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Evershade 2 - Rebirth
I'm not sure if this was a bright idea anymore.
It was one thing to imagine going to superhero high, picturing students flying and running around in costumes, all pretty, all powerful, all superfriends: that original mental picture was a nice dream.
But now that I was sitting on a bench, alone, at a train station, surrounded by a whole bunch of other kids I didn't know? Okay, yes, I was feeling self-conscious as heck! I was getting cold feet. All my senses were telling me to follow the bunny instincts, and run away from the embarrassment. All I'd done so far, is try to shrink in my purple hoodie, and hope no one really took notice.
The last few months, after our family moved, I'd stayed home all day, trying to stay out of sight. I didn't dare risk being exposed again. It was dangerous. Now, here I was, wondering how many of these guys and girls were looking at me. Groups were already forming around the station, people chatting together, and I could see cliques already forming. Maybe I shouldn't have worn the hoodie on a summer day, but maybe it was the reason no one had approached me.
Am I at the right place? The thought echoed in my head, the fear of being lost settling in once more. I opened the map that was showing the right place, with the name of the city circled in. This is it. Then that means... I gave a glance around the station once more. All the other kids are all mutants too. All going at Whateley.
Once I looked closer, I could almost say it was obvious. I could see one guys' hand twitch uncontrollably, another had a broken steel handle squeezed to a breaking point, and you could swear that that girl was floating, with the slight updraft her clothes had. But more obvious, were the eyes. They were a myriad of colours, almost enough to make a rainbow jealous. They were small, a few details easily overlooked when you looked in a crowd, but if you were in the know, you could spot some of them.
I mentally debated where I should try to mingle or introduce myself, when another train made a stop. Looks like there is another batch of students coming up. I watched as the doors opened, and tried to make out the other freshmen that would come over.
That's when 'she' stepped into view.
From the moment her slender leg passed the door, and onto the platform, you could see all the stares turn in her direction instantaneously. Her delicate feet set in black, high heeled shoes, leading up to white knee-length, thin socks, cutting off before a frilly petticoat-style white skirt. Her corset had a bit more of a modern cut to it, along with a baby-blue vest, shimmering in the light with a few well-placed sequins, all enhancing her feminine curves. Her long, white, glittering hair was mostly pulled back into a ponytail, save for a pair of bangs on the side, framing her delicate, refined, beautiful face.
She was a beauty. A model. A rich doll you wanted to put on a throne and glorify. The way she walked had everyone entranced. There were people piling out of the train, and following her every step. I believe some were carrying her luggage, and holding on rather tightly. I heard gasps as she swung around, and popped open a cute little parasol. She'd barely spent a minute in the station, but with that little time, she had the attention of every person around.
I had no shame in admitting I was part of those entranced by the sight. My jaw had slacked, and I was about to join the drooling masses, when I felt a certain telltale tugging below. "Huh?" That was enough to break the daze. I looked down, and quickly closed my legs together. "Eep!"
Dammit. Not now. Not like this. It was already bad enough before the change, being found with one of 'those' like this would be disastrous. I just closed my eyes, and tried to think of anything else. Just calm down, deep breaths, deep breaths. It took a bit of time, but soon enough, the tension slacked.
By the time I opened my eyes again, most of the crowd had gathered around one point, and I could guess where the beauty was. With the way she presented herself, she must have been the center of attention everywhere she went. There were a lot of really pretty people around the station, but she took the cake. No questions about it, she was mutant material.
That would mean I'll get to see her more often. I looked down once more. That's a good thing, right? Maybe?
There was a sudden blast from a party horn making half the crowd jump, and everyone turned in the direction of an asian woman, whom was pocketing the horn away. "Now that I have your attention: greetings, everyone. I am Mrs. Shugendo; I am the Dean of Students at Whateley Academy. For those coming with me today, we have two shuttles here to take you to school. I'm going to call off your names one by one, and when called, please present your identification, and get on board." She held up one hand. "I know that you all have plenty of questions, but unless it's an emergency, save it for when we get to the school."
Guess it's time to go. I grabbed my purse and my suitcase, then made my way with the rest of the group, who had gatherred. My name got called up, I did as ordered, presented my papers, handed my suitcase to be put in the back, and hopped on board.
Inside, I dropped right into a window seat, hoping to get a good look at the scenery, when another girl came in right besides me, waving. "Hi! Hope you don't mind?" She let out, her two pink pigtails bouncing as she did.
"Oh? Of course not! It's fine!" She seemed nice. Very nice. Very perky and happy to be on her way. I extended my hand over, and gave her a friendly smile. "I'm Karen. Pleased to meet you."
With a charming smile, she shook my hand. "Jessie. A pleasure." She raised an eyebrow critically. "Though aren't you hot in that hoodie?" In contrast, she wore denim shorts and a tight tube top. I almost felt over-dressed. Almost.
"Oh, I'm fine. Just a little warm. Summer's just about over, after all. Plus someone really cranked up the AC on those trains." I shook my head, shrinking a little in my clothes. "And... Well, my wardrobe is a little limited."
"Aaww." Jessie gave a cute little pout. "Shame." But she picked right back up with a smile. "But hey, off to Whateley, we go? Are you excited?" Her pep was getting infectious.
I just had to smile, and nods. "Huh huh. It's a little hard to believe we're almost there already." A little thought came up to mind. "Heh. Excited for school. Must be a cold, cold day in Hell right now."
That got a giggle out of her. "Now now, it's not every day you go to a school like this one." A few more boys and girls moved past us. "But it must mean everyone here's a mutant in one way or another. Which..." She turned back to me. "By the way...?"
"My mutation?" That was quick. "It's... Really not much, really. It a bit weird."
"Aw, come on. Everyone here has one." She sat in a bit closer, leaning over. "What is it?"
"Hrmmm. Okay, if it's that easy, you go first. What's your power?" I leaned right back toward her, wondering if she'd back down.
She leaned back, a playful smirk on her lips. "Aaaahhh. 'Show me yours, I'll show you mine'?" She gave a bit of a glance around, making a bit of a face. "Doesn't really work without a demonstration. Think miss Shugendo would mind at a little display?"
"Maybe, but I thought it was against magic law for underaged students to do magic outside of Hogwarts."
She returned my silly grin. "A fan of Harry Potter?"
"Kinda. Let's just say I had plenty of time to read over summer."
"Really now? How far did you get?"
"Halfway down the Half-Blood Prince." I winced. "Had to return the book to the library when I left."
And that's what got us started on a chat as the shuttles left for the school. Jessie seemed so full of energy, and excitement through the whole thing, it was a little hard to follow, but she was definitively fun. She made the whole trip seem to pass so much faster. We almost missed the passing scenery as we went through the countryside, and past a set of gargoyles on a low wall.
"Huh. Fancy? Who decorates with gargoyles now?" I tilted my head.
"How old was this school again? Pretty old, right?"
A boy on the back seat piped up: "They say it got built back in 1878, closed on 1960, then re-opened in 1966. At least, that's what the website gives."
"Thanks." If our brainiac in the back wasn't enough of a clue, the buildings were. Sure, they were far apart, but the rustic look really gave them some age. Well, they did, until you saw the more modern touches and buildings. Including that huge crystal dome. "This is the place we're going to be staying at for four years?" It was a moment of awe dawning on me, and I still wondered what was waiting for us out there.
The bus stopped in front of one of the brick-built, four storied cottages, this one proudly labelled 'Poe Cottage' at the front. As we were herded out of the bus, an inside, we even got to get the sight of a bust of the titular writer in display, before we all gathered into one large common room. Jessie and I stuck together, and found a couch to set ourselves in, as miss Shugendo surveyed the mass of teenagers. With all of us sitting down, she waved over another woman, and three older teenagers, all dressed in what seemed to be the school uniform.
Finally, Miss Shugendo called for attention with a rather loud clap of her hands, and she had the attention of all the room. "Good day, everyone, and welcome to Whateley Academy. I would give you a more formal, and full speech, and explanation, but I will have to leave that to the headmistress, Miss Carson. I will, at least, introduce you to the basics, and answer any questions you may have for now. This speech, is specifically for you."
"For those who wonder why you were asked to come here one day earlier, we wished for you all to get acclimated to your new situations, and the guidelines of Poe Cottage. For you see, you all have something in common with each other."
A confused murmur started to spread around the room. What the heck could we all have in common? By the sound of things, the same question was on everyone's mind.
Miss Shugendo raised her hands, and the room quieted down once more. "Thank you. Now, every one of you have admitted, by one way or another, be it by choice, your power, or otherwise, are now living an alternate sexual lifestyle. Each one of you are either gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, or multisexual, sometimes far enough for it to be an issue."
There was a collective gasp around the room, and everyone looked at their neighbors with surprise and awe. Knowing this, and looking around the room, you could already see girls sitting real close together, and boys doing the same. It almost seemed obvious, like we'd done it subconsciously.
Jessie and I looked at each other, rendered speechless. She's a lesbian? She got the first word in, by pointing at me, and asking: "Are you?"
I gave a slow nod, before I even rolled the question in my head. Was I? Did I still like girls? I just had to think about a girl in a bikini, and the answer was obvious. Doubly so when Jessie giggled, put an arm around me, and gave me a hug. Yup. I was a lesbian, all right. And in Poe, no one would mind that one bit, it seemed. It's with that happy thought that I returned the hug.
But then a little devil prodded a thought in my mind: But if the girls hate boys, what would they think about me?
The chatter stopped once more, once Miss Shugendo coughed loudly, and resumed. "Now, you may be wondering why we had you all separated from the other students. Truth is, as accepting as we are here, society still has a deep-rooted stigma against alternate sexuality, and we have seen the reactions others can have at times." I shuddered at that part. "But here, we want you to have an environment where you can be comfortable, where your neighbors can understand. Like being a mutant, you may have never had a choice about your orientation, and you do deserve to live happily."
"But with this, you will also have an extra responsibility. Just like your mutation is a secret to the outside world, so is Poe's purpose to those outside of it. The teachers and faculties know of your situation, and will keep the secret, but for those visiting and other students, we urge you to keep the secret just that, a secret." She held her hands up again. "If some of you wish to 'come out', you are free to do so, but please be considerate to those who don't."
"As for your powers, we do expect you to use them, but we also have expectations of keeping up appearances. Not everyone in the world knows of what we do, and we do try to keep away from peering eyes, less we draw too much attention our way. Which is why we work on a three color system, represented by the flags placed all around outside the buildings, and the warning lights inside. Think of it as your standard traffic light signals. Green means all is available, and you can freely use your powers. Yellow means we need to keep things on the low. You can use your powers, in a pinch, but do be careful. Red means we may have visitors on the grounds that may not know of our true purpose, so no powers should be present in the open, at all. If you believe we are simply testing the system, you will be reprimanded all the same nonetheless."
A hand raised up. "And what about those of us who can't help showing our powers?"
"There will be facilities, and methods of travel provided for covers, as your guides will show you. Speaking of," She waved her hands at the three older students, one boy and two girls. "Ursula, Tony and Catherine are going to introduce you around campus. You'll be divided into groups, and circle around campus. Room selection will be done along the way, and you will be given your initial scheduled appointments. The rest of the day will be up to you to get yourselves acquainted. Your guides, of course, will be able to answer any further questions about the rules and regulations of the academy." She pulled up a clipboard, and got started. "Abigail Rivers?"
And so our crowd started to get divided. The boys, so far, were sent to Tony; the girls, over to Ursula. Even Jessie, when called, was sent to join Ursula. She waved at me, with such a wide grin. Seems like we were going to meet later, and chat again. Catherine, though, was left alone.
That is, until: "Karen Yates?"
"Yes!" I jumped a bit stiffly, gulping. "That's me." Guess my nerves were still a little high-strung.
Miss Shugendo nodded in understanding, and pointed her pen over. "You'll be with Catherine, the third group."
"Huh?" Well, that was a little odd. "Okay!"
I gave Jessie a shrug, and walked over to Catherine, whom smiled brightly, and shook my hands. "Welcome to Whateley, and Poe Cottage." She was definitively pretty, even more so with the fancy blonde French curls framing her face, and those golden eyes. By the looks of things, she was about two or three years older than I was.
"Thanks. It's been a long trip. And a lot to take in."
She giggled cutely. "I know, and I'm afraid there'll be lots more, but it'll all be worth it, I swear." She winked mischievously as Shugendo called the next name. "And by the sound of it, we're about to get the next person in our group."
As if on cue, another person rose up, followed by a gasp from a third of the room, as the silver-haired beauty from the train station gracefully walked forward to the Dean, a serene smile across her lips. I do believe most of us with warm blood in their veins must have forgotten to breathe for a few seconds. Miss Shugendo, on the other hand, kept going as cold as usual, and pointed once more to Catherine.
That's when every jealous stares in the room turned to Catherine and I. If looks could kill on sight, I'm sure the both of us would have been vaporised on the spot.
The beauty didn't miss a beat though, and walked over, her hips swaying in an hypnotic way. Catherine must have been staying up there, slack-jawed for a good minute, while the new one held out her hand. "Wha-Welcome to Whateley." Catching herself, she shook her hand honestly. "We-Welcome to Poe. Really. Oh my."
"A pleasure, certainement." The second freshman in our group smiled, and walked toward me, while Catherine rubbed her eyes, muttering something about 'fey' or something.
I was simply stunned there, standing stiff, staring dumbfounded, the heat rising up to my face. I'd seen beautiful girls before, I've seen models, I've stepped up to crushes before, but this seemed to top it all off. The fact that she was a lesbian, in some way or fashion was just stoking my imagination further! Her delicate smile was making my knees quake, the look in her eyes was making my heart pound against my chest, and when she reached over for a handshake, my mouth had lost most of it's motor functions. "Ah-I-er-hrmph-I-I-I-Aie-I-Hi? Ha-how arrrre y-you?"
My throat choked up my own voice as her expression changed to confusion, then an eyeroll, as she muttered something: "Tu pourrais peut-etre la laisser tranquille? Ca vas etre deja embarrassant comme ceci." I wasn't sure what exactly that meant, but it felt as if someone was lifting a thick cotton bed sheet off my shoulders, and a shiver ran over my skin. Looking more satisfied, the beauty smiled, and extended her hand once more. "Sorry about that. I'm Noelle."
After what I could only describe as a mental cold shower had passed, I finally could say properly: "Hi. I'm Karen. P-pleased to meet you." I shook her hand carefully, thoroughly embarrassed. "Sorry, I don't know what came over me. I'm not usually-er..." I'm not usually approached by such a hottie? Am I asking to get slugged? I've never met a lesbian-a confirmed lesbian before? Do I want to shove my foot in my mouth? I'm still struggling with all this? Huh. Doubt she'd understand that one.
While I was still struggling, she just giggled. "It's okay. You're not the only one." She gave a surprisingly tired sigh. "It's complicated."
"Complicated?" What could be complicated about being pretty? Unless... "It's got something to do with your mutation?"
She gave a short nod. "Oui. Like I said, it's complicated." She shook her head. "Wish I could get a hang on it, before something real bad happens."
"Real bad? How bad?" I just had to ask at this point.
For the first time since I'd seen her, she showed some hesitation. "You want to know?"
I was about to ask, when Catherine cut in: "You two may want to wait for story time. We're all going to get together for it, and we'll have plenty of time." She nodded at Noelle. "If you wish, of course."
"... Right." Noelle sighed. "So how many of 'us' is there?"
"By the look of things..." I glanced at the other groups. "I'd say about five? Eight?"
Catherine shook her head, her golden curls bouncing along. "Oh no. Just one more."
"What?" Noelle and I had about the same reaction.
"Oh yes. A rather small group this year, compared to the others, but I bet you'll be growing long before the end of the year is over." She rubbed her chin pensively. "At least, if the trend continues." She perked up a bit at another name called. "Ah! And that would be... Him?"
Another student walked our way, smiling rather broadly, and my first impressions were rather confusing. 'He' looked like a guy for a moment, a real pretty guy, I had to admit, with his chestnut hair down to his shoulders, narrow, smooth face, and slim frame. But the way he moved, the way his hips curved, his slender hands, and a bit of a swell around his chest just made him look very feminine. I couldn't tell if I should have used 'he' or 'she'. His vest was rather loose, and his jeans seemed to hug his frame real close, and he held a leather bag that gave a jingle tune with each motions, the same way he would have carried a purse. I almost swore he even had makeup on. Subtle, but it was there.
Catherine greeted him with a handshake: "Welcome to Whateley, and Poe Cottage."
"Thank you, It's a pleasure to be here." Even his voice sounded androgynous. It was almost eerie. Again, I wasn't sure how to reply when he extended his hand over. "Hi there."
"Ha-hi!" I shook his hand firmly. "I'm Karen. Nice to meet you." His grip was solid, but his hands felt soft, delicate. I was going to figure this out sooner or later.
His smile grew even wider. "Ah, right. Name's Robin. Nice to meet you too." The name wasn't helping either. Too bad. He extended his hand to Noelle. "And you."
Noelle nervously took a few steps back, her hands squeezing the handle of her parasol. "I'm Noelle." She gave a quick bow, trying to keep her smile up. "Enchantee."
Robin looked at his hand, then back to her, then shrugged. "All right. All's fair, I guess." He might say it didn't bother him, but it was obvious he was hurt. "I can get a hint."
One quick glance at the two, and I had to ask: "Let me guess? Complicated?"
She gave me a small nod, while Robin simply looked confused. Catherine had a knowing smile on her face, as she shook her head. "Don't take it the wrong way, Robin. Sometimes, it's less personal than you think. Even more so in Whateley. You'll learn that one quickly."
"Is that so?" Robin still had one eyebrow raised. "I suppose we're all mutants, but really?"
Noelle swallowed a bit bitterly. "Yeeeeeaaaaah. I can explain that one. Let's just say... I'm allergic?"
Catherine perked up, snapping her fingers. "Aaaaaahhhh. So that's what's going on." Under our gaze, she reached into her vest pocket. "They did warn us a little about one of you, and I was going to deliver it during story time, but we might as well move ahead." She pulled out a small green band, with the large red letters 'UV'. "You'll have to keep this around your arm most of your time here, I'm afraid."
Noelle took the armband cautiously, examining it at first, before slipping it on. "What does it mean?"
Catherine bit her lip. "It means that if people get a little too close to you, and get hurt, then they were warned, and you're not liable for the damage caused. As long as they can see the armband, they've had plenty of warnings." She glanced at us, knowing full well we wanted a better answer, she then crossed her arms, shaking her head. "It stands for Ultra Violent."
She nodded slowly. "Yes. And with this color code, it means that you have little control of what you can do, and it can be dangerous. I'm afraid it's necessary."
Noelle? Dangerous? I looked back at her, the beauty she was, how nice she seemed to be, and I couldn't quite piece it together. Was it something about the way she looked? The way she drew attention in? Nah. No way. Couldn't be. Maybe? Then again, who knew what they could do.
Miss Shugendo didn't give me any more time to ponder things, as she clapped her hands together. "Now that the groups have been separated, Ursula, please guide your group to the facilities, and the main buildings. Tony, please guide your boys around campus, to show the cottages. Catherine, you can introduce your group to Poe cottage. You'll be rotating through the campus, and be back here for room assignments, and tomorrow's schedules. For now, I'll leave you to your guides, and have a good day."
The groups separated, the other two heading right out the doors, while Catherine led us upstairs. Robin looked back though, and reminded us: "Okay, quick question: why are we only three? The other groups were kiiinda bigger? Just saying?"
"Yeah. I mean, it makes sense to split into equal groups." I added in.
Catherine, meanwhile, had a clever smirk written across her face. "You still haven't figured it out, have you?" She giggled. "Let's just say there was something mentioned previously that don't quite fit your lot. You already know, after all, you told the school, buuuuuut..."
She led us past a few doors, and into a larger room, seemingly for gatherings. Tables were set to the side, chairs were stacked up, and beanbags were piled up in a corner. There was even a large screen TV in the corner. Catherine nodded. "Welcome to the sun room, a lounge place for the second floor, the floor for the freshmen. Yes, all the doors down each corridors are your rooms that you'll get soon enough. But for now," she clapped her hands together. "Since we're on our own, and the others are away, it's story time. I've got a lot of explaining to do, so grab a seat, and gather around."
We all grabbed a beanbag, and formed a tiny circle. The three of us were rather nervous at this point. Why did we get singled out? I thought all the secrecy would be over once we got to the school, but now I had even more questions, and we'd barely arrived. "So is it time now? What's going on? You've been yanking our chains so far."
"Ah, yes, yes." Catherine nodded. "Sorry for the theatrics, but I had to wait until the right moment." She took in a deep breath, watching us with careful eyes. "One group that went off had all the lesbians, the other group had all the boys from gaytown. You three though, are something special, a little different, but still fitting of Poe."
I gulped, and glanced at the other two, who were also leaning forward over the bag. What did she mean? I hoped, I hoped it wasn't what I was thinking about. I worked so hard to pass for a normal girl.
"All of us, through one way or another, have found ourselves on the other side of the gender fence."
She knows! I squeezed, and braced myself in, suddenly feeling really vulnerable. I'd been found out already! Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck! She knows! She knows! I'm done for! I was already getting flashbacks.
"And yes, I do mean all of us. We're all in the same boat."
Wait... All of us? I looked back up at Noelle and Robin, whom were just as surprised as I was. "You too?"
Catherine nodded, still smiling in delight. "We are. Yes. And yes, me too. I used to be a boy before, and that's all changed. You're not the only ones either, and there are more of us in Poe. It does happen, and not always by choice. It's already hard enough to become a mutant, it's even harder when you have to balance a new gender on top of that. Society's made a lot of progress in accepting 'deviant sexualities', but... Well, there's a reason why we attach 'deviant' in there, and even within mutants, it's not always pretty. We understand that, and we want to help."
The little speech sent shiver up my back. Oh yeah, it was hard. Oh yeah, it wasn't always accepted. This was another reminder of how much this mutation had cost me so far, and it could have been so much worse.
"In here, in Poe, your secret is safe with us. The others understand the stigma that can come with 'being different', and they'll support you. A sisterhood, or brotherhood, of a sort. We're really tight in here, and if you need help, you can count on your fellows to have your back." She shook her head softly. "You don't realize how true that is, until you need it, believe me.
That being said, as much as they can sympathise with you, they don't always understand. They don't get how different, how alien it can be at times. Some of them might tolerate you, but they might not get it." She smiled to us. "But you three know how the switch feels, the challenges the other sex might have. We can relate and help each other." She tapped her cheek pensively. "Though I'll admit, you're a little fewer than the past few years, the last ones were a bit bigger, but this is the norm." She shook her head. "But if the pattern stays, there will be more to join us, sooner or later."
"Really?" Robin piped in. "Isn't this kinda rare?"
"Oh yes, it is. But even if you've found your mutations, we're still growing, and some major changes can still happen, not to mention some accidents at times. We've even had to ghost a few of them over." She gave a sigh. "So it means if we do have new arrivals, they may turn to you for help and counsel. We'll also be there, of course, but you'll be the ones right by their sides through classes. No, it's not obligatory, we can't really force you to be friends, but I imagine you must know how it happened when you first changed, and how drastic that kind of news might be."
Yeah. That's right. I remembered quite well how it all felt. I thought my life was over. That everything was about to end. That I was lost, alone, and everything was taken from me, while in a body I didn't recognise. My world was turned upside down, and still was at times. I don't know where I'd be if it weren't for dad, my sisters, and my friends. But now, this was my chance to make things for the better.
"Now, if you don't mind, I'd like it if we could get to know each other a little better. What your power is, where you're from, and anything else you might want to share."
Robin raised an eyebrow. "Old summer camp tactic?"
She giggled. "Classic, not old. And if it helps break the glass, I'll go first. You know me as Catherine, some know me as SpellSinger, but a few years ago, I was known as Carter. Typical guy, went to school, had some fun, found myself a new girl to have a crush on, got myself invited to hang out... That was probably mistake number one. In case if any one of you end up chasing skirts or tail, do make sure your crush doesn't belong to a cult."
There was a shudder all across our little group. Noelle let out: "The kind of thing you find out at the first date, wouldn't you?"
Catherine rolled her eyes. "Yeeeeaaaah. But when the hottie asks you to come on over, you don't think with your brain. I just thought I was lucky. Then she breaks out the perfume, the candles, brings a bunch of her friends along, all dressed in costumes, because she's into that, and it's when the chanting started that things got strange. Turns out they had a ritual in mind, and I was the worm on the end of the hook. They had me under their spell. Didn't realize it, until my soul was pretty much floating in mid-air."
"Oh god." I uttered. "That's pretty grim. But it didn't work, did it? We're not talking with a zombie, are we?"
"Or a lich?" Robin raised an eyebrow.
Catherine chuckled, catching on to something. "Why yes, a small white cat came out, and asked for a contract." She shook her head. "No. No. Nothing like that. The ritual got interrupted. A big man, and do I mean BIG, muscled, in a trench coat, and a crystal cane walked in, and all hell went loose. There were flashes, and fire, and things flying in neon colours." She brought her hands over her. "When I woke up, I woke up with this body... Along with a migraine to shatter stone with." Again, she shook her head. "Seems whoever she was, had opened her senses up, and had a bit of powers, which I inherited." She sighed. "Let's just say I had an interesting time getting everything under control after that. A few months later, I was learning beginner's magic right here."
Noelle tilted her head, drumming on the handle of her parasol. "So you got stuck in the body of your crush?"
"Well, one of her minions... We think." She bit on her lower lip. "I'm not sure. It was dark, they wore cloaks, it's more than a little hard to tell if it was one of them, or my body turning this way. If it was someone else, they didn't stick around to claim the body, so... I'm stuck like this. Though you get used to it." She rolled her eyes. "Though the magic, that's another story. You never know what's going to happen next."
Robin grumbled: "No kidding."
Catherine raised an eyebrow, and drew a sly smirk across her face. "And what was that?"
Robin gulped, and shuffled in his seat. "Well, I-hum... You know."
Catherine leaned forward, hands together. "It almost sounded like you have some experience with magic yourself, mn?"
Robin chuckled embarrassingly. "Ah-ah little? I doubt it's the same thing you do."
"Let me guess?" Noelle mimicked Catherine, leaning forward. "It's complicated?" Robin groaned at that one.
Catherine sat back, satisfied. "I do believe someone's just volunteered to be the next one to tell us their story. If you would, Robin?"
He shuffled gruffly a few times, then gave a sigh. "Okay, like, okay." He sat up a bit straighter, holding his bag closely. "The name's Robin. It's... Always been Robin, really. Don't have a nickname either."
Catherine waved a hand over. "It's a codename. Most mutants have one, especially if you have a MID card. Maybe a little early for some of you to pick right now, but it's something to think about."
Robin gulped. "Good to know."
I shivered a bit, then leaned forward. "I-I-I'm sorry if I have to ask, but it's been bugging me since I saw you. I-I don't mean any offence, but you are a..." I looked to Catherine, then back to Robin. "Changeling too?"
He nodded a bit hesitantly. "Yeah?"
"So are you a boy turning into a girl? Or the other way around?"
"Seriously?" He just stared at me, unamused. "Seriously? It's not obvious?" He looked to Noelle, whom shrugged, then to Catherine, who simply smirked. "Heh. Heheheh. Wow." He rubbed the back of his head hesitantly. "I'm... Not sure how to take this one."
I gulped. "Sorry."
"Hrmph. Don't be. I guess I'm not helping things either." He sighed, and reached into his bag. "Give me a minute here." There was glass clanging against each other as he dug in, and finally, he pulled out a picture frame. "There you go."
The picture he showed us was of a young girl in a tennis outfit, with a striped shirt, and white skirt, along with the cap, and her long chestnut hair tied back in a pony tail. She was holding with pride a racket, and a silver trophy.
"That," Robin mentioned, "Was the last picture I had before my changes started to kick in." He frowned. "Good enough for you?"
We took a few glances between the picture, and Robin himself, and there was a bit or resemblance between the girl, and the boy. "I... See. Going male. How's that treating you?" On the bright side, I finally could make sure 'he' was the right pronoun.
"Kinda. Mostly. I'm still mid-transition, really." He fidgeted. "They say it might go all the way with some hormone injections, or maybe revert, if I take the other drug, but so far... Well, I'm more boy now than I was ever before."
"Interesting." Catherine noted. "Any ideas what might have caused that?"
He gave a sigh, pulled his bag up, and opened it up. Inside were a slew of various bottles. Some made out of glass, some in plastic, and some were even made of old rustic tin. One bottle was for perfume, the second was for windshield washer, a third was a black bottle of wine, and many more variety was gathered up. "Could be any one of these, I'm afraid. It wasn't quick, let me tell you that."
We all took a quick glance over, and I had to ask first: "So what do you have here?"
"In layman's terms? Potions. Magical potions. Every single one of them, about most of what I made. I think. Maybe." He shrugged. "Kinda hard to tell when the gift started, and who knows what's magic, versus a bit of indigestion."
"Aaaaaahhh. That's what you meant." Catherine nodded. "You're an alchemist."
Noelle was quick to fill me in. "It's like a wizard, but less wands, runes and spells, and more test tubes, cauldrons and turning lead into gold." She looked over to Robin. "Am I wrong?"
"You're pretty much right on the money." He sighed. "Except I don't need the cauldrons or test tubes. Give me some Kool-aid, some water, and a glass rod about ten inches in length, and I'll make either fireworks, hair-growth formula, or the semblance of a fruit drink. The problem... Is that I don't know which one it'll be." He made a swirling motion at his head. "The ideas come into my head, the pictures come into my mind, and I know 'something' will happen, but it's unreliable." He groaned. "Part of why I'm coming out here. I'm too dangerous if I don't get a hang of things." He reached down at the pile, picked up an old bottle of perfume with a squeezeball pump. "This used to be grandma's perfume, and that's when we found out how bad it could get. Added in two cubes of sugar, a bit of hot sauce, stirred with a used up match. Now, imagine your grandmother trying to freshen up for the evening."
I wished I wasn't the one facing him, because when he squeezed the trigger, out came a torrent of flames heading straight my way. "WOAH!" I backpedalled so fast, I hit the wall, and kept pushing, until my beanbag had almost swallowed me whole.
"Sorry." Robin looked a bit sheepish, capping the bottle back up. "I think you can get why that'd be a problem."
I gulped. "Y-yeah."
"I've also been banned from the kitchen. The last batch of cupcakes I made went airborne." He looked at his hands. "I don't know when it happens, or realize how. It just kicks in." He groaned. "Nor do I know if it's the fumes of one of these, or one bad cup of tea that started my change."
Catherine pondered. "Sounds like you're either a wizard, or a devisor. Maybe they'll have to figure it out." She waved a finger. "There's also a possibility you're putting a bit of yourself, or a little something extra in there, if it's that unreliable. Thanks to the extra day, it does mean you have an earlier shot at power testing. Hopefully, they can figure out which one you're using before you have to pick your starting classes." She waved a hand. "Now, you don't have to answer, it is a little personal, but how's life as a boy treating you so far?"
"It's... Different, I'll be honest. At first, I thought I was delusional, going a bit crazy." He put his arms around himself, and for once, he seemed much more vulnerable. "Now, well, they say I'm pretty much on the road there." He rubbed the back of his neck. "It's only been two months, but... Mom's been all sorts of weird, while dad's been really excited, like he's been trying to make up for thirteen years. Took me to play football, fishing, camping, to a car show... Yeah, we did have fun, but then again... I had to beg him not to give away all my dresses."
"Wait, what?" Noelle tilted her head. "You wanted to keep them?"
"Yeah! Yeah, I did." Robin looked a bit defiant for a moment, then sheepishly hugged his knees. "I like them. I still do." He shook his head softly. "I know, I know, I... Might never wear them again, but... I like them still." He glared our way. "Isn't there something you got to enjoy as boys that you can't do anymore?"
Oh, where would I begin on that list? Everybody's expectations seemed to change in one go, and I had to admit, I tried everything I could to stick to those expectations. I didn't dare give a hint of who I was beforehand, and at the end of the day, I missed a good part of it. I still felt sore about my old dream being gone, let alone the hundred of little things I had to change. You don't realize how big it is, until you're pushed on the other side.
Noelle and I exchanged an awkward glance, and we knew it was the same for each other, for all of us, really.
"One of the first times when it really felt nice to be one of the boys," Robin continued, "Was right here. It was nice. Refreshing. Relaxing." He scritched his arm, and chuckled awkwardly. "Guess I know why now."
Catherine gave a soft, slow nod. "And it may seem a little twisted, but it's part of why you're under the same dorm. Yes, the other boys and girls may not know what it's like to switch over, but at least you might feel more comfortable around them, especially if your orientation compass is still wobbling. They'll definitively relate on that point." She opened her hands wide. "And if you do end up making a faux-pas, we'll understand, and we'll help. Right, girls?"
We nodded in tandem on this one. "Oh yeah." "Definitively." "Any day."
Robin finally seemed to relax a bit, and gave a rather cute smile. "Thanks. Really."
"Although..." I added in. "I bet you could teach us a whole lot more about being feminine, than the other way around."
Robin grinned at that one. "Weeeelllllllll." He put a hand to his chin. "I don't know. I don't think I would have spotted either one of you in the crowd." He then tilted his head toward Noelle. "But I think you've taken it a bit further than anyone else. You've made yourself a bit special." He raised his hands up. "Nothing wrong. Nothing wrong with that. Just that everyone seemed to just get drawn to you like moths to a flame."
Noelle just rolled her eyes dramatically. "You have NO idea how ironic that comment is."
"Maybe, but just look at yourself." Robin nodded. "You didn't just go with something really pretty and feminine, I'd say you even picked some high fashion, with a retro twist." His head tilted to the side. "You really dove headlong into it."
"I... Had a bit of help." She waved a hand. "Honnetement, more like I got shoved into the pool, and I'm still trying to paddle."
"Like a graceful swan." I smirked.
"Why yes." She snerked. "But if you look under water, you see two tiny, teeny, flimsy little black legs flapping around. Graceful indeed."
Catherine grinned widely, leaning forward. "Really now? Sounds like you've got quite the story to tell so far. Want to be next?"
