En route August 31, Thursday
By the second full day on the train, it was less of an adventure. She would have preferred taking a sleeper car, but they were so much more expensive. Her travel allowance didn’t cover it, and she didn’t have the money herself to make up the difference. Instead, she stayed in hotels near the train depot. It had sounded like a good idea when she started out, but Pittsburgh had firmly destroyed that idea.
Having Jinn (as a person) on the train would have cost an extra ticket, but Jade made sure that everywhere else she went, her big sister Jinn went with her. Two girls were far safer than one alone. If worse came to worst, they planned that Jinn would do whatever was necessary while Jade ran for it.
The second night, they stayed in a cheap hotel, a half-mile from famous Penn Station. Penn Station had been a bit of a disappointment, looking more like a 1920’s brick office building than a bustling hive of commerce. Despite hoofing it a half mile to find a cheaper hotel, she was still set back a hundred bucks. And the neighborhood had seen better days – about six decades ago. Jade had been concerned enough to grab food at a convenience store and run back to her room to eat it there. Just a cheap pre-made sandwich and a coke, but it was filling enough for the night.
She left Jinn on guard (for the first hour, until she ran out of charge), and huddled in the strange, squeaky, lumpy bed to fall into a nervous sleep.
For her part, Jinn turned off the lights and read a sci-fi adventure in the dark (at least, she assumed it was dark). Jinn found that she enjoyed reading – perhaps even more in this state. There was never an issue with lighting or eyestrain, and her reading speed was considerably faster. Comic books, on the other hand, were no fun at all. The colors turned into random blends of gray. Even worse, the colors and shading were all based on fine patterns of dots. In her spirit-form, her perceptions were different. She couldn’t stop seeing the dots. They never blended into an even shade.
So, although she’d picked up a good stack of comics for the trip, she could really only enjoy them as Jade.
She read until her watch indicated that she only had a minute left. Then she undressed, removing the clothes of her “body” and folding them neatly in a pile. The gloves were last, of course. She stood for those final seconds, a naked astral form with only gloves on. They’d managed to get her endurance up to sixty-five minutes. She watched the second hand – yes, she’d definitely gotten a few extra seconds this time! Ten, eleven -
Abruptly the gloves fell to the table, landing atop the folded pile. Jade got a new burst of memories, but didn’t wake. She just rolled over in her sleep.
Her alarm woke her at 4 AM. She needed to catch the red-eye at 5:13, and nothing, absolutely nothing was going to make her miss that train. She planned to wait in the station lobby for at least a half-hour, to make sure she wasn’t late. Her first ritual, as always, was to touch the gloves left by her alarm and charge them. Then, with both of them working, Jade could take her time getting up. Yawning, taking her shower, getting dressed.
She spent a moment to model her training bra in the mirror. It was strange that a stupid piece of fabric made her feel so good about herself, but it did. She took it off and peered at her reflection. Was the bra pushing her into shape, maybe? Giving her a bit of definition? Encouraging a teeny bit of early breast growth? As always, she remained as flat as a board. As flat as a boy (she tried not to dwell on that thought). But there was always tomorrow morning.
Almost done, she managed to fit all her vital supplies in the suitcase. The backpack was for her comics (she could re-read them), her book, room for Jinn’s clothes, her stuffed lion, and room for some sandwiches that she’d buy later. She checked out with the night clerk, and headed for the train station.
As she walked alone through the street, she marveled at how relatively busy this big city was, even at 4:30 in the morning. There wasn’t a lot of traffic, but Topeka would have been dead. She liked the morning’s quiet better than the evening’s chaos. For the moment (she glanced to her side) Jinn was perfect company. Jinn helped her feel less small and alone, in this strange city.
The hot-dog restaurant wasn’t open yet, but the sub shop was. Jade hefted her backpack and suitcase into a more comfortable hold, and reached for her money.
“One ham and cheese, two turkey.” The man wrapped the sandwiches – which would have to do for lunch as well – and then counted out her change.
“I’ll take them.” Jinn, in dark glasses again, stepped forward and accepted the sandwiches. She zipped them into the backpack so that Jade wouldn’t need to take it off.
“I could carry things, we know,” she told Jade.
“Running,” Jade said back, in their abbreviated code. Meaning, Remember? If I need to run for it, we’ll need our stuff. You need to worry about keeping us safe.
“Agreed,” Jinn answered back. “But…” I never get tired.
They stepped out of the shop and headed for the train station, now only three blocks away. This street had no traffic at all. No traffic, and no people.
“Is isn’t very smart for a pair of little girls to be out walking the streets alone.” His hand came out of the shadows, revealing a small gun. “I can offer you a little protection, for the right fee.”
One of the best things she’d ever learned from Aikido class was the planning. Every move, every situation. Plan for your actions. How to attack, how to escape. Fallback plans. The encounter a few weeks back with her father had only underscored what happened when they got lax. So they shifted smoothly into Plan A. Jade ran. As she did, she tried to dodge side-to-side, brokenly. Endless discussions on the low accuracy of handguns came back to her. She was forty feet, now fifty feet away, and she shifted to a sprint.
Meanwhile, Jinn immediately stepped forward, as if she had no fear at all of the gun. The man was obviously caught off guard by the unexpected rush from a slight girl in her early teens. Before he could figure out whether or not to pull the trigger, Jinn was inside his guard. She moved in fast, as if she’d practiced a hundred times. (It was actually closer to five hundred.) The move went just like in practice. Inside his guard, her right leg hooked behind his, her arms trapping his in a hold that just happened to move the weapon arm up and away. Instantly tighten and twist and – a man almost a foot taller than her had been tripped backward. Not just tripped, but practically thrown. His gun went flying to the side, she heard a crack from his arm. His head struck the edge of the doorframe with a meaty crunch and Jinn could instantly see the colors in his aura mute, as black blossomed at the back of his skull. From growing experience, she knew he was unconscious, but he probably didn’t have a serious concussion. Then she looked at her arm.
Not only did he have a gun, he had small stiletto knives protruding from the toes of his shoes. As he’d fallen, he’d flailed upward with one shoe and ripped open the fabric of her arm. She’d flipped him a bit harder than she’d intended.
She looked at it. The rip was on the underside of her right forearm, and was a good six inches long. She could probably sew it up, but she didn’t have a sewing kit. Just one more thing to buy.
She looked at the unconscious man before going after Jade, who was now alone.
It’s his fault I have to buy the sewing kit…
A moment later, she was flipping through his wallet. Twenty, forty, fifty… seven. She tossed the empty wallet back on his chest and hurried after Jade. She paused only long enough to grab the gun, which she disassembled as she ran. One piece flung that way, another piece dropped into a dumpster.
There were two many guns in the world.
There was another train change at Manchester. This train was much older, but it had individual seats that faced each other, four seats around a central table. For Manchester to Concord, the train was full. She thought she wouldn’t be able to let Jinn out, which was a shame. It would be nice if at least one of them could have a good time.
Fortunately, the service was better. A stewardess (Jade wasn’t sure what you called the girl on a train) offered them magazines. The only thing left by the time they got to her, though, was Cosmopolitan. With a sigh, she took it.
“I’m not sure your parents would approve of you reading something like that,” the man across from her said. He looked close to her father’s age.
“Don’t have any. Anyway, I’m older than you think.”
He raised an eyebrow in doubt.
“I am. I’m fourteen.”
“Well, you’re right about one thing. That’s older than I think you are.”
She looked down again, but she was smiling to herself. She got bothered about her age a lot. But no one ever seemed to think she was anything other than a girl. And if Whateley works out, soon I’ll be one.
She put the Cosmopolitan down in alarm. She wanted to be a girl, but there was NO WAY she was ever going to do THAT. Ugg! She couldn’t believe that grownups were allowed to write stuff like that! Had they been serious? She started reading again, to double-check.
She took another break, stunned anew. If this was a regular magazine, then what was pornography? This time, she needed a break for real. If only she could let Jinn out.
Hmmm, just how small can something be, and still hold a charge? She’d charged a fly once. She reached up and plucked out an eyebrow hair (she had too many anyway). Nope – nothing happened. Okay, what was smaller than a fly, but bigger than an eyelash? She looked around for some paper to rip into shreds. Maybe one of these advertisements in that slutty magazine.
Or maybe she was going about it wrong. What if it wasn’t size, but weight? She had the window seat, where…? There was a small crack, with a fine collection of grit in it. She carefully picked out a single speck of grit and peered at it. It was a teeny for a rock, but large for grit – almost the size of a pinhead. She concentrated on it -
There was a wash of fatigue, and she realized she’d succeeded. With a sly glance to make sure no one was watching, she flicked the grit up in the air. She didn’t worry. It wouldn’t be coming down again.
Satisfied, she settled down to study the magazine again. She knew about periods, of course. Heck, if she succeeded in turning into a girl, she’d be having them. In a way, she almost wanted one – icky as they were. It was sort of like a badge of honor that all girls shared. But this sounded like the extreme sports version of periods. She decided she’d better read up on it, so she could be prepared. It was hard, because the author seemed to assume that you already knew what she was talking about….
She had chosen to be the speck. That is, she wasn’t a full-sized ghost pinching a piece of grit, she was a teeny spec. She’d noticed that her hearing was better the larger she was, and her vision got more distance, sharpness, and depth as she got larger. Even as a spec, though, she could hear decently well, and see okay.
It felt like flying, as she zoomed through the overhead shelf, dodging briefcases and carry-ons. After a while, she rolled to the edge of the shelf so that she could people-watch. Well, alright, spy on people. The colors were so interesting. Many people had the light blue that she was coming to associate with contentment, or repose, or perhaps boredom. Someone over there had the very deep blue of depression. And over at the head of the car – was someone very unusual.
The small girl virtually glowed in ultra-violet. Jinn had only seen that particular color a couple of times before. She (Jade, that is) had that glow, buried deep inside her skull. The mutant bank robber had shown this color in his eyes. And this girl – it looked like her entire nervous system was laid out in ultra-violet lines.
This demanded investigation.
The question was: cautious or bold? What if the girl spotted her? After all she knew nothing about mutants, and next to nothing about her own powers. Would the girl spot her? Could mutants see her? She was invisible to Jade, but that might not prove anything. On the other hand, old Melodious the bank robber had thought that she was a flesh-and-blood girl, and he’d had mutant eyes.
She decided to risk it. She lifted up and flew along the upper shelf until she reached the front of the car, the rolled over the edge and hung, as if glued to the ceiling fabric above the strange girl’s head.
The girl was reading a magazine. On second thought, she was just flipping through it. Hmmm, Track and Field. The girl was almost insanely hyperactive. One foot tapping. Pausing to look out the window every few seconds. Flip the pages. Surely she couldn’t be reading that fast?
Jade was engrossed in an article on breast cancer. It wasn’t fair! She didn’t even have breasts yet, and this author was trying to scare her that they’d get taken away again. Or worse.
Suddenly, a wash of new memories came into her mind. Without intending to, she looked up toward the head of the car. Another mutant? She dug out another spec of grit, while wondering if she dared go up to her in person.
After Concord, the train cleared up significantly. The next two stops emptied it further. Then they settled in for the long haul through the mountains. Just two more hours.
Jade looked around the cabin and debated with herself. Literally, in this case, since the last three rows were empty, except for her.
“She’s all alone up there,” she pointed out needlessly, since Jinn had given the information to her before this latest charge.
“What if she doesn’t want to talk?”
“Then leave again,” the little stuffed lion said, quietly. Jinn didn’t want her squeaky voice to be overheard, but the clack-clack-clack of the rails was enough to cover quiet conversation.
“Will you stand lookout for me?”
The lion hung her head. “Duh!”
Jade poked her toy in the nose. “I hope you don’t mind being put into a boy lion,” she teased. “But he was so much cuter.”
The lion bit her fingertip with a soft fuzzy mouth.
Jade giggled back. “Okay. Let’s do it.”
She scooped her stuff back into the backpack, plopped the toy lion on top, then grabbed her suitcase. Mustering her courage, she headed to the front of the cab. At the halfway point, she passed the last other passenger, a middle age farmer who was catching up on his sleep.
The hyperactive Hispanic girl had obviously seen her coming.
“Uh,” Jade began eloquently, “you wouldn’t mind if I… that is, you’re not busy or anything?”
From this perspective (rather than clinging to the ceiling) she could tell that the girl was even shorter than Jinn was (everyone was taller than Jade), but built! The hyperactive girl had to be several years older than her.
“Heading for the academy?”
“Um,” dammit, what was she supposed to say? “Whateley?”
“Yeah.” The other girl seemed to unwind a little. She thrust her hand out. “Pleased to meet you. I’m Juanita Havier. My tag is – never mind. I think I’m going to be changing it.”
The other girl scowled. “Last year, everyone was calling me ‘Quickie.’ I thought it was cute. Wasn’t ‘till summer break that I figured out why they were all snickering all the time. Like, thanks a lot! You’re supposed to be my friends!”
Jade shook the hand. Or rather, had it shaken for her, much the same as she’d been swept away by the narrative. “Jade Sinclair.”
“Jade. Nice name. Hi. What are you, seventh grade? We don’t get a lot that young. Most don’t show any sign until a little later. I guess they let junior high come early, huh? Funny, ‘cause I thought the only ones coming today were going to be… well, that’s probably not important.”
Jade shook her head, trying to figure it all out. She set her lion on the back of the chair to act as lookout, then set her stuff down.
“Setting up a lookout, huh? Clever plan!”
Jade peered at her suspiciously. Maybe this girl could see Jinn. “Yeah, his name’s Kimba, even though he isn’t white.”
“Don’t’ you mean ‘Simba’?”
“No, that came lots later. This is from old comic books my mom used to read to me, when I was just a kid.” Her voice turned wistful. “I didn’t even remember until a little while ago. Now it’s all coming back.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. A lot of things change on you. So… if you don’t mind my asking, and you don’t have to answer, you know, ‘cause sometimes it’s kind of personal, but if it’s no problem, what do you do?”
How to explain it? She didn’t want to go into all the details. What could she say? This was obviously the first practice for what would become a commonplace event. Should she reel out the letters and numbers of the classification the Sergeant had given her?
“Cause just to show you I don’t mean anything by it, I’m a speedster. You know? ‘She runs as fast as ten fast men,’ get it?”
“Sorry, private joke. We put out our own comic, as a joke. We even tell people it’s ‘New England Comics’ but they still don’t figure it out. It hasn’t picked up so big outside the academy, though.”
Jade ignored the babble and concentrated on what she could figure out. First, that there were all sorts of interesting things going on at the academy. Second…
“You’re a speedster? You mean, you run? Like super fast?”
The short girl folded her arms over her ample chest and smirked. “Faster than this train, honey. And if you’re a speedster too, enjoy it while you can. Let me tell you, you’ll have a real love/hate relationship with your means of support, if you get my drift.”
Jade didn’t. But, “You mean, you could outrace this train? All the way from Concord to the academy?”
“Yep. Actually, endurance is a big factor too. I got the speed, but my endurance poops out just short of ninety miles. I’m going to work on that this year.”
“Oh.” It was suddenly hitting her. She was sitting across from an honest-to-God superhero! “Well, if you can do that, why don’t you?”
