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If I Had A Hammer
Afternoon, August 29, 2007, Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
To most young teens Abelyn Elliott's age, arriving a full week (and then some) ahead of classes would be proof that their parents wanted as little to do with them as possible. Whether that was meant or seen as a punishment or neglect would, of course, vary. Abbie knew that that was anything but the case for her. She resolved to take every advantage that her parents' sacrifice and her scholarship would provide. To that end she spent most of her time getting her prized Workshop bay set up as a working blacksmith's shop.
It would have been even more prized if she could have set up above ground. She wasn't a dwarf! At 5'9" and pushing 200 pounds, "dwarf" was not the first word that came to most minds. The doctors at the Clinic couldn't say for sure if she would get much taller, but their best estimate was that her muscle strength would shift bone growth from favoring length and leverage to building increased density and power. In any case, she wasn't a dwarf and she didn't have any instinct to live and work underground or sing stupid songs on her way to work in the local mines. Speaking of Disney tropes, she made a mental note to look into New Hampshire's hunting seasons and license requirements. 'Watch out, Bambi.'
Bearing in mind that one of the returning sophomores was said to be a twitchy young girl going by the code name "Psydoe", it didn't take much for Abbie's mental processes to be fully diverted to what sort of black power weapons she could and should work on first. That in turn meant more library runs, CAD software to order once she learned the specs for any computer-guided milling equipment, and so forth. However, she figured she'd better drop off a couple of notebooks she'd unpacked, back at her room, instead of leaving them sitting around in her shop.
The idea that she'd soon be having a roommate was very low on Abbie's priorities list.
To her credit, she didn't scream.
The, um, person in her room when she stopped by was... different. In profile, it was easy to tell that this person was a female of some mammalian species in that they had long, straight, jet-black hair falling down their back from between two forward-sweeping multi-pronged wing-bladed bone crests attached to each side of their skull, lying mostly between a pair of bone shoulder blades projecting like jagged ossified wing stubs from their scapula. A practical black halter top and charcoal gray denim jeans lent modesty to the young woman.
Abbie's mind helpfully pointed out that at least the Boobie Fairy hadn't gone overboard in giving out his gifts, because finding a bra that fit around that anatomy was going to be a bitch.
The person turned to see the speaker, giving Abbie a chance to see their face. It was androgynous, with fuller eyebrows and a slightly more square jaw than one expected on a young woman, but more delicate cheekbones than most young men had. The silvered irises of their eyes would have been a hint at mutation, if the extra bone structures hadn't given that away.
"Huh? Oh! Hello, you must be Ab... Sorry. English names still throw me," duly embarrassed by the failed introduction, they stepped forward and extended a hand. "I am Elve Järvinen, from Helsinki."
Abbie took the hand and gave it a firm handshake.
"Abelyn Elliott, originally from Elizabethtown." Seeing the usual incomprehension of wherever that could be, screw the damn movie, "That's in Kentucky. Don't worry. No one else knows where the town is either. You can call me Abbie, Abelyn, or Smithy if I get to use that as a code name, just don't call me late for dinner!"
"Do Americans normally call a person 'late for dinner'?"
"It's an old joke. A pretty lame one too, I guess. So... Elve, what's your power? I assume you just might be a mutant if you're here."
"A joke. I'm sure I will understand more once my English is better. My power? That is one thing I am here to learn about. I host a spirit, but other than that?" Elve shrugged, more elegantly than one would have expected with shards of bone projecting from her back.
"Don't worry about your English. It's probably better than half the native speakers here. The testing team says I could host a spirit but not to get my hopes up. Other than that, something about being an 'exemplar' is supposed to make me stronger than most. The biggest thing for me is that being called a 'gadgeteer' lets me keep my equipment in one place down in the Workshop."
"Workshop? The guide earlier said something about that, but also said that we would be introduced to that part of the school later."
"Just as well. It's easy to get lost down there. Need any help unpacking?"
"No," Elve replied, "Thank you. It is a pleasant change from the way things were - before I manifested."
Just then, the faltering conversation was interrupted by one of the older Whitmaniacs, "Alva!"
"Good. As I said, c'mon, we're headed to - Hi, Abbie! Decide to come up for air? Anyways we're all headed to the Crystal Hall for dinner in five. Gotta go!"
"She did not call you 'late for dinner'. That is close to correct, yes?"
"Some days, I reckon you have to take what you can get."
"This must be one of them."
"We should go with this group. Some of the girls living here are not as much fun to be around."
"Fun was not the word I was thinking of."
Tuesday morning, September 4, 2007, Whateley Academy
or, First Day of Classes, What Could Go Wrong?
Abbie had been relieved to learn that her roommate didn't mind that she tended to wake up at the crack of dawn or earlier. Although the Finn tended to be barely awake when she gathered her toiletries to head to the showers, she was much more lively afterwards. That was a good thing, because the bone crests or spurs projecting from her head and back made washing, drying, and combing her beautiful hair a challenge. However, if they could both get to the showers and back early enough, they could help each other out.
Helping out. That had been another thing Abbie had learned about Elve - the girl's fierce need for independence. It had taken a couple of arguments before the other girl finally broke down and explained that before she had manifested she had been severely handicapped and almost a prisoner of a slowly failing body. Between the arguments, and before they'd hashed out some rules for living together, Abbie had one of her few 'back flashes' (as she called the hated things; they never were pleasant) to her roommate's earlier life. That had... helped. Learning in turn about Abelyn's late parents gave the other girl good reason to back off a bit.
The long and the short of it today was that first-day jitters had woken most of the other freshman girls earlier than usual and the two ended up in the middle of it. Throw in a few dozen cases of synchronizing periods and various degrees of self- and other- directed misery, and Abbie was almost ready to hope that her first class would be all-male.
It wasn't. But enough of the boys in the class were sure to be exemplars that she didn't expect she'd mind the view. Enough of the girls were sure to be 'exemplar beauties' that she wouldn't even be in the running for any of the boys' attention. For a girl away from home for the first time, and barely fourteen, it was enough to just look for now.
"Good morning, class. Everyone, find a seat. I see that we still have some seats open in the back, so I'll remind you all that this is Chemistry I, not 'bomb-building for dummies' nor 'drugz are us'. Anyone expecting something more exciting than a basic science class is in the wrong place."
Not five minutes later, Abbie found herself stuck sitting next to the kid who'd nearly run into her at their advisor's office. At least he'd had the grace to blush apologetically when she reminded him of it. For now, she resolved to make the best of a bad deal, and ignore how often he played with or chewed on or dropped his pen, not in that order. At this rate, maybe he'd Darwin Award his way out of the class, by way of the lab section, before she had to take matters in her own hands.
Of course the teacher made them lab partners. How could Murphy, Finagle, or the perversity of the Universe possibly have taken a morning off?
Abbie's third period class was American History. After boomtown chemistry and a moderately advanced Spanish class, that was sure to be the most boring class on her schedule for someone born to do and to make things.
Indeed, the history class didn't start well. As in chemistry, there was a holdup getting students to sit near... guess who?... but Mr. Williams was more of an ass about it. This time Abbie ended up sitting in front of the Jensen kid and a Middle Eastern student. She figured that this would last as long as it took for the boy to blow himself up by failing to pay attention in Chem lab.
Abbie was surprised that instead of fidgeting all period, the dipstick talked throughout the entire period. He'd claimed he could translate for the Arab girl. Whether the expected disaster struck first, or the poor girl received poor grades as a result of bad translations, Abbie hoped this would be a temporary irritation.
Lunch was excellent. Even with the entire student body on-campus there was plenty of good food to go around. The only setback was that the less-desirable ground floor tables were clearly seen as the proper place for the students who didn't count as the school's Beautiful People. However, it seemed that quite a few people she recognized from the Workshop and Whitman Cottage ate and hung out on the ground floor, so it wasn't as if she and her roommate were at a loss for folks to hang out with. What was that line from one of Pa's favorite movies? 'No matter where you go, there you are'?
Abbie's fourth period class was Freshman English. Remembering that two of the three morning classes had placed her next to a disruptive kid she wasn't sure she wanted to know, she arrived early enough to grab a seat closer to the front. This effort was rewarded by a cute young guy setting his books down at the seat next to her. By the end of the class Abbie hadn't caught the guy scoping her body out even once. To his credit, he did seem like a nice guy, so he probably fell into one of two categories:"dating someone else already" or "gay". Still, the scenery was nice... If he didn't get all weird about her roommie's looks - it might be nice to have him over to help her and Elve study some time.
Speaking for the defense, Kristian Holm was uncomfortably aware that more than one person was liking what they saw. He just didn't understand why some were also projecting disappointment in his direction. He knew he'd showered and used deodorant. His trousers were zipped (getting used to zippers, there had been mildly traumatic!) It wasn't as if he were flashing a sign that read 'former girl here!' If this was the normal experience for empaths, his morning Esper class was going to be as critical to his sanity as the teacher had hinted in the opening remarks.
Electronics, like chemistry, promised to be more 'follow the electrons' as a basic concept. The syllabus read like it had been pulled from a college class, but the class projects looked like they could be fun once she had a decent grasp of the concepts. It didn't hurt at all that most of the boys noticed that she was one of the few girls in the class.
Her sixth period class was enlightening, starting with the official reasons that handcuffs and other restraints were required equipment. What was literally frustrating was that that Kristian Holm kid was in the same class and managed to look even cuter in athletic gear. Abbie was beginning to see why even the 'normal-looking' Whitman girls walked around with a miserable attitude. So many unfairly good-looking guys, and the playing field was so unfairly tilted toward the 'hawt chicks'. Never mind that even a large fraction of the good-looking and 'hawt' guys were just as intimidated, but would rather take a vow of chastity than admit it. On the other hand, whether the boy was gay or not, this might be a fun class for group study if she could arrange it. Not that the prototype designs for fetters the techie side of her brain was conjuring up had anything to do with that.
Luckily the folks in the Survival class did not have to worry (so far) about having some freshman nearly setting the place on fire!
Wednesday morning, September 5, 2007, Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
The Jensen kid showed up for Chemistry with a mild concussion from his BMA class the previous day. Although the teacher waved that off as something that could be expected from Sensei Ito's classes, Abbie wasn't so sure. If only she could ask someone to switch lab partners without being overheard.
She did ask someone at lunch to explain exactly what the white 'UV' band meant, only to realize afterward that no one was going to volunteer to partner with an 'Ultra-Violent' student in a chemistry class.
Thursday morning, September 6, 2007, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Mr. Williams looked maybe a bit too happy that Jensen had an excused absence. Elisa looked so lost that Abbie volunteered to start taping the history classes for her. If it just happened that she also taped some of the 'translations' the poor girl was getting, so much the better. If they were good, she could stop worrying about the unreliable freshman. If not, maybe Mr. Williams was right to not want the boy around.
It turned out that Thursday was traditionally 'uniform day' for JROTC units at civilian schools, and Whateley wasn't an exception. While the Jensen kid had looked okay in his JROTC uniform, Mr. Kristian Holm looked very nice. Resigned to not having much of a chance, Abbie settled for quiet appreciation. It would be three weeks before she noticed that both boys wore the same red and white flag on their sleeve.
Friday morning, September 7, 2007, Whateley Academy
So far for this, the first week of classes, the routine that Abelyn and Elve had settled on of waking up early to avoid the morning rush had worked well. This morning it turned against them by giving them more time to worry about the day ahead.
After hearing several powers testing horror stories Elve was in no rush to face her own round of powers testing today. Her advisor had tried to reassure her, but he couldn't deny that the researchers would be very interested in her, given her chronic illness before her manifestation. Worse, she was not confident enough in her new self to risk hearing the words: "I'm sorry, but there's nothing we can do." again. The voice in her head was harsh and grating, but familiar:
< We have been through this once before, no? If there is a chance to correct this one problem, should we not risk hearing them out? >
< Yes. But what would I have to give up? Your kind are not the only ones who can give nothing over for free. I can't bear to go back to how I was! >
< Neither of us can. Neither of us will. My prison was sturdy, yet here we are: proof that the world changes. >
< It's just that... >
< I know. >
Abbie had concrete worries of her own. Even though she was slowly getting used to being seated next to Metro, she still didn't like being around the Thornie. Boy howdy, was that ever an appropriate term for someone who made you feel like someone was walking over your grave just by being there. Or, someone who had a habit of looking through you instead of at you, as if you were being evaluated for threat potential.
Maybe it was simply a matter of being assigned for a chemistry lab partner someone who managed to click, drop, bite, or reassemble a ballpoint pen twenty times in less than an hour. She'd counted, by the way, should anyone ask in the wake of the impending disaster she imagined. She'd even had nightmares of working with the guy in her shop again.
At the end of the first period, Abbie found herself heading to her Spanish class in a daze. Her chemistry class had had its first lab of the semester, and she was still alive! Kane Hall was still standing!
She'd even found out that the wet-lab classes at Whateley featured incinerators for gloves and dust masks. Abbie hadn't really worried about what she would do with her gloves after using them - throw them in the trash, most likely. Her weirdo lab partner, on the other hand, had brought in his own gloves and a resealable package for collecting them for later disposal. Something insanely paranoid about how easy it was to collect DNA from used gloves and some of the uses that the material could be put to?
Apparently, other mystic arts kids had had the same reservations, as had Security and the Workshop. Oh, right. Bio-devisors. Ick. So the guy was still weird, but maybe not insanely paranoid. That didn't give him a free pass to be a complete jerk about personal protection equipment and safety procedures. Abbie interpreted the contradiction as him being the sort of person who would carefully and correctly concoct explosives or neurotoxins when the teacher wasn't looking.
"See? It's all easy if you follow the procedures as outlined. Once you have all that down solid, then you can improvise when needed!"
She was going to die in a fireball, right here, in this lab. Just not today.
After classes, Friday, September 7, 2007, Whateley Academy
Elve was relieved to finally have the testing over with. The researchers had been far too interested in her physical changes to care much about how poorly they explained their theories. They were also far too insensitive about how much it HURT when a basketball is shot into living bone tissue! Then the bastards went to lunch and forgot to make sure she got something to eat.
< What about the rest? You have to admit that some of it was interesting. >
< We knew I was fast, and that I risk overheating if I overdo it. >
< But flight? Even I did not expect that that was a possibility! >
< One step at a time, remember? >
< Of course, but I can look forward to the challenge. >
< We both can. >
< That's a deal. >
"So, Elve, what did they find?" Abbie was happy enough to still be alive, but she hoped her roommate would have good news of her own.
"Hm. Avatar three, but we knew that. Also, Warper three-tee-bee? I can move very quickly and with practice perhaps fly. What else? My perception of time and distance changes along with my speed, so I shall have to be careful with what I do. They also say that the bone growths allow my body to shed some of the excess heat. Too fast for too long, and I could overheat. Perhaps."
"That sounds like more tests later."
"True. As long as they skip the, what did the others call it?, 'dodgeball from hell', that would be good."
Friday evening, September 7, 2007, Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
Going over the history lesson tapes with Tira was more disturbing than Abbie had counted on. For one thing, the Syrian girl had fur all over and huge buck teeth. She also tended to squeak more than laugh. And she was laughing a lot.
"Abbie, please tell me you'll keep recording this until they make him stop. I haven't had this good a laugh in far too long."
"But Tira, is he putting Elisa on, or what?"
"Oh. There is a lot of 'or what' going on. I'd heard that Williams is over-patriotic, but this? I am glad I haven't had the misfortune." Abbie raised her eyebrow in question. "No. The facts are correct. They don't hire idiots for teachers here. But" Tira squeaked a bit more in merriment.
"But the Jensen boy is giving a, um, colorful translation. I am not sure he learned the language from nice people. The content remains factual, but the sarcasm is strong in this one."
"So, will you? Keep taping, I mean?"
"I don't see why not."
"Thank you! You won't regret it."
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In the beauty of the ending day
There is always something to return to
Something you allow
To slip away..."
-- Emil Adler, Julie C Flanders, " Something More Than This "
The day was turning into one of those hazy late-summer weekend days that always got her Pa more restless than usual. Ma'd packed a picnic lunch, as even though their beat-up Corolla still got decent mileage, it didn't hurt to save money on the remainder of the trip: out of town, away, away, away. Abbie was in the back seat with the cooler holding the food and the iced-down drinks. It'd be nice if they didn't have to rely on "four-sixty A/C", but so far it was only warm enough to relax the girl. The way she'd been having headaches lately, she was glad of the relaxing. She was also glad that Ma had packed some ice packs as well - just in case.
No sense in fencing her Paul in at the shop if the child just as easily might not come down with another of those migraines (which didn't always last too long). Ava surely knew why her husband had that pressing need to see as much of the world as he could. She looked back at their little girl, soon to become a woman, and resolved to keep secret the reasons behind that restlessness that was just part of that Southern boy's charms.
Once they were out on an unfamiliar stretch of road, Abbie became more interested in the scenery outside the open windows. Occasionally, the smell of wild roses or ripening corn edged their way into the car past the roadway's gasoline and diesel. Between one road-cut hill and the next, there might be planted bottom-lands well below the grade, or woods, or what-have-you. Looking out the driver's side back window, the girl noticed that some guy was slowly pacing them in his over-powered, over-priced, lift-kit pick-up. Or rather he had been, before swerving to the right and cutting off the aging Toyota. The tractor-trailer behind them didn't even honk its horns at them before the truck's grill smashed into the back...
Monday, September 10, 2007, Doyle Medical Center
"... That's about when Elve had to pull me out of my bed to try and wake me up." Abelyn Elliott stared down at the very interesting monochrome industrial carpet the office had been furnished with. It was far better than the images that came back to her from after the car rolled down the embankment. They may not be enough for the legal system to deal with, but some day a license plate and a face may be enough for her to deal with.
"I haven't had that dream since my parents died! Why now, when it's far too late to do anything about it? I thought that maybe... I thought things were getting better."
Dr. Bellows continued his note-taking to give the girl room to say more, but this last clearly wasn't a rhetorical question. "That's a good question, Abbie. You say you've also had this same dream before your parents' accident?"
"Yes. Some of the details would change, like the final playout weren't set. Otherwise, yes."
"Have you had other dreams like this which seemed to reflect later events?"
"Um... Promise this is confidential?"
"I won't promise to keep silent about things which may result in your harm, or other students' harm. However, it does not sound as if these dreams qualify as that."
"It's just that my Pa and my Ma made me promise to keep these things to myself. Make note of them when they seem extra-real, but to be very careful about acting on them. They don't always come true you know."
"I see." The doctor paused for effect before going on, "While there are precognitives with a very good record for accuracy, usually it's just as your parents told you. It doesn't hurt to take note of whatever you have, but I wouldn't recommend placing too much weight on what you think you've seen or heard. How often have you had what seemed to be glimpses of the past?"
"None that I recall off-hand."
"Well then, let's treat this instance as a regular dream or nightmare. You're almost certainly still grieving for your parents"
"Every day. But I try to keep going, as that's what they would've wanted."
"That's a good attitude to have. Please remember that we - your teachers, your house parents, myself included - are always available if you find things becoming too much to handle. Aside from the start of classes, are there any new stresses? Early problems with your classes or classmates, perhaps?"
"Nooooo..." Which, in teen-speak, meant "Definitely yes."
"Of course, even when there are no problems, there may be things that have piqued your interest, right?"
Abbie hid a small smile. "There are a lot of very good-looking guys going to school here, but easily as many girls much better-looking than I am."
"I'd dare say you might be selling yourself short, but any good examples?"
"Well... There's this one guy who's in a couple of my classes, sits next to me in English. He's got this faint German or Swedish accent, I guess? But he sounds adorable when he does speak up."
Dr. Bellows smiled. At least the poor girl hadn't completely shut down over her losses on top of everything else.
"Christian Home? I think. Not sure how he spells it. But he's totally different from the guy they have me sitting with in Chemistry and American History. Not that the other guy's bad-looking, just that it's hard for anyone to be around him."
This was no longer going in a comfortable direction, but the doctor had to ask.
"Have you asked about moving to a different seat?"
"Doctor, half the class - well, half of both classes, anyway - they want nothing to do with the guy. Aside from him being one of the really sick ones who have to wear a warning badge..."
*ahem* "Really sick ones?"
"Isn't that what 'ultra-violent' means? The worst of the bullies and others who are dangerous to be around?"
"I'm afraid you may find that some of the worst bullies never openly break the school's code of conduct. The UV armbands are meant to serve as a warning to other students not to provoke the wearer to violence or to drag them into a fight. I'd prefer that such measures weren't needed, but it's the best system we've been able to work out so those students can still get an education while they get more specialized help with coping."
"That still doesn't sound like they're safe to be around, but you're the doctor." Abbie mused, What's odd is this guy has a white band. I don't think I've seen anyone else with one."
"There is one such student that I know of, the second went missing last year."
"But what does it mean, and why so few? All I was told was not to f-, er, bother with him."
"Officially, it's for students who keep ending up in fights that they didn't start."
"We're only a week into the school year. How many fights could one kid possibly get into? Have you seen this guy?"
Doctor Bellows tried not to sigh. He'd had more than one opportunity to see that particular patient.
"Unofficially, it's been used mostly for students who we have reason to believe will end a fight they get pulled into by ending the aggressor. The trouble is that lethal force, even in self-defense, tends to be quite dangerous to others in the vicinity. That goes for would-be peacekeepers as much as it does the bystanders."
"So, no firing off a cap gun behind him?" Abbie joked weakly.
"Please don't even joke about something like that. It is entirely too easy for a small prank to turn into a super-powered confrontation or an incident in which many people could be injured."
Abbie groaned at her doctor's admonishment. "I already got that lecture from the boy who I still think is going to manage to blow the building up."
The doctor shook his head slowly. Given Abbie's wry sense of humor, his other patient might now have the same impression of her. Best to shift back to the earlier topic.
"Is it possible that the anxiety you've felt about your lab partner might have contributed to that dream of your parents' deaths coming back to you?"
"... maybe. It just feels like there was something more that I'm missing."
Considering that the girl might be a precog, there may be. Bellow added to his session notes.
"I'll admit that whether or not foul play was involved in your parents' deaths, you may not be entirely clear of danger from the same people. This dream then could be a reminder from your subconscious mind of that. Are you following so far?"
"Yes. It makes sense that someone who hates my family that much may want a chance at me. That's one of the reasons I'm here."
"Good. Let me run this by you: How about you continue to keep a record, but include all the dreams you can recall each morning. Also, if you have any waking dreams or odd experiences of the sort write those down as well. When you come in, bring your note with you to go over for discussion."
"I can do that. Too bad I won't get extra credit for English doing that."
"It's still a good practice, and one that might carry over into your English class."
"I'll have to think about that."
"While you do, keep in mind that it may give you and the powers testing team a better understanding of your abilities and of how you might develop them further. Well then, are there any other issues that have come up in the past week? ..."
Wednesday, September 12, 2007, Fabricators' Row, Workshop, Whateley Academy
In spite of grief, mislabeled shipping containers, and schoolwork, Abbie had finally gotten her bay into the rough shape of a working forge. Working around the air-handlers, temperature-rated exhausts, and anechoic panels while leaving room for expansion had been a challenge. However, this was exactly this sort of challenge that she had had hopes for when her parents had taken her up east to visit a school with 'advanced technology facilities'.
"I'm sorry. Whoever told you about Whateley Academy should have also told you that our admissions policy is quite exclusive. Your daughter's grades..."