She gave a sigh, and nodded. "Certainement. Might as well." She sat back straight up in her chair, looking as dignified as she could. "My name is Noelle. It used to be Leon, until my life went turned right upside down." She crossed her arms. "Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't taken that trip."
"A trip? Where?" , I asked curiously.
"Quebec." She nodded. "Northern Quebec, at my uncle's cabin."
There were a few impressed whistles. "Quite a trip." Robin noted.
"I knew you had a bit of French in your language." Catherine noted.
Noelle crossed her arms, pouting. "Et oui. I can't quite help it. Mom and dad wanted to punish me over the winter break, so they thought I could cool off with uncle Brian, away from my pals. I was going to be stuck there for a whole week, out in the middle of the woods, right next to a mountain, in the middle of winter."
"They sent you all the way up there to punish you?" My eyes were the size of dinner plates. I would have loved a trip anywhere, really. The best dad could do was a little camping trip every summer.
"I know!" She rolled her eyes again. "It's a little overdramatic, but they still sent me up there. I was bored out of my MIND! You wouldn't believe it." She shook her head. "No friends, no cars, no games, no malls, all the tv stations were in French, and if I even tried to go outside, I had three feet of snow everywhere, in the middle of the woods. Of course, that last part is why dear uncle Brian thought it's be a bright idea to strap on a thick, hot, stuffy snow suit, and go out on a hike. It was a beautiful sunny day, should have been clear for the rest of the week, perfect for skiing, skating, all the winter wonderland stuff. I even thought I might have a good time when he broke out the snowmobiles. Too bad we didn't see the freak blizzard coming when it came around.
Then again, the cloud did come right over the mountain, so before we knew it, we were showered with so much snow, we couldn't see past our noses. The trails we were supposed to follow were gone, and I swore we went in circles a few times." She sighed. "By the time our fuel meters were down to a third, we decided to stop, and make shelter, until the storm would pass." She frowned, tightening her legs together. "That's when 'she' showed up."
"Aaaaahhhhh." Catherine snapped her fingers. "Gotcha." She looked a little confused when we looked up at her with frowns. "What? You don't recognise this?" She grumbled. "Education, these days. Let me guess: she was a little floaty? An incredible beauty? A little see-through?"
Noelle crossed her arms. "Yeah. Yeah. Not that we noticed the other details." She rubbed her eyes. "As soon as we saw her, we just about dropped everything, and followed her out in the woods, even further away from our equipment. It was like nothing else mattered. She was everything, and we just wanted to get warm by her side. She had us under our spell, and was about to kill us when she thought we were far enough from civilisation."
"Kill you?" I raised an eyebrow. "What? You ran into a mutant out there?"
Noelle snerked. "Not a mutant. A ghost."
Catherine rolled her hand a few times. "Well, more specifically, a yuki-onna."
"A what?" All three of us were confused.
"A yuki-onna." She looked at all of us, and rubbed her forehead. "Seriously? You haven't heard of those?"
Robin frowned. "I know Japanimation is a big thing, but not all of us are THAT deep into it."
"Then that's something we're going to have to fix one night." Catherine shook her head. "Seriously."
"Oh bon Dieu." Noelle breathed out. "Classes haven't even started, and we already have homework."
"Oh, you are going to wish I was the one schooling you all year long." She sighed. "But unfortunately, they probably wouldn't be able to convince investors to pay me. Any ways." She shook her head. "A Yuki-onna is the vengeful ghost of a young woman who haunts the mountains, and during winter times, draws men in with her charms, and allure, gets them totally lost, and brings them out to die in the icy cold embrace."
Noelle's eyes went a bit up. "That's... Mighty accurate."
Our guide looked mighty smug of herself. "Heh heh heh. I bet she was also japaneese? It's where all the myths came from."
But all that smugness shifted back to Noelle in an instant. "Non. Nope. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong." Her head tilted to the side. "Remember: we were in Quebec. The ghost we ran into was actually from ancient France, back when they colonised Canada. And yes, that does make her over three hundred, maybe four hundred years old."
Catherine noted: "Well, considering how she would have conjured up a whole storm, she would have been something pretty powerful on her own."
I leaned toward Noelle. "So what happened?"
She took in a deep breath, and continued: "So the ghost was about to kill me first. She wanted to keep the bigger, stronger uncle for the main course. So she reached down, put her cold arms around my neck, and gave me what was supposed to be my last kiss, her finishing move, the kiss of death.
Now, usually, this is where she would have sucked in all my life force right out of my body, right out of my mouth." She shook her head. "But instead, the more she sucked, the more she felt herself drawn in. Instead of eating me, she was the one being eaten." She raised both hands. "I was barely conscious of what was happening, but she couldn't seem to pull out. Oh, she fought, she struggled, she pulled back, but all the struggling only made her fall in even quicker, and before long, she was all the way inside me."
"Heeheehee." Catherine couldn't stop snickering. "Oh my. Oh my goodness. I'm even going to ignore all the innuendos. She ran right into an avatar." She nodded. "Am I right?"
Noelle scratched her arm awkwardly. "Oui, c'est cela. That's what they called it."
"And what does that mean?" Robin asked. there was no doubts Catherine knew all this.
Catherine nodded smugly. "An avatar is like a medium. They carry around a spirit, and it gives them strength or powers." She frowned. "It can go from animal spirits to ideas or concepts. In this case? A three-hundred year old French spirit haunting a mountain."
"And she's still up here." Noelle poked at her forehead. "She's in there, chatting most of the time, all in French. So if I'm switching once in a while, you know why." She grumbled. "And she's mighty stubborn."
"She's still in there?" I looked over her once more. "That's gotta be annoying. She's constantly talking?"
She rolled her eyes. "Not all the time, but... Mostly. she's been stuck on a mountain for centuries, so when we came off it, she was in total culture shock. Take a wild guess who was the lucky one to be the guide to the modern world." She shook her head. "Let me put it this way: she still thinks T-shirts are scandalous, let alone wearing swimsuits in public."
Robin tilted his head. "Does that explain your choice in wardrobe?"
"Eeeehh. She might have had some input." She fidgeted. "Let's just say if she felt really uncomfortable about something, she let me know. Pretty loudly." She looked over to Robin. "It's not that bad, is it?"
He winced a bit. "Well... It's got some of the older styles, but with a modern twist to it?" He shook his head. "But somehow, you make it work real good. I mean, you turned the head of most of those boys, and knowing what we do now? It's no small feat."
Catherine crossed her arms smugly. "That might be because it wasn't just good looks and good clothes, was it?" She tapped her fingers together. "You had a bit of an assist."
Noelle grumbled under her breath. "Yeah, yeah, but I can't really control it either."
I looked between the two, expecting something, but they simply stared at each other for a moment, leaving the rest of us in the dark. "So come on. Spill. What is it?"
Our guide caved in first: "It's a little something called the Glamour effect. Think of it as mass hypnosis. Everyone around you would be captivated by your looks, and think you're the prettiest thing in the world, even if you were wearing slime-covered overalls. You'd have weaker minds wrapped right up around your little finger in no time."
Noelle grumbled. "And that's a major pain in the butt." She looked up to Catherine. "I'm surprised you knew what was going on."
She just shrugged. "You get caught in a glamour or two, and you recognise them pretty quickly.”
Robin was giving Noelle the eye. "A pain in the butt? It sounds pretty sweet to me. Everyone thinks you're pretty, everyone would agree to your opinion, everyone would want you, all the cute boys would be at your heels. What's wrong?"
I shuddered at that last bit. "Oh, I don't know. What about you don't swing for boys? That the idea of kissing guys just isn't your cup of tea? It means you've got a bunch of hopeful, delusional guys thinking they have a chance with you, or think they can hook up with you, when you'd rather they leave you alone..." I looked over at Noelle, and fidgeted. "Unless you're into that stuff, I'm not judging, or anything."
Noelle smirked, and shook her head softly. "No, no, you've pretty much hit the nail on the head." She bit her lip. "Though it gets bad if they're insistent, worse if they decide to get violent." She glanced at the armband, frowning. "I suppose this is what this is about."
"Guys being grabby?" noted Robin.
"Oui. Except they're gonna regret it even more than I am. You remember the 'vengeful ghost' part of the yuki-onna? Well, this one hasn't let go, even after I caught her." She squeezed her hands together. "Especially against men. And since she still has control of most of her powers..."
Robin frowned a bit. "Is that why you wouldn't shake my hand?"
Noelle nodded. "Yes. Because otherwise..." She extended one arm forward, and as she focussed, a chill rose in the air instantly. A wisp of fog left her fingers, growing into a sparkling cloud, as crystals started forming. The sparkles grew rapidly into snowflakes like magic, fluttering down to the floor, until another chilling wave hit, and the flakes grew, connecting into each other, and forming a web of icy veins attached to her palm. The ice kept growing, and growing, it's frozen claws reaching ever forward, until Noelle pulled her arm back, and the whole structure broke apart over the floor in a pile of melting snow. After that little feat of magic, Noelle simply took in a deep breath, dusting her hands off. "And that's when I get to squeeze out her power all by myself."
Robin and I looked a bit paler in complexion, partly thanks to the cold in the air. "And you say she can do that too?"
"Mais oui." She grumbled, crossing her arms. "Much faster too. I tried to stop her in the past, but she's sneaky, strong, I..." She looked depressed for a moment, closing her fists tightly in frustration. "I need to get her under control. I have to."
Catherine was pensive once more. "That's a bit of an odd one. Not that it's the first time there's a disagreement between hosts and spirits, but she's got access on the outside world? At least she'd be a little cooperative." She crossed her arms seriously. "I take it she's also the one who changed you into a girl?" Our guide winced as Noelle nodded. "Then she's real powerful. More than just ice, and looks, by the sound of it." She waved her hands, and smiled reassuringly. "But you're at the right place. You'll get a hang of her, her powers, and you'll be much stronger for it."
There was a smirk twitching a little, but Noelle didn't exactly look convinced. "Oui. Oui. Until then, I suppose I just have to say boys are allergic to me." She noted, tugging on her armband.
Robin shuddered. "Okay, now I get why you were... Hesitant. I get it. Th-thanks." He bit his lip. "Only against men though? Why? I mean, I know some are..."
Noelle rolled her eyes. "Grabby? Perverts? Lookers? Oh yeah. I have. Told her there were laws against that now, that things changed since those old days, that even some women do the same things, buuuuuuut she's mighty stubborn." She grumbled. "You know how they say the French are cheese-eating surrender-monkeys? Whoever started that were high on something."
I gulped. "And what does she think of us?" I waved around. "I mean, we're not exactly... Well, some of us were males, some of us weren't soooo we don't exactly fit, do we?" I squeezed my legs in together. This one was a little more personal. "Would she freeze us too?"
"Huh." Noelle smirked, a bit amused, rolling her eyes back. "Alors? Oh, non. Je sais que tu les as compris. Essaie pas de t'en echaper." Oh, how smug she looked right now. "Nooooooon."
I was fidgeting, not getting a bit of French she was spouting off. "So? The verdict?"
"She... Has no ideas. She's lost. Flabbergasted. Confused. I guess she never considered there'd be people like you- I mean, like us." She snerked. "Another culture shock for the old ghost lady." She smiled at me. "I'd say as long as you behave yourself, you should be fine. Do give her a good example, mn?"
"Of course!" I brought my hands together, smiling. "I'll be good. Promise. I swear."
"Good. Gooooood." With that, Catherine leaned down in my direction. "But now, for our last introduction? Would you please tell us more about yourself?"
I felt all three stares lock down on me, and a sudden case of a stage fright came up. "Ah-huh-Yeah. Hi." I gulped. Smooth, Karen. Real smooth. Then again, Robin and Noelle had already told us about each other, it wouldn't be fair not to tell. "Where do I start? Er-My name's Karen Yates, used to be Kyle. I..." I looked over to Catherine, Robin, then to Noelle, finding myself somewhat envious. "And I can't really do anything amazing like you all do. I can't do magic, potion or otherwise. I'm not stronger, super fast, or super smart. I can't shoot lasers out of anywhere, really, or-"
"Karen," Catherine interrupted. "If you're going to go down the list of what you can't do, we might be here the whole semester." The other two giggled softly. "Sometimes, it can be overwhelming, but it's not a contest of who can do the most. We just want to know you."
"Right. Right." I was blushing pretty hard. "M-maybe I did get carried away."
"Come on." Noelle egged me on. "It's not that hard."
I rolled my eyes. "Riiiiiiiight. Right..." I bit my lip nervously. "Mostly, my power is to heal fast."
"So you're a regenerator?" Catherine blinked. "And?"
"And?" I rubbed the back of my head. "Well, it is quirky, and really fast. Is that bad?"
Catherine shrugged. "Not bad, per say, but regeneration usually comes with other things. Strong exemplars for example." She frowned. "You said it was real fast and quirky? How?"
"Well, when something happens, I..." I shook my head, and dug into my handbag. "It's going to be a lot easier to show you."
"Ooohhh. Demo time." Robin scooted in a bit closer.
Catherine hesitated. "Now, now, Karen, I don't think mutilating yourself is a good idea. Regenerator blood is kiiiinda-"
I waved her off as I pulled out a pair of trusty scissors. "Oh, don't worry. No blood involved. I did this trick before, and it worked perfectly."
And a minute later, you could hear, down the corridor, a high-pitched: "NO!"
Robin was staring at me like I'd committed murder as I held out a couple of feet of my black hair right off my head, and dropped it right in the middle of the floor. I dusted my hands. "There. Much lighter now."
"Aaawww." Robin pouted, looking down at the mess on the floor. "Must have taken forever to get such a pretty- Huh?"
I'd seen it before, but it was always something to see those strands of hair begin to move, and sway, before starting to crawl their way toward me. Now, it was their turn to watch, as the whole mass gathered together in a single pool, climbed up my leg, around my back, and attached itself back where I'd just cut it. Seconds later, I was running my hands back through the long curtain of black hair I had. "Tah-dah."
The trio's jaw were dropped in awe for a moment. Catherine was the first to catch herself, muttering: "When you think you've seen it all." She was rubbing her chin pensively. "So you don't regrow anything? It just comes back?"
I nodded softly. "Yeah." I snerked. "When the hospital took my blood for testing, the blood jumped out of the test tube, bounced across the floor halfway across the hospital to get back to me." I sighed. "I've seen bruises disappear in seconds. Peeled off skin plaster back in place. Cuts simply weave themselves closed. Even shrapnel push themselves out of me so I could heal." I waved my hands at myself. "Ever since the transformation reached this point, I've been stuck like this."
"Stuck?" Noelle asked. "Can't even get a haircut, mn?" I nodded.
"Wait, wait, wait." Robin raised his hands at me. "Skin peeled off? Shrapnel? Did you just go into a war zone? Or are you pulling my leg?"
I gulped. "Well, 'shrapnel' sounded a bit more fitting, than 'branches'..." Robin's penetrating gaze was still locked on to me. I hadn't exactly convinced him. "It's... Complicated?"
"There's big 'C' word again!" Robin exclaimed. "How did I know it was coming?" This time, it earned him a glare from Noelle and Catherine, making him shrug. "Okay, okay. I'm being overdramatic. But seriously? What happened?" He looked over to Catherine. "We've got time for a third 'complication', right?"
Catherine rolled her eyes. "Considering how big our group is? We should have time." All sights settle back on me. "If you'd like, Karen?"
I bit my lips, considering for a moment. "Gosh. Where do I start?"
"Usually?" Catherine noted. "At the beginning. A little warning though: the last one who started with the dinosaurs was introduced to the campus velociraptor." She got a few snickers for that one. "Oh, you laugh now. You'll see. You'll see... At least, unless he graduated." She shook her head. "You said you had a transformation though? How about there?"
"That one?" In winced a bit. "I suppose it started one morning... Actually, it started the night before, at baseball practice..."
That's how I started my story, and I told them just about everything: how I woke up with a new set on my chest, trying to hide it, being discovered, and the following beatings. I tried real hard not to forget anything as I went along, and they listened quietly. I don't know why, but once I started on it, I couldn't seem to stop myself from talking, I had to let it all out.
"Then, one day, I was out jogging, and..." A shiver ran up my spine, as the pictures flashed through my head.
"You mean it's not over?" Robin asked.
I choked back a chuckle, as Catherine shushed him. "No. Oh no. I wish it would have been." I just closed my eyes for a second, and that night flashed once more in my head. I couldn't forget about it. Any of it. "That day, they ambushed me."
Once more, I told the tale of my abduction, the most horrible night of my life. A nightmare I couldn't seem to rid myself of. I just had to close my eyes, and I could still feel all the pain I'd gone through. Even months after it happened, I still remembered every bits, and I told them every details. I don't know when the tears began, or when I started shaking, just that the latter stopped when Catherine put her hands over mine, and asked me if I was okay. After a small nod, and a moment to wipe away the tears, I kept on going. This wasn't my first retelling. Noelle and Robin closed in silently as I reached the comeback in my tale, and were on the edge of their seats. They followed me as I retold the last few bits of that ride through hell, and I was able to end with: "And after finding his cell phone, I was able to call in the emergency services, and we were rescued."
There was that moment of pregnant unease in the air, as they looked back at me, shaking their head slowly. Robin was looking unusually green. "You can't be serious."
"Of course, it's serious!" I snapped at him. If Noelle hadn't put a hand on my shoulder, I might have lunged at him. "Do you think I'd joke about this?"
Robin backed up against his seat, holding both hands up. "No! No! No! I mean, I can't believe those guys!" He looked at his hands. "I mean, the way they were after you, it was almost fanatical. Even before the whole mutation." He looked over too Catherine. "People don't really act this way, do they?"
Catherine looked at us, hesitating, until she shook her head. "Not... Not everyone, but... I won't sugarcoat it either. I'm sure you know the widespread sentiment about mutants all around, but for people like us, it's another layer of prejudice against us, and people can do some crazy, insane things. There are horror stories you can find about us that seem out of this world, that civilised people couldn't act this way, but they do happen." She squeezed my hands, looking at me. "You survived one of those. You're really lucky-"
"Heh. Lucky. Right." I was between a sob and a chuckle. "Lucky. That's the most damnable thing about this." Catherine put her arm around me for a bit of comfort as I continued. "If it weren't for my mutation, I'd be dead, but I wouldn't be changing it if I wasn't a mutant in the first place! It's a damn catch 22!"
"Shhh. Shhh. We know. We know." Catherine said softly. "I know it's frustrating as Hell right now. You never really got a choice in the matter." She waved a hand around. "None of us really had that. It's the circumstances we have, I'm afraid." She waved a finger. "But you've been in the middle of the worst humanity has in store, and you survived. I know it's little consolation, but you're lucky. Not everyone gets to walk away from that, even between mutants. I've heard the horror stories." She shook her head. "I often hear the criticism that this cottage just alienates us even more from normal society, that all it does is 'hide our gays', but honestly, it's a gift." She smiled, nodding. "It's a place where you can relax. Be yourself, amongst people who understand the need to keep that hidden, who understand what you have to live through. We all have enough trouble with just dealing with these new powers, be it mixes blowing up in our faces, or a spirit that won't keep her cool," she got a quick glare from Robin and Noelle, but kept going. "So believe me when I say you've reached the best place you could ever be."
It did feel better to hear that, a bit of relief, after going through all that baggage over again. If it really was a shelter from the storm, then maybe I could relax. Maybe this really was for the best.
I then felt another hand squeeze on top of mine and Catherine's. Robin looked a bit awkward. Maybe he wasn't used to this. "Look, I'm sorry for... Doubting you, and anything. I mean, it's pretty hard to see happening, and I didn't go through the same thing." He winced a bit. "Then again, I didn't try to see my friends either, not that they'd recognise me, really. If they knew..." He shook his head rapidly. "I don't know what I would have done. Mom and dad kept me pretty much inside at all times, they were afraid I might blow up the car, or something. I didn't think, couldn't imagine something like that could happen. I'm just really sorry to hear all that."
"Moi aussi." Another hand joined us, and we were all a little shocked that Noelle had reached over. "It must have been horrible. Heck, it's already bad enough turning into a girl, without assholes deciding to make it Hell. You didn't deserve that. No one should. My family took a lot of convincing to prove them I was myself, but at least they still brought me back home." She grumbled. "You don't want to know how customs for mutants are like." She shuddered, and shook her head. "Anyways, you don't have anything to fear here. We've got your back. Okay?" She gave this cute little wink that made my heart beat twice as fast.
I looked at the three of them, each one smiling, and I felt the waterworks start up once more, this time, accompanied with a smile I couldn't keep down. I was shaking, holding their hands tingthly as I nodded. "Thank you. Thank you so much. After all that happened, I never though I'd... never thought there'd be a place-others like me. I-I-I-"
Catherine giggled, and waved a hand a bit. "A little early, but I think she needs a moment. Group hug, everybody?"
It wasn't even a contest or a concern as we all pulled in close together, and I found myself in close with them. Maybe it was a miracle, but I'd gone so quickly from a place oh so alien, to a new group I could call friends. It felt wonderful. I felt accepted again. I didn't know why I was so worried before. It almost choked me up. "Thank you. You're just incredible."
Robin snerked. "Not THAT incredible. No more than you are."
"Oh no. You're all so much greater than what I've got." I snickered.
"I don't believe that for a second." Noelle added in.
"Now, now, you're all special snowflakes, each and every one of you, and you've got four years to prove who's best." Catherine ruffled Robin and my hair. "It's good to see you like this, but we better go." She clapped her hands together. "I've got a whole campus to show you around, and little time to do it." She shook her head. "Yes, we've got the whole day, but I swear, it will never be enough to cover it all." She raised her eyebrows as she made her way out, waving a hand. "As our frenchie here would say: Allons-y!"
With a cheerful look at each other, we followed our guide to the next step in our initiation.
That was how my first year at Whateley began. With a little worry, a lot of hope, and no ideas what was going to happen.
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The afternoon was spent in a long visit around campus, as Catherine showed us the wonders we'd be living in for a while, from the dorms, to Kane Hall, to the crystal dome that served, out of all possible purpose, as a cafeteria. All the while, she told us tales that had gone around campus, some she'd experienced herself, others, she swore were very real and certainly not inflated just to see our jaws drop. I had my doubts.
Surprisingly, the best part of the tour wasn't the giant dome of crystal, but a quick look at the Homer Gallery, where various memorabilia was stored from all sorts of heroes and villains. Costumes, deadly gadgets, and trophies were put up on display for those lucky enough to see it. Some, I could recognise on sight, others, much more obscure. Some of these were decades old, after all. It felt like standing next to giants.
Catherine was leading us with intent though. She stopped in front of a rather large picture of an elegant man. "And here is one of the oldest traditions for freshmen on campus: this is the picture of Lord Paramount, current ruler of Wallachia. Bathe in his might and glory," she topped off all that sarcasm with a carefully exaggerated bow.
The three of us looked up for a moment, a bit curiously, until Noelle let out: "Okay, it's a mighty nice painting of the 'liberator of Wallachia', but why is this a tradition?"
Catherine rolled her eyes. "That's one of his conditions for his part of funding the school. We have to show this picture to every new students coming in. I do mean 'every students'." She sighed. "The man's ego probably dwarfs his country. Then again, we have our next entry on the 'must see tour' is definitively flaunting what she's got." She led us over to a pile of gold ingots stacked up. "Presenting: one metric ton of gold, donated by one Gabriella Guzzman."
Robin gave an impressed whistle. "That could net you a looooooooot of paintings."
Noelle crossed her arms, not so easily impressed. "Okay, I can understand showing a picture, or a statue, but who sends a pile of gold bricks? She could have at least melted a few into a bust."
Catherine's eyebrows raised. "That is a good question. Supposedly, and I'm quoting here: those who know the meaning will understand the message right away."
"Hrm. Cryptic. Nous avons un mystere, mes amis." Noelle leaned forward on her parasol. "It certainly doesn't seem safe to just lay a pile of gold right out in the open, even less when you want every students to know exactly where it is. It's why we have places like Fort Knox, after all. It's almost purposively stupid. Maybe that's the point."
I glanced at her. "What do you mean?"
"She's confident enough to leave it all right here. The fact that no one's taken it all means the moment these bars are gone, security would have been breached somehow. Yet this has been going on for years, right?"
Robin nodded, rubbing his chin. "Unless they're all fake. Fool's gold, and no one's the wiser. The real gold is long gone, and no one will touch it, being a display and all." He snerked. "Heck, just replacing two or three of them wouldn't be too much of an issue. It all depends on how much efforts you put into it. You'd probably still come out with a profit, and it'd take forever for anyone to prove anything was wrong. To put it simply," he shrugged. "It's a golden opportunity."
Our guide giggled, as that remark earned Robin a quick twap upside the head from Noelle. "And what about you Karen? Penny for your thoughts?"
"It's riches. Gold, money or investments. It's all it represents." And that one earned me another twap from Noelle, as Robin shook his head. "Hey! I don't mean that's bad, it's... Okay, hear me out." I pointed to the gold. "This is what someone reached with their talents. Enough riches, that she can give out stacks of freaking gold as a donation." I pointed to the portrait we'd just seen. "He conquered, and made his own country with what he had." I then pointed up to a statue of the Champion. "And he's a legend known around the world for heroes to look up on." I waved my hands around the room. "Every bits of trophies around here is a bit of inspiration, somebody's best results put up on display. Everyone who walks in here can find something to aspire to, to be inspired, be it riches, fame, or knowledge. It's freaking orientation for people around here. Pick a trophy, and pick a goal in life."
My fellow changelings looked at me with quirked eyebrows, then took another glance around the place. "There's... Some merit to that thought."
"How adorable." Catherine commented. "I know it's a gallery, but you three sounded like a bunch of art critics." She shook her head. "The thing is, everyone can look around, and have their own ideas of what it all means. You put your own message, your own take on it. There's no 'right answer', just the one you think come up with. That tells you more about yourself, than the pile of gold. That's where it makes all the difference."
There was a moment of silence settling down on the room for a moment, just long enough to ponder that little bit, until it felt awkward. "Oooookay." Catherine mumbled. "I know I must be getting tired when I start philosophizing." She waved her arm to the back door. "Come on now, little froshes. Time to go back to the dorms, and settle in. Believe me, some of you will need the rest for tomorrow."
Sure, it was time to go, but I couldn't help myself. I had to look up at the Champion, for just a few more minutes. Just a little longer...
That is, until Noelle pulled me back by the hoodie. "Ack! Okay! Okay! Okay!"
After the tour was finished, we were given our scheduled, and left to our own activities. For our little group, we agreed that unpacking came in first, and that left me and Noelle heading back to our room. Did I mind rooming with the hottest, cutest, most well dressed girl in the cottage? Not at all. Heck, it was even a little intimidating, if it wasn't for the fact that we shared something so close to each other. Something we could confide to each other. Sure, I'd talked about my issues with my family and friends, but with her, she knew exactly what kind of troubles we had. She'd lived them too. She understood.
But then again, there were some differences.
"I can't believe you have the guts to wear something like that."
The dress was pretty. No question about it. White as snow, smooth as silk, and glittering from multiple sequins. Just the fact that it was a dress was making me nervous, but then add in the fact that it only had no shoulder straps, a very long slit up the side of both legs, and a waist that would hug you tighter than a boa constrictor, and you had a combination that was just too much for me.
"Oh, c'est pas ci pire." Noelle shrugged, as she put it in front of herself. "It was a recommendation from my cousin, and I look good in it. Even my 'passenger' couldn't deny it at the time."
"Oh, I believe you look good in it." I nodded, reaching into my suitcase. "You would break hearts, I know you will. I just don't think I'd be confident enough to walk out with that. I'd die of embarrassment before I'd even reach the door."
"I said the same thing at first. Told them I'd become a ghost before they'd find me inside one of those, but then they got me in, and... Well, I felt beautiful." She swung around in a quick circle, in front of the tall mirror. "Since then, I've been experimenting." She raised an eyebrow. "Though it seems you're more interested in covering up."
She said that just as I was pulling up another hoodie. A baby blue number, thankfully, without any of the fancier, girlyer details. "And maybe I am? Besides, it's comfortable, practical, and familiar."
"And a pressure cooker during summer. You are going to fry on the inside, mon amie."
"I'll take my chances, mon amie." I giggled as I slid another one into the wardrobe. "Besides, I do have a few lighter shirts in there."
"So bland." She muttered. "It sounds like you just want to cover yourself as much as possible. Have you ever tried being cute?"
"I-I-I-erm..." I know I was turning red once more. "Kinda?" My sisters had insisted, and after a month, I caved in.
Her eyes turned into a sly smirk as she leaned over, pulling out another petticoat-style dress. "So? Did you like what you saw?" She wriggled a little. "Did it feel all tingly inside?"
"Kiiiiiinda? Yes?" I buried my face in a pair of sweatpants I had picked up. "It felt nice, and all, and... Mmmrgh." I just shook my head. "But I can't afford to buy anything like that." I nodded to a summery red dress she'd pulled out. "Don't you think that's pushing it? I mean, I get why you'd want to be beautiful, but all the time? Don't you hate it when guys look your way like they want to eat you up?"
That one got a shiver from her. "YES! God, I hate it when it happens. It's the same for you too, right?"
That was my turn to shudder. "Yeah. Oh yeah. Part of why I try not to show too much to them. Last I learned, dress a certain way, and they think it gives them an invitation, a free pass."
"Yeah, I can see that." She pulled out a camisole, smirking slightly. "But the catch is that damn glamour again. It doesn't matter what I wear, they still come on over and 'try their luck'. I could be wearing a deep sea diving suit, and the pickup lines would still be coming in." She shrugged. "So we decided if it doesn't make a difference, I might as well look good."
"That... Does make sense." I hooked up a long, pleated skirt up. "Suppose if you don't have a choice. You don't mind looking all girlied up?"
"Girlied up, mn?" She raised an eyebrow.
I just rolled my eyes. "I know. I know. Same boat. You do push it though."
"I used to. At first." She struck a stunning pose, with a sultry look over her face. "But after a little while, it just feels oh so good." She twisted around, looking back at me. "Want to give it a try, mon amie?"
I could feel my face heating up in embarrassment, and before I could stammer an answer, there was a knock at the door. Happily dodging the question, I called out: "Who is it?"
"Karen? It's Jessie. Can I come in?"
"Oh! Sure! Right away!" I gave Noelle a glance, and since she didn't seem to object, I opened up. "Hi there!"
The twin-pig-tailed cutie I'd met on the shuttle smiled a bit sheepishly. "Hi! finally found you... Two?" She took a glance at Noelle, who also waved. "I'm not disturbing anything, am I?"
"Nah. We were just unpacking. Come on in." I stepped aside. "You're already settled in?"
"Yup yup! Three doors down. They even asked me to help carry some of the luggage in. I couldn't really say no." She sat down on the bed, looking over my luggage curiously. "Hm. A fan of pussycats?"
Well that came out of nowhere. "What do you mean?"
"I know some people can't let go their creature of comfort, but..." She reached into the luggage, and pulled out, by the pointed ear, a red cat plushie I immediately recognised.
"Miss Mittens? What's that doing here?"
"Aaww. You even named her." She said, giving the kitty a hug. "And she's been loved too, by the looks of it."
"Oh yes. I know," I let out with a groan. "By my little sister."
"Oh? You have a sister?"
"Two of them. I'm the middle child." I grumbled, looking at the plush toy. "How did THAT get in there anyways? I'll have to give them a call, and let the family know." I rolled my eyes. "Gabby is probably having a panic attack by now."
"Can you blame her? Kitty is adorable!" She raised the plush up toward me. "Love me! Love me!"
I smirked, leaned down to the kitty, pointed at my eyes and back at it. "I'm watching you, crimson feline. The war isn't over."
Jessie snickered playfully, until something caught her eye, and her jaw dropped open in awe. "Woah." Noelle had just pulled out another fancy purple dress with a heart motif sewed as the chest area, and a short skirt that looked very fluttery. Jessie was simply stunned. "Where did you get that?"
"This?" The frosty girl blinked. "I... That's a good question." She smirked though, pulling up the dress to her chest. "It looks pretty good, doesn't it?"
"Oh Yeeeeessss! Hee!" She was bouncing happily on the bed. "It'd look soooo cute on you. Show them some love power!" She rose a fist in the air! "It'd be right out of a magical girl anime! The cut on the heart would also let you show plenty of cleavage, and the skirt would be perfect to show off your legs." She pondered. "Might just be missing some long gloves, thigh-high boots, and a tiara, before you go off to fight evil."
The mental image popped right into my head, and a part of me agreed absolutely. She would look mighty cute that way, even sexier if she had a transformation sequence... Wait, what am I thinking? I shook my head a little, pretty sure I was blushing at this point. I even felt a little stirr 'downstairs', but so far, no disaster. "Ha-yeah, yeah. I can see that happening. Damn."
Noelle quirked an eyebrow my way. "Maaaaayyybe I will. Maybe I will." I only hoped she wasn't just teasing me out of spite at this point.
Jessie grinned even more at the idea. "Heehee! Tell me when you do? I'll take so many pictures!" She squealed, and leaned over. "So come on, spit it out. Where did you get it?"
My roommate fidgeted a bit as she tried to figure out where she might have picked it up. "Je ne suis pas sure. We went to so many stores, I don't remember all their names."
I just rolled my eyes at that one. "So many fancy stores, right?" I shook my head. "You just have to walk in a mall, and half the stores you'd never go to suddenly opened up to you."
"That's right. Spent hours, and hours with mom, trying to fill a brand new wardrobe." She just groaned. "Seriously. I thought it'd never end!"
That was when Jessie's peppy demeanor toned down. She looked between us, observing quietly, before she asked the question burning on her lips: "So I have to ask: is it true what they said?"
Noelle and I looked a her, confused. "Said what?"
"That you two weren't girls before? That you changed?"
I felt a sting right in my heart as an awkward feeling filled the room. One glance at my new roommate, and I could tell she felt the same. I sat down next to a troubled Jessie, and nodded. "They told out about that?"
Jessie nodded back, hugging onto the plush in her arms. "Called you 'Changelings'. That for some reason or another, you 'jumped the fence'?"