The Hispanic girl smirked. After having watching her restlessly struggle with the magazine, she’d obviously been waiting to get back into something social. And she was certainly proving to be a font of information. “First, like I said, there’s the whole distance thing. Second, and a lot of people don’t give this proper attention, we don’t really want to draw too much attention to the academy. So zooming along the highway is a no-no. And as for zooming along the tracks – do you have any idea how filthy these things are? I mean, really, they dump stuff RIGHT out of the train sometimes. Yech!”
Jade was overwhelmed. “Oh, I never thought -”
“Uh huh. The luggage. That’s the main reason. I can do 89.7 flat out. But not carrying no steamer trunk. I can barely lift that thing, with the clothing allowance Mom gave me this year!”
It continued on in this vein for a few minutes, as Jade was rapidly dragged from topic to topic.
“But I never did hear your answer, if you don’t mind that is, about what YOU do.”
“Oh.” She’d had an idea, a bit back. Maybe this would work for most everyone. She reached up and picked up Kimba, stroking his furry body. She knew how good that felt. She looked down at the toy that was now in her lap. “I, well, I bring things to life.”
“Uh huh. How does that work?”
Jade gave a little smile. “Kimba -”
But Jinn was ahead of her. The small toy sudden rose from Jade’s lap and gave a bouncy hop-hop-hop up onto the table and over to stare Juanita in the face.
“Hi, Juanita!” Jinn squeaked. “You’re pretty neat!”
“Oh my GOD!” the other girl practically shouted it out. “Oops, sorry!”
Jade looked back over her shoulder. The farmer looked at them for a moment, then went back to sleep. Maybe he figured it was just two girls talking…
That thought gave Jade a warm glow inside.
“You weren’t kidding, were you?” she said in a lower voice. “That is SO COOL! Well, I mean, it’s probably not so good for fighting evil masterminds, but it’s just like so COMPLETELY great!” She peered at the toy lion. “Hi, little fella.”
“I’m not a little fellow,” Jinn squeaked. “I’m a girl. It isn’t my fault that someone over there forgot that little detail when she was picking out an animal to bring along.”
“Oh, wow. Can you make hundreds of these? Do they last forever? Can you sell them? Everyone will want one!”
“Uh, hold on,” Jade and Jinn said simultaneously. They were blanching at the thought of Jinn being sold into permanent toy-slavery. Being kept away from your other half forever. “It’s only one at a time, and she only lasts for a little while.”
“Still, I’ve got to show Angel. We wrote over the summer. She should be connecting in Lancaster. You wouldn’t believe the strings we had to pull to get to come in today, with the freshmen, but Angel’s a special case.” She leaned in confidentially. “Real family trouble. Anyway, we had to deliberately forgo the very best rooms, and agree to act help out in the cleaning and opening things up. Most of the upperclassmen will be taking their time, coming in. It’s really only the freshmen that are supposed to show up today. But tomorrow, watch out! Rooms are first come, first serve, and well, early bird catches the worm, you know?”
And with the ice broken, Juanita played with Jinn while happily spilling out disconnected tidbits about the wonderful and sometimes disturbing life at the Whateley Academy.
The Lancaster stop lasted for about fifteen minutes. Near the end, a tall girl in a trench coat came on board. Jade thought that the weather was still too warm for a heavy coat, and she would have worn her backpack outside the coat, but it wasn’t any of her business. Juanita hopped up though. Jade realized the Hispanic girl was probably no more than five feet tall.
“Angel! Over here!”
The trench coated girl came toward them and took a seat, without removing her coat.
“You still up for it?” Juanita asked.
The trench coat girl nodded. “I’d like that, if you don’t mind.”
“Mind? Girl, half the cottage would love to have you as a roomie. Not as many of them would put up with the ‘motor mouth.’ And don’t deny it. I’ve heard it often enough.”
Jade studied their new companion. Blonde, lightly curly hair that fell to her hips, deep blue eyes. A beautiful face with a flawless complexion. And it looked like the coat hid a nearly perfect figure.
“I see why they named you Angel.”
A brief frown passed over the blonde’s face. “That’s just my handle. My real name is Mary Goodhope.”
Jade gave a brief laugh, thinking of the conservative televangelist. “Quite a coincidence. I mean, if Reverend Goodhope ever found out that someone who shared his name was also a mutant -”
“He’s my father.”
That stopped Jade dead in her tracks. Oh, she thought stupidly so that’s what she meant by ‘family trouble.’
“You’ve heard the ‘body image’ concept?” the blonde continued.
Jade shook her head. “I don’t think so…”
“Many mutants have a sort of template in their head, an image of perfection. And mine…” She opened up her coat enough to reveal the large white wings folded against her back. “It’s just that Daddy was always talking about… and I guess I thought…”
“Another bad summer?”
“Yeah. He’s on this whole ‘intervention’ kick. You’ve heard of it? Get the person and confront them with their sin, the whole deprogramming thing, then force them to face ‘God’s way’ – which means they’d be pretty much forcing me to…. I don’t even want to think what would happen. At best I’d just be puking my guts out. At worst –“
Juanita moved forward, hugging the much taller girl.
“At worst he’d kill me. And sometimes I think he’d rather have a dead martyr than a live daughter.”
After a moment, Jade responded to Juanita’s not-so-subtle beckoning head motion. She moved in as well to hug the tall blonde.
“Thank you.” Angel reached out, delicately stroking Jade’s face. She seemed calmed by the action. “I’m sorry you had to see that, but some of us have real problems at home.”
Emboldened by the intimacy, Jade dared to ask, “But… you really do look like an angel. Does he hold that against you?”
Angel’s face took on a cynical look for a moment. It didn’t fit well on her face. “It isn’t that. He’d love to use me in his broadcasts. He’d exploit me as much as he could. But there’s one other thing. I think my mutation must have just crystallized it and made it more powerful.”
Jade waited patiently.
“I can touch a girl or woman with no problem at all,” she said, stroking Jade’s cheek gently. “I think it must be psychic. Some sort of resonance. When I touch a man, even a boy, I just start shaking. I get ill, sick to my stomach. I’ve never really liked boys, but this -”
She started to sniffle and Juanita moved in again.
“That’s why her father hates her. His daughter is gay.”
Jade couldn’t move. But she touched my cheek. Does that mean – Is she wrong? Or am I really a girl inside, despite my body?
“Hey, enough of that. You need to help me think up a new name to replace ‘Quickie.’ And I haven’t finished introducing you to Jade yet. Wait’ll you see her power! She’s going to be starting seventh grade.”
“Not seventh grade,” Jinn squeaked out. “Freshman! We’re going to be freshmen!”
Angle goggled, tears forgotten. “Did that toy just –?”
“Yeah, isn’t it wild? C’mere Simba!”
When they finally arrived at Dunwich station, Jade barely had time to notice the ratty little train stop. She, Angel, and Juanita got off together, talking quietly amongst themselves. Angel was holding Jinn just inside her coat. Jinn, for her part, was preening under the attention. Jade couldn’t wait till later, when she’d remember that, too.
Angel barely managed to get her three trunks off the train before it pulled out. Jade was almost glad that she only had a small suitcase and a backpack.
By then, the buses were arriving and the crowd began to grow considerably. Someone had set up a boom box, making it hard to hear Angel.
“Don’t worry about a thing,” the tall girl was saying. “We’ll keep an eye out for our little sister. We’ll make sure you get settled in properly.”
“I’m not sure,” Jade responded. “I think I’m in some sort of special dorm.”
“It’s a ‘cottage.’” Juanita corrected. “Poe cottage. You were supposed to show up today, right?”
“Then you’re a new little sister.”
“I don’t know…”
“Hey, Angel, what room did you ask for?” Juanita asked her companion.
“Three-oh-two. It’s not the fourth floor, but at least it’s not one of those freezing north-side rooms, either. We’ll get some sun. And 302 is close enough to the bathroom. And not in the corner. I don’t know if you ever visited Becky before she graduated. Remember? That corner room. I swear, the insulation must have been terrible, because that room was always ten degrees colder than anywhere else in the cottage.”
Jade was about to ask what they were talking about when Angel noticed something.
“I think our time’s up. Look, we won’t be on the van with you froshes, so we’ll have to catch up with you later. Take care of yourself, Li’l Sis.”
Jinn squirmed free and leapt to Jade’s shoulder. Jade caught the toy and looked around, but most people seemed to be focused on the chaos of the moment.
The two girls both gave her a quick hug and began to move toward the back of the crowd.
As they left, it hit her again what she was doing. She was hoping to spend an entire year, dressing, and acting, and being a girl, until she herself was convinced of it. She would probably have a roommate – someone who would hate her if she ever learned the truth. Hell, all the girls would hate her, if they figured the truth out.
And somehow she had to manage the girls’ bathroom, and sleeping, and who knows what else. Gym class! How could she have forgotten about gym class?
This was her last chance to back out. She was dressed oddly for a guy, but she could probably recover from that embarrassment. Did she really need to do this? To spend the rest of her life living a lie, just so that she could try to become a girl, somehow? Was it even possible, or was she fooling herself more than anyone else?
Shaking inside, she looked at all the kids milling around her. There seemed to be about twenty of them. She knew, somehow, that these were the students that she’d be sharing her life with. Could they possibly understand what drove her – why she HAD to be a girl? Probably not. Most of them looked fairly normal. A couple of black girls, a couple of super-attractive girls. More girls than boys. One or two that looked a little odd, but it was hard to imagine that any of them had problems like hers.
She gulped, and smoothed down her dress one last time. She had to believe. Somehow, it was possible for her to become a girl for real. Somehow, she would do it. And until then – she was going to be as much of a girl as she could be.
So maybe disaster would strike and she’d be exposed. She’d face that when it happened. Until then, she would be true to herself.
The loud music abruptly shut off. Like everyone else in the dingy train station, Jade looked over toward the boom box. There was an adult standing there; a Japanese woman in an expensive business dress.
Jade was happy to see another Asian there. It made her feel like less of a minority. It was odd to think that she could be a minority in the middle of a crowd of mutants, but for the most part the kids seemed to reflect the standard American ethnic mix.
The woman herded them into a set of vans. Jade had been worried that they might call her by her boy’s name, but the name called was “Jade Sinclair.”
The first van was already filled, so she moved to the second van, where people were still jockeying for space. She ended up sitting next to a girl who looked Asian at first glance, except for her exceptionally large eyes, big ears, and blue-gray hair. The hair was combed back in a set of not-quite-punk spikes. It was a neat effect. From a distance, Jade had thought it would be stiff or hard, like the girl had used way too much gel or mousse. But up close she could see that each individual strand was soft and free. The girl’s hair just naturally fell… upward. Up and back really. It was really tempting to touch it, to see how soft it was.
The girl glared at her and Jade turned guiltily away, unable to even meet the girl’s eyes. “Sorry.”
“What, you never seen hair that looked like this before?” Whoever this girl was, she had a voice that could cut into you like a buzzsaw.
Feeling worse than ever, Jade leaned forward so that her own hair concealed her face. Then she peered through the screen at the other girl. She also felt Jinn squirming into position to get a good look. “Um, no, not really. I mean, not in real life.” The other girl seemed taken aback by that, so Jade plowed on before she could lose her nerve. Maybe if the girl knew she meant well... “How do you do it? It’s really cool! I saw you in the station, and I thought you’d just used a ton of mousse or something. It’s almost like …” She trailed off, suddenly embarrassed.
“What? Go ahead, I’ve heard it all.”
“Well, it’s like animé hair. Only in real life. You know, animation, uh, Japanese cartoons?”
That was met by a resounding silence.
“Uh, sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
The blue-haired girl waved a hand negligently, as if it were nothing. “Naw, don’t get yer panties in a bunch. I’ve heard lots worse, believe me.” She settled back with a smirk. “Animé, huh? So… if I were an animé character, which one would I be? Which of ‘em has this kind of hair?”
“That kind of hair?” She thought for a moment. “Well, of course, the absolute best, and most popular too –” the blue-haired girl leaned eagerly forward at this “– would have to be Tetsuan Atom.”
Jade was never quite sure if it was in reaction to her statement, or the bump in the road, but the other girl suddenly tipped forward to hit the seat in front of her, face first.
“Wow! If this were an animé, I’d call that a – well, I guess they call it a ‘face fault’ in this country. You see that all the time in animé.”
“I know,” the other girl said, around a mouthful of seat. “It hurts, too.” She seemed to pop right back, though, and rounded on Jade. “Tetsuan Atom?”
“Uh, you know, Astro Boy?”
“I know that!” the other girl hollered. Seeing the looks she was getting, she suddenly toned down the volume, but she was still intense. “How can you compare me to some ancient old wimpy robot?”
“He’s not wimpy!” Jade loved Atom even more than Kimba. “He’s got 100,000 horsepower! Besides, he’s the noblest! And he’s not ancient. They started the remake a couple of years ago. I think it’s still on, some places.”
“Look, just forget it, okay? Different conversation. Spiky hair, gorgeous body, and you were talking about who I reminded you of.”
“Oh yeah.” Jade paused in thought.
“Come on, you must have some idea!”
“Sure, but there’s just so many of them. Hey, you okay? You’re looking sort of twitchy.” The other girl didn’t respond, so Jade just continued on. “Well, if you had a tail, you could be a saiyan, but I don’t think I’ve seen any female ones. And the color would make you a perfect Ryoko, except she’s got cat eyes, and come to think of it, you’d need a tail to be her, too. But you’ve got the attitude just right. On the other hand, if the color was black –”
“Alright! Enough already! Just drop it, okay?” She abruptly folded her arms and turned visibly away to watch the scenery.
They drove for miles up into the hills. At one point, they passed across a classic New England covered bridge and through a small town.
“Do you really think I have the attitude right?”
“Huh?” Jade looked toward her seat mate.
“Ryoko. You said I had the attitude right.”
“Well, yeah. I mean, we’ve just met and everything. But so far, you could do a pretty good job. Hey, we never actually introduced ourselves, did we? I’m Jade. Jade Sinclair.”
“You can call me Tennyo.”
“Sure! Hey, that’s a funny coincidence! I mean, you look sort of like Ryoko, who’s from Tenchi Muyo! and if you contracted that you’d get –” It took a moment for her mind to catch up with her over-enthusiastic jaw. When it did, her mouth just hung open as she stared at the other girl in shock. The other girl didn’t just have golden eyes, they were eyes with an impossibly oval pupil, stretched vertically to hold the cat-slit irises.
Tennyo stared back, gradually assuming a smirk as Jade goggled at her.
“It isn’t a coincidence, is it?”
Tennyo shook her head. She had a strange look on her face. Proud and arrogant, but it was a fragile look that could just as easily turn to tears at a moment’s notice.
Jade blinked, trying to figure it out. If she looks like Ryoko and it isn’t an accident, that means that she has somehow done this on purpose! Or maybe on accident. But… This is terrific! Less than an hour and I’ve already found someone who changed her appearance. Now if I could only find someone who’d changed their gender, too, I’d be set! If I could find out how they did it… Gradually her mind came back to where she was, and the girl watching her reaction.
Jade looked up with wonder in her eyes. “That is SO COOL! Are you still changing? I mean, are you going to a tail and the whole bit? And what about all those cool powers! Naw, that would be too much, wouldn’t it? But if you could – wow! Hey, what were people like in the train station? How did they react to your hair? Did you do this on purpose? Please, can you teach me how? Not to look like Ryoko, of course, one’s enough, right? Well, aside from Minagi. But I mean, picking someone and then becoming them – wow! That is the coolest thing ever!”
