Reinforce: Don't Call Me a Pretty
A Second Generation Whateley Academy Story
Reinforce: Don’t Call Me a Pretty
By Joe Gunnarson
September 15th, 2016, Schuster Hall
Adam sighed as he came to Whateley’s admin office. He remembered it being a lot bigger, before. Several days late because the MCO decided to detain him for God only knew what reason until his sponsor followed the lowjack beacon his uncle had embedded in his shoulder. She’d brought a lawyer, and came within an asshair of calling for the DPA to have everyone involved in his incarceration arrested. She had pressed charges against the MCO agent who had chosen to throw him in lockup on some trumped up bullshit.
The DPA agents had been rather humorless, as apparently there was ample cause for her to cite retaliation against her and her siblings as the reason for the arrest. The scene had been rather solidly heartwarming. Unfortunately, she had been on her way out to go help someone “Remember why Whateley neutrality was important.” Given the look in her eye, he didn’t really want to know, but it had involved two of her sisters teaching the lesson with her.
After several days in an MCO lockup his temper was already flaring brightly. He could only thank whatever Gods were out there that he’d not been blessed with a Rager’s fury. Here alone, all of the cliques were probably already forming, so he’d just have to crash a few gates until he found the proverbial comfortable couch to occupy.
The office of the Dean of Students was still open and in the same place as he’d remembered. It would speed up the process as he dropped the two bags of clothing, a guitar amp and the electrical lead he carried with him. The wiry, bald, black man behind the desk gave him an appraising glance, and found him wanting.
“Hello. I’m here to check in for school.”
“Care to explain why you’re here four days after classes started?” the man said deceptively mildly.
“The MCO decided that my accent, passport, MID and identity were fake, and arrested me for trying to enter the country illegally.” Adam gave the man a flat look. After days of dealing with MCO shitasses, arguing with some jagoff admin assistant was about as interesting as pleasuring himself with a wire grinder.
The man simply raised an unfriendly eyebrow and held his hand out.
“They took my admin packet and shredded it.”
“Oh for f…” the man started typing, looked, looked at him, then frowned.
The man entered the codename without question and looked. “Says here you were enrolled by ‘Sidewinder Holding,’ what’s that?”
“My sponsor’s company... she formed it for helping mutants build their own companies and getting a start without some pissbag suppressing their innovations. Some of the guys who worked on the VIs used her corp to get their start until they could stand on their own.”
The man simply went through the documentation. “For once, you’ve been thoroughly covered in enrollment. Your powers testing appointment was yesterday, and it’ll have to be rescheduled soon. Why do you have an MMID? Your family isn’t military.”
“My brother worked with the Army to keep the things that sometimes come crawling out of the sticks from getting to more populated areas. They did it as a favor to him.” Adam watched the man, whose desk name placard read: B. White. The irony almost made him laugh, but he knew well enough that some people liked to leave landmines for the stupid to comment upon.
“What kind of Power set do you have, so I can assign you a student advisor?”
The man looked at him, and as he perused the files, he tilted his head, then let the evil fade from his posture. “Ahhhh, I remember that one. Legacy, you’ll be in Twain. Give this sheet to Mr. Filbert, and he’ll get you set up.”
“You’re welcome. Now git. I have work to do.”
Adam didn’t bother arguing as he collected the student ID and other paperwork that had been waiting for him. He took a sharp turn and walked right over to the Crystal Hall, and walked right into the line, beholding all of the myriad students he would be attending classes with as he arrived right at lunchtime. Twain Hall could wait until after he had his first real meal in too many days.
He hunted for the spot on the lower deck that was familiar. His brother and his friends had sat at a table under one of the high platforms, not necessarily out of the way. It took him a few minutes until he found the spot. No one was eating there, and he grinned. His aunts had etched the table with specific runes that would repel certain personality types.
The table was unoccupied, the myriad drawings, sketches and graffiti still marred its surface. He’d been attuned to it almost seven years before, when his brother had started his senior year. The table looked like it was cleaned regularly, but the attitude it took to deny people their spaces was the hallmark of his family. The people who’d sat here had a thin tolerance for self-pity, bigotry and self-aggrandizing arrogance.
Adam sat at the table and began to eat. He dropped his Stalker VI on the table. It had been a gift from the uncle who Lojacked him, a prototype amalgam of VI and AI protocols, the thing would only have the behavioral interlocks cut loose when it detected an imminent threat on the net, such as a PALM AI. Adam was one of the two people under the age of 18 testing the program. Stalkers were intended to be intelligent, reactive, and more “real.” They were also largely untested, and until the field testing for personality meltdown were completed, the Stalkers would all retain personality interlocks. Sidewinder wanted to make sure that it was not necessary to burn the whole AI creche and start over, so twenty units were being tested under real-world conditions.
The PA chirped and a tune began playing, the first song he’d learned to play, even though it was not simple. A gorgeous voice belted out the tune, backed by a growling male backup as the metal and thunder played out while the young man tore his tray to shreds. The PA didn’t need to be asked, it knew it’s human’s habitual desires, and simply dealt with them. It had not passed the threshold into full sentience, yet, though it was being actively monitored for deviance.
Adam watched the Crystal Hall kids go back and forth while he ate, taking in the sights. There was an amazing mix of the beautiful, normal and monstrous. He saw kids who would fit right in with his family alongside the more attractive exemplars. He didn’t bother comparing himself to the exemplars. He knew he was at least decent-looking, rugged in a way that only came from playing hard and not letting oneself vegetate in front of an Xbox.
A few of the GSD kids walked like they owned it, more walked like they were ashamed of themselves. There were cute ones in the mix despite odd GSD and MATD, not that he was particularly picky about looks. The exemplar guys caught his eye as fast as the girl with the satyress’ legs and golden fur or the Japanese girl with the most amazing star-corona eyes he’d seen in a very long time. Adam liked to think of himself as “equal opportunity,” and it appeared that there was a lot of opportunity to be had.
When he finished, he dumped his tray and grabbed his gear, slinging his guitar, and carrying his bags and amps past the myriad students who barely noticed him, so very intent on their own business. It was like a normal school in that regard.
“Active scanning detected,” the AI hissed out. “Multiple vectors, Two full AI detected. Locking down personal files.”
“Just keep ‘em outta the personal shit, Spike. Don’t let ‘em copy or wipe my music files.”
“Four VI ejected, one of the AI sent home to it’s mama, the other one’s more insistent.”
“Then tell it to mind it’s own merry fuckin’ business, mate, you’re off-limits too.”
The AIPA band warmed to the touch as the mechanism overclocked itself to give the intruder a rough time. The AI was normally very laid back, but was absolutely humorless when it came to Adam’s privacy. Nobody needed to get a crack at his family photos, or his video feeds, browsing habits or anything else. Nor did they need to get any ammunition on his Aunts and Uncle.
Twain Hall looked completely different from how he remembered. For one, it was smaller, though to a small child, everything looks huge. He remembered the cottage being much bigger, and not as cleaned up as Poe, Melville and Hawthorne had been. It appeared that there was plenty going on, and boys moved in and out, some jostling past him in a rush. He didn’t care.
He went inside, getting a few odd and suspicious looks. He followed a sign around the corner to the House Parent’s room, and knocked politely, waited and knocked again, then just returned to the common-room and parked his gear and settled in to relax. He popped his neck and began tuning his guitar while the boys in Twain looked curiously, or glared at the swarthy-skinned boy with the reddish hair that seemed to not even notice the GSD kids in the room.
“You in the wrong cottage, friend?” There was nothing friendly about the voice attached to the raven-winged boy glaring at him. In fact, Adam was definitely reminded of pictures of ravens and crows when he looked at the older boy. With feathers mixed into his black hair and a pair of black wings rising from his back, the guy looked like he might actually try to peck his eyes out. The talon-like claws on the hands and feet completed the image, though the school uniform’s long sleeves covered up whether his arms had the scaly bird-foot texture to them.
“Twain Hall, right?” Adam looked up briefly as he tightened the string he was working on, slightly. He’d seen worse at family reunions, never mind his brother.
“That’s right, this is Twain.”
“Then nah, I’m in the right place, just gotta wait for Mr. Filbert to pop up to get my room assignment.”
“You going to look at me when I talk to you?” The guy was fishing, and Adam closed his eyes and took a long breath, and opened them up. He knew the tone, he knew the song, and he was almost spoiling for a fight after being stuck in a jail cell for several days.
The beleaguered, finally fed, tired boy set his guitar aside and stood up, looking the older, GSD boy in the eyes. “Do we have a problem, mate? Because I believe I was sitting here, tuning my guitar, not bothering anyone and you come at me like I owe you money. So, have I somehow pissed in your Cheerios without knowing it or are you just looking to pick a fight?”
The boy was obviously not accustomed to new people not being uneasy around him. “We don’t need another gawking pretty causing trouble. Why are you here?”
“Pretty?” Adam gave him a disgusted look. “Fucker my brother makes you look like a Damn Ken Doll, Come back and call me Pretty when you ain’t got a human-looking bone left in your body.” He gave the older boy a sneer. “And come up with a better insult. You sound like what my brother said Faction Three whines up and down about. I demand a better class of adversary.”
“Don’t talk smack about Faction Three, pretty.” He knocked Adam back into his seat, hard. “You and this brother of yours don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, or what dealing with pretties like you is like.”
“That so?” Adam got right back up and grinned. “Ever met my big brother? He looks a bit like this.”
Zephyr watched wide-eyed for a moment as the “pretty” rapidly grew scales, claws, a tail, spines and a lot of bulk. When the two seconds was over, the six-six, hunched over, black-on-yellow-mottled, spined velociraptor from Hell shrieked full-on in his face, causing him to fall back, which is when the monster dropped to all fours, growling like a predator, and began stalking him. He’d been expecting some cocky exemplar or PK brick, not a shapeshifter.
People in the Common Room ducked and jumped out of the way as Adam lunged, snapping at the suddenly-cautious Zephyr as the spitting-image of Adam’s brother took a snap at him, deliberately missing and screaming ferally as it chased him around the couches, jumping over furniture and pursuing him, following with an ululating hunting call that hadn’t been heard in Twain Hall for over six years as Adam Carlyle re-introduced Twain Hall to Razorback.