I hung my head low. "We weren't given a choice in the matter. It came with the mutation." I looked up to Noelle. "We're probably going to spend the rest of our lives as girls."
"And you're okay with that?" she asked, leaning over.
I nodded. "Yeah." There was no denying it. "I made up my mind months ago." I snerked. "Though it didn't start that way. I cried for hours when I found out there was no way back." I looked to my roommate. "What about you?"
"J'ai perdu la tete. I panicked like crazy." She sat down, waving hand hands. "Then again, uncle was waving a rifle my way at the same time, sooooo I really needed some time alone to recover." She shook her head. "But I'm all in it now. From head to toes."
Jessie finally seemed to relax a little. "And... I'm afraid to ask, but how far along are you?"
I blinked. "How far along?"
"Y-yeah. How far along are you transformed?" She fidgeted around the subject. "That sometimes, it's not 'fully done'?"
"Ah." Noelle snapped her fingers. "Like Robin is." She waved her hand. "He's still got some wiggle room there, and he's still hesitating. If you're wondering about me, I'm all girl, all the way. Even got a little bit of a mental help" She tapped the side of her head.
"Even if that help is a few hundred years old," I noted. Noelle replied with a cute little raspberry.
Jessie turned to me. "And what about you?"
I shuddered, and blurted out: "I-I'm a girl! Really! I-I'm all the way! N-no question about it!"
By the frown she had, she definitively wasn't convinced. "Really?" She must have smelled my fear. I shuddered to think what she'd think of me if she knew. If she found out. She'd be disgusted. She leaned in a bit forward. "You don't..."
"Really! Really!" I nodded rapidly. That didn't seem to convince Jessie any better. I scooted back a little, and gave a glance to my new roomie, who... Also gave me the eye.
"Karen?" She came in closer, and I pulled my legs tight together against my chest. "Are you okay?"
I hugged my knees, and looked at the two of them in silence. I didn't want them to think of me as a freak. I'd gotten enough of that already for a lifetime. It almost got me killed. Noelle's spirit already hated men as is, and I had no ideas what Jessie thought about them. I hadn't told them when I told my story. I didn't think it'd be important.
But Noelle's going to find out sooner or later anyways. We're roommates, after all. And if they have to discover themselves, or search on their own... I looked back to the two of them nervously, gulping. I don't have much of a choice, do I? I just had to close my eyes, and brace myself. Please, let them understand. Please do.
Jessie gulped. "So you still have a..."
"L-look, Jessie, Noelle, I... I stopped thinking of myself as a boy when I was told I'd look like this. I doesn't matter what I've got down there, I-" I saw the two of them brace themselves, and I sighed. "I've got both, okay?"
That got a look of confusion for both of them. "What?"
"I've got both d-down there. Both a penis and a vagina." I gulped. "I'm what they call a hermaphrodite. I-I look everything like a girl, nothing I've got here is fake, at all... But I've got both."
"Oooohhh." Noelle gave a nod of understanding. "You mean you're in between? You're in between? I heard the doctors talk about that when you're in transition."
I just had to shake my head. "Close, but no. They made the ultrasound, and everything. Both the prostate and uterus are there. It's not one turning into the other."
"But you can get surgery for that, right?" Jessie seemed to have relaxed a little. "I mean, it's probably expensive, but it'd be worth it?"
I bit my lip, dropped my forehead on my knees, and shook my head. "I can't." I looked over to Noelle.
"That's when the doctors laughed, right?" She understood. She knew why.
"Karen's power." She explained. "She tried to ask them to be fixed, and they laughed."
Jessie couldn't seem to believe it. "What? Why?"
"It's called regeneration." I fished out the pair of scissors once more. It was the perfect demonstration, afterall. Noelle gave me a look when I gathered my locks of hair once more, and I swiftly cut it.
"Wait, no!" Jessie squeaked, and reached out for my hands, but dropped them in defeat. "Aaawww. Why'd you have to do that?"
"You'll see." I said, as I dropped it all over the floor.
She was confused once more, and I didn't blame her. She just started between me and the floor, until she saw the first few strands wiggle around. "Wait. What? WHAAAAAAAAAAT?" She kicked her feet off the floor with her scream, as she clambered on the bed, while Noelle and me watched the black snake curl up and around the bedpost, and catch back up to the back of my head.
Jessie stared for a moment in disbelief, and ran her hand through my hair. "How?"
"Part of my power," I explained. "Anything coming off from me comes back: hair, skin, blood or anything else." I crossed my legs together. "Including a certain part of my old self."
"Oh?" Jessie blinked, and the gears in her heads connected. "Oh!" And then the implications set in, and she looked at me with concern. "Oooohhhhh. Oh, wow."
"I-I want to be a girl. I want to be treated as one. I don't care what I have to go through at this point. Doesn't matter what I have down there, I have everything else. I can't fix what's down there, and I can hide it." I took in a deep breath. "I'm Karen now," I looked at Jessie. "And I don't want to be seen as anything else. It's not... Too much to ask, is it?"
It took her a moment, but slowly, she smiled. "I think-"
We all jumped in fear, as the door shook within it's frame from the banging on it. "JESSIE?" BANG! It was a thick, female voice. "I HEARD SCREAMING!" BANG-BANG-BANG![/b] "ARE YOU OKAY?" And she definitively didn't sound calm and collected.
"Nathalie?" Jessie blinked, and tried to shout over the loud banging. "Oh! I'M-I'M OKAY! IT'S FINE!"
There was a pause, as the handle rattled, and the pounding continued. "OPEN THE DOOR!"
"HOLD YOUR HORSES!" Jessie leapt off the bed, and rushed before the door caved in. As soon as she had an opening, a towering amazon of a woman walked right past Jessie, and looked around the room. She was tall, bronzed, and fierce. Her brown hair was tied back in a long ponytail, and her face would have been beautiful, if it wasn't contorted in anger. Her clothes were stretched out by her muscles, and showing off every bulges of her biceps. She was ripped. She was beyond ripped. I could only imagine what she could lift, or rip apart. And by the raging frown on her sharp face, I might have found out in no time.
"What happened here?" She snorted. "What's going on?" She was like a bull itching to run someone over.
"NOTHING!" Jessie ran around her, trying to defuse the muscled supergirl. "Nothing is going on!"
That's when her eyes met mine, and I shivered. "Was it you?" I didn't even get to respond before her large hand pushed me back on the bed, and she stood over me menacingly. "Did you do it? Come on, confess!"
"She's not listening!" Jessie squealed as she pulled on the amazon's shirt to no avail. "She didn't do anything!"
"It was me!"
"What?" Natalie didn't even bother letting go, and dragged me around as she turned to face Noelle, and she just stared at my beatiful, delicate roommate. Her jaw seemed to drop open as she looked over her delicate skin, her luscious curves, and finally settled on her angelic face. "What did you do?"
Noelle gave this adorable pouting face. "I screamed. I'm sorry. I just saw this nasty, disgusting roach on the floor, and I couldn't stand it. It surprised me so much, I-I couldn't hold back."
"That's it?" She uttered lightly.
"Mmmnn mnnn." She nodded shyly, as her refined hand caressed the amazon's cheek. "And you scared it off right away too, you brave, brave girl."
A few seconds ago, you could have almost seen veins on her forehead, but now, Natalie was blushing like a little schoolgirl. "It-it was nothing. Just a cockroach, right?"
"Mais oui." Her voice was like sweet, warm honey, as she smiled. "But you still came to check up on us. You're a good, good girl." Her free hand delicately touched Nathalie's, and slowly pushed me down, releasing their grip. "Now, everything is okay, mmmnnn?" The brute nodded softly, a dreamy look in her eyes. "Good, good." She leaned in closer, putting a peck on her cheek. "Now be a good girl, please go to your room, and relax. Mn?"
Nathalie was oblivious to the rest of the world, but she was still nodding. "S-sure. I will."
"C'est ca. Good girl." She murmured heavenly. She gracefully tiptoed around the giantess, and carefully led her out to the door, where a crowd of girls had gathered, staring in awe. Once Natalie was out, Noelle shut the door behind her, sighed in relief. "Okay. What. The heck. Was that?"
Jessie and I simply stared at her, dumbfounded by her unparalleled beauty. I couldn't even bother getting off the floor. Even when she shrugged off, she was still radiating grace, and-
A sudden chill breezed across my skin, and I shook off the glamour. "Okay. That... That was a whammy." That was going to need some getting used to.
"Oui, but I didn't think I could take any chances. I tossed in as much as I could." Noelle smiled as she extended a hand. "Are you okay?"
"A little shaken, but honestly had worse." I took her hand, and she hauled me up. "I wouldn't want a repeat performance though. What was that about?"
My roommate and I looked over at Jessie, who was still shaking her pretty little head from the glamour. "What just... How did you do that? I-I mean, she wasn't even listening!"
Noelle raised both hands in a shrug. "Part of my mutant package, and a little help from my spirit." She gave a thumb toward the door. "And who was she?"
"Natalie, you called her?" I added in. At least Jessie knew her name, so she had to know more.
"Yeah. That's a her, all right." She shook her head, her pigtails flying about. "She's... Special, you might say. I didn't figure she'd be the overprotective type. When she learned about who you were, she didn't exactly take it well." She crossed her arms. "Seems she's really got something against men in general."
I shuddered. "No kidding. She's crazy strong too, and with an attitude like that, she almost-"
"B-but we're not all like that!" She waved her hands about. "We don't hate men in peculiar, we just don't swing that way... Er, that may have come out wrong." She shook her head. "It's just the loudest that paint the biggest picture, and with people like her, it's not helping."
"Yeah, yeah." I fell back on the bed, and groaned out. I thought this was the place to get along. I guess there's some exceptions wherever you look. "Doesn't help either that she's got muscles pro-wrestlers would be jealous of."
Jessie sat down by me, putting a hand on my leg. "Hey, it all ended all right. She'll understand soon enough, I'm sure." She tilted her head. "You were serious, earlier? About wanting to be a girl?"
I nodded softly. "Yeah. Totally."
"If it's any consolation, I didn't think otherwise back in the bus. I don't think any of the other girls believed it either." She glanced back at Noelle. "Of either of you. Honest."
I managed a smile at her. "Thanks. Sorry if the illusion's broken."
"Not broken. Just a little smudge we gotta work on." She leaned in a bit closer. "We can buff that out. As far as I'm concerned, you're already a real girl," she added with a mischievous wink.
"Even with the...?"
"Bah." She waved a hand dismissively. "Like that's what matters."
"She's got a point," Noelle shrugged. "Doesn't make you any less one of us. You got to keep your balls, big deal."
Jessie shrugged too. "You don't make a big deal about me being a lesbian, do you?" She squealed as I just had to put my arms right around her in a hug. "I'll take that as a no!"
"Of course not! Heehee! Come on, like I'd fault you for that. If it's a crime to like girls, then you might as well throw me in the slammers, and throw away the key." I couldn't keep the smile down as we held each other, and fell back on the bed.
"Good," she giggled. "Good. Then you don't have to worry about a thing. We'll show you the ropes." She brought her fingers together, giving a scheming look in her eyes, a look I'd only seen in my sisters. "In fact, maybe we oughta make a little initiation. It's a little early right now, and tomorrow's the party, then classes start, so it'd be kinda awkward." She rubbed her hands together mischievously. "Okay. Friday: sleepover. I can gather some of the girls, and we can have some fun."
Sleepovers. Oh yeah. I remembered those. At least, from what I could hear from outside my room. The giggling, the gossiping, the boy band music, and so on. Abbey had her share when I was little, and that one time I dared peek out, I swore at the time, I'd never live down. Oh the irony. "If you can arrange it?" I fidgeted. This was going to be different, on the other side of the fence. ... A sleepover... With a room full of lesbians...What am I getting myself into?
At least Jessie was happy, giving me a hug once more. "Hee! That's the spirit! We're going to have so much fun! You'll see!" She gave Noelle a look. "Should I expect you to come too?"
"Certainement. Wouldn't miss it for the world." She rolled her eyes, with an amused smirk. "Any time I can give my mental visitor a taste of modern culture is a good thing." She did raise a curious eyebrow my way. "Though do you have anything to wear for that?"
I turned a little sheepish. "I've got a pair of pajamas? Unless shorts and shirts will do? I mean, it worked for my sister, and-Huh?"
Suddenly, all the weight lifted off my shoulders. Not figuratively, I definitively still cared, but everything felt lighter. It was like being in a swimming pool, but there wasn't any water. "The... Heck?"
As if to answer me, Jessie put her hand under my rear, and lifted me right up without effort, sending me flying to the ceiling. "Wo-WOAH!" I put up my arms, bracing for impact, when...
I just harmlessly bounced off the wooden surface, floating down to the ground with all the hurry of a hot air balloon.
I opened one eye carefully, glancing about. "Oooookkaaaayyy?" As I came down weightlessly to the floor, I saw that Noelle was just as confused as I was, while Jessie was grinning mischievously. I'd found my culprit. "Okay, what the heck is going on?"
Jessie caught my foot, and gave another push upward, flipping me around upside down like a propeller. "I thought I owed you a little demonstration, after what you showed me." With another little push, she sent me bouncing off the wall in a manner of a beach ball.
"Cooooooooool." It was an amazing feeling, once the panic started to wash off. I kicked off the wall, making another pass under the ceiling. "You did that? How?"
She shrugged absentmindedly. "I don't know ALL the details, I'm afraid." She closed one hand into a fist, rubbed her fingers together, and as she opened up, there was a bubble formed, filled with a swirling, sparkling pink mist within. "This is how it starts up. Theeeeennnnnnnnn." She blew the bubble toward Noelle, and the little orb stuck to her cheek.
As soon as the bubble locked on, my roommate already looked a bit lighter. She tested for a moment, bouncing off the floor, as if she was on a slow-motion trampoline. "This feels weird, honnetement. Weird, but nice. He-hey!" Jessie, having no qualms about giving Noelle the full experience, grabbed the back of her collar and launched her right up to my level. "WOAH!"
We caught each other and bounced around the room, unable to even slow down the motion, spinning all around, giggling like little schoolgirls. Jessie watched us with a bit of amused pride, until we finally slowed down enough to settle down. "Having fun, I see?"
"It's a blast!" I squealed, pumping my fists in the air. "Woo hoo!" But something did come up to mind; along with a little tickle on the back of my neck I tried to scratch. "So how long does it last?"
Jessie crossed her arms. "In a few minutes, you should feel gravity set back gradually." She shrugged. "Or, if you want to come down right away, you can-"
"... Pop... The... Bubble?" She squeaked.
"... Ow." I winced after a rough landing on the floor, between the two bed. "Gravity hurts. Ugh. It's why it's the law."
"Karen?" Jessie knelt by my side. "Are you okay? Ha-how many fingers, am I holding up?"
I had to snicker. "Three. You're holding two of them a little too close there." I already felt the numbing effect of my regeneration go through what would have been bruises. "I'll be fine. I've had worse in baseball practice." I even grinned up at her. "Can we do it again?"
To which she smiled, and blew another bubble at my face.
There's some events in life, you can't be really prepared for. Oh, you know they're coming, you can even put a calendar date if you want to, but it's not until the curtains open that you realize how much stage fright you really have. You think you're ready to perform, you practice, and practice every lines, know your role, the script by heart, but until you're about to face that audience, you never know how it really feels to step forward, and perform.
That's how I felt the next morning, standing in a towel, in front of the girl's showers. Why did it have to be a shared shower?
I was about to enter 'no man's land', where all the perverts and many straight male fantasies would be born. All those girls I'd seen yesterday would be just about naked, half of them still wet, and I would be right in the middle of that. The fact that they were all lesbians should have just sweetened the deal.
But there I was, staring at the door awkwardly, as if waiting for it to open with a chorus and an invitation. I wished Noelle was with me for this, but she was sleeping so peacefully, I didn't dare try to wake her up. i was on my own on this one.
They may be all lesbians, but they also know I used to be a guy.
I turned back toward my room, and paused.
But hey, I'm a girl now. One of them!
I turned back to face the door.
But is that how they'd see it?
I promptly turned around.
And what am I going to do? Shower with the guys? I had a moment to shudder, before I faced my current nemesis once again.
What would happen if they see 'it'? I groaned, and turned.
But what if...? And turn.
And if...? And turn.
I argued myself into such a twister, that I didn't even notice Jessie just staring at me. She spent a moment, tilting her head, before she slipped behind me, and pushed me right past the threshold. I barely had a squeak in, before the door swung open.
And there they were, all exposed, and in all their glory. Beauties undressed, down to at least their towels, still wet from their current showers, drying up, freshening up, and all around gorgeous women. No matter where I looked, there was another one getting ready for the day. It was glorious. Stunningly glorious.
Even the brunette who headed my way, as she spun me around, and pushed me right out.
It took me a moment to realize I was back outside. "Hey-What?"
It went back in, and was greeted by the same girl, as she argued with Jessie. One quick glance at me, and she spun me right around once more, and shoved me back out.
"Hey!" Back in I went. "What's the big idea?"
The brunette glared at me, and she started to grow, her muscles building up, her height increasing, and soon enough, I was looking up at a certain amazon I met yesterday.
I gulped. "Hi Natalie."
"Hi." Her voice held no cheer, as she spun me around once more. "You can go shower with the rest of the boys."
"He-hey-HEY!" I futilely grabbed onto the door frame, but she had no troubles shoving me out once more. I turned back, and just as I put my hand on the door, I hesitated. Did I really want to face off against that giant?
Biting my lower lip, I slowly pushed the door open once more, and peeked in.
"Then if you like him that much, then you can go with him, I don't care!" Natalie was just as loud as before.
"Ooooh no. You're not chasing her out. This shower is for everyone." Jessie seemed to have reached up to the amazon's arguments.
"This is the girl's showers. We don't need boys trying to sneak in for a peek." All the other girls seemed to have paused, and stare at the two. I took my chance to sneak in quietly.
"She's a girl, like the rest of us. She's got just as many rights to be here than the rest of us." It warmed my heart to see Jessie defend me, but I realized I had to stand my ground too.
I opened my mouth to jump in, when another girl put her hand on my shoulder, pushed me on the wall, and closed in front of me. Her large, almond-shaped yellow eyes stared into mine curiously, as if trying to drill a hole in my head. I froze. "Ha-Hi?"
"Mmmnn mnnnn." Her eyes wandered down over me, following my curves. I could see her cute little nose wiggle a little. She was definitively pretty, and by the look of the cherry red highlights in her raven black hair, she might have had a bit of a wilder side. She shifted left, then right, even stood up on her toes to smell my hair. She was getting real, real close, and I already had a pretty good view with only the towel hiding her curves, but alarm bells kept ringing in my head. What does she want already?
I then felt a little tickle by my thigh. It was enough to send a shiver up. But then the trickle turned into a gentle tug between my legs. Okay, what was THAT? She raised a doubtful eyebrow, but then I felt a gentle push a little lower, and I had to squeak and wriggle. That got her eyes to widen in surprise and a sly smirk drew over her lips.
"Why hello there." Her voice purred in delight, as she leaned in closer to my ear, whispering as her delicate fingers caressed my cheek. "You're fine, sweetie. Maybe better than fine."
"Wha-wha-what?" Fine? Fine how? Why? What? My heart was beating rapidly in nervousness and excitement, and I wasn't sure which feeling was the right one at the moment.
"Natalie?" She spun around to face the amazon. "You may as well give up now."
"What?" Natalie grunted. "You can't be serious."
"I am. No question about it." She put one hand on her hip. "You might be tall, but you're a little short-sighted, aren't you? The muscles are making you a little thick."
The hulking lady ground her teeth. "But that's a guy! Aren't you disgusted?" And a shudder travelled through some of those present in the showers.
I just had to protest on that one right away. "I'm a girl now, and that's not changing anytime soon."
Jessie backed me up: "That's what I've been saying all along!"
The black-haired beauty smirked. "And sugar, I know the thought of men gets your panties in a twist, but you have to give the ones trying their best a chance. You remember the speech yesterday? We have to give a little tolerance?" She shook her head a little. "If you can't, then I'm afraid we may have to get Miss Horton involved, and you may get transferred over to Dickinson, where boys won't have to bother you ever again." She rose a finger. "I doubt though, that they'll be playing on your side of the field, and you know where all the lesbians are."
She put an arm around my waist and pulled in a bit closer. "So ask yourself: is it worth getting deported over, because this cutie might have had some cooties?"
Natalie's face twisted in concern for a moment, gave a glance back at the other girls, then back at us, as Jessie took my other side protectively. She leaned in closer, and shoved a finger at my face. "I'll be keeping an eye on you." I nodded meekly, and she 'deflated' back to the delicate brunette I'd seen when I first came in. She walked around us, giving a sideway glance, before grunting, and leaving the showers.
"Is she gone?" I whispered. Jessie nodded, and I let out a sigh of relief. "Good grief."
"All of this over a shower." Jessie rolled her eyes. "Seriously."
The girl on the other side shrugged. "Well, you know: a bit of a temper, a bit of history and a bit of paranoia will make some people react a little crazy." She gave me a bit of a squeeze. "You're going to be okay?"
"Yeah. A little shaken, a little stirred, but I'll be fine." I smiled to the two of them. "Thanks for taking my side."
"It's nothing." Jessie noted with her bright smile.
"A pleasure, really." The black and red haired girl noted, her hand roaming up my back a little. "I may be a little late, but welcome to the sisterhood. You watch our back, we watch yours," she said with a bit of a purr. "Name's Marcie."
"I'm Karen. Nice meeting you." I chuckled. "And I hope I won't disappoint as a fellow sister." I zipped my lips. "The secret is just as important to me, as it is to you."
"Cute name." She gave a soft giggle. "Don't worry. Between me and Jessie here, we'll turn you into the perfect chick, to the point where even Natalie here won't be able to complain."
I could feel my face heating up at he thought, as Jessie gave me a quick, comforting hug. "Don't fret about it, okay? We'll take care of you." She patted me on the back. "Go on, take your shower, before you're late for your testings."
I smiled, nodded, and returned the hug. "Yeah. Thanks again."
As I went over to one of the free showers, I could overhear Jessie chat: "And thanks for the support. I don't think Natalie would have backed off from me."
"Oh, think nothing of it. Besides," I could hear a purr from Marcie's voice. "It would have been a shame to let hips like those slip away."
I froze. "Eh?"
I slowly looked back, and I could see Marcie's stare looking low over me, a finger over her pursed lips. I gulped. I then noted that most girls around me were mimicking her, and I thought my heart was going to explode out of my chest. With a shy meep, I quickly slipped into the shower, and closed the curtain.
I heard Marcie giggle. "And she's so adorable too!"
"Oh gosh." Just the thought of them checking me out was so embarrassing. I must have been so red. All of those girls... Those beautiful girls... Looking at me like that, and... The nervousness was joined in with a sudden thrill, and I suddenly felt my little soldier turn my towel into a tent, doubling my embarrassment.
I pulled off my towel, and looked at my stiff member. It was one of the more familiar things on my body, yet the one most likely to make me stand out. I got tingles down by my slit too, and I had to admit, it felt strange, alien, and I wasn't sure what to do with it, but at least I knew it was natural for a girl. My little man? It was going to get me called out in no time flat, and I could barely control it.
This was supposed to be my new life as Karen. Something brand new.
Yet this one bit of baggage that was part of the old me wouldn't go off.
Why am I such a freak? Why couldn't I have been normal?
I let a sigh, and did the only way I could calm it down. I braced myself, turned the knob and felt the cold water wash over me. The cold stung, and it was hard to just stand there, but it it got the heat to die and I got to calm down.
I'd only started to be Karen. Things were going to be different. I knew that. I was here to find out what I could do, what I could become. I'd be able to deal with people like Natalie or Josh. Of course, there were going to be some stumbling blocks, but I would find a way to deal with everything.
I just needed more time.
After cooling off properly, I turned the water to a warmer level, and grabbed the soap, and started to get ready for my first full day at the school. I had testing to go through, followed by orientation, and maybe, they said maybe, I could get a little training on my part-time job, before the party on the first floor would get started.
Surely, there's gotta be enough time, right? There's no way testing can last the whole morning.
It was about then, that I suddenly heard a yelp from my neighbor, followed by a low, low content moan. More than a little confused, I turned the water just a little colder again. I might need it.
I thought I'd seen enough weirdness for the day so far.
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I'd been in hospital before. I'd also been examined before. Prodded, stung and probed many times, even more so after the change. I'd even been examined by the police for evidence. I'd been through with a brush and a fine-toothed comb for any trace of evidence.
But even then, nothing could really prepare me for their medical examination. Thorough wasn't strong enough of a word. What the police had covered on the outside before, they'd not only mimicked, but stepped it up by looking inside. I was pretty sure some of those instruments were torture devices somewhere in the world. By the end of it, I was pretty sure the only privacy I had left was inside my brain.
This was all done before nine. That's when the actual testings had started, inside an underground facility.
"Are you done, miss?" The scientist, Lionel, was tapping his foot, just outside the changing room a bit impatiently. The man might have seemed young to be a scientist, but the way he carried himself showed more restraint than I’d seen on a politician. Even his lab coat didn’t carry a wrinkle. And now, I was testing his patience.
"Not yet." I mumbled. They'd given me some kind of skin-tight suit to slip into. One single piece meant to go all the way from my toes, to my neck, all lined with slightly cold contacts, and lines all over the suit, almost like circuitry. It stretched real well, and was probably meant to be one size fits all. Unfortunately, I wasn't a usual case. "It's... Squeezing me real tight. Ngh. It's going to make it hard to move in."
"That's understandable." Lionel gave a bit of a nod. "The suits are meant to be universal, but everybody is different from the next. If your chest is being squeezed too hard, there's a tab you can pull to free up some cleavage. It's by the red triangle under the neck." He did find it a little strange. "Odd, though. These are made to fit later teenagers, and I don't recall your chest being so large to match them. No offence."
"Ah-er-N-none taken, sir, but that's not what I meant." I wiggled my way out from the changing room, one hand awkwardly over my crotch. "I don't think most girls tend to grow that way."
The tall man's eyes lit up, and he pushed the small wire-framed glasses higher on his nose. "Right. Hermaphrodite. Apologies. Standards, after all. But we do have a fix. If you'd come this way."
I waddled after him to a side table, and he pulled out a hair dryer. At least, I thought it was a hair dryer. For all I knew, it could have been a molecular destabiliser. I had to keep that one in mind. Lionel lowered my expectations, as he simply kneeled down, turned on the heat gun, and I felt a lot of heat blow over my crotch. "We've had more than a few complaints about variant body structures in the past, so we've found ways to make these plug suits a bit more malleable. We can accommodate this."
I did have to give the doctor some credit though. The material did let go its grip, and I finally felt like I had much more slack. It was still embarrassing as hell though. It wasn't bad enough that the staff knew about my secret, but I now had a man staring just directly at my package, and professional or not, there were some limits. "That... That's better, doc. Thanks."
"You're welcome. We do try to keep your movement as free as possible. The last thing we desire is to inhibit your movement during the readings."
That was when the lab's door flew open, and in came a woman in a matching lab coat to Lionel's, looking grumpy as heck, her eyes halfway opened, her shoulder-length hair still messed up, and the bags under her eyes showed she could have used another twelve hours of sleep. She mumbled what I guessed was a greeting, as she read a clipboard, her other hand hauling a thermos.
Lionel crossed his arms, tapping one foot. "And someone has finally decided to join us this morning."
"And someone hasn't kicked the habit of seeing the sun rise in the morning, but we're not giving names, are we?" The woman kept on walking towards me, comparing to the chart. "Yes, I'm sorry, but you'll have to go through medicals, before we can begin testing."
"What?" I shuddered at the implications that meant. Going through all that again? "Wait, I've already gone through medical."
"Hardly. Either we have incompetents at the infirmary, which is kind of hard to believe, considering their paychecks," she flipped the clipboard around at me. "Or do you care to explain why half your documentation is left blank?"
I was left speechless at the sight, unable to explain this one, but Lionel picked right up after her. "So, Dr. Bowie, have you had your coffee yet?"
"You know, that's a funny story." She mumbled. "The busiest week of the year for us, and this is the point where the coffee machine breaks down." She lifted her container lightly. "I almost faced a riot on the other side, just for this."
The first scientist wasn't moved a bit by her story, and kept on going. "Ah. That would explain why you haven't read the whole file. Thanks to Miss Yates' powers, they were unable to collect any kind of DNA off her body, meaning we haven't had to get lab results worked out, which is also why she's been bumped to the top of the new list."
Doctor Bowie raised an eyebrow, and she leafed through the documentation. "No bloodwork?"
I mumbled: "I think that's how we first found out I had these powers."
Bowie flipped to another page. "No hair or skin samples?"
Lionel picked up on that one. "I do believe the hair is one trick Miss Yates likes to use to impress her classmates. Correct?" I nodded.
Another page got flipped. "Not even a urine sample?"
"That was one of the few ones we had some hope with, but previous hospital results believed she had faked the test at the time."
Bowie glanced at me. "You're not hiding a urine bag with warm apple juice under that suit, are you?"
Lionel continued: "No, it was because they found nothing but water. No traces of DNA were found. No blood cells, hormones, or bacteria. You might even consider drinking it." He held up a hand. "Nothing from saliva or sweat either. Meaning we could have a team of CSI comb her room, and not find a physical trace of her within."
"Meaning her cells evaporate that quickly?" Bowie shrugged. "Guess they haven't been trying hard enough. I would have broken out the liquid nitrogen at that point."
Lionel shook his head lowly. "Listen, Karen."
"Yes?" Both Dr. Bowie and I responded at the same time.
While we looked at each other in confusion, Lionel groaned. "I see this is going to be a pain. Dr. Bowie, drink your coffee, all of it, and read the rest of the file. I'll take care of the recording equipment."
"Recording?" I worriedly looked up to Lionel, squeezing my legs together. "There's going to be a recording?"
"Only for research purposes," Lionel noted, trying to calm me down, as he flicked a few switches. "And these files are secured, and sealed, so only personel here, and maybe the MCO will have access too. It's why we have asked you to to pick a codename before arriving here. Confidentially reasons." He waved a hand absentmindedly. "It can be changed, sure, but it's a hassle and a half in some cases. I do hope you've put some thought into it."
Then I was glad me and the girls had gone over just that at breakfast. We’d started the whole thing last night, and we couldn’t make up our mind even in the morning. Copyright issues were a pain and a half. "Yeah. Wasn't easy, but I thought Evershade sounded good."
"Evershade?" He pondered a moment, and hit a few keys on his laptop. "I do believe it's free... Yes, that'll do." He smiled to me. "Ready to begin?"
I took in a deep breath, and nodded. "As ready as can be."
"Good. Then let us go." He flicked a few switches, and started mentioning the technical jargon: like the date, those present, and a whole set of information, I could only imagine was meant for the records. "Now," he turned back to me. "This may be unusual, but since this trait might either manifest or change the results of any further testing, we'll have to record your unique regeneration."
"Okay." That made sense. "And how would you test that?" Surely, they wouldn't start pulling out scalpels.
That's when I heard a snipping sound behind me, followed by a slow slurp. "Mmmnnn. So the reports were accurate." Dr. Bowie mumbled. "Even the hair follows the same rules."
Lionel grumbled. "Evershade, could you turn ninety degrees to your left? Dr. Bowie, can you repeat, so the cameras can record the procedure?"
"Certainly," she added with a hint of sarcasm. "All you needed to do, was ask nicely."
There was another snip, and I felt another clump of hair climb back in place. Lionel, meanwhile, was taking notes. "Quite rapid recovery of non-essential material. No regrowth of natural cells, but the speed does qualify as regeneration 6."
Bowie took another sip of her coffee, before adding in. "A rare case of faux-regeneration?"
"Faux-regeneration?" I just had to ask.
"It's fake." She shifted a bit, as she finished off her thermos. "Well, not fake, but you don't actually 'generate' new cells to heal. More like a shifter trait."
"Faux or not, it still registers under Regeneration, since it does heal too," Lionel noted. "Investigation will reveal which is which."
There was another snip, and I caught a glimpse of Bowie slipping the clip of hair in her thermos, before sealing it. "What are you doing?"
Bowie gave a confident smile, as she tossed the container up a few times. "Taking samples. Don't worry, this is meant to contain Devisor grade coffee."
Lionel added in: "She means the sludge that eats through styrofoam cups."
I gulped a bit that that, and as I wonderred how the doctor could digest 'that', she just smiled. "Exactly. If it can escape this, then I'll eat my hat."
"You don't have a hat," Lionel pointed out.
"Making the possibility a moot point." She shook her head. "We'll be able to tell what you're made of in no time."
Lionel gave a sigh. "We'll cross that road when we reach it. In the meantime," he led me toward a treadmill. "Since there's a high chance you may be an exemplar, we'll test out your physical capabilities, starting with your endurance. The machine will regulate itself for your speed automatically, so you don't have to worry about it."
"Sounds good. Jogging speed? Inclination? How many miles?"
"... Plural?" He took notes, as if he was surprised. "Just run at a casual pace, for as long as you can. Let us know if you feel any changes, and we may ask you to sprint at some points, and if you're comfortable enough, we'll make other tests in the meantime." He pulled up a bunch of wires. "Doctor Bowie? Help me plug in the suit."
"Ah yes. Old and reliable, they say," she mumbled morosely, as they started sticking all sorts of diodes to the suit's circuitry.
"Something wrong?" I just had to ask.
Bowie was about to fill me in, but Lionel cut her off first. "She's simply upset that the department denied her cosmetic changes to this test in peculiar."
She snerked, and shrugged. "I still say it's an improvement on an obsolete technology."
"Karen, I-" Lionel sighed. "Look, we don't need to make gigantic hamster wheels. It won't go. We have perfectly working equipment here, fully functional, proper view, and we don't need to make the students feel like lab rats."
Bowie just crossed her arms, and lifted her nose up. "You just don't get it, do you? It's elegance in the workings. It's be so much better, so simpler, and you can do so many things based on it."
"... Seriously?" I couldn't quite believe it.