“Whoa, settle down. Besides,” Tennyo said, pointing to a large rectangular brick building. “I think we’re here.”
Whateley Academy September 3, Sunday evening
She’d had the “Welcome to Whateley” introductory tour. The experience left Jade gaping in astonishment. Mutants, powers, even Champion! And more! The death of Champion and how his successors were chosen! The hall of heroes (and villains)! Underground reactors and secret training halls. It was everything she could have expected from an elite secret school for mutants.
But all of that paled, next to the revelations that mattered most. Five other freshmen, four girls and one guy, who were in the process of transitioning from one gender to another! Including her accidental seat-mate from the van, Tennyo! Some of them were willing, some were bitter, Tennyo didn’t seem particularly bothered. And she’d had to tell them about herself! Well, she hadn’t exactly blurted out all the details. She hadn’t come right out and told them she was still a boy.
It gave her a glow that she couldn’t even begin to describe. Every single one of them (even Ayla) was transitioning to become a beautiful young girl. And while Hank was going the wrong way, he seemed happy enough about it, so she was happy for him, too.
Thinking back on it, she had mentioned (fairly strongly) that she wasn’t transitioning or changing at all – her loud cries of “I'm turning into nothing! I'm just frozen!” were probably pretty strong clues on that. And given what she’d said, they might have guessed that she was physically still a boy. She wasn’t going to push it, because she wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize their acceptance.
But between the revelations about the school and the upheavals in her private life, Jade’s mind was reeling by the time they finally got back to Poe. So she felt perfectly justified in staggering through the entryway. She barely noticed Edgar’s bust on the one side. She hardly glanced at the clever scene on the opposite wall of a stuffed raven perched over an ancient book. She barely glanced at the luggage piled haphazardly in the entry. She just staggered into the common room and collapsed on the couch.
She felt, rather than saw, her fellow initiates collapsing around her.
“Come, come,” Belle chided them. “It wasn’t that bad. Buck up. You still have to pick rooms. After that, I’ll leave you be for the rest of the evening.”
Jade blearily raised her head. Toni and Fey were already talking to Belle. Well, that was fine with her. Then her mind kicked into gear.
I didn’t exactly tell them the whole ugly truth, she realized, but they must suspect that I’m physically pretty boyish. And they’re all in the middle of changing… She looked up at the remaining members of their tour. Ayla, the sometimes surly punk-girl; Tennyo, forced to mimic an animé character; and Hank, the newly-made boy. Including her there were four of them. Two per room. Obviously neither of the girls would room with Hank which meant…
Her eyes snapped wide in alarm. They COULDN’T! They WOULDN’T!
She was suddenly terrified that they would. She didn’t want to room with a boy. She didn’t want to BE a boy. She wasn’t going to be! Somehow, she was going to be a girl! She didn’t care what it took, she was going to become a girl!
The first thing to do was to make sure that she didn’t room with Hank. He was nice enough, in a dopey-old-puppy sort of way. But she wasn’t going to dress and undress in the same room as him. She wasn’t going to SLEEP in the same room as him!
Forcing herself not to hyperventilate, she quickly looked at the other two girls. Ayla – there were interesting things going on with that girl. Jade really needed to have a long talk with her, but for right now, the girl was a little scary. Tennyo, on the other hand – Tennyo was sometimes sweet, and sometimes gruff. Probably dangerous (particularly the way she’d said that her energy blasts went off spontaneously, or when she was under stress). But Jade could see something in the other girl’s incredible cat-eyes. Someone she could trust. Someone that, maybe, she might be able to confess the truth to. Someone that could help her, and be her friend.
She realized that she hadn’t had a real friend since her mother had died. The closest had been the other members of the dojo.
She looked at Tennyo again and her heart felt a yearning. Not sexual or romantic (she thought – she wasn’t really sure what those emotions felt like). This was like she suddenly had an opportunity to have… a sister. There was one chance, but she had to move fast. She stood up.
Ayla was already standing, looking around in thought.
Jade found herself drawn almost magnetically to Tennyo. She couldn’t look up to meet the taller girl’s face.
“Tennyo-san,” she said, tentatively and formally. “Would you allow me to be your roommate?”
“Huh? Me?” The blue-haired girl reach back to rub the back of her neck. Jade recognized the embarrassment-gesture, it could have come from the streets of downtown Tokyo. “Well, yeah, I guess. But you might want to know, I sometimes have a little problem with energy blasts. I still have a tendency to blow things up a little, you know? I’m not so sure you want to be rooming with someone who might accidentally kill you.”
Jade’s heart was hammering. She’d just moved from disaster to triumph. She knew the other girl was serious about the danger, but Jade wasn’t the least bit worried. The need inside her, the chance for a sister, the chance for a real life as a girl, they all demanded this. A little danger was nothing in the face of her dreams.
“Please. I understand the danger. May I be your roommate?”
“Well, if you’re sure.” Tennyo slapped her on the back, in an obviously male fashion. “Glad to have you on board, kid.”
Jade couldn’t talk, so instead she just reached out and hugged the girl. Tennyo was a bit stiff for a moment, then seemed to relax. Jade held the hug for a second longer, then stepped away.
“Thank you,” was all she could say before her throat choked up. To cover up her emotional outburst, Jade turned toward the foyer. “Maybe we should get our bags and get a room.”
The beautiful cat-eyed girl nodded and followed her. Of course, Jade’s pink suitcase was under a pair of large steamer trunks. She tried tugging it out before Tennyo stepped in.
“Let me help.”
The blue-haired girl reached down with one hand to lever up the two trunks, allowing Jade to slip out her suitcase.
“You sure got Ryoko’s strength.”
The other girl scowled. “Look, can we drop the whole ‘Ryoko’ thing? I mean, I know what’s happening to me, but it’s a lot to deal with, you know? I need some time to learn how to be Tennyo, before I spend too much time walking in someone else’s shadow.”
“And that’s another thing! What’s with all this ‘san’ business? You don’t have any accent. Are you really Japanese?”
Jade laughed. “My mother was. But me? This is actually the first time I’ve been out of Kansas. But ever since my powers arrived, it’s like my memory has been getting better and better.” At least, when she was Jinn. And Jinn’s memories carried over to Jade. “And I’m remembering more and more of Okasan. It seems like a way to honor her, to try to become a little more of what she was. But you’re right. I’m not really Japanese. Technically, I’m nisei, but culturally I’m more like sansei or worse. I guess I’m trying to capture a little bit of my lost culture back.”
“Second-generation and third-generation Japanese. And since my father wasn’t Japanese, I’m not sure exactly where I’d fall.”
The other girl scratched behind an ear, thinking this over. “Yeah, okay.” She plucked up a carry-on. “Shall we pick a room?”
Jade grabbed her backpack. She felt a bit under-equipped with just one backpack and a small pink suitcase. But Tennyo was even worse off, with nothing but a carry-on. “Is that all you have?”
The older girl shrugged, as if it were no big deal. “I have more on the way, but they messed up my bags at the airport in Concord. They’ll probably get here sometime tomorrow.”
Chatting comfortably, they headed toward Beltane, who waited with a clipboard.
“You’re down to two choices,” their guide informed them. “Two-sixteen, the corner room on the north, and two-thirteen, in the middle on the north. You’ll probably be bordering Boystown with that one.”
Jade suddenly remembered the conversation she’d overheard between Juanita and Angel.
“Nothing on the south?”
“Nope. Last one was two-oh-two. That went to Ayla, as a single. But I just put her there because it was first on the list. She said she didn’t care.”
Jade reached for Tennyo’s hand. “Come on! Maybe we can change her mind!”
“If you do,” Belle called after them, “let me know. For now, I’m going to list you in two-sixteen, next to Toni and Fey.”
“What’s the big deal?” Tennyo called, as they raced up the stairs.
Jade spoke quickly. “Do you want a good room on the south, where we can get some sun, or a cold room on the north?”
Tennyo looked at her. “From the way you’re describing it, a good room, with sun.”
“And the corner rooms are supposed to be extra cold.”
“No thanks, but I don’t really want to stick it to poor Ayla. She looks like she’s already had a rough ride. What’s your plan?”
Jade was being pushed to desperation moves. It was regrettable, but, “I think” she decided, “we’re going to have to ask her.”
“So you want to switch rooms?” the punk girl asked. “Why?”
“You’ll be right next to Toni and Fey,” Jade pleaded. “A corner room, with no neighbors to bother you on one side.”
“Yeah, I see the advantages just fine.” Ayla sounded surprisingly competent. Jade had been hoping to win her over with a blitz, but it suddenly felt like she was talking to a master negotiator. “What I want to know is: if it’s so good, why do you want to trade?”
“I –” She looked to Tennyo.
“Sorry, you’re on your own.”
“I –” What could she say? “I – nothing.” She admitted it. “Nothing at all. It’s cold, and dark, and doesn’t get any sun, like this room.” She sniffed. “I’m sorry.”
“Ah, what the fuck.” Jade was surprised to feel the other girl’s hand on her shoulders. “Sure, I’ll trade.”
The punk girl shrugged, looking for all the world as if she could care less. “Sun’s over-rated. Too much glare, wakes you up too early. Besides,” she stuck her hand through one of the wardrobes, as intangible as a ghost, “there might be some advantages to the corner.”
Before she could help herself, Jade found herself hugging the other girl. “Thank you!” she whispered.
“No big deal. I haven’t even gotten my stuff yet.” And with that, the girl simply sauntered out.
As they would soon discover, room 202 was just like every room on the second floor. The walls were a sort of ochre yellow. Not a very attractive color, but it was a competent paint job. Nothing was peeling or blistering. The room had wood up to about waist height, and the wood had vertical lines on it. The wood was painted a darker green. A piece of molding ran around the room where the wood met the painted wall, at waist height. There was another sort of molding-shelf about six feet up. The ceiling had a single domed light fixture in the center.
There weren’t built-in closets. Instead, there were freestanding wardrobes, one for each girl. The wardrobes also had dresser drawers in the lower half. Each girl also had a bed, chair, and desk that doubled as a night table. The wood furniture was painted a dark brown. Jade unpacked her backpack on the bed first, getting out the bag that held Jinn’s body suit. She wasn’t quite ready to explain about the rubber Madonna mask, so she tossed her jacket over it. She put her stuffed lion on the desk for now. She was just putting her first dress on a hanger, when she saw Ayla ambling past. The girl had a steamer trunk in each hand, carrying them as if they were made of bulky Styrofoam. There seemed to be something very … solid … about her.
Once she was past, Tennyo said, “You know, I think I’m glad we didn’t end up tricking her out of her room. I get the feeling that she could make an unpleasant enemy.”
Jade just cocked her head and thought about it.
“Hey, Ayla,” Tennyo called. “Need help? You got any more luggage downstairs?”
Jade looked at her one small suitcase and backpack. “She just walked by with two full steamer trunks. How much more could she have?”
“Sure, thanks!” came the shout from across the hall. “There’s two more trunks in the foyer, both tagged ‘Ayla Goodkind.’”
Jade sighed. She decided to rearrange her seven changes of clothes one more time, to see if it took up more space this time.
Not too long after that, Tennyo went walking past, carrying two steamer trunks as easily as Ayla. Jade decided that it would probably be a good idea to stay friends with both girls.
Then she noticed something new. There was a stuffed cabbit, casually tossed onto the pillow of Tennyo’s bed. Jade recognized the toy from the Tenchi Muyo! animé series. Half cat, half rabbit, the cabbit has been more like Ryoko’s sibling, psychically bonded to her. If she recalled, the cabbit could take three forms, the cat-rabbit shown in the toy, a sort of cat-girl, and a gigantic crystalline spaceship. But hadn’t Tennyo said she was trying to forget about the whole Ryoko thing?
I shouldn’t, she told herself. But she slipped a speaker disk underneath it and charged them both. She had no set plans, but she’d know when the time came.
“I want to look up the friends I met on the train,” she explained to Tennyo. “They definitely have a south-facing room, but I’m not sure whether it was on floor three or four. Want to come?”
The spiky-haired girl scratched her scalp. “No, I’ve got a couple of things I want to ask Fey. Maybe later.”
“Okay.” She decided it was only fair to give warning, though. “Just be careful what you say while I’m gone. The walls have ears, you know!”
To get to the stairs, she had to negotiate past two rooms with other girls setting up, and four rooms filled with boys (more, if you counted the north corridor). Some of them looked as young as she usually felt. She waved to a couple of boys tentatively as she walked past, but neither side seemed inclined to break the ice yet.
It triggered a disturbing thought in her mind. Was she any different from those gay boys? She didn’t know much about gay boys – what they liked, what they wanted, what they believed. Physically (though it hurt to admit it) she was a boy. But here she was, dressed like a girl, acting like a girl. She hadn’t really thought things through to their true logical conclusion, but she’d casually assumed that she’d eventually end up with a boyfriend, just like any other ordinary girl.
Did that mean that she was gay?
It was a disturbing thought. It wasn’t that she was afraid of being gay. It really seemed like just another label. It was the thought that she’d have to leave the girls’ area, and move down here with the (ugg) boys. The other gay boys.
Maybe when she was a little more sure of herself, she could talk to someone about this. But not today. Definitely not today.
She climbed up the stairs, and quickly made her way to the third floor. The southern exposure would be the left hall. She assumed there would be, once again, boys for the first four rooms. But the third floor seemed mostly deserted. There were only a couple of people present. Almost at the end of the floor, she came across an open door and heard Juanita’s voice inside. It was room 302, directly above her own.
“Little Jade!” Juanita cried. “See? I told you that you were a little sister!”
She pouted and drew herself up to her full height. “Little? I’m only a couple of inches shorter than you!”
“Yes. Great in stature, but perhaps still lacking in maturity, no? What room are you in?”
“202, right under your room!”
Angel turned away from her position at the open window. It was Jade’s first chance to see her without the trench coat. With the soft white tunic the girl was wearing and the cascade of curly golden hair, she really did look like an angel. Her smile made her look even more angelic. “I must have missed you, when the tour came through.”
“Uh, I wasn’t on that tour. My group saw the campus.”
For a moment, Angel drew back in shock. “One of the TGs? Don’t tell me a pretty young girl like you is changing into a guy?” Fearful, she drew her hand back.
Juanita whapped her roommate softly. “No, dummy. She’s right under us. She’s a girl.”
“Of course. I remember touching her before.” Once again, she stroked a fine, soft hand across Jade’s cheek. “You must be quite far along. When I touch you, I feel nothing but gentle feminine warmth.”
“I…” Jade’s eyes started to tremble. “Not as far as I want,” she admitted.
“Don’t cry, little sister.” Angel stepped forward, enfolding her first in arms, then in clean-smelling soft wings, as well. “With a soul as feminine as yours, strong enough to shine through the errors of flesh, I can’t help but know that things will turn out correctly.”
Jade said nothing, she just gloried in the incredible embrace. Once more, accepted, she though. It was too good to be true.
Toni and Ayla took desk chairs, Fey dropped down on Tennyo’s bed, and Tennyo floated in mid-air.
“Pretty incredible, isn’t it?” Tony asked. “I mean, from the outside it’s just some dumpy old private school, stuck up here in the middle of nowhere.”