“Fuck, not good.” Zephyr muttered. He shifted to a completely defensive posture, ducking out of the way of the mottled, dinosaurian boy’s snapping jaws. He knew of that Raptor, and his five buddies, one of whom was still on-campus. He’d pissed her off something fierce last year. If this kid was capable of even half the violence that the “Detention King” of Twain had been capable of, he was in for the fight of his life.
Adam timed his snaps and strikes to miss… closely. He wasn’t nearly as fast as Jack, but he could give a few people a run for their money. Watching the winged prick panic and scatter the room amused him darkly. Would he get in trouble? Probably. Would the prick remember that shoving him was a bad idea? Probably! That was, of course, if he didn’t get his ass kicked by the guy in the process. Either way, he wouldn’t be seen as a pushover.
The House Father heard the ululating howl and he didn’t even think, reacting on well-honed instinct born of a troubled boy who’d come into his care in the Fall of 2005. He dropped down the stairs hard, to see the massive bulk of Razorback chasing Zephyr, one of the RAs, around the Common room as the other kids scattered. Zephyr was being pushed a bit too far, and slammed a fist into the side of the raptor’s head as the house father envisioned carnage in his cottage, again.
Rather than the clawed, whirlwind of death anyone might have expected, the broken bones popped back into place and the entire body of scales hardened into quarter-inch-thick, exoskeletal plates. Adam rammed the Raven-boy into a wall and pulled his claws in, slugging the boy in the gut twice, then kicking him in the knee.
“That will be enough!” Filbert roared, and the Armored Raptor flicked an eye up at him, and backed up as the moderately spooked, and angry RA clenched his fists.
-Eat shit, you prick.- Adam signed at Zephyr.
“Razorback that will be enough in my cottage!” Filbert thought Razor was a better man than to fight a kid who’d never be able to stand up to him.
The raptor looked up at him. -I’m not Razor, I’m Reinforce. Why’s this prick pushing me around when I’m not bothering anyone and trying to tune my guitar?-
“I fucked up and tried to call him out for being in the wrong cottage, sir,” the RA ground out. “I wasn’t expecting it to escalate like that.”
Filbert noted the odd look from the counterfeit Razorback that matched his older brother’s shocked “you just grew a trout from your forehead” expressions when the RA copped to starting the altercation.
“Anything anyone would like to add?”
A rather still Japanese kid stood slowly, from where he had frozen to avoid drawing attention, and pointed at Zephyr. “That one shoved, call that one pretty. He was only tuning instrument.”
“Right, pretties stick together,” Zephyr snarked, more out of habit than any real bitterness. He knew better than to just assume, and he’d slipped again. If he’d asked the kid his name before assuming, he might have gotten the warning that he was dealing with Jack Carlyle’s baby brother. Apparently fearless belligerance ran in the family.
Adam turned his head and snorted, signing at Filbert. -If this is what Twain’s turned into, I’d rather go to Melville or Emerson. Last time I was here, I was welcome.-
The older man looked at Adam curiously. “Can you change back?”
-No. I’m stuck like this for at least an hour, not that it bugs me, Me’n my brother go hunting like this back home all the time.-
“Zephyr, get back to your wing.”
“Son, this young man you tried pushing around for being a pretty is the little brother of one of my Legacy students.” He gave Zephyr a long look. “Looking normal isn’t a sin, boy, you get to working on keeping your cool with the non-GSD students are we clear?”
“Yes Sir,” the RA ground out and headed to the stairs.
“And you, young mister Carlyle, why are you trying to set a fight record for fastest detention in Twain History?”
-My brother taught me that if you hit me, I hit you back. I kept the claws and teeth off him, just wanted to get across that I’m not getting shoved around. I don’t hold to the Faction Three ‘Hate the pretties’ philosophy.-
“Faction Three has changed some since Jack came here, but I remember he didn’t hold to that either. I’m not going to have another rager under my roof, am I?” Filbert was concerned.
-No, Sir, I am not a rager, nor am I remotely as destructive as my brother on a tear.-
“That is a relief. Why are you so late?”
-The Mutant Detaining Gestapo decided all my Identification was counterfeit and arrested me. My family came to collect me with Lawyers, DPA and criminal charges. I’ve been in an MCO lockup for the last several days, so my temper’s a bit more frayed than I thought.-
“Am I to understand that you’re comfortable around ragers?” When the Raptor nodded, Filbert smiled tightly. “Are you willing to room with one? I have a young man who could use a stabilizing influence.”
-Ragers are just people. Don’t pull the trigger, and you’re good to go.-
“Kenshin, would you show our friend here to Red’s room? I left off on something I need to wrap it up and I’ll be right there to set-up the locks” He looked at Adam, quietly. “Do me a favor and never do that hunting howl in the cottage again. That was a signal that I was going to have to send at least one student to the infirmary.”
Adam nodded. -I’ll try to remember.-
“Un, Filbert-Sama,” the Japanese boy nodded and waited as Adam collected his gear, following. When they got to the indicated room, Filbert came up moments later and unlocked Adam’s access, letting him toss his gear in then going off to sort out his bitter RA.
Adam chirped at Kenshin, who simply looked down the hallway. “Perhaps I should discuss politeness with Zephyr…”
Adam shook his head, and jerked a thumb at himself, then slammed a fist into his palm, grinding it. Kenshin got the message. The Shifter kid was fully willing and able to fight his own battles.
"Still, rude behavior needs adjustment." Kenshin paused for a second. "Entertaining, your attempt was."
Adam’s head snapped forward, offset, jaws snapping shut hard enough to displace air, three-times faster than he’d gone after Zephyr, aimed away from Kenshin but so the other boy could see that Adam had been playing it easy. Adam didn’t want someone else fighting a battle for him, it just wasn’t worth the nasty taste biting people left in his mouth.
"Mmm... wished to warn him first, no? Good strategy." Kenshin cocked his head oddly. "Afraid that his blood will need to flow before he learns, that I am." He shook his head sorrowfully. "Perhaps..."
Adam motioned Kenshin into the room where he dug into his bags and pulled out a pen and a piece of paper, writing not worth the time. He’s pissed off that he turned into a monster and can’t go out in public. He’d take an ass-beating as proof that the pretties will always treat GSD kids badly.
"... Monster?" Adam saw the thoughts flash through the other kid's eyes, and then a sigh. "Ah, perhaps he not go to Japan, then, many disagreements happen." Pausing, he nodded once and slowly piecing the sentence out... "Once a human... always a human... or human as you act human?"
My brother has lived looking like I do right now for twelve years. He’s not ashamed. He’s not a monster, and he saved more lives than most heroes. Mine was one of them. Human is not how you look, it’s how you act. No Fear, No Regrets. Adam jotted down the notes as he began putting his stuff along the empty side of the room.
Kenshin smiled slightly. "Denying self... unwise. Surrendering to... falsehoods... unwise. Surrendering to past... unwise." Kenshin's eyes grew cool. "Stand tall."
I like you. Right attitude. But wing-thing? No point wasting time trying to teach a blind man to see. Not worth having to clean the mess up. He wrote the response, then began checking the guitar, using his claws like picks to continue tuning.
"Mayhaps." Kenshin paused, eying the guitar. "Musician?" Pausing for a second, carefully pronouncing the word: "R-ocker?"
The massive raptor took the amp, plugged it in and began playing the opening notes to Five-Finger Death Punch’s “Battleborn.”
"I .. have not heard this song before." Kenshin mused. "Mistake, it feels to me, not to have."
It sounds better with a band and a good singer. You should hear my Aunt Sandra belt out the songs, she was amazing when she was able to do it.
"I should, that I should." Kenshin paused, and sighed. "Talent, lies elsewhere, poet I try. Hikaru-sama, on the other hand, pianist and musician she is." Kenshin shrugged. "Though music she plays, not suited."
Adam set the guitar aside and began putting up a poster, a group picture taken in front of Hawthorne, Six unusual figures, all with their own GSD or fashion issues. Adam pointed at the small boy riding on the back of the spined velociraptor, then pointed at himself. He wrote out on the piece of paper: My aunts, Diamondback, Anomaly, Deimos and Eldritch, My brother Razorback and Uncle Jericho.
Kenshin nodded, and pondered for a moment. "Ah… Familiar, they seem. At least the Naga-sama seems familiar"
They were hard to miss. None of them were the type to hide who they were. I don’t want to be the guy who fails to live up to that. Stand tall, and meet life head-on.
“Who are you and why are you in my room?” The growled voice was almost at odds with the kid’s elfish appearance, or it would be if the boy’s hands weren’t clawed, and his teeth were sharpened like a shark’s fangs. The red hair completed the “Evil elf” look. He looked over at his side of the room, cataloguing the clutter, to make sure nothing was moved, as Adam rolled over and sat up on the bed.
“Hi, I’m Adam, apparently I’m your dedicated freeloader this year.” He jerked a thumb towards the common-room. “Mister Filbert thought you could stand to have a roommate that doesn’t freak out about ragers and has some experience not triggering them.”
The cannibal-elf, as Adam dubbed him in his head, cocked his head, not quite seeming to get the “freeloader” crack. He finally slowly looked his new roommate up and down, suspiciously. “How do you know about ragers, and what to do?”
Adam turned and pointed at the group poster above his bed, pointing at Caitlin, Deimos and Razorback “These three are ragers, my brother Razorback is a Class Three Rager, and the kid on his back is me, about what, nine years ago? Once you figure out what the Rager’s triggers are, all you have to do is not pull them.”
The suspicious boy eyed him like he didn’t quite get the freeloader crack, then moved closer, noting the team poster. “Okay, my stuff, don’t touch it. This side’s mine.”
“Fair enough. You don’t touch my shit, I leave yours alone unless it’s to put it back on your desk.”
The boy gave him a suspicious look, then gave a curt nod. “I’m Nat. Everyone calls me Red.”
“Adam. Codename’s Reinforce. Just do me a favor and let me know if I drive you nuts or something, so I can at least try to stop ‘til I get a feel for your boundaries. Love my brother, but even he had a few ‘do not touch’ buttons to be wary of besides getting cracked a good one.”
“Why’d you agree to room with me?”
