A Simple Game
A Whateley Academy Tale
A Simple Game
By Dr. Bender
Thursday, 27th September. 00:15
Tennyo tried to gasp as a glove of cold leather closed over her mouth, punching through mid air where her attacker should have been. As her misty eyes cleared, a floating set of boxing gloves and a ‘speaker disc’ hovered above her head.
“Shhhh! Tenyo, its me.” One glove covered the disc as it whispered, which was its best approximation of putting a finger over its lips.
Tennyo calmed down immediately and the boxing glove over her mouth was removed. “Jinn,” she hissed, “You nearly gave me a heart attack!”
“There’s something you’ve gotta see. Take a look out the window.”
Tennyo rubbed her eyes as she floated over to the window. Following Jinn’s lead, she slid slowly through the air just underneath the windowsill so she could peek over. Under the light of the moon, she could make out what looked to be a baggage train of four men in grey jumpsuits. Directly in front of them, she saw the familiar figure of Beltaine leading Ms. Shugendo, Dr. Bellows and a young Goth girl towards the cottage.
The girl was fairly small, less five feet tall, with long black hair down to her waist and a very racy outfit. A long sleeved black leather shirt covered only down to just below her small, pert, breasts; A pair of matching, cut off, leather pants tucked into heeled black leather boots; and a sleeveless black leather long coat with a hood, thrown back over her shoulders, completed the image. The costume seemed to be designed to show off as much of her well-sculpted abs as possible.
Tennyo squinted, trying to make out the girl’s features. She only looked to be about 13 or 14, but was wearing enough make-up to deflect low caliber projectiles at close range. All of her exposed skin was dead white and flawless, except for her midnight black nails, lips and eye sockets. The girl’s slitted eyes seemed to burn red in the darkness, but Tennyo was sure that was a trick of the light.
“Do you see her?” Jinn whispered. “Scary isn’t she?”
Tennyo cocked her head to the side, “I don’t know. She might give Fey a run for her money if she’d lose the clown face.”
Jinn giggled, “Oh, that was just mean. What do you think, new student?”
Tennyo nodded, “Probably.” When she turned back to the window, the girl was looking straight at them.
Jinn pointed, “Eep! Your hair!”
Tennyo flattened herself to the floor, pressing her gravity-defying locks flat against her skull.
A minute passed.
Jinn took another peek, “It’s OK, she’s gone.”
Tennyo leant back against the wall, breathing a deep sigh of relief.
“She had a really weird aura,” Jinn commented, “shot all through with black lightning. Do you think she’s one of us?”
Tennyo shrugged, “We’ll find out soon enough, I guess. Come on, I need to get back to sleep.”
Chapter 1: Death and Rebirth.
Sunday 17, September.
‘…Bill felt the splinters dig into his fleshy palm as the gargantuan tentacle crushed it against the ancient plank. A glance up into the thing’s cyclopean eye foretold the immanence of his untimely demise…’
Michael read and re-read the paragraph over and over, each time his splitting headache forced him to look away from the final sentence. Sighing, he pushed himself up from his desk and dragged himself into the kitchen. It was late, very late. The streetlights outside provided the only illumination for the suburban wasteland, cast Sydney’s sprawling new western estates in a sickly yellow tone. A quick check of the clock confirmed his suspicions: 03:42.
His hands shook slightly as he made another cup of coffee. Headaches be damned, he told himself, this story has to be told. “Before it literally burns a hole in my skull.” He added under his breath. Looking around his home, one could be forgiven for assuming that the man who owned it was a penniless slob. Paint chipped and flaked away in places, clothes strewn about, dirty dishes piled in the sink, grungy old mats covering the worn floorboards of the aging home which had once belonged to his mother, and his grandparents before them. Built in the days before the suburbs, like a living carpet of cultural desolation, had taken over the farms and fields and given way for city life to take over.
Michael sipped his black coffee and tried to take his mind back to the story. The pain in his head flared up once more, confounding his efforts. It was as if his mind itself were rebelling against the topic, the very point he was trying to make. Inevitability. Bill’s defeat was inevitable. To a mind great enough, say some unfathomable being from the netherworlds such as the Thing of his story, every man and woman’s destiny was clear. Their choices were set in stone, destiny would steer them on the proper course, the only course their lives could take. The Thing knew what Bill was going to do before he did it, therefore Bill’s death was inevitable.
“But why on earth can’t I WRITE IT!” Michael shouted, flinging his coffee mug into a nearby unoffending wall. The noise caused the neighbor’s dog to start barking again. His vision blurred for a moment and Michael suddenly found himself kneeling on the grimy linoleum. A startled cockroach scuttled back to the safety of a crack in the wall. He breathed deeply, massaging his temples to try to fight back the ache in his head.
Looking down at himself, he wondered at the red spatters that slowly ran down his grey shirt. Immediately, his hands clasped the bridge of his nose, meeting a warm, wet, sensation that he was all too familiar with. Racing to the bathroom, the world seemed to blur and whirl about him, forcing him to take slow, gingerly, steps. He looked at his face in the mirror. About five-eleven, pale skinned as only a man who spends all his time indoors can be, unshaven (it had been a day or two since his last shower) with unkempt dark brown hair he kept fairly short to avoid maintenance. Dark circles encompassed his bloodshot eyes from surviving the last three days without sleep.
He leant over the sink to allow the blood to pour freely from his nose while pinching the bridge to cut off the blood flow (as his doctor had told him to do many times). After a minute, the dribble stopped and Michael felt it would be alright to stand straight again. Muttering to himself, he pulled his shirt over his head… and froze. His ribs stood out from his skinny body in stark relief. His collar bone was plainly visible, as well as the outline of his abdomen. Two small spokes of skin testified to the presence of his hips.