“Not really dumpy,” Ayla corrected. “It’s a pretty sharp looking prep school, even without the dome or that observatory.” She sniffed disdainfully. “Talk about your definition of ‘over the top’.”
“Hey, Fey,” Tennyo called, “we never did get a demo of your powers.”
“Consider yourself lucky. I can’t exactly control them yet, and sometimes really weird –” she pause to stare at Tennyo’s stuffed animal in extreme suspicion.
“Case in point,” Ayla mentioned.
“I’m just not sure I’m ready to go to school as a girl,” Tennyo admitted.
“TELL me about it,” Ayla groused.
Toni just smirked. “So whadya wanna do tomorrow?”
Fey groaned, falling back on the bed. She poked the stuffed toy a couple of times, but nothing seemed to happen. “I still haven’t finished unpacking.”
Ayla tore her hair out. “Don’t even mention that! I still have three trunks to go.”
Toni and Fey stared at her. “Three trunks left?”
“And have you seen how small these rooms are? Where am I supposed to put everything?”
Tennyo snickered. “That’s an awful lot of clothes for a person who sometimes sounds like she doesn’t want to be a girl.”
Ayla hung her head. “I know. Sometimes I scare myself. But… somehow, that lingerie just makes me feel so…wicked! It’s like I can’t help myself.” She smacked her head on the desk. “I am SO messed up…”
Toni stood up, stretching. “I’d better finish unpacking, too.” She looked around the room. “Hey, how’d you two finish so fast?”
“I don’t think Jade has very much,” Tennyo explained. “And the stupid airlines sent my bags to Nairobi or someplace. Heck. Maybe I’ll explore a little.”
All four girls stepped out of the room. Jinn thought she could still hear Tennyo right outside, though. Quietly she let out a sound. “Nuts!” she said. “Gotta find someplace to hide all these nuts!”
Sure enough, Tennyo came right back in, looking around suspiciously. Jinn held herself completely passive. It had been hard, earlier, when Fey had been poking at her. The girl had obviously seen something that tipped her off, but she was probably unsure enough of her powers that she hadn’t fully trusted what she saw.
Tennyo turned around to leave again.
“Eat the nuts, or hide them?”
Tennyo snapped back around, stalking into the room. Jinn took the opportunity to admire the spiky-haired girl. She really did look exactly like Ryoko in the animation. She sometimes even had that same little smirk, with little fangs that poked out sometimes. And that hair was fantastic. It was as if each hair was floating on its own. To Jinn, it looked like the silkiest, softest thing she could possibly imagine.
Slowly, the girl approached the bed, looking around for anything unusual. She even leaned toward her stuffed toy, to poke it gently.
Tennyo grunted, “Hnn,” as she gave the toy a poke.
At that exact moment, Jinn let out a loud, “AAAAH!” She jumped off the bed and hit the floor running. She discovered in the first half-second that cloth feet don’t get the best traction on hardwood floors, then kicked in her flying ability so that it only looked like she was running. Behind her, she heard Tennyo falling to the floor with a muffled “Ack!”
The chase was on!
“So where’s your little pet?” Juanita asked.
Jade laughed. “I’d better keep her away from you! It feels way too good when you pet me.”
Angel made a strange expression. “I think you messed up your sentence or something.”
“Naw, whenever we merge back together we both become just me. It’s not like I spend half my life living as a toy or something.”
At that moment, there was a cry from down the hall.
“My cabbit! You hexed my cabbit!”
“Wasn’t MY doing! Hey, I’m the one who got mauled! Has that cabbit had its shots?”
The three of them looked out the doorway to see a brown stuffed animal go racing by, cornering sharply to curve around the girls’ bathroom. A moment later, three girls came pounding past.
“You can’t get rabies from a TOY!”
“Mighty lively looking toy! How do we know it’s not possessed?”
The girls rounded the corner in pursuit. Then a guy’s voice sounded out.
“Ha! Outfoxed on the far side. Let’s see you –”
“Hank, LOOK OUT!”
There was a sound like many bodies piling into each other, then a squeaky cry of, “I smell carrots! Miya, MIYA!”
In the room, Juanita and Angel stared out their open doorway.
“Heh, heh.” Jade tried, unsuccessfully to control her blush. “My, ah, roommate. Apparently chasing her stuffed, ah, animal.”
Juanita was quick with the question. “I thought you said you didn’t spend your life being a stuffed animal?”
Jade looked up at her sheepishly. “Only when it’s funny?”
Angel was listening to the chaos as it receded down the hallway. “I’m almost tempted to join the chase myself.”
“You’d better be careful to stay out of the attic,” Juanita warned.
“Are the seniors here yet?”
“I don’t know and I’m not going to check, cause you can be sure they’ll find out if you do.”
Jade gulped. “Then I hope I don’t go up there.”
“Wow, you really are two separate people, aren’t you?”
Jade nodded. “All of a sudden, there’s two of me. Actually, I think I’m a little more self-confident as Jinn. But one second it’s just me, the next second, I’m both of me standing next to the other me. Later on we join back up, and we’re just plain me again, but I remember both of us.”
Juanita rubbed her head. “Too much of that and you’ll give me a headache.”
“Well, that’s part of the reason I came up here. See, I think I’d like to take double classes, if I can.”
“That’s it! Full-blown headache!”
“I’m just not sure if they’ll let me, or how to arrange it, or anything.”
“Hmm, you know, I might have an angle on this,” Angel said. “You remember two years ago, when that Twain kid tried to enroll the robot he’d built?”
“Yeah, but that was a fake.”
“Sure, but they didn’t know it at the time. You could use the same arguments here.”
“I don’t know. Won’t they want to charge double tuition?”
“Not if she’s on a scholarship. Almost half the student body is.”
“Okay,” Angel decided. “First I’d run the plan by Zenith. She was a T-girl like you, Jade, but she had the good taste to go lesbian. I think she got fourth floor this year, but I haven’t seen her yet. She should get in sometime over the next two days.”
“She can help me?”
“She might trade some chores over it. Get in early, while you can. She’s the best fixer in the cottage.”
“Yeah. Rules, legal stuff, loopholes, favors, trades. On her own she’s plenty sharp, but she can tap into extra skills sometimes….”
Whateley Academy September 3, Sunday evening
Jade was cautious when she returned to the freshman floor. Things seemed relatively quiet. “Relatively” being the operative word. The third door on her hallway was open, and pounding music was coming out. Inside was a literal pile of young guys. About a quarter of them were touching, some rather intimately. Two in immediate sight were playing tongue games with each other.
Half curious, half neighborly, and half confused (mostly at her math skills), Jade paused and peeked in the doorway.
“Hi, kid!” one of the tongue-swappers called, amiably. “Come to see if there’s anything you like here?”
“Um… no?” she squeaked.
“Heck, don’t let him get you all flustered, Jade. He’s not nearly as dangerous as he’d like to be.”
She turned to the familiar voice and then goggled. “HANK?”
He lifted his bottle of root beer in a mock salute. “You missed all the fun, earlier.”
“Er… yeah. What are you doing in here?”
He looked around. “Well, my room is next door. Party. Male bonding. You know.”
Jade couldn’t help making a quick glance at the tongue twins, who seemed quite caught up in their ‘male bonding.’ “What I meant was….”
A fairly young looking guy came over and casually draped his arm around Hank’s shoulders. “What she’s trying to say, Hank old bud, is why aren’t you with the other TG dudes, doing whatever it is that they do, instead of hanging around at the gay party?”
Hank nodded sagely. “Ah. That would be because there aren’t any other ‘TG dudes.’ Just me. But at least it’s enough distinction to get me a single.”
Another boy, this one with porcupine hair that shot out horizontally to both sides, joined their impromptu discussion. “This brings up a good point, Hank. Presuming that in your previous life you had – how can I put it inoffensively? –conventional tastes, we might reasonably assume you’d join our band of brothers, as it were.”
Hank was finally starting to show a little blush. “Just pencil me in as ‘confused’ and leave it at that.”
Porcupine-hair turned his attention to her. “How about you, sweet thing? Are you a sister-in-arms, or a T-girl?”
Confused, she looked back and forth between the boys facing her. “I – well –”
Hank shrugged and gave her a smile. “The only reason the network hasn’t pegged us all, already, is that the girls up in Gurlzone haven’t started dropping by yet. From what I gather, the gossip channels are pretty thick around here.”
Porcupine-hair nodded. “It’s a defense mechanism, really.” He gestured into the party. “Most of these guys, they’ve never seen so many like-minded young lads in one spot. It’s a real eye-opener. Of course,” he nodded toward the tongue-donors “there are exceptions. And despite my looks, I’m actually a junior. I just wanted to be on hand to help steer things in the right direction, these first few days. Part of that is letting people know about the network. Don’t expect to keep too many secrets from your friends here in Poe. It’s a bit of a game, really. On the other hand, we expect Poe’s secrets to stay inside these walls. No one gets outted, and we don’t trash other Poes while we’re outside. Inside, when it’s green,” he pointed to the LED above the door, “then this is OUR world.” He made a sweeping gesture. “Welcome in. I’m Rafael Eagan. Junior. Mutant deviser. Gay. How do you do?” He held out his hand.
Jade smiled at him. “Hi.” She shook the hand, gently. “Jade Sinclair. Freshman, uh, weird telekinetic sort of, and I guess… T-girl?”
Raphael nodded. “Transgendered-girl. Becoming a girl. Correct? Almost a shame, since you must have been a cute boy.”
There seemed no threat in his words, and she was pleased by his implicit assumption that she was no longer a boy. “No. I have to be a girl! You don’t understand. I have to!”
His smile was gentle. “That’s part of what this party is about. I understand quite well. You’ll find that all of us here in Poe understand. We all have something burning inside us, something that’s forcing us to feel or act or be a certain way. According to society it isn’t ‘normal’. Just the same, we can’t deny it. Could you force yourself not to be a girl?”
It was still a nightmare she often had. “No,” she admitted. “I mean, maybe I could, but it would kill me.”
“Just so. Far too many boys have forced themselves down that path, desperately trying to be straight. And some of them, it does kill. I just want you to know, whatever their gender, there will be a lot of people in Poe who understand you.”
She was feeling pretty good as she wandered back toward her new room. What had the boys called it? “Girls’ own” or something? She’d thought they would be dividing up into three hostile camps, but this was really a lot friendlier. With a smile on her lips, she turned into her room –
Tennyo was smiling cruelly, smacking some sort of heavy wooden cudgel in her hand. In front of her was a cloth balloon, tied down to a chair. On second look, Jade realized that it wasn’t a balloon, but a stuffed cabbit, wrapped up like a mummy. Even its muzzle was tied shut. There were just little eyes that seemed to glitter at her. Upon seeing her, the cabbit tried to squirm some more.
“Well, well, well,” Tennyo said in a tone that promised pain to someone. “If it isn’t Jade.”
“I—” she looked around desperately for some sort of distraction “surely you don’t think that I had anything to do with…”
At that unfortunate moment, the charge expired. The floating cabbit suddenly dropped to the floor, and Jade staggered at the influx of memories. She didn’t want to, she tried not to, but she couldn’t help snickering. Then she started to laugh.
“Oh, dear. That was a bit much, wasn’t it? At least we didn’t go up to the top floor.”
A growling sound came from Tennyo. “And how am I supposed to unload my frustrations?”
“Um…” Jade looked at her desk and suddenly had an idea. After all, he wasn’t white, and she didn’t really like him all that much. She quickly snatched a speaker disk and slapped it on the belly of her stuffed lion, which she proceeded to charge up. “Here!” She held the lion up. “Here’s the culprit! Knock the stuffing out of her!”
Tennyo suddenly deflated. “Aw, I couldn’t do that. Not for real.”
Jade put a hand to her mouth and spoke conspiratorially. “Jinn can’t actually feel pain, and it’s not like she’s got anything solid that you could hurt anyway. But she’ll put up a good show.”
Tennyo seemed to think about it. “Really?”
“Trust me. If anything did happen, she could always just let go and instantly pop back into me.”
Tennyo took the stuffed lion. “You don’t mind?”
Jade shook her head. The lion said, “Do your worst!” in Jinn’s voice.
Tennyo bopped the lion on the head.
Startled, Tennyo stepped back.
“Why you!” Suddenly grabbing up the cudgel, Tennyo swung at the stuffed lion that had hopped onto her bed. Direct hit! She almost flattened the lion.
“OoooOOoo,” came from under the cudgel.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” Tennyo pulled the flattened toy off the bed.
With an almost audible “pop”, the lion puffed back out to normal. “Not bad. Pretty good hit.”
Holding her cudgel in one hand and dangling the lion from his tail in the other hand, Tennyo said, “This is too good to keep to myself. Time to share the pain.”
“Am I going to regret this?” the lion asked, swinging by its tail.
Everyone was feeling much better, once Toni, Fey, and Ayla had also played “whack a lion.” Some girls from next door had stopped over to investigate the commotion. They looked oddly at everyone beating the stuffed toy, until the lion sprang up and said, “It’s okay, I deserved it!” only to get whacked down again. The girls left quickly.
The five of them seemed to naturally gravitate in toward Toni and Fey. The black girl was just too outgoing and friendly. Her roommate was more cautious, but she was obviously having a tough time adjusting to her transformation. And considering how stunningly beautiful she was becoming, she’d have a lot to adjust to.
The room was a little cramped, until they moved into the next-door sunroom. None of the other freshmen seemed to have realized what a haven they had at the end of the hallway. The sunroom was long and thin – seven feet wide and twenty-six feet long. There was a TV at one end, reading chairs at the other, and couches in the middle. Toni and Fey flopped down on a couch. Jade was starting to feel how late it was, so she stretched out on another. Ayla and Tennyo floated overhead, not taking up floor space, but bringing the group closer together.
In between bouts of “whack a lion”, Toni kept the fledgling conversation alive, almost bouncing off the walls in her enthusiasm. Fey, the fox-faced girl, also seemed somewhat fox-like in her caution. She was obviously still feeling things out, unable to commit herself quite yet. And Tennyo – she alternated between enthusiasm and weird stops, as if she suddenly became aware of what she was saying, and wasn’t sure about it.
“So I’m still a little puzzled on powers,” Toni was saying, as strangled a toy. “But then, mine are pretty straightforward. Super martial arts.”
“Can you show us a quick demo?” Tennyo said. She was floating at about eye level, as if she were laying down.
Toni shrugged. Her eyes flickered to the curtains covering the windows and the green LED above the doorway. “Well, you know, just really good punches –”
Saying that, Toni spun and with her left hand cocked back, her right hand seemed to flicker forward and back in a blur. There was a sound like a card in the spokes of a bicycle, as the air itself seemed to crack. In a dojo, you’d try to get that ‘snap’ sound in the sleeve of your gi, but Toni was wearing a half-length blue T-shirt that didn’t have any sleeves. Jade was pretty sure that Toni’s punches were somehow compressing the air in front of her fist to give that sound.
“– and maybe some flips –”
From her standing position, without any apparent preparation she did a forward flip up over Tennyo (putting a hand down briefly on the floating girl’s back as a pivot as she passed by), and landed six feet away facing back toward them.
“Stuff like that, basically.”
There was a pause while the rest of them pulled their eyes back into their eye sockets.
“You know, ordinary martial arts, maybe with a little extra.” She seemed to be suddenly interested in examining the quality of her nail polish.