Lionel rolled his eyes. "Welcome to my world." He shrugged, and his smile returned. "Let's get started. The sooner we begin, the sooner we can end it." A few button presses later, and i was jogging at a pretty comfortable pace. After a couple of months getting used to a bra, I found myself wishing that suit had a bit more support. Oh well. This one might take a while.
I looked over the fifty-two cards lying face-down on the table in front of me, and considered my choices again. Lionel looked over to me over his clipboard. "Turn twenty-six: find the four aces."
"Four aces. Right." I had a pretty good idea where they were, but I wasn't so confident on my memory anymore. They'd shown me all the cards face-up at first, then back face down, before asking me where they were. It was real easy at first, but the further they went, the harder it went. They asked for more cards, and the mistakes kept piling up. I had a perfect picture in my mind, but the cards kept popping up in the wrong places. By turn ten, I felt already lost.
The club and hearts haven't been touched, so I should be fine, but the spade showed up on turn nine, and the diamond on turn sixteen. I bit on my fingernail. "Fifth card on the top row is the first one, three lower for the Ace of diamond, one row lower, three right for the club, and the spade is just under that."
Doctor Bowie gave me a look, as she reached over, and flipped the first one, for the ace of heart. "If you're trying to make it more challenging for you, Evershade, you do realize it won't help, right?" She flipped the second card, and Lionel noted the Ace of diamond.
"It doesn't hurt, does it?" I tried to give a bit of a wry smile. "If I'm wrong, I'm just wrong. If I'm right, then it payed off." I had to smirk in confidence as the Ace of clubs came up.
"IF you're right." Bowie noted, flipped the card, and smirked. "Guess you can be right, and wrong at the same time." We all took a look, and I almost fell over as the final card was the Ace of heart.
"Now wait a minute!" I gasped, pointing at the first Ace of heart. "That's not fair!"
"We never did mention it was supposed to be fair." Bowie shrugged. "And you assumed there were only one copy of each cards."
My jaw dropped in disbelief, and I clenched my fists in frustration, until I thought back. "Wait. Wait a minute." I pointed at her. "You showed me all those cards at the beginning! There were no doubles! It was a whole deck!"
"Is that so?" Lionel frowned, as he flipped a page. "Then can you tell me what order they were when you first saw them? I do have a recording." he glanced at Bowie. "We can see if there was any foul play involved."
I bit my lip, and I tried to prove myself, naming each card as I pictured them in my head. The longer I went, the more doubt I had in my mind, but the picture was quite clear. The doctor nodded slowly with each ones, and at the end he said: "And that makes fifty-two correct calls. Congratulations, Evershade, you have a rather precise short-term memory, possibly long-term." I pumped my fist in victory, as Lionel continued: "Most people might have remembered seven, maybe eight, some exemplars may remember twenty, but with this, you might say your memory is photographic."
"So all those mistakes I did before? It was foul play?" I grinned in defiance to Bowie. "What do you say to that?"
But Bowie wasn't showing any regrets, simply shrugging. "That I was just doing my job. I'd say it was a crowning success."
"Before you start throwing accusations," Lionel interrupted me before I got the next accusation out. "I will note that she's right. It was part of the test to make some subtle switches."
I looked at him in confusion, when Bowie lifted the second Ace of hearts, and tapped the back twice, when the card's face suddenly showed static. Another double tap changed it to a Kuribo, and another into Stone Cold Steve Austin. "The cards were never meant to stay the same. In a fashion, the deck was stacked against you from the beginning. As for why? We had to determine if it was memory, clairvoyance, mind-reading, seeing the future, or some other obscure force that could be worked in other ways. I'd say it was pretty effective."
I grumbled lowly, being played like that, but by the end: "I guess you're right."
"Some of these tests may seem strange, but we do it in order to look into more than just what you described to us." Lionel noted. "You might even find a few things you didn't know about yourself. We may want to test your memory again in a month, to test out your long-term recollection, get something more concrete for proof."
Bowie waved her hand. "But that's something for another date. In the meantime, should we crank up the speed for a few minutes? See how long you can-er..."
Her glance shifted to the side, and we looked over, to see a little black blob wiggling it's way down the floor, hopped over to my leg, and climbed back up to it's place in my mane of hair.
"What just happened?" Bowie just had to ask.
"I do believe," Lionel noted. "That you had a containment failure. Would you like your hat with a hint of barbecue or mustard? My treat."
Bowie frowned, and took a light swap at the back of her partner's head, as she walked off. I just looked over to him: "Are you two always like this?"
He tried to keep it down, but I could see a smug smile on his face. "Sometimes. We never let it get in the way of our results, but it does keep each other in performing states." He shook his head. "If you fall asleep at your desk here, I'm sure your co-workers will let you know in typical ridicule."
Bowie returned with her thermos, container in one hand, lid in the other, examining both carefully. "Considering the lab, and our presence, I doubt either one of you opened this?" She got a few shaked heads. "Then those may be very clever for cells. They opened it from the inside."
"What makes you say that?"
The doctor pointed at the lid. "The rubber ring to seal it is intact, and there are no breaks in the threads. Those should have been the weak points to get through, but instead, the cap was pulled off. It would need to make a structure inside to brace itself to the cylinder and the cap, and twist each other off." She frowned. "I do wish I had a clear container, so we could have recorded it in action."
"Maybe something to consider for future experimentation?" Lionel noted. "For cells without an actual brain, that would be quite some rational thinking."
"Possibly." Bowie noted, as she set her thermos aside. "We might need a setup to see if the cells can learn and adapt. A sealed system, with a single escape route."
I mumbled slightly. "Give her five minutes, and she's already back to lab mice and mazes?"
Bowie shot me a glare, but Lionel beat her to the punch: "Not always, but you're not off either. I do believe the term is 'enthusiastic about science'?"
The doctor considered a reply, but instead chose to switch topics. "Sooooo, how do you feel about switching back to sprinting speeds? About ten minutes?"
I gave a bit of a whince. "Ten minutes? Geez." I shook my head. Maybe this was her way of punishing me. "As long as you don't give me another distraction to work on."
She simply smiled, and turned the dial up. "No worries, dear. We have to take the time to prepare for the next one anyhow. Do let us know when you need to get off."
I chuckled, and just kept on going. "Go for it."
I squeezed the grip as hard as I could. I could see the meter struggle to climb up higher. The handle was digging in my skin, but I kept on going. I was determined to show what I could do.
But determination wasn't enough to impress Doctor Bowie. "Nothing here. Check."
They rolled up a table in front of me, where there was one shiny PDA, a bubble gun, a fancy clock, a bright red ruby the size of my fist, and a grey soft lump with four straws poking out of it. I thought the last one was even moving on it's own.
Lionel twirled his pen, with a twinkle in his eyes. "Now, do tell me if you recognize any of these, and tell me how they work."
I gulped, I was afraid I was going to have to disappoint him.
"And we're back at the beginning." Bowie noted, as the screen flashed with the animated explosion.
"I may commend you on an incredible memory, Evershade," Lionel also noted. "But your academic knowledge, and critical thinking is... Well, not quite a match to exemplar levels."
I mumbled a bit under my breath, as I used the laser pointer to get back on track through the earlier questions. "Maybe it'd be better if half of these even made sense. The common sense answers are all wrong, and half the time, I swear some of those words are made-up!"
"I could bring out a dictionary to prove you otherwise, if you wish," Bowie noted smugly.
"Yeah. Right. like that'll help! It looks like multiple choices, but in reality, some of those answers are in the question itself! It's insane!"
"It's to promote 'out of the box' thinking." Lionel took a few extra notes off a separate monitor. "And although you've been using more 'brute force' methods, you've still been making progress."
Bowie seemed more amused than anything else. "Besides, they don't call it 'the impossible quiz' for nothing."
"The impossible what?"
"Bowie!" Lionel frowned. "We weren't done!"
The doctor simply shrugged nonchalantly. "Give it up. At this point, this test is redundant. You know it."
Lionel groaned, and turned off the monitor. I just gave both of them the look, and expected some answers. "So what was that all about?"
Bowie waved her hand about. "We've been through a dozen tests at this point, and this was the only test we could do while you're still on that machine. Most would have been done hours ago."
"Your heartbeat is steady," Lionel noted. "Speed is constant, breathing is regular, focus still remains, sweat is... absent. Body heat levels are regular too." He turned back to me. "I have to ask, Evershade, but do you even feel tired?"
I shrugged a little. "Not really. Er." I put a hand over my stomach. "I do feel hungry, to be honest. Like breakfast is way gone. A bathroom break might be nice." I looked about, and finally, it hit me that something was missing in the room. "How long has it been since we started?"
Bowie pulled out her phone. "That would beeeeee right around five hours now, with a few extra minutes on the side."
'WOAH!" I barely caught myself on the next step, avoiding stumbling on my own two feet, before picking up the pace once more. "Five hours? I've been running for five hours?"
"And as you said, you're not showing any signs of exhaustion." Lionel flipped a few pages. "Your strength may be average, and your speed is better than average. I take it you were an athlete? You mentioned basebal?" I nodded at him. "Then we can chalk this up to old habits and body movements being optimised, along with muscle memory. Have you ever considered running a marathon?" I shook my head at that one. "I see. Although your other abilities may not be part of an exemplar package, your endurance is beyond normal. As long as you have energy, I'm sure you could keep on going indefinitely."
"... Damn." I had to admit, I'd never even realized that before myself. Then again, I hadn't exactly pushed my limits since I was locked back home. "Awesome!"
Bowie snickered. "That it is. Now that we've got that figure out, how about some burgers?" She hit the switch, and the treadmill slowed down to a stop.
"Oh yeah. I could definitively use a bre-ACK!" The treadmill suddenly kicked back in full speed, flung my feet from under me, and get tossed right to the wall a few feet behind me. I winced, and laid there for a moment, groaning. "Oooooww."
Lionel sighed, and checked off another thing off his clipboard. "And that would be a negative on the danger sense scale."
Bowie was grinning smugly at me. "You're okay, kid? Now here's the lesson here: Life is just a serie of tests. You just don't see all of them coming, and the lessons come after you fail them." She helped me back up on my feet. "Besides, you know this kind of shenanigan would never happen if this was made on a giant wheel. Right? Right?"
I just rolled my eyes, and shook my head.
After getting a few burgers in our bellies, we got back to the testing room for the next batch of tests. Lionel turned the recording devices back on, spelled out all the opening lines, and turned to his clipboard. "Now, Evershade, you mentioned another power on your forms: a certain set of black arms?" I nodded to him, and he noted. "Can you give us a demonstration?"
"I could." I looked at my hand, flexing it a little. I had practiced so many times back home, trying to make those extra limbs come out. "It's not exactly reliable, and it's easier if I have something to hold my arm down."
"Now this, I have to see." Bowie noted, as she grabbed hold of my right wrist. "Good enough?"
I gave her a nod, and closed my eyes. It seemed to help if ignored the reality of it. I just had to think about my arm, ignore the restraint and pull up. If it worked, I'd just pull my arm right upward. If I'd messed up, then that restraint would just bite in my skin. Nothing too much to it.
I just braced myself, pulled up, and I didn't get far at all. I couldn't feel the hand, but the more I pulled, the harder it was to go up.
"What?" I snapped my eyes open, and I saw my left arm had swollen upwards in a huge lump. Startled, I let go off my focus, and the swell deflated down like a balloon. It took me a moment to figure what had just happened, but Bowie beat me to the punch.
"The suit. It's great for scanning, and taking readings, but it is a mostly sealed system." She poked my arm a few times, and tugged at the stretched out sleeve. "If you did pull a new arm, it didn't go through."
I looked at my hand, and flexed my fingers. "So it didn't go through it? But..." I frowned. "I got an arm out of handcuffs before. Out of a cocoon of tape too! It can get through things!"
"And I have a theory on the 'why', but before that..." She pulled out a small exacto knife. "We need to record a clean run." She glanced to Lionel. "Permission to take off the sleeve?"
Lionel barely gave a nod, and Bowie was already pulling the suit at the shoulder, slicing apart the material. "You're just cutting it off?" I had to ask.
"Yep!" She practically peeled the material off my arm. "Since you stretched it enough, the contact's no good anyhow, and we recycle most of these afterwards." She tossed the arm aside, then took hold of my wrist once more. "Take two. Surprise me, kid."
Eyes closed, I gave it another shot. I lifted, and I could hear Bowie give an impressed whistle. I opened one eyes, and the black arm has risen again. I turned my hand a few times, rolling my fingers about, giving the doctors a good look at it, before Bowie poked at it lightly with a pen.
"So you said you had full tactile sensations through this 'limb'?" I nodded. "It does seem rather similar to your healing factor. Wish I had time for a proper sample. Any extra strength through them?"
I shrugged. "No ideas." I didn't think there was. It was already hard enough to pull them out, let alone compare.
"We'll have to find that out." Lionel noted. "And as soon as you try to move your normal arm?"
"This bit." I only had to wiggle my finger for the black arm to dissolve and fall into pieces of goo. All the bits falling on my arm seemed to just seep back in where they came from, while the rest bounced off the floor, climbed up the suit's surface, and either jumped back to the arm, or climbed up to my exposed chin to slip back inside, sending a small shiver up my spine. "As soon as I lose focus on the new arm, it goes."
"Interesting." Bowie noted.
"Considering it's easier for you to do when you're being held, I take it otherwise, you just move your regular arm around." Lionel added. "It's like trying to emulate an 'out of body' experience."
"With fully tactile and physical results." She added in, as she examined my arm. "There didn't seem to be any consequences on your arms. No loss of mass, or loss of heat." She shook her head. "In fact, your arm moved before the material has melted back in."
Lionel flipped to another page. "So we're dealing with a manifestor effect."
Bowie shook her head. "It might be similar, but I believe it's a shifter result."
He rolled his eyes at her. "She's creating new material, not shifting existing cells. It's clearly a manifesting effect."
"We don't know that. It could be blood that's being shifted, for example, or epidermis."
"And yet, as you noted yourself, her arm moved before the black material returned."
"Agreed, but the material didn't just disappear either. It came back inside, the same way her hair returned to her. Why would 'new material' do that?"
Lionel bit his lip. "Maybe she's generating it, and absorbing it back afterwards."
"Or she's getting material shifted, and returning back where it came from."
The two stared at each other, as if there was an invisible exchange, waiting for the next blow to be countered, and I was about to ask, when Bowie asked: "Is lab V free?"
Lionel shook his head. "Booked all day today. Same for X 1 through 5."
Bowie groaned. "Busiest time of the year and all."
"Looks like it'll be a mystery for another day." Lionel tapped at his smartphone. "I’ll set up an appointment for next time."
"Good man." Bowie put a hand on her chin. "Though the next mystery would be why you can't control both arms at the same time."
Lionel gave a sigh. "Doctor Bowie..."
She raised a finger. "Before you comment on my previous point, remember that her arms moved BEFORE the black goo came back in. There's nothing physical getting in the way."
Lionel shook his head. "Bowie..."
But she continued forward with her idea. "I bet the issue is more-"
"What?" She snapped, clearly annoyed to be disturbed in her theorising.
"We're here to evaluate what the students are able to do right now, not explore what new possibilities there are." He frowned. "We'd be here all day, if that's the case. We have power labs for that explicit purpose."
She rolled her eyes dramatically. "I can't believe I'm hearing this. You're a scientist. How are we supposed to know what they can do, if we don't push them to their limits?"
"There's time for that later." Lionel noted. "For now, we have to do full body strength testing." He looked to me. "We'll have to get you to lift weights on the machine, and see how much you can handle."
Bowie rubbed her chin, and nodded. "All right. You get her set up, and I'll go get the equipment."
She rushed right out of the room, before Lionel could call her out. "BOWIE!... Ugh." He shook his head. "Sometimes, I wonder how that woman still has a job."
I looked between the door and Lionel a few times. "Let me guess? The weight machines are...?"
Lionel pointed in the opposite direction with a bit more annoyance in his voice. "That way."
I nodded. "Not the first time?"
"And probably not the last." He shook his head, shrugging off the frustration. "Shall we? We'll try to make this quick."
"Lead the way, doc."
Strength test was simple really. It started with a barbell hooked up to a machine on both ends instead of weights. All I had to do was lift it as high as I could, though Lionel never really told me exactly how much weight I was working with. if I could pull it over my head? Good. If I could pull it halfway, not bad. I was already familiar with some of the techniques and positions, so we got in the swing of it rather quickly. I was a little worried that the weight might hurt me sometimes, but Lionel admitted he had a total control over the machine, so he could lift the weight right off if needed.
I crouched down, grabbed the bar in both hands, and tested the weight on it. "Mmmnnn. A little lighter than last time, Doc." But I didn't complain as I swung the barbell up to my shoulders, as I took one step up, then with a wince, I pulled the bar over my head, and stood up. My arms were shaking, but my feet were planted solidly.
"Good." Lionel noted, from behind the console. "Just hold in there, until you can't anymore." He took a glance around me. "How pleasant that you decided to grace us with your presence once more, Doctor Bowie."
"You're welcome." I could hear her coming up from behind me, but I couldn't afford to turn around and check. "Found what I was looking for. You'd be surprised how hard it is to find sports supplies in this school. How goes our marathon runner's strength results?"
"Not as spectacular, I'll admit." He glanced to me. "No offence, but we have a very high scale, and so far, you're closer to a baseline level. Maybe higher than a normal student, in some regards, but nothing superhuman."
"Not surprised." I noted, holding steady. We'd train back at school, yes, but it wasn't all about gaining muscles. We had to be fast, quick on our feet. didn't matter how hard you hit the ball if you couldn't run the bases. So this exercise wasn't our main focus.
"Good. Good. Now... THINK FAST!"
"ACK!" A split second was all I had to see it coming, and instincts kicked in. A second later, and I was staring at a baseball, just an inch from my nose, a set of black fingers wrapped around it. I dropped the ball, stared at my black arm for a second, before the weight on my arms buckled, and I was drawn back to my real arms, letting the black one dissolve again. "The heck?"
"Good catch!" I glared at Bowie, who was carrying a whole basket full of baseballs, tossing one in her hand with a confident smirk. "I thought if you were going to miss at least once, it'd be the first one. It would have been a good lesson though. Next one should be easy, right?" She pulled her arm back, and I knew the next ball was coming. I wasn't in any position to keep playing catch like this.
"N-Not now!" I jerked to the side, out of the weight machine, but I didn't even make a single step. My feet and arms refused to move from their position. "What-Guh!" And i got that next ball right in my belly, knocking the breath out of my lungs.
"Ooohhh." Bowie winced. "Second ball instead? Maybe it was beginner's luck." I glared at her. She was grinning way too much, as she was pulling the next ball.
"I'm not ready! Come on!" I still felt the weights on my arms, but my wrists refused to move. I pulled on my legs, but my ankles weren't budging either. "Something screwy's going on!"
"Now now, no excuses. I've got a full basket to go!" The third pitch came, and pulled the black arm once more to swat it out of the air, before it dissolved once more. "Not bad. But I'm sure we can do better." She pulled a fourth ball. She wasn't about to stop.
"Dr. Bowie?" Lionel noted from his panel. "What do you think you're doing?" Surely, he'd stop her, and that madness, right?
"Just an experiment." She noted nonchalantly, as she threw another one. I pulled another arm, in time to catch it before it hit my knee. Whatever had my wrists made sure I lifted the bar back up.
"Ah." Lionel sighed. "I see." He simply turned back to his panel, while Bowie picked another ball.
"You're not going to stop her?" I caught the next one, dropped it, and got ready for the follow-up.
"Believe me, when I say it's easier to amuse her, than to convince her. Although, Bowie, do make sure not to damage the machinery, please."
"Oh, I'm sure I can accommodate that. My aim seems to be pretty spot on." She pulled back, and threw another fast ball my way.
This time, though, I caught the ball, and quickly threw it right back at her. "Take that!"
I couldn't put my whole body into it, but she was already reaching down, and my aim was true.
But somehow, the ball simply stopped in mid-air, about a foot away from her face. It spun up there, floating, as she grinned over at me. "I see somebody's ready for the next level, mn?" I cringed as she pulled a second ball, and as she threw it, the floater I'd sent her way also came right back at me.
"Crap! OOF!" I caught the first one, but the second knocked my breath away. I buckled under the weight on top of me, almost dropped to my knees, but I kept up, and before long, I was pulled right back up, as vulnerable a target as I was. "What the Hell?"
"If you must know," Lionel spoke up. "Bowie here has a malleable TK field she can reshape at will."
"She's a mutant too?" It wasn't what I wanted to know, but it got my gears running, as I tossed another ball, and once more, it didn't even got close to hitting her.
She rolled her eyes. "You sound surprised. The school for mutants, hiring mutant for researchers. Not really the important part here." She threw another pair of balls my way. "Now focus!"
"ACK!" Again, I was able to catch one, but the second hit me right on my right breast. The bruise stung fiercely, but it thankfully it was only a minute before it cooled down. Looking back at Bowie though, I thought she was wrong. That bit of information was important. I didn't know what a TK field meant, but she was probably the one holding me in place too. If I stopped her, I stopped this so-called experiment. This was a test, and I was either going to pass, or this would never stop. But I needed something more. I couldn’t just keep on taking it like that.
As I tossed my next ball back at her, I tested my other arm. I pulled, and pulled, but all I caused, was the suit to bulge out, deforming more and more. I wasn't getting a second black arm as a backup.
I didn't get time to think, before another volley came my way, and I barely stopped another ball from hitting me in the face, leaving the other to smack right on my foot. "YEOW!"
I braced myself through the pain, and I put the baseball under my chin, saving it for later. Bowie just raised an eyebrow. "Not giving me back my ammo?" She snerked, as she lifted another ball from her basket. "No worries. I've got more than enough here."
One more volley came at me, and this time, they were so close together I thought I could catch both. I put my hand up confidently, but just as I caught the first one, the second behind it suddenly spun and dove down and hit right on target. The blow sent a shock of pain all the way up my spine and down to my toes. I should have screamed, but my voice died in my throat, as my legs gave up, squeezed down together, and I fell to my knees. I could hear Bowie crack up in laughter, while tears were rolling down my cheeks as the pain between my legs throbbed intensively. "Oh... Oh god." I squeaked out, barely able to hold that stupid weight over my head. I just wanted to curl up, and let the pain fade away.
"Oh my god!" Bowie managed to say between snickers. "Oh, there's times you wish you could take to America's Funniest Home Videos." She finally caught her breath back. "Oh... You okay, kid?"
"Ngh... Not. Funny." I squeaked out, my one hand over my privates. It was still hurting. Sure, I'd felt worse, but it still stung like nothing else. My blurry vision started to clear up though, and I could see the balls that had gathered up at my feet. Grinding my teeth together, I figured Bowie was still laughing. That might have been my one chance. I snatched the first ball, and lobbed at her a soft, easy one.
She was still snickering, when she saw it come down over her, and caught it with ease with that TK field of hers. "And now you're getting sluggish. Finally tiring out?" The second ball sailed a few feet over her head. "Heh. Even your aim's starting to-Ack!" The ball bounced off the back wall, as planned, and caught her off guard. I just got lucky it was on the back of her head. She glanced back, frowning. I wasn't going to catch her that way a second time.
I wasn't planning to either. The third ball spun low to the ground, and bounced once, as it flew toward her right ankle, and she caught that one too. "Cheeky little-HEY!" And the fourth stopped barely an inch from her cheek. "Okay. Now we're getting a little too close here. Just calm down, and-Oh."
There was a loud *thump*, and Lionel gave an amused snerk. She pulled the baseball away from her face, and she could see me getting back up, having tossed the weight bar down on the ground, my wrists and ankle finally free of her hold. "Much, much better."
I took a glance at Bowie, expecting her to be angry, or upset, but instead, I saw a big grin plastered over her face. "Okay, kid. You got lucky. You got me. I'd say you passed."
"Passed? Passed what?" I started to make my way back to her, still feeling a little tender and irritated. "What was that all about?"
"I had a theory to test out." She lobbed a pair of baseballs at me, letting me snatch them easily in the air. "To do that, I had to trick your subconscious, and I'd say we met success."
"The method was questionable," Lionel noted. "But I'd say it did have some merit."
I glared at the man. "You're taking her side?"
He nonchalantly waved his hand. "Would you hold up your hands?"
I grumbled, did as told and that's when I realized what was going on. I'd held up three hands: the two flesh and blood ones, along with the black one. In fact, I'd caught the two baseballs on the same sides, and I was squeezing them each. "I... But I never could move both at the same time."
"It's not that you never 'could', it's that you never knew 'how'." Bowie noted, with a smug grin. "I've seen this in similar cases before. Your focus was on the fact that you 'felt' the arm come out. That focus allowed the black arm to form. As soon as your focus shifted, the arm lost cohesion, it lost your mental signals, and dropped." She poked at my arm tentatively. "It's like trying to rub your belly, and tap your head at the same time. Your brain isn't used to the mix of commands. To do both, you have to split your focus, to multitask. And for that, I tricked your subconscious. I kept stimulating your normal arms, while making you do something you're so familiar with, it's like second nature." She raised a baseball up in the air. "All I had to do was keep your attention long enough for you to get the hang of it."
"At an alarmingly rapid rate, I'll note." Lionel added to the file.
"... True." She nodded. "Possibly because of that memory of hers?"
"Possibly a factor." He nodded. "Would not rule it out."
I just kept staring at my two arms in wonder. I flexed them, moved the white and black fingers, stretched from one side to the other. It was so strange, so alien, but there it was. I could feel it. This was mine. This was part of me, part of my power. I could actually do something with this! I just had to laugh. "Heh. Hehehehe. Oh wow. I mean. I thought it was just about useless, but I can do this? I can use all these arms?"
Bowie grinned at my awe, but Lionel frowned. "It would seem so, but we may have assumed too quickly."
"Don't tell me you're going to rain on the kid's parade now," Bowie groaned. "What did you spot this time?"
He closed in, and reached for my single arm, pinched the suit, and pulled on the loose material. "You remember what happened when you tried to pull out your arms with the suit on?" He then crouched down, and pulled on the suit's section for my legs. It was loose too. "I take it you tried to run at some point?"
Looked at him, and gave him a sheepish smile. "Maybe?"
He gave a sigh, while Bowie snickerred. "Time for another experiment!"
A few minutes later, I was sitting down, wriggling a set of black toes from my new leg. "I'll be honest: it's not what I expected." I flexed the lew leg in different ways, testing it out. "That's so cool!"
"Not as handy, but still an extra tool in your arsenal." Bowie had taken over the responsibility of taking notes, as Lionel collected the cup up arm sleeve and leggings. What used to be a full one-piece body suit had now been reduced to a one-piece swimsuit.
Lionel shook his head in defeat. "So sad. Another suit bites it."
Bowie snickered. "Now. Now. You know we couldn't use it anymore in that state. The material was too loose to make constant contact anymore. Any further caption will need more... Well, more adaptability to what might happen." She did raise an eyebrow at me. "And one little tip I didn't think I'd have to say: you may want to avoid pants in the future. Same for long sleeves."
I frowned a bit, opened my mouth, then took a glance at Lionel. "In case I might need these extra limbs, and my clothes would get in the way?"
She gave me a sly smirk. "Or they might rip apart on you, and you'd have a whole other mess of trouble on you." She shrugged. "Just something to consider."
Consider it, I did, and the mental picture of the stitches of my pants popping in the middle of a corridor wasn't exactly pleasing. "Th-thanks, doc."
"You're welcome." She grinned. "On the bright side: if you trip over something, your backup limb will catch you."
"You'll probably still need to practice." Lionel noted. "As soon as you lose focus," he pointed to my dissolving black leg. "You lose the extra limb."
Bowie came back to me. "It's all about making a mental habit of it. This will probably the main focus of your Power Lab homework. Train until it becomes second nature to you. It's like riding a bike, or back further, like learning how to walk... Except this time, you're going back 'on all four'."
I snerked, and elbowed Bowie slightly. "Funny. what do you mean by Power Lab?"
Lionel picked up: "It'll be your class about the theory, and application of mutant powers. They'll push your limits, and possibilities of what you can do, and what powers usually involve." He waved a hand. "At least, in the grand scheme of things."
"It's a requirement for all students." She poked me on the nose. "And they'll be working in tandem with our results, young lady. So do try not to give anyone a concussion."
I held up one hand. "I make no promises, if someone decides to throw more balls my way." I looked over to Lionel. "So do we have more testing to do?"
His eyebrows raised at the question. "Evershade, I'm afraid, with these new development, we'll have to put another appointment Saturday to cover what we can't do right now."
"Busiest time of the year." Bowie bounced on her heels.
"Especially when some researchers have more fun with shenanigans, than work," he glared back to his partner.
"Worth it." She snickered, as baseball started floating up. "I'll start cleaning up, no worries."
"Good." He groaned, looking back to me. "Shall we move on?"
I let out a tired sigh. "Lead the way, doctor."
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"Ooohhh, why did it have to take so long?" I muttered as I jogged down the path back to Poe. "I'm going to be so late." I hoped it wasn't. Oh, I wished it wasn't over.
At the end of the first day, after everyone had moved in, the Poe cottage was supposed to have a party, where everyone could meet one another. Mingle, chat, dance, see who’s who in the cottage. It was supposed to be our first gathering.
Thanks to those tests though, I was so late. So darn late! the physical tests had to be tripled, thanks to those new limbs. We had to see if they were stronger and tougher than the normal ones. They weren't. We found that out quickly, but Lionel insisted we do every single one anyways. It's only because Bowie insisted they were to clock out, that we stopped.
After that, was the counselor. I was already late as is at that point, but by then, a line had already started, and I had to take a number. They squeezed me in, but that came with little time for us to take classes, and another appointment in the future. Seems we might have a lot to talk about in the future.
By then, I knew the party had started. I didn't even get to grab lunch either. Surely, there'd be enough food there to make up for it. At that point, it might have been halfway over, for all I knew.
I made it to the doors, peered in, and was awed.
We had been a decent crowd yesterday, but now there were three extra years of students filling the first floor, probably even part of the second floor. People were dancing, chatting, some even playing ping pong where the tables had been set up. All of it accompanied by a nice upbeat tune, thanks to the the DJ set up in the corner. Just with that, the party might have seemed pretty normal. But once you saw the actual people inside, you knew something special was happening.
If it was only that many of the boys and girls inside were beautiful, I would have just been lucky. The fact that many of the girls were dancing with each other and guys holding each other closely might have hinted at something going on to anyone from the other dorms looking in. But when seeing one girl anyone would have sworn would have come out of an anime, just flying overhead, that's when it became truly supernatural. That girl was joined with three others, one dressed in an obvious superheroine costume, spandex included, and the quartet started chatting merrily. One of the ping-pong players was moving so fast that every motion seemed to be a blur. His opponent could only keep up by levitating three paddles in mid-air. A black girl was taking over a section of the dance floor all by herself, dancing in ways that was entrancing, charming, and should have been impossible without breaking half the bones in your body. Yet she wasn't breaking a sweat. If I'd blinked for just a moment, I would have missed a redhead waving her hands about, and the dance room was filled with little multi-coloured lanterns. It seemed like everywhere I looked, they were cutting loose and magic was in the air.
It was an amazing sight to see.
Was I supposed to be one of them though? To me, it felt a little hard to believe. Even when I stood there I could feel my heart pumping like it was about to jump out of my chest. Where should I go? Who would I see? Where should I start?
A sweet and spicy scent tickling my nose reminded my stomach that I hadn't eaten, and that made my first direction pretty clear. Sitting in a corner, near the kitchen, was a grill. A handful of kids were walking away with a skewer in hand. Oh, it smelled so good, and going by how they were devouring it, it had a taste to match. Whoever was setting up the grill was already putting on more meat, and that seemed to be the perfect moment to head over. I just hoped she'd give me some.
As she got up, I could see the girl had some definitive curve to her body. Impossible to miss , even though she was wearing something close to a black business suit. It was enough to make one blush. Her blood red hair flowed quite a way down her back. She was probably quite the looker.
But as she turned around with a skewer in hand, I noticed how pale her skin was. Not just pink, but flawless chalk white. Then her maw opened, there was no way I could call it a mouth. Her lips were splitting apart further and further across her cheeks, almost seeming to touch her long pointed ears, and I got a good look at rows of sharp, pointed teeth, the kind that made a bear trap envious. Survival instincts took over and I was frozen until those teeth closed around the meat, which was when I let out a startled: "WAGH!"
That made her jump, and her black eyes locked in on me. "What? What is it? What's wrong?"
"... Your... You-yo-your..." Since my mouth wasn't planning on cooperating, I just pointed to my mouth, then back at hers, and a few times back and forth.
"... My...?" She looked confused for a moment, then one ear perked up. "Ah. This is your first time facing someone with heavy GSD, right?"
That was GSD? I remembered the term from the hospital, and after a pregnant pause, I nodded. "Huh huh?"
"Relax. Most of what you'll hear likely isn't true. You'll find a fair amount of people who have GSD that are just like anyone else you know. Kebab?" She offered one of her skewers. "Fresh off the grill!"
I couldn't stop staring at her, my mind wavering between awe and creepiness. At least, until she waved the meat on a stick on front of my eyes. "Oh! S-sure! I mean..." I just grabbed the kebab, trying hard to smile. "Sorry, sorry, I just... It's a shock-I never thought I'd-I mean, I thought I might, I heard the term, but-"
She held up a hand, silencing me. "You're on a campus for metahumans. Expect to see people of all different shapes and sizes. You might want to get used to the idea." Her wide lips made a closed smile though. "You can relax. You've given me no reason to bite."
"I-I see. I get that." I took in a deep breath, trying to settle down. She must have seen how nervous I was. "I know I'm over-reacting, I just... You're right. There's people of all shapes, and..." My eyes drifted down for a moment, and fixated on another part of her. "... And sizes." And what a size she was. I'd seen her curves from behind, but her chest was gargantuan. Like basketballs attached to a torso. And that was probably with her suit squeezing them in place! Did they even made suits that size? To fit curves like hers? I was already starting to heat up at the thoughts. I shook my head, trying to get rid of that feeling. "S-sorry! I'm Karen. N-new on campus. Er." I fidgeted. "I suppose it's real obvious at this point."
