Metro 1: Chewing Through The Straps (Part 2)
Metro 1: Chewing Through The Straps (Part 2)
Part 2 (of 4)— After all, how much trouble can one sick puppy get into in the first month of classes?
Isn't most of that Security's job to handle anyway? Oh, wait...
Chapter 12: Examinations and Complications
Tuesday, 4 PM,
Doyle Medical Clinic
Wondering why she would need to meet the Spy Kidz' faculty advisor at one of the doctors' offices in the clinic, Kew made more haste than she normally would have. So it was that she was a little out of breath when she knocked on the doctor's office door.
"Come in, Miss Quenton. You know Sir Wallace, of course. Have you met Dr. Guiterrez?" Ushering the student into her office, Dr. Tenent continued, "Doctor, this is Miss Emily Quenton, codenamed Kew. Emily, did you bring the equipment you believe was damaged by Mr. Jensen?"
"Yes, ma'am. I was wondering why I needed to bring it here?" the student answered, as she dug into her backpack for the laptop.
Dr. Guiterrez replied, "You did say that it was one of the Mystical Arts students that could have caused the damage, and there can be physical risks from being too close to a destructive spell of unknown type and origin." Usually hypochondria, but relying on 'usually' could be a fast track to malpractice. "By the way, how long have you had a problem with becoming out of breath after mild exertion? Has it been an ongoing thing, or is it more recent? Just set that on the desk."
"Um. Not that I know of. Sure, I get a little out of breath now and then, but it's not like I'm sick or anything."
"I've been told that by any number of cardiac patients and anemics. I think we ought to add a CBC and metabolic panel to the requested tests, just to be on the safe side. Now, if you'll come along with me, we can get started with the examination. Radiology will let us know when they're ready for you."
Doctor Guiterrez asked her colleague, "Doctor, you're certain we won't need to ask the technicians in Lab W to stay over?"
"It shouldn't be necessary unless something unusual is found in the MRI. Given the young lady's listening habits, I worry more about the audiogram."
"Wait! Don't you want to know what that jerk did to me, first?"
"Miss Quenton, that is what we are looking into, so I strongly suggest you cooperate with Doctor Guiterrez."
"Come along, Miss Quenton. I'm sure you don't to be here any longer than you have to be."
With that, the anxious student was led out of the office.
Westmont spoke before the silence could become tense, "Your initial impression, Doctor?"
"She doesn't show any indications that she could have cast such the spell. She also doesn't show any obvious indications of being under a curse."
Westmont nodded. "I'd agree with both assessments."
"What I do see is a rush to judgment - of a boy whom I'm not even sure she's met. One of my chief concerns is that I could be in surgery right now, trying to extricate one of her devises from the boy's chest cavity, and she would still be attempting to put the blame squarely on the boy."
"Isn't that a bit harsh?"
"Sir Wallace, you'll notice that she didn't bring any of the other equipment that's sure to have been damaged, so she's aware that she's been doing something that would get her in trouble. I'm more worried that I'm not being harsh enough."
Ophelia sighed. "Next on the list of hypothetical 'suspects', you can exclude She-Beast, Nacht, even Nephandus. They wouldn't have left traces of a spell on something that would be brought in for examination. Dragonrider? If she's capable of this, I've seen no indication of it in her schoolwork. Exclude Valravn as well."
"I agree, but might I ask why the last one?"
"She's still walking and breathing. Both of those boys are violently over-protective of each other."
"So? Up for a little forensic magic? We might get lucky and find out that Metro meant to send a message."
"Lead on, dear lady"
Elsewhere on Campus
Roughly an hour later, Maintenance called in to report that a Spy Kidz Special was found jammed in a critical water pump. That and a damaged spycam that had no business being pointed at a kid's bed were being sent to Security tonight. Tomorrow they'd be draining the system for a tear-down, inspection, cleaning, and rebuild. Maybe it could be finished faster if someone could sign a work pass for Shroud? Speaking of which, they were very happy to be stuck with this instead of conducting a fact-finding in a student's death.
"Guys? Is anyone planning on going over to Hawthorne after dinner?" Jinn called out over the Kimba spots.
Toni was the first to respond, "What? You need someone to help you beat Diz at Scrabble?
"Only No Fun Guy still tries to beat Diz. No, Metro had a close call this afternoon, so everyone's kind of upset. It's not the sort of gossip that needs to go around at dinner."
"What happened?" While the whole team had friends in Hawthorne Cottage, Ayla had family there as well.
"Someone was playing spy games and jammed a recirc pump up with a listening devise. No one's hurt, but he's stuck using one of the tanks at Doyle until it's fixed."
Lancer chimed in, dreading another runaway spot conversation, "That's the second JROTC cadet I know of that's been targeted. Metro's bravo-foxtrot is also JROTC, and in Poe. Nikki, any chance you can sweep my room and Val's?"
"Sir Wallace added that to my homework. Both rooms are bug-free, if not pest-free."
"Leanne is still not my favorite brownie on the planet."
Tuesday, 6 PM,
Doyle Medical Clinic
Sir Wallace was impressed by the number of tests that could be run against a newly-rendered-inert piece of modern electronics. On the other hand, the number of tests that needed to be run in order to rule out the various means of rendering it inert was a testament to teenaged ingenuity and youthful knacks for destruction. "So. What have we learned here?"
"That one of your students plants listening devices by reflex, even in places where she should know better? Like, my office?"
The British mage winced. "Quite."
"Also, that one of my problem students actually paid attention in class." So the doctor could find some levity in the situation. "Sympathetic magic to link the targets and broadcast the spell effects, contagion to limit them to the linked electronics. The signature of the residual energies looks too much like spontaneous magic to pin it on any one culprit."
"Moving on then, scrying the last display image demonstrates that Kew was surveilling Metro, demonstrating that he had motive and opportunity." The doctor tried to massage away her building headache before continuing, "He also had a damned good reason to do more than to tag Kew with what amounted to a slap on the wrist. Most practicing mages would have been much more vindictive, not that I think it will be seen that way. How do you plan to keep the rest of the pack from retaliating?"
Westmont unhappily replied, "I'm open to constructive suggestions, myself."
After almost two hours of testing, Dr. Guiterrez returned with her charge. "Here we are, back where we started. After you, young lady. Doctor, you'll no doubt be happy to know that aside from spending far too much time indoors with headphones on, and not enough exercising, our Miss Quenton is perfectly healthy for a young woman her age. The audiogram showed elevated hearing thresholds near 4,000 Hz but the ears may recover if they're treated better. The other patient?"
"Not so good. It looks like Miss Quenton will be paying for a replacement laptop from this semester's lab allowance."
Kew's response wasn't entirely unexpected, "What? No way! It was Metro's fault. I'm sure of it!"
Ignoring the outburst, Dr. Tenent asked, "Doctor Guiterrez, do you recognize the equipment in the lower left corner of this view?"
"Ophelia, why the hell is there an overhead picture of that boy's water tank and aeration equipment here? Isn't filming another student's bed a suspension violation"
"Maybe we should ask Miss Quenton, since this is a silver-print image of the last screen rendered before her laptop was damaged. Miss Quenton?"
"I was working on my history homework. I've no idea how anyone could have added that on-screen."
"That's because it wasn't added. I personally performed the necessary forensic magics on your computer, and the entire procedure was witnessed by Sir Wallace Westmont here. It may not be admissible in most courts, but there is still no mistake that that is what was being displayed when the laptop was damaged."
Continuing, the doctor asked, "Regarding your homework efforts, should I bring in your history teacher, Mr. Williams, to see if he will recognize anything on-screen as homework for his class? We can do that."
"Well, then. I would also like to know what further proof you have that Mr. Jensen damaged your computer. At the time the computer was damaged - see the clock, shown here - he was in Sir Wallace's office."
"I don't need to show proof! He destroyed my gear, so he should pay for it!"
Dr. Guiterrez stepped in, "Ophelia, what aren't you telling the rest of us yet?"
"What is known is that she was illegally recording another student's room, including an overhead view of where he would otherwise be sleeping tonight with sabotaged life-support equipment."
"Don't. you. dare. take that tone with me, young lady. Maintenance found one of the listening devises that you provide to your club left in the recirculation pipe, jammed in one of the pumps. That IS sabotage. Without reliable flow through the forced aeration system, even a sleeping person would rapidly exhaust the oxygen available to them."
"Furthermore, there is the matter of a separate transducer-based devise left unsecured in the tank. One with corners and edges. If that had caught in the boy's gills, he could have bled out in the tank before hypoxia killed him. If it got past one of his thoracic gills, he would have died of pneumothorax and/or drowning. Once the corners started dragging across and into his lungs, he'd be in so much pain that his panicked attempts to breathe would finish the job."
"What we do know is that - whichever outcome was intended - a camera of Miss Quenton's design was well-placed to record the entire process for her and her friends in the Intelligence Cadet Corps, and in fact was streaming to her laptop at the time that the laptop and camera were damaged. What we also know is that if Mr. Jensen had not complained to Sir Wallace this afternoon, then by this time tomorrow we would all be involved in a manslaughter investigation, although a very damning case could be made for murder."
The irate doctor finished, "Yet you expect him to pay for damages incurred during your pursuit of unauthorized surveillance?"
"It wasn't unauthorized! Ace and A-Plus– "
It was Sir Wallace's turn to point out. Again. "They have absolutely no authority to authorize what you've been doing, not on this campus, nor in any United States or Canadian jurisdiction. Each of you lot have been reminded of that on more than one occasion." He paused to allow the girl some thought as to what she could have done, "Furthermore, were you thinking you could escape home to Canada to fight extradition if things had turned out badly, I can assure you that that would have been a mistake."
Shocked, Dr. Guiterrez turned to Kew and asked, "What has that boy ever done to you to deserve this treatment?"
Paling at the unjust accusations, the best excuse that Kew could come up with was, "We just wanted to find out whether it was the Bad Seeds or the Masterminds that had infiltrated the JROTC program to turn potential Intel cadets against us." It had sounded so much more reasonable at the last meeting, what with Phase in so deep with the criminal clubs, and tight with The Grunts by using Lancer.
Westmont countered, "That doesn't even begin to explain the equipment found by three other Hawthorne residents."
"Not only does Jello live there, but Phase and the other Kimbettes are always over at the Freak House. Plus, why else would an incoming military-oriented freshman thumb his nose at us and accept an invite from the Beret Mafia? The other cadet with him did the same."
"Excuse me. Is that what this is all about?" Dr. Guiterrez hadn't heard such pettiness in a long time. "You felt snubbed?"
"Are we even talking about the same person? Metro's a Danish citizen. Of course he might have an interest in the Euro-Promotional League,", albeit briefly, from what the staff had heard. "It wouldn't make near as much sense to rush the ICC, as it is one of several clubs that in practice refuse to accept students with GSD, regardless of their charters."
"He's probably only in the Freak House until his powers are under control. Not GSD."
"Then what exactly would you call the small pair of antlers sticking out of his head?" Dr. Tenent privately hoped that maybe if the staff ignored him calling them horns, he might stop doing that to irritate the doctors and powers testers. That Raul had bet otherwise had nothing to do with it. The nursing staff already had a red nose stashed away for one of his December visits, and a betting pool on the date.
"If they're that easily hidden, it's not really GSD." Trust a teen to elevate denial to an art form.