“Jericho agreed to room with my brother, despite knowing that he was a squishy rooming with a berserker. That helped my brother a lot, apparently. Sometimes people need a reminder that Ragers are still people, not nightmares looking for a place to happen.” Adam shrugged.
Nat looked at him for a long moment, analyzing the words before nodding and simply moving to his desk to get working on his homework.
“Back in a bit, Nat. Gotta go do a bit of a walkabout, see what’s changed since I was here last.”
“See you later.”
Adam slipped out quietly, looking back at the agitated boy’s posture, and the slight tremble in his muscles. He’d seen that on Jack more than once, and knew full-well that it was time to let the inner berserker bleed itself off. He shut the door and sighed. “Damn mate, I hope you can find a way to get your calm.”
He turned right into the raven-winged boy, and just let his face go blank. “Can I help you?”
“You’re rooming with Red, why?”
“Filbert asked me if I was comfortable rooming with a rager. I said yes.” He cocked his head, studying the taller boy for a reaction. “Ragers don’t bother me. Three of the people I call family are ragers of one stripe or another. Five of them had massive GSD either internal or external, and I’m not joking when I say most of the GSD I’ve seen here so far doesn’t hold a candle.” He looked past Zephyr with a bemused look, “Except for that guy, he’d fit right in.”
Zephyr looked back and saw Bacon strutting down the hallway towards his room. The porcine warthog-like kid was rocking out to the tunes played into his earbuds, his shirt read “EAT ME! I taste like Bacon!” The intimidating tusks and piglike snout would be enough to make most people have a panic attack.
The RA snerked and looked back at Adam. “Sorry for starting in on you. I wasn’t expecting anyone to be as not-reactive as you have been.”
“What’s to react to? People are people, and that doesn’t change because they grew wings.” Adam looked very pointedly at Zephyr.
Zephyr bobbed his head almost as though he was nodding, though it was more birdlike in execution while chewing the inside of his lip. “We’ll talk later. I’m the RA for this wing. Do right by Red, been trying to keep an eye out for him.”
“If he lets me, so will I.”
Zephyr nodded and, not being one for small-talk and not wanting to feel like he needed another helping of crow for his performance, headed back to his room.
Adam didn’t give it much thought, but headed down to the tunnel entrances, hunting for the junctures leading to Hawthorne. He’d been down in the tunnels a few times, but they looked completely different than what he remembered, and he wasn’t blessed with an exemplar’s memory.
It took him the better part of an hour to sort out where everything was, but once he did, he found the metal double-door that had been claimed by a pack of rowdies a decade prior as a safe place to hang out, play music, make fun of the world and enjoy the company of friends, both GSD and not. The layer of dust coating the lock told the tale, though it wasn’t as thick as it could have been.
Adam pressed his hand to the mechanism and old DNA readers hummed to life, and he spoke quietly. “Abandon shame, all ye who enter here.”
The maglocks released, and Adam pushed open the heavy doors, flicking on the lights to reveal the massive room that had come to be known as The Outcast’s Corner. A double-bass drumset stood on a makeshift stage, covered with plastic next to a similarly protected bass and lead guitar, with amps, as well as a mic setup leading to more amps. The confined area would have lended itself to loud music and thunderous percussion.
He wandered through, remembering sitting on the back of his brother while the speedster ripped off riff after riff with Jericho on the side, while Caitlin provided the thunder to accompany Diamondback’s voice in a concert just for Adam while Noms and Deimos danced with the crowd of GSD kids, normal kids, exemplars and Thornies while they had a party that little Adam had been convinced was just for him.
He smiled, sliding his hands over the drums, walking through the area, noting the Barney plushie stapled to a dartboard with a couple throwing knives. There was a stuffed Razorback and Diamondback, the silly toys sitting on a shelf nearby, while the unused kitchen counter had grown dusty through neglect. A sock puppet hung, from a noose overhead, that looked like a lamb, a sign hung that said “we found the end” to punctuate the deranged humor of his extended, adopted family.
“How you doing, Spike?”
“Just fine,” the nascent AIPA responded. “You were supposed to be meeting with your class advisor in two minutes.”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“You weren’t doing anything stupid.”
“Gee, thanks. Someone missed the class about being an assistant.”
“No I didn’t, I just calculated the odds of you listening.”
“Ouch, you wound me, mate.”
“I’m not mating with you, pinkie biped.”
Adam stopped, and looked at his AI band, then shook his head and headed out, locking down the Outcast’s Corner, and turning off the lights. Calling people “Stupid, pinkie bipeds” was something Jack was known for.
“So, how is it you decided to be ten minutes late?” The woman in front of him was a bit of a shock, as most teachers didn’t kick their feet up on the desks, munching on a candy bar while speaking to a student, or have horns, black scales and a tail. Her irreverent demeanor offset her very real irritation at having been kept waiting, bored.
“Acclimating to my new roommate, then got lost in the tunnels.”
She looked at him skeptically, then opened a folder. “Well then, I suppose not everyone can be blessed with a sense of direction.”
“Or a reputation for being as much of a troublemaker as my Uncle Jericho.” Adam grinned, recognizing Razor’s “Coolest Teacher EVER!” from her appearance.
“I resemble that remark.” The Fabulous Imp grinned. Not even teaching dread high schoolers could quell her immature exuberance, fully. “But I will admit he was a rather entertaining one. So, Mister Carlyle, it says here you’re to be enrolled in basic shifting, powers theory, yadda yadda.”
She looked at the file, hamming it up. “So, you are recommended to take Basic Martial Arts or Survival. Do you have a preference?”
“Are Ito and Tolman still running the show?” Adam asked curiously.
“Tolman is still running Basic Martial Arts, yes.”
“I’ll take that one.”
“And you have History and math, while Powers theory and Powers lab fill your science requirement…”
“I was told that Shifter biology and Shifter lab would be important.” He thought for a moment. “Combat Movement and… Swimming,” he said finally. It had taken years to get him near the water after he had almost been killed by a saltwater croc as a small child. Razorback had scattered pieces of the animal across an acre of land, much to the horror of his parents.
“Why those two?”
“Let’s just say my family’s fight-prone, and I’ve got a bit of a knack for getting into it. The second because I need to…” He hated saying it, screwing his face up. “I need to get used to the idea that water isn’t going to kill me.”
“Is hygeine really that odious?” she asked with a grin. “There are some amazing alternatives if you had scales.”
Adam laughed despite himself. “Got jumped by a saltwater croc that had crawled into a swimming pool. If Razorback, my brother, hadn’t been there when I just dove in without looking…”
“Ewww.” Imp made a face. “And what did we learn from the experience?”
“Depth charges should go in the water before you do.”
“Excellent reasoning. I think I can sign off on that. Just remember, they frown upon throwing grenades into the pools while other students are in there.” Imp was smirking, enjoying the byplay with a student who had a decent sense of humor.
“How about MCO pikers?”
“No bag limit, last I checked.”
Adam grinned. It was too bad that he wasn’t really decent at drawing like his brother was. Imp’s class might be fun. “So, any words of wisdom?”
“Always pack a spare set of pants and underwear. You never know when you’re going to need them.”
The two spent some time working out a plan for his education at Whateley, cooking up a more reasonable first term plan, leaving him enough time to have a social life at the end of the day.
“Hey Goatse, whatcha doing?” Dawn-Renae bit her tongue and continued clopping along on her hooves while SlickWilly harassed her. “Heard Satyrs like to have a bit of fun, you know what I mean?”
“Go away, Willy,” she hated it when he called her goatse of all things, or tried to publically hit on her while people smirked. It wasn’t so much that she felt creeped out by his attention, he was just a dumbass. But every time he called her Goatse she needed brain-bleach.
“Aww, come on, freaky chicks need lovin’ too. I have this nice pad down in the tunnels, all quiet, no interruptions.” He gave her a leer.
She just rolled her eyes and sighed. She didn’t have to hit him, she just had to walk by any of the other Whitman girls who hated him, and the problem would solve itself.
“Hi Aunt Bardue.” A voice with an Aussie accent piped up right behind him, and while SlickWilly frantically looked for the Evil Tattooed One, she saw a swarthy boy with reddish-blonde hair come up behind SlickWilly, and give him what looked to be a painful wedgie before shoving him away.
“Get lost, jerk.” The boy shoved Willy off to try and prise the skivvies deeply wedged up his ass and get up at the same time. “Don’t talk to women like that.” she heard him mutter, causing her to smile.
Willy, for his part, was just a jackass that thought he was a ladies’ man, not a fighter, so he scooted before he started one.
“Sorry you had to deal with dumbass like that. Never really got the people who have to do stupid shit like that.” Adam shook his head.
Dawn-Renae smiled and looked over. The boy was kind of handsome, in that rough, farmboy kinda way. He looked completely normal, and looked at her eyes. “SlickWilly’s just a local perv. Kinda gross, and feels the need to share.”
Adam smiled at the cheery girl, noting that her golden hair matched the satyr-like fur on her hoof-tipped legs, and that her eyes were a rather sparkling amber color. The horns were more cute than off-putting, even though they were big enough to use as weapons. The thing that set her up was she was smiling, didn’t seem self-conscious. Her face was beautiful and she had an amazing figure when you ignored the GSD, or didn’t ignore it.
“Yeah well, Just cause you’re a perv doesn’t mean you need to share. Is it always like that ‘round here?” He looked back towards Willy’s departing form. “You in Whitman I take it?”
“Well I could be in Melville…” she smirked.
“Melvillains? Say it ain’t so.” he mock-groused.
“Did someone say… Melvillain?” A vaguely Japanese boy with skin covered with white scales stepped out, causing the golden-haired Satyress to giggle. His accent was American though.
“Hi White Snake. You still enjoying your Potter obsession?” the girl asked lightly.
Adam had to admit, the impression was amazing as the boy held out a wand lightly. “I am not White...Snake. I am Lord Voldemort, your new… master.”
Adam smirked, and let his hair turn black and his hand become scarred as he looked “Voldemort” dead in the eye. “My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk.”
“...SWEET!” the boy grinned after a few moments. “Where’d you find this one Toison? He has a sense of humor.”
“Well he shoved a perv-boy into the mud and seems to be following me home. I was debating keeping him.”
“I think I could live with that.” Adam grinned. “But you’ll at least have to buy me dinner.”