Her ears perked up, an amused look came over her, as she snickered lightly. "Green as grass, from the looks of you." She waved a hand. "We all started that way though, so I can't really complain." Her smirk quirked a bit. "Though as a fair warning, you might want to make it less obvious where you're staring."
"Ah-AH-I didn't mean to!" I pulled my eyes back up to her face. "It's just that as soon as you mentioned s-size, my-erk!" Eyes going back up again. "Your-your-gh!" giving up, I just closed my eyes tightly. Damn you male instincts, getting me in trouble!
"...Karen. Deep breaths. Slow and deep. I'm not angry at you. Seriously, relax. You're not in trouble." She just kept smirking and held out a hand. "Call me Dissent. Or Diz. One of the two, your preference."
Deep breaths. Deeeeep breaths. Right. "S-sorry. I..." I reached out to her hand, and shook. "Pleasure to meet you, Dissent." I pulled my eyes back up to her eyes. "I-I should know better, I know I do." Though maybe looking in her eyes was a mistake. Because when I noticed three slitted pupils in there, the two outer ones looked real weird. It seemed that the longer I looked at her, the stranger she got. At this point, how was I supposed to avoid staring?
"You'll learn. It's what we're here for." Those strange eyes of her rolled up. "Though I must admit, it's... different for me. I'm used to people being appalled at my appearance, rather than allured."
Okay, that's gotta be awkward. Making my staring even worse. "We-we-we-well, this is the dorm for... You know, this is Poe."
That's when she smirked at me, quite amused. "Oh, I know. But ask anyone who's been here for a while, and you'll find there are some things that are too strange even for them. Fortunately I softened the blow for myself by becoming quite a fixer for this place."
"A fixer?" I wonderred what exactly she could fix. I was pretty sure it went beyond a DVD player or a cell phone. "I might have to ask Catherine about that."
Her confidence didn't even fade at all. "By all means, do that. I'm sure she'll have a few good stories to say." She glanced at my hand, raising an eyebrow. "So? You gonna eat that?"
"Wha-Of course! Of course!" I chuckled, before blowing on the kebab she'd handed to me and took the first bite. My eyes went a bit wide once more, as I felt the taste flood my mouth. It was spicy, very spicy, with a little hint of sweetness behind it, but it didn't taste like any barbecue sauce I knew. I got a little crunch here and there, and with a look, I could see the shallots, and sesame seeds peppered over the strip of meat. "Mmmnnn. That is goood." I mumbled, as I took a second bite. "Oh yeah. That's mighty good! I know it's steak, but I can't put my finger on the sauce." And bite number three soon followed. "Mmmmnnn."
Her grin widened, which was something to see with her wider lips. "Gochujang. It's a korean chili paste. Just the right amount can make for a savory bite as you're experiencing by now." She gave another nod to her grill. "Go ahead. Take another kabob or two. I've got plenty of supplies."
"Really? Thanks!" I just grabbed a plate, and another three sticks of skewered meat. "To be honest, your timing couldn't have been better. I've been in testing all day long. I never got to have supper. I'm just famished!" As if I needed another reminder from my stomach, I chomped on another piece of meat.
"Testing will take a lot out of you, that's true. If you're interesting, they'll keep you for hours on end just to figure out how you tick. Which looks like to be the case if they kept you that long." She poured a whole lot of seasoning into a bowl, as she started on a whole new batch of meat. The spicy scent mixed with the aroma of the meat already cooking, all spreading through the air. "Who did you have?"
"Oh yeah. They found me interesting all right." I munched on another bite. "It was two of them. Lionel and Bowie?"
That got her to pause at the second name, those pointed ears perking right up, before wiggling around. They were so fun to watch. "Hehehehe. Oh THAT explains it. Did Doctor Bowie put you in the Wheel too?"
That one made me pause mid-bite, before I swallowed. "Wait. You mean she has an actual hamster wheel? I thought they said the department denied her claims."
"She has one in her own lab." Dissent kept whisking the contents in the bowl, before putting the meat in to coat it. "She reserves it for students she takes personal interest in. So if she really finds you interesting, then expect a follow-up to see you in that contraption."
I just sighed. "I've got another appointment with them on Saturday." I recalled back then. "But I've already run for them for five hours straight. They should have all the running data they need on me as is. She shouldn't need more." I just shook my head. "You know, I thought she was joking at first."
"Oooohh. I assure you, she is not." She looked serious enough to mean it.
I then remembered her exact wording. "You asked if she'd put me in the wheel 'too'. That means she put you through it already?"
"The very first day."
"Huh huh." She moved on to a second bowl filled with meat marinated already. She skewered the pre-coated meat, set them on the grill next to the next batch of cooking ones, before sprinkling seeds and greens over them. "And let me tell you, it throws you for a loop when you realize breathing doesn't do anything for you anymore."
"Don't..." I tilted my head. "Wait. You don't breathe?"
"Nope. Can't breathe if you don't have any lungs." She turned back to me with that sharp grin of hers, as she tapped the space between her collarbones. "Found out there's a small trachea pouch here I take in air to be able to speak."
My eyes must have been the size of saucers. "Wooooooooow. That is intense. I never would have guessed!"
She shook her head. "But alas, this game of twenty questions isn't about me. You can find out about that any time. Today's your day, after all."
I just blushed. "My day, mn? Too bad I missed a good chunk of the party."
She threw open her arms. "It's an all day party, you see. Or rather, an all week thing. You need time to settle in, time to get used to things and get that feeling of wide-eyed curiosity out of your system."
"Considering my reaction to your teeth, I've still got a while before the settling-in thing will kick in."
"Give it time." She then leaned in closer, with a smirk. "Then there's the question nearly everyone will ask to the point where you'll start getting sick of it: What can you do?"
"What can I do?" I mumbled a bit. "Yeah, already been asked that one quite a bit. I'm... Mostly a quirky regenerator. High-performance, they say, but... I bet it's usually followed by a demonstration? Is that part of the tradition too?"
Her eyes went wide. "Gods forbid, no. I have no idea what kind of regenerator you are, and anything Class 3 or above is a biohazard." I'd heard about that part. "I'd never insist on a demonstration like that so close to food, especially when a demonstration like that is asking you to mutilate yourself for people's amusement." She shuddered, her ears folding down so much, they nearly touched her shoulders. "Have people seriously asked you to do it?"
I shrugged. "About seven times in the past two days?" I then shook my head. "No. No. No mutilation. Like I said, it's real quirky. I just cut my hair, and the demo starts right off."
"Wait. Your hair is affected too?" One ear rose up with her eyebrow. "That... is different. What level of regeneration, if I can ask?"
"Classified as six, they say." I dug around my bag, and fished out a pair of scissors. At that point, I figured I might as well always have one at the ready. "If you prefer, I could take a step away from the food."
She blinked. "I'm sorry. I could have sworn I heard you say 'six'." Now that got her impressed.
"You heard right." I took a step back, and started to gather my hair.
"That's... I have only heard of two other people with a regeneration rate equal to yours or higher. ONLY two. That's... that's crazy. I mean that's crazy awesome, but that's crazy. I can't begin to imagine the applicati-" She fell silent as I cut off a good metre of hair, and let it drop to the floor. She leaned in over, looking curiously. "... Part of the demonstration?"
"Just wait for it..." As usual, the hair started to move and squirm, before it leapt on my ankles, and crawled its way up under my skirt. "Hey!" I tried not to shiver too much as it got around my hips, then pulled over the back of my shirt. I turned around, giving Dissent a good look as it got up on my shoulders, and reattached itself. "Tah-dah?"
After that demonstration, she still held that impressed expression. "Okay, THAT is new. I've got to hand it to you, I did not see that coming... increased individual sentience within each cell, extrasensory coordination, the cells are smart enough to not only know where you are but which structure to take..." Her ears twitched a bit more as she snickered a bit, cupping her chin in thought. "Oh, the people I could introduce you to. If it wasn't for one other Class Six Regenerator I've seen with a trick similar to that, you would have blew my mind completely. Hell, you still came close. I never would have expected that."
"You make it seem so much more impressive than it feels. Applications to what?"
"That's because it IS impressive! The speed of regeneration along with the complexity your cells can work with, even the fact that you leave no bio-hazardous material behind as well is remarkable! I don't think you understand the processing power that takes."
"Yeeeeaaah. It's all a little new to me, I'll be honest." I did pause though. "Other class six regenerator? Similar? Really? Who now? I... Introduce me to who?"
Her ears perked up a bit before twitching. "Ah... heh, got ahead of myself there for a moment. Sorry." She turned around, and flipped the skewers on their other side. "Along with being a fixer, I have a habit of networking. I keep tabs on interesting people, and I think there's benefits to be found in cooperation or good chemistry. I introduce them to each other and let it play out."
Reminded of my meal, I bit into another piece of meat. "Really now? You do all that?" She gulped. "And you think I'd be good with some people? I mean, I've made a few friends here in Poe already, but..."
She was giving that winning, confident smile again. "Of course, why wouldn't I? It's only a campus where metahumans and aliens from all walks of life show up with increasing variations and potencies of abilities mortal men can only dream of."
I took in a deep breath as the realisation passed over me again. "Yeah. No kidding. It's still a little hard to believe sometimes. I'm here, and I'm still pinching myself."
"Believe it, my dear Karen. You're going to be here for some time, and I'll be curious to see who you are after the fact."
Those sounded like some mighty high expectations. "Th-thank you. I hope I won't disappoint you." I giggled. "God, it's going to be so awesome! Er... I still can't believe I'm saying that about school."
"Well sure, if it was a school with only mathematics, world history, and the like. But here, you get to walk among special people and be special yourself. I'll encourage that you don't let it go to your head," she leaned down over slyly. "Buuuuuut nothing wrong with looking forward to seeing what you can do." She stood back up straight. "Besides, for all we know you might discover new abilities. For instance... hrrrrm, how to do this how to do this..." She looked around at the tables around her, her ears twitching a bunch as she seemed lost in thought.
She finally settled. "Ah, screw it. We'll go all in." She walked over to me, then knelt down. "Watch closely now because I'm only going to do this once." She then reached right into the ground, like there was a hole in my shadow, her arm disappearing through, before pulling out a plastic tupperware box with cookies inside. "Aaah. Here we go."
"... Wait, what did-WHAT?" I reached over to the floor, and tapped right where her hand dove in. It was as solid as it looked. "How?" I looked up to her. "Your talent?"
"No. You're just filled with sugar and cookies." Her face was a perfect deadpan... Except those ears, that were wiggling so playfully.
"Did I already say that your ears were adorable?" They were. I just had to tell her.
"Once already." That got her to crack a smile, as she opened the tub. "Cookies for the road?"
The sweet scent of those colourful sugar cookies just flew right into my nose, and I just wanted to dig in. "Very nice. I’d love some, if you don't mind."
"Of course. And to clarify, yes that's a part of my talent. I can teleport myself and objects, but it's significantly easier for me to use shadows as a medium thanks to my spirit. Couldn't do THAT until I was a year in."
"Wooooooooooooow. That's an amazing power. Gosh, that's gotta be handy as heck!"
"Fairly handy, yes. It got even more handy when I could teleport other people with me." Her grin only lasted for a few seconds, at least. "Your abilities are like muscles in a way, Karen. You train them, you use them, you test yourself on what you can do. The more you experiment and try things, the more you might even surprise yourself."
If that's true, then what will I be able to do? What can I do? My first thought went back to how I healed, and I just shook it off. I couldn't do anything about that. Looking at my hand though, I remembered all the exercises we did in testing with those new limbs. If there's anything I can improve, it's with this. That's where I need to look. I'll have to practice tonight.
While I was lost in thoughts, Dissent held out her hand, a paper plate appearing on it with a small pile of sugar cookies on it, all wrapped in plastic. "Go ahead, take some. Score some brownie points with your roommate, they're freshly baked this morning so they should be really good. They've been in the fridge though, so they'll be chilled."
I took the plate, and gave a glance, giggling. "Thanks but I'm afraid my roomie might have to wait until after the party." I pointed to one side by the dance floor, where Noelle was dancing with a few other girls, a small crowd around her already. "I think her dance card is full for a while."
Dissent took a glance over. "That's your roomie? Mmm... Well, she looks like one of the pretties and she's in Poe, so that makes sense. A lot of people here aren't exactly... shy, if you get my meaning."
"I've noticed." I mumbled. "It's like a door opened, and all inhibitions went out the window. I swear, they weren't this close back at the train station. And she's pretty, yes, but I think there might be a bit of glamour still on her too... It's hard to tell, and hard to peel yourself away when it's on. Believe me."
Her ears perked up a bit with that. "Ah, glamours and auras. THOSE are a nice bundle of fun and joy, the stronger ones can just scrub your brain if you're not prepared for them. Still, should be good resistance training for you. It's a cool opportunity."
"Cold opportunity too. Freezing, you might say." I snickered, and figured I ought to explain myself: "Her spirit can sometimes freeze those she doesn't along with, so she's earned her armband that way." She sighed. "As for resisting, I've earned a big old F so far. When it's on, I'm obsessed. If it weren't for that spirit giving me a good reminder that I should be on my best behavior..."
"Give it time, those kinds of things aren't immediate. It's another one of those 'muscles' you'll have to flex. Still, she's an avatar as well? A disagreeable one too... I wonder." Her ears lowered a little as she narrowed her eyes, a bit lost in thought.
I took a quick wild swing at her thoughts: "Another one needing introductions?"
"Mm?" She blinked a bit and turned back to me. "Bah, don't mind me. I'm just too curious for my own good and this isn't the time to be thinking about things like that. I do recommend she takes the courses specifically offered to Avatars though, along with Intro to Magic. Trust me on this one, with an entity of magic in her it'll pay off."
"That would be taken care of already."
We both turned to see Robin walking over, looking as androgynous as ever. Cute boy, certainly, but I can only imagine what the other guys around campus were saying when they saw the pink vest and ponytail. But no matter what he'd faced today, he was raising his cup with a smile. "Hey there, Karen! About time you made it to the party. Where have you been?"
"Hey there!" I waved him over, glad to see another familiar face in the crowd. "Sorry I'm late. Testing took forever and a day!" I waved a hands to the pale, bear-trap elf. "Dissent, this is my good friend Robin, Robin, this is Dissent, one of our fixers for our cottage."
Robin looked over, and suddenly froze, leaving Dissent the first word in as she smiled. "Hello! Well, well. Curious friend you have there." She held up a kabob to him. "If you're hungry, of course."
The poor guy was still stiff, as his eyes were scanning up and down her body, probably fighting his fight or flight instincts, before he reached over, and grabbed the kebab. "D-don't mind if I do?" He almost tripped over his own tongue. "Heh. You say I'm the curious friend? Right back at ya." His eyes didn't leave hers. "Ah-er-pleasure to meet you?"
As I chewed on another bite of meat, I just found his stiffness to be so silly. "Well, on the bright side, you didn't scream.... Yet."
"I'll give him that. Karen here shrieked the second she saw my teeth." Dissent seemed much more amused than I was.
Even Robin's chuckle seemed a slight stiff. "A little nervous, Karen? A little scared?" All I had as a reply, was pulling my tongue out at him.
"Relax, Robin," Dissent gave that toothy grin of hers. "I don't bite without good cause, and it's better you see an example of GSD now rather than at someone who might get offended at you staring."
That got another chuckle from him, with a bit more energy. "Actually, I got my screamer moment back at lunch, but I wasn't the only one!" He shook his head. "I think half the cafeteria dropped everything when the dinosaur zoomed across the whole place."
"Huh." I reflected a bit on that bit. "So Catherine wasn't bluffing yesterday?"
Robin shook his head. "Oh heck no. And the dino was just the opening act."
"Which dinosaur?" The fact that Diz had to actually ask which dinosaur ran across campus was it's own surprise. That gave me a pretty big hint of all I'd missed today.
"You're asking me that as if I had a chance to ask her... Er... His? Its? Whatever the name was. I wasn't kidding when I said 'zoomed'."
I just raised my eyebrow. "What?" I just have to get an answer from either of them.
"As in which dinosaur was it? There's a few of them on campus." It was presented in a very nonchalant manner.
Robin hesitated, rubbing the back of his head. "How should I know? It was mostly brown, yah big, leaning forward, big long claws, sharp teeth?"
I blinked, piecing together what he was offering. "A velociraptor?"
"Is that what they're called?"
"OH, him! Yeah, no. Don't worry about him, he's cool. Just has a big appetite is all, so it's a good idea to give him a wide berth if he's booking it." By the way she was smiling, and the wiggling of her ears, she was real amused by our reactions. She turned around to take care of her grill though.
Robin sighed softly, shaking his head. "Yeah, yeah. It's just... Teeth, claws, scales, you know." He blinked at Dissent. "No offence."
"None taken. Gonna tell you the same thing I told Karen, Robin. GSD students are just like any other students. They're people just like you."
I mumbled softly: "And considering what we're going through, it's not all that far off."
"I'd keep that on the low-down if I were you."
I glanced back at her. "About being mutants?"
"You know what I mean. We may be in a cottage meant for those unique kinds of changes, but prejudice can sometimes still be a thing here." She glanced back. "So only mention said changes to those you trust."
Robin and I looked at each other in silence for a moment. She could have meant it about being mutant, GSD or a number of things, but to us, it was about being changelings. It just flared to the front of our heads. I knew personally what she meant. I knew how bad things went. And this was coming from someone who claimed knew people. Robin chewed on another piece of meat, as I asked: "Even here, huh?"
"It shouldn't be an issue most of the time, but even here there are those who don't play nice with each other. Intolerance doesn't get left behind when manifestation takes place." Her ears lowered a little bit when she turned and started placing skewers for others to take. A small frown formed on her face. "If you run into those problems, let me know and I'll try to deal with it. But caution is something I recommend... Those kinds of changes are far and beyond the usual kind."
I knew what that meant. All too well. "Sounds like you've had some experience on the matter." I felt Robin softly pat my shoulder, trying to reassure me. Maybe I was projecting my feelings in my voice.
"You stick around on this campus long enough, you tend to witness how having powers doesn't make you any better than the average human. I have seen what happens to students who were flippant about such changes. Who paraded the fact as if it made them... special." She shook her head. "No. What makes you special is how you use the gifts and chances given to you. How you grow and develop as a person."
I nodded softly. "Words to live by?"
Robin gulped, finishing another piece of meat. "That's... Yeah, pretty deep there. You've got some experience." He raised an eyebrow, as he began to stir his drink with the tip of his skewer. "I bet you've got lots of stories to tell about the past year, huh?"
That's when Dissent stopped and lifted her head to look at Robin... Then just SMILED to show all those pointy, piranha-like teeth. "You have nnnnoooooo idea." She then turned back to her next batch of meat, as she waved a finger. "But, that is for another time. Not this day, not your day, oh no no."
Robin didn't look reassured by that smile. Then again, with teeth like that, who could blame him? "Oh joy..." He frowned though. "Our day, you say?"
I nodded softly. "Huh huh. Our day indeed. Or supposedly, our week to... Well, be wide-eyed, and such. Behold the wonders."
"Quite so, to take it all in! To recognize the chances you've been given, the opportunities and the bizarre new world you've been thrust towards. This Wonderland is a wild one, and you can think of yourselves as one of many Alices ready to see what they can make of it." She looked back to her marinating bowls. "I've never really liked the Hogwarts comparison. A school is about the only thing it has in common. Why Hogwarts? It's magic, there's far more than magic here. Not to mention other things."
Hogwarts was much more on my level, so I had to grin on this topic. Robin got the opening reply though: "Weeeeeeelllllllllll. There is magic, yes, but you are dealing with a lot of guys and girls trying to take hold of their powers. Not to mention the cottages, and sleeping accommodations. Uniforms? Taking kids from all around the country? What's the big difference at this point?"
I had to giggle: "This is the point where Dissent goes: minus twenty points from HufflePoe!" That one earned me a nudge from Robin.
"This is the part where I point out that Hogwarts doesn't change its students nearly as much as Wonderland does. You don't see walking yetis, or sentient gas clouds, or watch as over the years the powers and constant mutations lets you watch someone become a completely new person."
"Ah ah ah!" I shook a finger. "If you count the ghosts going through the castle, they may as well be sentient gas clouds, that have been around for centuries. Replace Yetis with giants, or centaurs. And we've seen students go from young little ones, to grown up wizards casting spells like experts."
Robin added in: "And don't tell me someone hasn't made an invisibility cloak or a marauder's map. Heck, a lot of students don't need brooms here to fly around!"
I snapped my fingers. "No Quidditch though."
"Is that really a bad thing?"
Dissent grumbled, and tried to drive it back on her point. "Those were not the kind of changes I was talking about."
"No?" I gulped. "You mean... More GSD? Or the sort?"
"Let me ask you this... would you say the you of grade school was the same 'you' who was in high school, before your manifestation?"
We glanced to each other, then shook our heads. "Of course not!"
She added in: "It's going to be much more of a drastic change by the time you're done here."
We gave another glance. "That much?"
She waved one hand, as she mixed a bit more with the other. "This isn't necessarily a bad thing. You're just exposed to much more than usual. You discover things about yourself. You change... It's just much greater here."
I hope so. I hope so, and for the best. It was a lot of things to think about. How we were going to change and grow. We were going to learn quite a few things in this school. That did remind me of another thing. I looked to Robin: "So you were talking about classes picked? You got to talk with Noelle?" I raised an eyebrow. "I take it you both got introduction to magic?"
Robin gave a nod once more. "Mmmn mmnn. Yeah. Kinda had to. Along with Basic Martial Arts." He frowned. "They were pretty damn adamant about that one."
"There is no one who gets out of BMA without damned good reason. You learn to enjoy it." Dissent smirked a little bit as she started to take some meat out of the bowl and put them on skewers. "Besides, what's the point of a new body if you're not going to learn to be awesome in it?"
"The point of not breaking it?" Robin said with a bit of a whince. "Don't exactly have a choice though. I mean, what's the point of martial arts when people have guns, let alone magic, energy blasts, or heat vision?"
I shrugged. "Hey, I need that class. I wanted to come here to learn how to take care of myself, defend myself." I crossed her arms. "It's the best starting point I got." I winced. "Wish I had more classes like it, really."
Dissent added in: "The point is that when people underestimate you and get cocky, that's when you prove instinct and reflexes can often overcome any two-bit idiot who relies on guns or magic like a crutch." I liked the sound of that bit.
Robin was a much less confident. "Riiiiiight. Because that's how things really work."
"Well it seems to work for me. You'd be surprised how many people think their powers or their guns are the only thing that matters."
Robin blinked. "More stories for later, I take it?" He snickered a bit. "Maybe a sleepover with all us freshmen, with you as our storyteller?"
I was grinning widely. "That's what I like to hear. And I bet everyone would like it! If you don't mind being with us..."
"Only if you all are comfortable with it. Don't feel obliged, just realize that one method of combat isn't everything. Sure, magic is useful. Martial arts are useful, guns are useful, powers are definitely useful. But when in doubt go with all of the above, because their bag of tricks doesn't matter when your bag is deeper."
I did like the idea of that one, and was about to add in, when I smelled a hint of smoke. "Erm..." I looked to the grill, but I realized I'd smelled all the spices coming from it. This one was much more sugary. I kept sniffing, until my nose led me to Robin's cup, and the whisp of smoke coming out. "Erm? Robin?" I could see him stir the content with his skewer absentmindedly. "What are you doing?" I even spotted a few sparks hop out.
"... That's a good question." Dissent's ears lowered a bit as she cautiously took a step back. "What is he doing?" Everything about her attitude suddenly changed, like she was waiting for something.
Robin paused, blinked, and looked down. "Er... GAH!" He stumbled for a moment, but kept on stirring, even when the sparks and smoke kept growing. "I-er-I'm not sure! Honestly! I-I didn't plan this!"
Dissent hissed. "Am I going to need to take that outside, or do you have it?" She wasn't making a move, but she was still slightly nervous.
"As long as I'm stirring, it's stable." Robin gulped. "I think." He gave a weak chuckle. "Problem with what I've got, really. Wouldn't be the first time."
I stared at the cup a bit more. It looked like fruit punch, really nothing more than fruit punch and stirring. But every time he completed a circle, a new set of smoke and sparks was let out. "Stable, you say? Doesn't exactly look like it, with the smoke and sparks." Was this how Robin's life was like now? "What happens if you stop stirring?"
"Well, the energy would go just about everywhere and go wild. Th-that's how they explained it to me." His eyebrows raised. "And trust me when I say you don't want want that going on. So stirring it is."
"... As long as you have control of it. I'd rather not have anything explode and get you into trouble the first day." Dissent's ears twitched a moment as she calmed down, and the tension dropped. "I can see why he'd need an Intro to Magic course. Especially if he goes into fugue states."
"You. Have. No idea." He mumbled, stirring still. "I should have known better. Should have noticed. God knows what this will do now." He was trying to stay composed, but he was blaming himself for what his power did, and it was clearly affecting him. He gulped, looking at the concoction. "Problem is, I don't know what exactly this will do either." He glanced to Dissent. "Can I have a hint of that marinade? No seeds, just the sauce."
"...I really shouldn't be enabling this." But the pale elf still reached over and got a small cup of the marinade out of the bowl, handing it over.
Robin nodded, and presented the cup. "Good, good. Just pour it in now!" He gulped, watching as the smoke dissipated, and the sparks seemed to remain within the liquid, as he kept spinning it around. "Hey, it's getting stable. That's what matters, right?"
Dissent seemed more curious by now as she raised an eyebrow. Well, it wasn't an eyebrow so much as bony scales that made an eyebrow. It was hard to notice, until she got in closer. "Mage? Though playing around with mundane chemical compositions with your fugue state makes me think you've got a hint of Devisor in you too."
"That's what the testers were saying." He mumbled, switching his stirring on the other way. "Definitively mage, maybe Devisor." He winced. "Thing is though, Devisors tend to have a hint of what they're doing. Usually, right?" He gulped. "I'm just going in blind, led by a hidden hand."
"Depends." Dissent noted. "Sometimes Devisors get a 'Big Idea' and they get carried away. Then nobody knows what they're up to and it gets really dangerous then. But if you don't know what you're doing... Yes. Intro to Magic. I highly recommend some chemistry classes before going into Organic Chemistry and Biochem. The more you understand about compositions and how things go together, the more likely you will end up realizing what you're doing."
He chuckled a bit. "Heh... Yeah. Yeah, already got those." He gulped. "In fact, I didn't exactly get much choices in classes. I'm going to need my face buried in books." He shook his head slightly. "Unless it's nose deep in test tubes."
Dissent nodded. "It's for your own safety as well as those around you."
It all seemed so overwhelming at times. I couldn't quite believe he could do that with just a cup of juice and a stick. "At least you'll be useful." But I bit my lips in regret as soon as I let the word out. Sure, he was special, but he was struggling to keep control. I didn't need to add in more weight because I couldn't do his shtick. "Ugh. What am I saying? Sorry."
The white elf nodded a bit, before backing up and returning to her work. "There's not much that can beat a devisor who lacks understanding of their works in dangerousness. But once clarity is achieved, then like Karen said... You'll be swimming in opportunity."
Robin smirked at least at that point. "Thanks. I just hope I get there, without melting faces, including mine."
I snickered a bit. "Lucky you."
"Though Karen is incorrect in assuming she won't have her own uses." Dissent noted.
"I didn't even say that!"
I could feel her rolling her eyes, even with her back turned to us. "But you sure meant it."
"I... Well... Yeah. Kinda." I sighed. "I won't exactly be useful in the future, compared to Robin, no offence. I mean, I might be handy, but I can't make potions like you can, Robin. And what am I going to do with classes History, English, Math, Home Economics and Costume making?"
"Gain an all around education so you don't leave this school an idiot? Besides, as a Class Six Regenerator you should have a photographic memory. Apply yourself and you'll be hitting up advanced courses in no time."
"Photographic Memory?" Robin blinked, and looked over at me in disbelief. "You have that?"
I made a bit of a face. "I-Yeah. We just found out. At-at least short term. We're still about to find out on long-term." I didn't exactly know what I had there.
Robin snerked. "And you call me good? Geez!" He looked over to Dissent again. "How quick do you think she'd go through textbooks? Learn different languages?"
That got Dissent to smirk back at me. "THAT depends on her reading comprehension and ability to piece information together, which surprise surprise: guess what they help teach you in class?"
"Ah-But-I... N-never thought of it that way." I'd just discovered it, and I'd been thinking all about those extra limbs now. But it was true. With a memory like that, studying should be easier. Languages? Math? History, of all things? Would that work?
Robin grinned, and elbowed me softly. "Look who was feeling useless a little while ago. You're going to be one heck of a girl."
Dissent smirked, turning back to us. "Nobody is useless here. Motivation and dedication can help see someone rise and become the shining star they see in everyone... And hell, you just have these opportunities at day one. Imagine what could happen if either of you realize there's abilities or powers yet to be tapped, like some people find out?" Me and Robin looked at each other, smirking, the future sounding better and better. "But enough of my prattling. Shoo. Shoo." She made a waving motion towards the two of us. "I've got more mouths to feed and you can always come to my room later if you want to hear me ramble on. Go and mingle, make friends."
I giggled softly, as we started to head off. "Okay. Okay. Will do! And you still have some stories to tell us! We'll see you later, okay?"
"And maybe sooner than you think, if things don't settle." He murmured as he kept stirring his little concoction, walking deeper in the party.
The dancing continued, people chatted, others were snuggling, and kissing in the corners where they thought they wouldn't be seen. I think I saw at least two groups in hero costumes gathered together in a circle, presumably talking strategy. But the two of us were simply walking along, weaving between people. He was completely focussed on his task, and I was watching him at work. "Is this always what happens when you make a potion?"
"Huh? What?" He blinked. "Oh. Oh no. Not always. Every time, it's different. Give me something to mix, and sooner or later..." He winced a bit. "And you saw me. I didn't even notice I was doing it, until you told me."
"True. True." I crossed my arms, pondering on what had happened. "I thought you just had some punch in that cup."
"It was! There wasn't anything else in there." He frowned. "Except maybe a bit of backwash." He shook his head. "But the process is more than just the ingredients, Karen. Everything around it matters." He rolled his eyes. "Or so they told me." He gave me one glanced, and figured out I didn't get it. "Look, the stirring stick, for example. That wooden skewer. If it hadn't been drenched in meat and sauce, we might have something completely different. Plastic cup, over one made of earth and clay. Even the people around us, the life of the party itself can be part of the process. It's why it's so unpredictable." I opened my mouth, but he cut me off. "And if you're about to mention that you don't see anyone else's drinks making smoke, I think there's a bit of myself in there, magically or something."
"And still no ideas what it can do, mn?" He shook his head, and I imagined what he must feel like. He'd shown us a literal flamethrower yesterday. Now, he was walking around with what might be a literal bomb, and he couldn't stop brewing. "Anything I can do to help?"
He gave me a smile. "Thanks. Just stick to my left, make sure no one bumps into me, I'll watch my other side. I think I'll get a good inhibitor by the snack table."
"Inhibitor?" I blinked.
He nodded. "It's a term used for a closing agent. The last ingredient to slow or stop a reaction." He rolled his eyes a bit. "It's like... Trying to put out a fire. Your water would be your inhibitor in that case. All you've got left are ashes, but you still stopped the fire." He looked at his newest brew. "Once I get the final ingredient, and stop the sparks, I think we can relax."
I pondered a little. "So are you looking for some Chemical X?"
He gave me a dumbfounded look. "Er-what?"
I giggled, as I points to the drink. "Sugar." I pointed to the kebab. "Spice." And then I waved to the party around us. "And everything nice." I grinned at him. "These are the ingredients used to create the perfect little girls."
There was a deadpan look in his eyes, but I could see the amusement in his smirk. "I'm no professor Utonium and I don't think I can handle those three. Heck, I don't think the dorm could handle those."
"Handle what?" We spun around, and there was Jessie, gently floating down back to the ground, two of her floaty balls under her ears, like they were earrings. She took a peek at Robin's drink, and raised an eyebrow. "Pop rocks and fruit juice? I didn't think it was literal 'pops'."
"Hi Jessie!" she was another happy sight to have around the dorm after so much time spent testing.
Her smile brightened even more as she opened her arms. "Hi Karen!" And in she came with a hug. "Where have you been?"
She was as light as a beach ball in my arms, and the hug was so welcome. "Mmmnn. Testing and orientation. You wouldn't believe how much I had to do!" I let her go, but she held onto my hand, floating like a balloon. "I'm just glad I didn't miss EVERYTHING." I waved to my fellow changeling. "Jessie, this is Robin. Robin, Jessie."
"Hey there. It's a pleasure." Robin let out. "I'd shake your hand, but they're kinda full right now." He said, as he kept stirring.
"I... See..." She blinked a little at him. "A pleasure too." She then leaned over at me, clearly confused. "I... She's looking... I mean, she's cute and all, but-"
"He." I corrected her. "Robin was with us yesterday."
Her eyes widened in realisation for a moment, before she dug in for her answers: "So you were a...?"
"Girl." He noted.
"Huh huh? and now, you're a boy?"
He sighed, clearly showing this wasn't the first time he'd said it: "Going to be a boy soon. So they say. Almost there." He wasn't exactly comfortable admitting it still, by the look of it. I reached up, squeezing his shoulder slightly. That did get him to quirk a smile.
Jessie winced, and put a hand over her lips. "Ooohhh. Sorry. I couldn't... I mean, you're real pretty for a boy. Love the vest."
"Why thank you. I thought it'd fit right in tonight." Finally, a genuine smile. He took in a deep breaths. "Now, if you ladies would follow me..."
Jessie didn't exactly have a choice in the matter, as I pulled her along in the air. She didn't seem to mind one bit. "So where are we going, oh Candyman?"
"To a land of pure imagination." He sang softly. "Or at least to the snacks. I think I saw some chocolate there."
Jessie gave us a look, and I explained to her everything Robin had to go through. Well, I tried to explain it to her. It wasn't like I knew any more than Robin did, and when she still looked at me like she was lost, all I could do was shrug, and follow along. We were going to find out soon enough.