Quickly, he stepped up onto his scales. “98 POUNDS!” He exclaimed. He was missing almost eleven. Though always a lightweight, due to his condition, Michael thought that he had managed to eat well and stay in relatively good shape. His occasional binge writing (usually indulged near deadlines) had never affected him like this before.
His shout sent him into a coughing fit for almost two minutes. He bent back over the sink just in time to lose his dinner into it. The faintly green mixture of stomach acids and vegetables was interlaced with swirls of red.
It took Michael about fifteen minutes to clean himself up enough to change clothes, grab his wallet and keys and make for his car. He breathed deeply behind the wheel, but started the ignition immediately so that he couldn’t convince himself not to drive to the hospital. Despite the pounding headache, he managed to pull into the parking lot near the emergency room a half-hour later. It took all the willpower he could muster to drag himself to the front desk. The duty nurse grabbed him before he could fall.
“Sir? SIR? Can you hear me?”
She did sound a little distant, but Michael chalked that up to the ringing in his ears. “Yes. I’m sorry. My name is Michael Waite,” he said each sentence slowly so that he knew that he was saying it right, “I need a doctor.”
At that point, he feinted.
Michael woke in a dark green room, draped across a couch. The overhead florescent light seemed to burn his exposed face and hands. A tall blonde-haired man in the ubiquitous doctor’s white lab coat scribbled some notes on a yellow pad. “Ah! You’re awake. I’m sorry we couldn’t find you a bed, Mr. Waite, but we have been rather busy tonight.”
“Do I know you?” Michael asked, shaking his head to clear away the cobwebs.
The Doctor laughed, “No, I apologize, the nurse who brought you in took your details from your wallet, though I would have recognized you anywhere.”
Michael silently cursed himself and whatever vanity had caused him to print a real picture on the inside fold of that damn book. ‘Incongruity’ had been the title and it had been hailed as one of the most imaginative horror tales of the new millennium. It had also placed the name of Michael Waite next to Stephen King as a household name, but if only he hadn’t put in that photograph, then he’d never be placed in situations like this. All of a sudden, he could sympathize with the Thing of his current work, he could see with stark clarity the future actions of the man in front of him.
The Doctor coughed to cover his embarrassment (strike one, Michael ticked off in his head), “I’m Doctor Abernathe, but please call me Phil.”
Phillip Abernathe? Michael chuckled ironically to himself, If I named a character that, I’d be laughed out of my career. “Pleased to meet you.” Michael said aloud, shaking Phil’s offered hand.
“Look, I don’t want to be a bother…”
“No.” Michael interrupted.
“No, I’m sorry, I don’t do autographs. Please, Doctor, I need to be examined now. Lets get on with it.”
Phil looked slightly hurt, “I… well…”
Michael sighed, “I’ll tell you what. You examine me. Then I’ll sign whatever you darn well want me to, OK?”
That seemed to perk him up a little, “Yes, it’s a deal. Thank-you Mr. Waite, can I call you Michael?”
“No,” Michael answered, “as I said, to the business at hand, Doctor. Recently, I have been plagued by splitting headaches which I thought was due to my lack of sleep over the last few days. But tonight, I experienced a nosebleed followed by a fit of vomiting which contained blood. At the same time, I also noticed that I have lost a considerable amount of weight. I brought myself straight to the hospital despite feeling groggy and disoriented. As you know, I then fell unconscious… how long was I out for?”
It took a moment for Phil to catch up with Michael’s rapid fire dialogue. “An hour, hour-and-a-half. Any other symptoms, like blood in urine or stools, persistent dry cough, swelling, lumps?”
Michael did a bit of a double take. He knew enough medicine to see where this was leading. “No, at least not that I’ve noticed. I have had a dry cough over the last week, but I thought it was just spring. I have allergies.”
“Yes, I noticed that in your file.” Phil tapped his computer screen, obscured from Michael’s vantage point on the sofa, “You also suffer from Porphyria, correct?”
Michael nodded, “A genetic disorder, I inherited it from my mother. Among other things.” He felt his lips tighten instinctively.
Phil tried to smile reassuringly, but his face looked strained, “Well, I can suggest a few tests, and then we’ll know for sure what’s wrong with you. But, I’m afraid my initial diagnosis is a bit grim.”
“Cancer.” Michael nodded. It was inevitable, he told himself, they always told me how my mother went…
“I am sorry. I can’t be 100% sure until we do some tests, but considering the description of your symptoms and your medical history… how long has it been since you’ve seen the sun?”
“Four months,” Michael mumbled, “When can we get started on these tests?”
“Right away.” Phil stood, absently picking a thick volume out of his bookshelf. “But before that… could you please sign my copy of Incongruity?”
Phil absently rubbed the blue dot on his forehead while Michael’s X-rays cycled across the light board. “You didn’t have to stab me, you know, it was just a joke.”
Michael could smell the lie like a steaming cow-pat right under his nose, “I signed it didn’t I? Just tell me what the fuck I’m looking at.” His patience was wearing thin. Four hours, one nosebleed and two more vomiting fits later, Phil had assured him that he was on the fast track. Treatment of cancer was a race against time.
Phil circled several white blotches among the X-rays. “Here, here, here, here and here. Five tumors, no mistaking it. Definitely malignant. The one causing the bleeding into your lungs and stomach is the size of your fist. No hope of stopping it, I’m afraid, but chemotherapy may slow it down for another month. Without it…” Phil shrugged.