The girl facepalmed and groaned.
“Don’t get too mad, you trotted right into that one,” the scaled boy quipped.
“Are all boys pervs, secretly?” She looked at scalypants. “And trotted? Trotted?”
“There’s no secret to it,” Adam grinned. “I’m told we grow out of it sometime after the twelfth day of Nevervember.”
White Snake grinned. “Hey Dawn, you should know better than to horn in on a good wizarding battle.”
“Oh mate that was terrible.” Adam rolled his eyes.
“I thought it was an amazing pun.”
“No I’m with Dresden here,” Toison laughed.
“That’s a relief, if you were over there, we’d have to yell.” The white-scaled boy smirked smugly.
“Okay, mad science moment. I want to clone both of you and turn you loose upon the world.” Adam grinned.
Dawn smiled at him, and Adam fought down a truly dopey grin, but he liked that smile.
“I’m James,” the scaled boy held out a hand.
“Adam, and I guess I met Dawn here.” he took the boy’s hand and shook it.
“Where they got you bunking?”
“Twain.” Adam grinned. “So you from Melville? My brother told me that place was the birthplace of all that is evil.”
“It still is, except when it isn’t,” Dawn grinned.
James rolled his eyes. “Let one rotten ass in and they spoil it for the rest of us,” he sighed. “I suppose I shall have to live with the shame of an in-house masseuse, hot RAs and bunnygirls. I just don’t know how I can handle it.”
“So who’s the rotter this year?” Adam grinned.
“I’m pretty sure it’s that guy we stuck in a wall with the Cask of Amontillado.”
White Snake got a pair of blank looks in response. “Oh come on, that’s a psychological horror classic!”
The three of them were walking again, joking around until they reached Whitman Hall. Dawn gave Adam a hug, unexpectedly, and he froze up just a bit, and gave the hug back. “Thanks for walking with me, it was nice to meet you!”
She skipped into the cottage, and Adam turned away in the direction of Twain.
“My that’s a rather big, dopey grin you have there, oh Outback Avenger.”
“What dopey grin? She’s bloody cute!”
The GSD boy smirked at him. “I think you’re gonna do just fine. Gonna try to ask her out?”
“Maybe once I get to know her.”
“Oh, trust me, Toison is a sweetheart. If you wait too long, I will.”
“No, I know who my parents were. They were together in the same terrarium and shared a heat rock.”
“Ah, arranged marriage. Terrible burden I hear.” Adam grinned.
“It’s horrible. They keep telling me I should go out and find myself a nice little Anaconda and settle down.”
“Heh. You’re all right, mate. Gotta git, see you later?”
Adam was tuning his guitar when Red came back into the room after dinner. Adam hadn’t been able to catch White Snake or Toison in the Crystal Hall, but he had time. Either one of them were friendly, fun to be around and attractive to boot, the GSD adding a bit of spice to the cookie-cutter of classic attitudes towards looks.
Adam nodded to Red, then began actually practicing with the old Fender his brother had given him when he was ten, after Adam had spent four summers insisting that his big brother teach him to play. Even to this day, in the eyes of Adam Carlyle, Razorback could almost do no wrong. It had taken nothing more than his dinosaur big brother’s approval or disappointment to keep Adam on good behavior.
Red caught it when Adam manifested claws on his right hand. He backed away cautiously, “I’m not trying to be threatening, why you blading up?”
Adam looked up at the rager. “Oh, sorry, habit I picked up when I started shifting. Claws make the best guitar picks.” He put words to action and began playing a few ladders to make sure that the guitar was properly tuned. It always irritated him that he could never get the same, perfect, sound out of the guitars that Razor could, but he didn’t have his brother’s insane hearing, either.
“Huh. I never thought of that.” Red looked over curiously. “You been doing that long?”
“Bout a year. My parents were going to ship me off to Whateley for Junior High, but Razor and one of his adopted sisters volunteered to tutor me, and see how bad off I was. They basically bounced me around between home, the States and Europe to get me a head-start for my first year here. They also filled me in on all of the rotten shit they’ve ever seen their shifter friends do.”
“I meant the guitar.”
“Sorry, misunderstood.” Adam nodded. “Been doing this every summer since my brother came to Whateley back in 2005. I wanted him to teach me guitar, and he was the only teacher I’d sit still for long enough to learn.”
“You’re awfully fixated on your brother.”
“Yeah, probably, but he was my hero growing up. Saved my life twice, saved my mum. The Outcasts there, minus the two late arrivals kept me and my mum alive while Doctor Reaper was trying to murder everyone in Darwin. Add to that, he tried to be the most amazing brother he could to make up for the fact that sometimes he just wasn’t safe to be near.”
Red cocked his head, then nodded once. “I hate this.” He looked ready to snarl and rip the world up. “This just keeps messing with my head… I just want to fight and tear my way through everything, and fuck the consequences. It’s not me, and sometimes I just lose my shit and I always remember everything.”
Adam winced. “Fuck mate, I’m sorry. I know that being able to see it after is hell, even though you can’t control it. My aunt Deimos, the one with three eyes that looks like a Hindu Demon? Same thing. No blackout.”
Red nodded. “I could hurt you badly. It’s not safe being in here with me.”
“Life isn’t safe, not for any mutant, not anymore.” Adam looked at him. “I may not be nearly as powerful as the old Outcast Corner kids, but I’m no piker. I’m a lot harder to hurt when I get going. You flip your lid, I’ll do my best to lock you down.”
“Don’t touch me when I’m having nightmares. Shaking me awake… not safe.”
Adam instantly re-assessed, and nodded. “I think I understand. Can’t promise I do, completely, but I think I can avoid shaking you awake.”
September 16th, Twain Cottage
Adam awoke early to panicked growling. It took him a moment to realize that he wasn’t in his room at home, and that it wasn’t Razorback snarling in his sleep in the next room. He looked over and saw his roommate thrashing in his sleep. The cannibal-elf was twitching, had thrashed his covers off, and his hands were twitching like he was clawing something.
He rolled out of bed, and walked over, stepping to the foot of Red’s bed and gently, but firmly pressed two fingers to the boy’s foot. “Nat, you’re having a nightmare. Wake up,” he said quietly, but firmly.
Nat’s eyes snapped open, and his breathing became less ragged. When he realized where he was, he looked around. “How did you do that?”
Adam looked at him quietly. “Simple, don’t be afraid, don’t be aggressive. Don’t use any behavior that trips a rager’s feral triggers. I used to do that when my brother started fighting nothing in his sleep.”
Adam nodded, then pressed the two fingers to his foot, creating just enough pressure that he could feel it, and repeated the calm, quiet and firm words.
“It can’t be that simple.”
“It can. I’ve learned a lot from a number of interesting people. If you let me, I’ll help you out, show you what little I know, not much, really, but I know a few tricks.”
“I’ll take what I can get. Welp, I’m up. Not getting back to sleep. Might as well get ready for class.”
“Same. I’m gonna hit the showers, then I gotta get to classes and figure out how much catch-up shit I gotta do.”
The early morning swim class was well in session, and the instructor was moving the kids through swimming laps. One of the girls had froglike hands and legs, shooting through the water like she was a bloody fish, faster than anyone else. Adam was the only one not in the water, staring at the pool with a wide-eyed, freaked-out look in his eyes. Wasn’t even the deep end, but the relaxed and not-so-relaxed bodies in the pool did nothing to curb the freezing fear that came whenever he hit the edge of the water.
Everyone had been in for a full five minutes when the man walking the students through the class walked up. “You ok, kid?”
Adam shook his head quietly. There was no impossibly huge Saltwater croc swimming in the water, the pool was clear, but that didn’t stop him from seeing the thing in his head, imagining it rushing at him intending to tear him apart before Death slammed down upon it. He didn’t have Jack here to save him if something went wrong.
“Scared of the water?” the question was quiet.
Adam took a slow breath and nodded. “Croc tried to eat me in a pool when I was little. Trying to get over it.”
“Just take it slow then, ease in and take your time. Relax, you’re not going to get hurt here.”
Adam nodded, belatedly realizing his body was responding to the stress by packing on muscle, hardening bones, and getting ready to fight. Adaptive shifting wasn’t all it was cracked out to be. He’d sink like a stone in the deep end like this, and he couldn’t just shift back right away. He needed another angle.
It took a few minutes, but as he first put his foot in the water, he tried to imagine that it was just a really big bathtub. Another step and he dropped in to his knees, then up to his waist. He stood in the water, shaking, just focusing on breathing.
“Whatsamatter, boy, scared of the water? I’ll help!” The girl’s voice was sadistic, and he didn’t have the awareness to react and keep her from picking him up and throwing him into the deep end of the pool while the teacher roared at her.
Adam hit the water and sank like a stone. He didn’t know how to swim, he didn’t know how to move, and thanks to his shifting power’s reaction to a panic attack, he hit the bottom of the fifteen-foot-deep pool freaking out, thrashing and unaware of which way was up.” He didn’t realize that he was lashing out at the several students who’d dove in to drag his butt out of the water. They realized he was dangerous as his limbs warped and reshaped themselves as he tried to fend off the assailant his nightmares created for him.
Massive bone-blades, spines and claws erupted from the boy in his mad rush to escape, and failing. He couldn’t hear that the students above were telling the teacher that he was a shifter, and he was in a panic. All they could do was wait ‘til he started drowning or risk getting ripped open. All of this lasted for about a minute until, lungs burning in agony, Adam gasped, and tried to gulp in air that wasn’t there.
His whole body seized as water filled his lungs, and he felt his throat constrict as he tried to expel the fluid, and then felt the water rushing out his side and back, along his ribs as his body force-grew gills to help flush his lungs and allow him to breathe. He tried to move, and only twitched as too many things responded. He was pretty sure his body was no longer recognizable as human, and tried to reduce himself backwards to something more reasonable. No luck.
He couldn’t shift back, and as he realized he couldn’t really see, feeling vibrations in the water, he began to shift gears, trying to remember something close enough to human to function that could still breathe underwater. His brain wasn’t wired to have this many limbs, and when he tried to move one, his whole body thrashed like a centipede having a seizure.