Both doctors were certain that the girl hadn't seen the boy yet, maybe any boy, with his shirt off. Dr. Guiterrez was worried about her colleague's blood pressure, but some things remained to be said, "So in your judgment as a medical professional, the fact that the freshman we are talking about must spend a portion of every day breathing clean fresh water has nothing at all to do with any structural changes to his body?"
"I didn't say that!"
"Sir Wallace, if you would see Miss Quenton safely out?"
"That would be a good idea. We'll talk more later, I'm sure."
"Young lady, I suggest you stick to your actual coursework for the next few days while the school's Administration decides what to do with you and your accomplices."
Dr. Guiterrez added, "Remember what I told you. You still need to spend less time listening to anything over headphones or earbuds with the volume on high. At your age, your ears may recover, otherwise those elevated hearing thresholds near 4000 Hz will become deafness later in life. I'll also be recommending that Sir Wallace's colleague, Ms. Hagarty, develop an after-hours exercise program for you and the other club members. It never hurts to make fitness and the discipline behind it a habit."
Wednesday, 12 AM,
Doyle Medical Clinic
"Good evening, Nurse Lipton. Graveyard shift again?"
The nurse smiled, "If it isn't Jensen and Jensen! To what do we owe the pleasure?"
"Someone dumped a toy down the drain and jammed a pump, just my luck. The docs won't let me sleep with the fishies, so here I am!"
That killed the mood.
Thomas growled, "Goddammit, Mads. You know what that phrase means."
"But I like fishies! I used to be able to just hang out under the pier if the water wasn't too cold."
Nurse Lipton took note of the pressured speech and came to a reasonable conclusion: "Devisor coffee?"
"Oh, yes. I can't blame folks for worrying about him passing out, but please tell me there's an order in to counteract it?"
"There is. Let me get vitals for now, then I'll come back with the meds. OK. Go ahead and get the temperature set."
"Same old routine, yeah?" Mads hated being the patient, but Thomas was looking unhappy, so less whining more joking.
"A toy down the drain. You owe me an explanation." Yep. Grumpy air spirit is grumpy. Still cute, but grumpy-grumpy.
"The Secret Squirrels got a little ambitious while I was in class earlier. Someone mistook the water tank for an aquarium, and got sloppy with mic placements. Now, if we had more aquaria with meal-sizes fish, we might not have that problem: Fish? Aquarium. No fish? Someone's thrice-bedamned oxygen supply."
Thomas wasn't exactly comforted by that, "I trust you didn't leave it at that? Just like any other bullies, they'll just keep at it if you let them." Unlike other bullies, you can't just set them on fire or throw lightning bolts at their heads.
"Nah. I need to show you the cool variation of 'shatter' I came up with. But first, we need to sweep your room at some point."
"I do know the basics. Maybe I'll ask Fey to double-check in case the Spy Kidz are equal-opportunity offenders."
"That works." Mads took note of the size of the pills that Nurse Lipton was bringing in. "Oh joy. Is this for me, Nurse, or is there an elephant in need of meds?"
"I could always check to see if the pharmacy has the same dosage in suppository form."
"Nope! I'm good!"
Chapter 13: We Have To Stop Meeting Like This
Crystal Hall, Ground Level
The plan itself was simple. Wait for the perp to show up for lunch, and then the Cadets would invite themselves to sit with him while explaining the errors of his ways. He had BMA fourth period in Laird Hall, so if he chose to stonewall them, he'd be stuck explaining his tardiness to Senseis Ito and Tolman. If he managed to slip away, there were any number of glitchy security cameras, and he'd still be late to his next class.
Kenya 'Rez' McAllen was surprised to see Killstench walk over to the meal line where their target was waiting for food. "What is up with that?" she asked, nudging Darren 'Holdout' Colm. The school's #3 UltraViolent wasn't known for being a social person outside of Bloodwolf's crew. She refused to reflect on the extent to which that could be said of some of the other Intelligence Cadet Corps members. Come to think of it, Ace's "my way or the highway" leadership style and rejection of any tedious laws that got in the way of his vendettas wasn't all that different from N'Dizi's. Both had excellent skills for use in isolating their little fiefdoms from the rest of the school. Swap Alakazam for A-Plus, and Kenya was very glad her telepathic gifts extended more to machines than people.
"What?" her boyfriend looked up from his lunch, "Huh. Maybe our boy's torqued off some of the other uvies as well? Going by what Andy and Emily had to say last night, that would not be a huge surprise." He had a nagging suspicion that they hadn't been given the whole story, but with tempers flaring as they were, taking action on that suspicion seemed likely to make Ace and Kew dig in their heels with even more resolve. What he wasn't going to do was let Rez get pressured into skipping out on her own classes for something that could wait until the end of the day or better yet, once the rest of the team calmed down.
Of course, he'd totally let Ace and A-Plus think the assignment leaving them on the ground level was a social hardship, but sitting with the beautiful young woman next to him more than made up for it. Still, this bit with Killstench and Metro was an anomaly that could affect the op, so he called it in as he watched the two exchange a few words peacefully before the Twain resident headed back to his seat.
Metro was actually surprised to smell Killstench walking up, the hint of CS on the boy's clothes provoking fond memories. (When one is practically born to work for a major arms manufacturer, the oddest things can end up linked to positive memories. That's what some of his therapists had claimed, anyway.) "Killstench, what's up? I didn't think you were a 'special meals' guy."
"I'm not," Killstench replied, glad that he wasn't, "Just a friendly warning. Chili is on the menu today."
"That sucks. Thanks! I'll see if I can scrounge a spot upstairs - whatever it takes to herd Miasma to the vent fans." His turn coming up, he thanked the cafeteria worker for his meal ... package. Looks like someone upped the supplements.
Killstench stared at what constituted a 'special meal'. That was way too many poison warnings for a person to call food. "We would all appreciate it," he said before departing. Be polite, and maybe he'd be able to graduate before the monster shows its true colors.
Crystal Hall, Mezzanine
Metro grabbed a large coffee before heading up to the second floor. Fidgety skunk avatars make for a bad meal for everyone, and Miasma would almost sooner sit next to Bloodwolf than him. The boy code-named Miasma had been only fidgety around him before the Skunk Incident. Exactly how the avatar's spirit found out about that and why it blamed him was uncertain, but the resulting 'pucker factor' had the Underdogs ready to obtain a restraining order against the freshman. Who to sit with? Maybe that agreement with Thomas, to eat lunch separately to deflect attention from the Poe 'secret', was one of his dodgier ideas? Mads didn't have a lot of friends in the top tier, or even mezzanine crowds.
"Est-ce le chile con carne est au menu à nouveau?" The twinkle in her eyes suggested that either Adalie was teasing, or she'd been 'studying' a bit with Ayla recently. Maybe both?
"Selv Killstench bad mig gå væk før Nate ankommer"
Rorsmand tagged in before Kismet could complain, "Jo binne dogge it publyk in tsjinst!" Odd considering her codename, but annoying Korrende seemed the right thing to do at the time. Not that it took much effort to annoy the Belgian girl.
Anyway, something looked off, to Metro's eye. "Geneviève, is Reach sick? I don't think I've seen you much without them around," the boy stopped to pull off a fairly good Groucho Marx eyebrow wag, "... but if you're in the market for someone a little shorter, maybe we can work something out?"
Three out of seven teens struggling to avoid a spit take: life is good. While everyone else tried desperately to erase that mental image, he could commence the struggle to get today's Nutritionists' Surprise past the tongue and down the hatch.
"Non! I mean, no, definitely not. Il ç'est en mission pour le Corps des Cadets de l'Espionnage. Ç'est tout."
"That's too bad", Too bad that someone's BFF isn't around to head him off. "By the way, have you given any thought to testing one of your suits out on non-psi's? I was thinking that much could be accomplished with, for example, an electrical energizer if the voltages could be stepped down."
"Ç'est possible... I would need to think more on that before committing to it."
"Would that example perhaps be a Canadian energizer who happens to not be at the table?" Kristian did not need to have been born a girl to see how smitten his countryman was. You know it's serious when they start shopping for armor. Very closely fitting armor.
"Eh, why not? I'm interested in one for myself. There's a theory that psi and magic aren't too dissimilar." Taking note of the Euro note signs in Geneviève's eyes, Mads took a bit of a risk and pulled up his shirt and coat sleeves. A form-fitting, gray, base layer could be seen by those close enough before he let the sleeves fall back. Tapping his arm, "What I have now is carbon-fiber based, but it's already failed to stop one knife."
"Oh. Oh, no! How did that happen?"
Mads went with the Official Story. "I was making a delivery, when some creep came up out of nowhere and stabbed me in the gut. Next thing I know, I'm waking up in Doyle being treated for an abdominal wound and burnout."
It wasn't the entire story that Rorsmand had been briefed on. Picturing the tow-headed freshman out delivering something normal, like newspapers or pizza, hurt his head enough without trying to imagine how events really played out. Maybe that was the point?
"I see." Remembering that the Danish mage was enough of a typical boy to try showing off the scar, Geneviève hurried to change the subject back, "I think that designing a hood that wouldn't be caught on your horns would be difficult."
"But everyone likes a challenge, non?"
Mezzanine level, a few tables away from the Beret Mafia table
Ace was in a prime Harry Callahan mood, "What on earth is he up to, moving in on Reach? First Kew, now this. On top of it all, he's buddy-buddy with a freak like Killstench. This punk needs to be taken down a notch before more decent people get hurt."
"Ace, you might as well eat. Reach would have been at that table, in position to hear what was being said, if we hadn't called him away to put him on point. Are you sure the guy's going to use the tunnels to get to class today? No one else would."
"That was the pattern Kew was seeing before Metro wrecked her rig. Unless Killer down there tipped him off, he should stick to routine."
A-Plus wasn't happy to be sitting with someone who would be practically ignoring her for the next hour or so, but that's how the intel business goes. Speaking of which, they'd have to make up for leaving Darren and Kenya stuck below. Chasing their rabbit up to the mezzanine would have risked tipping him off to the surveillance, but considering the traffic, noise, and groups that usually eat down below it had to be a pain.
Mads: 'I'm getting two pairs of hits on my detection spell, and Spark's here alone. Trail?'
Thomas: 'I haven't seen their techno. Positioned ahead of us? Green flag day.'
Mads: 'I'll send invites once I hit the tunnels.'
*yawn* "I best head over to BMA. The senseis don't like late students."
Kristian shook his head, "No. I think it's just you they don't like."
Mads demonstrated his superior maturity by rolling his eyes and sticking his tongue out at the other boy.
Crystal Hall, Ground Floor
Heading down to the ground floor, the enemy detection spell he was maintaining resolved to a female technopath and a male mutant. Metro figured that that should be Rez and Holdout on watch. Too many different kinds of mutants for all the details to be interpreted, but that's what practice is for: turning best guesses into practiced information. In any case, he had a class to attend whether his concerns about an ambush were correct or not. Beyond that, if this nonsense with Kew has a risk of turning into an ongoing feud, he'd want to check out what Security has on the club members. Enough borrowing trouble! Going down?