“No.” Michael shook his head. “Chemo didn’t help my mother. It won’t help me.”
“I’m sorry, Michael.” Phil shook his head.
“Look on the bright side, Phil,” Michael managed to put all the malice he felt into the one word, “your book just got a lot more valuable.”
The young Doctor’s jaw worked up and down a moment before he took the hint and backed out the door, slamming it shut behind him. An offended silence hung in the air. Michael breathed it in and let it escape. It was petty, but so was Phil. He massaged his chest around the left breast where the tumor was supposed to be gnawing at his core. Absently, he noted that the flesh was slightly puffy and sore.
‘Malignant cancers,” Phil had said in his office more than an hour ago, “are cells that have gone out of control. Benign tumors are little more than nature’s mistakes, they have a membrane that separates them from the other organs, the only danger they present is by squeezing the organs nearby and taking up room. Malignant tumors grow and infect the cells around them, destroy tissue and can spread to unrelated places in the body. The ultimate disease, it just keeps eating until a vital organ fails, then you die.”
He rubbed his sore chest more vigorously. A slight pain rocketed down his left arm. The pang of guilt over Michael’s insult evaporated, remembering Phil’s child-like glee as he glorified the disease and almost gloated over the condemned. Maybe if he hadn’t stabbed him with the pen…
Something clutched Michael’s heart in a vise and began to crush it. Blood pounded through his ears. A blink, momentary darkness, then he was staring at the ceiling. Glaring white fluorescence stung his eyes. Agony exploded down his nerves, fire wiped his mind clean of rational thought. Later, he was never able to remember if he had screamed.
Michael woke to suffocating darkness. Cold burned his back, his right toe was numb, but the rest of his body was encompassed by… something. If he didn’t know better, Michael would have said it was a sheet of plastic. At least it felt like plastic.
His bones creaked in protest as he tried to sit up, but every movement seemed to be constrained by the plastic sheet. Cold metal stung his nose. He reached up to his face and pushed the covering away, digging his nails into the fabric. It split immediately, cold light gushed through the crack, blinding him.
Michael groaned, the light was unbearably bright. The glare permeated the space outside, appearing as an endless void of white to his eyes. Slowly, shapes came into focus. Black blurs became bags. Bags lying on steel tables, neatly aligned in straight rows. White tiled walls were lit by halogen lamps on a pure white ceiling. Spotless, powder green, linoleum covered the floor.
“T-the morgue.” Michael stuttered. He had written this place, oh how many times? He had never visited one. Now he was a guest of honor.
“They think I’m dead.” He observed, still in shock. He pulled his aching legs out of the bag and looked down at himself. The only item of clothing he had left was the toe tag that cut into the flesh of his right foot. His nails, both toe and finger, had darkened to a purple-black and seemed… longer, sharper than they were before. His skin, never graced with the healthiest of tans, was now china white and appeared totally devoid of life, though that might have been the glare of the lamps. His muscles felt wrong. Like liquid. The sensation was shared by his gut.
A lump rose in his throat a moment before he vomited once more, except more than bile and blood poured fourth. Dark, shriveled, chunks of flesh bounced across the tiles. His stomached contracted and heaved, losing girth with each convulsion as what was left of his innards were expelled from his mouth. Another great heave literally sucked his genitals into the void in his abdomen, bones and muscles popped and cracked as his hips split in half momentarily before reforming into a slightly wider configuration.
When the convulsions stopped, Michael’s knees collapsed, sending him sprawling into the dark purple mess on the floor, gasping for breath. Against all reason, he reached out and pulled himself across the cold floor into a corner, curling into a whimpering ball.
Some time passed before he regained his senses. Small things came into perspective first, like his legs. They were quite a bit longer than they had been, making them easy to tuck under his chin. His chest itched. His skin felt soft and smooth. His hair was plastered to the back of his neck, much longer than he’d ever worn it in his entire life. His stomach still churned and bubbled, but the need to retch was greatly diminished. Slowly, he decided to open his eyes.
The sight that greeted him was disgusting to say the least. Unfolding from his fetal position, Michael felt the stickiness of the congealing purple blood that covered his front. In the darkened corner, he noted that his first observation had been correct, he really was completely hairless below the neck and white as fine bone china. His stubble had vanished. Even the gaping hole in his crotch was entirely devoid of hair.
As he took all this in, something in the back of his mind clicked and all the tension washed out of his limbs. A comforting lightness washed over his body as an ache developed in his stomach. He felt a grin stretch across his face as he hopped lightly to his feet, much easier than he had ever done in his life. The constant pains of his old body were washed away, all those small imperfections that had nagged him every day of his life melted into nothingness.
Michael tip-toed through the mess on the floor towards a small mirror hanging on the opposite wall. His face had changed as well. Thinner, his cheekbones slightly more prominent, his chin came to an elegant point. His eyes were sharp and penetrating, set into the dark circles that surrounded them. His iris glowed a malevolent blood red while his pupils were slit like a cats. His lips pouted slightly, enough to be called cute if they hadn’t taken on a deep black coloration of their own, matching her new velvety hair.
“Great, I’m a Goth.” Michael said to his reflection, watching the strange creature’s lips move at his command. He held a hand up in front of his face, noticing how thin and delicate it seemed, the long claw-like black nails adding a dangerous element as he waved to himself. He looked down, “Herself. That’s definitely a girl down there.” He didn’t have breasts yet, but the absence between his legs put paid to any arguments to the contrary.