His flesh and bones rippled, then changed, bones and meat absorbing back into the skin, limbs retracting and vanishing as two normal, human hands made themselves known, along with the twenty-five foot tail that was something of a cross between an anaconda and an eel as he focused on his aunt’s form in the water. As she sorted herself out, she began trying to move like she’d seen Diamondback in a pool, slithering in the water, impossibly fast, and she could see in the water clearly, as though she were wearing goggles.
As the rather thunderstruck class watched the shifter change into an odd mermaid and make her way to the edge of the pool, dragging herself out, water vomited from the slits of the gills in her sides and back as she pulled herself out of the water. She was groggy, she was shaking, she didn’t give a fuck that she was naked from the waist up and covered only by scales below.
She was cognizant of the smug, smirking girl looking at her without a hint of apology in her eyes. “Sorry,” she said flippantly, “how was I supposed to know you can’t swim?”
Adam snapped, and swelled enough to be nine-foot tall, along with a longer tail, snapped her hand forward, grabbed the girl by the neck, lifted and slammed her down into the three-foot, shallow end of the pool hard enough that the smug bitch bounced and almost cracked the concrete base of the pool, stunning her.
As everyone watched in stunned silence, the Bizarre Naga ducked into the boys’ locker room, squeezed her bulk through the door, and promptly locked herself in the large-body GSD shower with her clothing, refusing to come out for anything or anyone until she was able to shift back, get dressed and leave.
After Adam got himself sorted, he headed out. It was too early to hit the Crystal Hall by a few minutes, but he was patient. He debated about whether to hit Whitman or Melville to see if either Toison or White Snake were up and getting ready for breakfast. It was the memory of Dawn’s warm smile that made the choice.
After the incident and panic in the pool, he desperately needed to see a smiling, friendly face. He didn’t want to talk about the pool, didn’t want to talk about crocs, and didn’t want to talk about spending over an hour as a massive, redheaded Naga-Eel shaking in the shower until her power “unclenched.”
He wound up waiting a while, and dealing with several girls looking in askance of his standing around in the cold (to him) air, waiting. There were quite a few interesting faces coming out of Whitman Hall, or “Freak House Femme” as his aunts had once joked long ago. There were also too many hoodies pulled over faces, shoulders bowed, and depressed, fear-of-going-out-in-public looks.
“So whyyyyy, are you lurking around my cottage like a stalker?” a female voice purred behind him.
Adam turned and saw a rather feline girl with an exuberant “Answer correctly or suffer my wrath” look in her eyes and a deceptive grin, and something held behind her back.
Adam stopped himself from rolling his eyes. “Waiting to see if Dawn wants to hang out for breakfast.”
“Dawn as in…”
“Toison, you know, beautiful girl, golden blonde, amazing eyes and smile, horns, Satyr legs?”
“Whyyy?” she eyeballed him suspiciously.
Adam did facepalm this time. “Oh for fuck’s sake I’m not going round and round on this bit again. I already had Zephyr try to push me because he thought I was gonna fuck with the GSD kids.”
“You the kid Zephyr got in a fight with in Twain?”
“To be fair, I’d just gotten extracted from an MCO lockup and got here a four days late for classes, so I was in a pisser of a mood to begin with.”
“I just want to be sure you’re not messing with my girls.”
“Spike just send her the Outcast pic with me on Razor’s back.”
The feline girl got a ping from her VI, and looked at the hard-light screen. “Oh wow. That’s… Is that here at Hawthorne? Is that Miss Bardue?”
“Yes, and yes. I’m the little twerp riding a-raptor-back. GSD doesn’t fuss me, hasn’t since I got my very own Dinosaur as a big brother when they fished him back out of the Outback.”
“Telekat be nice, he’s cool!” Dawn’s voice sang out behind him, and Telekat saw the slight reddening of the boy and the dopey smile he tried to suppress.
“Awww, and I was looking forward to zapping him with a shock-prod!” She grinned and Adam saw her fold up a wand-like device that probably wasn’t fun to be poked with.
“I’d love to be a test dummy, but I’m afraid I have this amazing thing we like to call common sense. I’m sure there are plenty of volunteers to be had.” The catgirl just grinned as he turned to Dawn, “Hello lovely, dropped by to see if you were interested in hanging out for breakfast.”
Dawn blushed slightly at the “lovely” comment, smiled and said “Sure,” hugging him again in greeting. She was dressed in the school uniform, and the skirt looked adorable coming off her odd, golden-furred goat-legs. She hadn’t bothered to try and hide them, or wear special shoes to make them look like feet as he’d seen a few GSDs in Australia do to fit in better.
Okay, she was a hugger, he could live with this. “Good to see you again.” He held out a hand, indicating the Crystal Hall, “Shall we?”
She smiled and nodded, and Adam wondered what it was about this girl that made him want to be near her so much, even as her smile lit up the morning light.
Dawn, for her part, had a bit of bounce to her step, and was rather happily walking alongside the odd, quiet boy who shot the occasional glance at her face and eyes, rather than staring at her tits and making lewd comments about satyrs and sex. She’d never been called anything like lovely by any of the boys who weren’t GSD since she changed, and it made her feel good about herself, and not even the clipping noises her hooves made on the pavement could detract from it for her.
“So how is it living in Twain so far?” She asked with a grin. “I heard the boys can be a bit rowdy there.”
“Rowdy’s not the word. Got into it with one of them because he was being pre-emptively overprotective of the GSD guys without even asking who I was.”
“And who are you?” she grinned at him.
“Just another troublemaker,” he grinned back. “I keep trying and trying to be a bastion of light and pure intent, but I keep slipping off the edge, something about not taking life seriously enough.”
“I think you’re taking it as seriously as life deserves then.”
Adam chuckled. “You know, I keep trying to tell people that, but they won’t listen.” Adam was as unfond of school uniforms as anyone, but he’d make an exception for his conversation partner.
“So you’re from, Australia?”
He nodded. “And the rumors are true, if it isn’t cattle or a ‘roo, it’s trying to kill you.” He paused a second, “actually I’m not so sure about the Kangas and cattle.”
She nodded. “I’m from Canada, myself, so not local. Nothing there trying to kill me except the occasional moose and the cold.”
“Well at least you’re used to worse, how the hell do people walk around in T-shirts when it’s this chilly out?”
“Masochism,” she grinned. “And it’s warm for where I live, so it’s kinda nice.”
“Half-tempted to grow fur and stay that way till summertime.” he chuckled.
“You’re lucky.” She smirked. You have any idea how many kids on campus would love to get that power?”
“Probably quite a few. I haven’t experimented too much, except when I had to go through Powers Testing.” He shrugged. “I can mimic people, movie monsters, some kinds of fantasy and scifi critters, but I can’t do normal animals, and my size limit’s right around three and a half tons, plus some change.”
“Could you turn into someone that looked like me?”
“Probably pretty easy, like I said, people aren’t a problem. Might get a few details wrong. And like I said, can’t do animals. Tried doing a horse, croc, wolf, none of it worked. Natural animals seem off the table.”
Dawn suppressed a squee when he said “people,” and not “GSD.”
“So what you able to do Dawn? I’m guessing exemplar.”
She nodded, “And a touch of magic. I’m having some luck with healing spells since I manifested.”
“That’s neat, My aunt Sandra would’ve loved you, she was in Whitman too, also magic healer.”
“Nice! So you’re a legacy student?”
Adam nodded, “My brother was in Twain. He and his buddies, who we kinda adopted were all Whitman, and Twain with their token ‘Poesie and Thornie’ as they put it.”
“From your reactions I’m guessing that GSD is involved, a lot of it.”
“Yeah, but I grew up with them, so it’s been hard for me to not just see my Aunt Diamondback, and not a ten-meter snakewoman without legs, right? Aunt Noms had six arms, Aunt Dimes has been mistaken for a Rakshasa by some Hindu types, not the animal-headed ones. My brother looks like the love child of a velociraptor, who’s one-quarter porcupine, and an MMA fighter.”
Dawn smirked, letting the boy’s rambling explain a lot about why he seemed so at ease despite his “no fucks given,” cocky attitude. “That’s good to know, I think some people might appreciate it.”
The pair went through the Crystal Hall, got shoved out of the way by kids who thought they were hot-shit. Adam almost grabbed the second one, to jam his clown-faced head up his own ass for being a prick, when he saw Dawn’s concerned look.
Kicking a dumbass’ ass over stupid things doesn’t impress the girls, it just make them worry that you’re violent. His aunt Janine’s words hit him, and he schooled his expression, forced himself to calm down, and got the rest of his pile ‘o food.
“Thought you were going to fight there for a second.” She looked at him.
“The thought crossed my mind, but if my brother can learn to keep his temper contained, I need to as well. I don’t want to be wearing a red band by the end of the year.”
Adam shook his head. “Just raised in a way that says if someone hits you, hit ‘em back. Doesn’t matter if you win, because most bullies don’t actually want the effort involved in kicking your ass, they wanna push people around easily.”
“That backfires with a lot of the Ultraviolents,” she said, ‘the older girls in the cottage told us that there’s a few people you just avoid because it’s not worth the confrontation.”
“Yeah, I was told that too. Apparently there was this one asshole, Counterpoint back a few years ago. Went round and round with my Aunt Cait a few times because she kept startling him, taking cheap shots and just punking him. So he finally forced her into a situation where she had to face him in a straight, head-to-head fight. I was told the results weren’t pretty.”
“Ouch. Hope she’s ok.”
“She’s the range boss here. Amazon-size, metal black hair, eyes with steel irises and runes in ‘em, blue-metal tattoos, can’t miss her.”
“Eldritch is your aunt?”
“We kinda adopted her.”
“Is it true she used to be a guy?” Dawn asked quietly, in a manner that bespoke of satisfying personal curiosity.
“I take it the rumor mill is doing rounds?” Adam smirked. “If she was, not my secret to tell, but I’m pretty sure if you ask her, she’d just say whether it’s true or not. She’s about as shy as the next bulldozer.”
“I think I’ll pass on that one, I’ve heard she’s scary as hell when she gets going.”
Adam shrugged. “I know a different Bardue than you all do.” He walked over to the graffiti-loaded table left behind by his odd “family.”
When they sat down, Dawn looked at the mess all over the table. “How did this not get noticed?” She ran her hand along the myriad carvings, runes and graffiti.
