August 27, 2007, Whateley Academy
Miranda Nichole Mahren looked at the stone gargoyles with teary eyes. Her parents hadn’t even come to say goodbye, leaving her to be delivered by a lawyer on behalf of an older brother she’d never met. She never would meet him, either. Erik Andrew Mahren was dead, killed on duty some time during the previous year, here at Whateley Academy.
The Alaska State case worker wasn’t a pleasant woman, eager to get her here to this piece of nowhere, then leave her. Miranda knew the woman didn’t dislike her, but she was afraid of the telepathic ten-year-old who made cars fly occasionally.
She didn’t notice the walk across a well-manicured school ground. The lawn was maintained, the forestry deep and nearby that reminded her of home, somewhat caused her to tear up and cry a little. Her older sister, Cally, used to chase her around the woods when she was tiny, pointing out the small animals she would learn were part of the world. She missed the petite, purebred dalmatian named Daisy and her clever antics. She missed watching the dog flaunt that she thought she was smarter than all of the stupid humans.
As the path drew to a close, she noticed a red flag flying, but didn’t know what it meant. The fancy buildings and old-world architecture made Miranda aware that this was not home. She couldn’t go back, her parents wouldn’t take her back, not after she turned out a mutant. Her daddy had blamed Erik for bringing the “taint” into their home, breaking the family.
It was all to cover up what happened. She’d grown up thinking that Erik had set out to ruin her happy home. When she started manifesting, she learned just how deeply the story might be wrong.
It had begun simply, and innocently. She simply answered questions people asked, or talked to them when they spoke. It was only later that she figured out that they hadn’t said a word. It got worse, much worse from there, to the point where the only person she could find comfort in was her mother. Even then, what will this do to my family was the question on her sister, Cally’s mind.
Then the arguments started. Then the fights started. And when the weird things started happening and Cally panicked and ran, her father had removed Miranda from the home and dropped her off with Child Protective Services. Thus began the long, spiral nightmare her life had become.
“Miranda, I said are you ok?” The social worker got her attention.
She has been so caught up reliving memories and guilt she’d not realized that they had entered a building, a nice office area with a severe blonde woman who reeked of mean as the social worker dragging her along.
Even through the tears she nodded and wiped her eyes. The severe woman looked at her and pointed at the couch. “The Headmistress will be here shortly.”
“Here’s her files and admission paperwork. I was told that the will stated you to be the person who handled her entry from start to finish.” The social worker didn’t have a name to Miranda, didn’t even have much of a personality. “The funds in escrow were transferred this morning.”
Oh wonderful, another clueless bureaucratic idiot from nowhere, here to drop yet more work in my lap. The blonde gave the woman a dismissive wave. “Go, you’re done here, the longer you hang around the more in the way you are.”
The tone of the blonde’s thoughts terrified Miranda, who had never encountered someone who was so calculatingly hostile. She cringed and mentally quailed as the case worker brusquely left, relieved to be done with her charge as Amelia Hartford picked up the file jacket like it was made from pure poison, then opened it.
For a brief moment as miranda listened to the woman mouth her name in her head, she heard her family surname echo in the cold-blooded woman’s head for almost a minute before disbelief, then astonishment and more than a little sympathy began bleeding out as she turned and really looked at her.
Oh my god she looks like him. Miranda saw an image of a rather severe man in a uniform of camouflage, with a hard face and terrifying demeanor with the hat worn by the evil men who turned boot camp recruits into Marines. Miranda had no doubt that the image she saw was the face which she had never seen before, that of her dead brother. He was the man whom had set aside the money in his will to pay for his siblings to come to Whateley Academy in the event they, or their children manifested as mutants.
Miranda started to cry.
There wasn’t silence in the forge under Kirby Hall, but there was heat. The roar of elemental fire washed away sound as the Artificer, Caitlin “Eldritch” Bardue, reached the crescendo of her month-long summer ordeal. She hadn’t really noticed the time in her trance-like state, pouring enough heat and fire that even the wards keeping the building standing in the wake of her efforts were starting to flicker.
Nothing could survive in the unholy furnace where she stood naked, channeling pure, conceptual fire from the raging elemental bound to her will upon a tall crucible, superheating the minerals contained within to the point where even stone went molten. It had taken a month to prepare, and a full week of burning inferno to melt the materials to the desired consistency. The heat and flames burned around her in a wild lightshow of fury as she stepped to the crucible and began chanting, instinctively focusing her will as she began forging the first item on her list.
Working with Silver’s Mithril was easy, fast and relatively painless. Adamant required quite a lot more preparation. The obsidian was easy enough to find, and cheap to gain in bulk. The raw diamonds had been harvested from the devisor labs, from the bucket of gems made by the carbon press for laser focusing crystals.
Earth Mother had pitched a fit when she found out Caitlin’s source, and the lecture about how only diamonds mined from the earth were suitable had gone on long enough that Caitlin had actually fallen asleep. A diamond was a diamond was a diamond. Caitlin was too pragmatic to give much care to the origin of her materials. What would work, would work, despite all claims to the contrary.
She stood before the crucible and held her hand out at chest level as her will focused. Molten, crystal alloy seemed to bulge, then a long rod of material rose from the molten soup, followed by a sideways cross-handle, and another, much longer length of rod as runes matching her tattoos sliced themselves into the still-soft material. As she grasped the odd weapon’s cross-hilt, the heat failed to burn her skin.
As the rapidly cooling materiel cooled slightly it took on a glassy, opaque, black color. Even in the burning heat, the Adamant cooled once it was formed, and it would never be reshaped, in any way, ever again. The Magic Department would surely disapprove of the focusing rod Caitlin had forged: a simple, tonfa-style police nightstick with personalized runes cut in was set aside.
When she was done, the crucible was empty, and the Fire elemental dismissed to the place of its origin. On the floor lay fifty-three thin wands, and another fifty-three essence crystals. Adamant could never break, was mystically neutral, and would neither amplify, nor would it dampen magics focused through it.
But it would hold many times the essence any similar item might hold without exploding. It took over three hours for the heat in the forge to die down to a safe level where merely opening the door would not cause an explosion of hot air that would ignite anything nearby. All of the oddly-runed items were collected, and Caitlin took the simple expedient of dressing in the robe that had been left on the chair outside before collecting all of the items from the still-incendiary room.
The Adamant was cool to the touch, unaffected by the heat anymore, and Caitlin unceremoniously loaded the inert items that would have taken a mortal spellcaster upwards of a decade to produce, each, into a cart and trotted them down the hall into the room where she’d done all of the prep work a month before.
Chulkris and Grimes had been as good as their word. Not a thing had been touched, even though the area remained unlocked for her. She sat down at the bench and began melting small amounts of different magically charged materials into the runes on the crystals, the wands and the nightstick. She finished just as the first wave of eager students arrived on campus.
Once she was done with her work, Caitlin ran through the tunnels under campus to her room in Hawthorne so she could go meet the poor, unsuspecting bastard who thought he’d be able to control her range.
It was mean, it was hazing, she felt no remorse whatsoever as she put on the black denim pants, plain white shirt and sneakers. The backpack was completely optional, but made for a convenient way to tote around a few million in indestructible goodies. She hooked the nightstick to her belt after inspecting the work. Six rows of descending runes traced down the nightstick, each row, twenty runes each row. Two rows of runes were filled with Mithril, to help jolt out more power, but not to the obnoxious level of Malachim’s Feather. Two rows were filled with the odd, red, life-draining steel that she bled when cut, an experience she knew she would repeat, though not eagerly. The last was filled with the odd, crystalline focusing substance unique to Artificers that would channel the shocks.
The weapon was inspired by a former student, a Maori kid who went by the handle: Haka. He was well-known for his loud, Maori tribal dances that involved loud yelling, rage-filled faces and intimidation. Haka had caused shockwaves and earthquakes when he channeled the Haka dances that were his namesake.
It was in a language dead to time that the Nightstick had the words Foundation Breaker inscribed six times with shock runes in a language long dead and forgotten. Caitlin intended to shake the ground.
She passed by Schuster hall, and gave a sharp whistle. Elyzia grimes turned, annoyed until the Cobalt-blue-tattooed artificer pushed a rattling backpack into her hands. “What’s this Caitlin?” She was curious, and when she unzipped the bag, her eyes went wide as dinner plates and she gasped.
“That would be my tuition for the next hundred years.” Caitlin was in a good mood, so she let her voice carry her amusement. “Or it might be my thanks to the Magic Department for doing everything they could to cover my ass last year.”
“Chulkris said your idea wouldn’t work.”
“It wouldn’t. For her.” Caitlin shrugged. “To you all, what you put in is personal, has symbolic significance, it matters. To me, it’s just another cog in the machine. Where the parts came from doesn’t matter as long as they fit and work.”
“What did you fill the runes in with”
“Some with Mithril, some with that crystal shit I make, and a couple with Blood Steel.”
“Blood steel is…”
“Dangerous and useful. Those are for teachers who know what the hell they are doing.”
“How did you make these?”
“Easy, I humped a fire elemental and laid eggs.” Caitlin grinned at the disapproving glare. “I also made the focusing rod you’ve been harping on me to make.”
“When are you going to take magic seriously, Caitlin?”
“I’m supposed to take all of this finger wiggling seriously?” Caitlin grinned and passed Grimes the Nightstick. Her smug look never left even as one of the Poesies, Petuja, passed by, openly staring at the nightstick. And the backpack. “We might wanna take this off the quad.”
“I’ll go get these locked up in the vault right now.” Grimes began to hurry off.
“Hey Morticia! The nightstick is mine!” Of course Caitlin wasn’t giving that up.