He looked back up at the face in the mirror, and took a deep breath, “That is me. That is what I look like now. I am a girl. This is not a dream, it is happening to me now, so what do I do next?”
The mantra seemed to help him… her (she corrected herself) cope a bit better. Aside from the blood crusting down her front, the hunger building in her stomach and the trauma of barfing up her own lungs (literally), she felt good. She marveled at how light she was on her feet, how free from constraint.
A burble in her abdomen urged her to seek out food quickly. After a quick rinse in a nearby sink, she spotted a light cotton sheet draped over one of the other bodies. “Sorry, pal, but I’m sure you won’t be needing this.” A quick flick of the wrist liberated the sheet and it was wrapped around her new assets (undeveloped though they were) a few moments later.
The hallway outside the morgue was surprisingly dark. A cursory glance out of a small, high, window told her it was nighttime once more. How long have I been out? Michael wondered, A day? Two at the most. Absently, Michael realized that she didn’t exactly know what happened to dead people if there were no next of kin to collect them. “There might be a book in that.” She whispered to herself.
The end of the hallway opened into a small waiting area, with a few chairs, a coffee table and… “Jackpot!” She grinned. Two vending machines dominated the west wall, one contained chips and candy bars, the other soda pop. Her elation lasted a moment before she realized that she didn’t have any money, let alone change. She scowled as another, more insistent, growl issued from her stomach. “Wait one second, will you?” She admonished it, looking around for something she could use.
The hunger grew. She didn’t want to make too much noise, so she tried scratching the perspex window. Aside from a few small furrows, no luck. She rocked the machine slightly, hoping that some loose item would fall. She felt ravenous. She could smell the chocolate on the other side of the window, wafting through the dispenser tray. Frustrated, she punched the plastic.
The window shattered. Clear plastic scattered across the floor, the machine rocked backward on its feet before settling back with a jolt. Michael blinked. “I didn’t punch it that hard.”
“FREEZE! Don’t move!”
The voice was panicked, fearful. It was a man’s voice, though unused to issuing commands, it wavered. Michael slowly turned to find a trembling Uni boy wearing a security guard’s uniform. He pointed a revolver straight at Michael’s heart. “I’ll use this! Don’t make me…”
She raised her hands slowly, “I’ve already died once today. Don’t…”
The gun went off. Time seemed to slow for Michael, not just figuratively, but actually. The bullet rocketed from the barrel and whizzed past her head, slamming through the metal plated side of the other vending machine. Soda pop gushed from the wound. The second, third and fourth bullets burst through Michael’s right hip, abdomen and shoulder, tearing out great chunks of flesh and bone. She fell back, but caught the side of the vending machine before toppling to the floor. The fifth and sixth shots flew wild, shattering a window further down the hallway.
Michael looked up. Black blood poured from her wounds, staining the sheet, but she was still standing. She saw red, a growl escaped from the back of her throat. The kid was still panicking, plucking the shells from his revolver one by one rather than emptying it all at once onto the floor. Michael could smell his blood, hear it pumping through his heart at a hundred miles an hour. Several colors fought in his aura for dominance, hot red fear winning out over cool blue, alongside veins of purple running throughout.
Michael felt his body move by itself. In a blink, the gun was battered out of the guard’s hand, spent cartridges scattered across the floor. His scream for help was cut off as Michael’s teeth lengthened into fangs and sank deeply into the guard’s throat. Sweet blood pumped down her throat as she sucked on the wound, plunging her tongue deep into the guard’s chest cavity to ravage the blood rich organs within.
She watched his aura flow from his body and into hers along with his blood. The taste of him, his blood, his hormones: testosterone, adrenaline; sent a thrill through her body. She felt hot and flushed. Something screamed at her from the back of her mind but her body wouldn’t stop until the last drop left her victim. The guard simply crumpled into a pile of clothes and blue-green dust when she let go.
When reality returned to Michael, she screamed. Blood flowed from her eyes when she cried, rather than salty water. She ran howling from the scene, unable to bare the sight of the damning pile of ash before her.
Dawn found Michael on the rooftop of an apartment building, now completely naked. The sheet had fallen from her in an alleyway more than an hour ago. Despite her horror, the telltale itch on her skin reminded her to look for shade. The itch gave way to a burn as the sun rose above the horizon.
A sharp blow to the lock forced the door of the air conditioning shed to give way, allowing Michael access to the shade inside. She slammed the entranceway shut behind her and wedged it closed with a small table before falling onto the floor in despair. The weeping started again. It was hours later that it stopped.
The strange lightness and calm had given way to heat. She could feel, and sometimes see, things shifting under her skin. Tendrils squirmed just below the membrane; her nails grew, becoming more and more like claws. Strangely, her teeth had regained their original length and shape, though her incisors seemed to be slightly longer and sharper than they had been. Her hair continued to grow, at times she could almost feel it. She also found that she was shrinking, her bones cracked and re-formed every now and again, particularly her spine. The heat spread out from her crotch, causing a tingle of pleasure throughout her body, particularly in the chest area. Try as she might, Michael couldn’t help groaning in ecstasy as her new body bloomed.
When it was over, pleasure gave way to rage. She looked down at herself in disgust. All the marks of her fight… no, the slaughter of the guard were gone without a trace. The bullet holes had simply closed themselves, without even a single scar. Small, yet firm and shapely mounds graced her chest, the thing between her legs still pulsed with disgusting waves of pleasure, it seemed to Michael that it was smug, satisfied with its creation.