“More Outcast trickery, but I was more curious about you. How’d you come to be at Whateley?”
“My Aunt and Uncle sent me when they found out about it. I’ve been living with them for almost two years now.” She simply shrugged and didn’t look at him as he spoke.
“Cool,” he could figure out when not to pry.
“Hello, my friends, I was wondering where you’d wandered off to.” White Snake and that big warthog kid sat down. “I see you found the oddball table.”
“Oddball table?” Toison looked at White Snake oddly.
“Table that seems to not exist for most of the people in the school, probably has something to do with these runes cut in here and done in sharpie over there.” The big, porcine kid pointed. He didn’t seem to realize that he was anything other than normal.
“It’s the Outcast Corner table.” Adam grinned, and pointed at the spot in front of Bacon with NOMNOMNOMNOMNOMNOM written in magic marker. “My aunt Anomaly used to be called Noms, so that was her spot you’re in.”
“Wasn’t the Outcast’s Corner supposed to be the GSD safe room for listening to music?” White Snake asked. “Faction Three’s been trying to get that lock reset for years, apparently. Someone keeps telling them no.”
Adam snorted. He knew exactly who might do something like that. “Outcast Corner was my brother's training team for the sims.” he pointed out the places as he remembered them. “The Outcast’s Corner was where the lot of them played live music, started out for the Thornies, and a practice space and kinda grew. It’s a place they reserved for anyone who didn’t care about monsters, pretties, any of that shit. And I’m the last one with the key to the biometric lock.”
“Ohhh, niiice. Always wondered what was in there. Pork rinds, gotta be pork rinds.” Bacon grinned in a way that would have made most people in the US scream and run. “So you gonna try to Make Outcast Corner a thing again?”
Adam shook his head and smiled. “Tempting, but they were their own band, wouldn’t be right to nab their name. I’ll join a group, or form my own, dunno yet.” He held a hand out to the Warthog GSD kid. “My name’s Adam, codename is Reinforce.”
His hand was engulfed in the big GSD boy’s. “I’m Bacon, because I sizzle.” He licked a finger and touched his butt, making a hissing sound from his mouth with a cheesy grin. “I was gonna take Razorback, but apparently someone beat me to it.
Adam laughed, and grinned. “Really, I wonder who could have done that,” He chuckled. “I think we’re gonna get along just fine, mate.”
Toison was smiling, her amber eyes sparkling. “Well then, it seems we have to adopt this one. All in favor?”
Bacon and White Snake raised their hands.
“Motion carried, time to ham it up,” Bacon chortled.
“Any of you all do music?” Adam asked curiously.
“Only if making farting noises from my armpits counts,” Bacon said as he began snarfing down his food.
“I’ve done some choir, and I’ve been thinking about picking an instrument,” Dawn said with a grin.
White Snake shook his head. “Dunno the first thing about music.”
“Oh shit, I knew I forgot something!” Adam groaned. “I forgot to sign up for a music class. Crap.”
“What do you play?” Dawn asked him.
“Lead guitar, mine’s up in my room.” He sighed, “Gotta go see if I can con the Imp into letting me swap an elective class for Music class.”
“Who’s the Imp?” Bacon looked at him curiously.
“Best art teacher ever…” Adam grinned. All in all, his new friends made the morning seem tolerable by comparison.
Adam made it to his third-period english class, keeping a low profile, before a security officer caught up to him. “Adam Carlyle?”
“Come with me please, Chief Everhart would like to speak to you.”
“An altercation where you threw another student hard enough to impact the bottom of a pool.”
“Is the chickadee gonna be at the meeting?”
“Then no. I know enough that if the bitch who chucked me in the deep end ain’t there to answer for what she did, I ain’t going anywhere.”
“That wasn’t a request, son.”
“Then you won’t be disappointed by me saying no, now will ya?”
“Not in the cards, son.”
“But it is in the student handbook, if one side of an altercation is pulled in to answer for it formally, both are required to be there.” Adam looked the man in the eye. “I’m not getting punished because some tart decided she can grab me, throw me, drop me in the water when I don’t know how to fuckin’ swim, then give me a smug look and a lame apology like she is proud of herself when I almost fuckin’ drown. You want me to play by the rules? Follow them yourself.”
The security officer cocked his head at him, then spoke quietly into his radio. “Yeah boss, looks like we have Loophole mark two.” He waited. “Doyle Medical? Yeah, we can be there. He says if he’s going to get called out on it, she gets called out on her part, per the student handbook.”
Adam cursed, and just turned, walking to Doyle. The security monkey fell into step behind and to his side. He knew he’d stepped in it when he heard Doyle. He’d been trying not to think about being slam-dunked in the water and the absolute terror he’d felt from it. The shakes started again as soon as he got inside the building.
He waited with the security officer until the uniformed blonde woman in charge of Whateley Security arrived. “Well, Mister Carlyle, I do hope you have a good explanation for your little show of defiance.”
“When it’s just me being a fuckoff, then fine.” He looked the woman in the eye. “I don’t care if anyone fudges a bit. But if I’m getting dragged in for something someone else started, then yeah, I’ma be a rules-lawyer.”
“Huh.” Everhart looked at him, then led him to one of the rooms, having him look in. The girl was wearing casts covering her left shoulder, arm and leg. “She walked out of the pool area, seemingly fine, but when the pain and swelling started, she came here. Three broken ribs, broken arm and shoulder, and broken leg, all of which will take several days to heal. If she’d been a baseline, you’d have killed her outright.”
“If she’d been a baseline, she wouldn’t have been able to pick me up over her head and throw me bodily into the deep end where I started drowning, and we wouldn’t be here at all to begin with.” Adam’s retort was tight, irate and showed no guilt whatsoever. “I’m not going to passively take getting mashed up, or almost getting killed so some bully can feel good about themselves.”
“Have you ever met Miss Savitz before?”
“I hadn’t even realized she was anything but another exemplar cutie, much less talked to her before she put me airborne.” Adam looked at the girl who was looking at her casts disgustedly. “Before you ask, no, superpowers in play means ‘no hitting a girl’ flew right out the window as a consideration. Worrying about that shit when she’s already shown no care to know whether you can take it or not will get you killed.”
“What do you know about the Amazons?”
“It’s either a Rain Forest, a greek Myth, or Wonder Woman’s people depending on who you talk to.” He looked at her, “but from the context I’m guessing it’s a training team. I just got here yesterday, I just started classes today. I know all the stories about stuff that happened on campus six years ago, and I have no idea what the current dynamic is. Can we quit playing twenty questions please?”
“One last one, you said you were drowning, but you came up with gills. How is that?” Sam looked at the boy with an unreadable expression.
“I’ve never made gills before, so I didn’t know how, or what they feel like. My shifting is only half under my control, it reacts to things that happen to me. If I’m running for a long time my body adjusts which could mean anything from streamlining my form all the way up to my legs going animal, depending on how hard I’m pushing. Hit me and I grow armor. I’d never tried breathing water, or anything else that’s patently stupid to try out, so I have no idea where the upper limit there is.”
Sam nodded. “Well then I do believe that this gives me enough information to go on.”
The girl looked up at Sam and Adam with shocked, then angry eyes as they entered the room. “What is that bigot doing here?”
“Bigot?” Adam looked over at Everhart. “There something I should know here?”
“Don’t you play stupid with me, you asshole! You were the one calling me out for being a dyke in the tunnels two nights ago!”
Adam looked over at Everhart. “So do you wanna tell her that she’s lying because I was in an MCO lockup two nights ago, or shall I?”
“Don’t bother. Miss Savitz, we are here to discuss the altercation this morning. I want to know why, exactly you decided to throw a new student directly into the deep end of the pool when they were visibly having issues with getting into the water?” She looked up. “Don’t bother saying you weren’t aware, I saw the footage from the security system, and you overhand throwing him into the middle of the twenty-foot-deep portion of the pool.”
“How was I supposed to know the twit couldn’t swim?”
“How was I supposed to know you couldn’t take a little bounce off the bottom of the pool?” Adam retorted.
“That is enough out of both of you.” Everhart shut them both down. “Savitz, you have Hawthorne cleanup, and any snotty comments about the Hawthorne boys during said sentence will add one day to your sentence for each comment. If you assault another student in a way that puts their life at risk again, you will be spending a week in the security lockup. Are we clear?”
“Yes, ma’am.” The girl looked at Adam with an expression of pure hate.
“Carlyle, you’re on janitorial for the week. You will be going to each cottage and building and cleaning the public crappers, got it?”
“Yeah, I got it. I’ll deal.”
“Why the hell does he get off light?”
“Because, Miss Savitz, I haven’t forgotten your shenanigans last year, and next time, maybe you’ll figure out to keep your hands to yourself.” She turned back to Adam. “I expect a little more cooperation with my officers, from you, in the future.”
“Yeah we’ll see.” Adam looked at her. “Can I git? I might be able to grab a to-go bag and get to my next class on time.”
He was late to Powers Theory, and that didn’t earn him much in the teacher’s eyes, but he sat and took notes, and decided that it was interesting. He wasn’t interested in most of his classmates any more than they were interested in him, and he found himself daydreaming about a sparkling smile framed by golden blonde hair.
Shifter Anatomy had his undivided attention after the first three minutes. The teacher was a man who shifted to a woman, and to several other body configurations in rapid succession. She, as he’d found out, was Doctor Kaylan “WyldChyld” Weaver. The woman had been on both sides of the law at varying points and different identities. She also had a P.H.D. in biology, Genetics and Exobiology. All had been gained over the course of thirty years.
“Mister Carlyle, since you’re late starting classes this term, we’re starting on chapter two,” she said. “This class is intended to be fast-paced and most of the book learning that has practical use gotten out of the way first before we move on to practical application.”
He nodded. “Yes ma’am.”
She smiled, as he jumped the first hurdle many of the other students had stumbled on when she’d pulled her gender-bending routine and simply addressed her as she presented herself. “We are in a discussion of Shifter form viability and the dangers thereof. Are you familiar with the concept?”
“Yes Dr. Weaver, I’ve read Doctor Quinain’s Powers Theory books, all four of them. It means some shifters have the problem of not being biologically viable whenever they shift for whatever reason, whether that’s reproductively or they forget that to breathe water having gills is better than trying to force your lungs to process water.”