“Oh, right. Sorry.” Grimes handed the stick back and rushed off to take care of the small fortune in Mystic Foci in her hands. She was clearly excited, and almost had a childlike glee.
“Did I mention I saved three sets for the Three Little Witches?” Caitlin grinned from ear to ear, waiting for the joy of that particular explosion. Too bad Elyzia Grimes was out of earshot, or would have been horrified to hear Caitlin’s plan of vengeance for almost six years of being called “Hollow Man.”
Caitlin almost skipped her way over the hills and ‘round the bend to the “Whateley back-forty” where the range bunkers were located. She had to see who the school had hired to handle the obscene task of taking over the Range 4 control area.
She was sorely disappointed. There was no one there.
Elizabeth Carson couldn’t help but shudder internally at what the six men standing in front of her represented. The woman to the side was inscrutable, and Carson didn’t know what to make of this strangeness. The sad thing was… it was her own fault.
She’d delayed far too long acquiring the two bodies needed for the Ranges and the security replacements. Chief Delarose, Gunnery Sergeant Oscar Bardue, Sergeant-Major Sean-Burlington Smythe and Rear Admiral Samantha Everhart had forced her hand. The results of their careful culling of the resumes had resulted in the particular pack of rowdies standing before her. This was her own fault precisely because Caitlin’s continued presence on campus had thrown her.
Having the former Rangemaster of Range 4, even in student form had caused her to neglect replacing key, missing personnel until the last minute. The security positions were always long to replace, as the thorough background checks required were intensive. Now she had the last six candidates standing in front of her, hoping to fill the last six positions.
Two of them, she knew. Lance Corporals Michael and Edward Samson had once graced her English classes when she was “merely” a teacher. They had gone under the monikers of “Laughingstock” and “PrankOlympics.” The two Underdogs had been notorious for their ability to get the best of children orders of magnitude more powerful. Now their MMIDs simply read “Heckel” and “Jeckel.”
The other four men she knew only by reputation, but the man with the rank of Private was her worrying concern here.
“Brigadier General Pearson, I appreciate your presence, but I fail to see why you chose to involve yourself with these six men who are studiously avoiding looking at, or speaking to you.”
The Dragonslayers, all arrayed in front of her didn’t even respond, continuing to stand in their loose formation at parade rest, hands behind their backs, paying attention only to the woman who would give the final say in this matter.
“That’s because all of them hate me.” The woman who was dressed in simple business attire stood in sharp contrast to the six sets of dress blues that were so sharp you could slash yourself open on the creases. She stepped forward and looked at the men who had left her service a bit over six years before. “I’m not going to let that change why I am here.”
Carson nodded as Pearson removed her necessary documents from her briefcase. “These are the letters of recommendation from Marine Corps Metahuman Special Operations Command for First Lieutenant Cameron Dominguez, Staff Sergeant Byron White, Staff Sergeant Martin Rockham, Sergeants Michael and Edward Samson, and Corporal Jerry Mendez. These field promotions and full supplementary pay increases will be made available, as will their reinstatement to the United States Marine Corps without prejudice upon the decision to hire any one of them.”
As one, six sets of disbelieving eyes locked onto the woman who continued speaking. “And to rectify an old wrong, please redact all negative letters in regards to Corporal Erik Mahren, and put these in his file. After the appraisal of the conduct of said individual by Rear Admiral Sam Everhart, I believe it is the least that could be done. I thought he would be a danger to the children, and then I hear he chose to throw down with Lamplighter with a few friends in response to that one injuring… Aquerna, was it?”
Carson nodded. “Thrasher, Mach-5’s son, talked Erik out of gutting the man.”
Pearson chuckled. “Did you know that that’s the second time Thrasher talked Erik out of a kill?” She pointedly ignored the six very wide eyes staring at her in disbelief.
“No, he never told me about this…” Carson said carefully.
“The Equalizer squad was on the ropes, base restriction, potential Courts-Martial, the works. Then everything, literally everything Mach-5 had stolen from the Marine Corps and Navy appeared on my parade deck with a note that simply read: ‘I’m sorry. I will never do it again. -5”
Carson gave the six men another appraising look. “Why are you telling me this?”
“As of this moment, the existence of Equalizer squad as an experiment in training baseline Marines and Soldiers is hereby declassified, with the details of some of your missions. Due to negotiations by the state department, the six of you are no longer wanted for murder in Darwin, Australia. You have been very quietly granted a full pardon due to the nature of the situation.”
The General looked at the six men standing in the empty cavern of the Range two underground firing line. “The missions not clearly declassified in the document are still clearance-only. I trust you will respect that?”
“Yes Ma’am!” The six marines snapped to attention and roared, then immediately dropped back to Parade Rest. It did not matter that they hated Pearson, they were Marines, in uniform, being addressed by a general. That was one lesson that could never be drilled out of a good Marine. Not even Prison Bitch.
The door popped open, and Pearson and Carson saw the statuesque girl with the pale skin and cobalt-blue tattoos of metal inscribed onto her skin stop cold and draw back. Her metal hair was unrestrained and she was dressed in street fighter attire with a smoky, glassy, black nightstick with different colored runes cut into it. She saw Pearson and her eyes narrowed, runes in her irises burning red, then white with hate as the young woman drew up and found a spot out of the way and looked pointedly at Carson as if to say I need to talk to you.
Carson nodded slightly. “Heckel, Jeckel, you will be Range Four and Two Primary Marksmanship Instructors. Do you accept?” At the two nods, Carson turned to the others. “Worm, Lieutenant Dom, God’s Messenger, I have three openings in First Platoon. If you accept, you’re on-duty as of now. Report to Delarose. Prison Bitch, do I even need to warn you?”
Jerry Mendez didn’t even flinch. “If I go to jail, it’s damn sure not going to be over some overstacked teenager. I ain’t gonna do shit to my kids, Carson. Especially not after I saw just how berserk Hijacker went after Lamplicker zapped the Parkour Hooligans.”
“My kids, the moment one of my marines took responsibility for their health and well-being.”
“Third Platoon. You report to Delarose, and you will give me regular updates on Third’s activities directly so I can be sure they are not stepping over the line.”
“Keep the Buddy-Fucker Brigade in line. Got it.” Bitch knew his purpose. You didn’t send a wolf to watch the sheep. You sent the wolf to keep the coyotes in line.
“The only reason you are here, Mendez, is because General Pearson assures me that your so-called shitbird act is an act. She says you’re smart enough to make yourself look dumber than you actually are.”
“Lies, all of it. I’m the very model of a modern Marine Clusterfuck.”
“Indeed. Do prove her right, that the only reason you were in the penal battalion was on a technicality. I don’t have the time or patience for slow learners on my watch. I have enough of them already.”
Bitch nodded. “Got it. Does this mean I can quit pretending to be a dumbass with the rest of these monkeys?” It was notable that six pairs of eyes, one across the room were all locked onto Bitch like they were re-evaluating him intently.
“What you do on your own time is no concern of mine. Dismissed. You have three days to familiarize yourselves with your posts.”
“Yes Ma’am.” The six of them tried to shake down the range by voice alone, then did perfect about-faces and marched out the bunker door, save one of the twins, who immediately began inspecting the firing range and its mechanisms with a gimlet eye.
Caitlin looked at Carson, absolutely thunderstruck, then simply marched over and hit the codes on the armory vault, which caused the heavy door to swing open. She punched in the master reset code, and whistled very sharply, catching the Marine’s eye. She knew Jeckel, and schooled herself to not give up everything.
When the man stepped over, she pointed. “I just triggered the master reset. You can input the new master code for Armory Two now. You will have the ability to grant or remove access at will to anyone on the Academy Grounds.”
“Why do you know the Master Codes?” She suddenly got a hint of why the kids always jumped when she had given that look. It didn’t work on her, but it was a very… distinct thing.
“Easy. I’m Range Instruction Certified. All of the people authorized by Sergeant-Major Smythe have access to armory facilities. I’ve been doing inventories over the summer with Wilson since Whateley’s where my foster father lives.”
Jeckel nodded and punched in a rapid, twenty-digit sequence that his exemplar memory would easily remember. “Very well. I’ll expect you to show me what you know. Certified or not, if you wish to retain access, you will show me that you are capable to my satisfaction, understood?”
“I would expect nothing less.”
Very quietly, the two women spoke.
“Shut it. If she catches you in her head, she will kill you, or at least she will try. Caitlin doesn’t forgive, or forget easily and I don’t want to have to cross that bridge.”
“I did them wrong. I treated them like they were shattering glass figurines when I should have been treating them like what they were.”
“Marines. When you’re in M-SOC it’s too easy to see normal, baseline Marines as children who need protecting rather than grown men and women who are trained to fight, kill and die. Every single time I sent Equalizer out on mission, they came back with body bags and haunted faces. Every single time.”
“Why did you keep sending them out rather than disbanding the squad, and re-integrating them into normal regiments?”
“Because they got the job done.” Pearson snorted. “Those seven men, past and present, excelled in taking out targets that ran my Mutants, Batsons, Mages and Dynamorphs around in circles. Their only outright failures were Killbot and Mach-5. And Mach-5 turned out to be better scared than dead.”
“What changed your mind about them?”
“When I went back and looked at the unit statistics, even in peacetime, Equalizer’s presence seems to have resulted in a full one third reduction in casualties when the Pacific battalion engaged paranormals. When they were drummed out the casualty rates shot right back up. All it took was the deaths of fifty-two baseline Marines. I hate that kind of math, and that math led to the seven of them being treated very poorly when they were pushed out.”
“Erik was a step away from homeless when we hired him. Of the lot of them, he was the worst off.”