Wailing, Michael began to scratch and tear at her body, but each new wound sealed as quickly as it was opened. There were slight twinges, but nothing even close to the pain she felt she needed to wash the blood off her hands. In desperation, she searched the tiny room, finding to her delight a rusty old pocket knife. Clearing the workbench, she held her left hand flat on the gritty wooden surface and lifted the blade over her head.
Her finger was severed at the knuckle. Rather than a burst of blood and pain, there was a sting and a pop as the finger fell free. No blood, no fuss. Michael gasped in shock as a forest of small black tendrils erupted from the stump, tangling together, growing, merging and reforming into a new, perfect, finger. The old finger simply disintegrated into black ash as a fresh claw erupted from the tip of her new finger with obstinate finality.
Michael snorted to herself in disgust. “OK, I can take a hint,” She said to the empty air, “what the fuck do you want from me? I never wanted to kill anyone. I work hard, I pay taxes, I’ve done everything you’ve ever asked me to do. So God, why the fuck did I have to be the one to have to deal with this?”
Michael just curled up into a corner and tried to ‘sleep it off’, but she couldn’t. She wasn’t even tired. Her sleeplessness led to melancholy, brooding thoughts. She couldn’t punish herself enough for the death of the guard. Besides, as soon as she was caught, the cops would take care of that for her. All she had to do was wait. “I must have left a trail wide as an elephant,” she reassured herself, “they’ll come and take me to jail, or kill me. It’s what I deserve. They’ll find the sheet, that should lead them up here.”
She looked at her hand, “Gunshots won’t work, knives won’t work. Maybe fire. Or gas. Acid or something. There’s got to be a way, I’ve got to end it before I kill someone again.”
She breathed deeply once, calming her nerves, trying to think, “Hang on, I don’t want to die. If I did, I could just drag myself out into the sunlight, maybe that’d do it. But I don’t want to die. I’ve been holding on for too long, I promised her I wouldn’t. But I can’t kill again, I don’t want to kill again. I’m so confused.”
Michael was crying again. “STOP IT!” She growled at herself, “Crying never solved anything. You’re not going to die, by your own hand or anyone else’s. It’s time to stop crying and start thinking. Right, you killed the security guard, but he fired on you without provocation. Even if you did look a bit scary, that’s no excuse. It’s unfortunate that he’s dead, but it was self defense, maybe you can make it up somehow later. Right now, you’re naked, have turned into a girl but gained vampiric mutant powers. No money, no resources, no clothes and you’re covered in blood. Face it, you need help. But who in their right mind will want to help you?”
She mulled that one over for a bit. “Nobody. I’ll have to help myself. First I need clothes, then money. If I get hungry again, I’ll find a stray cat or something. No human, never again. But all that can wait for the sun to go down.”
Michael shook herself to sweep away the memories of the security guard, and settled in to wait out the sun. No cops came. No maintenance crew, no super heroes. Finally, the sun crept below the horizon and Michael was able to leave the shelter. She moved quickly and quietly down the fire escape. A light was on in the top story apartment, along with the stereo, so she bypassed it to the next floor which seemed to be dark. She had to break the window to unlatch the lock, and entered quickly before anyone would notice.
Though it was dark, Michael found she could see perfectly well in the dim light, thanks to her new eyes, she guessed. She found herself in the master bedroom, the sheets of the king-sized double bed stank of booze and sweat. Clothes, male and female, were strewn about the room. Grinning again, Michael opened the cupboard and rifled through the clean clothes, searching for something he could wear. She discarded the bras, all were too large for her anyway, but found a lacy pair of panties that were only one size too big, and slipped those on. A set of Capri’s that were baggy and reached down to mid calf covered most of her legs at least. A pink shirt that fit her like a tent, one shoulder poking out of the neck, at least made her decent.
Michael jumped. An eleven year old kid stood in the doorway. His clothes, a dirty Power Rangers T-shirt with holes across the hemline and ancient jeans without the knees, didn’t fit him well, the top of his undies plainly visible where the pants sagged around his hips.
“Uh…” Michael grimaced. “How long have you been there, kid?”
“Don’t worry, miss, I didn’t look much.” He smiled.
Michael felt her cheeks flush in embarrassment. “Much?”
He continued before she could say anything else, “Are you a Goth? That pink t-shirt doesn’t look that good on you.”
“Uh…” Was all Michael could manage.
“You could borrow a black shirt of mine. It might still be a bit small, but you’re thin, so it should be alright.”
Michael blinked. “Uh, kid, you do know I’m robbing the place.”
The kid scratched the back of his neck, “It’s no sweat, just my foster parent’s stuff you’ve got there. I’ve run away a couple’ times myself, so I know how it is. Who took your clothes? Oh, no, forget I asked, it don’t matter. C’mon, their jewelry’s in the box under the bed, you can pawn that to get you started. I’ll get that shirt, you can wait here.”
All Michael could do was stare at the empty space in the doorway and blink after what was THE strangest conversation of her entire life. A second later it occurred to Michael that the kid was probably phoning the police, so she sprinted after him.
She found him in his room, searching through a pile of ‘clean’ clothing. “Here it is, try that on for size.” He threw the plain black T-shirt to the girl and turned his back. Michael felt guilty, so she decided to try it on. Surprisingly, it fit perfectly.
“Just how small am I?” Michael asked herself.
“Not too big, I’ll say. Bit on the scrawny side, but, hey, my dad always told me to look out for girls. Oh, and I think I have a message for you.”