For most of the school's students, a "Green Flag" day in good weather meant that the above-ground paths would be in use by everyone who could avoid the tunnels. For Metro, it meant taking the tunnels to classes in order to avoid spooking others with his glamor and pheromones. When the flag system and weather sent everyone scurrying to use the tunnels, he'd been "advised" to either cover up and hoof it to class topside (No visible hooves though!) or stay in his cell and attend class via teleconference. Some of the other kids had wicked teeth and claws, so, yeah. Staying in one piece was a priority of his. Most days. Some nights.
Sighing, he called on a water spirit to channel, and sent out electronic invites to his tactical net. Connecting to Security's sensor net was a potential vulnerability, but he'd paid for decent ICE, and he could often use the coverage and the practice.
[Cyberkitty @Shortstop: Expecting trouble? We usually only see you up when working security.]
[Shortstop @Cyberkitty: Maybe. Kew's friends were watching for me at lunch.]
[Cyberkitty @Shortstop: O rly? I've got class too, but dupe me your mics to the addy I'm sending.]
[Shortstop @Cyberkitty: Wilco. You can always delete it if it's no use.]
[Cyberkitty @Shortstop: Delete data??? Heretic!! :) ]
Tunnels, near Laird Hall
A few minutes later, Metro's spell picked up intermittent attention ahead, two distances, and it felt like Ace and A-Plus had leap-frogged Rez and Holdout behind him. Valravn started off loitering behind both couples, flagging the back two on the net until Rez broke off to get to class, putting Holdout in trail. That made sense. Getting to and from the Workshop labs took enough time that many of the tech-tracked students avoided making the trip more times than necessary.
So far, the sensors were still reporting his UV band's tell-tale, but it was a good time to start analyzing for anomalies and to put on some music.
Oh look. Several cameras just went out of commission. An email from Maintenance announces they are so sorry for the inconvenience, etc. Sorry enough to include a self-delete attachment. We'll just disable the data bomb and store it elsewhere for now. Paige could use a laugh.
Someone in high-grade camouflage dropped out of the overhead space ahead of Metro, and the footsteps behind him picked up pace. Paranoia? Not when they are out to get you!
Thomas: 'Security checking downed cams. Move up?'
Mads: 'Wait one.'
Ace's voice rang out from behind, "Metro! Hold up, frosh, we want a word with you."
Metro stopped and turned, recognizing that while the deadlier opponent might be the one now behind him, these guys had put so much work into the trap it wouldn't be fair to acknowledge such things. "And what word would that be?"
A-Plus soothed, "There's no need to be so defensive. We're only here for a friendly discussion of some things you need to be aware of."
"Really? Call me old-fashioned, but having one of your friends sneaking up behind me while you two call me out doesn't seem friendly to me. Oh. Sorry. The three of you."
Ace snapped, "That's a hell of a lot more friendly than the way you bushwhacked Kew yesterday."
"Bushwhacked? First I've heard of it. If she's been attacked, isn't that a matter for Whateley Security?"
'Thomas, make the call. This is getting ugly.'
"Listen here, you little punk. We know what you did!" Naughty, naughty, Ace-me-boy. Steering a person's surface thoughts is a sneaky but legal psi trick even the freshman had heard about weeks ago.
"Ace," A-Plus warned, but didn't move to hold Ace back. Stalling for position? That put Reach and maybe Interface ... where? "Kid, we have all the evidence needed. But it should go easier for you to come with us to Security to record your confession."
"That is, if you don't have too many offenses on your record yet...", Ace snarked, before going for the dig, "But wait, that UV band tells us that you already do. Too bad. Maybe they would have let you pay for Kew's laptop and the surveillance gear you wrecked without further punishments."
"That's what this is about? A shakedown for cash?"
Mads had spent enough time on South Detroit streets to know that when it's five-on-one day and the retail price is money that you don't have, it's a pretext for a beating. Or worse. He twitched the arm with the UV identifier inward, pressing a hidden button. He had promised he'd leave bullies to Security if they showed up in time. About now, an alarm should be going off in Kane Hall, unless it was blocked. He supposed that that would help in later investigations. Not that he didn't have a spirit with him that had been interested in helping out.
'I could use and would appreciate whatever help you can lend to defend me. Us really. No unnecessary killing, if possible.'
'I wouldn't dream of carrying out murders: these are children. But if they want to play it cold, who are we to argue?'
'Cold aura? Good idea! No ref, no hit, no foul.'
'I think you would love hockey! Teeth are over-rated and easily-replaceable.'
Ace wasn't taking the bait, "No, punk. It's about you making a big mistake. You see, the thing about the Intelligence Cadet Corps? Mess with one of us, you mess with us all."
"Just to be clear then. You don't have any actionable evidence to take to Security. Just me. That could be a problem."
A-Plus pouted, "If you would only stop to cooperate, that wouldn't be a problem."
'Nice rack, but I can tell you're not interested.'
'She isn't either. Check the aura.'
Metro needed to keep talking now. Response times for Security were not the greatest around lunch-time. "But it does seem we're running out of time for that negotiation, as I need to be in class in a few short minutes. Don't any of you have classes to go to?"
"So?" Just a little bit further, and Ace was certain he could grab the kid, and let his clairvoyance do the rest. Or the kid could back up into Reach's arms. Either way worked.
"So? Am I being detained?"
"Then please stop impeding me on my way to class. That is, by the way, a violation of school regulations."
'T. Anything on Interface?'
'No got. Close, maybe.'
"We're not barring anything. The tunnel cameras aren't recording anything, so we're not here. If any questions came up it would be your word against ours. Who do you think will win that contest, the Ultra-Violent? I don't think so." Ace could give a damn about the twerp's class or his own. Keep the eye on the prize.
"If I recall correctly, interfering with the cameras provided by Security for student safety is also a violation of the school's regulations. If you are doing so, I must request that you cease doing so, turn around, and go about your business."
By this point, the entire crew was showing signs of impatience. After all, most of them did need to get to their own classes.
'I've got Confusion ready for the one behind you. Supposed to be boy, with the wonky aura?'
Seeing the mood shifts in front of him - he must have missed a signal - Metro decided to call it. 'Showtime!'
Mistaking the Reach's action for hunching down to tackle the kid, Ace lunged to get a grip on Metro's arm while he could. If the kid had any special skills, they'd soon be equalized. Not that some punk freshman like this had much chance against a junior, and a seasoned investigator at that. More importantly, Ace really was the better hand-to-hand fighter. Metro had zero chance at avoiding the grab.
From his position in a doorway hidden by one of Holdout's collapsible panels, Interface tried 'interfacing' with the kid's mind. This would be the best time for it. Maybe he could calm the boy down, or break his concentration?
In retrospect, making sure the security cameras had stayed the way he left them would have been the better idea.
Metro shouted "Take your hand OFF OF ME!" and jerked his arm back. Normally, the boy could lift 45 to 60 kilos without much bother; he just didn't look that strong. But he had been headed to Basic Martial Arts, and so he was now channeling a spirit strong enough to max his lift out to 275 kilos or so. To his way of thinking, some of the other students in the class had real powers! Not that he didn't need the practice.
Ace tried to release his benumbed grip on the boy's upper arm. If he could have still felt his right hand, that would have kept him from being yanked into his opponent's incoming right-handed strike. He stumbled back just ahead of Reach plowing into the biggest thing directly in front of him. He would later thank Anne for knocking him out of the incoming train wreck without throwing him into the wall. That would have hurt. Maybe even more than the layers of skin that were left behind on the punk's jacket.
Ever notice how the folks in the back always get left out? That'd always been perfect for giving Holdout enough room and time to de-shrink and power up a BFG. If only the hotheads would either subdue the target or get out of the way. It sounded like some kid behind him was calling Security, so Delarose couldn't yell at the team for not calling in this time. The tunnel was wide enough that cutting left should give him a shot.
With Reach closed on Metro, and A-Plus now in the way, maintaining Confusion was becoming a dicey proposition for Valravn. Time for some more misdirection (Mads' bad influence was rubbing off on him.) One of the other Poesies had made for him a realistic-looking taser. The 'charging system' was just there for show; he provided the charge. That's what Holdout deserved for turning his back on one of Thunderbird's own kin.
With Ace safely out of the way, A-Plus was more than capable of stopping a bull-rushing Reach, along with the freshman on his cow-catcher. So she did. Three hundred pounds between the two of them? No problem. Having the one covered in hoarfrost being shoved straight into her chest? That was a problem.
It should be noted that the Spy Kidz' "uniform" was basically a black set of turtleneck, cargo pants, sneakers, and thin fingerless gloves. That fingerless aspect wasn't suited to Arctic cold. Just ask Ace. The turtleneck wasn't much protection either; scant seconds after colliding with the boys, A-Plus' breasts were very unhappy both about her position and about her life choices involving underwire bras. She opted to do the smart thing, and rolled out from under the two-boy pile-up.
Seeing things only getting worse, Valravn yelled, "Freeze!"
'Works for police.'
Metro crawled out from under a shapeshifter whose supersuit was having a rough day coping with the kind of cold it had been in contact with. Pausing to snark at his partner then put him too close to a clairvoyant previously busy trying to copy his current skills. Now, said esper was wishing she hadn't made that effort. Another Bad Idea, brought to you by Jensen and some other guy who wants no 'credit' for this.
A-Plus' telepathic knack did manage to get for her everything Metro had learned from reading "How To Get The Best Prices For Your Enemies' Unused Parts In Two Stops Or Less" and "Adventures in Handy Handicapping: How Old's the Stiff?"
'We'll want to keep the cold aura up until you're ready to deal with that. Ironic that she had chili for lunch, isn't it?'
When you put it that way? Yes. Yes, but ewwwww.'
Having lost control of the tunnels sensors to a much better cyberpath, Interface found himself busy fighting to regain control for a change. What little he was picking up from the shorter boy was setting new standards for unpleasantness, before, during, and after Anne yarked all over him. Mistaking the shout to freeze for the Good Guys arriving, he stepped out from behind his hiding place and into the younger students' gun-sights.
"Gentlemen, Ladies, we are all going to stay right here until Security arrives. I recommend that those you able to place your hands on your heads, please do so now. As I could have told you all earlier, had you remained peaceful, if I have to handle you you will end up with frostbite. Any questions? No? Good."
[Cyberkitty @Shortstop: U owes us popcorns Shorty. That was over 2 soon! :( :( ;) ]
Wednesday, 2 PM,
By this point in their careers, the Intelligence Cadet Corps didn't need much help to find Conference Room C, but Lt. Reynolds' men were taking no chances. It was humiliating to end up needing magical healing from the freak they'd planned to frog-march up to Security, but regenerating frostbitten flesh the old-fashioned way would have hurt much worse. Someone from Doyle Medical even threatened to bring a bottle of iodine if they failed to cooperate. Doyle Medieval, more like it.
The platoon's student colleague, Mads Jensen, was sent straight to the locker room clean up as best as he could, accompanied by laments that no firehoses were available. The combination of death-laced fae glamor, 'predator' pheromones, greasy sweat, a bloody nose, and half-digested chili was judged, hands down, "worse than that goddamned skunk".
After sufficient scrubbing, Metro was allowed to fill out his own incident report, at the most remote station available to the office. Valravn was questioned as separately from his other half as could be managed, by the simple expedient of asking someone from the Mystical Arts Department to interview the water spirit at the same time. Once their audio and video records were copied, cross-referenced to what had been sent to Cyberkitty and to Security's own data files, the two were sent away to clean up some more, and then go to their sixth period class. The one taught by one of the boys' doctors.