“I know, and if I knew then what I know now, I never, ever would have let them get dumped out like they were.” She looked at Carson. “I’ll push to get your Psychiatrist, Bellows, the clearances he needs so these men, and that girl, can talk to him without violating Federal Law.”
“Carson, how is it she’s not been outed by the psychic kids? Half of them would recognize her just from the background of burning fury, much less the rather unique mindscape.”
“A few of them have. They came to me directly, and asked what they should do about her. I asked them to leave her alone. So far, they’ve kept to it, even Sebastiano.”
Pearson looked like she could spit. “Ah. That one. I heard about him from TalkingGuns’ son. Why does he keep silent?”
“Because I told him that if he made a move on her I, and every teacher and security officer on campus would simply be looking the other way, and all of the cameras would be pointed the wrong way when she tore him to pieces.” Carson sighed. “I am only now beginning to understand why she has such a destructive temper. I only wish we could have helped more.”
“Indeed. It’s about time for lunch. I need to go get a few things from my office.”
“I need to catch my flight anyway. Let her think I’m the evil bitch, Mahren always needed something to focus his undirected fury on in order to function.”
“Why was he always so angry?”
“Family. Mahren was always on the edge of fury because of his family. Past that, I won’t comment. It’s not my place to share his story.”
The bogeymen had come to Whateley Academy.
The portal opened, disgorging three girls, each with the wrong number of limbs, from it as Diamondback, Deimos and Anomaly stepped onto campus near Poe Cottage. The three girls were hauling their heavy bags as though they weighed nothing.
“That’s not Poe! That’s totally Melville’s evil twin!” Deimos’ eyes went wide as she took in the extensive renovations to the formerly small cottage.
“The school got a donation contingent on Poe and Hawthorne being renovated and expanded.” Monica grinned. “Now there’s more space for the criminally insane between these walls!”
“Hey! How many times do I have to tell ya? I’m not criminally insane! I’m festively demented!” The three girls turned as one to see Toni “Chaka” Chandler walking up to the cottage as though she owned the universe.
“No Toni, you’re insane.” Sandra grinned evilly. “While the track suit isn’t quite up to the Turner gold standard, it is approaching the Jericho Zone.”
“I am not going to start dressing like Jericho.” Toni harrumphed. “I have this thing called ‘taste’ see?” She helpfully stuck out her tongue and pointed at it.
“Totally a Jericho joke. The infection is spreading,” Anomaly deadpanned.
“Et Tu Brute?” Toni looked hurt. “I thought we poesies were supposed to back each other up!”
Anomaly leaned in and hugged her sister with her only two free arms. “Identical twins trump peer pressure.”
“Aren’t identical twins supposed to look alike? I mean I know Sandra there caught the sexy bug hard, Monica, but if you want to be like her you need to radiate the awesome that comes with… “Wait, did you say ‘identical twin? Not fraternal twin?”
Anomaly looked at Toni smugly. “Thar be a reason me sister squished Sharisha, and it not be ‘cause she be callin’ me dear sis a freak. But that be the only justifications we be givin’ to the ninja-like likes of you!”
Deimos was giggling, still not used to the idea that the Poe “pretties” were perfectly capable of handling interacting with the “freaks” of Whateley Academy. “I’m missing something, I dunno what it is, and I don’t care.”
Sandra punched Anomaly in the arm. Hard. When her PK field wasn’t up.
“Ow, Sandra why you Charlie Horse me?”
“Not on the porch. We can talk about this later.” Diamondback said primly.
Toni was giving Diamond a newly-appraising gaze and the serpentine girl grinned, blew her a kiss. She turned to Deimos and pointed, holding the mass of bags out comically. “Quickly Gir! To Castle Whitman!”
“Dibs on the tacos!”
Chaka put a hand on Deimos’ shoulder, and the GSD girl felt the sympathy radiating. “Hey, I know we weren’t tight or anything last year, but I’m sorry for what happened. I know Phobos was a good person, she was a good friend to Ayla. I’m sorry for your loss, to both of you.”
Deimos set her bags down for a second, looked right into Chaka’s eyes with her trio and stepped forward, hugging the girl tightly. “Thank you.”
Diamond and Anomaly set their bags down and joined the two, assaulting both Deimos and Chaka in the feels with intent. Had security been present, there might have been tears.
When they broke it up, Noms braced to head into Poe to hunt down her room from last year before anyone really noticed she was there. “The better to avoid getting stuck with a roommate, my dear.”
“Why did they stick noms in the lunatic house again?” Deimos gave Diamondback a skeptical gaze.
“Something tells me that Poe’s rep is a bit overstated.” Sandra gave the impressively renovated building the gimlet eye. Given that Noms had been dropped into the same cottage as Chaka and Nikki, two other defectors across the gender lines, Sandra had a feeling that she probably should have picked the “complicated” option for gender on her Whateley application.
“Either that or noms is crazier than both of us combined.”
“Hey! I’m still here!” Chaka grinned, and her amused mirth was evident. After a second, she noticed something, then put two and two together. “That’s with the hand-tats? Outcasts a gang now?”
“Yup. Our secret GSD programming is taking effect. We will switch the gadgeteering and devisors’ labs, eat all of the food in the Crystal Hall, and steal everybody’s left shoe.” Deimos grinned, remembering Razorback’s antics over the summer.
Toni grinned. “So you two headed back to Whitman? I’m sure we can find a place for you here. We’ll put you in the room next to Sharisha.”
“You want her beaten on a daily basis? Does Horton know you harbor such ill will towards your cottage-mates?” Diamond asked drily. Her brawl with Sharisha in Arena 77 had been odd. She’d constricted the girl till she was passing out, careful not to break bones when she’d been hit in the brain with a psychic hammer and passed out. Unfortunately the spasm that occurred from it meant Sharisha needed to spend a few days being tended to by Jericho, Lifeline and Prism between visits to Doyle Medical.
Chaka smiled beatifically. “I don’t want her beaten, just reminded that some people have limits to their tolerances.”
Sandra chuckled. “Alright Toni, tell you what, you convince Horton to let me in and forget I’m not crazy and we’ll see about me being evil.”
Diamond and Deimos picked up their gear and headed to Whitman, crossing the campus at a mild pace. The two girls were the least-talkative of all the Outcasts when together. Their familiarity with each others’ emotional cues served as almost as effective a method of communication overall for the two of them.
When they arrived, they were just in time to see the Murphy Bomb go off.
“What the fuck do you mean I gotta move to fuckin’ Poe?” The mangler could be heard through the walls she was that angry.
Both girls unconsciously dropped their stuff and gripped hands together, focusing to try and push back the sudden onslaught of outrage.
“No! This is bullshit! I have learning disabilities, I am not crazy! And I like rooming with Hannah! Who’s going to help her out? Pucelle?”
By silent accord, the two Outcast girls grabbed their gear and scooted up to the room they were claiming (whether anyone else liked it or not) together and scrambled up the stairs as fast as their hooves and tail could carry them.
Razorback and Jericho had arrived on the Dunwich train with a gaggle of antsy, crazy Poesies earlier that day. They had returned with their respective families to Texas and Australia. Sandra and Monica had stayed with the Richters to make sure Janine didn’t have a backslide into depression. It worked out well, because Joe’s family really couldn’t afford to pay for Sandra or Monica’s food intake, let alone both of them. However, Joe had been absolutely thunderstruck to see Johann Richter in his neighborhood, walking with a purpose to the Carter Twins’ home. Johann had asked him to not inform Sandra and Monica that he was there, so as to not get them stressed out.
Once the pair was settled and dialed into their room, they headed out on campus. The two actually jogged a patrol route around the campus, mostly to see if anything leapt out as immediately wrong. The voodoo wolves, shit like them, and the myriad murderous things contained on the Medawihla reservation had kept the Outcasts occupied for a lot of their free time the previous semester.
-I thought you’d screw off the running while you were at home.- Razorback signed at his friend.
“I would have, but the number of times I’ve been involved in a running firefight cured me of the lazy urge.” Jericho had made it through the whole circuit without winding himself, or sweating more than lightly.
-Awesome. That means we get to do a lot more shit outside this year.-
-You knew that when you and Diamond suggested joining a training team with me.-
“Speaking of which, let’s go see if his eternal assholeness is in today.”
-Sure, why not? He’s either on Range One, or in the Sim area wearing his shitty golf attire.-
“Shitty golf attire?”
-Oh you’re in for a treat.-
Gunny Bardue was neither expecting, nor welcoming of the squeeeeeee! That erupted from Jericho when his golf attire was discovered for the first time.
“I didn’t know we were related Gunny! And here I was thinking that I was the only fashionly-challenged person on campus! When will you come out of the closet and join me?” Not even Jericho could figure out later how he managed the straight face in the face of the abomination before him. The view from his shoulder camera was spectacularly bad. It was also recorded.
“Goddammit boy, I am nowhere near the level of ocular horror you present to the rest of the school!”
“Oh hell no, I will not have my clothing mocked by a refugee from a Michael Crichton novel!”
“I thought you couldn’t speak sign language.” Jericho smiled.
“I don’t have to. Wipe the smug off your face Razorback.”
The black and yellow-mottled lovechild of a Gila Monster and Velociraptor shook his head at Bardue, with a predator’s grin.
“Don’t worry, we won’t do this to you in class.” Jericho got serious. “We’re looking to register Anomaly and Deimos to our training team, and get the simulator schedule. We’re gonna take Team Tactics II this semester.”
“You realize if you do that, you need to spin them up on everything from last semester.”
-We have Caitlin, they’ll be spun up so tight that you’d think they got shoved into a Taffy Puller.-
“What did he say?”
“Caitlin’s got the spinning up under control.”