“Wow,” Jade said, barely breathing. “What do you even call that? Taisabaki waza, or something like that?”
Toni looked at her in surprise. “You practice Aikido?”
“Hai, Sempai. But I only have four and a half years of study. But I’ve never even seen a technique like that. Where’d you learn it? What rank are you?”
Toni laughed nervously. “Actually, only gokyu. I started advancing pretty fast, but they stopped when they realized it was all because of ki focusing. I still haven’t finished mastering the basics. What school are you?”
Jade smiled. “Nakamura sensei taught aikikai. He wouldn’t even late me pay, these last few years. He said it was something he owed my mother. How about you?”
“Tomiki-ryu,” Toni answered easily.
“Oh,” Jade said, nodding. “I would have figured you for shin-shin toitsu, with your ki skills. Hey, I heard that tomiki-ryu has actual competitions, and you guys are really focused on kata.”
“Uh huh.” Toni nodded. “That seems to be the major branch out in my area. I never see any of the other schools at any of the competitions –”
“Excuse me!” Tennyo broke in. “Could we return to a language we all speak?”
“Sorry,” Jade said. “But I just discovered that Sempai studies the art.”
Toni was looking a little embarrassed. “You can quit with the ‘sempai’ business. I got that at the dojo, too. Look, I’ve got ki to burn, but I might not be so good at showing you the forms, okay?”
“Anyway,” Tennyo said, “it’s probably best to maintain a little flexibility on schools and styles. For the next four years we’ll all be attending whatever Whateley provides. So whether it’s Aikido, or Judo, or even one of the hard styles like karate, we’ll be limited to what they offer.”
Toni’s eyebrows went up as she looked slyly toward Tennyo. “You study the art?”
“Yeah, well, maybe I’ve picked up a few throws and stuff, here and there.”
The girls’ eyes met and there was an almost visible crackle of challenge between them.
Fey broke in. “Am I the only one here who isn’t obsessed over some form of martial arts?”
“No,” Ayla said. “I was never that fond of boxing or punching people in the face either.”
“We don’t punch people in the face,” Jade protested, “we let them meet the mat.”
The two non-martial girls shared a glance. “Uh huh.”
Toni shrugged and grinned, her smile eradicating any chance for hard feelings. “Sorry, it’s just that martial arts have kind of taken over my life, lately. And it’s nice to discover that we have something in common beside the, you know, the big thing.”
“Big TWO things,” Tennyo said. “Don’t forget the whole mutant powers bit.”
“That’s what I was talking about,” Toni said. “OH! You meant the whole ‘turning into a girl’ bit.” She waved a hand in the air. “You know, it’s like, ‘shit happens.’ Deal with it and move on.”
“Easy enough for you to say,” Fey muttered. “Maybe you didn’t have your whole life thrown in the toilet.”
“That’s just not fair!” Jade cried out. “You’re probably the most beautiful girl in the entire state! Some of us would die to look half as pretty as you!” Abruptly she turned and ran out of the room.
Everyone looked at each other in confusion. Finally, from underneath Tennyo’s cudgel, the lion squeaked, “Girls. Who can figure ‘em? Must be hormones or something.”
All four remaining girls took turns whacking the toy this time.
“I deserved that.”
Back in her room, Jade wrapped herself around her pillow and cried. What if you have to change when you first get your power? she thought. After all, that’s almost what happened to her. One instant, she’s a guy with confused and suppressed feelings. The next minute, POW, she’s standing there in her spirit-form. What if that was her transformation? What if there was never any more? Only… she couldn’t really believe that her inner spirit, or soul, or whatever had changed in that moment. She’d always been a girl inside, she just hadn’t realized it.
But what if that had been her only chance?
No! She refused to believe that. If all of those beautiful girls had once been guys, there had to be a way that she could do it, too! There had to be!
Now if she could just make up for the fact that she’d made a total fool of herself.
She yawned, realizing how late it was. It was probably past time for bed. Which meant, past time to change into her nightgown.
That thought brought a sudden chill. She knew the other girls were well along in their transitions. While she was not so far along yet (to put it mildly). What if Tennyo spotted her, while she was changing? What would the real girl say? Tennyo even had periods! What would she think? Better to change now, when there was no one in the room.
She quickly changed panties, making sure to carefully tuck herself back. She didn’t have that many clothes, so she decided to user her bottom drawer for dirty clothes. Then, in panties and nightgown, she was ready to head back. She felt a little exposed and didn’t have a robe, so she pulled the blanket off her bed and wrapped it around herself.
She knocked on the sill of the open door. “Hi.” The other girls stopped talking as they noticed her. “I’m – I’m sorry I freaked out like that.”
In the room, it seemed like Tennyo was the focus of attention. The blue-haired girl was upside down, standing on the ceiling. Even so, her hair still fell in its own preferred direction, as if gravity were of no consequence.
Fey looked up at the returning member. “Hi,” she said. “Come on in.”
Jade smiled at Tennyo. Standing on the ceiling was a cool trick the first few times she’d seen it. Of course, she did it often enough herself.
With an odd catch in her voice, Fey asked, “You aren’t really jealous of someone like m-us, are you?”
Jade looked up at her. Looking into those violet, almost-alien eyes she said, “You are so beautiful. I’d give almost anything to be like you.”
The other girls seemed suddenly uncomfortable with the naked need in her voice.
“Well… hey!” Tennyo said. “I was just telling the girls some of the things I do. Didn’t want to show off any energy blasts, of course. That lady did warn us not to destroy anything. I think we were about to hear from Fey, right?”
“Yeah,” Ayla agreed. “We got part of it on the tour – psychedelic squirrels, turning into a girl, forced to buy cool clothes. And which of us can’t get behind that last part? But you never really told us how it works.”
“I told you about getting power from ley lines, right?”
Jade shook her head. “I didn’t quite understand that part.”
“The spirit of the world, all the life in it, all the material of it, are all bound together and interrelated. The combined energies of that collection are conducted along lines of mystic force called ‘ley lines.’”
There was silence for a moment before Tennyo said, “Kid, I’ve been from one side of this country to the other. I’ve seen a lot of strange things. But I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all-powerful force controlling everything. There’s no mystical energy field that controls my destiny.”
Fey just stuck her tongue out at the upside-down girl.
Toni added, “Yeah, remember Tennyo, hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side.”
Fey massaged her temple. “Excuse me! I was trying to have an origin here!”
Toni held up her hands. “Sorry! Please continue.”
“No, no, you’ve ruined the mood. I’ll just cut to the chase.” She turned her hands upward and shrugged. “I don’t really understand it. That’s why I’m here. Mostly, I just grab a bunch of energy and weave it together. I don’t really know what I might eventually be able to do, and I’m sure not going to chance an outbreak of weirdness tonight.” She glared at the stuffed lion. “Pardon me. ANOTHER outbreak.”
“Weird is as weird does,” the lion squeaked, getting whacked for her troubles.
Jade yawned. How late was it? “Anyone mind if I lie down for a while?”
“Knock yourself out, kid.” Ayla snickered at the joke.
“Can I have the troublemaker back?” she reached for the toy lion.
Fey handed it over, then said, “Wait a minute. You said you were the same person. That means you’re BOTH troublemakers!”
Jade and the lion looked at one another. “No, we’re completely different!” they said in unison.
Everyone glared at Jade. Sheepishly she offered up the lion. “Uh, more scapegoat, anyone?”
Toni laughed. “Get to bed. There’s plenty of couches in here.” But as Jade pulled off the blanket to shake it loose, Toni stared in alarm.
Jade paused. All three girls were staring at her. Had they spotted… something? Was she showing, somehow? Suddenly terrified, she asked, “What’s wrong?”
Tennyo gasped it out first. “…Hello Kitty?” She said it with a tone of horror.
“Hey, beggars can’t be choosers, you know? Besides, I always thought Hello Kitty was cute.”
Fey shook her head. “You really are Japanese, aren’t you?”
Toni shot a sideways glance at Fey. “We can’t all be fashion goddesses.” She tried, unsuccessfully, to keep from peeking back at the horrid emblem on Jade’s nightshirt.
Jade felt the wash of memories as Jinn came back into her. She wished she could lay down in mid-air like Tennyo. Then, realizing that she could, she shook out the blanket, pushed the speaker disk onto the corner, and charged them both. Then she hugged the (now normal) stuffed animal, as the blanket flattened itself out in mid-air, about three feet off the ground. It slowly flowed up to Jade and up her side. She let herself fall over into the soft embrace. Once she was resting horizontally, the blanket folded itself over her. One part lifted up under her head like a pillow, while the other end folded over her feet. Then it floated up to just over head height, where she could participate in the conversation without being in the way.
“Flying carpets, too,” Fey said in admiration. “Versatile power. And I thought I was the one who could do magic.”
“I’m not all that strong,” Jinn’s voice said from the foot corner of the blanket. “Last time I tested, I could only lift about 180 pounds, but since I don’t get tired I can hold that entire weight until I fade.”
“There’s one part I still don’t get,” Toni said, staring at the floating blanket. “Which one are you? I mean, which of you is you?”
“Both” the blanket said. A second later, the drowsy girl echoed, “both.”
“When I’m like this,” the blanket continued, “I’m separate. There’s two of me – one in my body, and one in the object. The whatever-it-is that we’ve charged up. We’re like separate people. I mean, we don’t have telepathy or anything like that, we’re really separate. A minute ago we were the same, but now we’re in two places, get it? And when I fade, we’ll all of a sudden remember both of ‘us’. I mean, the only one of me then is the me-in-my-body, and then I remember both. Does that make sense?”
Fey looked puzzled, but she nodded. “No weirder than magic, I guess.” She snorted. “You know, together I’ll bet we could put on a hell of a magic show.”
“Yeah,” Tennyo broke in, “I could be the levitating lady.”
“That’s nothing,” the blanket said. “I can be the lady that you saw in half. Literally.”
Toni fingered one edge of the blanket which slapped back at her fingers. “Uh, no offense, but you kind of have to be a ‘lady’ first. No one’s impressed with the ‘saw the blanket in half’ trick.”
“Oh, yeah,” the blanket said. “I guess I haven’t shown you that part yet. Well remember the jacket-and-gloves, from when we talked by the statue? If I put on a bodysuit, gloves, hood, wig, and a really good rubber face mask, I look good enough to pass as a real person. It feels kind of like I’m actually wearing the clothes, and if you grabbed my arm it would feel like there was a person inside. Well, for pressure and shape. I don’t give off any warmth. Blankets and stuffed animals are okay, but I really do prefer to be in girl-shape. I go around that way whenever I can. Then I can be Jinn for real. No one’s really spotted anything unusual.”
Toni leaned forward. “Really? Could you show us?”
“Maybe tomorrow,” the blanket said. “Only Jade can charge me into something, and she’s just fallen asleep.”
As if in response to this, soft snores could now be heard from the other end of the blanket.
“You call yourself Djin?” Fey repeated. “Makes sense.” She’d begun researching magic ever since she came into her powers.
“Oh, what time is it?” the blanket asked. “I forgot to look when I charged up. I only last for about sixty minutes.”
Tennyo looked at her watch. “Seven forty-five.”
“Ouch. We still haven’t finished unpacking, Fey.”
“Yeah. It’s not so bad for me, though. I woke up in a later time zone.”
“Still, it was a big day.”
Tennyo reluctantly agreed. “I guess we’d better take off.” She looked at the blanket. “C’mon, cabbit.”
“I’m not a cabbit now,” the blanket protested. “Besides, you don’t have any carrots. Why should I follow you?”
“‘Cause I’ll lock the door if you don’t. You might be able to slip underneath, but sleeping beauty there won’t be so lucky.”
The two of them drifted in mid-air down the hallway.
“Waaa! My evil roommate is threatening me!”
“Shut up, you! Laundry gets no special rights in this dorm!”
As they disappeared into their own room, Toni gave Fey a sideways glance.
“Enough to make you feel almost normal, isn’t it?”
The fox-faced girl gave a wan smile in return. “For a while. For a while.”
Morning presented Jade with a disturbing problem. She’d have to shower in the girls’ restroom. And although the showers themselves were individual and screened off, there was only a single shared changing room. So how was she supposed to get in and out of the shower without “showing”?
She’d just returned from going to the bathroom. At least the stalls had doors, thank goodness. That still left her somewhat terrified. But it was one of the things she’d have to get over. If she couldn’t stand to use the bathroom here, among other transgendered girls and (presumably) supportive gay friends in Poe, how was she going to cope on campus?
But, of course, that was the problem. She wasn’t transgendered. Not yet. She was just a stupid boy, with a hope and a desperate need.
No! She was GOING to do this. She COULD do it. She wasn’t going to let anything stop her from becoming a girl. If she had to do this, then by God, she’d figure out how to do it right. Let’s see…
First off, she needed her training bra. Or rather, as a boy, she didn’t need it at all. Which was precisely why she did need it – to cover up what she didn’t have. Even more, she needed her panties, to cover up what she did have but didn’t want.
It was lucky that Tennyo had just gone off to the shower. Jade stood and looked at herself, wearing only bra-and-panties, in the mirror on the back of their door.
“Not too bad,” Jinn said beside her. Jinn was currently gloves-and-speaker.
“What do you know?” Jade berated her. “You can’t even see right.”
“I know I can see a small bulge at the bottom of our panties,” the gloves said.
“Yeah,” Jade agreed. “How am I supposed to keep myself tucked in, without walking like a dweeb?”
“Maybe the towel will hide everything,” the gloves suggested.
Jade had retrieved an oversized white towel while she was in the bathroom. She wrapped it around herself, then looked in the mirror.
“Hmmm. The bra straps have to go,” she decided.
“Don’t worry. The towel covers everything.”
They obviously both got the same idea at the same time. If they could trust the towel to stay on, and strategically positioned…
“The towel!” Jinn, in the gloves, said.
But Jade had already had an even better idea. She held out one finger, dangling a pair of small cotton underpants. “The problem isn’t the towel,” she said, “it’s the tuck. So if you –”
“Oh, no!” the gloves said, held up in protest. “No way! You aren’t putting me into a pair of panties again!”
Well, it could be worse, she grumbled to herself. There were all sorts of objects that would be worse to inhabit. And the idea had worked. As a set of panties with a mind of their own, levitation capabilities, and enough strength to lift the girl off the ground, she was able to perform a very good tuck, indeed. Last time she’d done this had been a few embarrassing seconds with Miss Baker. This time, she was actually able to use her TK. Jade had looked into the mirror and announced that she looked just about perfect. In fact, there’d been a touch of wonder in her other self’s voice.
And the way Jade kept running a hand down the smooth front of her panties… it was easily as good as being petted when she was a stuffed animal. Quite pleasant, in fact. She spent a moment wondering how it was that stroking could feel nice, when she had no erogenous zones in girl-shape. After a moment, she decided that it wasn’t quite the same thing. The pets and stroking weren’t really directly pleasurable, but they were nice. It was mostly psychological. Attention, stimulus, a caring touch. It didn’t need to feel sensual in order to be appreciated.
The only problems was that, while she could keep her contours perfect in front, if someone were to look up her skirt (so to speak) they would see the panties clearly wrapped around something that shouldn’t be there. So maybe next time, she’d add a minipad to the crotch. That way, she could hold things in place while still giving a proper appearance from outside.