As we went through the party, I took in the sights. There were so many incredible, beautiful people around. Each one of them with their own power. Each one of them with their own stories. Each one smiling, and having fun. I could see though, that I was real late. Groups were already forming, people were coming together, and as the music changed to a slow, romantic tune, couples were brought together, and you could see the love in everyone's faces. A part of me wished I had someone like that in my arms, and my thoughts went back to Lauren. How I wished I could have had one dance with her. I'd just have to remind myself to email her before going to bed.
As I looked around, I spotted Marcie, who was pretty much scampering in and out of the dance floor with a mischievous glimmer in her eyes. She was looking like she wanted to take the pants off someone, with a crop top that looked like it was going to slip off the moment she swung the wrong way. She was reaching out to one of the wallflowers, and with only a few words, pulled them in the middle of the floor for a dance.
One minute after, I'd barely looked away for a moment, I spotted her with a new girl in her arms, swaying to the beat. I doublechecked on Robin, then took another glance, and I could see Marcie with yet another one in her arms, a boy this time. "What the...?" Another couple passed between her and me, and suddenly, she was pulling a different girl in again. "What is she doing?" She was swapping partners way too quickly for it to be normal!
"Doing what?" Jessie asked curiously, and when I pointed out what Marcie was doing, she giggled at me. "Oh, she's been doing that all evening long. Just watch, and focus on her partners."
One more glance, and I knew she'd already swapped partners again. It wouldn't be long until-yup. She'd swapped partners again, and the poor hopeful soul she'd dropped... Already had someone else? I checked back on our flirty girl again, and just as she was about done with the next one, she'd slipped by their side, and nudged her in front of another girl. A beat had barely passed, and the two were already holding each other close.
"She's been playing matchmaker all evening, maybe even all day," Jessie explained. "She says she has a knack for finding couples, a little bit of her power at work."
"It..." I blinked. "It can't be that easy, is it? I mean, people don't just fall in love like this, right?"
"Seems to be that way for her." Jessie shrugged, the motion a little awkward in mid-air. "She said she was some kind of esper? Like she can feel what others feel? You've got me there." She grinned. "Besides, this is the first time we're in a dorm you know there's plenty of lesbians to be had. You have to give it a chance!" She did have a point there. Just taking a look around the room, and I knew there were more than a few girls I'd like to know better. But would they like me? I had no ideas.
Robin just shook his head. "In any case, it sounds like it's only good as far as flirting goes. If it goes anywhere from that point on, it'll be up to the couples." He sighed. "That girl's just trying to be an ice breaker."
I snickerred. "Sounds like it."
As soon as the word 'ice' came to mind though, I took another glance where Noelle was, and sure enough, she was still surrounded, dancing with some of the beauties of the dorm. She'd be real popular, really quickly, no doubts about it. If I had to guess, I wouldn't get to talk to her before curfew. By then, I had to bet she'd have quite a few stories to tell herself.
But as I looked, I also saw Natalie in the corner, arms crossed, and scanning around the room. She hadn't hulked out yet, but I certainly wasn't about to forget that part of her. She didn't seem all that comfortable, even with the ambiance of the place. I wonderred why for a moment, until we were about to make eye contact, and I quickly looked away...
Right at a pair of perky white bunny ears. "Er..." And I slowly looked down, to a slightly pudgy, but cute face, draped in long blond hair, eyes locked on my chest.
"Why hello there. I don't think I've seen you two before at this party, you're quite lovely," her eyes finally looked up at me, and she continued in her perky voice. "And, oh! Hello too! I remember you, you're a little late, but that's fine, because it's in fashion, or so the cool people say so, and all the cool people must be right, it's a law of reality and TV and whatever you see on TV has got to be right, and-"
"Er-Hello?" I tried to put a word in, and-
"Hello, hello, hello! Heehee. Oh, wait, that's three hellos too many. oh well, you can't have too many greetings," The slightly pudgy, but cute girl bounced on her heels cheerfully, her chest and ears bouncing with her excitement. "I heard about you from the showers, and I didn't get to see, but they told me you were special, and you might be fun, and maybe icky, but you're not icky at all, you're pretty cute, and we can all use more cutesies, and-"
Jessie groaned. "Juliiiiieeee."
"OH! Jessie-ni-ni!" Julie, the bunnygirl, hopped over to Jessie. "You're still playing balloon, and that's so neat, and nice, and you must get a nice view from there, but you have to be careful with the wind, or you'll float away, so you have to keep a good hold, like this, and-"
Julie grabbed onto Jessie's free hand, but in her excitement, hadn't stopped bouncing, causing Jessie to wave up and down like a flag in the air. "WOAH-WOAH-WOAH-WOAH!" Robin backed away nervously, but I held on to Jessie's other hand.
"See! See! It's so much fun like this, and we can keep you here, and safe, and bouncy, and floaty, and have all sorts of fun in the air, and oh gosh, you're really bouncy, like a beach ball, and beaches are fun, and we can have a good time, and-Oh! Hi Marcie!"
In the midst of all the rapid-fire chatter that had been tossed our way, Marcie had sneaked around, and pulled on Julie's collar, dragging her to the dance floor, with a sympathetic look on her face. "Sorry, I'll get her out of your hair right away. Come on, silly bunny, off we go!"
The rambling continued, and faded away behind the music. Jessie was slowly spinning upside down, obviously in a total daze. I gave her a soft shake. "Jessie? Are you okay?"
"Y-Yes? D-did a hurricane pass? C-can anyone point me to the ground? I want off this riiide, mama!"
I pulled her in my arms, and as I flicked away the two bubbles at her ears, she just about fell on me. "Eep!"
"OOoohhh." She clung onto me closely, as she tried to regain her bearings. "I... Oh gosh, you don't miss gravity until you really need it."
"There. There. You'll be all right." I patted her softly on the back, as I looked back at the dance floor. "What was that all about?"
"That would be Julie." Jessie nodded. "Marcie's roommate. Ooogh. They think she might be an energiser, but she's... Ooohhh... Something with electronics." She shook her head softly. "I think nobody could keep up with her after a while. Marcie was the only one willing to room with her." She finally looked up to me again. "Care to wonder why?"
"Why no one would room with her?" I gulped. "A non-existent attention span, and enough energy to put my little sister on caffeine and sugar to shame?... Or did you mean why would Marcie room with her in the first place?"
"That..." Jessie blinked. "That second one's a good question."
"Maybe you two should ask her yourself someday, mn?" Robin noted. "She probably knows better at this point." He gave a bit of a nod. "Come on then. My wrists are starting to get real tired at this point, and I'm afraid I'm going to need your hands on this one."
"Aie aie, captain." We giggled, and kept going.
Thankfully, we didn't have that far to go, and Robin went straight for the bowl of candy-coated chocolates. "All right. Karen? Could you grab me some of those, and crush them into a fine dust? Candy and all?"
"Sure," I grabbed a handful of the sweets. "Sounds easy enough."
"... And make sure to take out the red ones."
Robin shrugged. "You heard me. Take out the red ones. The rest are fine, but the red ones need to go." I looked down at the handful, then up to him. "I'm being serious here! Don't ask me why, but they just feel wrong. Do you want this to explode in my face?"
I just looked at him in disbelief, and shook my head. "Oooookay then. You're the alchemist! It's weird, but you're the boss." Which is about when Jessie snatched one, and popped it in her mouth. "Hey!"
"What? If they're not going in, might as well not waste them."
"Eh. Good point." To which I picked out another red one, and flicked it in my mouth. "By the way, have either of you had to pick a part-time job too?"
Jessie shrugged, chomping on another three red pieces. "Daddy's paying for everything as far as I know."
Robin grumbled lowly. "And I don't need to either. Why do you ask? Did you get roped into one?"
I took in a deep breath. "Yeah. There's only so much I can do. We barely got to pay for the tuition. Anything extra, I'm going to have to earn. Heck, I'm already going to have to borrow some of Noelle's books if it means I won't have to buy one." I made a bit of a face. "I just wish I didn't get the job I was assigned."
Robin raised an eyebrow curiously. "How bad is it?"
I nommed on a bit more of that sweet chocolate, trying to shake off the bitterness of the news. "I got assigned as a janitor."
They both winced. "Oh yeah. That's gotta stuck. Cleaning floors, and toilets all day long?"
"That's what they said," I groaned. "I start tomorrow evening, in Hawthorne."
That bit got both of them to shudder. "In the 'Danger house'? Seriously?"
"I know! I know! What was I supposed to say?" With the red candies gone, I started crushing the chocolates on the table, hoping it wouldn't stick to my hands. "I was so late, that all the good jobs that weren't already taken by those staying from last year, got taken by 'more qualified' students." I waved a hand. "Like someone who can fly for window washing." I groaned softly. "What's worse, is that I asked, I begged them to give me an open spot in the kitchen, but they said I couldn't do that."
Jessie tilted her head. "You can cook?"
I nodded softly. "Huh huh. I already was helping Abbey in the kitchen before my mutation, and I've spent all summer inside our home. So when Dad and Abbey worked, someone might as well make the meals when they come back. Watched a few cooking shows, and I tried it out. It was fun, really."
"So if you've got some experience," Robin asked. "Why didn't they let you take the job? No open spots?"
"No. There were some open spots. They said I couldn't do it, because I qualified as a regen 6, and that made me unsuitable for kitchen work."
They looked the same way I had when my counselor told me that. "Okay, why does that make you 'unsuitable'? You just heal quickly."
I was still grumbling and still fuming over the fact. "Because they say any blood, saliva, or any trace amount of 'me' is considered bio-hazard material. that if it got into the food, from something like a cut, it'd put the whole student body at risk. They told me to look up 'aggressive regen cell theory' to see 'the horrors' I could inflict on people."
Jessie gulped. "That's... That's so..."
"Impossible." We both turned to Robin. "I mean, even if your cells were biohazard, you said it yourself, you don't lose any traces of your body. Even if you bled, it would just come back to you. You're not containing anything."
I rose my hands in the air. "That's what I told them! I even had the medical file to back it up. They couldn't get even a scrap of DNA off from me, but noooooo. They said if any health inspectors came in there, and saw there was a high regen student, they'd have the whole kitchen shut down, and they couldn't have that." I sighed. "So the all mighty counselor decided I'd be safer scrubbing toilets, like the morbidly dangerous biohazard would be faster down the drain."
Robin shook his head. "Maybe you should see Dissent or Catherine about that. I'm sure it can be overturned. You've got enough evidence for it."
"I hope so... There." I scooped the pile of chocolate dust in my palm. "Is that good enough?"
Robin smirked. "It's perfect." He presented the cup. "Just pour it in. Slowly! Slowly. There we gooooo..."
As I finished pouring in, the sparks were replaced by a soft yellow glow coming from the swirling formula inside the cup. I could feel warmth coming from it. Robin finally got to stop stirring the whole thing, and tapped the stick on the lid.
"There." Robin mumbled. "It's done."
"Ooohhh." Jessie leaned over closely. "Glowy. So what DOES it do?"
He shrugged. "Who knows?"
"How do we find out? Do we take a sip?"
His eyes opened wide in fear. "Oh no. Oh nooooo. You don't ever, EVER take a blind sip of a potion. The results could be disastrous! What if you swallowed something, and it became a big ball of fire?"
I gulped. "Heartburn of the century?"
"That's why I'm finding a lid for this thing, sealing it, and bringing it to the-"
Suddenly, there was a huge *BOOM!* filling the room, and I almost heard Robin's scream over the ringing in my ears, as he leapt in surprise, and the glowing liquid sailed out of the cup...
By the time I could hear anything again, the DJ was calling out: "A reminder for everyone on the floor: please keep the energizers away from the audio equipment. They are very, very sensitive. Thank you."
Jessie groaned, rubbing her ears. "Ow.. Ow... Well, that explains that."
Robin didn't seem that concerned about the sound. In fact, he looked real shocked. "Karen? Karen?" He took in a deep breath. "Stay calm now. How... How do you feel?"
"Pffth. I... I feel fine." I gulped. Jessie glanced at me, and gasphed. I had a good idea why. A third of Robin's new potion had just flown out, and splashed all over my face and shirt. One quick glance, and I could see my shirt had a few blotches of that yellow glow. "It feels real warm, but..." I wiped my lips dry on my wrist. "I'm-I'm alright."
He set down the cup on the tale, and looked at me in the eyes. "You're not hurting at least? Any weird feelings otherwise? Tingles?" He waved two fingers in front of my face. "Can you follow my hand?"
I snickered, and grabbed his hand. "Now you're just being silly. I told you, I'm okay." I even giggled. "In fact, I feel even more than okay!" The warmth I was feeling was growing more and more, even penetrating inside. "Hehehe. Oh! Oh, there's the tingles! Oh-oh my gosh! Oh, this feels real good!"
Robin gulped. "The magic's kicking in. Just don't panic. Everything will be okay."
"Why would I panic? In fact, I feel better than ever!" I could feel my worries melting away as I stretched my arms wide, and I could feel little tingles inside my chest. "Hehehehe. I feel like... I feel like I..." The speakers finally kicked in the next tune, and I was feeling the beat all over me. I had to tap my feet to the beat.
Jessie glanced over at Robin. "Er... Is it just me, or is she...?"
"Getting a tan?" Robin nodded. "I think so."
"A tan? What?" I looked at my arm, and I could see that I was getting a bit of that bronzed color over my skin. "Wha-whaaaat? Heehee! But that can't be!" But even in my disbelief, a little thrill came up through me. "I've been locked inside most of the summer!"
"One look at your face now, and I never would have guessed that." Robin sighed, putting a hand on his chin. "Fruit juice, mostly pineapple, add in some spicy sauce, chocolate... Plenty of energy, along with that glow..." He glanced over to Jessie. "I think I might have just put a little sunshine in a cup. I doubt it'll last too long. I think. Maybe."
Jessie giggled along. "Well, it certainly put a little glow in her. Feeling mighty peppy?"
Before I'd realized it, I was already bouncing to the rhythm, stepping side to side, swaying my hips to the crowd, and really happy to just go with the music. "Heehee! Well, whatever it is, it feels GREAT!" And with that giggle, I took Jessie, and dragged her right to the dance floor. "Come on, it's our night! Let's have some fun!
With all my troubles tossed over my shoulder, and a new burst of energy flowing through me, I got to enjoy the last few hours of the party for all I could, dragging Jessie along the way. A lot of it turned into a blur, but eventually the sunshine did fade off, and I just had enough energy left in me to send my email to Lauren for the day. Everything felt so nice. Sure, there were some bumps in the road, but everyone here had been real nice, and supportive. After so much time at home, alone, I really needed that party. I got to see so many wonderful people, and although I was really nervous at first when I arrived...
I was really looking forward to the next few years.
It was the first day of classes, and things had started at a pretty mellow pace. History had been different. at first, I thought it'd be real special, since there was the promise of learning about mutants in history, rather than just the mundane stuff, but it didn't last long, before the teacher droned on and on and on. I had a pretty good memory, but it didn't help when even the memories put you to sleep. Maybe reading the textbook would help me a lot more to pass this one.
Power Theory was a lot more interesting. It was only the introduction, of course, but we would soon learn about all sorts of mutant powers, and how they worked. All the terms, what they meant, what was part of a package and what they could do. I was much more excited for that one. There was no way I'd fall asleep for it. The lab that came with it was going to be just as exciting.
Home economics felt like a breeze to me. Sure, we were only getting introduced, but considering what I was already doing at home, I thought I had this one in the bag. But it was going to be my one chance to actually do some cooking, and maybe that was my chance to get along with some of the other students, maybe show the ropes to those who didn't know better. As expected, most of that class was filled with girls, and I certainly wasn't complaining about it. The teacher also mentioned that we'd see if some powers wouldn't help with the task at hands, or dealing with issues, like temperature sensitivity.
But it was after lunch, in costume class, that I got the biggest surprise of all.
After making sure I had the right classroom, I walked in, and looked around. The chalkboard showed we were in the right classroom, in bright colored letters. The back seats were already starting to fill in. I could even see Natalie sulking by the side, her back to the wall. I noted to give that side a wide berth, but I was lucky enough to see that Marcie and Robin had also taken the same class. I was happy to snatch a seat next to them, waving merrily to the two. "Hey there! Fancy meeting you here!"
Robin snickered softly. At least he seemed more like the usual boys with the formal uniform on. "Real funny. Come on, grab a seat. This one might actually be fun."
Marcie was spinning her pencil in her fingers playfully. "That's right. I heard they have all sorts of materials and machines we can use out here."
I'd barely taken my seat, when I saw 'Him' walk through the door.
I just froze.
He looked confident and sure of himself. His eyes were sharp, always looking for something to catch his sight. He wasn't like many of the exemplar boys I'd seen, but he'd obviously been working out during the summer.
My eyes locked on him as he looked around the class, took a glance at the chalkboard, and smiled as he made his way for one of the desks. My heart stopped beating for a moment. I might have stopped breathing too. I couldn't believe it. I didn't know how to feel. I must have been hallucinating. Robin might have been speaking to me, but I had zoned him out.
'He' ran his hand back through his spiked hair, as he walked in closer, and he looked right at me.
My heart finally jump started with my nervousness, and I pulled away from him in reflex, and suddenly my whole world tilted sideways. "WO-WOAH!" And I just crashed to the floor, between rows. "Ow..."
When I pushed myself up on my elbows, he was leaning closer to me, smirking. "Woah. Gotta be more careful, you know?"
I stared at him, and I couldn't figure it out. It didn't make any sense.
I just kept asking myself.
What's he doing here?
He gave me that impish grin of his, reached out with one hand. "Hey there. My name's Zack."
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What is he doing here?
The question kept echoing in my head since I'd seen Zack's face. The sly, plotting look in his eyes, the black spiked hair showing his boundless energy, and a grin that the Devil would have envied. He was right there, and memories of him flashed back in my head.
A few months ago, back at the locker room at school, when our team had finished practice. He cackled with glee. "Heeheeheeheeeeeh! Sweet!" He pointed at me. "You asked for it, Kyle! Next one. POW! Right in the kisser! That'll prove you can take it like a man!"
Then back at the bus, when Josh was holding me up against the back wall, he was right beside him, shrugging. "I bet he just enjoys women's underwear so much, he just HAD to try it for himself." He cackled again, his laugh echoing, as my memory flashed back to when he left the bus. He was waving away, laughing at my pain. "Bye bye, girly guy!"
The next memory had us in a bathroom at school with him sitting back on the counter, camera in hand as he taunted me. "But then I have to ask myself: how bad does a guy want to get beat up, when he has to step up from underwear, to makeup." Then moments later he pulled the straps of my bra. "Besides, you're still wearing this thing? Seems you haven't learned your lesson."
Then back at the mall, he was showing off to Owen and Lauren, not knowing I was at the same table. "Then I saw you and decided to check up on the three musketeers... Well, minus one."
And later, that night, when the trunk opened and the first sight that greeted me was that same grinning face. "Heeheeheeee! Yup! That's Kyle all right. No mistake about it." He knew. I didn't know how he did, but he knew. "All the miracles and horrors of plastic surgery all rolled into one shitty package."
He knew about me. He knew about Kyle. He knew what was going on. He'd seen me that night. He knew who I was. He was with all those mutant haters. He taunted me, tormented me about the changes I was going through.
He was part of why our family had moved away. That we had to leave everything we were familiar with. He had done his damnedest to ruin my life. He almost killed me! He was supposed to be out of my hair, out of my way and out of my life entirely!
So why? Why is he here?
The codename snapped me back to reality just in time for me to notice a pair of fingers smack me on the middle of my forehead. "OW!" Laughter echoed around me as I got my bearings. I was at the gymnasium. The floor covered in training mats and a whole bunch of us were paired up. It was the last class of the day and maybe the most important one for me: Basic Martial Arts. Costume class was over, two periods ago but I couldn’t get over meeting my old classmate.
"Glad to see you could rejoin us, Evershade-san." By my side stood a short old japanese man you could believe was related to Mr Miyagi, and he did not look pleased. He was our martial arts teacher, Tatsuo Ito. Uh oh. I was in trouble. He needed only a single glance around the room for the laughter to die down before he focused on me again. "Is my class boring you?"
Gulping, I stood up straight, and let out clearly. "N-no, Coach!" There were those giggles again. "I-I mean, no, Ito-sensei." That was an old habit I was going to have to fix.
"Hrmph. Better. At least I know you were paying attention some of the time." I couldn’t help but let out a whimper, and I swore there was a hint of a smirk on his face.
The man was short, but from the moment he'd made his demonstration, Ito had proven why he was the teacher around here, and we were the mere students. During his introduction, he'd called forward one of the strongest freshmen on campus, one I swore would have pulverised the teacher into a fine paste. I heard the two guys besides me claim he flew at the train station, with the front half of a broken car over his shoulders as he pulled it along. He was built like a movie star and they said he was a ‘PK Superman’, whatever that meant. He could have sneezed and Ito should have been plastered on the wall. But for that to happen, he would have needed an opening, and that chance never came. It wasn't even a contest! The asian man didn't even break a sweat as he seamlessly twisted around the student’s blows, turning them against him! The guy even tried to fly at the teacher, and the end result was the student on his back against the mat. Within two minutes of combat, the short man had the big guy begging and pleading for the pain in his arm to end.
And he was a baseline? It was all training? With hard work, even we could reach that kind of level? At the time, I thought it was awesome that he was going to teach us...
What was much less awesome however, was being the centre of his attention. "Can you explain to me why you were not responding when you were being called up?"
I didn't respond? Really? One nervous glance to the other students and it was obvious he was right. "S-sorry, sensei. I've had a lot on my mind recently." Maybe honesty was the best policy here.
"I see." His anger faded a bit. "I do understand that this is a new change for young minds like yourselves. You have many things to discover, and adapt to. It's a lot to take in. However," His brow furrowed back to discipline. "This is not the time to be daydreaming, Evershade-san. In my dojo, you will give your full attention to the lesson. At all times. A lapse in concentration may be an opening for someone to finish you off, and this training may save your life." He pointed a finger at me. "The next time I catch you with your head in the clouds, Evershade-san, there will be consequences."
I gulped, and stayed still. "Yes, Ito-sensei. It won't happen again!"
"Good." He nodded sternly. "Now then, here is your sparring partner. Next-san? Come over."
We were joined by a slightly tomboy-ish girl: a blonde with short hair, slightly thick all around, a small chest and narrower waist. She wasn't anywhere near the look of the exemplar students, but she had a very cute smile. Even more so with those freckles and that blush. She looked like some of the normal girls from my hometown, and in this campus that little bit of familiarity was welcome. But she was definitely a mutant, her reflective golden eyes being a telltale sign. She reached out to me. "I'm Allison. Nice meeting you."
I could at least smile at her without fear of tripping over my own tongue. "I'm Karen. Nice meeting you too."
She did give me a curious glance, studying my face. "Does this happen often? Spacing out like that?"
"N-no!" Erk. Not even a minute, and she thinks I'm mentally damaged. "I-er-It's been a stressful day so far. Heheh..." It was so embarrassing to have been caught like that. At least she looked amused.
"It is pretty bad, isn't it? A whole new place, new classes, new people," she gave a glance to Ito-sensei. "New teachers who give demonstrations on how much they can kick your rear end."
"Yeah." I groaned. "That's the kind of thing that would have gotten a teacher fired at my old school. He's been here how long again?"
"I think if we ask around, the common answer will be 'too long'."
We both giggled before Ito-sensei called out for our attention, and after that last speech I wasn't about to fail him again. Okay, Karen. You can do this. Just pay attention, and don't think about... Him...
-A few hours before...-
"My name is Zack."
There he was, leaning over me, one hand presented as he gave that same amused smile that had haunted me among with those other horrible memories. It triggered a whole flood of images rushing through my head as the horrors returned. Reaching out for his offered hand would require me to deny the nightmare I’d lived through. I couldn’t.
How could he be here? He was a mutant-hating thug! Him, Josh and the gang almost killed me! How could he be at mutant school?
He can't be here. He just can't! I must be hallucinating! I must be crazy! It must be another student's power, right? If I just close my eyes tightly, think happy thoughts, and look again, he's going to be gone, right?
But he wasn't gone. Not at all. He was even waving his hand in front of my face, as if to spit on my claim of his non-existence. "Woo hoo!" He leaned in a bit closer. "Huh. Looks like she's broken."
I pushed away from him, propping myself up in a sitting position, my eyes locked on his. I had to think of something to say. He hadn't recognized me. Maybe I had a chance to stay under his radar. I forced a trembling smile, and tried to be a bit more casual. "Ha-hi. Sorry, my name's Karen, and-and-How are you today? Beautiful d-d-day, isn't it? Great way to... stare glasses, I mean, steal bases-start classes, and... Erm..." Even I could tell I was coming apart at the seams. I just clammed up before I let out something I would regret.
He just chuckled, shaking his head. "God, that's adorable. Heehee." He studied me from head to toes, rubbing his chin. "So shy... Maybe..." He held his hand out again, and I just gulped, staring at it. "Aw, come on, I won't bite." I knew he wasn't going to bite, but I also knew what he could really do.
I squeaked as I felt a hand on my shoulder. Looking up I saw Robin's worried face. "Are you okay?"
I wasn't okay. I knew I wasn't okay. If my lips could have moved, if I wasn't trying to keep some kind of poker face, I might have screamed it.
Then Marcie came in from the side, smiling a bit embarrassed at Zack. "Sorry, but she's had a really bad day and still adjusting to everything." She brought her hands together. "It's the first day, she's meeting a lot of new people, and it's all been really overwhelming. It's a minor episode, you see?" She shook her head. "We're from Poe."
"Aaaahhh." Zack raised an eyebrow. "The Loony bi-That place, and you're... Geez, no kidding. That explains it." He patted my leg in a friendly manner. "Hey, you'll get better in no time. Everybody's in the same boat. Just relaaaaaax!"
"Come on, girl." Marcie took my hand, and pulled me back up on my quaking legs. As she did, she whispered in my ear: "You take my seat. Stick by Robin. I'll keep him distracted. Okay?" The choking hold around my chest finally loosened a little, and I gave her a nod. With a smirk on her face, she winked slyly, and turned back to my returning nightmare. "And you said your name was Zack, right? I'm Marcie."
"Quite right." His focus shifted to her, as he shook her hand. "And it's a pleasure, cutie. In fact..." He pulled out his camera, the same one from the mall. "Would you mind if I took a quick picture? Immortalise the first day?"
As Marcie made a pose with peace signs, I took her seat, and simply rested my head in the palm of my hands. The reality still chilled me to the bone. Robin turned back to face me. "Again, seriously, are you okay?"
My lips sealed up and I braced myself as I shook my head slowly.
His face twisted in concern. He glanced at my old nemesis, then back to me. "Want to tell me what's wrong?"
I heard Zack snicker by our side, and I shook my head. Not here. Not with him around. "N-n-not right now." I tried to steady myself. Robin was concerned. He was trying to help. "Later though."
Understanding, he nodded. "Okay." He reached out, and took my hand, squeezing a bit. "We're here for you."
It may have sounded cheesy, but it did feel good to hear that. He knew me. He had my side. It was enough to pull a small smile, as I put my hand over his and squeezed tightly. "Thank you."
The bell rang, and the teacher called for our attention, but it wasn't long before I thought back of Zack. How that creep exposed me. Mocked me. I still couldn't believe he was sitting right there. He's a goddamned mutant-hater! How can he be a mutant too, and live with himself? How can he just smile like that when he knows we're all mutants? Him and his friends tried to kill me!
That's when it dawned on me. His friends. Josh, Luke and the others. Are they here too? Am I going to have to watch out around every corners for them? What did Lauren and Owen tell me? They had all disappeared without a trace, just like me. There might be a chance... I put a hand on my forehead. Or what if he's the reason they disappeared too? They all turned on him, and he defended himself? Or worse?
That line of thoughts brought in another big question. If he's a mutant, what can he do? What's his power? As I looked at him, it certainly wasn't obvious. He didn't have any GSD, and if he did have anything, he wasn't showing it. But what other kind of power can he have? What will he pull out from his sleeve? He never showed anything before. How dangerous is he? The questions just gnawed at my mind constantly.
I looked at him, chatting away with Marcie, and the memories came flooding back again, along with all the pain I'd suffered. I clutched my chest right where I'd been stabbed through. It'd been months, but it still felt fresh in my mind.
Why him? Why, out of all the people in the world, is he the one to be here? What is he hoping to do?
Is he going to drag my life through Hell again?
Every questions I asked myself brought up a new one, and Zack was sticking in my mind for a while.
"What-WOAH!" I barely snapped back to reality in time for my feet to lift off the ground, the whole world to spin around me, before my back slammed right back down on the mat. "ACK! Oooooowwww."
The martial arts teacher looked down at me in a disappointed, angry frown on his face. "Back to us once more, Evershade-san?" He was holding one of my arms with a solid grip.
I blinked, thinking back on what just happened. "Oh god," and I groaned, putting my free hand to my face. "Did it happen again?"
"Yes." Ito-sensei took in a deep breath, gathering all the patience he had gathered through the years. "Will this be a repeating occurrence with you, Evershade-chan?"
"No. I-I don't even know. This never really happened before. It's totally new!" I just groaned again, as he helped me up. "I'm so sorry."
"If you are sorry, then work on it so it doesn't happen again. Especially in my class." His frown made sure I knew how serious he was. "Yes, we will train you into martial arts, and maneuvers, but more importantly, we teach you to think strategically at all times. To be prepared for combat, and come out of it in one piece. For that, you need to be focussed on your lessons now. Very important." He shook his head at me. "If you keep having these episodes, Evershade-san, you will not only fail this class, but you'll have made yourself an easy target!"
"I get it!" I winced. "I get it!" I got the point, but he didn't have to say it loud enough so the whole class heard it. He was painting me as a target all on his own right there. "I'm just having trouble clearing my head up right now. I'll be ready next time!"
"Good. Good." He then had a certain clever smile on his face. "Otherwise, I will have to find ways to motivate you, Evershade-san." I felt a cold shiver run up my spine. If he was half as creative as Bowie was, then I had trouble coming my way. Wait. No. He was probably even craftier than she was and he had a badass certificate matching Bruce Lee's.
"But that will have to wait until tomorrow." He clapped his hands, catching everyone's attention. "Class. Positions."
The more experienced students immediately took their places outside the mat and the rest of us followed, setting up in three rows, sitting in the seiza style he'd instructed us previously. It was a bit uncomfortable, but if it was tradition, so be it. Tolman-sensei, a tall black woman working as Ito's assistant teacher, sat next to him while he stayed up, nodding in satisfaction. "Good. Today was simply an introduction to the material we will cover during the semester, along with an evaluation of your skills and capacities. The stances we have introduced today," he displayed his point by showing them once more. "... will be the foundation of any good martial art, and we will go over them in more depth tomorrow. Make sure to practice and keep them in mind at all times." His stance shifted back straight, hands to his back. "As a reminder, tomorrow you will all come in dressed in your Gi, so do not forget them. We will only be discussing it the day after tomorrow, but I recommend you read the introduction chapter of your reading material." he nodded before the hands went up. "Yes, this may be a martial arts class, but there will still be reading assignments." And the dejected hands fell back down. "As a final reminder, if you are not happy with the way this class is conducted, there are regular gym classes available, and you can contact your counselor to make the change before the end of the week. Any later, and you will get an automatic fail for this class.
"With that said, we have just enough time to assign lockers. The boys come with me, while the girls will be assisted by Sensei Tolman. After that, the remaining time is yours. With this, I do expect to see you all tomorrow."
With that, the class broke off to each side of the gym, and a sense of dread filled the pit of my stomach. We were about to enter the girl's locker room: another no-man's land. Since this was just the introduction class, a lot of us didn't get to change, but now this was the real deal. Just one glance around, and I knew that in mere moments, I was going to be in the changing room with all these girls. A small part of me was jumping with joy and excitement, like I was going to take part of a previously forbidden fruit.
But another part reminded me that I was going to be undressing with them too. One peek from any of these girls, and they'd know I wasn’t completely female. Unlike Poe, these girls didn't know I was intersexed. We didn't have some kind of secret alliance. I'd be busted in no time! Just the thought brought back flashes of my last days of school back to mind, and the terror that followed it sent a shiver up my spine. I couldn't allow myself to be found out.
As Tolman-Sensei handed out locks and locker numbers, I braced myself. I'd thought about this before. I'd made plans. I knew it was going to happen sooner or later. I just had to be careful. I felt like at the start of a big match. You have a game plan, you know what you have to do and you've even practiced, but you still have butterflies in your stomach. You still had to perform and all those uncertainties stirring inside popped in your head. Add in with this the awkwardness I had in Poe's showers, and I had a formula for the shakes.
As I was having an inner crisis, I felt a soft pat on my back. "Earth to Karen. Earth to Karen. You're still with us?" I turned, and there was Jessie, one eyebrow raised curiously. Seeing she'd gotten my attention, she made that happy smile of hers that made my heart pump rapidly. "I was worried we'd lost you to space again."
I gave a soft sigh. "I'm not going to live that one down anytime soon, am I?"
"Oh, don't worry," she winked playfully. "The year's only just begun. There'll be others." She poked my tender side. "Just keep your feet on the ground, and you'll be fine."
"Hehe. Good tip. Though it's funny that it's coming from miss 'look at me, I'm on the moon'!" I just had to tickle her after that one and she didn't hesitate to return the favor.
"Hehehehe! Is that so, miss Space Case?" We both started giggling, until the other girls looked at the two of us skeptically. The laugher might have died, but we couldn’t stop smiling.
It might have been silly, but I really needed that little bit of cheering up. Jessie seemed to have a way to just pick-up my mood by her presence alone. By the time Tolman called me up, I still had a smile on my face. I felt so confident. I just have to go for it. No one will notice just one girl, right? I just have to stick to the plan. I can do it!
With lock and number in hand, I walked in, coming face to face with a roomful of girls, some already in various state of undress. I'd set foot in forbidden lands, where girls didn't mind shedding clothes down to their undies together. I even saw Julie literally hop across the room, completely naked and free. It was the Poe shower all over again, except these girls might not be so friendly about staring. That's when my confidence started to buckle in. It would have been a wonderful thing to see, if I didn't remind myself I might need a cold bucket of water thrown over my head. Welcome to the Cave of Wonders, Karen. Remember: don't touch anything. Especially the magic lamp.