“Ok that’ll be harsh, but they’ll be able to skip Tactics I if you all make the effort to keep them caught up.” Gunny looked at Jericho. “Are you all doing better? I argued that you shouldn’t have been dropped in the class after Darwin, Jericho. You four had me incredibly worried, then Everhart filled me in that you were handling active threats to campus as security Auxiliaries, and I didn’t have a lot of choice.”
Jericho nodded. “You still rode our asses like we were foals that needed breaking.”
“Can’t play favorites. For this class to be fair, I have to follow the rules and apply them equally to everyone regardless of circumstance.”
-Aren’t you the one who said that there’s no such thing as a fair fight?- Jack signed, and this time Jericho translated verbatim.
“I didn’t say the fight needed to be fair, Jack. I said the class< has to be fair.”
The mute raptor cocked his head, quizzically, then nodded once.
“So you finally adopted Noms and Dimes formally into the Outcasts?” No one was really shocked that Bardue knew the pet nicknames for Janine and Monica they used within the group.
“Yeah we had to wait for the Stockholm Syndrome to kick in fully, otherwise they might have come to their senses.”
Bardue let out a barking laugh. “All right, Jericho, I’ll get them plugged in for Simulator orientation. How is Deimos holding up?”
“She has her moments where she’s lost and crying, but Sandra and Monica are keeping her pretty much level and sane after me’n butthead here had to go home.” Jericho forced himself to say nothing about the difference between Gunny in person and Gunny in class. The two personas were violently at odds, and it reminded Joseph Turner of the personality shift between Caitlin the friend and Eldritch the shrieking warfighter.
“You kids did right by her.” Bardue began inputting a few commands. “The Outcasts still planning to run the Zeta Active Track?”
“The what?” Jericho looked at him, confused.
“The active track that you all signed up for, boy.” Gunny snorted. “The simulator load that you all bitched so mightily that was unfair?”
“Who signed us up for that?” Joe was incredulous.
“You did.” Gunny looked at Jericho for a moment, taking in the confused and uncomprehending look. “Oh hell no,” he muttered as he went to a file cabinet and rifled through the papers. He came back and handed Joe a sheaf of papers.
“You’ve never seen this before?”
Joe ran his hand across the paper, feeling the smooth, textured surface that looked like nothing so much as a blank, gray sheet of nothing to him. “Problem, Gunny. If I’d filed this document, it would be done in Braille. I can’t see the writing on this sheet set without my shoulder-cam, and that angle really doesn’t do well for writing.”
“Motherfu…” Bardue gutted down a burst of genuine anger. “I am going to kill them. All of them.”
“Okay, what were we signed up for?”
“The Active Tracks are an unofficial hard training schedule for students who want to pursue military, superhero, syndicate careers or believe that they will be at high threat for attack in the world where they live. Superhero is the Alpha Track, Military is Omega, High Threat is Beta…”
“And someone signed us up for the Syndicate track.”
“Bookies, most likely, you kids are at the top of the Power Team Wild Cards in Vegas. With Phoenix and Grunts ahead of you in the top slots.”
-I’m going to eat them.- Razorback was growling, loudly. -They put us in the track where they thought the monsters should go, and made last year suck ass.-
“They did us a favor. Swap us to the Beta track, please, Gunny.”
Bardue cocked his head. “I thought you’d want off of it entirely after we just figured out you hadn’t volunteered.”
“Gunny if we hadn’t been active, the four of us would have died in Darwin. There’s no getting around it.” Jericho looked at him with an odd expression that wasn’t particularly emotional, but rather thoughtful. It was the first time he’d been able to speak about that hellish situation since it had happened without a violent gut reaction. “We’ll suck up the heavy training schedule if it means we’re gonna be alive at the end of the day.”
“I can respect that, son.” Gunny took the ream of paper and made a few notations. “Although, with the addition of Anomaly and Deimos, I’m probably going to have to start reinforcing other training teams when they go up against you. Statistically speaking, you lot don’t have a “heavy” as anyone else knows it. You’re all heavy hitters, including you so don’t give me that innocent look. I’ve seen footage of your Raphael Armor in live combat situations, and I expect you to bring it to Team Tactics.”
“It’s to help medical personnel, not a war suit.”
“That’s fine, but for you, it’s an asset. You use it to fight because it’s one of the best tools for keeping you alive. Don’t let your ideals handicap you here.” Gunny looked at him appraisingly. “We do have Search-and-Rescue simulations that hardly ever get used because they tend to be grueling for most people, moreso than the combat.”
“I’d like to be able to test under those conditions.”
“We shall make arrangements.”
“So why are you two here a day early?”
“Caitlin said that Carson had a project she needed our help with.”
“Ah, okay. Anomaly and Deimos are registered for Outcast Corner. Keep doing what you do Jericho.”
Anomaly was flopped out on her bed, having not unpacked her bags quite yet when there was a knock at the door. “Go away!” She put words to action by walking over and opening the door. A well-built redhead stood at the door, looking at her like she was ready to chew on someone.
“Hello, Anomaly, Ms. Horton sent me to collect you and take you to your assigned room this year.”
“She said, and ah quote, ‘Anomaly is not to hide from the rest of the cottage and only come out when the Outcasts come to get her.’ Ah’m afraid you’ve been sentenced to be social with the rest.”
“Does this mean I lose my single?”
“Fraid so. Come on, I’ll help you with the bags.”
Monica was not happy. She liked the relative privacy of her basement room, and the fact that she didn’t have to share a bathroom, or shower with people who might gawk at her six arms, or the dual-gendered anatomy between her legs. She didn’t argue, instead acquiescing and following.
The new room was bigger than the downstairs, or even the original rooms. There was more space to sprawl out, and Monica realized it was bigger than any of the rooms she had shared with Sandra before they had mutated.
“Now, we gotta get you settled, you’re over here in the boys’ wing, sorry but we ran out of space in the lesbian and changeling wing.” She gave the six-armed girl an odd look. “Which are you?”
“Bi Changeling, I guess.” Monica hadn’t really given it much thought. Most of the previous semester had been spent hanging out with friends who were desperately trying to avoid extracurricular stress, listening to music, arguing with Joe that it wasn’t right that he’d hidden that her twin was alive, and comforting him and Sandra when they had an absolute freak-out, flashing back to the abattoir that a movie night in Darwin had become.
“You guess?” The redhead smirked at her. “Have you not figured it out?”
Monica looked at her. “I’m biologically bisexual, I really haven’t had a whole lot of time to figure everything out up here.” She pointed at her head. “Wanna find out if I’m into girls?”
“Oh God.” The redhead laughed. “Ah’m taken, and Ah’m Bi too.”
“Taken where?” Monica grinned. “Take me out to the ballgame?”
“Funny, Anomaly. We’re having a cottage “get-to-know-you” session after lunch. We’d like you to come, since no one here really knows you, except to say you hang out with Jericho’s rowdies.”
“Oh if only you knew…” Having to keep a secret about Poe was fine. She’d not cooperated with Horton trying to guide her through a promise that could be sealed with a Sorcerer’s Contract. Every instinct she had shrieked at her to never, ever make any promise, ever. Hanging out with Diamond and Caitlin told her the score.
“And Horton says you have to put up with the spell.”
“No, I don’t.” Monica shook her head. “I haven’t even told my twin sister about Poe’s secret.”
“I’m just the messenger, not the one messaging.” She looked thoughtful. “I’m Lanie, by the way.”
“Monica. Gimmie a second to get my stuff packed up.” She looked over. “Who’s my roommate supposed to be?”
“She’s here.” Monica heard Horton’s voice and turned to see the woman standing with her hand on the shoulder of the most distinctive mangler on campus.
Murphy looked like she’d seen better days, eyes full of tears and looking more like a waifish exile than anything. The summer had apparently not been kind to her, with a brutal, jagged scar of white skin running down her face, through her left eye which had turned black, glassy and without discernable features to offset her normal, blue, right eye. The left eye seemed bigger, making her face look slightly lopsided. All of this was framed by her ash-blonde hair and purple-dyed forelocks.
Lanie and Murphy didn’t look at each other, each looking like she’d been punched in the gut upon seeing the other. She really didn’t look happy to be there, and Lanie didn’t look very happy to have her there.
“Murphy got attacked last year, and used in a BIT-slicing experiment. Unfortunately she’s showing enough similarity to Vamp that we’re worried that she will turn out like you and Alex, Monica.” Ms. Horton’s voice was calm, she was trying very hard to accommodate and be understanding to the very agitated and upset mangler.
Murphy gulped and went a little paler.
Anomaly would have paid money to know what the hell was going through Murphy’s head at that particular moment. She did note that Lanie’s eyes flashed wide just a bit as she realized what that could mean to her former friend. Monica didn’t need Sandra’s empathic talents to realize that there was something going on between the two, and both felt guilty, betrayed and angry at the other.
“I got her Ms. Horton.” Monica wandered forward, took Murphy’s hand and guided her in, then picked up the backpack and two seabags and hauled them in without effort.
“Thank you, Monica. Murphy, you’re not being punished, we just have to take precautions for your safety. If we get through the year and you’re not showing any signs, we can move you back to Whitman with Grabby.” Ms. Horton left it at that, which was probably good as Monica watched the volatile warper set her jaw, tightly, angrily, like she was ready to detonate like a little nightmare firecracker.
Monica guided Lanie out, gently and as Horton and her new RA left, she mercifully closed the door, then turned to her new roommate. “You going to be okay?”
“No.” Murphy tossed her bags onto the bed, then fished a sidearm out of the bags, cleared it, made sure the ammunition was separate with none in the chamber or the magazine, then snarled at the weapon. “I’m going to go drill some holes in paper, and turn this in at the Range Two armory. I’ll be back later when I calm down.”