Ava tried to remain hopeful, "Mrs. Carson, if it's only a matter of grades I assure you that Abelyn's grades can and will improve here!"
"That may be so, but while an excellent academic record would help her qualify and maintain a scholarship, there are none that I am aware of that she would qualify for. To be blunt, our tuition fees are very expensive, much more than an artisan blacksmith and a potter could expect to afford."
Paul tried another approach, "We've sold just about everything we had, except for what's been coming to Abelyn. Some books, her tools, some personal belongings. We..." The broad-shouldered man's cell phone rang. Discourteous as it must be, he saw the number and said, "Mrs. Carson, I beg your pardon, but I must needs take this call."
"By all means," the school headmistress granted. As hard as this interview was- on her as well as the distressed parents- she could afford to be graceful.
"What happened? Is she... oh. Oh, god."
He turned to answer his wife, "M-Miss Lucy was just found. They burned her out." The person on the other end of the line had had more to say, "What's that? You already did? No. It's all right, we'll make arrangements before heading home. Good bye, Jimmie."
"Ava, Jimmie went ahead and shipped Abelyn's belongings up here. Mrs. Carson, I realize I shouldn't ask this of you and your school, but could Abelyn stay until the end of the week? We need to tend to Miss Lucy's burial and Abelyn, well, they'll be wanting her signature and all... "
Mrs. Carson's compassion warred with her conscience. The tipping point, meager as it was, was that the couple had to have known something about the school for them to have come here. There'd be no mistaking the return addresses on whatever was coming: for some that would be tantamount to waving a red flag in front of the H1 bull. She took a chance.
"One week, and that's all. We're not a hotel, but until the bulk of our students return from their summer break we're not crowded either. Mr. and Mrs. Elliott, I keep getting the impression that you don't understand that even if your daughter were to manifest as a mutant, there no reason to believe that she would be a danger to herself or others."
"We do understand that. These days, it don't take much to be branded a mutant, or worse, in some folks' eyes. They're the dangerous ones to my eyes, if you were to ask me."
"Paul." Ava interrupted him before his frayed nerves could snap. "Mrs. Carson. Paul and I, we cannot thank you enough for doing this for us, but please know we do thank you."
Wednesday evening, September 12, 2007, Fabricators' Row, Workshop, Whateley Academy
Once the last of her family's library had been put away safe in locked cabinets, Abbie pulled out her sketchbook from her backpack. She leafed through the pages to a simple project that should be suited to being the first from her shop. She laid out the tools and materials she knew she'd need to start, then double-checked that those needed for later steps were where she needed them to be.
Thrice around the forge, thrice about the anvil, and third around her work table the young woman walked while reciting a set of 'psalms' she'd been taught practically from the cradle. They were old prayers, and were hardly much older now than they'd been when her forefathers arrived in North America. Indeed, they were hardly half their age when their forefathers first pulled up stakes and removed themselves to the north of Albion to avoid Romans and their strange deities. Whether such prayers were to be needed at this late date hardly mattered: this was a solemn family tradition and Abbie performed it with intent, even to the three drops of her own blood on the same anvil before which she hoped to see her own children baptized, just as their mother and grandfather before them.
The roar of air-fed coals soon filled the shop, alternating with the ageless music of hammer, wrought metal, and anvil. Abelyn Marie Elliott was home.
Monday morning, September 17, 2007, Kane Hall
Abbie was surprised to see that her lab partner had gotten to class ahead of her; she'd come in earlier than usual herself. However, much of the surprise was that he was sitting rather awkwardly on his stool and there was a pair of crutches leaning against the bench next to him.
She couldn't resist commenting. "Aren't those crutches a 'slip and trip' hazard where you've put them?"
"Hm? Oh, right. Yeah, the trouble with this place is that little or no thought about accessibility was put into most of the buildings. Gods forbid a Thornie should get to class in one piece."
"It can't be that bad."
"Ever tried going down a flight of stairs, with a crowd, on crutches? I mean other than the fast and bouncy way."
"I can't say I have."
"I don't recommend it, to you. To others? 'I have a little list'" Mads' half-smile didn't entirely reach his eyes.
"I gather you've got a friend or two in Hawthorne who've had a hard time of it?"
"I sure hope so. That's where I'm staying this year."
Abbie'd walked right into that.
"Right. I knew that. So how did hurt yourself?" Abbie motioned to the crutches.
"Slipped on a wet tile in the ground-floor head. Saturday night." Mads followed this limited information with a 'what can you do?' shrug. "Kind of late."
"Huh. One of the other girls on my floor got hurt Saturday as well."
"Sorry to hear that. I hope everything turned out right?"
"She's damned lucky t'be alive. Flew right into a tree in the dark." Mads flinched at that. Abbie was glad neither one of them had been there. It had to have been a gruesome sight. "Way I hear it, if one of the Security guys hadn't known a bit of healing, Gladys wouldn't be alive. They had to cut her off the tree to get her to Doyle."
Mads was looking whatever color passed for turning green in the face. "Yeah. That's pretty bad when you think about it like that."
"But they brought in some healers, got her all patched up. She might even be back in class tomorrow."
"Good to hear." As if sensing Abbie's discomfort, the boy flashed a polite smile and went back to the notes he seemed to be revising. Abbie pulled out her sketchbook and photos of the stilettos she was working on. No point in putting work into a good blade only to finish it with a POS handle.
A few more students drifted in, obviously tech track folks who'd have grabbed a quick breakfast on their way up from their labs. Devisor fugue was one of the reasons Monday tests weren't encouraged in certain departments: less chance of having half the class needing to schedule make-up tests after they got lost in their projects. Elve had laughed about the warning she'd gotten from Pythia regarding techies and their (non-existent) self-care abilities.
Hyperfocus wasn't strictly for the devisors and Ritalin kids. Abbie had no idea how long she'd been smelling cordite, fog, and damp earth from just over her shoulder.
"Planning on shanking someone?" *beat* "Can I help?"
"No," Abbie drawled, as if a Fifth Amendment plea depended on it. "Just a personal project I'm working on." She tapped on a couple of pictures, "This is where I'm at now, so I want to get a jump on prettying up the handles."
"Ah. Not doing something stupid like boot knives, I hope."
"People forget that the ankle is real live joint; the kind you don't wanna smoke. So they make the blade too long and the handle too short. Besides, police and security are trained to look for stuff like that."
"Yep. On vambraces too. Mind if I borrow this?"
Seeing that he'd already picked up her sketchbook, "Go right ahead." 'I'll kill you later. Jerk.' was what she actually thought.
Mads managed to start sketching a rough bust before their teacher arrived and started the class. Instead of doodling all over his own paper, the jerk occasionally made marks in the sketchbook.
At the end of the class, he handed the book back to its owner. "Just some ideas. If you want to, we can go over this a bit tomorrow morning."
Abbie muttered something non-committal and left the classroom, but it was hard to return the guy's welcome when she got to their history class. His smile fell and turned bittersweet sad as if he knew he'd upset her but didn't know how he had. Boys.
Abbie had to wait until the lunch break before she had time to open up her precious sketchbook to survey the damage. The drawings were by no means the work of a trained draftsman, and the handwriting bad, but overall good enough to get the point across. That point being that a longer hair style and some sleight-of-hand with scabbards might allow the spindly knives to be disguised as hair sticks. The girl had rarely paid much attention to her hair except to keep it clean, untangled, and braided to keep it clear of machinery. The idea of pinning it with decorative cutlery might actually work.
Monday afternoon, September 17, 2007, Schuster Hall
Abbie wanted to do well in English. After all, it was her native language, so why should she have to get by with lower grades than in Spanish? She knew she could gage how much her exemplar trait was helping her out: better grades than this time last year. It could be much better. Once their survival class let out, she screwed up her courage and asked Kristian if he'd be open to studying with her and Elve some time this week.
The American girl was still a confusing bundle of emotions. Beautiful in an old-fashioned healthy way, she was not yet convinced that she had much beauty. Kristian would have bet money that if they hadn't been in the same class the girl never would have asked him to anything. He would have, but considered the few people who'd cover that bet. No, that was a horrible idea..
It didn't hurt Abbie's case that Kristian was currently more than slightly self-conscious that the 'Emilie Kirsten' part of her brain was digging his own scent of 'clean healthy male, recently exercised', while the rest appreciated the 'girl! ohmygod! talking to me!' He'd also noticed that she had height, weight, muscle, and reach on her side. So, yes, the roommate (and potential witness) could study with them in the library (and he'd be on his best behavior).
Later comments by certain parties on whether his Survival class adequately covered 'studying with exemplar babes' were duly noted and ignored. Except for the "clean clothes, fresh shower and shave, and a subtle cologne" advice - that was a keeper.
Tuesday morning, September 17, 2007, Kane Hall
This morning, her lab partner greeted Abbie with a more guarded expression.
"Feeling better today?" he asked.
"Yes. Thanks for asking," was the equally guarded reply.
"...didn't know my sketchbook had personal stuff in it. I got that. But it does." Apparently. "Let's just pick up where we left off and call it done with."
"If you say so. Questions, comments, logistically impossible suggestions?"
"I was wondering how many women you know have tusks."
Mads shrugged, "You'd be surprised. Is that a problem?"
"No. Just wondering." 'And trying very hard to ignore what could be a creepy fetish.' "The parts here in Cyrillic need a bit more explanation. Russian?"
"Da. Let's see... Here, I was uncertain if the dimensions would allow for a little 'ignore me' enchantment could be worked into the scabbard design. And here I was thinking that you could go with a rawhide wrap that plugged a longer, wider tube that enclosed the entire dagger."
"Er... In theory that could work, but in practice, maybe not."
"Yeah. Yuki's were more like disguised ceramic spikes in a lacquered holder - like a sword cane? But if the outer part were cloisonné, the expectation from the start would be that the scanners would read metal."
"So this Yuki person. How'd that work for her?"
"No complaints when we flew into Osaka or Petrograd, and Customs at the Osaka airport was a bit squirrelly. Is that what you meant, or how'd they work work?"
"Um. The latter."
"I honestly don't know. She used her katana or bare fists on most jobs."
"I'll think about the ideas, but no guarantees. I do like the idea about chisel points."
"Fair 'nough. Oh, yeah, and that's a note to myself to ask if there are any Workshoppers who would take on two blades, fee-for-service. T and I have an assignment that calls for designing our own athemes. It doesn't have to be us personally who make them, just document what was done and why, and turn in the final product for inspection."
"Mads, I've been trained as a blacksmith from the time I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Believe me when I warn you that if you only want to pay for a Pakistani pig-sticker, put in an order on the net and see what you get. If you want quality work it's going to cost you."
The boy shrugged as if she'd told him that water tended to be wet. "Of course. I'll have to get back with the other half to put together the specs and order components. If you can't take the job, would you be willing to shop it out, say for ten percent?"
"We'll see about that when you've got the job requirements together." Abbie nodded toward the front of the class, "Looks like it's time for class."
"I could use some class!"
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves."
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Late afternoon Assembly, Thursday, September 20, 2007, Arena 99 Stands, Whateley Academy
"I've had a few ... unusual requests, five this week alone," Mrs. Carson began bluntly. "Now while Whateley respects your freedom of religion, no-one, and I repeat, NO-ONE, is going to build any form of shrine, temple, altar, or any other worship or adoration space devoted to any other student or student's spirit, NO MATTER WHOSE SPIRIT THAT STUDENT MIGHT CARRY!"
The discussion inside Elve Järvinen's head went a bit differently.
'Depending on which spirits are on the secret forbidden list, shouldn't some pagans still be allowed to keep their personal altars?'
'I recall this happening before. The local priest draws up the list of forbidden subjects of worship to match all likely subjects. Then the leg-breakers go out to look for violations.'
Mrs. Carson scanned the audience, stopping specifically so she could glare at some students seated behind the Whitman and Twain Cottage rows. "Anyone who makes a request to erect such a worship space will be severely punished. Any avatar who requests or otherwise gives approval to devotees will be even more severely punished or expelled. DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?"
'It does look like the punishable list is being made up from the requests, doesn't it?'
'As I said, the fix is in. That Dillon Chapel is staying open even though one girl is said to be able to channel angels.'
'Now you just sound jealous!'
Mrs. Carson turned and stormed off the stage, visibly fuming.
'I thought you didn't remember much of the old days?'
'I do pay attention to what we hear and what you know already. What I know for sure is that letting others make an altar or shrine to us is a trap for one or both of us.'
Elve got up with the rest of her cottage and year group, to head back out. Abbie interpreted her roommate's silence as taking time to discuss matters with her spirit. That was only reasonable, given the topic and the heavy-handed way it was put across.
'At first, it provides a practically free conduit to either a powers boost or energy reserve for the avatar, filtered through the spirit of course.'
'But there's no such thing as a free lunch.'
'Exactly. Once you're hooked on that juice, it's harder to let go of than all those painkillers you used to be on.'
'Ugh. The first dose is always the best. '
'You got it. The spirit pimping paybacks in miracles or boons grows in power within, around, and behind the host. No two ways about it, because that's the one that the worshipers care about. Not the host. Not ever the host.'
'Does it ever go wrong?'
'I think that's how I got shoved into an old ax head and buried. Maybe you should take a magic course or two, if the avatar courses here stay dumbed down? Think about it: people, being people, are sure to screw up once in a while and hook their prayer machinery up to the wrong something or someone. Maybe their veneration turns some poor slob into a miracle-working saint. Maybe their sacrifices powers up a new devil or opens a door for a bitty demon to become a real menace.'
'Where would I fit in in that?'
'Somewhere between collateral damage and designated victim. Either way, the host or the growing spirit becomes a prison or a coffin for the other. Afterwards, piss the wrong shaman or priest or whatever off, and everyone left over gets stuck in some random object and buried forever and a day.'
'Say things go off-kilter and someone hooks up an altar or story or what-have-you to us. Can't you or I just refuse?'
'I don't know. I really don't, and I think that should scare both of us.'
'It still sounds like some of these wannabe-gods want that big ticket to happen for them.'
'Yeah. That means they'll backstab anybody for a little extra juice. Or build some poor fool up to the tipping point that they become the hero or monster they've been told they are, just so the god-botherers have a tastier snack later.'
'So we keep our heads down?'
'As long as we're able. Neither one of us wants to be chained back down like we were.'
By the time her internal discussion ended, Elve was already back in their room, with Abbie patiently waiting for an answer. Something about...
"... dinner? Yes! I am feeling hungry now that I think about it."
"What did your rider think about the assembly? You've been out of it ever since." Abbie did sound concerned.
"He doesn't have a problem with it."
"Oh? Mrs. Carson made it sound like half the spirits and entities on campus want a personal shrine built, and spare no expense on the marble!"
"That's all still a kind of magic: the kind that is never ever free. Please, if you do have a chance to acquire an avatar spirit and it wants that sort of... what is the word... devotion? Run from it!"
"That sounds kind of ominous. Er, like a bad omen?"
"It is, Abbie. From what I've been told, it really, really is. Now. Let's get some food before breaking the books for English!"
"That's 'cracking the books', but close enough."
Evening meal, Thursday, September 20, 2007, Crystal Hall
Elve looked from the serving lines back to her roommate. "Abbie, we need to study for the class before next week's test, and he probably needs to, so why not ask him? You know you want to!"
"I do, and Lord knows I could use the help, but the boy's in Emerson, and we've heard about how the Dickinson girls get when they think one of us is poaching on their territory - as they see it anyway."
"Boys still like to see such things as their decision to make, even if they're wrong half the time. Just give him a minute or two to sit down and start eating. Then go up to him and ask."
"Give him a minute to sit down ... you've been watching?"
"It is a nice view."
"You are incorrigible!"
"That is why I am encouraging you now."
Euro-Promotional League table
"Mads, I didn't see you in assembly earlier. How much detention has that cost you?"
"Why does everyone think I'm incapable of keeping out of trouble?"
"They've met you."
"Thanks, T. You're going to pay for that one. For the record, Cadet Holm, I was in my assigned cell, as the attendance record will attest."
"So why didn't you change out to civvies when you had the chance?"
The delinquent Thornie shrugged.
"Habit, I guess."
"Meaning the thought didn't even cross his mind." Mads Jensen stoically rolled his eyes at Thomas' implication that mind-crossing thoughts were a rare event for him, and palmed some of his tormentors' fries.
"Hej! Stop that!"
The banter died off as a rather pretty brunette approached the overly-male end of the table, apparently of her own free will. In many cases, the Exemplar trait tended to manifest by magnifying features considered highly desirable by the popular culture of the moment (or, "smokin' hawt", to the crass). In this young woman's case, it added a healthy strength to muscle and bones, adorned by a small but promising bust, and wide hips meant as much for supporting children as for anchoring lower body strength. She didn't waste much time on make-up, but luckily for her the natural look worked.
Of course, the poor girl had no idea that some of the appraising (and hate-you envious) looks were aimed at her instead of some cover-girl beauty behind her.
One thing she had noticed was that two of her classmates were sitting in their JROTC uniforms at the near end of the 'Beret Mafia' table. Having sat to the left of Cadet Holm, she'd seen the Danish flag sewn on his left sleeve. Having sat to Cadet Jensen's right, she'd never noticed the self-same Dannebrog on his uniform. Well, that did explain the odd way he pronounced his last name, didn't it? Abbie hoped like hell the two boys weren't a 'package deal'.
"umm... Christian? I don't know if you remember me from class..."
"I should. Abelyn Elliott..." 'Damn, that accent made her plain old name sound sexy!' "Right? You're in the same English and Survival classes as I."
Rorsmand clearly had no idea where this was going. Therefore it was up to Metro to come to the rescue! "You're in my English and Survival classes, Kris."
"No, we're ... shut it, Mads."
'Odd that he pronounces it "Mass"'
Rorsmand turned back to the more important conversation. "Please excuse my idiot countryman. What about our classes?"
"Well, my roommate and I are planning on spending some time studyin' for English an' all at the library, and we were wondering if"
"The answer's 'yes'."
Kristian turned back to the boy across the table from him. "What the hell? No one's asked you!"
Mads regarded the girl, whose hopes seemed to be rapidly going down with the ship. "What Kris means to say is that he would love to meet up with you for studying. What time at the library?"
"I, we, wouldn't want to rush him, you, is seven okay?"
"Seven would be perfect."
< "For søren! Mads, Det rager ikke dig!" > The Danish exemplar reminded himself to take a breath to calm down. This was going badly, wasn't it? "But seven would be a good time, yes."
"Thanks! Studying alone just gets so boring, y'know?"
"I do, yes. Was there something else?" Kristian was at a bit of a loss as to how a guy closes this conversation with a girl. That gave one of the drop-dead beauties at the table an opening.
"Abelyn? Can I ask where you're from? The accent sounds familiar."
"'liz'bethtown, Kentucky. You've probably,"
"That's just a ways southwest of mah ol' stompin' grounds. Hi! I'm Harley Sawyer, from Louisville" the raven-haired girl indicated herself as she nailed the local "Looahvuhl" pronunciation, then pointed to the petite, almost exotic beauty next to her, "and this is my girlfriend Jenny, Geneviève Etincelle. Our code names are Reach and Spark."
Abbie and Jenny exchanged their "pleased to meet you"s, warmed by the confidence that neither was interested in poaching the other's love interest.
"'ave you settled on a code name, yet?" Spark asked. Harley was still too much of a boy to trust the conversation to.
"I'm thinking of using 'Smithy', since that's what I'm most interested in."
"Un moment, you are the new girl setting up along Fabricator Hell?" The freshman suddenly was much more interesting to the French devisor.
"No others I've seen, so I guess so. I've finally got my shop to where I can get some real work done."
"Taking care of the important things first, good. I've been working mostly with nanostructured materials myself, but I'd love to see your setup some time."
"If I'm not in class or having to study, that's where I'll be. Just drop on by."
"Bien sur. It looks like our young Kristian Holm has almost recovered his composure. Just in time!"
Abbie's eyes widened in shock, "Oh my goodness! My apologies. I didn't mean to... oh, dear."
"That is all right. Seven at the library, then? < "uden visse personer" >." Kristian shot a dirty look across the table at his earlier 'helper'.
< "Dit tab. Jeg fik topkarakterer i engelskklasse." >
"Um. I guess I'll see you then!"
Abbie beat a hasty retreat to where Elve was still sitting.
"How did it go?"
"We're on for seven, in the library."
"See? That wasn't so hard!"
"Says you! I think I may have interrupted something between him and his boyfriend."
"Why do you think that?"
"He was sitting with that guy in my Chemistry and History classes, who's mentioned having a boyfriend once or twice, and they're both Danish."
"Would it have been better if both were Swedish? Not all cute Scandinavian guys are homosexual, you know. Well, maybe the Swedes... but not all of them."
"I do know that. Still, I think there's something I'm missing."
Rorsmand was still annoyed at his possibly, maybe, but generally irritating either way, friend. "I cannot believe you went and stuck your nose in where it doesn't belong!"
"After a while, you come to expect it." was Valravn's off-hand remark.
Metro rubbed his nose on a sleeve. "You've never complained about my nose before!"
"That wasn't quite what I meant."
"You'll have to show me some time, then, yeah?"
"What is it with you two?"
Almost on cue, Valravn and Metro stopped the banter to turn and focus on Rorsmand.
"Kris, we're nearly three weeks into the term, and even Thomas has gotten to know more people than you have."
"The difference being that you actually like people for all the waste of oxygen most of them are." Some days, the people that knew him expected to see Thomas Jensen's face in the dictionary under 'misanthrope, see Valravn.'
"That makes it our job to boot you out of your comfort zone for your own good. So. You will go to the library tonight, and talk about whatever you're covering in class, and make small talk, and get chewed out for laughing too loud, and be the not half bad-looking teen-aged guy you are."
"Well, maybe pretty good, for a human that is."
"How is it that you two are lecturing me on how to be a well-adjusted teen-aged guy?"
"I don't recall adjustments being part of the package, though I have been known to make house calls!"
Rorsmand growled back, a bit too loudly, "I don't need adjustments to my package!"
Reach almost choked on her drink.
Evening, Thursday, September 20, 2007, Kirby Library
Abbie was pleasantly surprised to see Kristian walking towards the table she and Elve had staked out. It was in one of the less-desirable, more-visible open areas, but the upperclassmen tended to hog the more private and quiet areas and they did want their classmate to find them.
Kristian, for his own part, was doing his best to be exercising his empathic reception ability while carrying out routine activities. If called on it, he could justify it as being one of his class assignments, but the truth was that he had been getting mixed signals from Abelyn every time he'd seen her. It was confusing, and he didn't like being confused or left in the dark very much.
"Kristian! You made it!"
"I did agree to be here, didn't I? I just wasn't sure where in the library you would be."
"I wasn't sure that I wasn't intruding on anything."
"No, no. Mads was just being ... Mads."
"Ah. Anyway, thanks for showing up to help out and all. You've met Elve?"
The girl still sitting at the table looked up and smiled, "Hyvää iltaa."
"It's a good thing we're studying English and not Finnish, isn't it?"
Kristian found himself already one tired and confused empath.
"Oh! I am sorry. I don't know any Finnish."
"It is like Danish, not many people do. Come, take a seat, or is it 'grab a seat'?" She looked over to her roommate.
