the Chief from being shot," Jimmy explained to the group of guys, a few of them looking surprised and a couple showing signs of recognizing the story. He nodded solemnly continuing, "It was a big reveal day. All sorts of press on site. The station was getting some awards, they'd done some building upgrades, a couple people were getting promotions and they'd decided to work it all into one big ceremony and press event. So big that the press couldn't help but give it good coverage because all the important people in Philly would want to be there for it. They completely turned the front entry into the station complex into something like a small market or fair ground, with party foods, some games and art displays, and then built up a stage at the main entrance."
He paused, taking a quick swig of his cherry Pepsi and grabbed another handful of carrots from the snack tray on the table.
"Everything had been going smoothly, all the big wigs were up on the stage so they could be seen... the Mayor, one of the Senators, a handful of state legislators who had managed to duck out of sessions in Harrisburg. And some of the big CEOs and local wealthy types. We've got some ooooold money in Philly. People whose families have been rich since before the states got together and kicked out the British. Anyway, they're all up there on the stage... tuxes and dresses that probably cost as much as most of the cops in the department make in a year. All the cops are lined up in dress uniforms along the sides, the precinct itself acting as an honor guard of sorts for the stage... and the guys from the other shops on display around the seated audience and press."
"By that point, most of the activity around the various tables and fair booths in the back was almost nill and I was hanging out near the press, in the audience in the front until Broggy... my Detective mentor... when we heard the first screams. And then something crashed into one of the booths. They'd gotten an old farm pick up and built it up to protect them while they drove in close enough to shoot at VIPs or whoever they were after. But they'd messed up on their intel or something... because they weren't able to navigate around the booths without getting slowed down. So they'd tried to brute force through it all."
"It's lucky, really, that they were aiming for specific targets... because even with things not working out right, they could have killed a lot of people. The general audience scattered everywhere from pretty much the first screams. They were running through the area around the booths and across the main lawn... but no one even started shooting until one guy finally came down off the back of the truck and started towards the stage. By that point, most of the people onstage had been evacuated into the station. The Chief was snapping out orders over the PA system, so most of the cops who had been away from the stage where continuing to press the fleeing audience to get to safe distances and locations... around building corners and into neighboring buildings. Others had set up in booths under cover, where there were freezers of ice cream or anything that could stop bullets."
"I was eying the press corp, who were stupidly just standing there getting footage or holding mics out... like they were going to interview a gunman while he shot his target. Then a hand landed on my shoulder scaring the shit out of..."
"Is bad language," Tavi pointed out, solidifying from scattered pixels into his standard ferret look.
"Tavi... I'm telling a story, its artistic and dramatic..."
"Broggy would still make you put dollar in jar."
Jimmy sighed, rolling his eyes for the benefit of the other boys.
"Fine. A hand landed on my shoulder, scaring the crud out of me." He paused to give Tavi a look. The ferret nodded that the choice was acceptable. "And then reminded me that I was also stupidly standing where I could get shot. That was Broggy. He could have just stayed inside the precinct with the VIPs. Been safe. Instead, he came back out where he could get shot at to make sure I got under cover and was safe. That's what kind of cop he was... I know some people have issues with cops these days. But Broggy... and most of the guys in the precinct there? They're just as much heroes as anyone wearing tights and a cape."
He looked around, expecting agreement... but instead, got a lot of wary looks. He gritted his teeth, wishing he understood why so many people though cops were so corrupt or racist... or just bullies.
"So Broggy drags me into the nearest booth and drops me between two officers behind a couple crates of bottled water. By this point, the guys still at the truck are just taking random shots into the booths anywhere they see someone trying to get an eye on what's going on. The main guy is just walking down the aisle through the folding chairs like he's walking into dueling range. That's when Broggy started swearing beside me."
"And then the Chief starts trying to talk the guy down from the podium on the stage. Broggy popped up, managed to get a shot off before a huge splash of water sprayed over us, as a burst from an SMG punched into the crates from the side the truck was on. The Detective managed to get his head back down before the shooter walked the gun over to him. One of the other officers beside me lost his pistol a second later when he tried to get high enough and got hit in the arm. It didn't look too bad, but his pistol was now about ten feet over on the other side of the cover we were hiding behind."
"Finally, the guy gets to the spot he's been heading for and starts monologuing. The press are eating it up. The Chief is standing there at the podium looking defiant. Random cops are risking exposing themselves to get shots off, others are maneuvering to try to clear the pick up. Nothing is working. A couple cops are hit. So are a few of the guy's gang. There's so much noise and chaos, I had no idea what was being said.... not until later, when I managed to watch one of the video's that had a mic close enough to him. But I heard him end his speech. And Broggy inhaling... about to do something heroic, I'm sure. And I had to look... I know, stupid kid...but I had to look. People talk about seeing things like that, like they're in slow motion... and its like, adrenaline and traumatic memory mixed up to make it seem like that, supposedly... but that's how I saw that moment. In slow motion. I saw Broggy starting to stand, I saw the gunman started to squeeze the trigger."
"And then I saw blue smoke chase over my skin, and I reached out... like I was going to call back the bullet that was on its way to the Chief... and my shell, looking like a blue smoke silhoette of me, pulsed forward and settled over the Chief with just a moment to spare before catching and deflecting the two bullets that should have killed him. Of course, the Chief couldn't move... he wasn't strong enough to even move the shell like molassus. Not that it mattered. He only got those two shots before Broggy finished his movement and put a single round through the man's temple. The handgun round didn't have enough force to exit through the skull on the other side, so it just bounced around inside, creating brain puree. Of course, when you stand up to do something heroic... or stupid... you make yourself a target. Fortunately, my default instinct on casting a shell to someone else is to reform a new one on myself. Otherwise, that would have been my one and only heroic action."
"The bullet that narrowly missed Broggy and hit me knocked me head over tail, right out of the booth. But by the time Broggy was pulling me to my feet... and yes, I came close to crushing his hand accidently when he grabbed me with my shell on... everything was wrapped up. Well, everything except us trying to figure out what I had to do to release the Chief. He was a bit stuck for a while."
Jimmy grinned sheepishly at the group.
The Wee Hours
New York City
The complex magical workings that the man did usually left him exhausted, and tonight was no exception. Months of work, down the drain, and he had to start over with new workings for a new target. As a result, his magical senses - normally able to discern every detail within twenty yards of himself, were dulled. It was no surprise, therefore, that the two large men, dressed in dark-colored running suits, stepped out of the alley and confronted the man.
Startled, he began an incantation to protect himself from these worthless, insignificant thugs, but one of the two assailants feared what the man might be doing. A shot rang out as he panicked.
"What'd you do that for?" the second assailant asked. "Cops gonna be here now!"
"I ... dunno, TJ," the first one stammered. "I ... he was mutterin' somethin' - like magic or somethin' nasty."
"Man, you and your old lady watch too much of that MCO show," the second guy said to TJ. "Grab his shit and let's get out of here!"
The two men grabbed his wallet and quickly frisked him, finding nothing else of use but his cell phone. But when the two tried to take his very-expensive-looking, rune-engraved watch, they couldn't get the buckle to release.
TJ pulled out a knife, surprising his buddy, but before he could attack the strap or the man's arm, they heard the sound they knew would be coming - police sirens. "Let's get outa here!" TJ urged, turning from the body and breaking into a run. His buddy was right on his heels, and by the time the police arrived, they were long gone.