Michael blinked again as the kid rummaged through his backpack on the floor, pulling out a black and white business card. The logo on the top left spelt ARC, underneath it read Arkham Research Consortium. The card belonged to Dr. Donna Bell, senior case worker, and listed two phone numbers and an e-mail address. Both numbers included area codes for the United States. On the back was scrawled in hasty handwriting: There’s no shame in calling for help. Nothing that has happened was accidental. Be careful, Mrs. P.
“What’s your name, kid?”
“Who gave you this, Gary?”
Gary scratched the back of his head again, “It was a bit weird. This old-ish woman in a floral print dress came up to me in the park about three or four days ago. She gave me fifty bucks and told me that I’d meet a good looking Goth chick in a few days, or somthin’ like that. Made me promise to give you that. Never gave me her name, but I thought what the heck, it was a free fifty. Then there you are in Bob and Sally’s room, clear as day. You really freaked me out, you know.”
“I freaked you out?”
Just then, we both jumped as the front door burst open. “HEY GARY, you worthless piece of crap, didn’t I tell you to take the garbage out today?”
“Shit,” Gary whispered before raising his voice, “I’ll get right to it Dad.”
Gary turned back to me, dropping into a whisper again, “Back from the pub early. Whatever happens, stay here. Alright? I’ll be fine.”
Gary closed the door behind him. A moment later, the stepfather’s voice rang out again, “Where the fuck were you?”
“I just got back. I haven’t had time to do it yet…”
“Don’t you lie to me you little bastard.”
The meaty sound of flesh striking flesh set her blood racing again. She fought the red haze that was slowly trying to cloud her vision. The second grunt of pain caused something inside Michael to snap.
Calmly, Michael stepped out into the corridor. Bob stood over Gary’s crumpled body, giving the lump another swift kick, receiving a screech of pain in response.
“Let that be a lesion to yer.” Bob slurred, taking a sip from the bottle of Foster’s Red in his left hand. He looked up at Michael drunkenly. His aura was a sickly green clashed with angry red. Michael felt the hair on the back of her neck rise in anger and hatred. She took a single step towards the giant of a man.
“Who the fuck are you? One of Sally’s friends? Get back onter the street with yer, this shithead’s too young.” The bastard chuckled at his ‘joke’.
Michael smiled, “I’m not here for him…”
She hoped that she was managing to sway her slender hips seductively as she sashayed over to the reeking drunkard. Slowly she ran a hand down his chest, toward his crotch, pressing her body against his. His breath stank, but he was breathing heavier. Purple lust overcame his aura, he reached for her…
And screamed falsetto as Michael sunk his claws deeply into Bob’s crotch.
Bob went wild, slapping her face. Red welts swelled across her cheek and faded almost immediately, not even managing to wipe the toothy grin off her face. Finally letting go of Bob’s manhood, Michael switched targets, choking off his air supply by grasping his throat, forcing the big man to his knees, bringing the two eye to eye.
“That was three shots on a helpless little kid, you fucking coward.” Michael growled. She felt the hunger well up from her stomach, tiny tendrils wormed their way out of her skin to lap up the blood that dribbled from under the tips of her claws. She couldn’t resist, she bent forward and kissed him full on the lips, her tongue snaked down his throat. Tentacles sprouted from her arms, back and chest, penetrating the bastard’s skin with the fanged maws at their tips, burrowing deeper.
As the last of Bob’s aura faded, he too fell to dust. Michael spat on the remains as her tentacles retracted. Gary wheezed on the floor, trying to laugh, “Take that, bitch.”
“We need to get you to a hospital.” Michael whispered urgently as she tried to prop up her companion. Gary was looking the worse for wear, with a black eye and two great bruises across his stomach. They sat in a back alley far away from Gary’s old apartment, the green of Hyde park visible far down the road. Banners lined the long, deserted, thoroughfare, depicting a strange stone idol as the centerpiece of the museum’s latest exhibition of indigenous art.
Gary pressed an ice compact to the fresh bruises (bought from a petrol station with his step parent’s newly pawned jewelry), “Nah, I’ve taken a lot worse from Bob over the last year. Never would take me to the hospital, even for the cuts on my back.”
Curious, Michael lifted the back of his shirt. The young boy’s back was a criss-cross of white scar tissue. “I wish I had your powers though. Does it hurt when someone hits you?”
Michael shook his head, “Not any more, not really. I cut my finger off this morning and all I felt was a twinge.”
“SHIT! Which finger?”
Michael showed him.
“Hey, do you watch the news?” Michael asked.
“Nah, I don’t got no time for that stuff. School, y’know. Why?”
Michael sighed, “Something happened at the hospital today. I was involved, I was just wondering if you’d heard anything.”
“Nah, just that Michael Waite had a heart attack yesterday. Big blow to the writing community and all that. Hey what’s your name?”
“M-,” Michael stopped for a second before changing his mind, “Sara.”
“Sara? That’s a little strange isn’t it?” Gary looked puzzled.
Sara shrugged, “It was my mother’s name. Our family comes from the States.”
“Where’s your mom, then?”
“Dead. Cancer.” Sara said simply. She’d gotten over it a long time ago.
Gary nodded, “My parents were mutants. They got into the whole hero gig, like the Grey Wizard and the Outback Avenger. Then they crossed Deathlist over in Germany.”
Sara winced. Deathlist was known as one of the most deadly super villains of the age, his world record body count of heroes in his path remained unmatched, but had forced him to lie low for several years. He was now one of the most wanted villains in the world, with a bounty of no less than two billion dollars on his head, dead or alive.