"Either one. I think 'take' is preferred to 'grab' or 'haul yourself up'"
Kristian was certain that no matter how he phrased it, the admission that just maybe either Jensen or Jensen was right for once would be turned against him. Even so, he was glad of the little shove that got him out of the rut he was building around himself. He was also pleased to see Abelyn, or Abbie, step out as well.
The next hour or so was consumed by the dreaded rituals of Anglophone education that are codified as learning the English language's parts of speech. The only consistent rule appeared to be that there were such things as a 'part of speech' and that rules applied, except when different rules applied, and that none of this was to exclude exceptions to the rules.
Seriously. How is it that 'affect' is not only a verb but a completely unrelated noun? Maybe that's what comes of teaching Romanized Britons a Germanic language before introducing them to French?
"Isn't that so adorable! The freshies are learning their ABCs!"
One of the many things about Leevi's life that Elve had left behind and did not miss for one single minute of it was the patronizing crap that some of the able-bodied and better-looking students would pull when out of earshot of the teachers.
'Should I be impressed?'
'Not really. Let's see whose composure breaks first. Your serve.'
"That was hours ago! With a bit more work we will have our colors down before you kids even get to that chapter."
"Watch it, freak. You don't know who you're disrespecting here!"
"Do you need help to introduce yourselves? Which house mommy do we need to call?"
Kristian made a production of yawning, as if bored or tired - anything but the feeling of humiliation one of the two girls was projecting - "Should we care? When my baby sister starts getting cranky, it doesn't matter who has to take her to bed." More anger to the left. Good to know which one is the projector, and which the muscle.
"I'll have you know that we, my protege Drama and I, are better than you Whitman losers. That being so," The projected emotion came on stronger, but that was playing to Rorsmand's own powers and both Abelyn and Leevi had been badgered by experts - for their age group. "You should apologize!"
A chainsaw-rough voice cut across whatever the rest of the ultimatum would have been. "But first, Sweetheart, you two should leave this library. Don't you think?"
For a moment, the girls felt like they considered turning on the library assistant. Before they did something irrevocable they recognized the blue hair, glowing yellow eyes, and pointed chin belonging to the school's sole 'Section 33', and made a graceless retreat.
Once the girls were out of range and most of the eyewitnesses studiously eye-not-witnessing, Billie told the group, "You should leave too, before they decide to set up an ambush between here and your cottages. If you have any books you need to check out, we can take care of that now."
Kristian sighed, and started placing a call while the others gathered up their books.
"Hej, Mads? Listen, I'm here in the ... oh. You are. Where? You're ... not kidding. Of course you did. Meet you there."
The boy had to work at stifling the urge to face-palm.
"It's been recommended, by my Volunteer Overwatch Team, that we take the tunnel system."
The infamous Tennyo looked back and smiled a fanged smile, "My roommate, Generator, does the same thing sometimes when she thinks I need someone to look out for me." She paused thoughtfully. "Okay, a lot of the time, but she truly means well. If your friends are anything like mine, I'd recommend you get used to it."
"Is she also on the UV list, by any chance?" Judging by the feeling of dawning recognition as he asked the question, Abbie figured out who Kristian was just talking to.
"Kinda, sorta. Some days she wears a Pacifist band, other days the Rager band. What about your friend?"
"That's the 'Please do not lead into temptation, for he knows the road better than thee' one, right? Better you than me, bud. One of the Thornies has that one, I think."
"That's Metro all right."
"That the kid who's stuck sleeping in a tank even though he's almost drowned a couple of times?"
Kristian nodded, and made a mental note to take up the minor issue of no one bothering to mention almost drowning at a later date. Billie took the silence behind her as a 'yes'. Once she was back behind the check-out counter, she continued with the dropped part of the conversation.
"Guys, I'm just a sophomore and I had my share of problems last year, but take it from me: no matter how scary or different they are, don't take your friends for granted. Ever. My friends and I had to learn that the hard way. I think sometimes we're still learning that. Here you go Miss Elliott. These are due back Thursday, the eleventh. Take care."
Whateley Tunnels, near Kirby Library
"Errr, Abbie, I take it you know Mads Jensen, code-named 'Metro'. The other half of the stalking team is Thomas Jensen, code-named 'Valravn'. Mads, Thomas, this is Elve Järvinen..."
Kristian cringed inside as he saw that look both boys - did they really have to astrally examine everyone they met? - gave his companions, before Mads stepped up to the Finnish girl.
"Enchanté de faire votre connaissance," the young mage murmured, taking the girl's hand delicately in his before placing a chaste kiss on his own knuckle.
The Danish empath was completely flummoxed at the feelings of amused regard from both Elve and Mads. Thomas seemed to be enjoying the evident discomfort both Kris and Abbie felt at the PDA.
"What were you two doing in the library?"
"Stud-y-ing," was the sing-songed not-quite-answer.
"You just happened to be studying right then and there?"
"Nope," Mads answered. "You asked earlier if we were free around 2030. I just put two and two together."
Thomas concurred. "It's not our fault you three were too busy with conjunctions and adverbs to see us walk in."
"So! Ladies, would you be so kind as to allow us to escort you to your domicile?"
"But, of course we would, wouldn't we Miss Elliott roommate-of-mine?" As disturbing as the bone plates projecting from her head, back, and elsewhere might be, to those who were used to seeing past mere flesh, Elve was a strikingly beautiful young woman when she smiled.
"Right! Got it. Yes, we would. Lead on, good gentlemen!"
End of third period, Friday, September 28, 2007, Schuster Hall
"Abbie! Hold up a minute?"
"Yes, Mads, what is it?"
"You're headed to lunch now, right?"
"Wrong. I'm dropping off these books at my locker, then heading back to Whitman to grab my homework for this afternoon."
"Walk with you?"
"It's a free country. By the way, I still haven't found anyone willing to touch those MA projects, but Mrs. Choudhari is willing to let me bring in some equipment that might make Val's blade possible. If that works out, maybe the second can be done. Those are big if's."
"Just as well that one needs to be front-loaded to fit in with the waxing moon."
"OR we could have switched the order and taken advantage of the waning moon for the other. Don't look at me in that tone of voice. I'm capable of doing my own research as well."
"Er, yeah, about that."
'Here it comes,' Abbie thought to herself. 'And it was such an interesting project too.'
"I'd like to pay the remainder of Valravn's up-front. Y'see, we need to take a short trip to the wilds of Illinois this weekend."
"The same Illinois as in Chicago and Springfield, Illinois? You have a strange idea of 'wilds' if that part of the Midwest qualifies."
"Just so. Anyway, um, it's been my experience that travel plans can get horribly derailed at the last minute."
If the boy had worn taps he couldn't be tap-dancing any clearer.
"Gee, Metro, my parents had the same experience not too long ago. That's why my grandparents are wrangling over custody."
"No! I mean no, it's not like that, not exactly."
Abby stopped and turned to face the boy.
"Have either of you two fuckwads bothered to tell any of your friends you don't plan to come back?"
"You're tying up any loose ends are left when whatever you're trying to pull blows up in your goddamned faces!"
"Look. Abby. It's just a possibility, as with any trip..."
"And like 'any trip' you're going to leave Kristian in the dark, wondering what the hell happened to you?"
"He cannot go with us. No way."
"Because it's too damned risky for a civilian, that's why. Thomas knows what's going on as well as I do. Probably better, because he's good at thinking sideways like that. But Kris is staying HERE where it's SAFE. -ish. Mostly safe, all things considered."
This wasn't just a case of garden-variety class ditching. He was leaving.
Abbie was uncomfortably aware that a fourteen-years-old mage, who just happened to have the qualifications to work with Whateley Security, had just used the C-word and wasn't being ironic about that at all. The images pouring forth from wherever they came from were filled with fire, smoke, ice, and too much blood. Abelyn Elliott had thought her lab partner was mad, bad, and literally dangerous to know, but her mutant ability left little room for doubt.
She quietly asked, "If he's a civilian, what does that make you?"
Mads Jensen just hung his head, not daring to look his classmate in the eye. "Someone who's never been worth his friendship or even your regard."
"Are you even going to try to come back?"
"By hook or by crook, just... not at Thomas' expense. He's unhappy enough without that guilt."
"But you will make an honest effort?"
"What parts of 'hook' and 'crook' weren't clear?" At least the lopsided grin was back.
"I'll hold you to that. By the way, how do you expect to keep this conversation private from the others?"
"First off, I'm trusting that you know as well as I do how much it could hurt Kris to find out that way."
"Second..." Metro reached up to grab at something out of the air. When he opened his hand back up, there was a miniature drone in its palm. "White-noise generator. Never leave the safehouse without one."
"You, what? Wait a minute. Why does a wizard need drones and sleight of hand?"
"In reverse order: to be able to return this to its owner..."
This time, it was Abbie's ID in his hand! She quickly grabbed it and checked to see what else was obviously missing.
"Also, you're not the only rated gadget-basher in this conversation."
"I hope they lose your damned luggage!"
Fourth period English Class, Monday, October 01, 2007, Schuster Hall
Abbie had had a bad feeling about the day when she showed up for Chemistry, and her annoying lab partner was nowhere to be found. When he missed American History as well, she offered to tape the lecture for Elisa. With any luck, the Syrian girl didn't realize that she was prepared for her translator to miss one or more classes. She was surprised that Mr. Williams even mentioned that Metro had an excused absence until he and his 'best friend' could clear up some passport issues with the Canadian government.
The most troubling part about that was that she knew from Rorsmand that Valravn was a Canadian citizen, and that the 'field trip' was supposed to be to Illinois. Last time she'd checked, Illinois was a State, not a Province.
Neither she nor Elve were surprised to see that Kristian was nearly beside himself with worry by early afternoon.
"I knew that sarcastic røvhul would let Mads get himself into trouble! For helvede! I can't even reach Rodriguez to ask what happened."
"So it's not just Metro and Valravn missing?"
"I heard that Gus was hauled in by Security sometime in the early morning, but that is not like him at all!"
"Class! I'm sure that the latest gossip about a couple of students being detained over the weekend is quite engrossing, but let's spend this hour working on our English skills. You never know when being able to clearly express yourself may be needed when dealing with officials."
Sixth period Survival Class, Thursday, October 04, 2007, Whateley Academy
"Erm... Rorsmand? Are you okay? The obstacle course isn't your enemy. Maybe Aegis' enemy, *owch* (that's got to hurt) but not yours." This week had been rough on the guy, but dammmmmn!
"Enemy? ME? Noooo. I've just spent the last few hours escorting - and I quote - Mads Jensen's half-brother - UN-quote - around campus. Even introducing said person to certain of Mads' 'friends', for lack of a better term. I'm not sure which one I want to see bleed more: Bloodwolf or Mr. Lockessen."
So this is what Kris is like when he's really pissed off. Good to know, Abbie guessed. Wait a minute.
"You introduced a visitor, in other words someone's family, to Bloodwolf? Have you lost your mind, Kris?"
"No. Those two deserve each other. Lockessen's as much of a rabid wolf as the other. Hell. It's easier to deal with the bully, come to think of it."
"Locke-son? Wolf? Kristian Emil Holm, I may be a backwoods redneck daughter of a blacksmith, but I do know how to read! 'Loki' plus 'Wolf' equals someone who thinks he's the worst of the big bad wolves. And you introduced a werewolf avatar to this person?"
"The fight's going to be in Arena 77, if you're interested."
"At this point, I'm more interested in seeing you get some quality time with a headshrinker. I don't know what Metro and company are up to, but you!"
"They're 'unavoidably detained' until Mads is healthy enough to travel."
"Oh. Damn. I'm sorry. How bad?"
"Even mister I'm-too-macho-for-my-fancy-leather-jacket is worried sick. Between that and the emotional show he's putting on, I have too much of a headache to deal with all of it."
"That settles it. You stay here while I talk to Mr. Anderson. Then we are going to Doyle."
"Don't want to."
"I don't recall leaving that up to you, Mister Holm."
Lunch, Wednesday, October 10, 2007, Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Rorsmand looked up from his meal to see a certain tow-headed student walk up to one of the serving lines.
He growled < "Dit svin" > more than he actually spoke the words. He would have gotten up to put more action to those words, but between the AV-4/EX-3 on one side, and the AV-3/WRP-3rtb on the other, he wasn't going anywhere.
Abbie spoke first. "Kris, we know you're upset. The pipsqueak even owes me a couple of commissions that I'm putting off other things for. But this ain't the time, nor the place for you to assault someone who's still part of Security."
"I'm still going to have a long discussion with the two of them about their complete disregard of their friends. Assuming they even understand the fucking concept."
Elve winced. "You definitely need to wait before doing that. Plus, if what you told Abbie last week is true, I think his doctors will want to get their shots in first."
"How would you know about doctors?"
Elve smiled, "Let's just say I wasn't always this picture of perfect health." At Kris' wide-eyed look, justified given the implication, she added, "I'm can laugh about it now, but for a long time my visits to the doctors were unhappy occasions that I didn't wish to make into a burden on my friends."
"I, er, I don't know what to say to that." Kristian looked unhappy as the Finnish girl's words sunk in and he picked up ... concern? from the werewolf boy in line with his friend.
"Then don't say. Ask. But let the answers come in their own time. Be prepared for some of them to be things you don't want to hear."
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Earlier in the Fall 2007 Term, 6th Period Magical Theory Class, Kirby Hall, Whateley Academy
Unfortunately for her peace of mind, Ophelia 'Caduceus' Tenant, MD, was once again called out from class for a medical emergency as a result of 6th Period Basic Martial Arts. This wasn't to say that the Class of 2011 was unusually rambunctious or accident-prone, compared to the Kimba Class of 2010, but if this was going to be a habit with Ito and Tolman's afternoon classes, the department would need to start taking that into consideration when planning staff assignments. The overworked healer had barely been gone a few minutes when someone from the back of the classroom asked:
"Just for the record, could we go over again which materials we are allowed to use in constructing our own athames later in the course?"
When in doubt, see if the assistant or substitute gives an answer that's cheaper or easier to work from.
Hoping to quell the circulating comments already drawing isolated laughter, Kendall "Belle" or 'Beltane' Forbes began answer the question.
"As with anything else regarding the curriculum, starting your research now will prove of benefit later. For example, this week's assigned reading would have told you about the most commonly-used metals, wood, and gems. As to which materials are specifically allowed? Anything your little heart... ehm."
Suddenly taking note of exactly which student had asked the question, and the mischievous intent with which he was looking over to his upset lab partner, Belle quickly amended, "... within reason - regardless of how alien that concept may be to you lot, and within the school's code of magical ethics - desires. Amidst the Campus Store, the Workshop, and other suppliers with access to the campus, I dare say we've never had a student not find a way to obtain what they've needed, except as limited by their finances and the threat of legal prosecution."
"Prosecution?" another student anxiously asked.
"You didn't think we'd countenance outright theft, did you?" Don't be stupid about going about it if you go that route. being the implication.
Back to the first student: "So that would include fullerene-reinforced glasses or plastics, yes?"
"Certainly. As the assignment is intended to help you develop your own personally-meaningful set of tools, you should bear in mind that such materials might only be well-suited to someone who's also a devisor." Several students took note of that.
Good. Maybe this little batch of monsters could be taught.
"Er, yeah, I was thinking about folks might who want to get things past airport security and Customs agents as well."
"For instance, exotic biologic materials?"
"That's between you and your import agent, but few people should need genuine ivory or rhinoceros horn. Even then, a cursory reference search should turn up some outstanding replacements. Or, for the less diligent, not."
"What about, let's see ... mercury, plutonium, arsenic ..."
Caduceus walked in in time to catch the dire turn the discussion was taking.
"Mr. Jensen. I'd remind you that you need to survive long enough to present your work for the course credit. The risks to said survival are NOT limited to the proximate risks posed by life choices that your doctor strongly recommends you consider very carefully. Do I make myself clear?"
Said Mr. Jensen's voice jumped about a fifth, "Quite clear, Ma'am." This was accompanied by a few nervous giggles, as the new wizards-in-training were reminded that sanity was a scarce virtue within their chosen field.
"I am very glad to hear that. Perhaps we won't have to ask for a review of your shot records after all."
After that curiously specific observation, the entire Magical Theory class was exceptionally well-behaved for the remainder of the class. Some were still smarting after the 'Buttons Incident' with Admin.
Early October 2007, Fabricator
While inspecting the newly provisioned inert gas enclosure and scavenging system for the work bay, Professor Choudhari noticed some ceramics shelved nearby. She asked, "Miss Elliott, what is the pottery for?"
"Small-batch smelting and remelting crucibles. I need something non-ferrous for a couple of projects, and my lab budget is starting to get too stretched to be guessing at which high-temperature ceramics to use."
"Better to have these things on-hand instead of looking for them at the last moment. Good. They can be used later as spares but I'd recommend marking very clearly what they've been used for in previous runs. Now, shouldn't there be, oh I don't know, wiring for the furnace somewhere about?"
"That's to be installed later. Facilities says they'll get it in when they get the time, along with additional ventilation. Maybe."
"I suspect that they have been presented more challenges this term than they've been allocated manpower. You are undertaking contractor certifications as part of your individual study, am I correct?" Abelyn nodded. "Then this can be turned around as an object lesson in scheduling, in which seemingly simple details can derail a larger project beyond its obvious scope. I confess I myself am still having a problem visualizing how such a furnace is going to be needed and work for your upcoming two projects."
"Mystical Arts program. Worse, some of the materials for the second project may be more reactive than I'd expected."
"And now it is that I almost wish I couldn't visualize how that could be necessary. You do know your entire bay will need magical warding, correct?"
"I'll add that to my to-do list."
October 3, 2007, Kirby Library, Whateley Academy
Smithy had placed orders for the materials that, barring last-minute changes, were needed for the two athames. Without her clients available, she was left wondering if there was anything else she should be worrying about. Like, suppose the iron ore that was supposed to be shipped in from Greenland arrived as one large block instead of something reasonable. Metro's Danish was good enough to? Okay. Note to self: Have Kris re-read the order and be prepared to beg access to a ball mill. And a tip for the excess country rock if it came to that. One of the many principles that her Pa had made an effort to drill into her head was that even improvisation required preparation for the many things that could happen along the way. If a body still happens to be bored or have 'nothing to do', then surely there's something tomorrow or next week to get ready for that you might have forgot about.
Having little that she could do in the meantime after taking care of the orders - that surely meant that there was something out of place. There was also that odd-feeling itch that Abbie couldn't physically scratch pointing her back to the growing folder of requisitions. Perhaps there was more to the choices made - and therefore to the missing young men making those choices - than they'd let on. That wasn't unlikely at all, as little as they seemed to trust most people.
Between taking care of her own studies and "being there" for an ever-more-upset Rorsmand (If she didn't know better half his problem was a frustrated herding instinct thanks to having too few friends around him!), the blacksmith had turned to the books she'd inherited from her father and his fathers' fathers. In the past, when pages or entire quartos of the older volumes had needed replacing she'd always be coming across some passage here and there that hinted at there being something more to be found than the bare facts of ore and fire, hard work and skill. Now, with proof of such possibilities all around her at this school, she dug into the old receipts, ledgers, notes, and even occasionally bad love poems with more enthusiasm.
Looking back over the past couple of nights' readings, Abelyn wondered if there wasn't often a method to the madness behind some of the odd alchemical choices behind certain rare (and lucrative) commissions. What if the tool at-hand told as much about the magical worker as the blacksmith's told about him? She resolved to practice some of the same paranoia her friends did. Her back got itchy in a bad way around some of the megalomaniacs and flakes in the Mysty Arts program as it was. She didn't need to go giving them a reason to take her out for a dirt nap. That didn't mean she was right about magical tools, yet, so she downloaded the Intro to Mystical Principles/Magical Theory/etc. syllabuses and reading lists. If she knew what Metro and Valravn had decided on, and could determine what sources they'd been working from to get there, she just might learn something.
"Know enough to be afraid" --Transylvania Polygnostic University motto.
Abbie would have to find a nice way to thank Genevieve for loaning her the "Girl Genius" trade paperbacks. Mads was soooo getting a nize hat like Dimo's if he survives his 'trip'... Come to think of it, Abbie figured that down the road she could still pull the "helpless female at the auto shop" act around the magic types when it suited her, but first she wanted to know when she was being bullshitted about the technical details. That could be worth the price of admission, so long as one forgot that the first taste was always 'free'.
The bulk composition of the billet for the blade and tang could result in a carbon steel that could be problematic for the alleged fae on campus. Maybe. It was clear as mud what made some of the other kids 'fae', and while others dricked out at the idea. From what some of the other girls had said after trying to get Spider calmed down - if even the normal guys walked into walls when a girl's or a boy's around, she could be a She. Yay. All Abbie needed to do was find a normal guy around here to use for testing! It wasn't much clearer how any of that translated to the mythical thing called 'cold iron'. Just as well though: for a dagger, steel and bronze would be common choices, pewter for the cheap letter-openers, while silver, mithril, and gold would be reserved to those with money to throw at their problems. Thinking about what little she'd come to know about the quietest of the three boys complicating her life at the moment, she couldn't think of anything other than steel or black iron for Valravn.
The inlay materials selected for the hilt were strange. Or, rather, it was the combination that was strange; the materials were fairly innocuous. Stranger still was a reference book written by Aleister Crowley (the guy in that Ozzy Osbourne song). Between the two it looked like Abbie had hit pay dirt. A little research on the Ordo Templi Orientis and the repeated emphasis the Victorian pervs placed on 'Will' suggested that she was dealing with hermetic magicians of a sort. Whatever those were, unless that was the term for 'magician most likely to blow up your chemistry lab with you in it while somehow causing an international incident'? It was Table L that finally started to give away clues: the 'powers' of noscere and tacere fit Thomas' personality to a tee. That gave her two "lines" being used for correspondences, '11' and '32bis', but there should be a third, right?
Finally, the self-contradictory mess gave Abbie enough of a headache to justify taking a break, to go find out what a damned valraven was supposed to be. Not a valkyrie, that was for damned sure. More like the devil in the deal. Or, a crappy excuse for when a girl had to go 'visit relatives' for a few months only to come back thinner and alone. Digging back into the other book, she realized that while the obvious birthstone in the settings was for Capricorn, that wasn't the goat that was being represented.
The next morning saw the young woman staring at cards she'd pulled from a deck of tarot. Where Valravn's project favored air and earth, and discipline and bondage, Metro's would favor fire and water, and rebirth and death. Divination, astral travel, and nature spirits versus illusions, scrying, and spirit-calling. Like hell those two were in Canada!
'By hook or by crook', huh? What have those two gotten themselves into?
Is it already too late for the rest of us to crawl out of that pit the two were digging?
Sunday afternoon, October 14, 2007, Workshop, Whateley Academy
When all was said, done, and accounted for, Abelyn 'Smithy' Elliott was skating very close to the edge of her credit with the entire Workshop, not just Professor Choudhari. She'd readily admit that Mads' hefty pre-payment kept the monetary side of the bookkeeping balanced, but up to this point she'd had to hit the books hard to back up the sales pitches needed to schedule the equipment and favors needed to make this project happen. The betting was running neck-and-neck between the whole deal amounted to "baffling them with horse manure" and it being a matter of "letting one's mouth write checks one's talent couldn't cover". "Going to happen" was down to 10-to-1 odds with the bookies.