Very funny, kid. No, they couldn't opt for a chewing-out by Mrs. Carson instead.
She had other students to talk to.
The video clips of a certain auxiliary being bad-touched AND crashed into hello by Reach was already nominated for the platoon's annual "Best Of" reel.
The same auxiliary groggily shaking his head and sitting up straight "into the line of fire" was being spliced onto the clip labeled "Skunk!!!" as they spoke. Oh, the look on his face!
Epilogue: The Workshop
There were many things that could be said about Harley, sometimes Harlan, 'Reach' Sawyer. They were easy-going, persistent, and very much in love with their 'Jenny', Geneviève 'Spark' Etincelle. So it was that when they stopped by Spark's lab one evening and found her in deep discussion with Mads 'Metro' Jensen regarding ideas for suit testing and upgrades, they considered taking the high road with the freshman and butting in. Really, they did. Judging by the boy's 'deer in the headlights' look, it was too late anyway, so they took the incoming phone call instead.
"Harley? Hello. Thomas Jensen. We met the other day, when your pal Ace decided that BMA is attendance-optional." That sarcastic son-of-a... "Are they still at it?" What?
"I take it that you're referring to Jenny and the Jensen fellow?" In a low snarl, Harley asked, "And at what, precisely do you think they would be up to?"
"First off, his surname is pronounced Yensen, and his given name is Mads. Descriptive in more ways than one."
That was a clear 'Mine! Back off!' vibe. Kind of like the same vibe between Jenny and Mads when Harley walked in.
Thomas continued, "As far as what they are up to, she's a devisor and he is a gadgeteer with a background in munitions. Could you do EVERYONE a favor and point him towards his check-in at Kane Hall?"
"I can do that." Louder, "Kane Hall was it? Jenny needs to take a break for food anyway."
"Thanks!" The phone clicked.
"Oops. The time! Geneviève, you've got my email, right? We'll have to talk more about the project later. Harley, could I speak with you for a moment?" The head tic toward the door implied, 'privately'.
Harley set the 'Devisor special' down on a bench before stepping outside with the pint-sized mage.
"Sorry about that. We were talking shop and it somehow ran late. About the other day..."
Harley didn't like this at all. "What about the other day?"
"Erm. I'm given to understand that there was more than one video of a tackle being recorded."
Less liking, all the time. "And?"
"While I can trust Spark's discretion with the data, and Thomas is more likely to forget the heat-death of the universe first, as far as anyone else not present is concerned? That. Never. Happened."
Harley could imagine how being tackled by, oh hell, someone nearly Mads' "type" would look. Between, Rorsmand and Charge, there was even a mutual assured destruction option. She smiled and with her best Bluegrass drawl, "Something happened recently? Whenever could that have been?"
"My mistake, Miss Sawyer. Well then, I shan't interrupt your social call to Miss Etincelle any further." Mads tipped his hat to Harley, "Have a good night!"
Epilogue 2: Kane Hall
"Ace, I think you should carefully reconsider this." Anne 'A-Plus' Pollard loved the guy. She did. But there are times like this, when he got his mind set on a questionable tack, that she could wring his neck.
"All we are doing is inquiring about the background of a student who's displayed a skill set consistent with criminal activity."
"That could honestly be said about every one of us. That's one of the reasons we're not popular with Security." Only one. The Spy Kidz had long had an extensive record with the department.
"It's a reasonable line of inquiry. The worst they can do is refuse, which then tells us that they do know of a criminal past."
"I still say it's a bad idea."
Nonetheless, the two continued in to Kane Hall. The majority of Security personnel being male, it would only be helpful to the investigation for one of the Intelligence Cadets to be an Exemplar-3 knockout. Or it would have been, if Officer Samantha Everheart hadn't stepped up to see what they were about.
"We have some questions about the possible criminal background of a person of interest, but all we have to go on is the code name, 'Metro', is there some way that you could help us out?" Well, it wasn't exactly a lie. More of a 'Dirty Harry'-ism.
"'Metro'. Do you mean the one listed up there?" Not one of the top UV students on campus, but that was definitely someone Security had to be keeping tabs on.
Anne wondered about the story behind the crossed-out "Paso Doble" and the underlined and crossed-out "P.D."
"Yes. I seem to recall seeing him wear a UV warning band."
"You should, after that incident near Laird Hall, not long enough ago."
Everheart called back to what had to be a student auxiliary. Good. With a few exceptions, like the Betas, and STAR League Jr and every other group they'd targeted for 'investigations', student workers were an easier mark than regular staff. "Jensen? These two students here have some questions. Got time to handle that?"
Ace heard A-Plus mutter under her breath, "For the record, make that a very bad idea."
"Sure. Just catching up here." The teen stood, grabbed a note pad, and walked up to the Spy Kidz. Something about the way he looked at them gave both wannabe operatives the impression that not only had the student officer just inventoried their gear, but that Andy had obliviously chosen the wrong bait for this one. "Right. Student auxiliary officer Mads Jensen, and you are?"
We are Screwed. Royally. Screwed.
"I'm Andy DeWitt, codenamed 'Ace', and this is Anne Pollard, codenamed 'A-Plus'. I don't think I've seen you in my classes, are you a sophomore here or a junior?"
"No. Just a freshman, as both of you already know," the kid smiled a 'nice try though', "So. What can I do you for?"
Ace smoothly continued playing his San Francisco PD riff, "We're conducting an inquiry regarding one of the Ultra-Violents. His code name is 'Metro', but we haven't gotten much more information than that from eyewitnesses." ... for certain values of 'eyewitness' that don't involve an actual crime.
A-Plus was almost entranced by the train wreck happening in front of her. Beside her, Ace was doing his best to bluff the very person he was asking about, simply because his pride rarely let him back down. In front of her, her telepathic knack reminded her that she'd met less well-trained beat cops. Her memory of a horrific taste in reading materials hinted at a CSI background as well. In a JROTC cadet with an apparent age of 14, that totaled up to 'from a family line of cops'.
"Ah. Yes. We see quite a bit of him here. Hardly a day goes by," he turned to glower at one of the officers having a coughing fit toward the back, "that he doesn't end up here, or at Doyle. What would be the exact nature of this inquiry? I don't think we've received a specific complaint about him since that incident with a skunk. Or, for that matter, with the two of you."
"Yes. Even Admin chose to express their, erm, displeasure." The coughing now sounded more like choking. "But if you could be more specific, I'm sure that we could find a way to help you, as long as the means aren't at cross-purpose with existing laws and school regulations." Jensen smiled an entirely professionally expectant smile that ended a good ten clicks from his eyes.
"At the moment, we're still in the initial stages of investigation, so we can't yet come forth with a formal complaint. We need to know the perp's" Andy, are you an idiot?, "known criminal skills and methods."
"Would those methods by any chance include social engineering?" Strike One.
He shrugged, turning toward the distaff Spy Kid.
"Maybe sexual politics as a means of distraction or suasion?" Strike Two.
Regarding both espers, "Perhaps psychic and/or physical assault towards the goal of a coerced confession?" Strike Three.
"Of course, those are hypothetical examples. You see, without knowing what's being investigated, it's difficult to pin down the relevant details to search for. Otherwise, Mr. DeWitt, Miss Pollard, I'd suggest pending this line of inquiry to a later date." Yer Out!
"I see that it will be difficult to make headway tonight, but you can be sure that we will be back, with more specific questions as things develop." Ace hinted at the possibility of repercussions to the freshman's position, as direct intimidation had worked so well so far.
"Very well, then. Good evening to the both of you." If the delivery were any colder there'd be frost forming on the kid's glasses. Based on past experiences, neither student was in a hurry for a repeat of that.
Chapter 14: Night Patrol
"Some nights, I stay up cashing in my bad luck
Some nights, I call it a draw... "
—Jeff Bhasker, Nate Ruess, Andrew Dost, and Jack Antonoff, "Some Nights"
By some measures it was a good thing that, by the time Auxiliary Security Officer Mads Jensen finally got down the hill and dragged his sorry arse up the steps to Hawthorne Cottage, it was well past lights out. He was hoping that that meant the common rooms would be deserted - because he was just too wiped out to head back up to Kane Hall from Doyle to clean up all his gear and soak blood and pine tar off his uniform first. The tremor in his hand as he went to unlock the door warned him that a long day was turning to a longer night.
Some time back, Sam Everheart had mentioned that one of her first nights patrolling on-campus she'd run across a student who'd plowed into a tree because the girl had forgotten that knowing where you're going is a critical flight skill. To hear her tell it, it was kind of funny, since exemplars tend to be bullet-proof and mostly impalement—
You know, they could very well wait to examine his knee until after he finished yarking up his bootlaces. Hell, that kid is probably still in surg—
Make that 'until after the bootlaces worked their way up and the rain has died down.'
It was one thing to deal with shooting or stabbing victims being pulled off the street into Mama's clinic. The few times he'd been in combat, well that had definitely been 'kill or be killed'. There's just something about having to help saw limbs, tree, tree limbs, not the other, off next to still living and crying. No. Thinking about that was just worse. Even with all the power he could risk on healing, that wouldn't have made the pain go away. For someone whose world wouldn't ever, ever. Damn. Just breathe.
The boy never noticed the warning signal before his medkit fired off a double dose of anti-psychotic and pain-killer.
Nor, thankfully, did he see the look on Mrs. Cantrel's face as Eldritch and the on-call nurse loaded his unconscious body on the stretcher, leg carefully splinted. The phone call warning her that one of her charges was coming in in bad shape had hurt; the pounding of boots, slamming of a bathroom door, and the wet snap of broken cartilage when he slipped and went down hard simply broke her heart with each terrible sound.
The softly muttered "Well, his helmet's still on. No concussion this time. That's good, right?" from one of the other 'inmates' who should have been asleep, didn't help. "Right. Like I'd trust Metro with crutches." Gallows humor, but better.
"You all go on back to your rooms, now."
Not for the first time the house mother had to ask herself, 'What kind of world teaches children "There but for the Grace of God go I" so intimately?
"We'll know more in the morning."
Oh but Lord, the dawn is still so very far off!
Chapter 15: Songs Sung Blue
Slightly surprised by the knocking on his office door, Mr. King paused from revising his lesson plans for the next round of classes. Most of his students already knew he wasn't so formal as to insist on waiting for an invitation to enter - he wasn't the staff vampire! Looking up at his autographed portrait of The King for inspiration and patience, he called out "Y'all come on in!" in his own rich baritone.
Two freshmen, by the look of them, the blond a bit on the scrawny side, the other one dark-haired and taller, bounced or trudged in. *sigh* The term had been going so well without some underclassman conned into asking if he really was Elvis in disguise, who or what he stored in his afro, or heaven alone knows what else. "Good afternoon, fellas. To what do I owe this pleasure?"
"Mr. King, we were told" Here it comes "... that Whateley actually has a professional recording studio, and that you were the person to talk to to see about using it!"Sweet Mama, a new question!
"And the two of you are?" the school's music instructor paused for a more civil introduction.
"Jensen. Mads Jensen," the short kid reached out for a handshake, "and this is my compadre Thomas Jensen, the one who lost a be-et!" the kid finished with a high tenor sing-song.