Jinn figuratively slapped herself. She was getting way too carried away with this.
Jade was beaming, as she boldly walked down the hallway, clad only in towel-and-panties. The image in the mirror had been perfect, absolutely perfect! She couldn’t help but touch herself, stroking the beautiful flat contours of the panties. This is what she’d dreamed of looking like!
Well, she’d dreamed of a little more up top, and maybe a figure. And a face that was a bit cuter, and a lot of things. But she felt like she was making real progress here!
The towel was wrapped just below her armpits (as if she had an actual chest to conceal) and hung down to nearly her knees. But even if it fell away, she’d still look perfectly realistic!
She entered the girls’ bathroom, turned right past the stalls and sinks, and stepped into the common changing area. Tennyo was still toweling off after her shower. Jade could feel her face turning bright red. She used to be a guy? Before she’d forced her eyes to look away, she’d seen enough to know that Tennyo had naturally blue hair, and that there wasn’t the slightest trace of anything male remaining.
There were two other freshmen getting ready. The first was a redhead (although it was hard to think of anyone else as a true redhead after seeing Fey’s flame-red locks). The second was a blonde, about six-foot-one. She had the body of a weightlifter, but managed to look feminine at the same time. Small breasts, sculpted pecs, and she shaved everywhere. Jade deliberately didn’t look.
She was extra careful in the shower. She climbed in and closed the curtain, before carefully reaching through to hang her panties and towel outside.
Back in their room, Jade held her towel in place and tried to figure out what to wear.
Tennyo was wearing tennis shoes, very tight jeans, and a tank top.
Jade wasn’t going to say anything, but she couldn’t keep her mouth shut. “No bra?”
Tennyo looked down. “Why hide perfection?” She grinned. “Seriously, I don’t have a bra that works with this tank top.”
“Go ahead,” Jade said, with her head stuck into her wardrobe, “make me even more jealous.”
“Well it’s not like I asked for this. It was all my stupid brother’s fault. I still feel like strangling him.”
She finished pulling on a yellow sweatshirt and pleated gray skirt. As soon as the skirt was in place, she felt Jinn returning to her head.
The rush of memories was briefly disorienting. Being a pair of panties had certainly been different. And (as she’d spent much of the morning considering) if only it weren’t so intimate, it would have excellent prank potential. Of course, she also thought she could give new meaning to the ancient phrase “living bra.”
Shaking her head at the truly astounding new ideas that had suddenly come to her, she realized that she’d been in the middle of something.
“Hey do you mind –”
There was a knock on the door. Tennyo opened it to see Fey, Toni, and Ayla, dressed and looking ready to go out. “Interested in breakfast?” they asked.
“Ravenous,” Tennyo answered, immediately.
Jade looked up from her packet on the bed. “I was about to ask if anyone minded if I brought Jinn along, too?”
Toni said, “Actually, we were hoping to meet her.”
Jade nodded. “That’s right. I promised you last night.”
“You need to invent some new pronouns,” Ayla grumbled.
Jade reached over to charge the bundle of clothes. In what had by now become rather routine to her, the clothes lifted up into the air, coming into proper position and then suddenly snapping into an “inflated” appearance, as Jinn filled them.
“Sorry,” the other girl said, rubbing her hands against the mask. “Let me just get my face on.”
“You know,” Fey said, “back in the olden days that meant something very different.”
The walk to campus seemed shorter in the bright morning light. Around them, the trees were still green, although one or two were showing the first signs of yellow. There were occasional leaves on the ground, but the brick walkway was kept scrupulously clean.
As Belle had predicted the night before, there was plenty of activity from Melville Cottage, as parents and students worked on moving in.
The girls crested O. Henry Hill and saw the campus spread out below them. Near the center was their destination – Shuster Hall. In an amazing marriage of styles, the ancient concert hall that had once occupied the south end had been replaced with a sparkling glass geodesic dome. That dome (or “Crystal Hall” as it was sometimes called) was the school’s cafeteria and central hang-out spot.
“What do you want to do after breakfast?” Toni asked.
Tennyo looked back over her shoulder. “Why, you interested in trying a little sparring?” She was carefully walking on the ground, not displaying any unusual abilities.
“Well, since you bring it up –”
Fey broke in. “How about uniforms? Has anyone bought their school uniform yet?”
Four puzzled looks greeted her question.
“Didn’t any of you read the introductory packet?”
“Well, of course,” Jade said. “But there’s plenty of time –”
“Nope. Best selection and fit is always available on the first day. And remember, they may not be required, but they are highly recommended for official functions and all special events. To me, that sounds like, ‘You’d better have a uniform!’”
“Well,” Tennyo admitted, “I am pretty short on clothes.”
“I just realized,” Tennyo said, unlocking their door, “if you’d been smart you two could have been roommates. Then you wouldn’t have to share a room.”
Jade and Jinn answered in accidental unison. “But we want to share a room with you.”
“Huh. Psychic twins. Figures.” She spotted something on the floor. “What’s this?”
An envelope had been slid under the door. The only notation on the outside was a hastily scrawled name that looked like “T-eyor.”
“Do you suppose they meant to write ‘Tennyo’?” Jinn asked.
The blue-haired girl shrugged. “Beats me. Let’s see what it says.”
She ripped open the envelope, then scanned the message. Her large eyes were expressive as she displayed shock, then fear, then an almost wry disbelief.
“Well, what do you know. Only our first day here, and already we’re getting death threats. Only, not from very competent foes.” She handed the letter over, so that Jade and Jinn could both read it:
Missing your family much?
Don’t worry. However far they may be from your heart and mind, rest assured that they aren’t far out of our sights. Particularly that so-called sister of yours. Play things right and we give both you and her a wide berth, and never talk to you again. Play things wrong and the very least that will happen is that those innocent young girls you’re living with will find out that their sorority sister used to look a lot different.
We’re looking for someone else, not related to you. All you have to do is get the name and home address of every girl living in Poe Hall. It should be easy. Right now, everyone’s moving in. They all have addresses on their luggage.
Write the information down, fold the paper up, and leave it under the bust of Edgar Allen Poe in the entryway to your cottage. Tomorrow night, before 7 PM. No tricks. Complete this successfully and we will never again bother you or yours.
Don’t play games with us, Trevor. We mean business.
Jinn frowned. “But Trevor is Ayla’s old name, so this note was meant for Ayla. Why’d they send it to us?”
Tennyo slapped her head. “I forgot! We didn’t change our room assignments with Belle after we exchanged with Ayla. Whoever sent the note must be using the old information.”
That didn’t make any sense to Jade. “But we already know about Ayla. Do they really think this is a threat?”
Tennyo mused aloud. “If we were the innocent girls the blackmailers think we are, it might hurt Ayla if we were turned against her.” She seemed troubled. “I think we’re going to have to warn Ayla and get some help. But how?”
Jinn immediately headed for the door. “Let’s go find her!”
“Hold on!” Jade ordered. “We’ve got some crook watching for anything out of the ordinary, maybe getting ready to do something drastic. Parents on every floor. I think you look pretty good, but can we take a chance? Particularly if you start spying on people?”
Tennyo nodded. “Good point. The mask isn’t bad, but those eyes… Anyway, I know where we can find more manpower. Or rather, girl power.”
Jade got that immediately and nodded. “Of course! Duh!”
Jinn looked resigned. “What about me? Lookout?”
Jade nodded. She took a small piece of paper from her desk and quickly folded it into a tiny paper airplane – almost a dart – while Jinn folded herself up and packed herself away. As Jinn removed her face, Tennyo said, “Ugg. That’s just creepy. So how are you going to do lookout work?”
Feeling Jinn’s return, Jade turned to see the gloves drop, then took them and tucked them into her purse. She shook her head, as if that would help settle the memories, and immediately charged Jinn into the small paper dart. With a toss, the plane glided in a perfect circle around the room, almost as if guided. “See?” she explained to Tennyo. “Paper airplane. Perfectly innocent to unsuspecting parents.”
“Nice throw. What’s her job?”
“She lodges somewhere near the ceiling and watches. If she sees anything, she comes back to me immediately.”
“Cool! She can keep an eye out for us while we get the others together and decide what we can do about this. Why don’t you go and get Ayla? Bring her over to Toni’s and Fey’s room. I’ll meet you there and we can pool our resources.”
“Who’s ‘Tievor’?” Fey asked.
“I think it’s supposed to say ‘Treyon’,” Toni offered.
Tennyo and Jade were looking at Ayla, who began to shake in rage as she read the note.
Jade whispered quietly, “It’s just bad handwriting, and it was supposed to say, ‘Trevor.’”
“Trevor Goodkind,” Ayla confirmed, hooking a thumb back at herself. “And someone is going to pay for this!”
Whateley Academy September 4, Monday
Jade studied the ‘introductory packet’ again. It was better than listening to Ayla rant. That girl could go on and on about how she’d been a target her entire life, and how tired she was of it. Now, as a mutant, she’d find she was a different kind of target. But it was up to Ayla how she wanted to handle the blackmail note, and whatever the skinny girl decided, the rest of them wouldn’t get in on the action until Wednesday night.
So Jade went back to her room, stretched out on her bed, and studied the packet. Details on receiving visitors, visiting the near-by town, restrictions on handling the campus newspaper, when costumes were permissible, open display of powers. She studied this last part again. It seemed like just a repeat of the whole flag discussion, but she finally came across a worthwhile nugget:
“No restriction is imposed on powers which will not be noticed by ordinary visitors. Consult with your councilor for additional details.”
That sounded promising. Her appointment was for tomorrow morning; she decided to take Jinn with her.
That night featured the first “Poe Party” presided over by Mrs. Horton, Poe’s “house mother.” They had video games and ping pong downstairs, as well as punch and dancing. Of course, being Poe, most of the dances were girl-girl and guy-guy. Despite that, she was still surprised when an older girl asked her to dance.
“I’m not sure I’m very good,” she admitted, biting her lip.
“Then you’ll have to let me teach you!”
The pretty brunette looked about sixteen, and was at least three inches taller than her. The music launched into a fast-paced romp. It was interesting to have the other girl holding her and leading her around, giving her tips on how to move her hips and arms. And although the dancing was fun, Jade found she couldn’t stop looking at her dance partner. She couldn’t stop thinking about how lucky the other girl was to be a real girl. The jealousy was like a razor-sharp stab in her heart. It’s so unfair!
So after three different dances and an ever-increasing depression, she decided to skip out of the dance and headed for the discussion rooms. The sunroom lounges on each floor had been made over into theme discussion rooms. On the second floor, almost right next to her room, the discussion was “Welcome to Whateley.” Which was interesting, but she decided to check out the other discussions first. Next floor up the topic was “being a sexual minority.” Finally, up on the senior floor, everyone was talking about graduation, careers, and the legacy (whatever that was). There was far too much to keep track of, so Jade pulled out the body suit and had Jinn circulate as a real person.
And, as usual, Jade fell asleep long before Jinn, giving one last charge before flopping down on her bed, a pillow over her head to keep out the noise.
Jinn had planned to sit in on the discussions, but found herself gravitating back to the dance floor. She had no weight and no mass – could she dance convincingly? She’d found the trick to be “thinking herself heavy.” She had to draw on her experience in a physical body, and move the way she expected to move. It was all simulated, but it gave a reasonably good impression of a girl subject to gravity and inertia – even if those effects were entirely simulated through TK.
She met the pretty brunette again (who, of course, didn’t recognize her behind the Madonna mask and brunette wig). This time she had a lot more fun. As Jinn, she WAS a girl. There was no question about it. So she felt none of the jealousy or longing that she’d felt in her physical body. On the other hand, there were many other emotional issues – desire, lust, need, fear – that weren’t much of an issue for Jinn. Then again, the whole lust thing was still more of an intellectual curiosity to both of them. She assumed there’d be more developing with that, once she went through puberty.
After a particularly fast dance, the brunette (her name was Tammy) came back with some punch for Jade.
“Wow! I can’t believe you haven’t even broken a sweat!”
Jinn looked down at the glass of punch in her hand. What am I supposed to do with this? “Yeah, well, I’m afraid I’m going to have to pack it up for the night.” She checked her watch. “I only have another five minutes before I evaporate.”
Tammy laughed. “Pretty funny. Honestly – you can sleep in tomorrow. Classes don’t start until Thursday.”
“No, you don’t understand. I really will evaporate.”
“Yeah, right. What’s your power, gaseous form or something?”
Jinn frowned. “Well, promise you won’t freak on me?” She grabbed her left glove and pulled it out of position, to display her empty sleeve.
“Ohmygawd! You’re her! The stuffed animal girl that Quickie was talking about!”
“Oh, sorry. Juanita Havier. She was telling us about you.” Something else connected for the brunette. “Oh, and that means you must be the cute little Asian girl I was dancing with before.”
“Hey, you were getting kind of depressed earlier. Glad you came back.”
Jinn glanced at her watch, frowning. “Jeez, I really want to keep talking to you, but in three minutes I turn into a pile of clothes.”
Tammy giggled. “Only at Whateley! Hey, there’s another party tomorrow night, too. Maybe we can finish then.”
Jinn nodded, heading upstairs to pack her clothes away.
Next morning, Tennyo seemed to be in a fairly good mood. When she left to take her shower, Jade quickly charged up Jinn (in full body suit) to run down and get a glass of orange juice from the fridge on the first floor. She took the opportunity to make Tennyo’s bed and clean up the other girl’s extra laundry. She cleaned up the rest of the room, and laid out all her own clothes for the shower.
Jinn returned, and Jade quickly re-absorbed her, then put Jinn back into her panties for the perilous walk to the showers. She knew it would be more crowded today, and even worse tomorrow, so it was a good thing she was getting her techniques down ahead of time. This time she’d remembered to use a panty liner. It would probably be best to buy a box of them. The thought gave her a happy smile. It was an activity that was just so darned feminine. It still felt a bit odd to sit when she was all tucked up, but anything was better than being a boy.
So she stood there, towel wrapped around her slim frame and panties squirming her into the perfect tuck, waiting for Tennyo to come back.
She picked up the orange juice and held it for her roommate. It was strange. Lately, her mannerisms had been growing to echo those of her mother more and more. And her mother had been a first generation Japanese immigrant. Jade was certainly not. She was pure middle American in culture, but for some reason, it just felt right to behave the way her mother had: feminine, deferential, demure. She didn’t act like this when she was Jinn, but then, Jinn didn’t have anything to prove.
Jade knew that she was desperate for anything that could make her more feminine. Emulating her mother was just one small way to do that. It made her wonder – once she achieved her dream, once she became a girl for real, would she still act so insecure? She really wanted to know.
Eventually, the door popped open and Tennyo came striding in, her hair already dry.
“Hey, Jade, what’s up?”
Jade waited for Tennyo to close the door, then bowed and offered the other girl the glass of orange juice. “Good morning. I hope you showered well. Would you care for some juice this morning?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess.” Tennyo started to dress, tossing her towel casually onto the bed. She stood there in naked glory, looking curiously at the glass that had just been handed to her. “Uh, what’s up?”
Jade bowed again. “Tennyo-san…” She had to force herself not to say “sama”, but that would probably be insulting under the circumstances. “Your accident… you said it was a million-to-one chance. Please, I don’t mean to bother you with this, but when you became…” she gestured at Tennyo’s currently-naked body “…as you are, when you became a girl, was it because of the drug, or because of your powers?”