As such, Smithy wasn't highly impressed when her clients - who'd had the ill manners to drop off the face of the earth for over a week, already - pleaded problems with housing for a delayed start. She was also somewhat relieved, because it would be yet another week before the modified induction furnace would be wired in.
At least one of the schmucks was willing to meet for a planning session. Was willing.
"Ow! Gawd! Argh!"
The young man who'd walked up to Smithy's work bay was now staggering away from it, bent over and holding his face in pain.
"Nod aggen!" he wailed. Sniffing instead of whining would have been a bad idea at that moment.
Murmurs arose from the other work areas, as the few people who weren't hyperconcentrating on their work stopped to gawk.
"Jeez, what'd she do, deck him?"
"If we assume that that's blood on his shirt, for certain values of the term 'blood', it sure looks like it."
As soon as the smith could put her work down safely, she rushed over to the stricken youth. By now he was sitting in the passageway rather dejectedly.
"Metro, what just happened?"
"Summon mus'ev wardid yer shopf."
"Yes. I was told I needed to have that done, you and Valravn were away, so I asked one of the teachers to do it."
"Dr. Al-Feyez. He said it was critical for the traditional work I was doing that no unaccounted-for effects be allowed to interfere." Abelyn paused to remember the wording, but it was of little use. "The rest of what he said sounded like English but I've no clue what it meant."
"Dazziz Hakhim awrighd."
"You mean it didn't work? How could that happen? I thought I was being very careful in following each step."
Metro placed a hand on the girl's arm to stop her. He held the other up, one finger up like he was ticking off the items of a list.
(1) "Divverent tradizhens. Fooz cirkels log me out."
He put up another finger then pointed the mimed pistol to himself.
Did the sawed-off bastard mean to claim what it sounded like?
"Underfolk? As in 'Under-the-Goddamned-Barrows-That-Aren't-Supposed-to-EVER-be-Bothered Folk'?"
Careful not to sniffle or otherwise disturb swollen tissue, Mads pulled his hands away to show the distinctly non-human purple fluid darkening to a jet black. 'Thkrew it.' He also dropped his usual illusory seeming, revealing his small horns (antlers actually, but let's humor the boy's vanity), pointed canines, and - though he had not intended to - very badly bruised pale skin, making him look even more dejected by the additional bluish cast of his blood.
Abelyn had seen similar looks on boys (and girls) back home after one too many cruel jokes or manufactured accidents. Kids who never could quite figure out why them, or if they could figure that part out, how to tell the world that they had feelings too. To be honest with herself, she felt the same way too some times.
Three fingers up in a bad imitation of a Boy Scout pledge. (3) "Affayez izza djerk."
She could have turned away, and would have bet she wouldn't have been the first, but held out her hand to help him up instead.
"Come on. Let's get you patched up, and then we'll see about taking down some wards."
Besides, Dr. Al-Feyez was a bit of a jerk, come to think of it.
Somewhat later, after the hazmat spill was cleaned up
"Let me get this straight. Wanting Valravn's athame completed on a full moon makes sense. From what I've read and heard, nearly all magicians shoot for those times of the year. But that's put me in a bind, because I'm competing for help at the same time folks are working on other MA projects, not to mention everyone in the 'Shop is going nuts getting ready for Halloween."
Looking over at her suddenly clueless audience, Abbie added, "You do know what Halloween is, right?"
"Of course I do! All Hallow's Eve is when the boundaries between the planes are thinnest, which means I have to be extra careful to have Wyrd Mantis Essence and insecticide grenades on hand. Well, that, and the usual gear for hitting a club or two."
"Which would be?"
"For the last couple of holidays, an armored vest or jacket, groin protection, steel-toed boots, an updated map of gang territories, handgun, holdout, press pass if I'm covering a show, backup recording equipment, basic medkit, IDs - like I said, usual stuff."
"That's... " 'The Headache's back.' "Whatever. How about before that?"
Mads shrugged. "Most years I was at a boarding school and trick-or-treating doesn't earn you many merits at a military academy. Where I lived afterwards, ehm, paying protection and tolls wasn't something to get excited about. What about you?"
At least he'd given her a relatively full version of his cover story.
"My parents and I always watched 'It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown', nearly every year I can remember. Ma always tried to spring for the better store-bought candies for the neighbor kids (wrapped y'know, cause people are extra worried about tampering... and Heaven forbid you put out something with peanuts in it!) I'm getting a little old to get dressed up in costume to go out." Abbie smiled, "Isn't that ironic with us being here?"
"Nope. Costumes and disguises are a serious business."
"Mads, that would be 'costumes and disguises are serious business'."
"That's what I said!"
How did the kid avoid hearing the 'serious business' meme for several years running?
"Anyway. I'd've thought Detroit was cold enough by October that bugs wouldn't be a problem."
Mads shrugged again. That must be another 'I can't go into details' tell. "Not for me."
"That's good to know, I guess. In any case, word is that Halloween at Whateley is supposed to be a chance for everyone to 'strut their stuff', so to speak. Even more so for the Workshop folks, since we all already have a bad rep for being geeks. It's kind of important for the kids from Twain, Whitman, and Hawthorn to have one night when being different is okay."
"Pfft. It's always okay, except around stupid people."
"Is that why you go to so much trouble to hide your GSD?"
"Fine! I would prefer horns instead of antlers. Is that what you wanted to hear? It's not my fault that the velvet looks a little goofy while they're growing, and then when it dies off, it gets bloody and itchy. Still! I'll have you know that there are folks who'd pay good money for a fine pair of horns and extended canines."
"I don't think I've seen you even once without a high-collared shirt."
"And you won't. I've had nightmares about something getting caught in my gills. Totalmente no bueno for this changeling kid."
"Still you should try approaching Halloween as a fun time, not a time to worry about getting the shit kicked out of you."
"Abbie? That didn't scan at all. Remind me to take you to a good show some time."
"We'll see. Maybe." Never "But before that, we've got these two projects to finish. I'm behind in getting set up for the first one, and trying for completing the second on the new moon means we'll be working back-to-back on those in addition to my assigned projects."
"Can't you get credit for this work? It's still materials processing and forming."
"You mean smelting and forging, and the answer is 'Maybe-ish'. So let's start with something simple: who told you I could forge damascened steel?"
"Rorsmand said he could see you being the best choice for the projects."
"This must have been before you asked me, since he damn sure ain't talking to you now. Can't imagine why."
"I'm hoping to get past that."
"Good luck. Now, exactly what did he say?"
"Er... he thought you were the best hope of not leaving a crater in the side of a hill?"
"And he said this without looking at the insane materials lists you two came up with?"
"We didn't want him worrying too much about such things."
"God give me strength! Stop. Stonewalling. Me. Let's go over this again, starting with why on earth you would want Thomas to have a theoretically cold-worked steel athame? Shouldn't that be dangerous to you?"
"Ummmm... not really. One of the Children of Danu was Brigid after all. Er, poetry, forge-fire, et cetera? Broken old iron can be distracting as all get-out, when it's got that 'used to be a human artifact until it no longer was' thing going on. Then again, I was practically raised by an arms manufacturer, so that could just be a screw loose up here," as Mads knocked on the side of his head.
Abbie glared at the misplaced humor.
"Meaning it's more than that but you won't tell me."
"Can't tell what I don't know. But if you hum a few bars, I'm really good at faking it!"
"Fine. What about your project? That looks to be even more of a nightmare."
"Well, yeah. Thomas' should end up keyed very specifically to him and elementally to earth and air, which is going to be awesome, as an athame is tool tied to the element of air."
"I knew that part already."
"How? Half my class acts like they still don't know that!"
"You're not the only one with an ancestral inheritance. So I read up on what you wonder-workers used to have made for this task or that."
The magician stared at the smith.
"That's ... um ... you have that ... in those books?"
Smithy nodded at his pointing to a shelf full of well-cared-for books before looking over at them herself.
"Periodically, we have to recopy a manuscript that wears out, but some of the volumes haven't been touched in a long time. There's also this thing called a 'library', you should try reading something from it from time to time."
"I know what a library is!"
She turned back to her classmate, "Some of what you want incorporated is going to be dangerous to work with. That means I have a need to know about what we're doing so we don't accidentally take shortcuts."
"It's never a good idea to take shortcuts on dedicated instruments or safety gear." The boy braced himself as if he were a military instructor, "If there is EVER a time when screw-ups like yew lot find it a matter of life or death as to whether you follow my instructions TO the fecking LETTER, make yerselves useful to the REST of yer mates and choose yer own fecking DEATH." The nasal intonation, curious accent, and self-satisfied smirk were dead give-aways to that having been a specific instructor and the lesson having been committed to memory. He'd look adorable in a shako hat.
"Again, I won't be putting up with much more of this 'letting the people around you know only when you cannot duck out of the need to know' attitude when MY health and safety are on the line too! It's my shop, my rules rule."
Metro added, "Come to think of it, extra warding on your bookshelf wouldn't be a bad idea."
"Don't even think about locking me out of it, either."
"Once we have that taken care of, I want you AND Valravn AND Rorsmand here for a safety briefing or it's all a no-go. Cleaning up one bloody nose was bad enough. Having to shut down in the middle of work to rush someone to the clinic for burns or other injuries thanks to foolishness ain't happening. Got that?"
"You do know that I can hurt you, right?"
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Tuesday evening, October 16, 2007, Workshop, Whateley Academy
To his credit, Kristian 'Rorsmand' Holm was suitably impressed by the workshop even though he hardly recognized one thing in ten aside from the books in the glass-covered bookcase. Something about those seemed important enough that he found himself double-checking that the shelves were indeed locked up. There was also something comfortable in the way that Abbie just belonged there.
Of course, nothing good lasts. Kris was annoyed that his so-called friends (who'd just run off and left him behind for a trip to god-knows-where that now they wouldn't talk about) turned up while he was still there. He couldn't ditch them so easily: there was only the one entrance to the work bay that wasn't alarmed.
"I must say that I have enjoyed the tour of your work space, but I must be going now."
"That's too bad, but you are still staying for the safety briefing. Sit. Here."
Now the boy realized why there had been three chairs scattered through the space. For søren!
"Valravn. Front and center. Metro, you sit there. The three of you boys have been thick as thieves up until recently, and I ain't having to deal with any more drama what with one of you dropping in once you've settled differences and then getting hurt. You can do that on your own time and your own dime."
"What about Elve?"
"We went over the new gear yesterday, including the institutionalized paranoiac measures. Nice try but you'll have to do better going forward."
Afterward, Rorsmand felt entirely justified in calling up Elve to verify that she knew what the Insane Duo had asked her roommate to work with.
Once the distraught boy finally paused for breath - and surely there were better outlets for that kind of breath control? - Elve asked, "Are you referring to the chosen power supply in place of mains power?"
"Yes! There is no way that the current and voltages they are planning can be controlled!"
"Oh, I do think they can. In fact I plan to stop by while Abbie is working to see that in progress, as what I imagined would suit an old-time Frankenstein movie laboratory. What are those towers called?"
"van de Graaff generators. I find myself less assured than I was before."
"Then, Kristian, I would advise that you stop by from time to time to ensure that everything proceeds as it should."
The next day, Rorsmand nearly cried when Smithy proudly displayed the jacob's ladders that were being incorporated to the circuitry in lieu of a more standard spark gap.
First full-power burn, Friday evening, October 19, 2007, Workshop, Whateley Academy
Once the equipment was checked out from load back to source with multimeter and with a temporary power supply jury-rigged from a bank of batteries, Smithy finally gave the go-ahead for Metro to summon a spirit he claimed was willing to work with him and Valravn. She was certain the boys were hiding something regarding that, but she wasn't sharing out all her resources either.
The spirit looked as if it were an embodiment of summer lightning itself. Or, rather, herself. Abbie wasn't sure how she was getting a feminine vibe from the entity, but maybe that was normal for some. She'd have to hit the library some more to find out. Such a hardship. However, once she and Valravn assured themselves they were ready and started to do whatever it was?
"Oh. My. God. That is beautiful."
That is, if "beautiful" was a sufficient word for the auroral ribbons coursing through the noble gas filled enclosure. Soon the ribbons arranged themselves into a diaphanous helix wrapping itself around the test crucible, and the scrap iron picked out for testing began to glow.
'Thank you my dear, for being so kind. After my discussions with the Thunderbird's kin here, I'm keen to see how this will work out myself.'
"If I might ask?"
'Please do. If I can and may give you an answer, I shall do my best to do so.'
"If you're providing the power, and working with me and Thomas here, why does Mads need to be here too?"
She smiled. 'Thomas? I know him as Song of the Thunderbird Amidst Rain, but the shorter name does fit the form, doesn't it?
As to the reason: part of the cost of my summoning is that the other provides me with the mana I need to fuel the abilities I will be using. Thomas will need his own in order to shape the currents in conjunction with my own efforts. You of course as the Smith will be busy enough directing us to the correct temperatures and coordinating the rest. It is my understanding that we will be doing this for multiple hours over multiple days; that allows all of us to rest or adjust schedules to circumstance. Does that help?'
"He couldn't just summon you once and have you stay at the task, assuming I could work straight through?"
'Some could. Some do. Few succeed. Baby steps all around I think. Perhaps next time we can incorporate what we are learning.'
'Why not, as long as it's interesting?'
If one has never seen two air spirits working their talents at the top of their respective game, weaving coils of plasma through a blend of noble gasses as the working temperatures are manipulated: picture dancing an elegant dance with a living aurora, to a music born from excited ions and light, timed to a faint steel metronome.
One night, while watching the work (the better to make sure they didn't endanger themselves and others) Kristian Holm came to the beginnings of a conclusion that maybe it wasn't a trick of the pale winterlights that he might be looking at one of the most beautiful women in the world.
For his own interests, Metro did his best to ensure that the smith was grounded in such a way that she wasn't in danger of electrocution nor in danger of frying from induced eddy currents. He'd already decided that he could probably dodge the thrown hammer when Abelyn found out how much the R&D spark suit he'd bought for her use at this stage in their work would normally cost, but Spark was getting the most amazing data from her telemetry. At least, from what he could decipher from the Devisor dialect of rapid-fire French that Genevieve used to explain her research, the experience in quick-charging high-density electrical storage was proving useful. Also, if perhaps it ever turned out that a jerk like Imperious wore himself out trying to fry Reach it was no skin off her or Metro's noses.
Of course, that wasn't the only research with which Metro indulged his interests, but 'Keeping the Contractor Alive and Well' as a subtask of 'Making Needed Gear' was a high priority among those interests. However, there were occasions when Smithy wasn't sure if the guy's off-the-wall questions were for his own education, suspiciously coincidental cues to take a break, or sneaky probes into her personal history timed for a moment of her weakness or his boredom. If Metro noticed an odd taste to his coffee after a particularly out-of-bounds question or two, he never acted as if he minded (although he did locate the 'use as needed' adderall prescription bottle in a file drawer that happened to be locked).
Abelyn herself was pleased with how quickly the team of four progressed from milled ore to a workable billet, and from there to the actual forging. Between the fast, even heating and her new-found exemplar strength the complicated process of folding, welding, carburizing and reheating the metal progressed like a dream. If anything, it felt as if she could work the metal with more finesse than she'd done before. It was almost too soon that she turned the ground and polished blade over to Thomas for his finish work.
Thursday evening, October 25, 2007, near Whateley Academy
Valravn took advantage of local informants and found a nice, isolated, non-tainted, and most importantly, isolated part of the Reservation to perform the blade's consecration. The resulting thunderclap was strong enough that the next morning none of the few people who knew what the two were up to was surprised that it was Mads dragging Thomas, kicking and bitching, to sick call.
Monday morning, October 29, 2007, Workshop, Whateley Academy
The ground and polished blade was watered almost as if it were an ancient museum piece, and it reflected the overhead light with a curiously blue and violet tint. The handle pieces were made of ash. The marquetry work featured disks quartered in pyrope, amber, specular hematite, and white quartz. The fittings and inlay metal were made of a high brass alloy that would need periodic polishing - by turns finicky and bracing, much like earth and air.
By the gods was it nicely balanced! To be fair, the student had said it wasn't her first blade, but Prof. Choudhari was pleased to hold proof of that in her hands. Too many students got into a nasty habit of skipping a set of calculations or a finishing step or two. The professor knew her adopted daughter would disapprove of the weapon itself, but this was one of those times when she wanted to take something around to show young women both here and back home: "Look! A woman made this - you can too, or you can make other amazing things - if you set your mind to it!"
That did remind her of another woman who might be interested in seeing it. Dr. Choudhari sheathed the blade back into its carved rock crystal presentation sheath/case. Smithy wasn't being graded on it, but from what she'd learned over the years she knew that that rendered it safer for the owner if others were to carry it.
Eldritch wasn't quite as enthusiastic as her colleague had expected. The steel blade was beautiful as a pattern-welded blade could be. The handle, in her professional opinion, didn't need the decorative parts. At least they weren't as overwrought as some of the tools the mystic arts were known to cart around. The simple design and the width of the quillion block spoke to the owner being male. There were oddities too. The blade was flexible enough that it truly needed the fuller groove to stiffen it. The play of light on it spoke to buried memories. Not for the first or the last time, Caitlin found herself wishing that people would let the dead past stay dead.
Scratching at thoughts that just wouldn't unlock their damned selves, Eldritch led Mrs. Metal to one of Kirby Halls various underground test ranges. Once there, they put on hearing and sight protection before the athame was again unsheathed. Still working with a feeling of familiar unease, Caitlin ushered into a booth meant to shield witnesses from the showier (read: needlessly destructive) spells that might be tested down here. Safeguards dealt with as best as she could, the Artificer raised the dagger high in a one-handed 'drawing down power' position then bought her arm down, speaking an ancient word as she did so.
It was a testament to the former Marine's marksmanship training that the lightning shot forward and ricocheted back sufficiently straight for the weapon to catch the bolt. Shaken, she walked over to a built-in grounding point to lower the weapon heel-first toward it. The discharge left spots in her eyes for a couple of minutes. Once she could see clearly, she carefully touched her finger to a blade that should by rights still be glowing hot. She cursed a few choice words before remembering she wasn't alone, for the blade burned cold.
Professor Choudhari remarked, "I've worked and taught here for some years, but that was certainly not what I would have expected from a freshman project."
"A freshman did this?"
"It was a cooperative effort between one of my more promising metalworkers and two of her classmates."
Caitlin sighed, "I suppose I should ask who."
"This is intended as Valravn's athame project, but Metro has also contributed time and energy to the endeavor. Does it matter?"
"Where did those two find the time to dig up something like this?"
"I take it that you would be surprised to learn that my student smelted the iron ore for the billet herself? I'm reliably informed that she comes from a very long line of traditional blacksmiths."
"You cannot smelt cold iron."
"Nor can it be forged easily or quickly."
"No. Of course not. But no fire has touched this metal during its working, and Metro is a f-, well-known, pyro."
"I have numerous nephews, Miss Bardue, and can assure you that that is common for boys that age! However, for the time being they contented themselves with magic and electricity. I take it that you might be interested in the other project when it's completed?"
"Why not? That gives me a full month to wrap my head around how a very nasty Northern Court dagger has found its way here."
"Two weeks, if they can hold to schedule. Metro's athame is meant to be completed by the dark of the moon."
"If he survives, could you allow me dibs on killing him before Elyzia finds out."
"The situation cannot be that bad!"
Caitlin reluctantly handed the cased dagger back to her Workshop peer. "I can think of numerous students I would never want to see holding anything like this. At the very least, please impress on your student that she is not to discuss the manufacture of this with anyone without discussing it with myself or Circe first."
"I... can do that, if it will soothe your conscience. Very well. I look forward to your insights on the follow-up project."
Monday evening, October 29, 2007, Workshop, Whateley Academy
Many of the metalworkers' bays in the workshop were fairly open, and there was a communal tendency to check on what everyone else was working on. It tended to be roughly equal parts curiosity, snooping, and outright attempts to get a jump on potential competition. However, with the exception of a handful of kids that got into the steam- and diesel- punk design aesthetics, hardly anyone saw need to steal ideas from a blacksmith. Still, one never knew when just knowing that someone was working on some oddball fabrication technique was enough to suggest another route around one's own problems. Sometimes it was good just to hang out with similar-minded souls away from the Beautiful PeopleTM. All these factors combined with the amazing light show meant that Smithy's bay had attracted a lot of attention while she and Valravn were using a particular combination of magic and traditional tools.
Her next project rapidly cost her all that attention once materials labelled 'gris-gris', 'goofer dust', deadman's gold, and with other cheerful appellations were pulled from storage. No one wanted to know what was in the lead boxes, or the loaner stasis case. Halloween preparations elsewhere in the Workshop were never so much more intriguing.
Abelyn looked up from the supplies list, and asked again. "Are you still sure that these are the materials you want to use? I am going to need to arrange forced ventilation while smelting this... stuff... Some of the volatile byproducts are going to be lethal."
Metro thought a few minutes over some of the equipment he'd seen in chem lab - not that they'd progressed that far yet in the program. "Can the fumes be drawn through a cold trap to condense them?"
"... maybe. Collecting sulfides is different than sulphates, and at some temperatures we'd be burning into whatever would normally handle the heat. That's not the big problem."
"That TBD item at the bottom expressed as a bulk composition you thought I wouldn't notice."
"If it's anyone's problem, it would be mine. Not to worry, it should still match up to the remainder; it's just sourced differently."
Abbie turned to face the evasive boy, giving him the full benefit of her glower. "Mads, I remember you agreeing to stop bullshitting me about things that I DO need to know about. There's too much iron, sulfur, nitrogen, and phosphorus in that mix for it to be anything you should be playing with. Whose is it? I could just ask Kristian, but I'm betting you don't want him or Thomas to know."
"Mine. Ultracentrifuged, irradiated, and dessicated."
"Right. I'm sorry to have to do this, but I'm going to need your name's word on that."
"On my own name I claim it as mine own lifeblood, drawn from none else and nothing else."
"This is some of the darkest shit I've ever heard of this side of a horror movie, and if I survive the task, I'm honor-bound to write it up in full. Just the melt itself is going to be spitting poison all the way from first heating to final casting, and it will be worse when I add that last witch's brew. By the way, did you even pay attention to how much arsenic and heavy metals are in that blood substitute?"
The boy nodded his head and looked away.
"Arsenic! That kills people, rodents, even fungus!"
"Are you committing slow suicide and expecting no one to notice? You are so, so... argh!"
Very quietly Mads said, "Not suicide. Treatment. The original cause appears to be magical in nature, and no, I don't know what really happened or was supposed to have happened, but that doesn't change the fact I'm in remission from a form of leukemia. I've had some therapy for that, but my body's still trying to reach homeostasis. Thomas knows, but I can tell that it hurts him to talk about it, not that he'll admit that."
"You haven't told anyone else, have you?"
"Mama knows the whole horror story, and she'll tell Lars what he needs to know, other than the fact that I haven't been completely well since August. He's only 12 ferchrissake! Fen and Rafe could smell the arsenic on me, and Aunt Aang arranged to get the BAL." Mads looked smaller and even more pale recalling some memory.
"BAL? What's that?"
"British Anti-Lewisite. Some miners and others have to be treated for arsenic exposure now and then as well. I meant to tell Kris, but he's been stressed all semester and, well, he took it so hard when we had to take that trip without him... It's just easier not to make people worry about me."
"For them, or for you?"