"Just 'Thomas Jensen', sir," the other boy stepped up to shake hands, shooting an irritated look at the first.
"What you're asking about is some very expensive equipment, not toys. Do I want to know what kind of bet is behind the sudden interest?"
"Nothing illegal, but the penalty is for him to sing a selection of love songs, in Tlingit, to be carefully placed on an upperclassman's iPod playlist (which you need not worry about)."
"Ehhhh, it was the first thing that came to mind. I think Bluejay's actually from one of the Algonquian nations. So, yeah."
"Or maybe he used Anishinaabemowin because your English is dodgy?"
"Boys. If I agree to this, and I'm not saying I will, but if I do, I want one of the other teachers here present to make sure you're not poking fun at the boy's people. Do you get where I'm coming from?" Mr. King hadn't seen two looks that blank since the time he asked Tina and the Turbines to strut their stuff.
"Why would we ... ?" shortstop turned to the other one.
Thomas jumped in for the save, "He means he agrees. Yes, you do, Mads. That goes for both of us, sir."
Mercy! thought Mr. King, the kids honestly did understand some of what went into making a recording. Some club in Kansas City? That was a bit hard to believe, as there was no corn in either of those boys' accents, but they'd had some experience, somewhere. Figuring in Thomas' idea about a little payback, this might turn out to be an interesting recording session.
"Mads? Son, how about doing us a favor? You know a few of these songs, right? If you can just run through a couple, we can get the drummers warmed up, and the sound mix dialed in a bit on the board. Most of all, that gives us time to go over the lyrics back here with my good friend Charlie."
"Ummm. I don't know Thomas' set that well, just some songs Mama taught me."
The kid looked more the product of a couple of short Vikings (not even on the same ocean as Hagar and Helga) than anything else. From the stares the drummers from The Nations gave the boy, they'd come to much the same conclusion. They came to play, sink, swim, or float, and sonny boy, they'd be getting ALL of this on tape.
"Ya Ha Way Ya
Ya Ha Way Ya
Ya Way A Hay Ya …
... Manitou-makwa caa-bee-naa-go-zit
Manitou-makwa peesh-a-way-na-mishi-nam ... " ***
Seeing jaws drop in the studio's control room, Thomas quietly informed the two instructors, "His foster mother, Dr. Evelyn Beaulieu, follows Makwa. Even before the adoption - and make no mistake gentlemen, she's more his mother than the one who bore him - Even as her patient, she must have sung that and other songs for him, whether he could even form the words or not. These, here," he pointed to the pages in their hands, "are for the prank," pointing to the other Jensen, "that one's for the heart."
A few days later, a bleary-eyed Jay Blue Lake wandered into the Library to get the turnover for another graveyard shift. At this rate, it would only take a minor miracle for the caffeine to kick in before his second or third class. He left his iPod 'buds in while he scanned the Map and waited for his thoughts to become more coherent.
Most of the people and things that were meant to be shown on the map were in their usual places. He noted a roving Security patrol, oddly shy a person, but nothing too risky on a quiet night. Covering the map back up, he clicked forward past a pop song he'd heard way too many times, to something he thought he still enjoyed.
Well, that's what he thought he was fast-forwarding to.
The apprentice Lore-keeper almost choked on his coffee, as the spirit also known as Bluejay cranked up the volume on a song that he knew had not been on his playlist.
[Bluejay: 'I approve this song!']
Mr. Lodgeman caught the distracted boy's attention by placing a weathered hand on his shoulder. "It's in a Dené language other than Tlingit, but some friends of yours couldn't resist slipping in a Bluejay song. Think of it as a reminder to not get so caught up in watching out for the world that you forget why it's worth defending."
*** " Spirit Bear Song ",
(Originally recorded by Red Shadow Singers)
"... The spirit bear is coming
The spirit bear is coming to love us."
Chapter 16: Meetings and a Commiseration
4PM, September 20, 2007,
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Not being ones to rush headlong into a project, Sir Wallace Westmont and Ms. Suzanah Hagarty had given their errant Cadets a couple of weeks to finish their various detentions before moving on to new business. That also gave them time to review various deficiencies in the way they'd handled their last manufactured "case".
In addition, the Intelligence Corps cadets had also needed to start entirely new rounds of inoculations as a result of their inexplicably lost shot records. Sir Wallace had been told years ago, back when he was a lowly airman, never to torque off the persons in charge of giving shots; now a new generation was testing that old adage and finding it true.
Word also had it that the Assistant Headmistress had taken a special interest in the completeness of the inoculation effort once a certain Mr. Welles decided to complain to her about such things being beneath his upperclassman status. In general, it should be noted that Ms. Amelia Hartford is another one not to torque off, ever. She managed to find a few biowarfare-related inoculation series that even the Clinic hadn't heard of. The most appalling thing about that was that two freshman mages and the entire Drow Collective signed up for the remainder of the vials ordered. The British operatives had a long discussion regarding whether Hartford knew something they didn't (far too likely), or the other students being that meticulous regarding bio-agent risks. They erred on the side of meticulousness, but it made for a sleepless night, nonetheless.
And yet, and yet, a new camera of Kew's design, well, mostly of her design - it was suggested that Montana not be given a look at the schematics, had again found its way into the Venus, Inc. dressing room. It was then decided that if the Cadets have time left over for that sort of hijinks, they have sufficient time for more serious work. On consultation with Administration and the Physical Education department, it was agreed that this assignment could be completed to the Spy Kidz credit, or to their considerable demerit.
A few minutes before the meeting time, Sir Wallace addressed the assembled Cadets: "Reach, Rez, Holdout, please refresh my memory. Did the message that we sent out specify that this meeting was optional?"
"No, sir." "No?" "No, Sir Wallace."
Suzanah Hagarty then asked, "Have the other members of the Intelligence Cadet Corps indicated that they were quitting? Perhaps the possibility of being tasked with actual assignments is too burdensome?"
More shaking of heads and a couple of noes.
Sir Wallace: "Would you then care to remind your friends that unless they are physically present to receive this assignment, they receive 0 points credit against the ten that's been pre-deducted from their combat finals, no matter what they turn in? We start in five minutes, on the hour, as you all were directed."
The next five minutes were a scramble of comm calls and cajoling. The worried look on A-Plus' face, Kew's breathlessness, and the swagger in Ace's entrance, bare seconds ahead of the deadline, told the two professionals nothing pleasant about how well these kids would perform outside a controlled classroom environment. However, they persisted in their claims that real world professions were what they were aiming for. In for a penny, in for a pound, as they say.
As Ms. Hagarty passed out manila envelopes, Sir Wallace sketched out the operation.
"By my estimates, this will be one of the Intelligence Cadet Corps' most difficult assignments to date. Each of you has a certain number of targets on whom to conduct background surveillance. Please note that for some there are items of particular interest to be addressed. You've been afforded three weeks. It could have been four or five weeks if you hadn't made yourselves unavailable."
Ace growled, "How do you figure we made ourselves 'unavailable'? We've been here at school the entire time."
Ms. Hagarty, unimpressed by the Eastwood wanking, fielded that question. "Whether you're laying low until the heat from your last job dies down, in jail, in hospital, or on detention, out in the real world as you lot like to put it, no one cares what the excuse is, unavailable for new work is unavailable for new work. The primary considerations to a client or supervisor are what personnel are available at that time and what skills they bring to the table. Those skills include the ability to present oneself as a professional. What kind of professional I leave to you. You can decide to meet the deadlines given, or you can pass on the job."
Sir Wallace said, "Take note that being caught, named as a party in valid complaints, or just tipping your respective hands over the course of the assignment counts against the grade for your work. You will not be warned of the risk of failing your assignment until after your assignment is completed. Again, in that Real World of yours, you won't automatically know if you've been compromised. In some cases, entire operations have been brought down by one idiot getting a parking ticket. Do not expect an extension if you happen to be unavailable to turn your work in yourself."
A-Plus didn't look like she wanted to ask the question, but persevered, "What if something completely unexpected happens, and we cannot make it back in person with the files?"
Ms. Hagarty said, "Most clients understand force majeure quite well, Ms. Pollard, and would expect a timely notification of unexpected circumstance. Adapting to conditions, such as arranging an alternate delivery that is acceptable to their needs, is all part of being a professional." She left, 'without compromising yourself with, or to, the others' unsaid as part of the exercise.
The instructors had laid out the outline of the job and bounding criteria. They now watched the Cadets' reactions, ranging from surprise at being given an assignment, to a surly outrage that they were being given an assignment. Both Westmont and Hagarty had to suppress their own amusement at how much the kids reacted like any newbie team on their first paying gig. There was one minor difference: hardasses that tried to intimidate the negotiator weren't being shot for their cheek.
In or out, boys and girls? And what's your price? Tick. Tock.
"Any more questions? No? Then that ends the meeting. Three weeks, gentlemen, ladies. That's not much time as you might think."
4PM, September 19, 2007,
What neither instructor had told the Cadets is that roughly the same mission had been handed to an 'independent contractor' the day before. The initial premise behind that had been that they needed some way to accurately gage what constituted entry-level work in the present environment. Realizing that one or more of the Cadets still had a nasty habit of surveilling the instructors for no discernible reason at all, there would be a decoy assignment given out to another 'independent'. This term it would only cost them double for playing at double agency. Also, a couple of "missions" would be changed mid-course through the assignment, just like a homicide detective being reassigned a higher-priority case, or as a check for in-house leaks.
Sir Wallace had felt slightly guilty for adding a decoy, Ms. Hagarty much less so. However, not only did Gunny Bardue and Sensei Ito both think it fitting, they'd made a note to add something similar to the pool of Combat Finals crash scenarios. The contractor had merely shrugged; if he was being tasked to backstop the decoy he would have appreciated more lead time, but would settle for an increase on the bonus option. Mid-course corrections were his suggestion, because quote: everyone needs that "go here, no, there, I mean, over here!" experience. It's not like the Spy Kidz would be getting diverted to different continents, right?
When asked later, the person who'd recommended the contractor helpfully reminded Sir Wallace that starting to drink more heavily earlier in the day was how several of said contractor's therapists ended up in Rehab.
Chapter 17: Through A Looking Glass
8PM, September 19, 2007,
Intelligence Corps Cadets' Secret Clubhouse
That evening all the Intelligence Corps Cadets got together in the Great Pumpkin Patch to discuss the assignments they'd received.
Ace: "Boy, I got three cookies!"
A-Plus: "I got a pack of gum!"
Holdout: "I got a chocolate bar!"
Interface: "I got a quarter!"
Kew: "Hey, I got a package of diet gum!"
Rez: "I got a fudge bar!"
Reach: "I got a rock."
To be fair, it might have looked more like a standard clubhouse room in the Whateley tunnels than it would a pumpkin patch. That was a good thing, considering that it was yet a good six weeks before Halloween. (Closer to Halloween could be a different story, between the bio-devisors and various manifestors.) And quite possibly, all the sealed envelopes looked alike except for the name on each one. No candies nor random hand specimens of dubious geologic origin. Inside each envelope was a short precis of seed information plus one or more specific data requests for each of three students on-campus. Accompanying that were directions for contacting their "client" if situations arose, and directions for making the final "drop".