“Ah, good. Your classification of Shifter?”
“High Four, so I’m still limited by the Mass-Squared Law. Even in the water I still can’t turn into a blue whale or something.”
“Excellent, since you have read the Powers Theory materials, would you be willing to assist anyone having problems keeping up?”
“If I can. I’m not gonna promise I’m brilliant, I was just mildly obsessive as a kid.”
“At least you’re honest. Now, does anyone in the class know some of the limitations on shifters who cannot actually break physical laws that everyone needs to be aware of?”
A student raised her hand. “Body organs have to be able to sustain their bulk. So if you turn into a horse, your heart would get bigger, but if you turn into a centaur, you’d need a large heart in your lower body to sustain the bloodflow as well. Also processing enough food would need a horse’s digestive system or something like it.”
“Excellent, Sofia.” She turned to all of the students. “The faster you study, learn and retain all of this information, the faster we can move on to practical applications and study. Most here have limitations of one variety or another, but some have limits that allow us to study the phenomenon.”
“What’s the new kid turn into?” Adam looked back and saw an older boy dressed in fairly normal clothes with the stereotypical Aussie bush hat. His Ocker accent was real, and Adam guessed he spent a lot of time in the bush. “Koala shifter?”
“Na mate, I turn into a Razorback.” Adam grinned evilly.
“Well Adam, since you like to respond, perhaps you care to stand up and share?”
“Sure, but once I do a change, I can’t come back to normal till I “unclench” for lack of a better term. I can go sideways and shift gears, but I can’t become Original Copy till a bit of time has passed.”
“Hmmm, do you revert when sleeping?”
Adam shook his head. “No, I’ve gone up to four days in another shape before I chose to flip back because my mum yelled at me.” He grinned.
“Interesting. Variable Template shifter. We don’t get too many of those. Do you ever shift involuntarily?”
“Only if something unusual happens, I get hit, shot, get too much sun, whatever. This morning it was drowning. Or if I let my mind wander wondering what someone else might feel like.” He looked at her. “What’s a Variable Template Shifter?”
She grinned. “Variable Template is a term for shifters who completely replace their natural form rather than holding a shift like you might hold a muscle taut or relaxed. Common side effects involve periods of time where the body tries to adapt to a new shape as a permanent situation, things like the brain trying to re-wire itself to adapt to the new configuration as though you were born to it.”
“Makes sense. But it doesn’t work if I wind up with too many limbs. Most I can handle is eight or so, before I start convulsing like a centipede strapped to a car battery.”
“Not uncommon. The human brain is only rigged to handle so much. One of my powers is I can touch anything organic and determine their physiology in addition to the ability to shift to just about anything with human size. So for this, I am going to ask you to do a shift, and then the rest of us will poke and prod at you to determine if you have issues with form viability.”
Adam nodded, stood up and waited. There were only eight students in the class, as shifters weren’t horrifically common. He’d pretty much won the lottery, even if he wasn’t exemplar-handsome on his own.
“Before we begin, do you have any powers that link to your shifting? Warping that affects your clothing, perhaps?”
“I think my shifting treats my clothes as part of my body, I feel it get absorbed then spit back out as something else a lot.”
“Good to know. First things first, we will go with a form that is difficult to be viable on it’s own. Can you manifest gills without screwing with your lungs?”
Adam nodded and pulled off his shirt, and focused on the feeling of the odd rib-slits he’d felt water being forced from that morning, and they reformed along his back, four rows on either side, as he breathed in, they pulled shut, as he breathed out, his throat tightened as the gills fluttered open, expelling the air with an odd hissing sound. -I can’t talk like this- he signed at her after a failed attempt to say anything.
She nodded curtly. “As Adam here has discovered, changing to accommodate one ability may result in losing another, like speech.” Dr. Weaver explained as she set a hand on his shoulder. “Adam’s gills are fully viable for processing water, while allowing him to breathe air still. So this is an example of a viable change.”
Viable it was, but that didn’t change the fact that it felt weird pushing air out through his ribs and upper abdomen. He put his shirt back on, and waited patiently as he could. The shirt puffed out whenever he exhaled.
“All right, can you fully transform into say, a Raven?”
He shook his head.
“How about an eagle, or a hybrid of human and eagle?” She asked, noting the shake of his head then nod.
Adam held his arms out, and his clothing was absorbed into the mass of brown feathers coming out on his body, covering up what modesty he had as his feet morphed into talons, and his arms turned into great, feathered wings, all covering up the fact that he was still pushing air out through his sides. His head and chest were untouched, and he felt his body lighten and his muscles strengthen.
“Interesting,” the teacher said after touching him so she could her powers to get a sense of the changes he’d gone through. “Your bones are hollow like a bird’s and everything you have says you should be able to fly, while retaining your gills.”
The rest of the class was watching, interested. This wasn’t the standard type of interaction, where one had the teacher’s pet know-it-all come up and show off how much they knew. The class was interactive, and the kids took turns examining the wings, feet, gills and lifting Adam to show how light he was.
“All right, Adam, let’s try something a little different. Can you get back to human form in any way?”
He nodded, then popped his neck and shifted, reverting to a human form, but female, more resembling her mother than her father, with auburn hair and a decent, toned figure in a Whateley girls’ uniform. “Oh look, I can talk again,” she said lightly. “From here, unless you want me to go really weird, whatever I wind up as, I’m stuck with for the next hour or so.”
Dr. Weaver nodded. “Awfully comfortable, moreso than most. Fully viable as well. Are you very well-versed in anatomy?”
“Nothing beyond a crash course,” she said in response.
“Very well, before we close up, would you be willing to shift to a centaur of some variety?”
“How big?” Adam asked.
“Can you do a Clydesdale, Miss Carlyle?”
“Need a picture.” Gimme a sec, “Spike show me a pic of a clydesdale next to someone about a meter and a half tall.”
She got the image, and the scale, then swelled up, her form altering to match the size of the horse, with her upper body sized to match the massive animal lower body and four legs. She stood still as she got all four hooves under her, closing her eyes and feeling out the new body. She spent a moment lifting each leg in turn to make sure she had each of them sorted. “There we go. I think that does it.”
Having a body configured like that, on top of being female was about as strange as the eel-naga that morning. She felt the teacher press a hand to her flank. “Once again, fully biologically viable. You’re lucky, Miss Carlyle. A lot of shifters do major damage to themselves trying to match that ability.
“Yay. Now I have to figure out how to get back out through the door.”
The rest of the class was spent with the other students using stethoscopes to hear her heartbeats, both upper and lower, as well as listening to her stomach growling. When everyone skated out, the other Australian wandered up to her.
“Nice work, not too many people comfy playing test dummy for Doc Weaver. Last time she had a shifter do a gender swap, the poor bastard about lost it getting poked at.”
“Eh, it’s just like wearing clothing, once you figure out you can change it, worrying about what you look like is just pointless.” Adam was glad no one had freaked out. “I’m Reinforce.”
“Drop-Bear.” The Junior grinned at her and shook the massive hand.
“Did you actually call yourself Drop-Bear?” She laughed as she considered the ramifications.
“Oh yeah, and told them all about the dreaded beasts and their horrible, horrible face-devouring tendencies.”
Adam laughed. It was too easy to kind of fall into it, and “Drop-Bear” was funny, and handsome in his own right. She found herself wondering what it would have been like to have enrolled as a girl.
Adam wound up having to very painfully squeeze out of the area, half-crawling inside the buildings until she was outside, then rapidly began moving towards the building for Basic Martial Arts indicated on her schedule. She was able to squeeze into the dojo due to the double-doors and settle in next to the other students, getting an odd look from the black woman at the head of the class. “I wasn’t aware I’d have a centaur in my class,” she said easily, looking Adam over.
“Doc Weaver used me as a crash-test-dummy for different shifting, so I had to do a few changes I wouldn’t usually do,” she replied. “As soon as my power unlocks, I can shift back to normal.”
“Sometime in the next half-hour.” She looked over and noted White Snake and Red sitting next to each other. “Can I bow out of brawling till I do? I’m not sure how hard I hit, or whether I’ll stumble and break my legs like this.”
“Why’d you pick the form?”
“Doctor Weaver wanted to use me as an example for Shifter form viability, by making me go female and then centaur as a lesson in class.” Adam saw a few disgusted looks, and she inwardly chuckled. “I don’t normally opt for anything this bulky.”
“What do you normally opt for?”
Tolman gave Adam a long, careful look. “You’re not a rager are you?”
“Why is it everyone asks me that?” she feigned confusion. “No I’m not a rager, and I’m better looking than he is, even as a maniac raptor.”
She nodded. “Very well, do try to curb Doctor Weaver’s exuberance right before you come into class. Otherwise you will have to use the form you arrive in for future classes. You’ll also need to pick-up a gi and wear it to future classes… I’ll give you a pass on it today given this is your first day in class.”
Adam felt the bone-deep shudder in her muscles, twitching for just a few minutes before taking the opportunity to shift back down to his normal self. It would be an hour before he could use the Centaur form again, not that he planned to anytime soon. As he did, half the class was staring, and White Snake and Red were chuckling at him as he walked over to join the two as they practiced.
“You look better as a girl,” Red snarked.
“Yeah well, you know how it goes, sudden urge to wear lipstick and get your hair done, what ya gonna do?” Adam grinned.
“Oh look, you’re getting dirty looks from Deuce,” White Snake said with a disgusted look.
“Emerson prick, hates GSDs, and likely homophobic as well. Watch out, he’s able to electrocute by touch, and he’s a Manifestor Brick.” Red looked over. “He likes to hit full power then claim it was an accident. Tolman-Sensei let me loose on him the last two times he’s done that to GSDs, when she didn’t kick his ass herself.”
"Shame I didn't get a tail" Whitesnake mused. "I would so love to constrict the sucker."
“Or I could mimic my Aunt Diamondback and coil him and pop him.” Adam sighed, “Of course I’d have to be able to go to her and have her teach me how that works.”
“Too bad, I wanna see his head pop,” Red chuckled. “Come on, we need to get to practicing before Tolman-Sensei kills all three of us for jawing on her time.”