"... sometimes both."
Abbie tried holding her tongue in the face of that god-damned fear of rejection the boy was carrying around. Or is it full-on self-hatred? Too bad he didn't get regeneration, because this was one jackass in need of percussive maintenance by way of clue-by-four. Wait a second. No regen usually meant no exemplar or shifter trait... but he's got that GSD without any of the standard mutant syndromes 'Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Kilo', as Pa would say.
"Do you think that Kristian would actually think less of you for not being a mutant?"
"No! I mean, well, he wouldn't. But I'm not sure that he..."
"Does < 'Vanvid tager sin vejafgift. Giv venligst nøjagtig ændring.' > *** ring any bells?"
"Go talk to Kris. I've pretty much had it for today, and Halloween is just around the corner. If this is the way things are expected to go around here maybe I should go to the party as a mushroom. We'll pick back up on Monday."
Maybe there was still time to mock up a Violetta Mondarev costume for the party?
Afternoon, All Souls Day, 2007, Workshop, Whateley Academy
Abbie rarely paid much attention to subtle changes around her - she'd never had need before - so she didn't notice that nearly every avatar and mystic in the area left that part of the Workshop by one or another exit. The few that were asked refused to explain the sudden onset of 'devisor flu'. As far as Abelyn was concerned, the solitude suited her quite well. She liked meeting and working with people, but wasn't one to favor being in the spotlight alone so much.
"Well, hello! I take it you're the Abelyn Marie Elliott I've been hearing about!"
Abbie turned around, surprised that someone could just walk in to the Workshop- especially this woman - without an extensive escort. Her auburn hair, porcelain-fair complexion, and slender carriage would be the envy of any girl on campus, but it was the lively sparkle in her green eyes as she surveyed the work bay that truly caught the smith's attention. This wasn't someone who was only pretending to be interested in the work going on here.
"Beg pardon? That me, but... hold on - let me set things down where I can find them again, and we can talk. I still have some stools or chairs somewhere."
"No need to rush. I know I'm the one interrupting your work, after all."
The woman continued to look around, inspecting the hardware and how it was all set up. Now and then she nodded to herself at some private observation. True to her word, Abbie put her work away and had two stools and a couple of cups of the good coffee out after only a few minutes. That the workspace surfaces not in current use were clean enough for that was not lost on her visitor.
"So, um... "
The visitor smiled, "Brigitte. You can say I'm a distant cousin of one of your classmates. I believe he's calling himself Mads Jensen this week."
"His little brother did stumble on their last name a couple of times. Meeting their mother," Brigitte only flinched a little. If Abbie hadn't been giving her her full attention, she might have missed it. "I'm surprised that Lars is so normal. Or maybe not. I'm sure I don't have the full story, and that is one thing about your cousin that's almost stopped surprising me."
"Evie's only had a few short years to raise the boys as they should have been." The woman's eyes darkened. "Madsy took the brunt of it and seems determined to continue." She sighed, part in exasperation, part in sorrow. "However, it's YOU I've come to see. You and your shop, of course we can't have the one without the other, can we?"
"No. It's... all I have left."
"Is that so? No memories of a mother or father? Someone had to teach you to use these things rightly."
Abbie choked up. Even if it had been nearly three months, it still felt like if she turned around, or even just picked up the phone? How could they be so lost to her so soon? Suddenly it was all too much.
"There, there." The woman said, quietly, as she held Paul's and Ava's grieving daughter. "I know it's hard to remember, but that's something of them that you'll always have with you. In time, it will be a comfort."
"H-how c-can you know?"
"Because I've buried a couple of my own boys. There was one I wasn't even given that comfort."
"Oh! Oh, no, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean..."
"Of course you did. In time you'll know that that too is part of it all. Here. Let's finish our coffee and then I'd like to hear what you are working on now. I do fancy myself a fair smith and artisan. Maybe we can trade tips and you can tell me more about your shop and your training."
"I think I'd like that."
After the visit, Abbie had a deep and abiding suspicion of who Brigitte could be, along with who she may have been wearing, but never once did she ask Mads for the truth of the matter. He didn't care to explain all his family affairs. She didn't care to explain her family's secrets out of turn, either. That suited both fine.
One of those secrets came from Brigitte's suggestion to split the final batch melt before adding Compound B. The 'clean' portion, as she saw it, or 'dry' as it was explained to her, could be used for casting a ceremonial sheath after the athame was finished. The plan for that called for cire perdue casting, although whether that would be done under injection pressure or under a vacuum draw remained to be decided. Judging by the amount of time he was taking for the model, and how much of Mads' tongue was held between his teeth to the side of his mouth as he worked, that casting was going to be tricky enough.
Whereas Valravn had worked closely with a specifically summoned air spirit, Metro was happy to call a different (or not, it was honestly hard for a 'mundane' like Abbie to tell one way or another) fire spirit each time they worked on getting the melt composition and then on the quenching, working, and annealing steps just right. One day, Smithy asked Valravn about how Metro developed such an affinity to fire.
"His affinity to what?"
"Fire. He's always bringing a menagerie of fire spirits around."
"Heh. He's attuned to water."
"Abelyn, have you ever seen him with his shirt off?"
"That's not encouraged in the Workshop, for more than one very good reason."
"No, seriously. Some people are mouthbreathers; he's a waterbreather. I leave the difference as an exercise for the student."
"He thinks, when he manages to do that before acting, like one of them. Before we met... Maybe I should pull up the video from one of the times he went on a job in one of his 'Let it burn' moods. It was impressively destructive. That said, he's just as capable of watching an ambush point for hours like a crocodile, mucking about for miles through ditches and drains like a SEAL, or a seal to hear his brother talk about their school days, or changing mental direction like a school of ADHD fish."
"That's ... contradictory, all right."
"Welcome to my world. Adding water to a fire can cook a meal or it can put the fire out. Adding fire to water can run a steam engine or detonate a fuel-air mixture. Up to you to ensure that what's done is done safely."
"That, I was warned about."
"Good advice is worth more than gold if you take the time to spend it well."
"I was also warned that there wasn't a metaphor you wouldn't stoop to torture."
Valravn smiled, "It's a gift."
Afternoon, November 11, 2007, Smithy's forge, The Workshop
As was becoming usual, it wasn't long before Metro was paying most of his attention to the fire spirit he'd evoked. Once she got past the idea that quantifying sentience among such entities was as elusive as Schroedinger's Cat, it had become fairly easy to work with the pair of magicians. This one seemed to be discussing the relative food values of coke and anthracite. That too made a queer bit of sense, as this afternoon's casting was going to require precise temperature control. Smithy went back to her safety checks and the timetables they'd developed.
'She will do well. Happy fires need room to grow! We learn many dances together. Fast, slow, elegant, effective. She needs an Other to stay happy: what is a flame without fuel?'
'I have an idea for that, but there's no shortage of good materials to work with.'
'Flames can dance in any place, but a forge-fire should have a steady hearth around it.'
'Too true my friend.'
Slowly, carefully, the batch was brought to an apricot-orange glow in tandem with its crucible and intended mold, the better to maintain thermal inertia through the point during which the final batch of compounds would be added. The team had performed each step leading to this point more than once, so even the magician knew where each piece of equipment would be and where it would all belong later. He also had a vague sense that there would be, should be, a point at which the melt would not be evolving mere gasses and slag.
Smithy signaled her readiness to Metro.
He took up a pair of tongs to hold the crucible.
Holding the molten metal thus in one hand, he poured the vile material directly in.
The mixture immediately began to froth and boil.
The boy reminded himself and the nearby fire spirit 'Still some seconds left to go' as his colleague began to worry.
At a bright morning yellow, he gave the spirit its signal. He swung to the right to begin the pour, as a being made of pure fire leapt from the forge to the left, arcing through the balefire now erupting from the crucible newly escaped from the heat.
Mads barely heard the scream of terror and surprise, but sent a hasty prayer that he hadn't gotten his research wrong regarding the two with him.
Both children of fire sought whatever sustaining shelter they could.
The mold began to lose its shine as the magics it barely contained involuted back onto themselves. Cooler, colder, and then a thermal crash as only a scion of the Far North could provide, locking the fine-grained crystals into a metallic glass matrix that would forever remelt just enough to anneal any propagating cracks.
Metro finally let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding, as Smithy's ancient forge re-lit of its own accord. The remainder of the material work could wait until he checked the other Work.
Most avatar spirits put some effort into hiding their nature once they joined with a host, but that could take time. In that time they could be very vulnerable to interference. As he looked upon the elemental fire interlacing itself throughout Abelyn's astral and physical selves, Mads knew his duty in that moment was to prevent such interference from happening. That could be a little tricky.
Abelyn was only unconscious for a few minutes before unwisely attempting to stand back up.
"No, no, no. Don't. No, seriously. You need to sit. Or maybe lie back down."
"What the Hell just happened."
"I'll explain later, but right now the way you're glowing, it might be a bit too obvious to the wrong people."
"Did you think we could hide from the one who joined us?" / "Did you think YOU could hide after pulling that boneheaded stunt on me?"
"Er... I... might have expected to have more of a plan by now."
"You are completely fucking insane."
"Some people do say that."
"Now what? Or are you ready to think that far ahead?"
"First, you're going to sit. back. down. before you fall down, while I bank the coals and clean up. Second, after I make sure no one's in a position to 'borrow' our work, we'll be visiting Doyle Medical in the wake of a strange event that led to a loss of consciousness that you aren't sure you can explain. It's all kind of fuzzy. Maybe you hit your head in the process."
"Just try it, and YOU are going to need the hospital bed."
"That's what I get for doing people favors."
"If this was a favor, what's the catch?"
"Anyone tell you about something called a sim team? I need people I can trust, and it looks like the only way to get that is to roll my own."
'Not a very good liar, is he?'
'We'll discuss that later.'
'Yes. That dance can wait until we are stronger.'
'Life is a dance with many steps.'
"I'm not a fighter and I'm not rolling anything with you."
"Not a problem, believe me. I've already dealt with idiots who were all 'just tell me what to shoot'. In case you were wondering, they're dead now. The ones who played the 'I do what I want' game also died, some of them with my help. Those who asked what made for a success and how they fit in? They're still alive... I think."
"Sounds like it's been one hell of a way to make a living."
"Usually beats dying."
Metro was as good as his word as far as cleaning up was concerned, if for no other reason than his patient wasn't going anywhere until things were set mostly right. Given her condition, exercising that stubbornness meant that he ended up calling in a medical emergency instead of calling for a courtesy transport. Perhaps it was for the best that he'd taken the precaution of memorizing her shop layout within the first few visits. The molds designed for the castings had shattered from extreme thermal shock. Metro bagged the pieces to clean and examine later. The night was turning out to be longer than he'd planned, and he could only hope for the two of them the day would dawn with better news.
*** A rough attempt at Madness takes its toll. Please provide exact change.
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Sunday evening, November 11, 2007, Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
It was probably just as well for all others concerned that Mads 'Metro' Møller-Jensen didn't have a pair of the banned 'Shoulder Angels' to debate with on the way to the ER, as the discussion could have been more acrimonious than simple AIs were intended to handle. In the end, he chose to notify Mrs. Savage, Elve, Spark, and Rorsmand about Smithy's condition, and Mrs. Cantrel that he might be a bit late getting back to the cottage. As Security had locked up the workshop bay and set a seal on the lock (roughly as useful as a 'Do Not Disturb' sign on a by-the-hour rental room), he decided that Abbie's housemother or her doctor could decide if there was a need for a mystic arts investigation. That wasn't out of concern for their bailiwick, more of a matter of it being pointless for him to get involved in it.
To be fair to all concerned, Mads didn't call Abbie's roommate separately. Mrs. Savage had already gotten tired of hearing his voice by the time she reached Abbie and Elve's room and had handed the phone over to the Finnish girl while he was complaining about patients who threaten first responders with Really Heavy Hammers if they don't clean up the mess for which they were at least partly responsible. Elve took the expedient of asking a couple of questions, laughing at the caller and hanging up.
"With Abbie unconscious, it looks like I'll have to watch the boys until she's ready to deal with them."
"He should have known that I'd be one of the first people Security would notify and that the medical staff would keep me informed."
"Yes, ma'am. However, look at it from his point of view: if you kill him first, he doesn't have to explain himself to his doctor."
"That almost makes enough sense to be tempting. Very well. If I can trust you to keep me succinctly informed of major changes, you may head over to Doyle. Once Abbie wakes up she will likely need any advice about being an avatar that you can provide her."
"Certainly. Whatever I can do to help."
It seemed like Abelyn had been walking for days across an alien landscape. To one set of senses, there was nothing to be seen except windswept sand and rocks, disheveled piles of which could be mistaken for ruined buildings. To another set, the lands ran riot with curiously fat grasses that ran like flames around and between color-swapped trees in reds and blacks in place of green and brown or gray. Yellowed tholin clouds scudded across a muted indigo sky. The soil of these lands was black, and damp with naphtha.
At times she was alone, answering a distant call to some place just out of sight. At other times, and increasingly at that, she was accompanied by another young woman who seemed of a similar age to her own, though that person was taller and heavier-set. The other's skin was browned by more than just sunlight, their eyes and tusks a pale ivory, their hair braided into rows of garnet flame. There was a familiarity to the woman, though Abelyn was hard-pressed to identify from where that familiarity sprang.
Abelyn asked, "Do I know you? I get the impression that we are headed to the same place, but I can't for the life of me remember your name or the name of where we're going."
The other smiled, a bit of knowing mischief behind her eyes.
"We've met a number of times, but you've not been of a mind to speak until now. As to the other, Dis is that place."
"Please tell me you aren't about to start into 'Who's on First'."
"I can safely say that that had not crossed my mind, but it sounds like the sort of wordplay my summoner would enjoy."
"No. He just dances to a different drummer by nature."
"I thought the saying went 'marches to a different beat'?"
"Fire does many things. Marching is hardly one of them."
Abelyn decided that maybe a more direct approach was needed. Wasn't fire, as an element, considered masculine somehow?
"Can you, will you, tell me what you are called?"
"I could, and I would, but it seems we've hit a snag."
"What would that be?"
"The name given me by my summoner is known to him. I should think my proposed host would give me another."
"Proposed, not promised?"
"He doesn't have the right of your ownership. Thus, if I am to continue on with you, it must be by your will, and my use name must be chosen by you and accepted by me."
"That sounds more complicated than I've heard from other avatars. It's like their spirits just show up one day, maybe after some dreams or such."
"Those are what you could call free spirits, with their own names. I was summoned, and thus there are some things I can be asked, or even ordered to do. To take residence in a mortal's hallow without their permission - no matter how it is gained - is not one of them."
"Why am I here then?"
"That is a good question. I would have thought the summoner would have finished with his ritual."
"To consecrate that item you were making as payment. If accepted, it becomes his, I become my own and thus able to present my case for lodging in your hallow. It's not a bad deal for you."
"What happens if I refuse?"
"Do you know your own way back to your plane and your body?"
"I didn't think so."
"What other options do I have?"
"The summoner knew that you are heir to a forge-fire of some kind, but could not access the specifics. Perhaps in Dis we can find the one meant to be with you by that ancient agreement. Without a guide back, I do not know what will happen to you."
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
Elve was not impressed by the scene she walked in on in the waiting room. On one side of the room, Metro sat slumped with his head in his hands. Even without her spirit's help she could feel the wild, uncontrolled magic around him: the near opposite of what Smithy would need around her while she recovered. On the other side, Valravn and Rorsmand were having what the British would call 'a discussion'. At least that kept the empath from charging in on the patient, or throttling the one who was a few movements shy of a suicide watch. She opted to provoke that one first.
"So. Metro. Have you finished consecrating that dagger you two have been working on?"
"No. Don' wanna."
"Perkele. All that work, then you put my roommate in hospital, and now you think you don't want to finish what you started?"
"Abbie should be 'wake by now. Something's wrong and it's all my fault."
Is there a genetic thing that turns all males into six-year-olds when they don't get their way?
"What, exactly, is wrong now, Mads?"
"Is this how it's always going to be with you? Say you'll do one thing and then back out at the last minute?"
"It certainly looks like that from where I stand."
Metro stood up to yell back, "You take that back!"
"No. You make good on your promises, and I might consider it!"
Shoulders slumping, the boy hung his head. "Can't anyway."
"Why is that?"
"Was going to put the last bits together afterward, but Abbie's hurt or something."
"Not doing anything isn't going to make her less hurt, now is it?"
"Then get to work already!"
"'Cause I can't concentrate, and I don't have my books, or nothing."
Thomas turned to walk over, speaking up as he went, "I'm in the same class, remember? If that's the hold-up, let's go. If Elve will stick around for Abelyn to wake up?"
"Of course I will, unlike some people who just give up."
Metro: "I haven't given up!"
"You're not doing much else but sit around feeling sorry for yourself."
"That's not true!"
Thomas: "That. Is. It. Enough. Kris! You take one arm, I'll take the other."
"Kirby for some basic supplies. We'll make the rest up as we go. Finding a place where fire and water meet for Mr. Uncooperative here is going to be the hard part."
"If one of the lakes or ponds were frozen over..."
"We could just set a boat on fire with him in it. That should speed things up."
Metro didn't like that idea.
"You wouldn't dare!"
"Try us. Oil of Abramelin goes 'whoosh' real good if you know how."
Time? Such things flow differently here, Royal Library, Dis
"Lina bint Bulus al-Haddad, Inaam al-Baajalat. Come. We have matters to discuss."
The two women had been fortunate to find acceptable lodging. More fortunate yet, the young mortal spirit and her 'sister' were skilled enough that their minds and bodies could be put to good use, fine crafts being prized among the residents and visitors to the famed City of Brass. With a portion of their payment, they were able to gain expedited access to some records of interest. Further, it seemed that the name of their 'sponsor' carried some small measure of goodwill. Lina as Abelyn called herself here, considered trading on that goodwill to be reasonable in view of the other's impending default.
"It would seem that the young mistress is indeed a legitimate heiress to a small measure of our realm's splendour. Yet, somehow, either the passage of time has caused undue diminishment or perhaps an ancestor of hers relinquished that inheritance in some fashion."
"Would I be in error to understand that such was not intended to happen?" Lina asked.
"No. 'A newly set fire burns its own fuel' after all."
"What then must be done in order that matters may be set aright?"
"Fortunately, a seer of my acquaintance was able to trace the connection between Miss Inaam and the one who summoned her forth from the ready coals of his own world and shaped her as when you first met in your shop. By her and your own merit she is as you know her now. This is all to say that instead of requiring an audience by the will of one of the Djinn Lords that you may released to whence you came, you need only bide a short time until the young mage completes his own work."
"We thank you for your diligence and hospitality."
"Yes", Inaam agreed.
"Think nothing of it. I would offer tea in exchange for tales of your home realm, but young women such as yourselves surely have goodbyes to tender and perhaps some mementos to purchase before the twilight falls."
"Peace be with you"
"May peace be also with your family"
"Go in peace my dears. Perhaps next time we meet there will be time for sharing tales. In the past your people and mine weren't strangers. Creator willing, we shall speak and learn together again."
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
A few long hours later, but shy of midnight, Elve guessed from the sound of distant sirens that something had gone 'whoosh' real good somewhere in the area. If the project was indeed connected to the other events of the day, then unless the idiots had destroyed it, Abelyn just might start to get better.
'If the magician did chose the spirit, it should not be so strong as to overpower the girl's hallow.'
'That assumes he was acting of a sound mind!'
'No. Spirit-callers who make a habit of calling stronger beings than they can dismiss do not survive very long.'
'There is that, I suppose.'
'Yes. There was so much essence roiling around that one that I was beginning to worry for the girl and for us. Such energies are never meant to sit quietly.'
'You could have told me about that.'
'You could feel the danger too. There was no need to draw attention to us.'
'We need to talk more about open lines of communication, but later, when there is less going on.'
About another half-hour later, Valravn and Rorsmand, returned to the waiting room. Both smelled of incense and woodsmoke, but the latter also seemed to be missing his eyebrows.
Elve asked them, "Where's Metro?"
Rorsmand grumbled something she couldn't quite make out, clearly unhappy with whatever role he'd played in any of this. That left the other boy to explain.
"He's in his usual room, tanked behind isolating wards. Dr. Tenent will probably check on him in the morning. The jerk didn't even notice how much essence he'd pulled into himself - and he's far too good at hiding things like that - so even the standard consecration script from the class notes proceeded a bit energetically.
"You call a twenty meter pillar of flame 'a bit energetically'?"
That might explain why Kris was missing his eyebrows.
"For certain values of 'energetic', yes. I warned you to say a little further back once he started."
"You are just as insane as he is."
"Noooo," Thomas drawled. "I'm not the maniac who decided to monkey-wrench the mana flow around some shadow spirit half again stronger than myself. In the middle of a ritual. For which the thing was acting as ritual leader and focus. Did I mention this was within a three-way combat zone? Because it was."
"You still let him do that."
"Er. We were out of constructive ideas. Then again, 'If the stupid idea works, it wasn't that stupid.'"
Kris groaned, "Somehow, that incident wasn't in any of my briefings. Elve, could I ask of you a huge favor?"
"Let's hear what it is first."
"Someone told these two about something called training teams. Is there any chance you could help me keep them from getting me, and probably Abbie too, from getting ourselves killed?"
Valravn shook his head. "That's only a risk in the Arenas. Most of the team training is in simulators. Almost as exhausting, but it's not supposed to be fatal. They say that thing that happened last year was a fluke accident: which boils down to a security or a safety breakdown."
"Doesn't that bother you?" Elve asked.
Thomas thought about that.
"Erupting volcanos bother me. Kinetic impact weapons bother me. Things that aren't meant to get us killed? Not as much."
Elve said to Kris, "Kristian Holm, I believe that you are going to need all the help you can get."
Monday morning, November 12, 2007, Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
It looked like this was going to be one of those days when Dr. Ophelia 'Caduceus' Tenent wondered why she even bothered to leave the Clinic. Aside from the usual bang-up jobs the Workshop kids managed unsupervised, not to mention the equally appalling and/or disturbing mishaps from the Mystic Arts kids, two of her students assigned for academic advisement had somehow decided to manage both, with a couple of side orders of "They did WHAT?" There was something to be said for the pilot who reported the fire set at one of the campus ponds - even if the truth was that the pillar of flame had erupted from the pond. She didn't even need to check the Security report to have a good idea of who had managed that.
After the morning sick call, Ophelia indulged in a cup of the good coffee and typed out a memo congratulating Spark on the quality of telemetry one of her suits in beta testing had provided. The young inventor could do so much for aerospace medicine if she chose that field, and the more commendations she had to go with her patents, the better. Finally, she could stall no more, and got up to make her rounds.
Smithy was in excellent condition in spite of the multiple shocks to her system over the past twenty-four hours. To the doctor's mystical senses she appeared to be very much in synch with the spirit forced on her. In fact, it would be difficult to tell that she was an avatar by casual observation. The girl was less than thrilled with the prospect of more powers testing, but if the worst she experienced was walking away with more testing and a warning not to spread the word about what happened, she was damned lucky. Maybe, and if she behaved herself, she could be released after lunch.
That should cut down on visitors, and Trish would be happy to privately hear that there was no harm done.