What may have been less obvious were the stealthed RFID tags separately tagging each set of papers. At this point in their life cycle, each envelope pinged any other tagged envelopes in the set within 10m as it was opened. A simple little bit of sympathetic magic flashed an "opened" check-box on a piece of paper elsewhere on campus, erased its tracks and expired. Another set of micro-tags collected sound recordings that would be relayed onto the campus wifi under certain conditions. These were all in addition to small devices on each envelope that were meant to be found.
Of course Ace chaired the meeting - when you have an Ace, who else would you need?. "As we all already know, each envelope had a tracker attached to it, so let's start with Kew. What did you find out from those?"
"It's a simple semi-commercial design, hard to erase, and easy to mistake for a standard inventory control tag. Of course, it makes no sense to track individual consumables, so I took them back to my Workshop station for tear-down. They turned out to be similar to a design that sees commercial use, but in tracking stolen money and narcotics payments. This particular model is most commonly used by Goodkind Banking." Kew paused for the inevitable grumbling about the damned Goodkinds.
Ace thanked Kew and asked, "Aside from Phase, who else would either regularly come in contact with large payouts, or have banking connections?"
Interface had placed a wager or two on finals. "The campus bookies are one option, but they usually deal in cash or electronic payment." Hazard may be a Mastermind, but she was easier on the eyes than Booker, Boxcars, Memo, or even Risk, and knowing that he placed an occasional, perfectly legal bet with the Mastermind annoyed A-Plus to no end.
That brings us back to financial institutions, or people who'd be studying the institutions' security measures in order to defeat them."
Rez asked, "Why would Sir Wallace let the Masterminds - hey guys, I can see where this discussion is headed - have a crack at meddling in this assignment? It makes more sense for that to be a means to verify that we did check for bugs. As far as ties to the banking industry go, I'd be surprised if any of the 'Golden Kids' didn't have banking connections."
Interface thought back to some of the tactics that Everheart and Bardue had used in the sims, "Or, he could have set it up so he can send someone after us, to see how we handle counter-intel measures."
A-plus: "If that is the case, we don't know who is being sent to intercept us, but we'd need to find that out soon."
Ace had already thought of that, "Kew, do we still have any active listening posts on Sir Wallace's preferred offices?"
"Ace, you know that both Westmont and Hagarty have to be getting tired of sweeping their offices every time they see our faces, right?" Reach had been awake for some of the more bitter discussions of that topic.
"Out in the real world, you have to keep a close eye on who you do business with. This is just part of that training."
Kew said, "In Schuster Hall, and also the Laird Hall facilities where she trains Fey in martial arts. I've yet to get something into the Mystical Arts offices and have the equipment stay working. On the other hand, meeting with an agent there would cut down on the pool of available talent. Nex, for example, wouldn't be able to find the door to the place."
Nex wouldn't be able to find quite a few things," Interface drawled.
"If Westmont's going to do something like that, I'd expect it tomorrow or Monday. Having a meeting with someone he normally doesn't associate with on the weekend would look suspicious. But, if he assumed we wouldn't be watching, that would be the best time for a meeting."
Kew sighed, "Keep monitoring through Monday. Yep. I got it."
Ace nodded at that, "Also, there's the matter that every one of us has been assigned three of the others. That only makes sense if the goal is to keep us chasing our own tails."
"Yeah, usually it's just She-Beast running us in circles."
Holdout sighed, "We didn't need the reminder, Randy. So, is there a possibility that whoever he calls in is getting the actual mission?" He continued, "That puts the more difficult task, counter-intelligence, on us. That might make more sense since we're the ones with training and assets."
"Or he could have meant for us to follow the assignments he handed out to us. Like any other teacher,"
Reach was getting a little irritated at the club's tendency to go tearing off on it's own chases. Rez silently made a mental note to stock up on headache medications.
Interface shrugged, "We do know each other, so it's not like we couldn't put together the backgrounds and share that out amongst ourselves. That leaves plenty of time to deal with any third-party action and still complete the assigned tasks. One thing you sophomores are going to learn real soon about the sims: unless otherwise directed every report is a group effort."
Ace decided they'd gotten as far as could be expected that night. "I say we give it until Monday, Tuesday at the latest to see if Westmont does bring someone else in. The rest of the assignment could wait, but let's prepare to pool our info next time. Any questions?"
To be fair, it did seem a reasonable plan if you routinely expected your supervisors to be screwing you over. With the information soon to be trickling in, Sir Wallace would soon have a good idea where and when best to call in his second contractor, not that he was screwing the Cadets over. The Spy Kidz themselves were passed masters at that trade.
Reach was still of the private opinion that she'd been given a rock.
Mads 'Metro' Jensen looked up from the mirror, convinced that scrying is fueled not by essence, but by sucking all the precious caffeine from the magician's limited body stores. Pretty much like debugging Java code documented in Esperanto— painful, time-consuming, and pointless.
Hey, Thomas. You think this'll count towards our scrying homework?"
"I think I'll go out a limb and say no."
"Good thing I asked! Um... Why?"
"Because our homework assignment is on different alchemical traditions."
Thomas 'Valravn' Jensen risked taking a look at what his friend had managed to write down so far. He wished he hadn't.
"Pro tip: Writing 'Hakim Al-Feyez is a poopyhead' in ten different languages does not count for credit."
"Even if it's true?"
"Especially if it's true. He's the guest lecturer that assigned this homework."
"I... don't remember that."
"That was after your chair teleported 10m to the left. Without you. While you were leaning back in it instead of paying attention to class. For you, it was a mild concussion; for the rest of the class it was a Wednesday."
Breakfast, September 21, 2007,
Crystal Hall, Mezzanine level
Between the late evening and early morning fog, and the high humidity the morning chill had a way of seeping into the bones if one weren't used to it. That suited Rez just fine. It encouraged more students, speedsters especially, to use the tunnels, leaving the walkway to the Crystal Hall much less crowded. That gave her time and space to plan the day ahead; the weekend ahead as long as her and Holdout's passes weren't denied. It didn't hurt that hot chocolate always tasted extra good on a cool morning.
Other things might also taste extra good on a cool morning, but having Andy for a roommate meant she couldn't expect Darren to have had much rest as she had. She wasn't always one for early-morning PDAs herself. The way some couples carried on, she prayed they'd managed to use mouthwash before showing up for breakfast. Oh well. At least she could use the time until the bee-eff dragged himself in to review her part in the Cadets' assignment. After that maybe she'd look online for the showing times of the movie he'd be taking her to see.
Based on her own notes, Rez was certain the observation targets weren't randomly assigned. For instance, not one of the people assigned her for their write-ups was on her list, and vice versa. If they went with Randy's suggestion, the odds were very good that they'd be handing Sir Wallace three copies of essentially the same seven dossiers. If she pulled that with her own parents she'd be lucky if they gave her one-third credit for an excellent set. If it were less than excellent, not even that much. She was tempted to do her own background checking anyway; she hadn't been raised to only put the minimum into her work. But what if one person put together three well-researched investigations, while the others didn't? Iterating the team through the prisoner's dilemma along those lines could get ugly. Seeing Darren looking around for her, she decided to shelve her concerns for now. On the other hand, there was no reason not to task her own search routines with the names she did have.
1140 AM, September 21, 2007,
Factoring in the time required to arrive at his office from her last morning class, Sir Wallace Westmont was pleasantly surprised to hear his next independent contractor knocking at his door.
"You wanted to see me, Sir Wallace?"
"Yes, Miss O'Brien, I did. Please have a seat." Westmont indicated one of the "guest" chairs in front of his desk, instead of the "uninvited/in trouble" chairs.
Alex couldn't think of anything she'd done that would rouse the ire of the British wizard (Yes, she did pay attention to who was tutoring the various Kimbettes. Not only could the knowledge ease her way onto the 'fixer' scene, but it annoyed the hell out of the Goodkind.) Given her former associations, she wouldn't bet the farm on this being a social call, either. For now, she opted to look as genuinely curious as she felt.
Westmont said,"As I understand it, you've taken an interest in the unofficial services market here at Whateley, and I believe I have a task at hand that not only are you well-suited for, but which may enhance your reputation among those elements on campus. That is, depending on how well you perform the task."
"Sir, I'm not interested in taking on anything illegal. That's a fast way for me to end up on streets where I'd rather not be found." Particularly Boston streets, but any place within a hundred miles of the Necromancer would do just horribly.
Westmont walked around his desk with a manila folder and a couple of slips of paper. Leaning against the desk, he looked down at the folder. Curiously, one slip of paper was visible to Alex. It read, 'The room is bugged. I need a White Rabbit. Are you game?' Curiouser and curiouser.
He said, "No. Not illegal. I do value my job here. This would be more along the lines of gathering information on some students that have come to the attention of certain staff members. As to myself and those I represent, let's just say they've gotten our attention as well."
What the hell. It could be fun, and if do pull a rabbit out of the hat, cred with the Mystical Arts Dept. is worth a pretty penny or two.
"That does sound like my sort of game. Is it open-ended, or more of a race against a deadline?"
The slip now read 'The greyhound that catches this rabbit is the loser. Still in?'
Alex wondered, 'What was this, psychic paper?'
'No, just a trick I picked up from Circe.'
Westmont said, "I'm afraid that this will need to be wrapped up within three weeks' time."
"Perfect! That still leaves time to shop for my Halloween Costume."
"Judging from last Halloween's events, you may want to invest in a well-armored costume."
'Not that some of the Spy Kidz don't play rough.'
"Not a problem. I can be a rough-and-tumble sort of gal at times, myself."
"Well then. I shan't keep you away from lunch any longer. Here is the target list, relevant information, how to reach your backup, etc."
'Your actual backup is Metro, a freshman in Hawthorne. Valravn can always find him if you can't. Like you, he's in Poe Cottage.'
"Very well, Sir Wallace. Thank you. I look forward to showing you what I have to offer."
"Have a good day, Miss O'Brien."
"I think I will!"
Alex had heard about the Spy Bratz (try saying that three times quickly) waylaying a disabled freshman after lunch a few weeks ago. What a class act. Not. For the time being, she could stash the docs back at her home away from homelessness in Poe until she had a chance to make a decoy copy of her own. Let them deal with Phase's contingencies for contingencies, again. On the way to the cottage, she had a feeling of being followed, but oops, none of the Secret Squirrelz had any business on that side of the campus.
It hurt her soul, it truly did, but she resolved to give Phase a (fabulous, natch) heads-up anyway. She grabbed one of Ayla's favorite noshes, and stuck a note where only Miss Perfect would find it after going into a snit-fueled inventory. Then she carefully mislaid the treat elsewhere in the fridge. Actually stealing from the hypersensitive foodie would have been low - she'd known enough kids in her old school who lived on restricted diets to know exactly how low. Annoying the foodie roomie without being a d-bag? That's just fair game.
A quick glance-and-memorize of the folder's contents was worth the price of admission. If they did take the bait, it would be criminal of her to not give the Kidz a good run of it. After that? Seekret Squirrelz versus those three matchups promised to be popcorn-and-scorecards worthy.