“They didn’t come home, neither did their team. The government put me up for adoption, and I’ve been bouncing from home to home ever since.”
“What were their codenames?”
“Ergo and Magna. Dad could skip through time for a limited duration, sorta like a warper. Villains couldn’t pin him down and several of him could punch a guy out at once. Mom could manipulate the earth’s magnetic field and electricity. Fry computers, levitate metal objects, that sort of thing. There wasn’t enough left of them to bring home, so they set up a little marker on the War Memorial in Canberra, next to the grave of the unknown soldier. The bank foreclosed on our house and sold all of our belongings, the rest was put into a trust account I can’t access until I’m 18. Blah, blah, blah, well that’s my sob story.” He shrugged, an almost wistful expression crossed his face, “But the laugh’s on them, Sara. Both my parents were mutants, and so was my grandpa. That means, if being a mutant is genetic like most people think, I’ve got about an 80% chance of being a mutant too. Then I’ll be able to do something real, I’ll save the Earth, I’ll track down Deathlist once and for all. They’ll all regret forgetting about me then, won’t they?”
Sara just sat there, too stunned to answer.
“I wish I was like you, Sara.” Gary sighed. “You’ve got the power, you have the strength to do something with it. Bob must have beat me up every second day for the last year. I swore that I’d stand up to him every single day. But he was just too strong. He was like Deathlist, only smaller. Someone, anyone, needs to do something about those sorts of people everywhere. Someone has to sort them out. The cops won’t do it, the social workers are a joke. Super heroes are too busy with the big fish to worry about people like Bob. I wanted to kill Bob in his sleep a thousand times, but I could never do it. I’m too weak.”
Sara sighed. “Maybe I’m the one that’s weak.”
Gary looked up at her with a weary, disbelieving stare.
“My real name is Michael Waite. Yesterday I had a heart attack and died.”
“No shit?” Gary whispered hoarsely.
Sara shook her head. They were walking again, toward a chemist. Gary really needed some disinfectant for his bruises, one of them had ruptured.
“Look, if half of what you’ve just told me is true, then you’re going through some pretty fucked up shit right now. But look, keep your head. Bob was an asshole with a capital ‘A’. His wife? Sally? She’s out tonight turning tricks for him. If she doesn’t, he’d beat the snot out of her like he did to me. Straight up, the world won’t miss him.” Gary paused. “As for the guard, he shot you first. I don’t know about you, but if it’s a choice between me or my friends and the other guy, it’s the other guy plain and simple. Cop or not, that’s the way of the world.”
Sara let that one go. It was a child’s view of the world, too neat and too simple. There was some merit in what he said, but there were higher sets of laws to follow. Laws not written on paper.
The door beeped as they made their way through. Sara grabbed a small bottle of disinfectant and a bottle of water from the fridge while Gary went and sat down again on one of the waiting chairs. The only other customer was a tall guy in a brown leather bomber jacket and jeans, who seemed engrossed in what type of condoms he should buy. A thirty-something man in a lab coat manned the counter and seemed engrossed in something on Sara’s shirt. His orange aura was encompassed by purple, which strengthened as she walked forward. His gaze dropped as she approached, apparently he had a hard time looking at her face.
Sara dropped the two items on the counter as hard as she could. The noise startled him out of his reverie. “OH! I-I’m sorry, miss, Um…”
“Just those two things thanks.” She cut him off reaching into her pockets. Out of the corner of her eye, Sara caught a glimpse of a girl peeking over the barricade that separated the prescription drugs from the rest of the store. Her aura was bright purple as well.
“Uh… that’ll be eight forty-five, miss.” The counter clerk interrupted.
“We’ll grab two packets of these as well.” Two packets of Titan ribbed condoms bounced off the bottle of disinfectant. I looked up as a muscled arm encased in brown leather closed over my shoulder. The guy was unshaven yet handsome in a GQ kind of way. His boyish grin widened as he let his jacket fall open revealing a gold detective’s shield hanging out of the pocket. Sara noticed that he too had a purple tinge over a blue and green aura. “I’ve missed you all day, Waite.”
Sara decided to play along, snuggling into his side, “I’ve missed you too, big boy.”
The clerk’s face dropped. Sara broke out into a grin, she had an idea, “Oh, don’t be so gloomy, boy.” She reached out across the counter and pulled his chin close, “Hmmm, I’ve been dying for some two on one action. How about we sneak into the back room for a minute or two and you give us this stuff free of charge? Whata ya say?”
The lick Sara gave him with the tip of her tongue in the hollow underneath his bottom lip sealed the deal. It also caused the girl behind the barricade to fall over with a muffled squeak. A moment later, Sara was dragging the bewildered detective into the back room while the clerk led the way, carrying the bottle of water in her other hand. She absently noticed that Gary slipped into the room behind them before the door closed.
She whipped the bottle up across the back of the clerk’s head before he could turn around, sending him sprawling unconscious to the floor.
Sara turned slowly around to see Gary pressing his index finger into the small of the detective’s back. The detective was frozen halfway between drawing his gun.
“You know the drill. Two fingers, slowly draw the weapon and drop it to the floor.” Gary sounded as if he’d done this all before.
The detective complied. Chrouching slowly, Gary picked up the automatic cannon and worked his way around beside Sara. “Thanks for the gun, dude.”
The detective snarled at the kid. Sara interrupted the impending tirade, “OK, who are you, what do you want and why on earth would I ever consider having sex with you?” She tried to put as much disgust as she could into the words, but her heart wasn’t really in it. As much as she tried to deny her feelings, he was cute.
“I’m here to bring you in.”