At her next stop, Doctor Tenent sighed to herself as she started checking the charts. Syncope, internal bleeding, swelling of the spleen, shock, and possibly bone marrow suppression. What more could a body ask for? Just in case, she knocked on the door before walking in on her patient.
"Good morning, how are you- Why are you up and out of your tank?"
"Hurts too much to rest so I let them kick Thomas and Kristian out. At least Abbie's stable over the last several hours."
"Let's start with that, shall we?"
"What made you think you had the right to interfere with her life like that?"
"Interfere how, by not waiting for The Don and his cronies to use her as a spiritual shipping container?"
"If you know that much about that scheme, then you should know that from here it looks more like you've done all the work catching them a prime prize."
"That's one fish I wouldn't recommend they try to reel in."
"Abelyn Marie Elliott's hallow is a magical inheritance, not a mutation. I can't imagine how it could have come about unless there is a very powerful guarantor behind the original agreement. I'll admit I had no good way of knowing how long the agreement may have been in abeyance, but I really screwed up in not locking down the enchantments on my athame immediately. All I meant to do was to have the right sort of entity in place in a warded place of enchantment to let the universe take its course. I certainly do NOT recall agreeing to act as the escrow agent for the mana debt owed her."
"That was ... foolhardy at best."
"I was expecting a different f-word, to be honest."
"It's not yet out of the question. What would it take to remove the spirit without killing her?"
"Without ending her, you mean. Gods of the drowned and unborn children ... I had the agreement of the spirit and an implied agreement from Abelyn to make whole the injury, and I was channeling a strong water spirit. To pull a switch? IF all parties are in agreement, including the guarantor, you'd still need replacements for Abbie, the spirit, and the collateral held by the witness."
"Collateral held by the witness?" the doctor asked, curious.
"No idea what you're talking about, but I've got the blade we were working on with me, wanna look?"
The boy bent over very slowly to pull an ornately-sheathed blade from his book pack. He sat back up just as slowly before holding it out to his doctor and teacher. Try as he might, as he nearly bit into his lip, he wasn't able to keep his arm from shaking.
What first caught Ophelia's eye was the fire opal and mother of pearl inlaid into the rowan wood handle. The metallic sheath and blade guard acting as a stop were both of a deep black bronze with a multichromed patina both like and unlike shakudo or shibuichi. Drawing the blade carefully, she noted the sharp contrast these made with the bright silver blade. The slight scrape of metal on metal rang softly like whale song relayed through silver and bronze carillon bells. The handle was warm, and pulsed with a double heartbeat rhythm. Following a hunch, Ophelia spoke a word normally reserved for testing truesilver. Instead of a blue flame, the blade flashed red before dripping a caustic balefire onto and into the floor tiles.
The doctor was suddenly very glad that the two of them were alone and behind both magical wards and psi shielding.
"What is this?"
"You don't get an A+ for landing yourself and Abbie in the hospital."
"Awwwww. The flameout on the lake's worth worth at least an A."
"That is definitely more of an A-."
*sigh* "The bills of lading for supplies should only point to a very nasty-minded recipe for Corinthian bronze. In fact," Metro reached out gently to retrieve the object, and immediately the blade turned the same deep black as the sheath's background color. "As far as anyone else needs to know, that's what this is."
"Have you given any thought to the idea that you've been maneuvered into all this?"
"I have to sleep sometime. You, Abbie, and Thomas do too."
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Monday afternoon, November 12, 2007, Metro's Other Other Home Room, Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
"Where the Hell is that good-for-nothing sawed-off son of a ... "
The irate young woman finally realized that the only person she was seeing in the hospital room was someone other than the one who was overdue for a piece of her mind.
"Oh. Hello. What are you doing here?"
Thomas 'Valravn' Jensen looked up from the book in his lap.
"Reading. It's highly recommended by most teachers - usually as some form of assignment."
"I could tell that from the book."
"Did you mean to ask why I'm here, other than the fact that it had been somewhat quiet until recently?"
"That might be a good start."
"That's who I came to see. Where is he?"
"In the tank."
There was, indeed, a tank of water in the middle of the uncommonly large hospital room. Abelyn looked around to get a better understanding of what was going on, and began to notice that there was quite a lot more equipment in place and running than would be needed for no patient to be there. Thanks to all the recent exposure to such matters, she did recognize that there was was something resembling a magical seal incorporated into the floor before stepping on it.
'The tank of water and much of the attached equipment do appear to be entirely within a substantial ward.'
'Why would they need an over-sized fish tank here to keep a visitor entertained? Where's the hospital bed the twerp's supposed to be in?'
'You may want to calm down and consider your intentions carefully, Sister. A ward like this in a place of healing is surely meant to protect whatever, or whoever is inside.'
'You don't mean...'
Much more loudly, Abelyn exclaimed, "... They chucked him in a tank of water?"
"No." Thomas was enjoying this bit of I know something you don't know far too much. "He climbed in. They only drugged him to the gills once he got settled... -ish in."
"They drugged him ... how long has he been underwater? What are you doing just sitting there: we need to get him out!"
Thomas dropped both the pretense and the book, and stormed up to his upset classmate. "NO. WE don't. He's STAYING there until his fucking internal organs recover enough to handle the fucking internal BLEEDING from the backlash of fixing one of YOUR fucking ancestral screw-ups! If he wasn't drugged, heavily, right now he would be having a massive panic attack over the tank being closed in to keep the water he's breathing sterile."
"When Mads really loses it - like in a panic attack or when he's triggered into regressing - he forgets how to breathe correctly. THEN he starts drowning!"
"I never asked him to take that risk! Not on my account!"
"No SHIT! In case you haven't noticed: that's just the sort of self-centered, lying, infuriating, self-hating, caring, broken, self-sacrificing jerk he is! He damn near waited around your hospital room until it killed him hoping against hope you'd regain consciousness and be all right."
No matter how many trees Thomas had bounced off of while teaching Elve to fly, or how many singed tatami mats Mads had had to pay for, the circulating nickname for the two - "Crash" and "Burn" - didn't seem so funny at the moment. Maybe a little too close to reality, if anything.
"Worse, I think he wanted to see if the explosion would be big enough to leave me free of him. As if after three YEARS I couldn't have come up with something on my own to do that if I wanted to. Which, by the way, I don't. But gods forbid he should recognize for himself that I'm not being made to say that. ARGHH!"
The boy stomped back to his seat. He picked up the textbook, only to slam it back down at the floor and bury his head in his hands.
Abelyn walked over to Thomas.
"You know, if you keep on loud enough he might just wake up. Then what?"
"Pfft. The water's laced with the pain-killers and sedatives, and I've loaded the sound system with everything from Verdi's Requiem Mass to Mary Broken Horn's "A Stone Thrown Across the Waters" from back home. Station Metro is not receiving Earth at all."
That sounded like a safer topic to Abelyn, even if the music wasn't the sort she would have heard except on maybe WUOL or WFPK.
"I, I don't hear anything."
"You wouldn't. Sound travels better in water, remember?"
Abbie wasn't entirely sure if Thomas would consider her a 'friend' at this point but she couldn't ignore the fact that the boy was in pain. She knew that only too well. She brought an unused chair over next to him and sat down, matching his silence with her own quiet. After a few minutes in which he didn't move away or object, she took a chance and wrapped an arm around him - offering her strength and presence if he'd have them. Eventually he turned toward her, returning the simple hug like a drowning man reaching out for a life jacket.
Abbie barely heard Thomas finally say, "I hate not being able to keep him from getting himself hurt."
"He doesn't do these things for, you know?"
"No. You haven't seen the look in his eyes when he realizes how much others are hurt just because he's been. How much he hates himself for it."
"He doesn't recognize how much you love him either, does he?"
"Love? That's a bit strong a word. It's just that... I don't know. Can't I want happiness or something like that for him?"
Abelyn wasn't sold, but pressed on.
"Okay. Tell me this then, does he know how Kristian feels?"
"That's another person he's convinced would be better off without him around. You're probably on that list by now too. Congratulations. Speaking of which, we both know YOU like our Danish Boy Scout."
"Enh. Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful Loyal, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, Reverent. Sound like anyone we know?"
Abelyn blushed too much to deny it, before smiling. "Yeah." When she applied those ideals to one Kristian Holm, they seemed more admirable (maybe even sexy with the matching uniform) than the anachronisms they usually sounded like.
"Mads doesn't want to lead Kris on, but neither of us think the guy could cope with being shut down or outright rejected."
"I think he's stronger than that."
"Maybe. Is it really so important that we find out the hard way?"
"Sometimes, Thomas, we don't get any other way. You know what? I'd give near anything to have my parents back. I miss them so bad. Sometimes I wake up expecting Pa to be calling home from a job on the road. Or that it should be Ma waking me up to get ready in time to catch the school bus. But I can't just go and give up what I know they put every last part of their lives into giving me a chance for. Kristian deserves just as much chance to show what he's made of. Besides, that boy hardly sees me."
"Boy Scout, remember?"
"Thomas Jensen, even the preacher's son and gung-ho Life Scout back home would look me straight in the boobs when he'd say hello. They weren't all that impressive either!"
"Current crush aside, I think he might just surprise you, given that chance you were talking about."
Abelyn stared at the boy next to her, "You two are trying to set us up together."
"You both could do far worse."
"I think you all, we all, need to settle for 'just friends'. Maybe I can start writing some of that yowie slash fiction some of the other girls are so keen on. I can see it now: two young cadets, born to different backgrounds, finding common ground both on and off the drill field..."
Thomas mimed hurling his stomach contents into an imaginary trash can.
"... not that I don't need to work on my writing skills anyway."
Thomas sighed, and said "What I can tell you is that according to his sister, Kristian is still a virgin. That other cadet? ANYthing but." before musing half to himself, "It's been what? Ten years since his first consensual fumblings?" Abbie mentally did the math and came up with I think I may need that invisible trash can Then she recognized the bitter emphasis on consensual; her mind just wouldn't - couldn't - go there. She sat, numb, until the warmth of Thomas' hug returned her sadly to the present and why she'd meant to be here.
"Where does that leave us now?"
"What does your new friend say?"
"How would you? Oh, right, Mads would have told you."
"Heh. No. I've got eyes of my own and I'm no stranger to a little fire-starting now and then."
"Words: 1, Meaning: 0"
"She says we sweep up the shop tonight, melt the scraps back down in the morning for tomorrow's work."
Abbie stood to leave but hesitated a moment, unsure if she was doing the right thing. Thomas saw her look over to the room's other occupant.
"Abbie? I'll still be here for a while. You should get some rest while you can. Magical healing or even advanced technologies are great for patching things up quickly, but that leaves your body still having to pay the full bill with interest."
"No offers on layaway?"
"Sure. Miss one payment: forfeit the whole sale. If that sounds like a good deal to you, never, ever, window-shop magic. Go on. I'm fine."
As Abbie walked away it occurred to her that she somehow had gotten herself on the hook for four years dealing with two boys who prioritized their own feelings somewhat below shopping for party clothes (Not that she rated her own much higher, but she could process those in their own time, later.) The other seemed hell-bent on getting himself hurt den-mothering the rest. Maybe she should buy an extra-large tub of popcorn for her and Elve? And a clue-bat for the boys, of course.
Evening meal, November 19, 2007, Not far from the Beret Mafia table, Mezzanine level, Whateley Academy
In later years, recognized clubs and training teams might need to sign up to reserve a table, but Mads Christian 'Metro' Møller-Jensen simply borrowed a page from the Outcast Corner play book and plopped himself down at a likely spot with a good line-of-sight from the Euro-Promotional League's accustomed spot that balanced perceived 'prestige' against physical security. Politically, it reaffirmed that the significant overlap between that school club and the team he hoped to build just might was no oversight. In addition, anyone contesting the matter would still have to sit within the range of his glamour and his pheromones. Those who didn't cope well with those effects would be tacitly admitting that the Europeans were in fact more cosmopolitan than their local counterparts.
Breakfast and lunch would likely see everyone with their other friends, but the table would still be there. If others wanted to sit there when Metro and company weren't present or planning to be there, it would be easy to handle that amicably.
Metro did expect that not everyone invited would be interested in joining a training team that was just starting out. For example, Elve had been met with a polite refusal when she asked Damiana if she would be interested. That had to be the easiest ten bucks Metro had won off Valravn that term! It would also be reasonable for some folks to leave or join as time went by. Teams and groups of friends evolved like that, right? One of the factors in that evolution would come next year, when the range crew might expect the team to take on another student or two - if there still was a team (it was looking grimmer the longer he waited) - because sophomores were generally expected to get onto a training team or be put on one.
After a solid twenty minutes of waiting for anyone to show up, Mads resolved that the day would come when he got even with Abbie and Thomas for conning Kris and Elve into arriving late with them, but since he'd already started evaluating contingency plans in case one of them had gotten cornered by any of the school's numerous bullies and jerks ... he could let it slide for now. Having his own priorities straight meant that before that happened, he would need to figure out who sold them on the idea of calling the team 'Lost Puppy Patrol'.
Daybreak, November 22, 2007, Whateley Academy***
For all the hard work the food service crew were putting into providing a 'traditional' Thanksgiving feast for those staying at th Academy over the short holiday break - for those who could safely eat one - it fell a bit flat for Thomas Hrafn 'Valravn' Jensen. It wasn't so much that he'd pulled a midnight shift with his fellow Dream Team 'gamer' Sandra the night before. It was more a result of the local dreamlands being polluted by well over a couple hundred homesick dreamers who couldn't afford to go home to be with family, didn't have any family left as wanted them anymore, or were forced to stay at school over the holiday thanks in part to the MCO. Stir in a heaping helping of teenage hormones to season the mix, and let stew overnight. The previous day's overcast snowy weather hadn't helped the whining humanlings.
On that last part Sandra rated a pass: snakes, and other reptiles that hadn't had the superior grace to evolve feathers, wings, and flight just weren't meant for winter outings. They didn't get the codename 'Diamondback' for no reason.
Damn, could that girl whip her tail or what?
Maybe he shouldn't have expressed his sentiments out loud?
He'd still made sure she got to Whitman safely. He wasn't that much of an ass.
On top of everything else, the spirit's stolen memories of a life in British Columbia and his own citizenship proclaimed that it just wasn't Thanksgiving. Wrong month. Moreover, to him 'Thanksgiving' as a personally relevant holiday revolved around a single mother in Detroit and her oldest son good-naturedly battling for elbow-room in the kitchen, while the youngest son tried to sound him out as a suitable prospective mate for his brother (amidst anxious double-checks that the local emergency room was still on speed-dial at every thump and crash coming from the kitchen).
Luckily, the weather changed in the early morning hours as a fresh, sharp, north wind blew in. It left the sky clean of any clouds: just an obsidian backdrop to the the stars beyond it. For those with the right senses, the north winds carried some Canadian tundra gossip to be shared out after a cheerful mock battle staged against the snow clouds to be swept out to sea. The best part, maybe, was that the Thunderbird's Song had such company all to himself: too cold for Diamondback, Fubar too busy with homesick kids luring nasties up from the lower planes, and the humidity crashing to the point the watch sergeant had sent Metro to Doyle after his second or third nosebleed.
The young man stepped out of Poe Cottage's empty foyer with a pair of boots slung over his shoulder, and promptly lost his footing on the iced-up steps. A few choice words expressed his opinion of people who couldn't be bothered to keep the stoop dry. He chose to land a few feet clear of the concrete annoyances. At least Elve and Damiana hadn't been around to laugh at him! Of course, other air spirits were present and amused by the mishap:
Amateur. You're supposed to fall, not glide![/color]
What can I say? I'm a poor excuse for a human. Whoever designed these ankles should be shot, though.
That's why they wear boots this time of year. Warmer too.
Boots would have been a better choice.
So. Whatchou doin'?
I am going skating.
Besides, nothing's really frozen over yet. You'll get wet! Water's cold enough to be lethal for people walking around without their feathers.
Speaking of which...
Thomas pulled out a cell phone and punched in some numbers. "... don't forget to call Evie and Lars this morning. Give them my best, etc. I'm out at the lake, bring skates if you want." There. That should cover all applicable bases after Kristian's comment about 'turning Swedish' at dinner. Maybe later he should find out if Elve and Abelyn knew how to skate.
One of the sensor techs pulled up an infrared scan from one of Security's roving drones. They were beginning to prove quite useful. For example:
"Sarge! It looks like someone's gotten an early start on our ice-fishing season. Heat signature's fairly weak out on the lake, but if it's a student is that a good sign or a bad one?"
The watch sergeant answered for the tech. "They could be entirely safe, or dying of hypothermia. It's not like we can cover the entire area with ID scanners... Let's see who we can send out that can do some good."
"Too bad the Betas aren't up and about."
"Could we not call them that? Bad enough for morale all the other kids do. Hm. Let's see. Jensen's in Doyle again..."
"What happened this time?"
"Officially? Nosebleeds from the dry air. Unofficially, it wasn't just his sinuses. I got it from the graveyard shift that one of the new guys lost it when Jensen tried to blow his nose clear, trashed his collar, and splattered blood onto the next desk."
"Tell me about it. Looks like we go with option Charlie."
Around 9 AM, November 22, 2007, Lake and Recreation Area
A human figure flew in from the direction of the rising sun (in case Security had caught an intruder instead of a student) but wasn't too surprised that the tactic failed. The darker figure seen out on the lake came to a graceful stop and seemed to await the newcomer in a whirlwind of freezing spray. Truly a waste of the selection from "Tosca" that continued playing from the public address system. No choice now but to continue on approach.
Once Lady Astarte was close enough to address the young man without raising her voice she asked, "Doesn't figure skating traditionally require ice beneath the blades?"
"Ice dancing traditionally does, yes."
"A partner as well. Or has he already gone under?"
The person seemed to smile, "No, no. I've no shortage of partners this morning." Opening her mystical senses, Lady Astarte could see that there was indeed no shortage of air spirits gathered. Some annoyed. Some amused. Some... whatever air sprites used in place of recognizable emotion. "Care to join me? I believe that a waltz is up next on the playlist."
It was tempting, but also a bad idea to be seen dancing alone with a student. If Langley were here, that might be a different story. "Curious. Of the two of you I would have thought Mads to be the one skating."
"The ice would be thin enough if he fell hard, but he's in conference with his doctor at the moment."
Neither of the two had really tried ice skating before recent events taking them off-plane. However, Mads had needed to build up his endurance with something less risky than usual. The spirit fully manifested his 'Thomas' form for ease of communication - body language was usually appreciated by most humans - and shrugged his shoulders. "This gives me a chance to reconnect with my own element, so to speak."
"Then I shall leave you to it. Please try to avoid luring any other students out who cannot fly over the water like you can."
"It's American Turkey Day. They'll have to get stuffed first."
"You know what I mean."
With that, Lady Astarte flew back off to change into something a bit more conventional and to reassure Security that no obvious threat was posed to the student body here. Another good reason to head back inside for some coffee and a few uninterrupted minutes (one could hope) was that although she'd taken to the ice more than once in her midwestern youth, unlike her student she'd never ventured out in Arctic winds cold enough to generate slabs of ice under her feet.
Later, Same lake
"Um, T? Why are there ice cubes bobbing in the lake?"
"I've been out here having fun while you slept in."
"Waa. You're not the one having to keep my doctors happy."
"You don't do a very good job of it, so don't bitch to me about that."
"There is that. So! Got anything good cued up?"
"How about the Spice Girls?"
"How about we don't and speak no more of such blasphemies?"
Thanksgiving dinner, Mezzanine level, Crystal Hall
Abelyn Marie 'Smithy' Elliott wouldn't have credited the sight if she hadn't been living here for the past few months. She looked down toward the cafeteria entrance pointed out by Kristian, to see two red-faced boys stumble in in their school uniforms - both of which looked to be drier than the two boys wearing them.
"Kris, do I want to know how those two maniacs manage to waltz in looking like they've run a marathon and only just showered on the way over?"
She barely avoided giggling when the shorter one shoulder-checked the taller on the way to the food line.
"Are they in handcuffs?"
"It should be safe to ask one of them. Maybe."
A few minutes later, Abelyn saw Aquerna scamper off to intercept Miasma headed for the exit. "Ummm, Kris? Next question: what's up with the Underdogs?"
Rorsmand looked over at the two spooked sophomores near the door. One seemed to be trying to calm the other down before the meal could be interrupted by a hazardous material breach. Like many others, Miasma's code name was by no means accidental.
"Let's hope Thomas at least showered before they got here." He paused. No. They wouldn't. Would they? Kristian could imagine a scene in which they did - far, far too easily. "On second thought, let's not encourage them to tell us what they've been up to, and count as a blessing the fact we don't yet know."
Kris raised an eyebrow in counter-question.
"I should guess things go a bit differently in Kentucky?"
Once the two boys under discussion approached the semi-isolated table, provoking a few more departures and relocations, Kristian took in their still-flushed faces, and asked, "Who won?"
Mads made a show of adjusting his tie before responding with "I'm blaming Canada, but Geeks over Freaks, 2 to 1."
At Smithy's puzzled look (she must've spent much of the day in the Workshop) Rorsmand translated, "Emerson, Dickinson, and Poe over Whitman, Twain, and Hawthorne, final score 2 to 1, because no one thought to even out the Canadian hockey nuts beforehand."
*** The November 22nd segment was originally published as a micro-scene .
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Evening, November 27, 2007, Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
One of the more distinct disadvantages to be had in being escorted back to their cottage was that Abelyn 'Smithy' Elliott and Elve 'Vapaat Taivas' Järvinen were thus deprived of the opportunity to hash out their joint revenge plans for paying back one Mads 'Metro' Møller-Jensen. Once the girls were able to politely detach themselves from the two young men, they trudged back to their shared room to see if mutant-grade analgesics and a hot shower would iron out the kinks in their muscles along with building headaches.
The floor's bathroom was in mercifully low use, so the only other occupant was their fellow freshman, Goria. Given the shape-shifter's code name, it wasn't hard to guess why the place might be nearly empty.
"Hey, girls! You two look like you've been run through the wringer. What gives?"
Elve replied, "It turns out the self-appointed head of Whateley's newest training team moonlights as a petty tyrant in his off-hours."
"From what I've heard they can't be as bad as Gunny Bardue! If anyone makes a movie about this place, cast Samuel L. Jackson, 'cause that homeboy's going to be one of the survivors. Dish. Who is it and what did he have you guys doing?"
"Metro. He's one of the guys I've done some work for over the past couple of months? Get this: the little bastard had us playing 'Capture the Flag', with different partners each time, across a quote- Confidence Course -unquote that's supposed to be thrown at Security and the Grunts. Instead of having only a Red Team and a Blue Team, there was also the Native Insurgency," Abelyn said.
Elve added, "Do not forget the 'Roving Security Patrol'. That must be a classic complication."
Goria chewed her lower lip for a moment in thought, "That's... rough."
"My bruises have bruises," Abbie groaned. "Since Arena 99 is off-line for Combat Finals setup, and only Metro and Valravn have sim suits yet, we were put through our paces in Arena 91. Full contact, but with some safeties built in. Some. We left Rorsmand at the clinic to have his ankle checked out."
"Good lord! How'd they let freshmen - y'all didn't level up while we weren't looking, did you - get run through a training program that risky without supervision?"
"Who said there wasn't?"
"Oh, yes. Based on what I hear? Gunny was in rare form tonight."