Not having much reason not to, and a crowd of hundreds of ravening teenagers to support the decision, Kew ('Emily Ann Quenton' back home. To the 'rents at least) grabbed a 'Devisor Special' from the Crystal Hall on the way from class down to her workspace. It's not that she was interested in hiding away from people. It was more of a matter of lunch-time being a good open time slot to get things done, or to just stare into space for a while, while organizing what needed to be done, and when, for her various projects. She could do that in the caf', in theory, but she could also just as easily be caught down-range of a food fight. She blended into a crowd more than well enough (around here anyway), no need to be bumped and jostled by people carrying food trays to remind her of that. Most of the people she knew outside the Intelligence Corps Cadets would either be down here in the Workshop tunnels, headed to or from here, or too busy to be interrupted just for social 'me' time.
It was almost sad the way that others saw the 'lack' of social interaction between herself and Rez as being some kind of girlish rivalry. Hadn't the boys, and some of the 'concerned citizens' for that matter, ever heard of this spiffy new thing called email? Not that they exchanged much email, but it was available for use if Rez ever did stop trying to elbow her out.
Kew noted that one or two of the Schuster hall recorders had logged a hefty bit of audio since she last checked. Might as well queue those up first while she checked email and started on her sandwich. In a bit of shock, she ran a quick-and-dirty comparison of the two files, trying out a correlation matrix as part of a low-pass filter. No sense losing more hearing straining over raw feeds when digital enhancement was an option.
She double-checked her transcription before sending out over the ICC comms, "Guys, Kew here. Sir Wallace just farmed out an assignment to, get this, Vamp. Any chance we can manage a physical interception before she stashes the files?"
Reach answered back, "This is Reach. I saw Vamp headed toward Poe a short while ago, while I was headed to lunch. If she's still Phase's roomie, trying to get any files out of that room's liable to be difficult."
"It's still early enough in the year that the freshmen won't have a good feel for who belongs or not. The trouble is that all the sophomores will know Vamp and Phase, whether they want to or not." Kew hoped that A-Plus' beef with Sahar wasn't transferring to Chaka and the rest of the Kimbettes. "We would still at least an image-caster, and to go in while both are in class."
Interface tagged in, "If we do have a 'caster and a voice modulator ready to go by then, I can afford to skip out on 4th period. Phase is our best shot unless someone else can mimic Vamp's Southie 'tude."
Ace concurred. Of course. He loved black bag ops more than a Dirty Harry fan should. "Kew, can you and Rez pull that off? If not, we'll need to wait until Monday. Word is that neither Phase nor Vamp is free to leave campus."
"That just means that Ayla'l have more time to help Adalie 'study' during the weekend," Reach was rather proud of helping that pairing come about, "Trouble is, if Ayla's not in, that means Vamp will be."
Kew knew for a fact that Rez was hoping to get a good start on the weekend with Holdout. Good thing facial expressions don't carry over voice comms. "There's barely half an hour left for Interface to go in. Let's not rush in?" She suggested wistfully.
Maybe, just maybe, instead of spending all her time listening to papers being shuffled, or whatever Sir Wallace does in his office, Kew would be able to get some of her own work done. Between checking the surveillance on the usual suspects, but that doesn't require real-time monitoring, so that's all good. She could even try to get some jogging in, so Hagarty the Evil would have less reason to ride her back. And the sooner that was over, the better. She didn't come to Whateley for a P.E. degree.
Ayla did find Alex's note later, but he was never ever going to admit how much it galled him that his roommate, the one from Hell should any ask, might have started filching his personal snacks after he had made it painstakingly clear, on multiple occasions, that the ex-villain-still-in-training could ask for their favorite foods to be added to Jody's resupply list. That really was not too much to ask.
He also hoped that the topic wouldn't come up before he and Adalie finished their French review, as it was Addy who had found the missing snack item and the explanatory note. The only thing worse than admitting he'd missed something that obvious to the other two, would be being pressed into recognizing in front of Addy that the irritating mutant roomie had used good sense in planning the tip-off.
Chapter 18: Diversions: Homework, Legwork, Make-work
Early morning, September 22, 2007,
Bladedancer, Fey, and Boudacia chose not to take notice of the boy lounging on a bench outside their Cottage while they worked on their Tai Chi Chuan. It could have been the antlers that tipped them off that he might be a fellow mutant. Or it could have been that he had the relative threat profile of a banana slug.
While Metro waited for Valravn to make his appearance outside the Cottage, he took a few moments for casual observations. One never knew when it might come in handy to recognize the aura of someone in disguise. Or trying to suborn one's team - which is good business; it just feels like foul play when on the receiving end. It's not like memorized astral signatures are hard to remember. Maybe he had run out of career before he ran out of memory? That was a cheerful thought.
In any case, the Intelligence Corps Cadets managed to have five psychics of one kind or another, but no magicians. Deficiency noted for review, the overlapping talents could mean that taking out one Cadet wouldn't necessarily cripple the team, in that area, but there still might be gaps in other areas that magician like him would typically handle. Detecting and bypassing wards, for example, although magical equipment or favors might substitute. That gives me an idea!
It wasn't the worst idea Mrs. Horton had heard so far, but it was only seven o'clock that particular the morning. As the conscious people available had tentatively agreed, one phase of the idea could be implemented before breakfast. She waited until Mads and Thomas were headed in the direction of food before dropping by to check on the work. She knocked on the door before opening it - she expected the same courtesy from her girls after all.
"I came by to make sure the boys hadn't snuck a prank, or worse, in. May I come in to check on things?"
The house mother didn't quite catch the panicked "Wait! Don't go! ... in, yet." from down the hall before she walked into a painfully solid barrier.
Several profuse apologies, a hushed explanation or two, and some magical permissions tweaking later, Mrs. Horton was able to enter the room and see what the spell looked like from the inside. It would do what the boys said it would, although it wasn't exactly what they claimed it was.
'Yes, Bella? Oh. I see. If I recall correctly when the general topic came up, you were informed that both boys are sticklers for certain things, security being very high on the list.'
'I was also informed that they tested out as WIZ-1 mutants, the both of them.'
'How many chaos magicians does it take to light a candle?'
'"None. That's what light bulbs are for." Oh, dear. So the accidents and mishaps I've heard about?'
'Whatever essence is left over from masking his true aura and that glamour he projects, escapes to mangle probabilities around him. He's never before learned to hold essence but it's not in his nature to not draw it to him.'
'Yet each year the kids wonder why we don't teach Fae magic!'
'We should. Once they spend the requisite 18-20 hours of study, plus a trip or two to the burn ward, just to learn a simple light spell well enough to safely use it, the enthusiasm will dim.'
Kendall 'Beltane' or 'Belle' Forbes breezed her way into the Saturday lab session. Being a lab, the course instructor often let her Teaching Assistant start the sessions. "Good morning, ladies, gentlemen, and freshmen! I was happy to report to Dr. Tenent that all the lab homework assignments were turned in on time. I was less thrilled to report that one or two of the course's repeat customers chose to turn in a copy of last term's assignment. You know who you are.
Those difficulties aside, there were far too many of you who did not grasp the assignment itself: research three examples of enchantments that an average student in the class could create using the materials and time available to the class. By 'average student' we mean that if it's something that's only possible because of a special knack only one or two of you possess, you've missed the mark. I see a hand up. Yes, Mister Eccleston?"
"Isn't that a bit subjective? What if it's something that cannot be accomplished because of one or two students', *ahem*, deficiencies?" The student turned to shoot a glare at a back corner of the lab classroom.
Beltane replied, "I assure you that the staff have a fairly good idea of which students actually have such deficiencies. However, there is a modicum of subjectivity involved, and I'm sure some of you planned to take a head start. That's why, for the next two weeks, each of you will be working on an enchantment written up by one of your fellow students. Miss Baker, if you will hand the assignments out as marked? Mister Jensen? If I may have a word in private?"
The TA led the freshman magic student over to a small lounge that was private enough for a brief discussion without raising too many eyebrows.
"First things first - you're not in trouble over the assignment. What I and Doctor Tenent are curious about is the reasoning behind your three choices."
Mads 'Metro' Jensen led off with, "The ink and brush set, while time-consuming, is time well-spent, don't you think? Sure, there are good products available, but this way you know exactly what you're starting with."
Seeing the other's nod, he continued, "The enchanted origami crane uses a basic essence-harvesting spell, a reliquary spell, and a couple of the simplest animations to fold the paper, or to refold it if it is crushed. Um, we've got a couple of kids in Hawthorne who don't get to play with delicate or pretty things anymore."
"I think I can understand that. What about the last one?"
"The witch's hat. Someone had mentioned a trio of the junior high kids, and they, and it, I, um."
Watching the freshman mentally bluescreen in front of her, Belle was reminded of some of Pejuta's episodes the previous year. There was no doubt that whatever was triggering him, this was way above her paygrade as a teaching assistant.
"Wait. How about if I get Dr. Tenent? Please? I do think she'd like to hear this too."
"As a matter of fact, I do."
When did she walk in?
"Here already? huh. Before Thomas and I came here, for a short time I had a job as a stock clerk at the local Pentacles outlet. You wouldn't have heard of it, but a mid-tier occult supply retailer. Which is to say we kind of sucked. I was minding the front as best I could, dealing with one of the local college wankers trying to impress the lowly clerk and still weasel a discount. It had already been one of those days - the kind that starts with an AM funeral that I'm still not sure wasn't my fault. At least my super, Adria, was kind enough to get him off my case.
The next customers were a lady and a small girl, both dressed up as cartoon witches. Obviously, they were mother and daughter. The little girl, she was so frail. Nonetheless, they seemed to have been having a good time, but the girl's 'witch hat' - that's just what she called it - got damaged along the way. So the two had come in see if there was an inexpensive patch kit or something. All they wanted in the world, of all left that they could have, was just one thing repaired. That's not too much to ask, is it?"
"Good afternoon, ladies! And what can I do for the two of you today?" Pleasepleaseplease don't ask for healing, or St. Jude medallions, or…
"Hello!" the girl replied,"I'm Sarah. This is my Mommy!"
"Tiffany Williams. Pleased to meet you. Sarah, why don't you tell the," she paused long enough for the taller boy who'd walked up to point to the shorter: "Mads here's the employee. I'm just here checking him out - checking on him. Eh, you can call me Thomas."
"That's alright, Thomas. I was your age once upon a time. So, honey, could you tell Mads what it is you need?"
"My witch hat's come apart here," she pointed, "and here. And I need to have it all fixed so I can go trick or treating." The young girl practically beamed at the prospect of collecting sweets.
It was July.
And both young men could see that, for Sarah, Halloween was never coming again.
Mads looked up in thought, fighting back his own memories of antiseptics and blood that he knew were nowhere around here except in memories he’d rather not revisit, not today. Not today.
"Sarah, you're in luck!" Mrs. Williams wasn't looking like she was feeling any better than Mads, but he went with "We happen to be running a promotion on magical goods repairs today. I'd say that that repair calls for black silk thread, don't you?"
"Yeah! But is silk good for witch hats?"
"The very best. By ancient tradition, silk is one of the paramount fabrics used by witches, mages, and sorcerors. Even Wizards! Why don't the two of you sit here and rest a bit, while I get the materials we need."
Thomas leaned over to whisper, "Laying it on a bit thick, aren't you?"
Mads wasn't having it. "How about you tell Mrs. Williams that her girl won't ever know the difference, while I grab a needle and the imported thread?" Thomas had the grace to blanch a whiter shade or ten of pale, "No. I think it best not to upset her." A bit louder, "Mrs. Williams, would you like some coffee? I think I know where the staff hides the good pot."