Adam tossed around the pitiful number in his bank account. He’d gone and done some research, then came back to the fact that he wasn’t exactly a Trust Fund Baby. He didn’t want to be a begging freeloader either, as his family was big on earning one’s pay. His Dad, especially, didn’t hold much stock in the idea of simply handing away family money without it being earned. Not that the Carlyles were really wealthy enough to give him a big allowance.
He had a few other options, though he was loathe to use them without actually offering to work for it. He could get a campus job, but he wasn’t sure how to go about that. He finally settled on sending a message to the woman sponsoring his passage through Whateley via Spike. He asked if there was a good way to make money on Whateley Campus for more than minimum wage and around two hours a day.
What brings this up, suddenly? The text came back, via Spike. Since she didn’t just voice call he had to assume she was occupied either with a boardroom meeting, or chasing the lunatic rugrat she called a daughter.
I met a girl, and I’d like to ask her out. He knew from experience that the honest answer was probably the best answer.
Oh really? Who is this mystery girl?
He grinned. One of the girls from Whitman, she seems to be amazing, and she has the best smile.
Oooh, now I want to know more! And I’ma tell your mama you’re already after a girl!
Oh God, please don’t. He shook his head as he typed away. Lemme figure out if she’s as awesome as I think she is, first.
I can do that. And as it happens, I do have some teenage focus group testing I could have you help me with. The job would pay, and save me having to send a specialist out to Whateley once a week. The catch is, you have to clear it through the Headmaster, Le Compte I believe it is, now.
Adam thought about it for a moment. All in all, working for Sidewinder was hardly something he’d consider odious. The Holding Company specialized in giving Mutant companies a start with a blanket of legal teams, financial tracking, assistance and advertising. The first American VI had been designed and marketed under Sidewinder. It was also the home of TMI Medical and a few Freelancer Corps that specialized in Mutant-Powered SAR.
They had also been the corporation that had destroyed the Knights of Purity after the Mercs went on their property and wrecked one of their buildings when trying to apprehend a “Dangerous Mutant,” a Whateley Grad who had been illegally marked with a DFA and had literally jaywalked in front of them.
Sidewinder had sued the KoP for destruction of property, compromising trade secrets, Injuries to personnel, trespassing, endangerment and everything else they could slap the bastards with, then assisted each of the twenty seven families of the injured or dead personnel in their own separate lawsuits against the KoP. The mutant in question sued for personal damages in the millions alone. Sidewinder Holding and all of the families unanimously refused to accept class action suit status.
Then the dominos started falling as Sidewinder, the mutant and the families began receiving the court-ordered awards. Hundreds of mutants, and their families who had suffered violence at the hands of the PMC began suing the corp, with citations of legal precedent in the Sidewinder cases. Within three years, the Knights of Purity were bankrupt, and their arms, armors, schematics and data were seized by Sidewinder by court-order to make up for the debts unpaid.
The CEO of the company had learned a few very, very important lessons from a friend about money, contracts, power, and how to wield them. In the end, it wasn’t a mutant, or group of mutants that destroyed one of the most hated organizations amongst mutants. It was a team of the most vicious creatures ever created by God to defile his worlds: Lawyers.
Adam smirked, and nodded to himself. He wasn’t stupid enough to trust a corporation blindly, but he trusted his sponsor with his life. You got it. I’ll arrange to speak to Le Compte if you will please send me the details.
Such a polite boy. Details inbound, and a little something for you to take your hopefully-girlfriend out. I demand a photo of the two of you in recompense.
Are you going to send it to literally everyone?
Of course! How could I not?
You’re terrible, you know that?
You’ll get over it my dear. Angela says hello, and she wants to see you over Thanksgiving.
I’ll be there.
Adam looked at his account, and his eyes popped out. He’d never had more than fifty dollars at once, and now he had five-hundred? If that was “a little something” he was almost afraid to see what she thought of as “extravagant.” It never occurred to him that 500 dollars would barely cover his food intake over two weeks without buying extremely cheap and in bulk.
He wasn’t stupid, there was no way that this was for a simple date, so he had to assume it was to see if he could be motivated to be very convincing. He’d worry about that later, it was after dinner, and the off-duty teachers would be filtering off campus.
He had a girl to ask out on a date. Part of his sponsor’s info dump were suggestions of places on-campus that could be used for a date. He looked at the list, then grinned and resisted the urge to shift so he could run to Whitman faster.
Telekat saw the boy, who got the dopey grin whenever he heard Toison’s voice, out her window and smirked. “Boy must have it baaad.”
She smirked, wandering out into the game room, where several girls were playing spades. “Hey Dawn, your Aussie’s here, twenty bucks says he’s here to see you.”
Several girls perked up. “Aussie? Are you dating Drop-bear?”
“Is he cute?”
“How bad is his GSD?”
The questions were rapid-fire and Dawn had a hard time keeping up, trying mostly futilely to answer until Mrs. Savage came up the stairs, leading a very nervous, redheaded boy up the stairs, eyes shooting through the crowd until he locked onto the golden satyress and got a rather dopey grin that a lot of girls in the room wished they would see on a boy’s face directed at them.
“Dawn, you have a visitor.” Mrs. Savage indicated to the boy on the stairs.
“Hi Adam!” Dawn bounced over and hugged him, and all of the Whitman girls in the room could see him blush just a bit with an odd smile.
“Hi Dawn. I ah… I was… wondering if you’d be interested…” He kept getting distracted from what he was saying by the exuberant girl’s eyes, smile and his own nervousness. “I was wondering if you’d like to go out and get some Ice Cream together.” he finally spat out.
“Are you asking me out on a date?” She looked a bit stunned.
“Yeah… yeah I guess I am.” he gave her a sheepish, hopeful look as she blinked at him a few times, then hugged him again and kissed him on the cheek.
“I’ll go get my jacket!” She bounced out of the room, heading towards her wing. “Meet you at the front door!”
It was one of those magical moments when the Whitman girls realized that he didn’t really see anyone but Dawn, so they got to watch him blush beet red, stand there stupidly for a second, then pump a fist and hiss out “YES!” before turning and shooting down the stairs.
“Okay, Dawn’s a sweetie, but I hate her right now.” Telekat couldn’t see who said it, but a few nods from some of the other GSD girls made her chuckle. “He’s cute!”
“Not an exemplar, but still.”
Dawn bounced back from her room and grinned. “How do I look?” She was wearing her jacket and her favorite blouse, which was done up in a Metis style from back home.
“For the record, I hate yinz and yinz look good girl, go get him before someone tries to poach him.” Hexplate grinned at Dawn. “Like me. Go on, git.”
Dawn grinned back and went down the stairs to meet Adam.
“Huh. I guess I should be glad I didn’t zap him.” Telekat grinned. “Although there’s always the option to zap him for the funzies. Friendly warning.”
“How’d she nab one of the pretties so fast?” Faolass asked. “And he didn’t even notice any of us. I would have figured even one of the Twain boys would have been at least a bit shellshocked!”
“Oh check this out, I have a picture of him as a little tyke riding his big brother with a pack of GSD girls in front of Hawthorne.” Telekat grinned and had the photo project on the wall. “Apparently they were a training team and he was their mascot!”
“Daaaaaamn!” came from several voices simultaneously as they saw the photo.
“Why is that boy wearing a dress,” Ekene asked quietly, “And who let him dress like that?”
Adam lost the fight with the goofy grin when Dawn slipped her hand into his as they walked quietly. He gripped her hand and just relaxed, glancing over at the girl who was so very desirable to be around, he’d been trying to figure out what it was that drew him to her, never realizing that her smile told the tale.
He was quite content to walk beside her, and listen to the clipping sounds her hooves made on the pavement of the path headed towards the Campus store, and various mini-restaurants. Even so, he looked at her. “What you thinking about?”
“Oh a few things. You stunned the girls a bit.” She smirked. “I doubt they were expecting anyone to miss a chance to stare at them like a moonstruck idiot who’d never seen an odd feature.”
“Heh, sorry to disappoint, I’ll work on my slack-jawed look for them, you just can’t be there when I do it or I’ll be too distracted by you to make it believable.”
Dawn grinned. “But then I miss the chance to see you look all sunstruck!”
“Curses, another plan foiled by itself.” Adam let her lead him for a bit, then brought her back on the track to ice cream. “All you have to do for that is smile I imagine.”
She looked at him and gave him exactly what he suggested, and found that she liked the somewhat dopey grin he got when she smiled at him. He lost a lot of his bad boy edge, and just relaxed when he was around her.
“That’s cheating,” he mock-groused. “Oh, here we are, and it looks like they’ve got the goods.”
Dawn looked at the ice cream selection, and was more impressed than she expected. The full selection of ice cream didn’t look like the Baskin Robbins buckets dropped into a freezer, but actual trays of ice cream that looked like they had been prepared properly. “Oooh, Sweet Cream!” She looked around and saw her personal brand of ice cream crack and eagerly ordered the Sweet Cream ice cream with fresh blueberries mixed in.
Adam grinned as she watched the ice cream being prepared, the stuff being soft enough to mix with the berries, and then scoop into a bowl. He ordered a waffle cone and went with the vanilla, caramel and bananas.
Adam paid for the choices and the pair went to sit down, and he noticed Dawn eyeballing his choice. “Yesss?”
“I didn’t realize I was driving you bananas…” she said slyly.
He laughed, and looked at her amber eyes, smiling. “Well yeah, but in a good way!”
Adam used a spoon to give her a taste of what he was having then smiled as she dug in. He ate slowly, trying not to let his impulse to inhale the food into the bottomless pit he called a stomach take over so he could savor the taste, and the company.
It was about ten in the evening when an AIPA in Boston flickered to life and displayed a photo of Adam to the woman responsible for his education. The redheaded boy looked a lot like Kiernan Carlyle in build and bronzed skin, but had Debra Carlyle’s green eyes and reddish hair. On his back was a lovely slip of a girl with a wild mane of golden hair, and a pair of horns coming from her forehead. A pair of goat legs, and hooves were wrapped around Adam’s hips as the pair blew a raspberry at the camera.
“Oh my, she is cute!” She shifted and moved so the little girl in her lap could sleepily look at the picture displayed as a hardlight image.
“Mama? Does Adam have a girlfriend?”