"Good thing that we aren't required to sign up for training teams until sophomore year. You and Elve can still back out on it before the hammer comes down on your head. No offense, but I don't think either one of you is suited to duking it out in your long johns."
"You'd think so, yeah? If I recall, Gunny Bardue's comments started with 'When Metro here drags your sorry butts in to pollute MY sims, you'd better be ready to bring your A games, not this suck-ass shit.' Not 'if', but 'when'. I think we got his attention, and not in a good way."
"Ladies, better you than me. Don't let me hold you up any longer, what with a long hot shower calling your names and all."
Warm water never felt so welcome as it ran through Abbie's hair and down her back. Feeling the warmth through shared senses, Inaam was inclined to agree. It never felt warm enough outside a fire for her taste unless she remained with her host and, surely in time, friend.
"So, Elve? What have we learned tonight? I just know we're getting quizzed on this tomorrow and Thursday again if the Madman can sign for another time slot."
"Be very scared of the quiet ones."
"How do you figure that? I worry most about the loudmouth."
"Loud? Okay. When did you first know he had been researching your family background for weeks?"
"...He's still louder than Thomas."
"Abbie, it was not until the third week of my Powers Theory class that I found out that Thomas could speak."
"Anyway, I'm sure they'll want more to work with than 'Beware the quiet ones'! I can just picture us now, walking in with just that one one-liner, while Kris has an itemized list of Lessons Learned and a Plan Of Action."
Elve could picture that. Because if Kris couldn't mother his assigned charge... he'd find someone. "Mads will rattle off half a dozen things - while cleaning his fingernails with a knife - that could have gone better and what we should think of doing next time."
"Yeah, and Thomas will wait until everyone is finished talking to bring up something that we all were happier not thinking about, ever."
"You're just as bad, and you know it!"
"I don't wait until everyone's done talking."
"Uhh. I will let that one stand. Any chance you could help me with my back?"
"Yep. Let me get my conditioner worked in first, then no one can claim I don't leave it in long enough. I bet the guys don't have that problem."
"Only because their male friends would rather die than let anyone know they noticed another guy's hair."
Breakfast, November 28, 2007, Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Guess who had a typed, itemized list of Lessons Learned and a Plan of Action With Milestones to address said lessons for each member of the team he could find? Having a roommate you can't stand must work wonders for productivity.
Abbie's equipment wish list wasn't much smaller, having woken up early with some new ideas she just had to get written down. It did get a bit smaller after several people pointed out what they'd do to her if she tried to turn McFarlane Stadium into her own mega-scale reverb chamber. Some of the details were quite unnecessary. She was sure she could still get away with something interesting using earplugs.
Morning, December 3, 2007, Arena 99 Stands, Whateley Academy
"The next Combat Final is Smithy..."
Well, this is it. Time to find out if all that parkour paid off. Abbie mentally ran down her list of holdouts and their locations. This time next semester she might need one of Mobius' utility belts: but then, what self-respecting Southern Belle wouldn't?
|Ratings:||Avatar - 4 / Esper – 2 / Exemplar – 3 / Gadgeteer - 1|
|Techniques:||Nonflammability, Negotiation, Tactical retreat, Various holdouts|
|Weak vs.:||Magic, Force Fields, Psi, Strays.|
|Backup/Team Affiliation:||Lost Puppy Patrol|
Reminder to self: Mads can be a vindictive little shit when he wants to be. I'll bet he knew that was going to be shared out to God and country.
"... versus Centurion and Switchblade."
Abbie's jaw dropped. 'Are they fucking kidding me?'
Inaam's mental voice warmly replied.
'Centurion's one of the bullies in the boys' BMA class. Has the strength of 100 men supposedly.'
'So he is strong and trained to fight. What of the other?'
'Internal energizer, so he moves fast and heals fast, too. Switch-hitter is Cent-piece's best friend. Manifests knives. Might not be so hot at hand-to-hand or ranged combat.'
'What purpose could the teachers have, setting two males against you that you would be sure to know of?'
'Huh. I bet they'll try to flank me at every opportunity since I'm not a fighter.'
'Must we fight them?'
'Not unless the advantage is to us. Which means I have to wear them down, then they could be the ones in for a world of hurt.'
'Then perhaps WE are the lesson?'
'Let's find out. Thanks for helping me think this through!'
That is what sisters are for.
Elve turned to her room-mate, "Good luck. I cannot help but wonder what the madman would do."
"Do we even need to ask? For a magician he's got one hell of a sniper mindset. Do unto others and GTFO."
"I don't recall either one in our Survival course, and they are both freshmen like us. They may not know much about turning obstacles into assets."
"I like the way you think. Let's show the boys what we learned."
Abbie got up and headed down to the indicated end of the Arena. The school's Combat Finals were known for being risky (i.e., nearly as much fun to watch as NASCAR), but that just means they were ripe for a little spanner-chucking.
Centurion and Switchblade
As they too headed down from the bleachers, Abbie's opponents had a differing perspective on the match-up:
"Lost Puppy Patrol? Do they really think some girl with a puppy dog spirit can handle both of us?"
"Psht. Should be an easy fight. Says she's weak vs. magic, unlike the MCO girl. Wonder what her esper knack is?"
"Some girly nonsense like Detect Unicorn or Feel Invalidated."
Switchblade laughed along with his best bud, but he worried that someday that guy's overconfidence just might get him hurt. That wasn't something he felt like laughing about at all.
Spark sent an email to let Smithy know that the suit's telemetry was on-line and transmitting five-by-five. True, the two tech students didn't have to register the data channel, but it made the simulator techs happy to know about it ahead of time. Professional courtesy for the win.
Centurion and Switchblade, North Arena Entrance
"Good morning, boys. Your job will be to capture Smithy and deliver her to the Security Officer posted at the nearest marked exit, of which there are two. You have twenty minutes to do so. Any questions?"
"No, man, we got this."
Smithy, South Arena Entrance
"Good morning, miss. Your task is to evade capture by your two opponents for the next twenty minutes. Any questions?"
"Does the exercise end immediately on capture?"
"No. They will need to transport you to the nearest exit to claim a win."
"I presume force, including implements of opportunity, is allowed?"
"Of course, although we prefer that you don't tear the place down or injure each other too badly."
"Ah. Police, Fire, Emergency Rescue numbers?"
"See the public telephones here and there along the street? For a legitimate emergency, pick up one of those phone and one of the sim crew will direct the call as needed. 911 is being redirected to a different station."
"Before I forget - what are the charges against me, for the scenario?"
"There are no current charges filed on any of the three of you."
"That's good to know. Thank you, Officer." Abbie gave the Security Officer a small curtsy and a smile that he returned with his own smile and a tap on the brim of his hat.
Abbie decided that she could get used to the steampunk aesthetic, and how well the boys appreciated a well-fitted and padded bustier. Any of them looking higher wouldn't even notice the domino mask for the goggles once she pulled them down. Soon a gong sound pealed out over the loudspeakers and the match was on, students, bystanders, street life, and all.
Arena 99 Control Room
Gunny Bardue hadn't caught the opening dialogs, but other folks had. "What are you people giggling at now?"
"I can't say for sure, but it looks like Mendez just gave Smithy permission to go her limits."
"As I recall, that was the purpose of these exercises."
"Suit yourself. I've got twenty on the puppy; can anyone cover?"
Centurion and Switchblade
The boys ducked into an alley to avoid the foot traffic on the main street sidewalk while they got their bearings. Setting an ambush for one of their targets was nothing new, but they normally had a better idea of the target's route and schedule. Nothing else to do but split up and start canvassing the area. The girl's MID didn't mention flight or speed, so the sooner they started out the less area they'd need to search.
There were two things that Abbie needed before she could put one of her several options in action: a good visual ID on the boys, and eyewitnesses. So while Centurion and Switchblade were tromping down the streets on either side, she made her way up the Main Street, responding to the stares and comments that her outrageously old-fashion dress attracted with a cheerful "I'm getting my outfit ready for the next Maker's Faire" or "Why yes, I am in a play. Are you and the Missus free for the Saturday Matinee?" All in all, by being visibly part of the scenery she melted into the crowd. And if the students passed without sighting each other, she'd be happy to let the boys run down the clock for her.
Two-thirds of the way down the streets, she was certain that she must have missed them unless they were complete idiots. For safe measure, she continued to the next intersection before cutting over a half block and ascending a fire escape. Just because she wasn't a flyer that didn't mean she couldn't climb. On the way up, she looked carefully for the openings and repetitions in the cityscape's construction that she'd want to use if it came down to a chase.
Centurion and Switchblade
Switchblade wasn't having as much fun as he'd expected. "How the hell can a girl that big just disappear into a crowd, wearing a red dress?"
"She must be hiding. Did you look into the buildings as you walked by?"
"Of course I did. Most of them are just stage props. The doors don't even open."
Centurion had forgotten to check that, but it wouldn't help to mention it. "Okay. She had to pass some of these people on the street. We question them, and follow up from there."
It sounded like a plan.
It even could have been an excellent plan.
But two young males determined to find 'a girl in a red dress' who was obviously determined not to be found by said pursuers came across as kind of sketchy. It also altered the flow of foot traffic around them as some stopped to avoid them or made a point to go around the trouble makers.
Abbie adjusted the gain on her goggles to get a clearer view.
Centurion and Switchblade
The consensus was that the boys had indeed passed the girl they were looking for and that she wasn't hiding the last time anyone had seen her ... as if they would have seen her hiding! As a result, they were headed back towards Smithy's position as she turned off the Main Street ahead of them. Switchblade dropped back to come around the other side. Centurion move up to keep an eye on their quarry.
Their quarry lost some of her lead in placing a phone call about two male pickpockets working the area around the corner of Main and Elm.
Centurion scrambled up the rusted fire escape behind Smithy. He might have lost the element of surprise, but in close quarters like this with obstacles everywhere, his strength and training should prevail. Three stories up, he was able to grab her forearm. The crunching sound as something important gave way was a musical "A" to his ears.
Abbie nearly panicked as the vise-like grip closed down on her arm. Without thinking, she grabbed a device from a belt clip and swung it into the other's face. She winced at the arm guard on her other arm digging into flesh as Centurion held on. Her goggles auto-darkened to their maximum as the flashpack in her hand went off in her captor's face. That distracted both long enough for the tortured Cobra linear induction pistol she'd rigged onto her left arm guard to give up its ghost.
On a "hunch" that the combat instructors might play a little rough today, Abbie'd loaded high explosive, taser, and smoke rounds to the little concealable. The padding under the guard was insulating, as were her boots, and the experimental body suit underneath everything had been designed to keep her from being electrocuted while working literally with lightning. Centurion's meaty hand was also in a position to attempt containing the explosives against the metal beneath them.
The boy did not even have time to scream before he went down hard.
That's how it would have looked without the smoke rounds also being bodgered in the crush. Knowing a bad idea when she committed to one, Abbie knelt down to feel where the boy was laying and begin to search for a pulse.
How many times had that elf bitch played dead in BMA? Too many times to not try it himself. He didn't need to see through the smoke to tell that this idiot girl was attempting to see if he was OK. Total n00b move. His hand DID hurt like hell, and she was going to pay for that, but he had more than enough juice to heal that. All he had to do was bide his time to strike.
The girl cursed when he grabbed her bruised arm. Good! Now to finish the job, tie the bitch up and ...
Centurion would wake up some time later in Doyle Medical Center. Unfortunately for him, being protected from electricity didn't mean the other person couldn't use it.
Now that the smoke was clearing, Abbie could see well enough to pull a handy length of bar stock, or two, off the railing for an improvised wrist binding. Maybe Cent-piece's friend would get the hint? She set off into the steel jungle gym that Mr. Anderson had spent all semester teaching his students to appreciate. Somewhere, there had to be a telephone.
The boy couldn't believe that his friend could be hurt so badly and have someone just run off and leave him there! At least he was still breathing and not bleeding. That much was good, right? All he needed to do was calm down and find one of those emergency phones someone had mentioned. If this Smithy person hadn't cheated or something, whatever, they wouldn't be in this mess.
He climbed down the fire escape, quickly at first, but slower when he saw one cop pointing one heavy-looking pistol at him as his partner called in for backup.
At the end of twenty minutes, and after a LOT of explaining on Switchblade's part, the timer sounded.
“Victory to Smithy.”
Lunch, December 3, 2007, Beret Mafia Table, Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Harley 'Reach' Sawyer looked over to a nearby table that recently been claimed by some freshman training team and chuckled at the scene.
"I'm surprised you two aren't over there, joining in." She said to Elve and Valravn. Like Thomas, her primary reason for hanging with the Euro-Promotional League was sitting at the smaller table engaged in rampant tech-speak.
Thomas shrugged, remarking "I can ignore them geeking out over armor and weapons performance from here just fine," before going back to eating.
Elve smiled, "If Kristian is finally noticing that Abbie's a young woman, I have no need to step in."
"Why not? They make a nice-looking couple even if Kris does need an interpreter for conversations like that."
Elve said, "I find that nodding at the appropriate points works just as well."
Reach had no intention of being heard agreeing, even if that was her coping mechanism with tech-speak as well.
Thomas shook his head at that. "Not always the best choice. Doing that just encourages Mads to do what he wanted to do anyway."
Harley filed that away under 'useful information' before going back to the original subject, "How'd they grade Smithy, anyway?"
"Whatever a 'solid B' is," Elve explained. "She lost points for letting herself be seen too early and getting caught on a fire escape instead of a better spot for leading them into the traps she had planned to set out."
"I was surprised she wore that calf-length skirt into the Finals," Harley admitted, shaking her head. "Too many ways to get snagged on something."
"It was - how do you say? - faux leather? She wanted something long enough to hide her boots and Spark's suit against casual observers. It was also made to detach should someone try to grab her."
Thomas continued, "I'd have paid money to see them make that mistake. Can you imagine the scene: a half-dressed girl running away from two thugs holding a skirt? So much 'resisting arrest'; so deserved. Anyway: Switch got a 'C'. He didn't do anything wrong, but he didn't really show off what he could do. Century-boy? A 'D' for practically inviting that taser shot upside the head."
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"That is sick and wrong!"
— Ron Stoppable, "Kim Possible"
Morning, December 4, 2007, Arena 99 stands, Whateley Academy
In retrospect, the first hint that Elve's combat final was going to be worth remembering would have to have been the Finnish girl's choice of costume. It was a blue and grey affair loosely modeled on the fallen angel Gabriel's outfit near the end of "Constantine". Just in case the outfit itself didn't emphasize how much the bone spurs from her back already resembled what might be left after having wings ripped off, Goria broke out some F/X blood from one of her theatrical makeup kits to paint the edges of exposed bone. Red contacts and a Robin mask completed the morbid ensemble. Even Abelyn didn't notice that the girl was wearing a bulletproof vest under the costume's torso wraps, and she was Elve's roommate!
Had Misty 'Superchick' Cooley still held out any hope that Gunny Bardue might not harbor a grudge against Wondercute, this morning was set to nail the coffin lid shut on that dying dream. First, everybody that wasn't already laughing behind her back (Everyone forgets about super-hearing as part of the supers packages!) for hanging out with her best friends on Wondercute seemed to be laughing either at her opponent's name (Misty had NO idea what 'Vapaat Taivas' was supposed to mean) or the girl's training team name. And for the record, Misty did NOT think that lost puppies were something that nice people laughed about - not that there weren't far too many mean kids at Whateley to start with. She also didn't at all like that the teachers were throwing a 'prisoner transport' scenario at her. Those always made her feel bad. It was like they were treating the other person as a criminal before they even got a chance to decide who or what they wanted to be! Then she saw the freshman.
Like. Oh. My. God.
The girl had BONES growing out of her!
They didn't look like the bone spikes an X-man might throw at you either, but attached.
Worse, the other girl was handcuffed behind her back, pinning her arms back uncomfortably against what looked like broken-off, bleeding bones sticking out of her back.
If Misty believed in Fallen Angels, this is what she would imagine one would look like... Next team meeting, they were going to look into equipping everyone with religious somethings. Jadis' brother kept trying to get her to watch an anime called 'Evangelion', maybe that would help?
"Superchick! Are we boring you here?" Oops. It was always a bad idea to start on the instructors' side!
Misty yelped, "No!"
"Very well, then. This is your mission: to deliver your prisoner - that would be Vapaat Taivas here - to the police team waiting for the two of you at the other end of the arena to take her into custody. You have twenty minutes to do so, if you wish to participate and maybe win this match. Any questions?"
Whatever the other girl said, it was in a completely foreign language to Misty. Someone must have translated it for Wilson, because he got a laugh out of it.
Misty was careful to have a good grip on her opponent's arm before the starting gong sounded. It wouldn't do to just let the other person get away because she hadn't taken basic precautions. She must have jostled the girl badly when the gong went off, because she understood "Owww!" just fine. It only took a few seconds to change her grip. Nineteen minutes and counting to go...
Superchick's parents would not have been pleased by the language she used as Vapaat Taivas ran off after having picked the handcuffs and left them on Misty's wrists. Molly (She'd taken Survival last fall) was never going to let Misty live this one down!
The chase, as they say, was on.
Speaking of chases and Molly, this girl was treating trees and just about any other aerial obstacle she could find the same way Gateway and Aquerna handled ground obstacles: at a dizzying full tilt. Misty was doing her best to do the same without losing sight of her quarry when a flash-blang practically went off in her face! Reacting on instinct, Misty pulled up to avoid blundering into... the tangleweb that had been set in the open path above and behind the flash-bang. Superchick winced at the sound of fire escapes and other anchoring props giving way under the strain of not stopping her.
A tail chase like this could go on forever, even if the hidden ambushes set for the two students (Yes. Gunny did hold a grudge. Or Sam. Or Staff Sergeant Bardue. Or, the list was kind of long these days) did have trouble aiming effectively through chaotically warped space. Fun was fun, but Superchick had moves of her own! Time to show a bit more of what a gravitic supergirl could do. For example, how well would the flyer ahead of her handle gravity suddenly tripling - sideways?
And why was the girl tossing a ball at the wall, now? Didn't she know it... would bounce back at the person following her under the gravity field?
Darn it! That had to have been one of Bunny's explosive eggs.
Catching sight of the elusive not-an-angel-at-all-nosirree!, Misty poured on the speed while staying well above any remaining obstacles. Just before catching up to the girl, Superchick squeezed two tangle eggs of her own and tossed both of them ahead up and to either side of her. Then she used her power to shove V.T. down, counting on the girl to again juke to the side instead of going with the applied force.
Game. Set. And one sticky match, but it was still a win!
Getting the tangleweb loads off the two girls was complicated by discovering that for Superchick they were holding some nasty cuts closed. Whatever had caused them had been too sharp for her nerves to register until the solvent seeped into the wounds. At least she hadn't hurt the other girl, and next time she'd know what to watch out for. Misty hoped her temporary opponent wouldn't take it too badly, because she really, really didn't like that people could get hurt in these things.
Amid the bustle of finishing up, cleaning up, and waiting for Ito and Bardue to stop by to yell at them for wrecking the place before giving out grades, Misty walked up to to congratulate the other girl on a tough match. She even had forgotten that the foreign girl probably didn't speak English. But it's the thought that counts, right?
"Um, hey! Vapaa...?"
"Vapaat Taivas. It means 'free sky' in Finnish. Or you could call me Elve, if you wish."
"Oh! I didn't know that! Look, I wanted to congratulate you for being such a tough opponent..."
"Thank you. I enjoyed the chance to put my flying practice to work."
"... but I. Wait. You DO speak English!"
"Yes. It is taught in Finland, as Spanish and French are taught here."
"Cooley! Järvinen! GET IN HERE!
Misty blushed at Gunny Bardue's 'dulcet tones', "I think they want to talk to us about what happened out there."
Elve asked, "I thought the phrase was 'rip us a new one'?"
Later that morning, Arena 99 stands, Whateley Academy
Abelyn didn't have to look hard to see her roommate coming up to their place in the stands. Most kids took one look at the young woman and quickly stepped aside. That was one of the things that sucked about the school's deliberate segregation of its GSD students: it lent itself to presenting any of the kids who looked different as Other. As in Those Other Mutants. Bad upbringing usually comes out, doesn't it? Not for the first time, the girl from central (not backwoods!) Kentucky hoped she hadn't treated any of the other Whitman girls so awfully.
"Elve! What'd you get?"
"Misty and I each received a 'B'."
"What for? That was one hell of an exciting aerial dogfight! While it lasted, that is."
"The instructors concluded that I need better ranged offense and defense options. Then they berated Superchick for flying too close to me without knowing how it is that I fly."
"Looked fine to me."
"The web loads held the worst cuts closed."
"I think we do need to know other students' powers better. I would not want to see you hurt over something easily prevented."
"Good point. So that was it, as far as grades went?"
"There was also a complaint about 'wrecking the sims', but if they wish to test our limits how can there not be some collateral damage? I do not entirely understand the American mindset on this."
"Sometimes I don't get us either!"
Elve smiled wickedly, "There is one other thing."
"What?" This had to be good.
"One of the seniors asked me out on a date. Said he likes a challenge."
"Does he have a name?"
"He goes by Bomber."
"Just remember to turn him back in in the condition you got him, girl!"
"Where's the fun in that?"
Afternoon, December 4, 2007, Whateley Academy
Valravn's combat final happened, and that was about the best that could be said about it. Thomas himself had more to say about the affair, "Requirements met; expectations: not so much," shrugging as if it was part of some plan he wasn't heavily invested in. Since it seemed that that could be said of most of the plans he came up with or got entangled in, that wasn't exactly what anyone would call 'an insightful analysis'.
At least the mis-matched power levels between him and his Underdog opponent backed up the official position that the combat final pairings were entirely random except when they weren't.
Morning, Friday, December 7, 2007, Whateley Academy
Three more days of underclassman Combat Finals had provided everyone with a few laughs, some welcome upsets, maybe some lessons learned, and a better idea of who to watch out for among one's classmates. It was also a nerve-wracking time for those who still hadn't been called up.
To Smithy, it looked like Rorsmand hadn't had much sleep at all this morning. She really began to worry about how he was going to pull through, when she heard the boy hardly raise his voice while complaining that his roommate and his family had both kept him up all night. Something just didn't feel right.
Abbie almost hoped her friend would fall asleep and default on the match, rather than take unnecessary risks against some unknown opponent for a letter grade. But that would be against the rules, and this was Kristian Holm she was thinking about.
When Kristian nearly begged Mads to be there at the gate for when it was over, and tactlessly hinted that Jericho was more welcome to be there than she was, Abbie knew she should listen, but discounted the insult as just nerves.
From the start, Rorsmand was doing a good job of keeping cover and distance between himself and one of the flying turrets the school had so many of. Ticonderoga, however, didn't act as if it mattered how badly he could hurt Kris (or anyone else) blasting away at full power. Ten minutes into the match, the near-misses and the prolonged adrenaline rush began to take their toll. Kristian barely got around one corner of one of the brick-walled buildings before a concussive blast went off behind him. That left him with at most a second or two of warning that the blast had been deliberately high of the mark, a second or two too few before the cement cornice and a large chunk of the wall gave way above him.