I really tried not to stare at anyone as I walked around the rows of lockers. Just thinking about what was happening around me was starting to build up some pressure down there, and I couldn't afford to pop a tent now. Girls in underwear, girls dressing down and girls in towels just about to shower. The mental images just poured fuel on the fire. I had to think about something else. Baseball always worked. I just had to focus on that. Bases, baseballs and bats. That seemed to work until I though of the locker rooms after baseball practice, which led back to ‘this’ locker room and back to babes in locker rooms. I'd gone full circle. Baseball wasn't cutting it. Maybe the thoughts of a mighty cold, freezing shower would help.
As I heard the bunnygirl sing from the direction of said showers, I took the opportunity to take one quick peek that way. I did get a bit of relief: at least there were stalls there. Had the showers been fully open, I would have needed a miracle to get out of there alive on my own. Thankfully, I could stick to plan A. I just grabbed one of the available towels, and hoped it would do.
When I reached my locker by the back wall, I found my sparring partner, Allison, already getting ready next to my new locker. Before I could call out to her, she turned her head: "Neighbor?"
I nodded as I took my spot beside her. "Yup! Hope you don't mind."
Her eyes lit up for a moment. "Of-of course not!" I thought I saw a blush over her cheeks. For a girl looking like such a tomboy, that was kinda cute. A shy girl kind of cute. "Y-you're fine. More than fine. You don't have t-to worry about me. I'll even give you a nudge if you end up spacing out again."
"Thanks." I rolled my eyes. I wasn't going to live that one down quickly enough. "As long as you don't take it as an invitation to toss me over your shoulder."
"You've already got Ito-sensei for that, right?" She replied, smirking. Now she was just having fun.
"Took the words right out of my mouth. Now I'm going to have to keep an eye over my shoulder at all time, or the moment I'm not looking, he'll be there. I'll never see it coming."
Now that got her giggling. "Sounds like we have our next horror blockbuster just in time for Halloween: Big Trouble from Little Chinaman."
"I believe it." I put my hand over my chest. "In fact, I'm starring in it. Should I practice my screamer face?" I just put my hands over my cheeks, and looked as surprised as I could. Since the giggles didn't stop, I took it as a win.
Things were going so well too, until she stripped off her shirt and suddenly the inside of my locker seemed oh so interesting for some reason. It wasn't like looking directly into the sun would burn my eyes out. One moment I was joking with a new friend, the next I had another reminder of what I had to face: temptation central.
"Lucky!" One glance over, and I saw Jessie cheerfully wave at me as she opened the other locker next to mine. "Hey there!"
"Hey there!" I chuckled, and pulled my hand up for a high five. At least I had another friendly face to turn to for the semester.
She leaned against my shoulder, with a sly smirk and whispered: "Did you already take a good look around? Mmmnn mmnnn." I didn't have to be a mind reader to guess what she was thinking.
"Mmmnnn. Mmmmnn." I groaned miserably. "I have. Been trying, trying not to think about it." She looked at me like I'd just grown a second head. I held up one hand. "N-not that I don't like the view, but," I pointed down. "They might not appreciate 'this' view."
It takes her a moment to catch on as she looks down, but I can see the moment the realisation came up, and her eyebrows rose. "Oh!... Oh... Can't you do something about that?"
"Ngh." I shuddered at the notion. "Unless I duct tape it down? It's either a bucket of icy water, or prevention." I rolled my eyes a bit. "If there was an easy solution for 'that', boys would get in a lot less trouble, believe me."
"Is that true?" Okay, maybe I was a little off there, but she wasn't buying all of it. She nudged me a little. "Don't worry so much. Nobody will notice. I mean, I fought against a girl who had alligator skin back there. You're doing fine."
"So far." I mumbled, giving a nod to the showers. "That's the bit I'm worried about. Right now, it's all under cover. If I get exposed..."
She gave me a sympathetic smile, and patted my shoulder. "You'll be okay. If you're that worried, just stick to my side, and keep your towel a little low. It's not that hard."
"Thanks, Jess. That would make me feel better." Not that hard. Right. That was the point where Jessie decided to pull her blouse off, and I got a good look at her cotton white bra for one moment, until the tension between my legs got worse, and I looked to the other side before it got any worse. Unfortunately, Allison had already changed down to a towel, and I got only a quick look at her actual curves. Suddenly, the back wall of my locker caught my attention again. Usually, you'd see lots of scratches, maybe some graffiti in the back, especially with older age, but there was nothing there. Very nice black. Very clean. Must have been freshly painted. Either that, or the girls don't tend to leave their initials on everything.
As much as I wished it though, I couldn't delay forever. I had to take the plunge and strip. Especially if I was going to follow Jessie in there. I gathered my confidence, opened my own blouse, and slipped it off. Next was going to be putting the towel on, then down the skirt went. That should have kept my soldier hidden at all times.
But as I hooked my blouse in the locker, I did notice a little something on my arm. I looked at it for a moment, and ran my fingers down my skin, just to make sure I was looking right. I looked over at Jessie once more, and although my tensing libido made me regret it a little, but it confirmed what I was thinking. I even checked under my armpit just to make sure I wasn't imagining things.
Maybe the solution was simpler than I thought.
"I think I'll just skip this shower."
"What?" Jessie looked at me, unsure of what she'd just heard.
"I'll just skip it. I mean, I don't really need to right now." Her disbelief grew more and more, so I went right on to explain myself: "I've got no sweat. I mean, I'm as dry as they come. See?" I put her arm next to mine, and we could see the wet gloss over hers while mine was still dry and clean.
"Huh? Yeah." She ran her fingers across my skin. "How come?"
"If I had to guess? It's because I don't get tired. My body doesn't need to regulate everything like it used to, so I don't sweat. Maybe if I was jogging a marathon or sitting in a sauna, but not with a class like this."
"Lucky you." She gave a friendly poke in my side. "Getting a full work-out, and not even feel the pain after. You're going to get the body of a goddess if you put your mind to it. No sweat." She paused for a moment. "Literally and figuratively."
"Har har." I mumbled at the pun. My face was heating up though. "Me? The body of a goddess? Come on."
"Just because you're not an exemplar doesn't mean you can't try to be one, you know? What would it be like if you had a body like hers?"
She pointed to one girl who has just pulled her blouse off, and you could see she was ripped like she'd just walked out of a bodybuilding magazine. Arms toned and thick, like she could lift you up on to oh her shoulders easily, matching legs and hips like she could leap over the tallest buildings, and those abb of hers looked like they could deflect bullets. She was about to pop open her bra, when a stiff reminder got me looking back inside my locker. That back wall was something to marvel!
But it did make me picture myself in her place. If I could work out to that point, I could take down anything in my way. I could fight off whoever might come after me. I just had to work out enough to make it show. It was like my body would be it's own steroid system. Then I'd have the body that I need. Then even Zack wouldn't be able to hurt me anymore.
"So you're really not going to shower with the rest of us?"
Jessie called me out of my thoughts, and I had to nod. "Y-yeah. I mean, I'll have to take another shower later after work anyways, so since I don't really need to take one now..." I shrugged, and whispered to her. "And by then, I'll be at Poe, safe and sound."
She gave me a conspiring little smirk, and nudged me once more. "Clever. Sounds like you'll be A-okay."
I nodded softly, before slipping my blouse back on. "Do you want me to wait for you? We could walk together to the Crystal Hall."
"And what would you do in the meantime? Be teased even more?" She shook her head, smiling. "Go get the rest of us a good table for lunch. You'll have a head start on everyone else. Then we'll have the whole time to chat with the others."
I couldn't hold back the smile I had, and I gave her a one-armed hug. "I'll see you there."
I waved to Allison on my way out, then started jogging my way to the Crystal Hall with a new spring in my steps. I'd been so worried so much about the showers, yet I got away scotts-free! It was a huge weight right off my shoulders. If it stayed like that, I wouldn't have to face that chance to be exposed. Sure, I might have missed a chance to look at naked girls, but that was a small price to pay for my peace of mind. Thinking back on it, maybe I had made a mountain out of a molehill. I was so nervous over what turned out to be a breeze.
But nowhere as nervous as... When I ran into him.
The whole meeting with Zack kept playing over and over again in my head, and that spring in my step was slowly being replaced by renewed worry. I didn't want to run into him again. I didn't want to face him or go through what he'd done to me.
I braced myself and tried to gather my thoughts. He hadn't denounced me yet. I hadn't seen anyone else from the gang either. I still had time to prepare.
I need to find out what he was doing here. Is he really a mutant? If so, what can he do? What kind of power did he get? In fact, was it really Zack? What if it was some kind of shapeshifter? I mean, what are the odds that was true? Considering I'm at a school for mutants, the odds would be a whole lot closer. But why him? I need to find out more about all this.
I need to find out what's his power. I also need to know where he is, so I can avoid him. I can't avoid him forever though: we're on the same campus. Worse: we share the same costume class. Crap.
Okay, calm down. It just means I can keep an eye on him. I can look things up. I mean, surely someone has to know more about him.
And what will I do once I find out? Hide? Fight? Get him expelled?
I shook my head. I'll figure that out once I learn more about him.
I looked at my hand, and tightened it into a fist. And I need to get better, faster. I need to learn how to defend myself, become stronger. Maybe that exercise program Jessie had in mind would be a good idea.
Images of my potential muscled body in mind, I went off for lunch.
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The lines at the Crystal Hall were a little less pushy after classes. By that, I meanth that you didn't get crushed between guys and girls trying to get to their meals. Maybe it was because everyone didn't have classes scheduled afterwards. Just a guess. Still, the crowd had grown a lot bigger and pushier since the first day.
But even then, I still saw whole trays of food just about vanish by the time I'd come around the corner, and students leaving the line with towers of food piled up over the heads of the crowd. I was wondering if there wouldn't be a better way to get that much food around, when I saw one of those towers lean to one side, then shift the other way, wobbling left and right, before someone yelled "Timbeeeerr!", and the whole thing came down, followed by a horrified shriek. Someone was in trouble. I was just glad I wasn't part of it.
I headed to the same table we'd picked earlier that day, on the lower floor, by the edge. Noelle had insisted we avoid as much traffic as we could, and with her issues, we were happy to follow her lead. We still had a decent view of the place anyway, so no complaints.
The food was really good for the cafeteria quantities it had to fill in for the demand. You didn't make tubs of food and give it all the attention a regular restaurant would. It wasn't the same as home-cooked meals, and some of it was only reheated to be able to keep up with the demand, but it was still better than what my old school used to serve. Just one quick whiff told me the cheese on the lasagna was more than just the usual melted mozzarella and the sauce had a few spices added in. Subtle, but enough to give it extra flavor. The same sauce was used for the trays of macaroni, probably because they had to share the pot of sauce between the two dishes, but I wasn't about to complain. They had numbers to think about. As for desert, the variety wasn't short either. Much better than the jello and pudding that was served back home. There was a piece of strawberry pie that had my name on it.
I was starting on my layers of pasta when I spotted Noelle and Robin coming from the line. The white beauty was drawing stares from all around her, turning more than a few heads, much to her irritation. Stares of awe and lust came form the boys and even some of the girls shared the sentiment, though the later were also mixed in with glares of envy or anger. We'd seen the same effect in the morning and at lunch, and by the sound of it, it was the same everywhere she went. No wonder she'd been frustrated.
Even with the glamour aura, I still got a glance at Robin, and he looked tired. Shoulders slumped, eyes to the floor and looking generally glum. What energy he had in the morning had been sapped out. He wasn't that bad when I last saw him. I wondered what had shaken him so much.
I waved them over, and they both plopped down on their seat accross from me. "Wonderful first day, isn't it?" I had more than a little sarcasm there.
"Magnifique." Noelle mumbled.
Robin groaned. "Like pulling teeth."
Go figure: my sarcasm was contagious.
Concerned and curious, I asked: "Should I ask what happened to you two?"
They looked at each other a moment, before Robin waved a hand: "Ladies first?"
Noelle rolled her eyes. "Comment de fois est-ce que je vais entendre cela?" (How many times am I going to hear this?) She pointed her fork at Robin. "Must be weird having that turned around on you."
Robin shuffled awkwardly on his seat. "Yeeeeeaaaaah, but I might as well get used to it, right?"
"Suit yourself." She shrugged and looked back to me. "En tous cas, remember how I said my glamour got me into trouble? That guys started paying attention to me?" I gulped, remembering quite vividly some of her tales. "It got worse here."
Robin noted, between chewing his food: "The clusterfuck outside the magic class?"
Noelle groaned, as she put a hand over her face. "Oh oui. That was the woooooooooorst." She sighed. "Picture this: I'm heading to class, like normal, trying to mind my own business. Then I turn around one corner, when this guy slams into me like a brick wall." I winced, and she nodded at me. "Yeah, I didn't see him coming either. Anyways, I started apologizing, when the guy gives this grin at me, puts an arm right around my butt, and pulls me in, with something like: 'Well well well, look what babe just fell into my arms.'" The murderous look in her eyes told me all I needed to know about how she felt about his advances. "I think he was about to give a 'genius' follow-up, when the frost finally hit him, from his grabby hand, up his arm, over the chest, and all the way to his hips."
Robin winced. "Yeah, pretty hard too. When I saw him, he still had a bunch of ice on his jacket."
Noelle rolled her eye. "Monsieur Smooth Operator deserved it, honestly. Anyways, he screamed out in pain, and shoved me off into the gawking crowd." She winced. "By then though, my frost was in full effect, so two of the guys who caught me screamed out, threw me off right into another girl's forcefield, bouncing me off in a gorila man's arms, who also gave a weird smile, before that turned even worse, and the 'big man' threw me over everyone's heads." She sighed. "There was even one guy with a cape who flew up, caught me, and didn't even let me get a word in before he started rambling about how I was a damsel in distress and how I was safe in his strong, manly arms, before Captain Oblivious feels the cold snap and drops me right on top of the crowd." She groaned, and put her head in her hands, in frustration.
Robin the added: "And that's when things started flying, right?"
Noelle gave a grunt. "First one of the guys called me une maudite putain, and that's when things started flying. Starting with a lightning bolt right over my head."
"What?" I squeaked out.
"Yeah!" She nodded. "A freaking lightning bolt!"
"That's insane!" I was shaking my head in disbelief. "And what did you do?"
"What else?" She threw her hands in the air. "I ran for my life. People were scrambling, and I was running out of the way before a fight broke out!" She shook her head. "There was screaming. There was books, bolts and fire being thrown around, and I barely made it into magic class, before the guys started banging on the door, screaming for me to get out."
Robin nodded there. "Yeah, I was there for that bit. The teacher stopped him from breaking the door down himself. Security got involved, and everyone started blaming her for the whole thing."
"Yeah." Noelle grumbled, tugging on her UV band. "Until I told them it wasn't my fault Mc Grabberson couldn't keep his hands for himself." She sighed. "And in the end, all they got was a warning, a slap on the wrist." She grumbled. "Why? Because it's only the first day of the year."
I just shook my head in disbelief. "That... That's crazy. Seriously. Did you cross a black cat? Break a hall of mirrors? Sounds like a bad slapstick setup in a cartoon."
Noelle shrugged at me. "Don't look at me, it's how it happened. I'm serious." with the way Robin was nodding, he must have really witnessed it all.
I turned to him though, a bit curious. "What about you? Pretty sure boys and girls aren't falling head over heels over you."
His face turned sour. "It all started in Basic Martial arts."
I rolled my eyes at that one. "Ugh. Don't have to tell me about that class." That little bit of embarrassing misery came back to haunt me. "That teacher's a jerk," I mumbled.
Robin groaned a bit, sharing my distaste on that one. "You're telling me."
Noelle though, looked at us in disbelief. "Qu'est-ce que vous-What are you two talking about? The guy is a badass." Now it was our turn to look at her like she'd grown a second head. "If that guy really is a baseline, he's damn good at it. He called over a guy who was twice his size, with heat vision, and-"
"Took him down in three minutes flat?" I looked back at Robin, our voices coming in stereo, as a sly smirk crept up our faces. I waved a hand. "You think he does that every class?"
Robin nodded, "It does drive the point home."
Noelle shook her head. "Yeah, but it's still real cool to watch, and don't you dare tell me those guys were paid to take a fall." I shrugged. Maybe she had a point there. "So if we can learn that kind of martial arts, wouldn't that be awesome?"
"Yeah. That'd be great." In fact, it's part of why I wanted to go to this school anyhow. I wanted to defend myself. But that teacher was something else. Maybe I could learn from him, but I didn't have to like him.
"Aaaanyhow." Robin tried to steer the topic back to his story. "We were all sitting in a row, and I was sitting next to to this gorilla," he looked at us. "Erm. Okay, okay, not that guy. The actual gorilla was back in costume class, but this guy still had the muscle and brain of an ape." He shook his head. "Anyways. He's sitting next to me with his pals, and every time a girl comes up to be evaluated by the teacher, they start scoring them on how hot they are, and how likely they are to bed her." He rubbed his forehead in frustration. "I mean, it's not all guys who act that way, right?"
"Sounds like typical jock behavior if I've heard it." I mumbled lowly. I remembered Josh and his gang pulling the same thing before. Back then, it was just a thing the guys did. No harm done. But after all I'd been through now, I had a cold shiver running up my spine, wondering if they'd done the same to me. "They'll try to compare girls, then see which one they get lucky with, before they give it a shot. It's like a sport to them." I shook my head, and held up my hands. "Not all guys act like that, of course."
Robin grumbled lowly. "It was disgusting, honestly. Called one girl a slut because she was wearing a miniskirt, called a girl that was a little chubby a fat sloppy pig and started saying they'd put another girl's head between their legs to put her lips to work, and-Ugh!" Robin shuddered and raised his hands in the air in disgust. "Who talks like that?"
I looked at Noelle, and her face was probably as red as mine was.
He continued on: "Anyways, he turns my way, and tries to get me into his game. How I'd enjoy 'putting my head between her titties', or 'slap that ass'. I mean, come on." He shook his head. "Sure, there's sexy talk, but that was just horrible." He put his hand over his face. "I tried to shove him back to his friends, said I wasn't interested, but instead of getting the hint, he got insulted. That I thought he didn't know what he was talking about," he rolled his eyes. "Or that maybe I was gay, a sissy boy, and how he'd kick my fairy ass out there. I told him to leave me alone, over and over again, but he only stopped when Ito-sensei called him over."
That was one of those other sports jocks tended to play. If it wasn't with rating girls, there was the time when they picked on the smaller students. The weak ones. It's like the law of the jungle, and the tigers will play with their prey. Again, I saw the same thing in my old school, and much to my shame, I didn't think much of it, until it turned against me. Now Robin was the victim of the bullying, rather than the leering, and I wasn't sure what to say.
Before I could attempt to give any help there, he continued: "But when he started pairing up everyone to practice, guess who got paired up with gorilla-man?" He waved both hands at himself. "And he was all to happy to give me plenty of pain and bruises."
We both winced, and Noelle asked: "Are you all right?"
He rolled his shoulder. "Yeah. I've got a bit of soothing cream in my bag. Might be a bit sore, but I'll survive. Still, what an asshole."
With a sigh of relief, I nodded. "Yeah, he might have taken that waaayyyy too personally. You showed him he got to you, bothered you, and by the sound of it, he could outmuscle you. Sounds like he made you a target."
Robin made a face. "Did he have to get so physical? Damn. I've dealth with bitches before, but that's something else."
Noelle rolled her spoon in the air a bit. "That's pretty typical for bullies. This time though, since you're not a girl, they won't hesitate to hurt you."
"In fact, if you start crying, or whining, it might just get worse." I had to note.
Robin looked at us, grumbling lowly. "So in other words, I have either to tough it out, or toughen up until I can teach him to lay off me. Right?"
I looked to Noelle, a bit unsure. "Usually, yeah..." I did feel sorry for Robin though, this was a whole other social situation. If the boy had powers though, I didn't think either options would be easy to pull off. "Might have to look into some help." He snorted lowly. He knew if he got some help, it'd be like he couldn't handle himself on his own.
There weren't many good answers there. Noelle put an arm around his waist, and I reached out to hold his hand, for what support we could give him there. At least, outside the class, he wasn't alone. He looked back at us, knowing he had our support, and a small smile crept up on his lips. At least he wasn't about to face this on his own.
"Hi again, our little space-case." And that moment of warmth was interrupted by Jessie ruffling my hair, before taking a seat besides me. "Feeling better now?"
My shoulders slumped, and I sighed. "Yeah, yeah."
That got a reaction from Noelle and Robin, both looking curiously at me. "Space-case?"
I gave Jessie a curious glance. "I was wondering the meaning of that one myself."
She waved her fork up around playfully. "After you spaced out on us in class last period? I thought it'd be fitting."
I felt two stares drilling into me for some answers. Robin leaned forward: "So what happened to you today?"
I gave a sigh, and was going to have to explain those little episodes. After I'd just gotten Noelle and Robin to fill me in, it'd be kinda rude to dodge the question, and if I didn't answer them myself, I doubted Jessie would have kept the secret. Might as well start spilling the beans.
"Well, you see..."
We all looked up at the voice coming from above, as a body was hitting the top of it's flying arc, about fifteen feet in the air, before coming down straight at us. We barely had the reflex to pull away, before it slammed into the table, slid across the length, just about to come to a stop at the edge, before it tipped over, and fell right off on the other side.
We could hear in the distance Rachel's voice yelling: "And you can stay away, you little creep!"
"Are you okay?" Robin asked as we all rushed over to the other side to check up on them...
And I froze.
Not now. Not this quick.
His hand rose up over the edge of the table with a thumb up. "Number one!"
"Zack!" Another voice called out as a tall, bronzed, muscled guy with short brown hair ran our way, weaving between the tables. "Zack, dude, you all right?"
Zack slammed his palm on the table, as he pulled himself up. "Yeah, yeah, I'm-" He froze, his eyes wide with worry. "All right?" He palmed himself over his body a few times. "Er..." He reaching in his pocket, fished out his camera, pressed a few buttons, and sighed in relief. "She's alive! Oh, yes, she's alive! She survived." He proceeded to hug the device closely like it was his only friend. "Ooohhhh, Precioussss."
Why him? Why now? My legs shook again, as memories flooded my head again, and I struggled to sit back down where I was, wishing he'd just go away already, that he'd just leave me alone. He wasn't paying us any attention, surely he'd just go, right?
"What was that all about?" Robin asked curiously.
"That was Zack being an idiot." A new voice rang out as another figure traveled around the tables. Instead of being dressed in the Whateley uniform, he was wearing a full body outfit fit for motorcross racing, with orange elbow and knee pads, matching chest protective piece, and a motorcycle helmet hiding his whole head. He wasn't even walking around, his legs weren't moving, and one glance down showed the wheels rolling in his heels. "I told him it was a bad idea to get close to her, but he went for it anyways." He finally came to a stop by the tall guy's side. "You really okay, Zack?"
Zack grumbled lowly, like his mother had just asked him to clean his room. "Yeah, yeah, I'm-" He stiffened up for a moment, and he stared our way. "Wait... No."
A shiver ran up my spine.
He grabbed onto his tall friend's shirt, his arms quaking. "It hurts, Jason. It hurts so much! Crushed skull, pierced lung, my spleen's completely gone! Ack-ERK!" He let go, spun around, and dramatically fell back on our table. "I must be dead right now. Bleh!"
Most of us looked at Zack, either confused, or amused by his antics. The guy in the biker suit wasn't as impressed, as he leaned over. "Pretty sure you're still alive, jackass."
"Nope! Nope! Dead! I've gotta be dead. After all," he waved his hands at Noelle: "Why else would there be an angel right here to pick me up?" He rolled back to his front, staring up at my friend with a starry look in his eyes. "Shall we go to Heaven together, beautiful?"
This time it was Noelle who wasn't impressed. The deadpan look in her eyes spoke volume, confirmed when she mumbled: "See what I have to deal with now?"
We shared a groan together, though I had a bit of relief within. Zack, meanwhile, didn't seem to have heard a word, and scooted himself to Noelle's side, wrapping his arm around hers. "What do you say? I could show you a good time, I heard there's a good movie at-ow-ow-ow-OW!" He tugged three times, before the frost on his sleeve broke off, and he was able to pull his arm free from Noelle's own. "What the fuck?" He asked, as he stared at his pale hand covered with a layer of ice.
"Yeah!" The big guy, Jason, stepped forward, closing his fists down, as he glared down at Noelle. "What the hell did you do?"
"I didn't do anything!" Noelle called out. "He came after me!"
But even after that kind of claim, Jason wasn't buying it, and kept getting closer in. Things looked like they were starting to heat up, and if Noelle's story had any truth to it, we might have another folow-up to her earlier troubles. Robin, Jessie and I got by Noelle's side, as we backed away from him. I didn't want to get into a fight, not now, not like this, but my friend was in trouble and she wasn't going to take this on alone.
Which was when the motocross guy ran right up in front of his friend, and held up his hands. "Woah, woah woah there! Back off. She didn't mean it." He had to push against his friend's torso, but Jason did look down at him.
"What are you talking about, Eric?" Zack asked, rubbing his stiff hand. "You think she didn't do THIS on purpose?"
Under the glare of his two friends, the biker, Eric thrust his thumb in Noelle's direction. "If you'd taken two seconds thinking with the head on your shoulders, rather than the one in your pants, you'd see she has an ultraviolent armband on."
Zack and Jason looked over, fury replaced by confusion and curiosity. Jason called out: "Aren't those bands supposed to be purple?"
Eric shook his hands as he explained: "Most of them are, but they're colour-coded for your convenience. Red and Green means she can't quite control her power and is dangerous."
"Mais oui! I mean-That's right." Noelle defended herself. "When... Some people touch me, my spirit tends to freeze them! I can't control it!"
"Seriously?" Zack cringed. "Can't you give people a warning? A big flag, or something?"
Noelle facepalmed, but Eric beat her with a deadpan tone: "What do you think the armband is for?"
Zack backed off for a moment. "Well... Now I just feel stupid." He rubbed his arm some more. "Damn, you don't hold back, do you? What a cold shoulder." I had to admit, I was satisfying to see him get a bit of pain for his antics.
Robin didn't quite see it my way though, and he pulled out a brown glass bottle from his bag. "Hold out your arm, I've got something that should help with that." Robin replaced the bottle's cork with a hand pump with a vaporizing nozzle. "It'll warm you up, all the way inside for a little while. It should help with the cold." He waved his hand a little. "It will also give you a little tan, and a bit more energy, but the frost should be gone."
"Just what we need," Eric mumbled in a deadpan tone. "Zack with a sugar high." That got a chuckle out of Jason, earning Eric a pat on the back.
I peeked a bit though, as Robin started spraying over the guy's arm, and I recognized the scent. "Isn't that the same thing you did back at the party?"
"Oh yeah," Robin nodded. "You didn't think I was just going to throw it out, right? Everything has a use in the right moment."
Zack gave a sigh of relief, as he started to move his fingers, testing them after that much frost. "Okay. That will do." He grinned back at Robin. "Thanks, man. Handy stuff."
Okay, I was a little miffed that Robin helped the asshole, but he didn't know better. Robin shook his hand, grinning too. "Oh, it's not much. Glad I could help, really." He did raise an eyebrow curiously. "So how did you end up crashing our lunch anyhow?"
Zack looked embarrassed, but his friend, Jason, answered for him: "He was asking for them to pose for a picture. He got the pose and smiles, from most of them."
Zack waved a hand in the air. "Hey, what can I say? They were hot! I wanted a look."
I couldn't see past Eric's helmet, but I could see his brow lowering into a frown. "And I'm not even going to dignify what you said afterwards by repeating it."
"They. Were. Hot!" Zack insisted. When he saw that wasn't convincing anyone. "And I was just joking, playing around. How was I supposed to know one of them was going to hulk out?"
Jason had a goofy grin there. "Would have been sweet, right? I know the one with the bunny ears was thinking about it!" With a mischievous smirk on Zack's face, they fistbumped, while Eric's shoulders slumped, his head hanging as if saying 'see what I have to deal with?'
Zack brought his hands together. "So yeah, sorry for crashing in. I didn't have much say about it." He snapped his fingers. "How about, to make it up, I take a picture of you all? Print them up, get you something to look back to in a few years about how much you grew up!"
Jessie jumped on that one with a huge grin. "That sounds wonderful!"
Before I could voice out an objection, I found myself pulled in a group hug, right against Jessie, who was all hyper for it. Robin shrugged a bit, smirking, and Noelle didn't seem to mind either, so I simply remained quiet. I didn't want to draw any more attention to myself as is.
Zack was all too happy to do the deed, camera to his eye, and that impish grin on his face. "Sweet! Now say cheese!"
I tried to force a smile with everyone else, and avoided looking directly in the camera. Every seconds with him around, I wished I could shrink smaller and smaller or even turn invisible so he wouldn't notice me. Now I was literally in his sights. I was frozen right there, waiting for him to call me out like I was in a police lineup.
After a set of two flashes, Zack looked at the back of his camera with a confident smirk on his face. "Perfect. I'll print them all tonight, and hand them out tomorrow. How's that?"
Jessie smirked a bit. "And maybe email us a digital copy too?"
"Sure!" Zack nodded, as he flipped his phone up. "Just give me your digits."
While Jessie was hammering out the details with Zack, that feeling to run was growing in the pit of my stomach. I looked at the clock and winced. "Ugh. I better go. Don't wanna be late for my first shift."
Noelle patted my back as I grabbed my tray. "Good luck out there. It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it."
I groaned slightly. "Might need it, thanks." She sighed. "See you later tonight, okay?"
With a wave, I left to bus my tray with a bit of hurry in my steps, as I shoved that piece of pie in my mouth. No need to waste it after all.
As I walked though, my thoughts went back to Zack. Again, he showed right up on me before I knew it. I knew I needed to get better, get stronger, but I wasn't there yet. I just had to stay under the radar for now, but how was I going to do that if I kept running into him?
Come on, look at the positives. What did you learn? Whatever Zack's mutation was, it certainly made him tougher. He flew over everybody's head and crashed, but he pretty much bounced right back up from that. Most people would have been crippled. But not him. I couldn't be so lucky, would I?
At the same time, he was already making some friends too. Of course, he would. He wasn't just going to be a social outcast. Maybe if they knew what he'd done... I shook that idea out of my head. I'd just open myself up to him if I tried to do that. Worse, they might end up on his side, and then I'd have to deal with them too. Maybe I should look into them. Just in case.
Things were getting more and more complicated, and it was with these thoughts in mind, that I made my way to Hawthorne, and my new job.
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I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
I just couldn't stare at it and admit this was real.
There are things that you just have to chalk up to fever dreams and hallucinations.
Then again, I've had a lot of those mirages in the past three days, and this was another one to add to the list.
That was a dinosaur. That dinosaur. He/she/it/whatever was about six feet tall, scales, mouthful of fangs, claws, feathers and everything that you'd guess would be a velociraptor...
Dressed in a red leather jacket, and slack black pants...
Playing heavy metal on an electric guitar, and headbanging along...
I pinched myself about ten times at least. "Ow!" Eleven times. So this was all real. It felt like it all came from a bizarre cartoon, yet it was all real.
The cartoon scene quickly turned into nightmare fuel when the raptor's partner leapt in front of him: A chubby black guy, ripping on his guitar with lots of energy, wearing an outfit that was bad to the point of nauseating. A Hawaiian shirt with mustard yellow umbrellas and a vomit green background, filled with multiple sequin to draw your attention to him, only leading down to an earwax-colored kilt (at least, I thought that was a kilt) flapping with each movement, giving us a good look at the fishnet stockings he was sporting. The whole effect was disturbingly hypnotizing. Like a train wreck you couldn't tear your eyes away. It made the boat ride from Willy Wonka tame in comparison. The guy must have had help, because no one could dress like this on purpose. Either that or he was blissfully blind. I just felt sick staring at that unholy mismatch.
Yet even with the eye-plucking fashion disaster, the small crowd in the lobby of Hawthorne was applauding the two-man show. Once done, they bowed merrily to the hyped crowd, until a girl with the lower half of a snake pushed them into the elevator.
I needed a moment to process all that. That jam session had turned my brain into puree. I realized this memory of mine could also be a mighty curse, and I considered the amount of bleach I needed to pour in my eyes to purge that mental picture from my head.
The crowd had already begun to scatter around the lobby, a few chuckles about 'the frosh', and a mutter or two about 'the pretty', before a thick, warm voice called out to me from above.
"Can I help you, young lady?"
Jerking back to reality, I saw a thick black woman levitating a few feet off the air in what I guessed was a mighty fancy wheelchair, considering the wheels were replaced with four golden globes. She had on this warm and welcoming smile that was putting me at ease. I returned her smile, trying not to fidget. "Sorry. Right. I'm here for the janitorial job?"
Her eyes opened wide. "Ah yes. You're Karen, correct? Part of the new crew? Right this way." Her chair turned, and I followed along, puzzled by how that chair worked. "The others are already here, and Mister Daryl will be coming by for your first shift soon." She put her hand over her chest. "I'm Miss Cantrel, and the house mother for this dorm. If you run into any trouble or have any questions, dear, don't be afraid to come and ask. My door is always open."
"Thanks, Miss Cantrel. I'll keep it in mind." She did seem warm and caring at least. Maybe she had to, considering who she had to take care of.
She led me around a corner and into what looked like a locker room with a few other students waiting around. Before I could get a good look though, an older boy with a mohawk ending in a braid at the back of his head turned to me with a wide smile. "Ah! You're probably our newest frosh, right?" I had a moment to freeze like a deer in the spotlight, but he got a nod from Cantrel behind me. He extended his hand. "Name's Christopher, but you can call me Chris."
I reached to shake his hand. He sure had a strong grip. "Y-yes. Hi. I'm Karen. This is for the janitor job, right?"
"You're at the right spot. Welcome to the crew." His enthusiasm didn't slow down one bit. Who could be so happy about being a janitor?