“Okay. Don’t get into any trouble.”
“If only.” She put the shoulder holster on under her ever-present flannel, grabbed the ammo boxes and headed out.
“What happened with you two?” Monica asked when she caught up to Lanie.
“When ah got kicked out of the Lit Chix, she backed them up, and slapped the shit out of my nose for mah trouble.” Lanie looked more than a bit hurt. “Every time I’ve tried to talk to her she just walks away, or teleports.”
“Sorry to hear it.” Monica looked at her. “Give her time. She looked like she was ashamed of something she did when she looked at you. But if you were friends with Murphy, you probably know her better than I do.”
Lanie nodded. She was not optimistic, with good reason, where the volatile warper was concerned.
Monica stepped out. “Eldritch roped the Outcasts into some kinda project for Carson, so they’re all here a day early. I don’t know when we’ll be done.”
“Ah’ll tell Horton, so she knows you’ll probably miss it then.”
The Outcasts met at the Crystal Hall, then split off to go hunt their class advisors, and get into the classes they’d worked out that they wanted to take together and the ones they wanted to take separately. Jack putzed around with the listings while Louis watched the rager poke patiently.
“That’s a fairly hefty load so far, Jack. You sure you want to take two Combat classes and Team tactics again?”
Razor chirped an affirmative and continued poking. Those were the two classes he was taking with the other Outcasts, given that he was a junior. The third class was his Advanced Survival class with Mr. Anderson. The man knew what he was talking about, and Razor found it more useful than the semester of speedster combat with a buncha unruly energizers who hated him. Not that pummelling Aries wasn’t fun all on it’s own.
“Jack, no chasing Aries, please.”
Then tell him to quit fucking with the Underdogs was Jack’s unstated response while he pretended to ignore Louis’ statement entirely. He looked at the listing for art teachers and chirped at Louis, pointing at the classes and the teacher roster attached to them.
“Ah, The Imp. She’s a new teacher, but Carson says she has a great amount of experience with the art scene and does have an actual art degree.”
-Never heard of The Imp. She a superhero or something?- Jack instinctively signed even though he knew Fubar could read his thoughts just fine. One of the Critical things to GSD kids, just like handicapped kids, was being treated like a real person. Just because Louis was the psychic projection of a Cthulhoid monster didn’t mean that he didn’t appreciate being treated like he was flesh, bone, normal and in the room.
“She has a rather colorful history. But no, she’s not a hero, and she’ll most likely be a lot less put off by your appearance than most.”
-Will miracles never cease,- Jack signed as he put Imp’s class on his roster for the week. Whateley’s college-style semester and Class plan was a nightmare and a mercy all at once, but it allowed him to bleed the education system dry for his benefit.
“You’re skipping costuming class?”
-Unless you can teach me how to look like Angie Everhart or Brad Pitt and not instantly be recognizable by body type, fuck yes I’m skipping that shit. Besides, I have my costume and Mask.- Razorback hated costuming classes with a fire bordering on the holy. Diamondback had helped him decorate the idiotic “armor” he wore in the sims that was built for mobility rather than protection, and he felt her efforts were more than sufficient for his taste.
“Fair enough, Jack. You been keeping up on your sketches?”
Jack nodded and reached into the bag, removing two thick sketch sheet portfolios. They had The Garden of Good and The Garden of Evil written on them. Louis had been his counselor for the semester after Darwin and though he wasn’t nearly as bad off as the others, he did still have issues from the events.
He picked-up the Garden of Evil and began paging through it. Louis looked over his shoulder, examining the graphite, ink and paper sketches that gave an interesting look into the mind of Jack Carlyle when he was not being supervised. Louis couldn’t actually see the sketches, save through his mental connection to the artist who had drawn them.
One was a true-to-life sketch of Deimos, walking hand-in-hand with a translucent copy of herself. Another was a face study of Diamondback with tears in her eyes. Another face study of Caitlin, eyes and face in a hard grimace of her berserker fury that he only knew too well in himself. It distorted the face that could be rudely described as “merely pretty” in a way that was frankly horrifying. The sketch of Noms and Jericho yelling at each other in the tunnels, of Jericho kneeling and closing the eyes of a body next to a shattered blade-wheel. Caitlin fighting Reaper as her bullets bounced off harmlessly. Gogg and Magogg. The picture of a garden with the headstones of Erin Carlyle, Erik Mahren and Cat McQuiston, and Ryan and Matthew Carter. A picture of Adrienne “Phobos” Richter in her school uniform was the last entry, the last he’d added over the summer. The only picture he’d added over the summer.
He hadn’t added more pictures to the “book of bad” as his friends called it since just before they went to help Janine overcome her depression. The date at the bottom told Louis the story.
“I take it your friends are recovering?” Louis found Razorback to be an odd one. His perceptions of violence and PTSD were muted in the boy, like he just accepted them as part of life. What disturbed Jack was the terrors and outbursts of his friends, the disruptions of their lives, personalities and ability to cope. The Garden of Evil was the story of everything Razorback saw that made him worry for his friends.
-They are, especially since we went to help Janine. After we got done helping her, everyone seemed to be able to cope a lot better. Jericho’s starting to wear his horrible fashions for fun rather than out of habit again.-
“That’s good.” Louis felt the feeling of awareness of five other people who felt familiar to Louis’ own senses. He couldn’t push to see what that was without invading Razorback’s privacy, deeply, or invading his mind. “Anything good in the other one?”
The response to that was much more enthusiastic. Razorback was excellent at capturing speed from a first person view, and a lot of the drawings included his muzzle in the foreground running, both upright and on all fours. The first picture of the other outcasts was a full-body study of Diamondback casting a spell as arcane energy ripped across her hands as the serpentine Outcast did the magic she loved. Two pictures of a small boy perched on a self-portrait told the story of Jack’s relationship with his baby brother. There were face-studies of his parents, Jericho’s family and Jericho with that obnoxious grin the boy always carried.
The pictures in the almost-full sketch pad outnumbered the bad by a wide margin. The drawing of Diamondback and Anomaly cheek-to-cheek showed two beautiful twin girls with slitted eyes, and the only variation was the scales that crept around Diamondback’s face, parts colored for contrast. The sketch with Eldritch’s face was also partially colored, with the cobalt tattoos framing her smirking face in sharp contrast to the other expression of fury from the other pad. The picture of Deimos smiling and playing slap-hands with Noms was the second most recent. The sketch of the Outcasts playing music was easily the one Jack had put the most effort and care into.
The last picture made Louis stop cold. He never thought he’d see Fury drawn in Jack’s light and dark sketches on the good side. Fury was always in the dark side before. The monstrous rager was pictured taking a knee, four of eight fists driven into the ground, kissing a woman on her left cheek. The left head of Fury was looking at the foreground through three eyes, as though she was challenging the person viewing the picture to say a word.
Jack very carefully did not let his thoughts drift to the events that allowed that sketch, instead turning back and focusing on the class schedule. He put the art class that would teach advanced techniques for color and shading and started looking at the long-hated but needed-to-graduate math classes.
“Things have changed, I see.” Louis very carefully did not let his curiosity get the better of him as Jack very clearly changed the mental subject, but not before inadvertently showing Louis a brief image of a dusky-skinned Fury kissing her mother in the yard of a rather tasteful estate.
“Alright, you have any questions about what’s going on?” Caitlin smirked at the rather stunning redhead whom she’d been walking through Kirby Hall.
Alisaundra Hunter would eat a lot of crap for having a powerset that was a shoe-in for “School Slut.” The girl was GSD and looked like someone’s cheesecake depiction of a succubus brought into the real world. Red, curly hair fell down her body like a cloak to her hips, and she had a figure that stopped just shy of pornstar while being completely natural. Her eyes were slitted in reptilian fashion, colored green, and she had a pair of gazelle-like horns erupting from her forehead, which followed straight back along her head to end almost six inches behind her skull.
Add in the black, leathery wings that could carry her weight, the long, pointed black tail and claws and you had a succubus at Whateley. The girl would be in Hawthorne because her powers were mostly passive and always on, keyed to making literally everyone around her randy as hell. For whatever reason, it didn’t seem to work on Caitlin, for which the girl seemed blessedly thankful.
“No, I’m good, thanks for the tour. What do we have to do next?”
Ok the voice crept along Caitlin’s spine and made her want to relax and just listen. The girl was Darwin’s grab bag of Siren and mind-bending psychic-ish and biological response triggers that would get anyone with a libido nearby feeling like they were sucking on the frayed end of a power cable, hence she was going to be in Hawthorne.
“Come on Adore, last thing on the docket is to go meet the others who got roped in early.”
“Why were we called early?”
“We’ll chatter about that here in a few minutes once we get to the Jam Room.”
“Was this the place you were saying people played live music last year?”
Caitlin nodded at the girl. “And God willing, this year.”
The odd pair walked into the room, all of the eyes found them.
"So what'd I miss?" Caitlin was in a fairly cheerful mood, even though her charge seemed somewhat apprehensive. The three kids were sitting looking at Caitlin and Adore like deer in headlights.
The pale girl had red hair and was sporting six dark eyes that seemed like pools of reflected red or lavender without any features depending on the light. She had two on her temples and two on her cheekbones. She had that waifish “vampiric” look, and the docs were fairly convinced her diet would move that way. One of the boys was seemingly shifting and dissolving into shadowy mist and then phasing back to normal by parts when he wasn’t paying attention and odd mouths and eyes seemed to form in the dark parts to manifest on his skin, then vanish again. The other boy lucked out, merely being stuck with red fur and a fox tail to match the red hair and fox ears on his head. He looked more exotic than anthropomorphic, and oddly, he was the most self-conscious it seemed.