“Oh, that.” The blue-haired girl took a chug of juice and set the glass down on her desk. “My accident, huh?” She started rooting through her dresser looking for clothes. With an odd look of skepticism she pulled out a bra. “I suppose I should wear one, even if I don’t really need it,” she muttered to herself. Then she used one of those unconsciously sexy moves that genuine girls performed so easily. She slipped the bra on, automatically arching her back to thrust her chest out, as she limberly fastened the hooks behind her back.
“Well, I can tell you it sure wasn’t the drug. That stuff was pure poison. I’m convinced that any other mutant that tried the stuff would end up dead, and it sure never changed anyone like this before.” She was sorting through panties now. “I think I’d have to chalk it up to my mimic powers, or rather, the mimic powers I used to have before they burned out. That, and the fact that I was apparently a hermaphrodite. Or a semi-hermaphrodite, or whatever. Nothing that really sounds too useful to anyone else. Sorry.” She was now pulling her panties into place, making sure they were tight and snug. “Hope it’s not too disappointing.”
“No. Thank you for your time, Tennyo-san.” Jade bowed again, then left for her shower.
As she left, she heard Tennyo saying, “Did you make my bed? You didn’t have to do that.”
After hearing Tennyo’s story, she’d pretty much expected this. But she was going to trace down every single possibility. Somehow, some way, she would achieve her dream.
Her councilor was a middle-aged woman named Terri Larson. Jade had stayed behind, outside the door. Jinn went in for the interview instead. Terri rose to greet her, and Jinn briefly took Ms. Larson’s hand.
“Always nice to meet the entering freshmen,” Ms. Larson said. “You should be aware that, like any other high school student, you’ll need to load up on the required classes for your first few years here. I know that some of the electives must look awfully tempting, but we need to get those requirements out of the way. So, let’s get to first things first. Perhaps you can tell me why you’re wearing that costume, why you look like that, and why you aren’t the Japanese girl that your file told me to expect?”
Jinn gave a sheepish smile. “Busted. I was hoping to convince you to let me take double classes.”
Ms. Larson’s eyebrows rose. “Most of the students want to take less classes, not more.”
Jinn nodded. “Let me bring in my other half, first.” After receiving a nod of approval, she rose and opened the door. “Come on in. We’re busted.”
Jade came in, looking insecure as always. It sometimes bugged Jinn how deferential and meek she looked in her real body.
“I’m sorry,” Jade said miserably. “I just wanted to convince you that I could pass without too much notice, even on ‘red’ days.”
“I’m not sure I understand. Are you two related?” She peered at Jade’s charts. “Your chart says something about manifesting a second astral body, but I shook hands with you.”
Jinn said, “Perhaps a demonstration would be in order.” With that, she released her hold on her current body and ceased to exist.
Jade explained as she gathered up the clothes. “…so it’s only when we re-join that I pick up my memories as Jinn. Well, as that time of Jinn. The two of us are usually only an hour out of sync.” She considered. “Well, no, I’ve gone longer, if I keep recharging her.”
“So only Jinn can use your TK, and only to move herself.” Jade nodded. “But if you attend classes separately, won’t she become the expert on English, while you become the expert on math?”
Jade shook her head. “No, there’s really just me. When I join up again, everything comes together. Then when I split off Jinn, we both have our combined memories up to that point. This just lets me be in two places at once.”
Her councilor looked upward. “I never get the easy ones. Never a simple flyer or super-strong hunk.” With a sigh, she returned to the chart in front of her. “Okay, I’ll have to think about this. Just to help my thinking, can you bring her back – this other self?”
Jade charged the clothes again. It was moderately amusing to watch her Ms. Larson’s expressions as the clothes inflated, and as Jinn ‘put on her face.’
“No way, no how, are you ever going to display that on even an amber day. I don’t know.” She looked between the two of them. “But let’s see what you were planning to take, on this double schedule.”
“No, you’re still too heavy on electives. ‘Flying 1’ is usually a sophomore class. And do you really need it?”
Jinn lifted into the air. “I do fly, sort of. The description said the class would help on all aspects – speed, maneuverability, fine control. I need the fine control, because I’m really flying even when I just walk.”
“Well, I don’t think it will fit in for your first semester. But you definitely need to take ‘Costume shop 1’.”
Jinn nodded. “To help on my disguise?”
“Exactly. Now, Intro to Superpowers has both a theory and a practical. Or Powers Theory and Powers Lab, as we tend to call them. They’re electives, but if you can pull double classes, I think you should take both. But we can’t forget the basics. Even if this double-class idea fails, I want you in for Beginning English, Algebra I, one of the sciences, Civics, and a P.E.” She smiled. “Apparently, at normal schools they have problems getting kids into P.E.”
“I don’t thing normal schools give martial arts as a P.E. option,” Jade suggested.
“True. I’d also like you to take a language as one of your main line – the classes you’ll keep, even if the double-booking fails.”
Jade had already looked over the list. “You don’t have Japanese?”
“We’re a pretty small school. But we do have Chinese, you’ll notice.”
“Not exactly the same thing,” she grumbled. “If I take Chinese, everyone is going to think I’m Chinese.”
“Surely there’s some overlap? There is with the romance languages.”
“Not quite the same thing,” Jinn said, nearly repeating Jade’s line. “Still… it’s better than nothing.”
“Okay,” Jade agreed. “So on the main line, I have Beginning English, Algebra I, Bio, an hour for lunch, Civics, Chinese, and I end with Martial Arts.”
Ms. Larson nodded. “A good freshman line-up.”
“And on the second track,” Jinn added, “I’ll be taking Costume I, Powers Theory I, and Powers Lab I in the afternoon. Which leaves me with three open slots.”
The counselor nodded. “May I recommend Physics? A lot of TK types find it useful, and it would help satisfy your fundamentals.”
“Okay.” Jinn penciled it in on her schedule. “And I’ll want to take Martial Arts again for my last class.”
“Aren’t you taking that already in your primary line-up?”
“Different body,” Jinn explained. “Different rules. I really need to be completely retrained.”
“For your last class, may I suggest ‘word processing.’ Even if you’ve done some computer work, most students get a lot out of the class. These are tools that you’ll use for a long time to come.”
Jinn sighed. Or rather, she emitted the sound of someone sighing. “It sounds great, but I can’t see a computer screen. If it was a straight typing class…”
“Can’t see the screen?”
Jinn nodded. “I see matter density or something like that. Material types. Not light. So I can’t even tell if a computer screen is turned on.”
“Hmmm,” Ms. Larson considered. “Well, if Jade took the computer class, and you took Chinese…”
The girls nodded in unison.
“Okay, the biggest trick will be putting everything under the single transcript of ‘Jade Sinclair.’ But we’ve dealt with odder things…” She worked on her computer for a few minutes before finally sounding satisfied.
Jade and Jinn both waited in silence. They weren’t about to disturb her. She’d gone from “I’ll think about it” to “let me set it up” in less than an hour. They weren’t going to jeopardize this.
“Anything else? It’s almost time for my next appointment.”
“Well…” Jade was naturally embarrassed to bring it up.
“Money,” Jinn said, putting it in the open. “I was getting measured for my uniform, and they said I needed to check my student account.”
“Excellent,” the councilor said. “You’d be surprised how many students try to ignore that until they’re in deep trouble.
“Yes, your scholarship requires a part-time job for personal expenses and some supplemental fees. We have a variety connected with the school, or you could commute to the local town of Dunwich. They aren’t bothered by the strange, far from it, but they really prefer that everything look normal. So flying into town isn’t really an option. For now, I’d think that wouldn’t be the best job.”
“What does the school have?” Jinn leaned forward eagerly, until she realized the information was on a computer screen.
“Pretty much the standard for young girls your age is cafeteria work. We also have office assistant. Then there are a wide variety of other jobs, not all that suitable for young girls.” She spun the monitor around.
Jade looked at the list and thought. “I could really use some cash as soon as possible. How soon could I start on this one?”
The councilor looked to make sure. “Give me a moment to call.”
After speaking quietly on the phone, she said, “Would this afternoon be too soon?”
For the first time, Ms. Larson looked disturbed. “Are you sure about this?”
“It sure pays better than cafeteria work.”
She met them at the southwest corner of the library. Both wore overalls, of course. The larger, rounder once stuck out a hand. “Good to meet you! Morrie Goldberg,” he said, smiling. Then he turned to the smaller, thin one. “This is my esteemed associate, Stan Lipscowycz. He’s a polack, but don’t hold it against him.”
Stan shook his head. “Morrie’s got a mouth on him. Don’t let it throw you. So, you both going to the school?”
Jade and Jinn nodded in unison.
“Well, might as well tell us what your powers are. If it can help on the job, we need to know.”
Jade looked at them both, but it was Jinn who spoke. “You cleared for all this? And how can we show you? It’s a ‘red’ day.”
Stan looked disconcerted. “Right. Not like we’ve got powers or anything, but they still yell at us when we aren’t careful enough.”
Morrie grunted and scratched the stubble under his throat. “Good catch, but I guess you super-whatzit types gotta think about crap like that, don’t you? Okay, follow me. We’ll do it in the maintenance area. That’s off-limits to anyone else.”
He walked around to the side of the Beck Library. A small set of narrow concrete steps led down to a basement-level metal door. Morrie fumbled with his keys, then the door smoothly opened. Jade had expected a creak, based on her estimate of the door’s age.
For a moment, she felt a tinge of fear at following two grown men into a secret locked room. Both of them were larger and stronger than her. She kicked herself, thinking that Mr. Larson knew where she was. There were telepaths on campus. She was sure that she didn’t have to worry about rapist co-workers. Besides, she was going to be working with these men.
Her mind did a double-take, as she realized the tenor of her thoughts. She was thinking exactly what a girl would think, and that briefly gave her a happy glow. She noticed Jinn looking at her oddly. Her other side was no doubt wondering about her spike of happiness. Well, Jinn would find out soon enough.
Once Morrie closed the door, he said, “Okay, do your stuff.”
Jinn floated up in the air. “I can fly. I can also see in the dark. In fact, I don’t see regularly at all – I don’t see with light, so I’m no good with colors. Oh, and I don’t have a sense of smell. I guess I’m pretty much invulnerable, and I don’t mind getting incredibly dirty, so long as you supply the clothes.”
Morrie nodded. “Yeah, that’s definitely a plus. I can almost see why you picked this job. And how ‘bout your friend, the little chink girl?”
Jade glared at him. Morrie certainly did have a mouth on him. “I’m not Chinese, I’m Japanese! Big difference. Anyway, I don’t have any powers of my own, except…” She looked at Jinn. “Come back.”
Jinn nodded, then collapsed into an empty pile of clothes.
“That’s why I don’t mind getting dirty when I’m Jinn,” she explained. “No body. I’m just an ‘autonomous telekinetic construct’, but I have to be charged into something real. Clothes, a mop, whatever. I can only use my TK to touch and move that object. But if it’s gloves, I can feel things, pick them up like normal hands. When I’m done, I ‘let go’ of that thing and I’m gone. No dirt, no fuss.”
“Well, that’s not too bad,” Morrie agreed, “but since there’s really only one of you, we’ll only be able to give you single pay.”
Jade clenched her teeth. She hated confrontations like this. Jinn did fine, but Jinn wasn’t here right now. So for the moment, SHE had to be Jinn. Aloud she said, “Well, darn. I guess I’ll have to go then. I really need that double salary. And it’ll be more than fair, since I’ll give you at least double productivity.” She began to walk toward the door. “It’s a real shame, though. The reason I did this was because of a move I came up with, a while back.”
While she was talking, she pulled out a broken-off end of a pocket knife, and charged Jinn into it. “I found this in some trash a couple of weeks ago.” The knife blade lifted into the air. “See, I was thinking of self-defense, but I’m pretty squeamish about hurting people. But I love the old kung fu movies, so I got an idea. What if Jinn could make the knife spin?”
And the floating knife began to spin so fast that it became a blur. A propeller. And it remained hovering in mid-air.
“And I thought – what can I do with this? Kill people? Ugg. Mix cakes? Don’t think so. There are machines that do it better. But I realized that I could travel almost anywhere like this. And I could see in the dark, and maneuver however I wanted to.”
The silvery disk rose up to the bare-bulb fixture, orbited around it twice, then descended to a large piece of plastic pipe, about four inches in diameter. It entered the pipe and flew down the bore, spinning all the while.
“And I suddenly thought about this clogged toilet…”
The light dawned in Stan’s eye. It was like he was looking at the holy grail. “My GOD! We’ll never have to fix a clog, ever again!”
Jade held up a hand and the knife zoomed out of the pipe and slapped into her palm. It ceased spinning at the last moment, so that she wouldn’t get cut. Jade tucked the broken blade away in a special envelope in her purse.
“But, I’d need the double salary. Oh well.” She turned back toward the door.
“Not bad, kid,” Morrie said. “But to get double salary, you’re going to have to do like us. Down into the sewer pipes, up in the harness, washing top floor windows. And both of youse definitely earn your keep!”
She stared at him. “Anything YOU can do, I can do!”
Morrie smiled thinly. It wasn’t a cruel or nasty smile, it was more like he really enjoyed the game. “Overalls are over there. Don’t think we’ve got a pair small enough for you, but see what you can find.”
“Okay, let me know if the height is too much for you!” Stan called from below.
Jade hung up on the fourth story, suspended by a rope that connected to a small trolley affair in the eaves. She was wearing a set of straps and harnesses that connected to the rope.
“You’re lucky you’re a girl,” Morrie told her from the next window over. “Us guys kinda get bunched up with the crotch straps.”
Speak for yourself, she thought. While both straps technically wrapped around the top of her thighs, between the harness and her clothes she was feeling an awful lot of pressure in the crotch region. Five minutes ago, she had been uncomfortably reminded of the physical differences between her and a real girl. Now that entire region had mostly gone numb. That didn’t seem like a good sign.
“Do I really have to bother with the ropes?” Jinn asked, from her other side.
“Stupid!” Morrie hollered. “You know what color it is today! What are people going to think, if they see you doin’ whatever you want?”
“Yeah, yeah. No need to get nasty about it.”
“Maybe you got a problem with my mouth?”
“No, forget it.”
Jade didn’t join any of the banter. It would definitely take her a while to get used to Morrie. She’d spotted him trying to hold himself back from some particularly vile comment, once or twice. She figured he was trying to act nice on her behalf. She wondered what he’d be like when he really got going. But so far, his language seemed to be more of a game than something that really upset him.
“Okay, both of youse,” he hollered. “Watch the technique.” Morrie kicked his legs up against the sill. “First, you get out of the way of drips. Then you take your bucket – that’s why we’ve got one, and you take the brush. You’ll notice that it’s on a lanyard. Believe me, you’ll need it. Now, you examines the target. See that big spot of bird crap? Fuggin’ pigeons all got perpetual diarrhea or somethin’.”
Morrie proceeded to instruct them in the finer points of window washing. Jinn picked it up immediately, but Jade wasn’t quite so fast. It wasn’t that she was scared, exactly, but hanging from a rope four stories up had a real way of riveting your attention. It seemed even worse, being so close to a building. Hanging in mid-air, or being on a bridge wouldn’t have felt so high, somehow. But here, just on the wrong side of the window, it was impossible not to look down, not to see the three stories that plunged straight down, right between her feet. And she didn’t have the knack with the ropes yet, or much real confidence in them. Still, she forced herself to pick up the heavy brush, reach down into that heavy bucket of cleaning solution, and slop-wipe around the window. She tried not to notice the drops, as they plunged to the ground, so far below. She tried not to notice how each movement made her tip and sway. She just did her best to work the squeegee, and clean the windows completely.