His energy was infectious, and I had to smile. "Well, I'm here and ready to help. Are you the guy in charge?"
"PFFTH! Nah." He shook his head. "Been here a few years though. Old chrome dome will be here soon enough. He's usually pretty punctual about things, which is probably why it's a good thing you got here early." He looked back at the other four students. "We're a little light staffed for tonight. Once detention really kicks in, we'll have more people pitching in, don't worry."
I did raise an eyebrow. "What? Why detention?"
He grew even more amused by that question. "Ah, froshes. So innocent." He chuckled. "It's because janitor duty is a favorite way to punish the delinquents around here. We get paid to do it at least, and we get to show them the ropes around here. Missy here," he nodded to the blonde bombshell resting against the lockers. "Actually already got herself in enough trouble to get assigned here. I'd say it's a campus record, but the Kimbas have that one on lockdown for a whiiiiiiiile."
"Huuuuuuh huh." That didn't exactly give me much hope for the job if it was dealt out as punishment. "So there's usually more people with us?"
He nodded. "Yeah. Sometimes whole teams. What doesn't help is that we also lost all the other senior janitors, since most of them graduated last year." He pointed to a big guy in the back. "We asked Slab here to pitch in for tonight since the rest of you are new. Just stay on his good side and you'll be fine."
It took a peek around Chris, past the blonde and another regular guy, to see two big guys at the back. One was all smooth and black, not just brown, but pure oily black, while the second seemed to be covered in grey granite-like feathers all over. "Erm... Which one is Slab?"
"The black one." He chuckled. "Roc is a frosh too. No worries. He's-Ah! Boss is here."
Chris stood at attention, and I turned around to see a tall white man enter the room. He was dressed in rubber overalls and a uniform, but it was clear the man had been working out for a long time and the way he carried himself reminded me of an army drill sergeant. He was shaven bald to the point where the light reflected off his forehead. Even his white eyebrows seemed trimmed straight. As he scanned the room from left to right, I got a good look at the calculating, judging scowl on his face. It was like looking at Mr. Clean's angrier grouchy older brother.
He turned to Christopher. "That's everybody for tonight?"
"As far as I can tell." He smirked. "Won't have to hunt anyone down tonight."
"Still, better make sure." He pulled out a clipboard. "All right, roll call! Adam?" The blonde-haired boy lifted a hand. The man gave a nod. "Carol?" The girl in detention rolled her eyes, but still lifted her hand. "Donald?" This time, the big guy in rock feathers lifted his hand, the sound of gravel grinding together sounding off with the motion. "Karen?" He stared right at me as I waved a little at him. "And Slab? Always good to have a hand from you." That earned a snort from the big guy.
"Good." He checked off the sheet, and put it away. "For those who don't know me, I'm Daryl Coleridge, main janitor here at Hawthorne, and you'll all be reporting to me." He kept on talking sternly, all business and serious. "You'll be assisting me in keeping the house clean, proper and functioning, occasionally assisting the repair crew in rebuilding. It's not a matter of 'if', but 'when'. Some students also leave certain trails around the corridors that will need special care, and that's not forgetting hobgoblins from our more mage-oriented cases. Some students will also require special treatments in order for us to clean their rooms, but we'll cover those case-by case. It's a tough and constant job, but someone has to do it. It used to be that students would do these chores themselves, but with the growth of Hawthorne and its students, we needed a crew to keep up with it."
He tapped on the lockers with his knuckles. "Here are overalls, boots and gloves. They can go over your clothes, but if you'd rather fully change, we have rooms for that. We'll be working with chemicals, some quite corrosive, so if you don't want to stain or damage your uniforms, you'll take one of these." He looked at Donald, who raised his hand. "Yes, we also have sizes that will fit you." And he lowered his hand.
With that covered, he led the way out of the room, waving us to follow along across the corridor and patted at a door with a mop and a bucket drawn on it. "These are the janitor closets we'll use, clearly marked for everyone's benefits. Your fingerprints will be keyed to the handles, along with a physical key to unlock them."
Christopher nodded. "We've had a few issues with the print scanners alone, so the keys double as an extra security measure, just in case."
The boss glared at Chris for interrupting him, but let it slide for now and kept explaining: "Inside will be most of your daily use tools." He opened the door, showing a rather large room filled from wall to wall with equipment, along with a few trolleys with buckets attached and trash bags in the middle. "We've got vacuums, brooms, mop handles and heads, sponges, sprays, soaps, brushes, dusters, antibacterial solutions, rags, belt sanders, wet brooms, extinguishers, pickaxes, polishers, and all the other essentials to keeping the place prim and proper." He looked back to us. "Every floor has one of these rooms equipped the same way. If you find something that doesn't seem to fit, most likely it's a specialty equipment for one of the students on that floor. Don't touch it unless you know what you're doing with it. These will also double up as your 'safe rooms'. If any emergencies happens, and alarms start up, you can get shelter in here." He looked at a raised hand. "Yes, rookie?"
Adam nodded. "I get the mops, the buckets, the bleach... that tank in the back, what's that for?" He pointed in the corner toward a set of pressure tanks locked in place into the wall, along with hoses attached to a gun. "Is that part of that part of the specialty equipment?"
Daryl snorted. "No, rookie, those are also on every floor." He could see the curious stares from all of us boring into his chrome skull, and he groaned. "Those would be the flamethrowers." As we all looked at him as if he'd grown a second head, he continued: "And no, you won't be using them, I will. For those kinds of messes that need it."
Christopher snickered. "Yeah, a smartass tried to make a run with one of those. Almost burned the left wing down with it."
"And that's why I'm the only one with the keys for their locks." It did seem like the steel cage around the tanks were pretty heavy duty. "No one gains access without my say so." He glared at us with an intensity that if we even tried something with the equipment, someone would pay dearly. Getting fired would be the least of our problems. "Understood?" Everyone pretty much agreed on the spot. "Good."
He then turned to a large industrial size floor polisher the size of a large fridge. Christopher took that moment to step forward, grinning widely. "And this is the boss' "Battle Wagon". You do not use the Battle Wagon, you do not touch the Battle Wagon, you do not talk about the Battle Wagon." Daryl slowly turned back around, clearly not amused, and although his glare alone would have silenced most of us, Chris kept going with a smile: "Every scratch on the Battle Wagon will be buffed and polished on your dime, and if you break it, your world will come to an abrupt end. Respect the Battle Wagon, and it will respect you."
The Boss crossed his arms in a look that just screamed: ‘Are you done undermining my authority?’ He got his answer with Christopher simply grinning back at him. The bald man's eyes narrowed down, and he turned back to the rest of us. "He's not wrong."
He turned back to his machine, crouching down to reach under the panel. As his fingers curled around the edge, there was a beep, and he pulled one side of the hood open. Where there was supposed to be a huge motor was a whole laboratory within. Vials of various colors were lined up on the lifted panel, some of them glowing in their containers, while inside the compartment itself were multiple bottles of cleansers, mixers, bags, brushes, pliers, tongs and anything to grab a sample. Rags were piled into jars of disinfecting liquids, next to pipes that were pumping various chemicals. I could even spot a shotgun tucked away in the corner with various types of shells.
Daryl put his hands on his hips in a moment of pride. "In the war on germs, you need an arsenal."
He turned back to us, back to that frown of his. "Today, we're splitting up duties by floors and needs. All the rookies will be teamed up with someone with experience. They'll be the ones showing you the ropes around here. First up: Christopher, you take Adam to the second floor, Pustulor had a spill on his way back." He reached back and grabbed a blue vial from his wagon. "Here's today's solution, make sure he gets the basics." Just as Chris wrapped his fingers on the vial, Daryl pointed at his face. "And if I see you swapping spit with your girlfriend again, we'll see how good that tongue of yours is at removing germs. Understood?"
"You'll have to tell that to her, Boss. I'm just a passenger when she grabs me." And with that, he plucked the vial out of his fingers, and turned to Adam. "We'll be pouring this into our buckets when we mop up. If Pustulor hasn't changed since last year, it'll be one sticky mess... Unless it dried over, then it'll be a crusty, sticky mess." Adam didn't look too confident on that one.
"Slab? Donald?" Daryl looked at the two big guys. "You have floor 3. We've got a thick layer of pollen all over." He nodded to Slab. "You know why. Grab the vacuums and extra filters. You'll need them. I'll pass by later for the mop-up." The two guys nodded at each other in silent understanding.
"Karen?" I perked up, standing straight in attention. "You get the easy job tonight. You get tank cleanup. FUBAR will be the one showing you how it's done."
"FUBAR?" I looked at Carol, wondering why she would have a codename like that, when I heard a throat-clearing cough behind me. I turned around, and was greeted by an older guy, probably in his twenties, with cleanly cut brown hair, a darker brown suit, and a black necktie that he was adjusting. Had he sneaked up on us? I swore I hadn't seen him a moment ago.
"My apologies, I hadn't meant to put you on edge, but some things simply can't be helped." He said with a big smile and bowed to me. "The name's Louis, pleasure to meet you." I returned the bow, gulping.
"Karen, meet the world's most powerful Psychic." Daryl noted. "He needs constant maintenance, so you will be seeing him quite a few times every week." Slab gave a grunt, which Daryl acknowledged. "You don't want to mess him up. Just follow his instructions, and you'll be fine."
"Most powerful Psychic?" So he can read my-
"Yes, I can read your thoughts." Louis answered me with a sly smirk. I took a nervous step back, causing him to chuckle. "Though you don't have to worry, I don't tend to probe deeper than surface thoughts. It'd be considered rude if I did."
"And as for you, Miss Carol." Daryl looked back at her. "Since you are tonight's detention guest, I thought we should tackle the bathroom duties. All the bathrooms. That should allow us to cover all the floors of this building."
Her face struck a look of horror for a second, only to be replaced by outrage. "If you think I'm going to be scrubbing toilets for you, I-"
"If ‘your highness' is 'too good' for her punishment," He walked right up to her face, looking down at her. "Then you can take your fancy glass slippers to Carson and cry her a river! I'm sure she'll find a way to get your fancy rear in line in a much more creative manner." There was a slip of a smirk by his lips. "Now, you can either get walking or get it over with right now, Princess."
She glared silently up at him, but stood her ground, frustrated. After a moment of this staring contest, Daryl nodded, and turned. "Alright then, since the assignments are set, everyone get their overalls on and let's get to work!"
It took us a few minutes to get everyone changed into their uniforms, and everyone went on their way. I was led downstairs by Mister Louis, still wondering what was in store for me.
He looked back to me with a charming smile. "Don't be so nervous. It's not so bad. Most of us don't bite." I groaned a little in reply. Maybe he thought he was being funny. "I do try my hand at humor once in a while." Then I wondered if this mind reading trick was going to get annoying quick. "I tend to give it about ten minutes, before I have to get creative." I just glared at him for a moment, and by the grin he was giving me, he knew what I was thinking. Smart ass. "Better a smart one, than a dumb one."
"By the way," I tried giving him a more direct subject. "Daryl mentioned cleaning up your tank? What did he mean by 'tank' exactly?"
"Aaaahhh." He sighed, adjusting his bowtie. "My home, sweet home. You'll see soon enough. I-" He then paused for a moment, as if something dawned on him, then shook his head. "Sorry, Karen, I need to take care of something for a moment. Bit of official business." He brought his hands together. "I'll be back soon. Just, in the meantime, get to the janitor's closet and wait for me. It's the sixth door to the left." He pointed down the corridor as we reached the bottom of the stairs. "I'll be back as soon as I'm done. Okay?"
I nodded to him. "Sixth door to the left. Gotcha. I think I can follow that." I gave him a quick salute, and suddenly, he disappeared from view, leaving me a mite confused. "Maybe being the world's greatest psychic includes teleportation." All I could do was shrug it off, and keep going.
A minute later, I was staring at the door, a bit more confused than before. I didn't see the telltale mop and bucket on the door. In fact, the whole door seemed out of place, being made out of older wood and lacking the thumbprint handle. I looked back, and counted. One, two, three, four, five... Yeah, this is the sixth one. I looked at the door after that, figuring Louis might have missed count. I tested the handle and found it unlocked. It won't hurt to look, I guess.
As I opened the door, I felt like I was looking into a different world. A room fully dedicated to the gothic lifestyle, with stone walls painted in black, red carpet covering the floor, torches lit up against the wall, with chains linking each of them. There was a set of shelves on the far wall, most of it stocked with various tomes, whose titles I couldn’t figure out outside of a few famous horror novels. Sitting amongst the tomes were all sorts of odd objects, from a skull with horns and weird symbols, to jars with preservative fluids and what I could only guess was a set of tentacles.
On the side was a very fine bed with bloody red silken sheets and drapes. It was much fancier than the beds we had back in Poe. Though looking at the bedposts, I could see the wood was carved in very peculiar shapes. Are those breasts? No, wait, that's a whole girl in. And that's a... And there's... I looked away before the tension in my pants would get any worse. Whoever had done this had a real perverted mind, all right.
As I looked to the other side, I saw a desk with multiple notebooks, a collection of pens, and an open book. The pages caught my eye and I found myself walking in closer. I didn't recognize the writing. The characters were like nothing I'd seen before. In fact, they were moving around the paper they were printed on. Were they holographic pages? It didn't feel like it, but the more I stared, the more I felt something tingling in the back of my head.
That's when I felt a hand push aside my hair, and caress the side of my neck. "My, oh myyyyyy." That warm, sensual voice purred, long fingernails dancing across my spine, sending thrilling shivers down my back. "Aren't you interesting?"
"I-i-I-I'm so sorry, Ididn'tmeanto, bye!" In a panicked moment, I spun around the person behind me, slipped out the door, and slammed it behind me. I pressed my back against the door, putting a hand over my heart that was thumping hard in my chest. My legs shook a little at being caught. Clearly, I wasn't meant to be in there. As I rested my head on the wooden door, I could hear a giggle that brought that shiver coming up my spine again. Who was that? I then gulped, and looked down. And why are you getting harder now? I tried to push those thoughts aside, and tried to ignore the growing tension. Where's that closet now? I took a second glance down the corridor. Did I miss something?
Just as I pushed myself off the door, I felt something shift behind me. Expecting it to be the bedroom's owner opening the door to chase after me, I turned around, holding my hands up. "L-look, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to... Huh?"
But I wasn't greeted by her. In fact, the antique wooden door was gone, replaced by a more modern frame with the janitor's symbol on it. Again, I looked around, wondering where the other one had gone to, but it was as if it had never been there. I put a hand on my forehead, trying to figure out what was going on, and all I got for my efforts was the beginning of a headache. "This day's been way too weird already as is. I might actually go crazy... And get sent right back to the local 'nuthouse'." Then again, going back to Poe sounded pretty nice at that point.
When I pushed the door open, there was a bit of resistance at first, until I heard a hollow 'thud' behind it. I reached around for the light switch and when I flicked it, the sight startled me.
It was a janitor's closet, at least I had that right, but there was a whole lot of makeshift rope strewn about the room made with rags, paper towels and pipe cleaners all tied together and hanging from shelves. It was like a web had been made, all connecting to the entrance, either attached to the handle, or to plungers stuck to the door. Bottles of bleach had been toppled over, one with the content pouring over the floor in a puddle, while two other bottles were hooked in the air via those improvised ropes. A pile of buckets was down at my feet, probably falling over when I opened the door. One of the vacuums was also wide open, the container spilling dust all over the floor. It was a whole mess on its own.
"What... happened here?" I asked in disbelief. "Who would do this? Why?"
That's when I spotted a sign next to the sink made out of paper towels and written with that blue bleach: "Please shake." The arrows pointed down at a little doll... or was it an action figure? Some might argue on what would be the right term to use, because the head was definitely one of a cute girl made of soft rubber, with short blue hair and pretty blue eyes, but then her ears were covered up with two pointed plastic flaps. The torso looked feminine, and that rubber was still there, but she was covered up in a shiny white and emerald green futuristic armor. What more, her forearms and lower legs seemed completely robotic: human in shape, with hands and feet, but obviously robotic in nature. It also took me a moment to see another little contrasting feature as the light reflected on four translucent wings on the back, the kind seen on dragonflies.
"And what might you be?" Curiosity taking the better of me, I poked the little toy, before picking it up and examining it. The doll looked nice, but it had seen some better days. There were a bunch of scratches on the plastic and a few small cuts in the rubber. At least it didn't seem like it lost any part. It looked more like a collector piece rather than something Gabby would have played with. "How did you get in here anyways? This isn't a prank, is it?" I glanced about carefully, expecting a camera crew to ambush me.
I looked back at the sign. "Shake you?" Considering I still had to wait for Louis for instructions, I had nothing better to do. I shook it gently up and down, bringing it up to my ear. I could hear something rattle inside. Maybe it was broken, and some of the parts were loose. It would happen sometimes when some of us (I won't give names) were a bit too rough with our toys. There wasn't much more we could do when it got to that point. Taking a second look at it, I guessed it still looked good. it was really cute. She'd probably fit right in those mecha animes. Maybe if I polish her a little... Actually, the scratches could do for some battle damage. Just add in a few accessories, and she'd look like she came right out of combat. Maybe a bit of glue for those cuts, or a bit of red paint for other damage.
I blinked. "What?"
I looked about, wondering where the voice was coming from, when the doll yelled: "MORE!"
"WAGH!" Surprised, I threw the doll in the air, fumbled with it nervously as I caught it, then looked at it directly in the eyes. "What?"
"Shake." I could see the lips move as the tiny voice called out to me. "M-more."
"... Sure?" I started to shake it again, keeping an eye on it... Her? Is this thing haunted? Cursed?
"OKAY, OKAY, ALREADY!" Trying to please the haunted doll, I shook it violently up and down as fast as I could.
"WAAAAAAAAAAAH! STOP! STOP! TOO MUCH! TOO MUCH!" The doll clutched my fingers, and I stopped suddenly, its eyes wobbling up and down still. "You're going to break me at that pace!" A small, cute voice came out, as the doll's head shook, and her eyes settled down. "Woah."
I was in awe as the fairy doll came to life in my hands. Her eyes looked about, and even blinked as she took in the room, her antennas wiggling about as she adjusted herself, wiggling her body in my grip, her arms wrapped around my thumb as she held on. "Still here." She mumbled, before looking up at me with a smile. "Thanks. I really needed that."
"Hum. No problem?" I leaned in a bit closer, quite confused. "Who... are you?"
She gave a cute, amused giggle. "You can call me Pix. Pleasure meeting you!" She extended her hands, and she shook one of my fingers with a smile on her face.
"Pleasure meeting you. I-I'm Karen." I tilted my head, giving her another look. "What are you?"
Her grin spread wider. "I'm a fairy, silly!" She saw I wasn't exactly convinced though, and her smile withered. "Okay, okay. Truth is, this is a little robot drone I'm controlling remotely. It's my way of interacting with the world."
"All remotely?" I had to ask, because she didn't seem to move jerkily as most robots I'd seen on TV. Her movements were smoothly articulated, especially her face, even as she nodded.
"Yes. Right out of my room." She looked up at me a bit awkwardly. "I don't get out much." She put her hands together pleadingly. "Now, I know you've got a lot more questions, but can you do me a favor?"
"Sure? What is it?"
"Can you keep shaking me? Please? Just a bit softer? I don't want to break either after all."
"Not a problem. Like this?" I rocked her once more in my palm, a bit more gently now, like she was real fragile. She clung to my fingers and giggled merrily, swinging her feet along with the motion. I just had to smile. "Why do you need this though? What does it do?"
"It recharges my batteries." She said with a bit of pride. "I have a kinetic motor inside me, so the more I move, the more electricity it makes. It's not perfect, and I tend to use more than I generate, but it's better than just a dry battery."
"That does seem mighty handy." I then connected the dots. "Let me guess: your batteries ran out? That's why you needed to be shaken?"
That little grin of pride melted into embarrassment. "A little obvious, isn't it? I ran out of charge in here. I didn't have any place I could plug in and I couldn't get out! I didn't have much of a choice."
I tilted my head a little. "You couldn't get out? Why not?"
She grumbled a little. "Some smartass thought it'd be funny to suck me up in the vacuum cleaner. Those things suck haaaaaaaaard! By the time I got out, I was alone in here." She raised her hands a bit, like she'd had to say this multiple times. "I don't know if you've thought about it, but at this size, it's impossible to open a door like this. Especially when it closes on its own." I tilted my head, and she sighed. "Look at the door's handle a moment. I'm barely big enough to lower one of these on my own. Don't even get me started on doorknobs!" She put a hand on her forehead. "But even after I turn it, how am I supposed to pull the door open at the same time and fly out?"
"Makes sense." It did take me a moment to picture that little scenario, but then there was all the rope tied about. "So all this mess? That was you?"
She looked a bit sheepish. "Well, yeah. There's no windows here, the drain is just too small, and if you think the air duct is an option, I'll introduce you to a lawnmower blade." She waved at the mess she'd made around the room. "I spent a few hours trying to make a mechanism to open this door on my own, but by the time I was almost done, my battery ran out." She shrugged. "All I could do was hope someone found me down here."
"And that's where I come in." I noted with a smirk. "But if this is just a robot, couldn't you have come and picked you... Well, 'you' up down here?"
She crossed her arms, and pouted. "I wasn't kidding when I said I can't leave my room. I can't just walk out here willy-nilly."
"Really? It's that bad?" She nodded at me, and was about to ask why, when I figured she might be sensitive about that. "Couldn't you have called a friend to pick you up?"
She shook her head. "Would have been nice, but you need a key to even get in here."
"What about Miss Cantrel? Surely, she would have had a key."
She looked up at me, blinking as she tried to find an excuse there, but finally, she let out a disappointed: "I guess I didn't think about her at the time. I'm just so used to solving things on my own, I took it as a challenge. Now I get to feel silly on top of everything else."
"It happens. You'll know next time," I said, poking her ribs playfully.
As I was shaking her though, a small idea popped in my mind. I swung her wide back, and ignored the little "Eep!" she gave, before I tossed her gently into the air. "Woooah!" I caught her softly in my palms, slowing her fall rather than just stopping her cold, then tossed her back up. "What are you doing?"
I caught her again, then back up she went. "You said motion would get you more power, right?" I took a step away from the hanging light, and threw her a bit higher. "You don't get motion sickness, do you?"
"Me?" She giggled as she reached the top of the next arc, opened her wings and made an aerial flip, before coming back down, leaping out of my palm like a trampoline. "I live for the momentum! Bring it on!" Taking that as a challenge, I flicked my wrist and threw her back up, spinning around on herself.
It wasn't long before it turned into a little game. The little robot fairy was following up with my motions without hesitation. I tossed her around my back, over my shoulder, where she slid down my arm so I could flip her back into the air. She swung onto a line of rags she'd made, then right back at my fingers, where I made her spin around, before launching into the next stunt. Soon enough, we were both giggling playfully as I swung her into the air, and her wings were wide open and flying around me, latching onto my fingers announcing she wanted another swing around the room. Watching the little fairy toy zooming around was just magical.
I then heard the cough to my left. "I see you two are having fun."
I turned, and there was Louis with a cheerful smile on his face. I froze. I'd been so lost in all the fun, I'd forgotten I was there for work. "Erm. Hi, sir."
"WHEEEEE!" That's when Pix flew back in my hand, bouncing with glee. "Again! Again!" When I didn't respond though, she looked up to me with worried eyes. "What's wrong?"
Louis just smirked at us a bit more and nodded. "Say hi to her for me."
He gave another nod, insisting. "Go ahead. It'll be a whole lot easier."
"Ooohhhh." Pix called out, fluttering up. "You must be talking to the house ghost. Hiiiii, Fubar!" She said, waving out about five feet to the right of Louis.
"... Louis says hi too." I shook my head again, looking back at the psychic. "She can't see you?"
He shrugged nonchalantly, like it was the most natural thing in the world, before he waved a hand at himself. "This 'body' is nothing more than a projection from my mind to yours." He swung his hand about the hanging lines around the room, going right through the material like it wasn't there. "Even though I may 'look' real my presence is but a fleeting thought."
"Aaaaahhhh." I looked in a bit of awe as he walked right through a garbage bin to really rub the point in. "That explains that... And why you keep appearing out of nowhere." I then pointed at Pix. "But that doesn't explain why she can't see you."
He shrugged, and pointed at her. "She's a drone. As good as my mental powers may be, she's like the scarecrow and the tin man: Full of metal and lacking a brain."
"Oooohhh." I gave a slight lopsided smirk as I lifted Pix back up to my level. "So I guess even the greatest psychic in the world has his limits?" That earned me a snicker from my little robot fairy friend.
He gave me an amused snerk, and looked about the room. "I see you two did a rightful mess of the place."
A shiver ran down my spine. I was in trouble, and I reacted by pointing at Pix. "She did it!"
"Did what?" She asked me, before turning around, and pointing in the air. "I'm innocent! I didn't do it! You can't prove it! I demand an attorney! You can't handle the truth! If the mitt doesn't fit, you must acquit, and I might fit in a mitt, but it wouldn't really be snug! So that proves that it was Colonel Mustard with the pipe in the kitchen!" She stood there, arms crossed, looking smug and justified. "So there!"
I couldn't hold back a giggle at that. "I-I mean, she was-"
"Locked up in here, and was trying to get out." Louis filled in the rest with an understanding smirk. "Yes, I did read your surface thoughts, and it makes sense. You two will just have to clean that up before Daryl finds out, or he will have a conniption." That was a mental picture I didn't need right now. "But first," Louis continued. "We're already behind on our task as is." He walked over to a special wet vacuum. "This is what you're going to need tonight."
As I went to grab a hold of the equipment, Pix winced. "Ooooh boy. You got pulled for Fubar cleaning duties? What kind of trouble did you make to get stuck on this?"
I rolled my eyes and groaned. "I can't take a part-time job working in the kitchen, and so I had to take a job as a janitor."
"Oh. You couldn't? That's kinda harsh." Her antennas wiggled a bit. "Well, at least let me give you a tip." She opened her wings, and fluttered down to a bucket. "Bring one of these along too."
I looked to the vacuum then stared at the bucket as a few questions filled my head. "Why?"
"I'll simply say you miiiiiiiight need it." This time, I couldn't tell if she was being playful or sympathizing with whatever was going to happen to me.
I just dropped my shoulders, and shook my head. "All right, all right. Can I count on your help with cleaning up this room at least?"
She gave a tiny groan, and crossed her arms. "And leave me here alone trapped again?"
"What?" I shook my head. "No! No. Of course not."
She giggled at my reaction. "Well, I could try, but I don't think I'd be a lot of help." She raised a finger. "How about you go clean up Fubar's funhouse, and I go find a spot to recharge my batteries properly? If I don't come back in time to help, I'll owe you another favor. Deal?"
She shook my pinky finger on it, and flew out on her merry way. With that bit of fun done and gone, I grabbed the vacuum and the bucket, and before I could ask, Louis was leading down the hallway. "Come along now."
He led me down the hallway to a door with a plaque reading 'FUBAR'. He walked right through like the door wasn't even there. Showoff.
"Why yes, I can be sometimes."
Once I opened the door, I had to make a face. One glance, and I could see multiple pools of slime and mucus splattered on the white tile floor. Just the way it was glistening on the floor showed it was mostly all fresh too. But that was only the opening sight as in the back part of the room was a huge tank filled with murky waters, a huge set of pipes behind it pumping out dirty water, and the other pouring clean fluid back in. there were two sets of stairs on both sides, leading to the top edge of that massive pool.
I couldn't help but make a face. "This is the place?"
"Yup." Louis said. "Home, sweet home."
I looked about, noticing nothing else but a side door. "How can this be a home for anyone?" There wasn't a bed, a closet, a desk, or even a wall clock for comfort. There was but massive snot and that massive dirty tank I was probably expected to clean. Yuck.
As if to answer my question, there was a hollow *THUMP* on the surface of the glass, and something parted the gunk apart and I got a glimpse of what was inside, and I instantly felt sick.
I struggled to settle on proper words to describe what I was seeing. My eyes were looking left and right and every bit had a new classification. I saw tentacles at first glance, but then I saw glistening hardened black shell further in. An arm with a lobster claw at the end waved back and forth, and then I spotted a hairy black leg more fitting to a spider than anything else. I couldn't tell where this squirming body was ending, but I figured I knew where it began. I could see a large bloated head more fitting to a baby, slowly bobbing in the waters, veins visibly pulsing under the skin, not a bit of hair seen. It gurgled as gills opened up and water seeped in. An eyelid twitched, and struggled to peel back a huge eye that stared at me.
"Pleasure to meet you, Karen."
I stared back at Louis in horror, then back at the creature in that tank. "No way. No way in Hell." Is that him? FUBAR?
Both his projected image, and that throbbing malformed head nodded. "World's greatest Psychic and worst surviving case of GSD. A fitting codename now, don't you think?"
I didn't have time to think. I only had moments to react as I felt my nausea come up my throat, and I grabbed onto the bucket and threw up. Minutes later, I was on my knees, leaning over it, waiting for my stomach to settle down.
"Feeling better?" Louis asked before a torrent of questions started pouring into my head with everything from 'why' to 'how'. "Woah there. Slow down, kiddo." He insisted. "I can answer some of those, but it's gotta be one question at a time."
Is that really you in there? I had to shake off this disbelief first, and his nod confirmed it. How? I mean, what happened?
"I can't go into full details, but it wasn't just normal GSD. An incident happened, and here we are. It's been this way for twenty years."
Twenty years? That was like a punch in the guts. "How do you live like this?"
He gave a shrug. "One day at a time. Lots of purified water, a bit of food, and you keep busy." I looked up to him and he caught on that he hadn't really answered my question. "If you mean 'why' I keep going like this? I can still do some good in this world, even if I'm in here. You always have a chance to make a difference, no matter how your mutation messes up your life."
No matter how your mutation messes up your life. It was only a moment, a mental slip, but a flood of memories of the last few months came right back up: the mutation, the change, my new identity and everything I'd lost along the way. Even that horrible night resurfaced, no matter how much I pushed it to the back of my mind. Yeah. I know how that feels.
When I looked up to him though, he looked concerned. I wondered for a moment why, when I recalled that he could read surface thoughts, and that in one fell swoop, I'd just shown him everything. I was about to panic when he tried to soothe me down. "Karen. Karen. It's okay. There's nothing wrong."
I put my arms around me, not helping this feeling of being exposed. "B-b-b-but-"
"I already knew about your secret." He put a hand on his chest. "I'm part of the staff, after all. Do you think the Poe secret would have lasted a few minutes if I didn't help keep it?"
That did make me pause. "Yeah..."
His projection sat in front of me. "I'll admit, I didn't know everything else you'd been through. I only got a part of the experience, and for what it’s worth, I sympathize. No one should have to go through that."
In a way, it did help me relax a little. He'd seen what I could recall after all, and he didn't seem weirded out or offended. Another person who understood in this school. "Thanks."
Then again, weird for him probably goes on a whole other scale. I glanced back at the tank, and wondered how he felt in a form so grotesque. To be stuck that way all the time. What would I do if I was the one stuck at the bottom of a tank? Suddenly, all my troubles seemed so small and insignificant in comparison, and a guilty weight filled at the bottom of my stomach.
"I do appreciate the concerns, but you don't have to burden yourself with those kind of thoughts." Louis nodded. "Leave the bottom of my tank to me. Or, if you really care, how about giving my tank that good scrubbing?"
A bit of that weight lifted off my shoulders, I nodded to him. "I guess I should do what I'm paid for, right? Where do I start?"
He got up along with me. "For starters, you'll have to wash off the excess mucus from the water with your vacuum. Then I'll show you how to swap the filters, then you'll have to clean up the rest of the room. I hope mucus snot a bother to you."
I snerked. "The size matters, but I can compare it to Gabby and the noodle incident."
"I'll take your word for it."
A while later, I was finished with Fubar's room, having to scrub that last farewell loogie off my boots. Washing the whole place took a little longer than I'd imagined, since he kept on adding to the mess, but he didn't seem to throw any real animosity behind it. At least he hadn't gotten any in my hair. At least I think he didn't. I was still going to take a major shower afterwards.
That's when I spotted Carol walking around the corner, looking disturbed. Her arms wrapped around herself, her eyes wide and vacant, and her legs shook with every step. Any smugness she had when we started was drained away.
She walked past me without even giving me a glance. "Carol?" I slipped in front of her. "What happened?"
She gave me a ghostly stare, her voice quaking with fear. "Th-th-th-that-the b-b-b-b-bathrooms. I-I-I-IIIIIIIII-hide..." She shook her head back and forth. "No-not me. No way."
I gulped. "You're not making any sense. Are you okay?"
She grabbed my shoulders, looking right into my eyes. "Don't go. Don't go there. Whatever you do. Run."
"CAROL!" The sergeant-like voice of the janitor boomed out across the corridor. Carol looked back, shrieked and took off upstairs in a blur of colors, leaving me in the dust. On the other end of the hall, Daryl was pushing his floor polisher at a casual pace, that stern look locked on his face. "Karen!" I stood straight at attention. "I take it you're done with your task?"
I gave a swift nod. "Yes, sir! Tank cleared, filters replaced and snot," I shuddered. "Scraped off the walls and floor."
He looked back toward Fubar's door, waiting for a mental answer, until he nodded. "Good. Seems you did an adequate job."
"Thank you, sir." I let out a sigh, then gulped. "So what happened to Carol?"
"Her?" For a moment, just a moment, I thought I saw him crack a smile. "By my guess, she's already halfway to Carson to beg for a punishment she can actually stomach. Like fertilizing the entire school's garden for a month. Maybe if she gets lucky, none of the other delinquents will have filled that up. However," he turned to me. "It does mean I still need a partner to finish the rest of the bathrooms, rookie."
Obviously, I knew what that meant. "Meaning I get to follow you around for the rest of the shift?" I groaned inwardly.
"You're quick on the uptake. I like that." If he did, he wasn't showing it as he kept walking, and stopped at the closet. "We just need to resupply, and we'll move on to the next floor."
As he slid the key in the lock, a flash of recollection came to mind, and I expected the next few words from my boss' mouth: "What happened here? ROOKIE!"
I let out a groan. "I can explaaaaiiiin."
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