The two boys looked antsy, as though nervous about all the monsters. Probably not far off given both of them, and their six-eyed companion had started off on opposite sides of the gender line.
"Not much, we got done showing off the basics, did the tour of the Whateley 'I'm cool so it's mandatory that you see my stuff' exhibit." Jericho ticked off fingers as he talked. "We got bored waiting for you so me and Diamond both told stories about the kinda crap that happens around here at the school, all before we met you of course. You're just too normal to make good conversational material."
Razorback about barked out with laughter at that. Among the Outcasts Caitlin tended to make Jericho look sane and stable. Her and Razor both sported bright red armbands with UV stamped in black. Both of them were on the Ultraviolents list due to their... temper issues.
"Well, we were going to have Razorback tell one with his vodor when you walked in." Diamondback grinned. She and Eldritch tended to be thick as thieves whenever they got together.
-Maybe we should have introductions for our fourth lunatic.- Razorback signed, pointing at Eldritch.
Jericho grinned and pointed to the tattooed amazon, "Freshmen, meet Eldritch, Eldritch, meet freshmen. There we go. Eldritch is yet another contestant on the gender bender game. Hence why we dragged you lot in together."
"You're enjoying this far too much. So you all said Razorback was going to tell a story?" She looked very pointedly at the blind, dredlocked black boy with the fashion sense that could sink the Bismark.
Razorback put on the necklace with the vodor, and moved up to center stage while his three friends sat back and grinned.
-Eldritch can go next.- The vodor was tinny and emotionless but it got the point across when combined with body language.
"Oh hell no lizardman. I can't tell a story for shit. You all hired me for the drums, not my vocal talents."
"You know for such a big girl, you can be a real wimp sometimes," Diamondback grinned.
"Yeah yeah, laugh it up oh poisonous one. By the way the Freshmen are looking kinda like deer in headlights. What have you been telling them?"
"Mostly to avoid Nex and the Ultraviolents."
"Gee, that's helpful."
Jericho nodded sagely. "All right, once Razorback finishes we can do the support-group-chat thing. Ready Razor?"
The blind kid laughed. "Good to hear, now regale us or it's the cattle prod again."
Per usual he brought out nervous giggles in the freshmen. Razorback just sighed and shrugged, then began the windup for his story.
“Alright, you guys got food in you, crazy stories, and as you may have figured out, Cait, Razor, Diamond and Noms here are all defectors in the gender war, just like the four of you.” Jericho’s voice was easy, and he was able to keep everyone’s attention despite the two new boys’ eyes constantly wandering to Adore’s butt, face or boobs. Being fully affected by her myriad auras and voice had put the other three on red alert in a lot of ways. Fortunately, only Razor was visibly affected by her, mostly because he was antsy and constantly glancing. Anomaly had the good grace to sit down and cross her legs. Hard.
“Sorry I’m late, I got caught up with the Powers Testing nerds.” Deimos arrived, and it was her turn to get the stares from the monstrous kids arrayed around the Outcasts. “Ohh, neat. So you all give them the spiel? What is the spiel, anyway?”
“Deimos here and I are depressingly normal by comparison.”
“Only if you don’t count the wardrobe as severe GSD, which I am.” The redheaded succubus grinned.
“Why don’t you give the Freshthings a chance to actually introduce themselves to everyone and show what they can do?” Diamondback asked primly.
“What, and miss the chance to make an ass of myself?” Jericho laughed as wadded paper and a ham sandwich were thrown at him by his team.
“Come on, ignore the blind one.” Caitlin grinned. “Introduce yourselves, and don’t let His Royal Hamminess get ya spooked.
The redheaded succubus girl stood up casually, and it was pretty evident that she was going to have people fighting over her before the end of the semester due to her powerset. “I’m Adore,” she said ruefully. “My name is Alisaundra Hunter and apparently I manifested while playing host to a succubus, so now not only did my BIT imprint her, all of my powers are rigged to force people to pay attention to me.”
She wasn’t telling the whole story, and Diamondback and Deimos were having a lot of practice shielding, as the lust the girl generated in other people didn’t hold a candle to what she actually felt and fought, and the two empaths had to spend a lot of effort trying to block the little addict’s emotions, but a lot still got through.
The other girl nodded and stood up, looking horribly uncomfortable. “I’m Cheryl Blake, I haven’t picked a codename yet. I’m a shifter, but I can only do spider type stuff. I also have a hard time eating solid food and I can have a poisonous bite.” She put words to action by manifesting a black carapace that was body-hugging as her clothing vanished, then her lower body split and warped until she was a spiderlike centaur with eight legs and a black abdomen with red stripes that was almost the size of a volkswagon beetle. “I’m a Brick type.”
“Hey, look, if you’d been here last year we’d probably have recruited you for the sims,” Diamondback said.
“Are you trying to say something?” Caitlin mock-glared.
“That we have taste? Absolutely. Jericho was the one who lost his mind and let you in.”
Caitlin grinned and fistbumped Diamond.
The poor kids were confused. “Relax guys, we joke about this stuff all the time.” Jericho nodded to the girl, who settled in and dissolved the upper-body carapace, re-manifesting her blouse.
-If you’re going to be stuck with it, own it. No fear, No regrets.- The vodor hanging around Jack’s neck was a collaboration between Caitlin and Jericho over the summer. It still sounded like Stephen hawking’s robotic voice, but it didn’t make Jack want to stab everyone nearby.
“I’m Mistmonster,” the first boy said ruefully. “I can dissolve into a dark mist, shift into shadows and come back with monstery bits like claws, fangs, mouths in the wrong places and I can turn inky-black and only semi-solid. Everyone thinks I’m turning into a lovecraft monster.”
“Doubt it,” Jericho shook his head, then jerked a thumb at the raptor kid. “If you were, Razorback would be going absolutely batshit crazy around you. He instinctively hunts shit like that.”
“Oh thank God.” The boy looked absolutely relieved.
“I’m Mel… Michael King.” The boy looked horribly self-conscious. “I just have GSD and I can make people look the wrong way for a few seconds.”
“Mental note: Don’t tell the fox boy where I hide the cookies.” Anomaly smirked.
“Heh, yeah, I used it to get past my folks.”
“Welp. We were asked to come in early to meet you four because the headmistress’ staff caught the fact that you’re all gender-changes before you arrived and thought that a few people could say hello, act as guides and hopefully make you all feel like there’s people on campus you can talk to.” Caitlin stood up. “We wanted to make sure you knew you weren’t alone out there and had people you could trust.”
“How do you put up with this?” Michael asked trying to adjust his pants to be more comfortable.
“Wear looser pants and use a belt.” Caitlin’s response was fast. “Tight clothes worked well when you were expecting to grow boobs, but guys need a little extra room in the front there.”
Both of the boys grumbled a bit. “I’m going to miss my My Little Ponies shirts,” Mistmonster grouched.
“Why? Wear ‘em, and fuck anyone who says a word.” Jericho grinned. “Turn into a horrible shadow-monster covered in mouths and howl at them. ‘You got a problem with my shirt?’ Most of the bullies here expect anyone wearing shit like that to be a weak bitch.”
All four of the kids looked at Jericho’s “Hello Kitty” pink top with sudden understanding.
-Just don’t let the Dark Elf wannabe gits try and con you into being their mascot, Cheryl.-
The spider-shifting girl nodded at Razorback.
“Make friends with the Devisors, they have all of the best toys.” Deimos grinned.
“Hell, even if none of you wind up hanging out with the same friends, keep an eye out for each other.” Caitlin looked at the two boys. “Female to Male changelings tend to have it a bit worse. The girls can get away with coming off as a bit of a tomboy, but the bullies will twig to any girly shit, so make sure you have an escape route or an attack plan.”
“If you have to, find Razorback, Mule, Jimmy Trauger or any of the Capes. Bully Busters tend to have a field day with the local assholes.” Jericho said. “Failing that, find us. We always enjoy entertaining special friends.” His beatific grin was nothing short of sadistic.
The four kids smiled slightly contemplating that having the monsters under the bed on your side, for a change, or in Cheryl’s case being the monster under the bed could have its advantages. The spider girl smirked, “I’m not exactly a pushover, and I’ve dealt with bullies at home too. They used to call me a skinny faggot because my big brother let slip that I was planning on doing the TG transition when he and his buddies were sneaking beers. Then I mutated and got what I wanted anyway, plus a few eyes that I can’t make go away.”
Her lower body shrank back as she became mostly human again. “Michael, someone gives you shit, I’ll give ‘em a kiss for you.” Her grin was absolutely predatory, on the level of Razor-chasing-Aries.
Adore was looking thoughtful as she looked at each of the Outcasts in turn, smirking deeply as she looked at Jericho, and being more than a little intrigued by Anomaly. All in all, the girl’s behavior was invariably provocative. Her body language was pure enticement, and she unconsciously pushed as many buttons as most people could handle completely unintentionally. Diamond and Deimos were fully aware of the inner war the girl had been fighting with herself ever since she had seen Jericho, Michael, Mistmonster, Cheryl and Noms. She didn’t have quite as intense an attraction reaction to anyone else, though everyone was feeling it because of her, save Jericho and Eldritch.
“Alright, much as I’m loving the company and conversation, I think it’s time I scooted back to Hawthorne,” Adore stood and looked at Caitlin. “Which way?”
“That way, turn left, elevator and staircase on your right with ‘Detention Central’ marked on the door.”
“Thanks!” and mercifully, within a few minutes, the room dialled down the tension level.
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
“Okay, the girl’s cute and a sweetheart, but damn I can’t think straight around her!” Mistmonster finally let out a breath.