Abbie couldn't believe what was happening. The slow fall of brick and cement as her friend desperately back-pedalled away. A small stone that rolling under his boot threw him off-balance, costing him distance. A flare of something tore away at the arena gate that stood between two young men and their goal. One had a first responder's kit. The white cross on a red disk was uncanny in its clarity. Soon there were other people shouting, running. Were they there to help? Or not? Some person in a supersuit flew up to two boys kneeling in the rubble, working hard on something that kept eluding her. It looked like he wanted ... to argue? Keep fighting? Others moved him away. Good. Then there was the stretcher with the boy she wanted to get know better on it. It seemed to be missing something. Then the white noise roar in her ears joined to the blurred darkening of her vision and there was nothing more to witness.
Once Abbie returned to consciousness, the world was also back at its normal speed and noise as if nothing had ever happened. But it had. She looked up into the most beautiful violet eyes she'd ever seen, set in an elfen face itself framed with flame-red hair.
"She's coming to! Would everybody please back the hell away. Smithy? I think you've just fainted, but I'd like for you to come with me to see a doctor. Can you do that for me, sweetie?"
"Yeah, I think, maybe, yeah. Just let me..."
"Good enough. Let me help you stand up. Tell me immediately if you start getting dizzy or light-headed, okay?"
"Yeah, yeah. I'm fine, really."
"That's what they all say. Even me."
"Even, um, who ARE you?"
"The code name's Fey, but let's get you out of the Arena first."
They walked some unknown distance, not talking. Fey only had to raise her voice a couple of times to clear the way. Eventually, they were out in the cold December air. That helped Abbie clear her head, but with that came the impact of what she'd seen. For several minutes she found herself crying into the shoulder of a caring stranger.
"It's okay to cry, Abelyn. Trust me on that."
"Is he?" Abbie's throat felt like it would close in on itself.
Fey understood the half-asked question. How many times had her own best friends been hurt? Too many. "I haven't heard one way or the other. With bad injuries that usually means your friend still has a fighting chance."
"I think he knew... or we knew, something bad was going to happen."
"Maybe. Maybe not. I know that folks are going to have some questions for you after we make sure you're okay."
"About that other person, the one that flew up later. Fey, right?"
"Fey. Or Nikki, whichever's more comfortable."
"I'm Abbie. Did he get hurt?"
"Ticonderoga? No. No he did not. It wasn't for lack of trying, either."
"He thought, incorrectly I might add, that two of the first responders were interfering with his fight. He was persuaded to think otherwise."
Afternoon, Friday, December 7, 2007, Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
Ophelia flat-out hated the next part. Explaining first what she could ethically say to schoolmates, friends, sometimes lovers or siblings, here, and then later having to through it again for family members having to travel to get to the hospital if they could. It was too quiet out in the waiting room.
She recognized Abbie Elliott and Thomas Jensen on either side of Mads Jensen. Her roommate sat on the other side of Abbie. No surprise to see Mads or Abbie in the waiting room. Apparently the two had been waiting at one of the arena entrances when the mishap had occurred in front of him. The doctor stepped back unnoticed, berating herself for cowardice even as she did so.
'It's hardly that. And you know it.'
'Louis? Shouldn't there be more people out there?'
'Oscar is in the break room, getting more coffee. Rorsmand is one of the JROTC students he works with.'
'So he's beating himself up over this, and we're still only up to five people who seem to give a damn.'
'Cultural differences and being associated with an openly gay student have made it very hard for Kristian to make many friends in his cottage. It's been worse than usual this year.'
'Great. What about support for his friends? Usually we have to start throwing people out by now.'
'The waiting lobby is already bugged six ways from Sunday.'
'Paige has a tap on the CCTV system. Let's just say that Security isn't entirely unaware. Miranda can hear Mads from Dunwich. Generator has one of her flyspecks planted so she can update Lancer, Phase, and Fey.' The psychic's mental voice chuckled, 'And Kew... has been Kew. You'll have enough of an audience once you've reviewed the options with the family. Are you going to be good to handle what comes after?'
'Once the family has made their decision, yes.'
Feeling a hundred years older than her own time on earth, Doctor Tenent walked out to talk to her patient's friends.
"I want you all to know that, barring further complications, your friend should pull through. For now, we'll be keeping him in a light coma to minimize the strain on his body as it tries to heal the damage. That said, we do need to know if Kristian has said anything to anyone regarding pain or discomfort in his right arm before today."
From the scared looks it was easy to see that two of the kids had paid attention in powers theory class. That didn't make this easier. However, it was Abelyn Elliott who spoke up first. "No, not that I can recall. He didn't get any sleep last night, but not because of pain. Why?"
"It's something we need to factor in before we plan further treatment."
Mads followed up with, "We could check the footage from when we came in this morning. Trouble is that it might have been precog senses coming through."
"There is that to consider, yes."
"Could I have a word, in private, before you contact his family?"
"Is this likely to be helpful in any way?"
"Maybe. Depends on the time available, Doctor."
Doctor Tenent nodded, "Meet me at my office. I'll be there in a few minutes." She went back to add some more notes to her patient's chart.
Curious, Abbie asked, "Mads, what are you planning on doing?"
"Maybe nothing. It depends on Kris' family and what they decide."
Evening, Friday, December 7, 2007, Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
Whatever it was that the boys were keeping to themselves (and look how well that that's always turned out), Thomas soon left the trauma center and didn't return that evening. After the second or third round of questioning by Security, and Mrs. Savage having to physically come over to get her free of them so she could eat something, that detail soon escaped Abbie's mind.
Abbie was fairly certain that the other Whitman girls had heard about or seen the accident and were giving her and Elve a bit of space for now. She did appreciate it, as she wasn't much moved to do more than fall into bed and hope for sleep.
In Abelyn's dream space, Inaam held tight to her sister spirit to comfort and reassure her. If any nightmares chose to trouble them, that would be the last mistake they'd have the opportunity to choose.
Morning, Saturday, December 8, 2007, Whateley Academy
Abbie woke up physically rested but still emotionally wrecked. Again, if it weren't for Elve, Mrs. Savage, and the other girls, she didn't know what she would have done. What she felt wasn't the aching loss she still occasionally felt for her parents, and she couldn't imagine what it must be like for Kristian's parents and sisters, what must be going through their heads. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't enthusiasm for the local version of bloodsports carried out on a rickety sound stage. Belatedly she remembered to try to give the empaths on her floor some more space. God knows they wouldn't need a extra helping of whatever it was she was feeling.
And so it was that Smithy was in a particularly foul mood when the bastards in charge of the finals called Metro up to Arena 99. Didn't they care that he had a medical waiver? Or had they conveniently lost it for the sake of 'Mutant Death Match' ratings and revenues?
Maybe after this was all over she'd apologize for screaming at the boy for staggering in later to the waiting room with still-smoking holes in his jacket, a cracked skating helmet held together by god knows what (That wasn't electrician's tape: it had eyes and teeth!), and suspicious stains here and there - some of them not even his blood - instead of checking in to Emergency. A booming baritone in the distance dimly suggested that someone else had also gotten turned around. Abbie figured that they must have gotten to the right department in the end when she overheard Dr. Tenent muttering something darkly under her breath about 'restraints'.
According to the gossip to be had at lunch, it was generally agreed that the scenario a) must have been an unannounced "Crash", and b) involved Thorn, Metro, a gillman of some kind, daleks, and flaming snowmen with guns - somehow - no one was entirely sure what had happened except that it started with a cat in a tree.
"A world that sends you reeling from decimated dreams
Your misery and hate will kill us all
So paint it black and take it back
Let's shout it loud and clear
Defiant to the end we hear the call
To carry on"
--Ray Toro, Frank Iero, Bob Bryar, Gerard Way, Michael Way,
"Welcome To The Black Parade"
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Evening, Saturday, December 8, 2007, Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
Kristian's father arrived at the Academy Saturday evening. Abelyn and Elve hadn't met him on Parents' Day, so this was the first chance they'd had to meet the man. Arvid Holm looked... like his son, but older, and a LOT less high-strung. A person would have to be less high strung than Rorsmand to balance his own practice, an internationally successful wife, and three children. She wondered if he and her Pa would have gotten along over a beer or two, and decided that they probably would have if they'd ever had that chance.
The man looked so much older after having gone in with the doctor to check on his son.
Was it surprising that Mads had jumped up (for certain wobbly values of 'jump' that his doctor and anyone else with much sense would have disapproved of) to greet him when he came out? Perhaps not, but after a short discussion that neither Whitman roommate could make out, he turned to introduce them to the man.
Abbie stumbled through her initial apology, "Mr. Holm, I'm so sorry about what happened!"
"I'd insist you call me Arvid, but that would scandalize Kristian, wouldn't it?"
All my own relations as well!, Abbie thought to herself.
"Yes, sir, I think it would. I just wish there was something I could have done to help instead of just standing and watching."
"Why don't we all sit down, and talk about that? Mads," Mr. Holm pronounced the name 'Mass'. Interesting. "Don't go running off. I would like to hear your side as well. If you feel more comfortable using countermeasures I'm sure your friends listening in would understand."
Countermeasures? Listening in?
Seeing shock on the girls' faces, Mr. Holm explained, "Kristian gave us quite the report on Mads' run-ins with the school's, er, 'Intelligence Corps'. I'm given to understand that it corroborates a later report on certain Parents' Day events."
"That was not my fault! I've heard quieter bison in the underbrush..."
"Don't worry too much about it. I've been told that one of your older cousins thought it hilarious. His mother is quietly pleased that the Danish side of your heritage is clearly the strongest - so long as the younger cousins aren't given any brash ideas."
Abbie was sure that she was now seeing a 'Rutro' blush from the boy.
Over the next hour or so, Arvid Holm patiently and tactfully plied his craft as a clinical psychologist. Teens of either, or any, gender tended to catastrophize, and these three were no exception. He'd also need to talk with his son at length as to why he saw this event chain as being the best he had open to him. Maybe some discussions would also be needed over the break regarding how he was responding to his own feelings and to the feelings of those around him.
Sunday, December 9, 2007, Berlin, New Hampshire
The roller-coaster of emotions over the previous couple of days had left Abbie in deep need of a mental and physical break, so after getting up and getting dressed appropriately she accompanied some of the other students on the weekend bus to Berlin for church services. She was surprised to see that Mr. Holm also boarded the bus.
"I should have rented an auto in Boston, but the school had made already made arrangements for my transportation. Who am I to refuse? So here I am. Care to join me, Miss Elliott?"
"Where to? I have to confess that my family wasn't very church-going, but my father was a member of the Christian Church."
"I was thinking of St. Paul Lutheran. It's only a kilometer north of the other churches, and it's a nice day for walking."
"Suits me. I understand that Kris is trying to teach Mads about the Church of Denmark and how it's a Lutheran denomination."
"It is. By the way, we Lutherans do consider ourselves Christians, in case you were wondering."
"Oh, no! That's not it at all! By calling it a Christian Church we mean that we don't put much store in separating everyone into denominations and such. 'We are Christians only, but not the only Christians.' is how my Sunday School teacher put it. I doubt that Reverend Englund - he's the school's minister - would approve. But then, he doesn't have to," Abbie laughed, remembering her one run-in with the dour man.
"Well then, maybe we can expand your cultural horizons while we both pray for Kris to pull through this morning's surgery and his first round of physical therapy."
"The prosthetic arrived early this morning. I'm given to understand that once Kristian wakes up, he'll be pushed straight into physical therapy to ensure all the nerve connections are working as intended. And, as much as he hates to be seen needing others instead of being needed, it may be best for us not to get into the middle of the brewing power struggle."
How bad could it be?
Sunday afternoon, December 9, 2007, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
It could be bad enough that Mrs. Carson, the school headmistress, was waiting for the bus to return from Berlin.
"Miss Elliott, if you will excuse us? You may want to talk to certain of your friends regarding their recent behavior. I doubt you need me to tell you which ones, but they can both be found at Doyle Medical Center. Mr. Holm, I believe we have some things to discuss regarding your son."
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
One of the funny things about talking is that sometimes it works better when more than one person is willing or able to actually talk. Kristian was awake and sulking when Abbie was allowed in to see him. The hospital gown didn't do much to hide the bruising from the other injuries stemming from the disastrous combat final.
"Abbie. I was told that you and Father went to church this morning. How was it?"
"The usual. Souls touched by God's message. Prayers for peace, healing, goodwill amongst men. That sort of stuff. How was your morning, slugger?"
"It sucked. Alright? The last thing I remember is a building falling on me and a certain obnoxious ASS harassing me over it..."
"That would have been Mads trying his hardest to keep you awake in spite of a serious concussion and focusing on anything other than your arm while Jericho worked on getting you stabilized enough for transport."
"Right. I'm sure he enjoyed himself immensely at my screwing everything up."
"That's not the impression I got from Fey, nor from Security."
"Whatever. Next thing I know, I'm waking up in pain all over..."
"Having a wall dropped on you will do that, Kris."
Rorsmand glared back at the girl. If looks could kill, there'd be one more stiff awaiting transport.
"... and that shithead is trying to get me to move my arm, which I shouldn't be able to do."
"It's called a prosthetic, and from what I hear you knew that this was coming."
"Says you. And of course it's not working quite to his satisfaction, so then he opens up my fucking arm like he's a repairman or something..."
"Did you know he used to work at a doctor's clinic that dealt with this kind of thing?"
"... No. But it was still disturbing as hell to have your best friend poking around inside of you."
"Is that what you guys call it?"
"Not you too?"
"Girls don't 'poke'. Not without help. You'll see that when you take me to the end of the term ball. But do go on."
"So I punched him."
"You punched your best friend. With what?"
"My, um, new hand, I guess. What's this about a ball?"
"You punched the person who bought your new arm, with it?"
"That sounds so wrong when you say it like that." Rorsmand frowned in confusion, "You said 'end of term ball'?"
"Pick me up at 7:30. You should know where Whitman Cottage is by now. So what happened after the fight?"
"He just stared at me in pain for a minute, hell, it almost felt like I'd punched myself! Then he spat out a few teeth, and passed out! Who the hell pulls an illusion like that on someone?"
"No one. But it explains why he's not hovering over you like he has been the past couple of days."
"Because he's in the room next door with his jaw wired shut."
"Exemplar. versus. Baseline. A handicapped baseline. What did you think would happen when you clocked him?"
"I didn't mean to..."
"Good thing you hadn't asked him to the end of term ball. That could get awkward."
"He doesn't even like me that much!"
"No. He just cares for you like family. There's an important difference there that you've been moping about for ages."
"I hit him - when he had his guard down?"
Finally it sinks in? Testosterone poisoning for the loss.
"He couldn't exactly keep his guard up, what with his own Combat Final going sideways, trying to get you a compatible prosthetic after hearing about the tumor you couldn't be bothered to mention to any of us, and everything else."
"I did hit him... Combat Final? He had a medical waiver for that!"
"Him, Thorn, Josie Gillman. I'm told the only way it could have turned out stranger was if a Great Old One walked in pretending to be a cat."
"He didn't get hurt, did he?"
"So now you wonder about his health? He did manage to stagger in under his own power. Dr. Tenent wasn't impressed."
"Had all of us worried about you the whole damn time. Can't either of you two idiots let people look out for you once in a while with out popping a gasket or getting yourself even hurt more trying to get out of it?"
"I should apologize, shouldn't I?"
"If you have to ask, you need to take a deeper look at who you are and who you're becoming."
Kris blinked at that advice. Rather wise coming from a girl his age. Of course, he'd been one once, too.
"Where did you come up with that?"
"Today's sermon, at St. Paul's, with your father, who, by the way, is getting a 'Report to Admin' level briefing on your recent behavior from Mrs. Carson."
Abbie sighed at the mixture of befuddlement and concern on the other's face. Maybe it was just a bad combination of concussion and medications? How did she let a couple of knuckleheaded boys like these even get under her skin like this? Even advanced metalworking was more straightforward: just grab a hammer and pound the dents out! She'd ask Thomas how he managed if she thought she'd get a straight answer out of him.
"Let me go check on the other numbskull. Maybe they'll let you go in to apologize before he's back up to door smashing speed again."
"Door-smashing?" Kristian wondered what else happened while he was out.
"Kris, in case you're wondering, I got some great advice from Fey the other day. Do NOT get in the way of Jericho or Metro trying to aid a patient or protect someone they care for. It doesn't end well."
It looked like Mads, on the other hand, was going to be blessedly silent on all matters for the evening. He was wired up with an array of monitors lest post-surgical swelling impede his breathing. Once again, Thomas Jensen was reading one of his textbooks, no doubt preparing for regular end-of-term exams. Abbie prayed to a God she often questioned (even on His own day) that those exams would be less exciting. That gave the boy time to choose his words.
"He did it to himself this time," Thomas spat out.
"I was under the impression that Kris helped."
"There IS that."
There had to be something Abbie wasn't getting about all this. "Why?"
"Kris is an exemplar. What and how he sees as himself, he becomes. So if he thinks of his arm as a thing separate from himself, his body will begin to reject the foreign object in order to replace it."
"Would that replacement include the abnormal tissue the doctors found?"
"Maybe. End result: Kris loses his arm. Again. And, potentially, again. That is, if regen cancer doesn't kick in."
"That still doesn't explain why he provoked Kris."
"Emulating the same method he was tricked into mentally accepting his own prosthetic, even though that thing was much more obvious."
"Mads lost an arm? When was this?"
"A couple of years ago. He had to live with a mechanical arm for five or six months until a cloned replacement became available."
"Okay..." Not okay. Abbie wondered, "What about recharging the batteries or power cells? Won't that cue Kris' subconscious mind that something's wrong?"
Thomas explained, "There are hidden solar cells which will feel very good when the skin is exposed to the sun, plus use of his body's bioelectric field, even some environmental EM scavenging. If it helps, think of it as devisor tech, with a working maintenance kit. Besides, denial isn't just another African river, now, is it?"
"Well, there you go. We're dealing with two true professionals in that field."
Thursday evening, December 13, 2007, Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
Finals week at Whateley seemed to have come and go in a rush. Rorsmand's father departed for Copenhagen on Monday with a backup copy of the physical therapy exercises his son was meant to keep up over the winter break. Metro's jaw was unwired in due time. Too soon, according to many, but he wasn't supposed to be talking during finals anyway. It was distracting.
Kristian was heartbreakingly prompt, arriving at the Whitman Cottage front entrance at 7:30 on the dot. Later, Abelyn would learn that 'fashionably late' was not a prized virtue to many Danes and Germans. As it was, the Emerson lad spent fifteen minutes under Mrs. Savage's (and others') watchful eyes. The fact that cute exemplars rarely got past Dickinson or Melville Cottages, let alone cute exemplars in their JROTC dress uniform, wasn't lost on her.
With solemn promises not to stay out past curfew under threat of dismemberment the traumatized young man was finally able to escort Abbie away. Judging by the glazed look in Rorsmand's eyes, he might have been exposed to a moderate dose of Pucelle's brand of crazy. "Is it always like this?" he asked.
She replied, "No. Sometimes the reception can even be hostile."
McFarlane Stadium, Whateley Academy
The intent of the few formal balls held at Whateley Academy was to make some effort to inculcate a measure of class and refinement into the student body even if it killed the angsty blighters. Those running the sound booth tended to take a middle path between the dual recipes for disaster in having the Staff disappointed and the students bored. Thus, mixed in with the usual mix of fast and slow songs there were also a selection of songs suited to the ballroom dancing that few kids learned these days except under pain of death, parental disapproval, being cut off from inheritances, etc. Given that the formal selections usually coincided with longer lines at the restrooms and punch bowls, they were also selected for length if the DJs were to have any chance at a restroom break themselves.
The folks who did know the formal dances tended to stand out: a couple of the adult chaperones at any given time, several of the Golden Kids attempting to keep up appearances, some of the seniors (under pain of Hartford). The few who didn't fit the stood out even more. For example, 'Shine's date for the evening had obviously taken some pains to teach the Tennessee millionaire steps to the less-complicated dances. One of the Poe sophomores - a library aide who went by the codename Tennyo - not only had a lovely dress, but had snagged one of the few male Posies who knew the dance steps and could fly. That just wasn't fair, even if it was just Valravn dancing with The Destroyer.
Smithy managed to drag to Rorsmand out onto the dance floor a couple of times before Metro made an appearance. It was a good thing that it was one of the faster formal numbers that so chaotically cleared the floor and imposed distance between the two Danes, and also that he was accompanied by Heartbreaker. Where there was a model on a shoot there was sure to be... yes. Greasy was skillfully weaving through the dancers and the crowd at the edge of the dance floor to get the best photos possible for the Venus Inc. assignment. Solange was managing a graceful balance of stage managing the shoot, mingling with her own crowd, and subtly promising through her body language a painful and slow demise for anyone interfering with either of her priorities.
Abbie sent Kris off for some punch, so as not to start something that might get himself punched.
'I swear that boy is damn-near determined to start a fight, just to get Mads to pay him back for the cheap shot the other day!'
'He feels guilty for acting dishonorably. As he should.'
'But Mads and Thomas have both told him to let it go!'
'We ARE discussing the weaker-minded of the species, you know.'
'Maybe we should duct-tape the two to a tree until they get it out of their system?'
'Two trees, perhaps, facing each other.'
'I like the way you think!'
The third time the pair went out, it was to a jazzy latin number that allowed Heartbreaker to really show off her assets and footwork. It looked like so much fun that Abbie wished she could dance like that. However, once she accounted for how much the needed dance practice could cut into her Workshop time she tabled that potential hobby. Looking over at the boy who was supposed to be her date... so tense, and sad? the way he watched the couple... something else had to be behind whatever was going on with him. Abbie felt somewhat ashamed to have pushed Kris into this.
Maybe he envied the exemplar beauty's grace on the dance floor too? If that was be something that could help Kris unwind more, it might be worth the lost lab time after all. For now, she gently took hold of the boy's clenched fist and coaxed him in to opening his hand. That much she could do, before he excused himself again.
Returning with a couple of cups of punch, Rorsmand guiltily suggested that maybe they should ease their way to where the other JROTC couples had congregated? Abbie readily agreed. It did feel good to be shown off in front of the other cadets and their dates. One or two of the cadets didn't seem very impressed, as if she were stealing one of their own, but as far as Abbie was concerned that was their problem to live with. With any luck she hoped to still salvage the occasion by keeping an eye out for Elve, assuming the girl made it to the dance with the senior who'd asked her out. It later turned out that so many of the cadets who knew him, among others, were concerned for how it could turn out, that it might been one of the most heavily-chaperoned dates in recent history.
Friday morning, December 14, 2007, Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
And just like that, the Fall term for Abelyn and friends was over. Abbie said her goodbyes to the boys after breakfast, giving them each a little something to open on Christmas morning. Or Yule. Or Kwanzaa. She was reasonably certain that the latter suggestion was Thomas' idea of a joke.
Her own departure was scheduled for Saturday. Elve's parents would be coming to the States to visit her, because sitting in an airplane for hours on end would be too painful for the girl to go through twice in barely more than three weeks. That shouldn't have been a strong reminder of how much she still missed her parents, but it was. She hardly even knew the grandmother she'd be staying with for the Christmas break in North Carolina. Maybe this would turn out to be more an opportunity than a burden?
Either way, in three short weeks she'd be back to school, back to work at her forge, back to whatever mayhem a new term at Whateley Academy could throw at her. Unbidden, a song her father's father used to love came back to her and she hummed to herself as she went back down to her shop.
But I still belong to everyone
And if my sleep allows
Well then all those boys
Will dance tonight
With me and my old pals
--Richard Stekol, "My Old Pals"
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