By the time she was done, Morrie was four windows away and Jinn was two.
It was going to be a long day.
Her legs were shaking so badly she could barely stand.
“Not bad, kid.” Morrie clapped her on the shoulder. Behind him, Stan was grinning. “You passed the height test. Pretty good for your first day. Don’t worry. Nothing too high, tomorrow.” Morrie paused, as if to savor the anticipation. “Naw. And later this week we’ll go down under.”
“Don’t forget your nose clip!” Stan said, waving cheerily.
Jade gulped, wondering if they were joking.
The crew were their usual excited selves that evening, looking forward to the party, talking about school or clothes or town, or (in one case) muttering darkly about blackmailers. Jade wasn’t up for it. What she really wanted was an hour-long bath, but the cottages didn’t have any bathtubs. Perhaps that was one of the grand luxuries up in the penthouse.
Not that it mattered. With her little problem, she wasn’t about to take a bath in the middle of a girls’ dorm. Instead, she took a quick evening shower and staggered downstairs to watch the party. She’d turn in early, but she was still getting used to the cottage and she wanted to get a feel for people she’d be living with. And there were more of them tonight, since people were still moving in.
She paused long enough to charge Jinn into her normal bodysuit before they headed downstairs together.
Jinn, on the other hand, felt fine. Physical fatigue? What was that? Likewise, she never seemed to get sleepy. She wondered if she even could sleep in this form.
Hearing the pounding of music from the floor below, she headed down the stairs, hips swinging to the beat. Music and dancing didn’t have quite the visceral impact in this form, but there were compensations. She could dance forever without getting the least bit tired. Whenever she wanted, she was very light on her feet. Lastly, to her spirit-vision, the people of the dance floor were a riotous rainbow of color, golds and bright greens mixing with the more subdued white and sky blue.
There was more variety tonight. She saw Angel on the dance floor, her wings unfurled for the only time Jinn had ever seen in public, dancing with a tall curly-haired girl. And Juanita was almost as easy to spot. She was (oddly enough) dancing with a guy, but he was a speedster, too, and they were doing something that looked more like aerobics for hyped-out bumblebees than normal dancing. Everywhere the air sparkled with the ultra-violet glow of mutant energies, and there were even people flying, which allowed them to pack even more people into the cramped space of the common room.
There was more room to the sides – the kitchen and dining room had smaller groups trying for conversation amidst the rumble from the common room. The library, as always, was only sparsely populated.
There didn’t seem to be any prohibition against it, so Jinn lifted into the air. She spotted a busty blonde in a blue leotard and white cape, sitting cross-legged in mid-air. Jinn floated over next to her.
“Hi! I’m Jinn,” she opened. “And you’re ‘Megs’, right? I think we met on Sunday.” It was hard not to stare at the other girl. Her leotard was legless, and sitting cross-legged as she was, the girl was not entirely modest. There was nothing inappropriate or vulgar, but Jinn was more than aware of the other girl’s femininity and lush contours. She eyed Marty’s breasts with a bit of envy. Those whoppers had to be at least D-cup, and they looked as perky as Tennyo’s.
“Hi!” The other girl slid sideways toward her, so they could speak more confidentially. “Sorry if you’re looking for a girlfriend. It seems like everyone is trying to hook up in the first couple of days. I’m not really in the market, and besides,” her voice dropped a little, “I’m probably not quite what you’re thinking.”
Jinn held up her hands. “No, no, no. I was with Beltane’s group. What did she call us? The ‘gender baffled.’ She told us all about you. Uh, what should I call you? Megs? Marty? Do you have some other name?”
The blonde scrutinized her. “‘Megs’ is fine. I don’t remember seeing you in the crew.”
Jinn shook her head. “No, I’m the small Japanese girl.”
“Pardon my straight lines, but you don’t look Japanese.”
Jinn thought for a moment. “Oh, right. Uh, lemme see. From what Belle said, you create a PK shell, right?” She eyed Mega-Girl. That’s one hell of a shell.
“Well, imagine if the shell had a mind of her own, and could exist independently. So you’ve got pretty much no powers, except the ability to create the shell. And the shell is a full girl, only she doesn’t really have a body. And after an hour, she evaporates, and suddenly you have both sets of memories.”
Megs’ eyes lit up. “Are you the one Quickie was talking about? The girl that brings stuffed toys to life?”
“That’s me! Actually, now that I think about it, we have a lot in common.” She leaned closer to whisper quietly. “Only, maybe since my ‘shell’ is independent, it doesn’t seem to be affecting me the way yours is. And let me tell you, I am so jealous! Are there any hints you can give me? I’m sort of stuck in the – you know – starting state.”
The blonde frowned, before finally getting it. “Hey, don’t go pushing things too fast. The transition is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, it’s driving me nuts! It’s like my skin gets all itchy if I don’t wear the right clothes, but I look like an idiot if I’m not ‘babed-out’ like now.”
“At least you’ve got something happening. For me – zip. It’s been driving me nuts!”
“Uh huh. How long have you been ‘suffering’?”
Jinn thought back. “Uh, coming up on four months.”
“Puh-leeze! Come back to me when you’ve been flip-flopping between pink and blue for a couple of years, and maybe I’ll have some sympathy!”
Jinn pouted. “Somehow I thought you’d be a little more understanding.”
“Aw, jeez! Sorry, kid.” The busty blonde reached out to enfold her in a hug. Then, while they were wrapped up in each other (floating above the dance crowd for everyone to see), Megs blurted out, “Hey, this better not be some cheesy attempt to get a girlfriend. ‘Cause I’m sort of, well, not taken, but there’s this thing…”
Jinn giggled. “As if! Honestly, I don’t know what I’m even going after yet. I figure I might get a clue once I start puberty.”
The caped girl looked pointedly at Jinn’s form-fitting black leotard. “Uh, from here it looks like you’ve certainly started.”
Jinn snuggled in the pleasant embrace. “PK shell, remember? My body hasn’t started a thing. No hormones at all.”
“Well, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding donor hormones. I swear! Poe must have more hormones than the other six cottages put together. So, uh, you want to find your ‘real body’ and talk about things?”
Just then, there was a loud buzz.
“Down to the floor!” Megs said in her ear. “And try to look normal. No gay stuff.”
“What’s going on?”
They found room near the library. Mega-Girl pointed through the common room to the entry. “See the red light? We’re about to get ‘normal’ visitors. That’s what the buzz was, to alert us. Low profile.”
Jinn didn’t bother to explain about her vision.
The crowd had broken up and was completely re-arranging itself. Jinn and Marty found themselves talking to an extremely tall, attractive … man? He was quite androgynous, and had straight white hair that fell down his back to waist height.
At that moment, the front doors slammed open. “Open up! We have a court order!”
The crowd parted, giving Jinn a clear view. There were a pair of men in dark blue suits. They were clean-cut, and looked to be in their twenties. One was holding some sort of legal paper before him, as if it were a holy talisman.
“Please be calm,” the taller man said. “We’ve been sent here under court order. We’re here to remove a vile serpent from your midst.”
The shorter man took up the speech, as the stepped forward. Not toward Jinn, but toward the center of the crowd. “One of your fellows conceals a loathsome secret! Turning away from the Ordained Course, she has forsaken God’s ways to lust after her own sex!” He licked his lips as he said it. “But we will save you, Mary!” He and the other man had stepped forward to grab the arms of the winged girl, Angel. “We are Holy G.H.O.S.T.! This is an intervention, Mary!”
And before anyone could move, a bubble of ultra-violet light exploded around them.
Beside her, Mega-Girl was blinking.
“What happened, Megs, why isn’t anyone doing anything?”
“They – they vanished! It must be a teleport! One of them must have been a warper! They won’t get away with this! The entire cottage will track them down if it takes every last one of us!”
Exactly as she said, the room had practically exploded into a flurry of activity. Two speedsters had already zoomed out the still-open door. There were people clutching their heads and frowning in fierce concentration. Others were making strange gestures with their hands, while the flying types were picking up people, ready to zoom off to somewhere useful.
“Megs,” Jinn said in exasperation, “what are you talking about? They’re right there!” She pointed to where the two men were dragging an unconscious winged girl, not four feet in front of them.
Mega-Girl looked around in confusion. “What are you talking about? There’s nothing there!”
“What? Can’t you see –” And Jinn suddenly realized that everyone else probably saw with light. Perhaps that explained the sphere of ultra-violet energy surrounding the trio. “Of course! Megs, they’re invisible! Four feet ahead, right there!”
Suddenly sporting a grim smile, the blonde bombshell cracked the knuckles of a white-gauntleted hand. She stepped forward, reaching and feeling about, blindly. “Where, here?” Her hand suddenly fastened around a neck.
Jinn saw the ultra-violet sphere pop, like a soap bubble. Megs had the shorter man around the throat. The taller man was still dragging an unconscious Mary. He looked up in alarm. The entire cottage had gone suddenly silent. Everyone was staring at him.
“Oh, Lord!” He suddenly vanished, leaving Mary and his comrade behind.
“He’s gone for real, this time,” Jinn shouted.
“We’ll get him!” promised dozens of voices.
The party was over for the moment, while everyone finished comforting Mary. The boys were careful not to touch her, but they were giving her both silent and vocal reassurances. The girls were being much more touchy, hugging the winged girl, stroking her hair or wings, or giving her kisses – mostly pecks on the cheek.
“So as near as we can figure, the smaller man, Keller, had a highly limited psychic power. It influenced the brain on a physical level into completely ignoring him. That’s why the psychics and even those with enhanced senses couldn’t track him.” One of the seniors stood on a chair as he explained to the crowd, while they comforted Mary. “The taller fellow, Foyle, was a warper. He could warp light, to achieve visual invisibility, or he could transport himself up to 200 feet away. He must have hoped that would let him get away. Apparently, they could transport a group several miles away, but that took preparation and concentration, which is why they were moving into the library and away from the crowd.”
“What was that whole ‘Holy Ghost’ business?” someone called from the crowd.
Mary finally rose to her feet. She was still shaky, recovering from the drug on the needle they’d stabbed her with. “I…I guess it’s time to reveal my dark secret,” she said in a trembling voice. “My father is the ‘Reverend’ Theodore Goodhope. Those of you who haven’t seen God’s Hour have probably at least heard of him. He strongly believes in ‘deprogramming’, particularly for the ‘sin’ of homosexuality. He thinks it’s caused by exposure to lewdness and immoral scenes in TV and movies. Those men were part of his intervention team: Good Hope’s Own Salvation Team, or Holy G.H.O.S.T. But I never dreamed…!”
Everyone could hear the apology in her voice, and with their hands and voices, they made sure that she knew she was accepted. No one there blamed her for her father’s teachings.
“So what about his thugs?” another student called.
As this point, the crowd suddenly quieted. Mrs. Horton, Poe’s House Mother stepped forward. She approached the senior on the chair.
“I don’t really approve of standing on chairs like this, but I suppose this is a special occasion.” She held a hand out, and the senior lifted her up, abandoning his pedestal in favor of Mrs. Horton.
She cleared her throat, and then spoke to the suddenly-quiet audience. “Well, this seems like a good time to address a topic that you older students have heard me mention before. First, about those two uncouth men who entered previously. Our senior telepaths,” one boy and one girl nodded in the background, “tell me that their minds have been erased of anything that happened today. They’ve been given an extremely powerful compulsion against ever returning to Whateley, and left with a strong impulse to at least examine more tolerant variations of their faith.”
She frowned, and the crowd grew even quieter. “As for the beatings, well, I suppose I can understand. Given what so many have suffered at hands like theirs.” She didn’t say anything at this moment, but for an instant Jinn saw something like a black hole in Mrs. Horton’s aura. It was a sorrow and loss so profound that Jinn had never seen its like. But the house mother continued, with barely a missed beat. “So I suppose you can be forgiven, and they did rather ask for it. And – once their bones heal – there will be no permanent damage. So perhaps we should simply forget about that unfortunate little incident. I won’t feel compelled to mention anything to security.”
Jinn distinctly heard several people letting their breath out in relief.
“But I don’t think we should forget about the good things we have learned here. Those of you who are older students have heard this before, and you will hear it again. All of us here in Poe are a family. A very special family. And like any family, we have our differences.”
Jinn couldn’t be sure, but she thought Mrs. Horton’s roving eye might have rested briefly on Toni and Hippolyta, among others.
“We’ll have our little fights and arguments. But we are a family! We stick together! Remember today, and remember the dangers the outside world can sometimes hold, for any of us. For any of you, because of who you are. No matter how powerful, no matter how innocent. When you are threatened for who you are, and you know what I’m speaking of here, I want you all to know that all of Poe stands with you. All of us! In this, we are a family, and we are unbreakable! Remember the men who invaded our house tonight. Those foolish, foolish men who thought they could threaten us in our own house. It will be like that for everyone who threatens Poe. Within these walls, you are safe. Safe to be yourself, and safe to rest easily, knowing that you have a haven.”
She paused for a moment, and then seemed to laugh at herself. “Perhaps it’s still a bit confusing for you freshmen and other entering students. This is Whateley, and some of you will find yourself in fights or brawls that sprawl across campus. Please don’t expect us to loom behind you like some rude motorcycle gang. But we all know what makes Poe special. The academy’s board has decreed that Poe’s secret shall remain a secret. Perhaps that is wise. But let me just state it plainly, so that no one can mistake me. No one will be allowed to threaten you because of your sexuality. Whether gay, lesbian, bi, asexual, transsexual, multisexual, or anything else. Anyone attempting such abuse will be dealt with as we saw earlier this evening. And I hope that if you witness such discrimination, on campus or anywhere else, that you will step forward to protect those who cannot protect themselves.”
Then, slowly and carefully, she climbed down from the chair.
“Well? Weren’t you having a party?” And as the music started up again, Mrs. Horton vanished into the crowd once more.
Jade lay in bed, her mind awhirl with the many things she’d seen today.
It seemed to her that she’d started a journey last spring. It was a quest to become who she truly was, to explore the person who’d been hidden inside her. To become that girl.
Here at Whateley, she’s seen the proof that it could be done. She was watching it happen, in a dozen different ways. Somehow, she knew she’d find an answer that worked for her. She was certain of it.
But on the way, she’d found something she hadn’t even been looking for. A home. She hadn’t had a home for almost four years now. She was meeting people who accepted her. Even knowing her weird needs and mixed-up sexuality, they accepted her. They might even become friends. Tennyo was becoming a friend. She thought that Toni, Nikki, and Hank were too. Even Ayla, with the bleak and gruff face she put on, was becoming her friend. And the people she’d met – Megs and Juanita and Angel and Beltane and … it went on and on.
Mrs. Horton told her that she’d be safe here, inside the walls of Poe. Jade knew it was more complex than that – there would always be villains and foes that could attack without warning. But despite that, she felt happy. She did feel safe.
And for the first time in years, she felt appreciated. Perhaps even … loved.
She fell asleep with a smile on her face.