“That’s two of us.” Michael responded.
“Three.” Cheryl said offhand. “What? I can like both!”
“Oh God, another one.” Deimos rolled all three eyes.
Noms tried very hard to pretend to not know what Dimes was talking about.
Elyzia Grimes and Louis Gentz had their physical, and mental hands full with the little girl undergoing powers-testing at Doyle Medical. Rather typically of children who manifest their powers before puberty, Miranda was turning into a handful. The docs pegged her as an Exemplar 1, but her psychic abilities were pushing towards the envelope Louis existed in, meaning the girl was capable of insane levels of havoc.
Even better, there were two other small children being tested with her.
Miranda, for her part, didn’t understand a bit of why the lab-coated jerks were poking, prodding and making her do things. She didn’t have the knowledge base to translate the techno-jargon in their heads, and Mister Louis had told her very gently that she should not make the man who was going to stick her with the hated needles decide that he should go somewhere else for the day. Nor was it nice to crush the medicine ball launcher using the more lightweight rubber dodgeballs by psychically grabbing and throwing the balls back.
With several tons of force.
Morgan was the boy the doctors were working with, and he was a shapeshifter. He kept shifting slightly randomly, often picking up traits of people he was looking at unless he was paying attention. His Ron Weasely red hair had shifted a couple times, as had his eye color and build. Miranda could hear him in his head, trying not to cry because he was here at some bizarre school for superheroes or something, and he missed his parents. He caught the balls, after turning into some kind of sesame-street beast gone wrong and also destroyed the medicine ball launcher.
Revekah Chatterjee was more sedate, until she usurped control of the nearby equipment and had it attacking the testing staff. All in all the little girl was cooperative until the equipment started trying to hurt her. Unfortunately the Staff was at a loss as to how she was doing it, and rapidly determined that the ancient Microsoft Pad and stylus couldn’t have the juice needed to do it. The little Gadgeteer was a wiz at building things from parts she steals from appliances, and of course had to be an exemplar four, and more powerful than children twice her size, deadlifting over eight hundred pounds at her petite, four-foot size.
The children made the techs’ lives hell by silent accord, reinforced by the little terroristic telepath who silently talked to the other children while they planned their next escapades while Louis and Elyzia desperately tried to do damage control.
It became rapidly evident that Miranda Mahren was about as tractable and cooperative with doctors as her older brother had been.
It was dinnertime when three very smug children and one exasperated teacher left Doyle Medical. The three of them were led to Hawthorne’s common room, and they collected Ember, another child too young to be in Junior high, much less High School, and let the little ones shock the Poesies and Thornies who’d either arrived a day early, or never left with just how much food Ember and “Shifty” as Morgan called himself could pack away in their tiny frames.
Grimes looked at the four children and sighed. “Alright, I’m going to get my food in the Teacher’s Lounge. Do you three think you can behave until your RA comes to pick you up?”
All four of the kids looked at her solemnly and nodded. “Alright, Caitlin is…”
“The blue-tattooed girl with the metal hair.” Miranda said alongside Grimes, wishing she could turn off the “hearing people’s thoughts” thing.
Grimes sighed. “Please send her to me when she arrives, I need to talk to her before I turn you loose on her.” She shored up her shields so the precocious little psychic couldn’t read her and figure out Caitlin. That trauma was inevitable, but the young woman and little girl deserved to hash it out between them.
Ember was admittedly confused when the other three children fist-bumped. “Did I miss something?”
“Morgan made a doctor cry,” Revekah beamed at the boy.
“I kept making the blood samples turn into bugs that broke out of the vials and crawling away.” Morgan looked pleased with himself. “They had to chase them down and get them into containers so they wouldn’t lose the samples.”
Ember’s eyes went wide. “That’s KEWL!”
Miranda was looking around, trying to filter out all of the background noise of the students who were already in the Crystal Hall. It was too noisy to pick out any one person, like being trapped in a tight crowd of conversations. The most common thing everyone had was they were in Poe or Hawthorne. She could just hear the other three children’s thoughts as a whisper against the roar.
“So, I’m Morgan Harper. I’m called Shifty.” He looked at the others. “I can turn into things, and I’m in Fourth Grade this year.”
“I’m Revekah Chatterjee, My dad calls me Pahelee, which means Puzzle. I build stuff, and I use my special smartphone to control machines!” She was proud of her tricks, and held up her ancient Microsoft ThinkPad like a Trophy. No one at the table knew that it wasn’t actually one of the new smartphones that were coming out.
“I’m Angelina Cromwell, My codename is Ember. I control and make fire.” She made a face. “I can’t practice my powers except when they take me to Range Four.”
Miranda looked at the others and sighed. “I’m Miranda Mahren. I hear peoples’ thoughts. My brother used to work here.”
She was abruptly assaulted by a vision of a boy holding a baby, looking down at the little girl’s face. “Hey there, little bit, How you doing?” The eyes looked up and Miranda recognized her mother.
Caitlin’s tray hit the ground with a clatter, and she stared at Miranda.
Somewhere, in Schuster Hall, Elizabeth Carson was filled with a dread sensation of foreboding.
“Caitlin popped a gasket.” Deimos looked over at Diamondback, who was unpacking her bags in their shared room..
“Yup, I felt it.”
“Should we help?”
“No, Caitlin can handle herself. If she starts feeling distressed…”
Both of the girls stopped abruptly at the sudden, sharp change in Caitlin’s mood, going from outrage to panic… Then bolted out the door.
My sister’s in Whateley and none of you buttholes could be arsed to tell me? Caitlin’s thoughts were loud enough to carry from the teacher’s lounge to the shellshocked Miranda. It was like home again, well almost. No one was blaming her for the pain in the family’s lives this time. She couldn’t quite make out the responses to the rabid girl’s rant at Ms. Grimes, mostly because the amazonian girl wasn’t actually listening to them.
Tell you what, Grimes, next time you wanna spring a surprise on me, send me a goddamn email! Or better yet, make sure there aren’t three manglers within thirty feet!” Miranda didn’t know whether to be horrified, or cheer. She did look around and immediately identify Murphy, who had a creepy black eye, Jinx and Risk all sitting nearby from the rather loud thoughts of her… sister? Brother? She was so confused!
Miranda’s head started pounding, and she pushed the tray out of the way to put her head down. Suddenly the whole world seemed to freeze, and the headache stopped. Shifty, Ember and puzzle seemed to be looking at her, worriedly. Then she looked down and realized her head was still on the table.
“Relax, Miranda. I thought you could use a bit of a break from the headache.” Louis Gentz came over to sit next to her. “You ok?”
“I thought my brother died!” She felt rather betrayed by the whole thing, like it was set up to hurt another person.
“He did, in a way.” Louis gave her an odd look.
“Why didn’t he ever come home?”
“I couldn’t answer that, Miranda. I knew Erik, and I know Caitlin now. Some things are the same, some aren’t. I know she cared about you, and I know she didn’t think she would be allowed to see you even if she did come home.”
“It’s not fair.” She thought about her Dad’s anti-mutant rants, and his bitter anger at his oldest son for associating with them.
“No, no it’s not.” Louis put a hand on her quietly. “Erik would have been the first person to tell you that life isn’t fair.”
“Why did he turn into a girl?”
“Same reason you can read minds and can’t stop.” Louis sighed. “A bad luck draw is pretty much the long and short of why.”
“Bad luck draw?”
“Card reference.” he looked over at the teacher’s lounge. “Basically it means that Erik had a bad hand, a bad life, and as the final punch in the gut he got turned into a girl by his own powers that he didn’t know he had.”
“So he’s stuck?” Miranda looked over. “Morgan says sometimes he gets stuck, and can’t change back.”
“Yeah, kinda like that. Only I don’t think she can learn how to fix it.”
“What is she like?”
“Would you want me to just tell you? Or would you rather find out for yourself?”
Miranda gave a worried look. “What if she doesn’t like me?”
Louis ruffled her hair. “I doubt liking you is going to be a huge worry. Right now I’m shielding you from everyone, but it looks like you passed out to everyone else, so we should probably let you wake up so your friends don’t worry.”
Someone was shaking her, voice frantic. “Miranda, you ok?”
She came to immediately, wincing at the psychic crush on her senses. The girl with the blue tattoos shone forth in her mind like a beacon of worry, and she could feel dozens of worried eyes watching her from around the Crystal Hall, half of them worried about something called “burnout.”
“I’m ok, Mister Louis was helping keep my head from hurting.”
“Oh thank God, you had me worried.” She felt herself picked up and cradled, like the baby in the first flash of memory as the girl carried her like she weighed nothing. “You kids done eating?”
The three worried children nodded and stood up, forgetting to pick up their trays and leaving them on the table, beginning a pattern that would annoy the Crystal Hall staff for the next nine years of their natural-born lives.
“Let’s get back to Hawthorne. Hey Murph, you up to watching these three?”
“Yep. How long you need?”
“I’ll let ya know.”
Miranda’s eyes went wide as she saw a girl who looked like she was half-snake, and a three-eyed, four-armed, demonic girl with black hair and two tails almost crashed into the Crystal Hall, responding to Caitlin’s earlier distress. Miranda realized that the pair’s first response to the scene was relief that her big “sister” was okay.
As the three girls and one passenger trudged towards Hawthorne, Miranda could tell that the two monster girls weren’t going to eat her, they weren’t hungry, for one, and the two of them were more relieved that no one had been hurt. More worryingly, they were relieved that the odd young woman with the blue tattoos hadn’t popped a gasket and ripped someone in half. She stayed quiet while the disbelieving Caitlin carried her.
“What happened Caitlin?”
“I found out I have a baby sister at Whateley.” Caitlin looked at Miranda, then gently set her down on her feet.