Not much later, Ms Chen, College Boy (who wasn't going to cheap out after escalating his problems to the manager) and the rest were witnesses to the Pentacles First Annual Expert Repair to Witches' Hats Promotion, in progress. Surprisingly, the tow-headed teen actually knew how to sew by hand. His partner in crime mourned the lack of a camera for the blackmail footage.
Then, somehow, the billing just wouldn't go through. "We haven't run diagnostics on the systems as frequently as we should. Oh, well. Nothing for it but to comp the price," Ms Chen explained. (By which she really meant, 'Mads Gunnison, what did you do to the system?' 'Who, me? I'm just a kid!')
As mother and daughter headed out for a final chance at trick-or-treating together at the regional hospital, Sarah turned back and tackle-hugged a very surprised clerk. "Mister Madsy? There was this pretty red-haired lady who told me you could fix my witch hat, and she was right! Thanks! She also said to tell you that she's very sorry, but you and your friend have a long trip ahead of you too."
"Oof!" She wasn't that heavy, but the boy had a younger brother, so he knew how to play the tacklehug game, "If, When, you see her again, tell her thank you for all of us."
Back in the present
"Working on the assignment, my mind kept going back to that, and wondering if there weren't more I could have done. A few electronics synced up with heart rate and respiration, maybe some enchantments to visually reflect to her mother and friends how very happy she was just to be a little kid and not surrounded by machines and tile and, and I- I just don't know."
The boy let his head hang down, for a long moment drowning in that memory.
It was Beltane who gently asked, "How long?" How long have you spent in some lonely hospital ward, waiting and wondering how much longer?
From the doorway, Thomas spoke up. "It was almost six months before his doctors would clear him to learn how to walk again. We're still working on some of the rest. This past August was... a setback. I take it, that you were discussing Sarah?"
Mads got out a raspy, "Yeah"
Dr. Tenent stood up. "I suspect the class is ready to revolt by now. Boys, why don't you give me and Belle five to get everyone settled again?"
Thomas sat down next to Mads and put his arm around him. Sometimes it's the simplest magics that are needed. "We can do that. Thank you for hearing him out."
"That's part of what teaching is about. And Mads?"
"I would personally appreciate it if you could make one or two of those 'witch hats' for the Clinic. Halloween is a big deal for most Whateley students, but you know as well as I do that there's always someone shut in for treatment. It would mean a lot, to let them know that someone does care."
A few minutes later, an appropriately abashed magician was steered back to his lab station by his best friend after it had taken both the TA and the course instructor to chew him out. Their classmates' feeling of schadenfreude did not last long.
"Hej, Thomas. Whadja get?"
*sigh* "A set of rune tiles. Just what I've always wanted: having to decipher your handwriting in order to make a set of those things," Mads friend and lab partner groaned.
"What's wrong with runes? They can be used for casting as well as divination."
"If you have to ask the question, you don't remember some things I don't want you to remember."
"Fine. What did you get assigned?"
"A reliquary! Doesn't say anything about storage capacity, though."
"Let me see the instructions."
"I'm guessing that it will melt down before it explodes from an overcharge."
"Kind of like the thermite reaction? Cool!"
For the next couple of weeks, lab stations furthest away from Metro's would be at a premium.
After a couple of hours, redrafting layouts, checking out materials, drafting rough blanks, double- and triple- checking symbols, most of the class was either at a stopping point in construction or planning trips to the Library in hopes of catching up. Predictably, a few students would still be wrestling with their pride the following week, over one "impossible" step or another - the catch being that all they'd need to have done was to ask for help from a student in a similar situation that needed their help.
For this class, some of the arrogant little nonces would be needing access to elemental lightning or fire. One or two assignments would require access to even more exotic energies or materials that Belle surmised certain students like Voodude could access. After all, one of the hallmarks of a great prankster is a keen eye for reading others' reactions. Thus, she knew not to snoop when one of her students practically dragged another into an unused room to continue a 'discussion'.
Thomas was a bit confused by the sudden need for privacy after (as far as he could tell) over two hours of the other boy's emotional slow burn. "Mads, this has got to be the least appropriate time and place."
"Not funny, T."
"Then what is this about?" Thomas asked
"I want you to tell me what in all the various misbegotten hells is going on?"
Thomas could see flames flickering behind Mads' eyes - rarely a good sign. "With what?"
Mads stepped right into Thomas' personal space, head up, still looking straight into the other's eyes. "With the rune set. Let's start with that. I am part fucked-up Dane, after all. Is that what you resent?"
Taking it personally. Of course. Because bad things can never, ever, be anyone else's fault but yours. "I don't resent a single fucking thing about you. You can get that through your head, right now!"
"Then exactly what is it that I don't remember doing that has you so pissed off?"
"If I tell you, you'll only end up finding a way to make it happen again. To you. Don't give me that look, Mads. I know you, better than you think. Please let this go."
Mads looked away, "Don' wanna. I just know this is going to get you hurt."
It's amazing how loud an electric clock can 'tick' when you're waiting to find out whether the other person is going to calm down and make an attempt at compromise, or completely fly off the handle.
"For now. Maybe."
Thomas tilted his head down, forehead to forehead, "That's all I'm asking."
"I still don't like it."
"Come on, you can add lunch to your list of things you don't like while you're at it."
A list topped with seeing you, Mama, or Lars hurt. Including now. And it's my fault again. Why can't the people I care for let me protect them, for a change? "Might as well, then."
Long ago, and far from Whateley Academy
A pair of fraternal twins or two brothers close enough in age, one light-haired, one dark. The light-haired one hugs close, and kisses the forehead of, the other.
Boys being boys, he then mock-sternly lectures his brother, "That's a very special seidhr spell Lady Mother taught me. It will protect you from harm."
Men hvem beskytter dig, min broder? wonders the other, as he alone hears a mournful wolf's howl in the distance.
("But who protects you, my brother?")
Having missed the timing needed to beat the lunch rush, Thomas set a leisurely pace that Mads trudged along with. Trudging along giving someone else the silent treatment gets boring quickly, so it wasn't long before Metro was checking Security's local sensors as a 'sensible security precaution'. He even checked a couple of 'known or suspected wiretap or drone relay channels'. Not being in a rush to get to lunch and have other folks decide they needed to inquire as to his mood, he suggested they check out a couple of sensors that seemed dodgy. As they approached the area, Mads noticed that signal-to-noise was dropping badly. A jammer, probably directional or it would have caught everybody's attention.
"Hey, Thomas... "
"I know the drill. I don't recall it being a 'green flag' day."
Mads tapped Thomas on the shoulder, saying "Gotcha covered, so to speak," as he cast an invisibility spell on him. Moving forward quietly, he was 'rewarded' with the opening lines for trouble.
"Look what we've found: another Poe freshie!"
"Probably one of Danny-boy's butt-buddies."
'T, harassment, at least. Poe freshman is target.'
Semi-adult voices, so we've probably got exemplars heading the Asshole Brigade. Not the only possibility, but best not to assume they aren't tough. Good. I'm still in the mood to burn some bullies down.
'You need to back off on that anger. I didn't answer your summons to be killing children.'
'Some people need to be forcefully taught that playing with matches is dangerous.'
'Educational singeing doesn't bother me, magician. IF justified.'
"I don't know what you're talking about! All I'm trying to do is go to lunch."
Sounds like a teenager for real, so not 100% a winner on the genetic lottery.
"Aw, the little fairy's upset!"
"That's OK. He can still give kitty-boy our message from the hospital."
Thomas, make that an assault, and needing backup. Hardwyrd?'
Looks like him. Got it. At Kane. You can drop the invisibility.'
Mads moved forward before the kid's expression gave his position away. "Hey, Hardwyrd! Long time, no see!" Pretext needed. With a codename like that? "I've been meaning to hit you up for Wednesday's electronics lecture notes."
Centurion sneered, "Must be our lucky day. Two fairies to get rid of." Lovely. He's branching out on his vendetta.
"Two? Nope. He's not fae, but I am." Mads smirked, "Don't they go over that in Powers Theory? Anyway, in the interest of keeping the peace…"
"You'll be keeping something, brat. It won't be peace."
"Maybe once we shut you up, we will." Manifesting a blade, so that must be Switchblade.
On the other hand designating me a target just flagged the other ambushers to one of my spells.
'T, Relay that I make Centurion, Switchblade, one other hostile behind me, jammer's offside.'
Mads soothed, "Now, now, fellows. You really don't want to be threatening Security."
"Security ain't coming. Those cameras," Centurion pointed, "ain't recording nothing."
"That's not quite what I meant. I just happen to work for Security, and I'm asking you all to stand down before there's..." is about as far as the auxiliary got before he was charged from behind. Mads' throw converted Dump Truck's headlong rush into a feet-first plant into Centurion. Switchblade's slash across the boy's right side was barely stopped by his body armor. Just great, still flanked. At least it buys time for Hardwyrd to bolt, or do whatever freshman devisors do.
"... an incident. "
'For close-in fighting? I'm good with that.'
Metro did his best to duck the next slash, but mis-calculated his true height. He saw stars as Switchblade's manifested knife connected with one of his antlers, and briefly stuck. His wasn't the only miscalculation. As Metro turned into the other fighter, Switch Hitter tried to use his off-hand to push against his face. By the time the boy's nervous system registered something other than adrenaline, he'd not only burned both hands, but completed a 400-volt circuit as his sweaty hand brushed the other antler. To someone like Thomas, that sort of tickles. Other folks? Well, at least he didn't scream into his opponent's ears.
No, that was Hardwyrd yelling at Metro to look out. Or maybe it was more along the lines of "OMG, he's literally on fire!"
The turn was supposed to allow Metro to use a right-hand draw to pull his backup pistol. What it really accomplished was to give time for Centurion to tackle him. Grapples can make it hard to draw weapons, even when grappling a burning man is a Bad Idea.
'I've got this one. Put the others down.'
A burst of taser shots at the still-hidden person operating the jammer managed to tag someone. A hasty stunbolt caught the Dumpster in the face.
"No, Centurion. Don't get up. Just put your hands out in front of you where I can see them. Switchblade, that goes for you too. And Hardwyrd?"
"Hands where I can see them, Interface. Good image inducer, but if Hardwyrd is the least bit indisposed when we check on him, you're in one hell of a lot of trouble."
Thanks to his regeneration, Centurion only had to deal with some temporary pain. His buddy was both less fireproof and less lucky. Metro made sure that more than one person in the Clinic's waiting room heard 'Switch Hitter' more often than 'Switchblade'. That, however, was his only fun: catching a knife with an antler hurt. A nurse disinfecting the cut velvet with iodine hurt something unholy.
Getting a lecture from Dr. Tenent on landing himself once more in the Clinic made his head ache in another way. Being scheduled for additional powers testing didn't alleviate that. The Chief's lecture on being a bit more pro-active on calling for backup, and by the way you need to fill out multiple incident reports for this one, made certain of an extended headache.
'I might have known to expect something like this if I had more information on the various on-campus feuds, training teams, and relationships in general, beyond the one or two staring me in the face,' Metro realized.
Of course the Chief thought that was a Good Idea that he could start on, Right Now, in fact. Do not pass 'Go'. Do not get to spend extra time bugging Thomas when he's trying to study.
(End of Part 2, "Chewing Through The Straps")