Miranda caught the disbelieving stares and realized that she wasn’t “hearing” things. There were, in fact, two separate sets of thoughts coming from the snake-girl’s head. She was seeing two different sets of viewpoints too. One was everything that she could see. The other was… other. There was no reference the girl had to describe it, except maybe the movie Mirrormask.
The four-armed girl with two lashing tails and three eyes was weird mentally, like she was connected to the other two, the epicenter of something. She thought Miranda was a cutie. She, and the snake girl were feeling all of the emotions of her, and Caitlin, and the kids who walked past.
The kids walking by gave the three outcast girls a wide berth for the most part, images of a shrieking, three-eyed whirling harridan lashing out at the world with all eight of her limbs in a hellish, kaleidoscopic, demon-dance of blazing red energy ripping from claws and tail-tips rode at the forefront of their thoughts. Others saw a massive, two-headed monstrosity that tore reality apart like toilet paper when they saw her.
None of the monster mash images matched up with what Miranda’s saw in the monstrous girl’s head. The only emotionally explosive person Miranda could find was her sister, the girl with the red UV band on her arm.
It was almost terrifying how normal the two monster-girls really were in their heads. A bit sad, but… normal. All three missed a twin of the four-armed girl, one with red hair. She had died, and now somehow they had bound themselves by some kind of magic as sisters.
“Does this mean they’re my sisters too?” Miranda asked quietly as the four of them walked back to the Thornie cottage.
How the hell did she know about that? Shot through the two minds walking by Cait.
“My sister here’s a psychic, and she can’t figure out how to lock everyone out.” Caitlin answered the unasked question.
“Oh.” Deimos looked at the girl quietly, considering. “I wouldn’t mind if you wanted to be my sister. You’re kinda adorable.” She was and wasn’t pandering to the little girl. The offer was genuine, but she didn’t expect acceptance towards a monster.
Miranda decided that the monster bit was bullshit and looked Deimos dead in the eyes. “I can hear you, you’re not a monster.” She stuck her tongue out at the startled Deimos.
Deimos just blinked, shook her head and blinked again. “Did I just get told off by a rugrat for being hard on myself?”
Diamondback chuckled. “I see brazen runs in the family.”
“I can neither confirm, nor deny that even the women in my family have balls of solid rock.” Caitlin grinned.
When they reached Hawthorne Caitlin looked at the other two. “Love you both, but I think I need to talk to Miranda alone. We have a lot of catching up to do.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll fill your baby sis in on all of the best gossip and embarrassing moments properly once you two have had a chance to re-acquaint.” Diamondback grinned.
“Gee, thanks.” Caitlin gave Sandra the finger.
“Love ya sis.” Deimos grinned as the two headed back towards the Crystal Hall.
“You took that incredibly well.” Caitlin looked at Miranda, not bothering to talk to the girl like she was anything less than a little adult.
Miranda saw exactly what Cait was referring to. “They look like monsters, but they think like normal girls.” She considered the distinctly boyish thoughts slipping out side-by-side with the distinctly female in Diamond’s head. “Mostly like normal girls,” she amended.
Caitlin smiled. “I think you’re going to do just fine here at Whateley, Squeaker.”
Miranda rolled her eyes as the memory of a happy infant squeaking as she was tickled came, trying very hard not to smile.
Caitlin led the pair to her room in the renovated halls. The room was big, and had it’s own bathroom. It was also filled with very little. Various odd mystic bits and bobs were scattered around the room, and it was cluttered, the bed mussed, and at least half-a-dozen firearms in varying stages of disassembly completed the spartan picture.
“Turned into a girl, huh? Doesn’t really look like it to me,” the little girl said slyly.
“Oh good God, not you too.” Caitlin gave an exasperated sigh. “I’ve known you for what, twenty minutes and you’re already starting in.”
“Blame Mom, I get it from her.” Miranda’s smug grin slipped and died as she realized her sister’s face was amused, concealing the pure, searing hurt that slashed through the tattooed young woman, an image of a speechless Mom holding a baby at a loss and unable to find words while her son and husband roared at each other. Erik finally breaking down and going from quiet, reserved and hollow to pure, blind fury over a girl.
“I’m sorry,” Miranda squeaked.
Caitlin snapped out of it, and gave a wan smile. “Not your fault. You were way too young to even know what happened.”
“Why didn’t you come home?” Miranda looked at Caitlin. “Mom missed you. Cally missed you too.”
“Sometimes you say things to someone you love that you can’t un-say.” Caitlin admitted ruefully. “As far as I could tell I wasn’t wanted, so I joined the Marines. I stopped trying to call mom after a year.”
“Dad told us it was all your fault.”
“He would.” Caitlin sighed. “Part of it was my fault, but I didn’t know how to cope, or really much of anything. Hell I didn’t think life could get any worse.”
“He took me to the social workers and dropped me off.” Miranda was just about in tears. “He didn’t tell us you’d died, he just took me to the state office and dropped me off and told them you were dead and that you left money to send me to a boarding school, and that him and mom couldn’t raise me because I was a mutant.”
Miranda’s eyes went from upset to terrified as she realized just how much fury this stranger sister had in her as Caitlin’s emotions lost containment entirely for a brief surge of pure, incoherent wrath. Her eyes had runes that burned white-hot as the woman stood, shaking, trying to jam the genie back in the bottle before she went berserk. Images flashed through her mind of all of the things that had gone wrong because of her father in Caitlin’s life, and the pure, blinding wrath that her sister felt towards the man who would simply dump off her sister into an uncaring world that didn’t care if she was a child.
Miranda sat, startled, scared and found herself watching her sister frantically jam the fire back into the bottle where she kept it and the little girl frantically grabbed the bottle with her mind and pushed.
As fast as the eruption had happened, it was over, even though the bottle was still bleeding around the edges. Caitlin’s hands were trembling, her whole body tensed and the girl knew for a brief instant, just what it had been like to be Erik on the cursed day his father had found out he’d been dating a mutant. She also felt Louis beside her, watching Caitlin as much as he was silently admonishing her for hijacking Caitlin’s emotions.
I’m sorry, I was scared. Miranda was almost frantic.
Calm down, you’re not in any danger, Miranda. She’s beyond livid, but she’s not going to abandon you. Louis’s words were calming even as he sheltered Miranda from the backblast of weapons-grade emotion coming off of Caitlin.
Why is she so hurt?
I think I’m finally figuring that out, kid.
Will she be okay?
Yes, good thinking helping her push that back down. I don’t officially approve, but you kept her from going rager. That’s never a bad thing.
It wasn’t just Dad. Someone else hurt her.
Louis sighed mentally. Lots of someones. I don’t ever think Caitlin’s told anyone even a tiny fraction of what’s happened to her.
Miranda took a risk, despite the alarm in Louis’ mind, stepping gingerly towards the amazonian girl and wrapping her arms around her hips, hugging her from the side. She felt her sister set a hand on her shoulder, look down, let out a shuddering cry and suddenly Miranda was held off the ground as tightly as her sister dared, holding the little girl like she was a lost lifeline to a past she didn’t hate.
Louis looked at Carson, who was staring out the window at Hawthorne. “I thought we were going to lose her. You said something about Jack?”
“I would like it off the record, please, Liz.”
The headmistress turned, looked at Louis. “Jam out anyone trying to read us Louis.”
“Already have, Liz. No one needs to know that Caitlin has a baby sister here.” He looked at her. “Fury’s still alive. She didn’t die with Phobos, apparently, or Deimos figured out how to manifest her over the summer. Before you ask, yes, Phobos is still gone. The Outcasts’ list of miracles doesn’t appear to have anything messianic on it so far.”
Elizabeth Carson turned from the window and sighed. “Are you sure that this wasn’t merely wishful thinking on Razorback’s part, Louis?”
“A memory, Razorback saw Fury kneeling down to kiss Evadne Richter.” To punctuate the mental image he gave to Carson, a pair of spectral voices whispered out Kommen sie hier, Mutti, We will not harm you.
“Oh my god. She’s not crazed.” Liz looked over at Hawthorne. “Far less likely to be a danger to the school now than before. Why didn’t you tell me, Caitlin?” She didn’t expect an answer from the absent berserker girl.
“Hiding an advantage?”
“No, just the opposite.” Louis looked at Carson. “Think of Caitlin’s reaction if someone were to tell her that her sister was an asset, and should be used as a wildcard to be pulled out whenever she needs to wreck people mentally? If she were treated as another power to be employed as a tactical asset?”
“Caitlin would probably leave them in pieces all over the landscape.”
“They bound themselves to each other somehow. I’ve done a little light touching, and all of them have basically decided that no one needs to know. It’s like they think of Fury as her own discrete person.”
“What if she is? There’s seven Outcasts Louis, one of whom can’t be seen. Caitlin told me point-blank that she was none of my business.”
“Then she’s going to need a place they can let her learn how to control her powers and herself. Even though we know they don’t want it, they still need help.”
“Yes, I know. Tonight I want the testing range where Mahren exploded and Eldritch was born swept for active sensors and telemetry, wards, psychic links and any other data-gathering devices. We’ll give Fury a place to practice, and discover herself away from prying eyes.”
“She’s going to set off the Class-X sensors at HPARC. Reality Warpers always set those off.”
“That’s because most reality warpers don’t originate on this plane. I’ll deal with HPARC, Louis. You make the arrangements so I can walk the Outcasts to the location.”
“You got it Liz. You want Doyle’s sensors to stay live?”
“Yes I do.” Carson considered. “Louis, keep an ear out in case anyone else ferrets this out and tell me. The Outcasts can close ranks like champions but they’re terrible at keeping secrets like this.”