Gary snorted, “Fat chance.”
“Look, I’m Detective Nathan Coleman, Homicide. There are elements in both the government and private interests that are sparing no expense to track you down and eliminate you at this very moment. Those classified as dangerous mutants are to be confined or exterminated if the danger they represent manifests as an inherent part of their powers.”
“What?” Gary’s eyebrow twitched.
“He’s saying that the government wants me dead because I’ve eaten people.” Sara translated from bureaucratic to English.
Nathan nodded, “I’m here to make sure they don’t get you. Look, I know I’m probably the last person you should trust but... oh, hell, I don’t think you’re dangerous, Mr. Waite.”
“Call me Sara. Mister doesn’t really fit with this body.”
The purple aura brightened as a grin split Nathan’s face, “I noticed.”
Sara sighed, “Why is this happening to me? OK, give me a reason to trust you.”
“I was one of the investigating officers on the morgue. Black blood, the dust on the floor, we knew this was either a mutant attack or a hoax. The security cameras in the morgue and along the hallway were off during the hour of your escape, which we found kind of strange. At first, Forensics thought your blood was motor oil, like robot’s servos or something, until closer examination revealed that it was mostly like blood, except it didn’t contain iron and didn’t have a known blood type. Immediately, the mutant alarms went off. We tried to track you down, but only got as far as a sheet covered in blood down a back alley, the dogs couldn’t pick up your trail.”
Sara nodded, “I think I went up. I was a bit distraught.”
Nathan grimaced, “We’d lost you, anyway. We found the mess you made in the morgue and your toe-tag in the hallway, so we knew that, against all odds, Michael Waite had risen from the dead. The strangest thing was the gun we found on the floor, no-one in the building at that time was licensed to carry a firearm. Additionally, a second man had entered the building approximately an hour beforehand. We caught him entering the parking lot on the secret surveillance camera across the road. It was a rented car, so we tracked it back to its hire company. Guess what? The clerk at the desk that morning could remember every detail about renting the car, except exactly who rented it. The paperwork wasn’t signed, but he swore blind that they both sat there that morning and did it. A trip to a specialist later and we were convinced that a second mutant, probably a super villain, had altered the minds of the employees of the rental agency and Mr. Mullins, the security guard at the morgue, causing him to empty the revolver at you and provoke a reaction. We guessed that the revolver had been brought along by this villain. You did react, but whatever you did caused the asshole to leave the area in a big hurry, we’ve got that on tape as well.”
Nathan paused, waiting for an explanation. Sara didn’t know what to say, so she shrugged, “What I did scared the shit out of me. If it did the same to someone else, it’s no surprise.”
“What did you do? The eggheads think you used a disintegration ray of some sort, all that they found was constituent salts throughout his uniform.”
“I suck the life out of people. It’s not pretty.” Sara grimaced. Gary kept his eyes square on Nathan, holding the gun steady, “So, what brought you here? We didn’t know we were coming here until five minutes ago. And how’d you know that she was Michael Waite? You said yourself that you didn’t have a picture.”
Nathan scratched his head, slowly, “Well, that’s where this story gets weird. A few hours ago, my partner and I were stumped. We had no leads, no idea where you were, so we hauled ass back to base to report to the captain. And low and behold, we find the MCO all over our desks.”
“Mutant Commission Office.” Nathan supplied, “An international agency funded by America, seconded to the CIA, ASIO, MI6 and others rather than the state police forces or interpol, but in reality is an autonomous agency. They handle various mutant education and relocation programs, but they’re the ones who the government holds in reserve in case the mutants decide to take over the world, or some nonsense. In the meantime, they sharpen their skills by hunting down dangerous new mutants like yourself. Most are norms with a chip on their shoulder, others are mutants who hate their own kind for one reason or another, or just like killing things.”
“So,” Nathan continued, “the case is out of our hands. Deputy Director Loman, the MCO hardman, says the word and we’re off. Raised voices are exchanged and then raised fists. I broke his nose. So, I’m suspended for four months, while my partner gets a desk job. He’s got a wife and kids, so I tell him to leave it to me. Despite that, I found myself in the Krispy Kreme in Bondi Junction sipping coffee, trying to figure out where the hell you could be when, lo and behold, this old lady sits opposite me. She says hi like we’ve known each other for years. Then she spills the beans, she says ‘Michael Waite will be visiting this chemist at exactly 1:16 with an eleven year old boy called Gary. He’ll look a bit different, but don’t worry, it’ll be him. Then she left a business card on the desk, got up and said, ‘Tell her that her choices do matter’. So, I came and I was waiting and there you were right on time. Was that message for you?”
“I think so,” Sara nodded, “put the gun down, we can trust him, Gary. Who’d believe a crazy story like that except us?”
“What was it about?” Nathan pressed.
“My last story. I was writing it, day before last.” Was it really that short a time ago? She asked herself. “It was about the future, destiny and helplessness. If a being can tell the future perfectly, then it is undefeatable because it knows all moves in advance. Thus, destiny exists because there are no other choices, and all mortals cling to an illusion of choice simply to perpetuate their existence. Therefore, what we do doesn’t matter, because it will happen anyway if we like it or not. But now…” Sara trailed off.
“I don’t believe it. This Ms. P seems to be a friendly mutant trying to help me. Either way, she can tell the future, and can change it. That’s obvious because she gave both of you notes letting you know what to do in order to help me. That means she has a choice, she could help me, or she could leave me. Therefore, she’s telling me that we do have free will and I don’t have to be a killer.”
Nathan and Gary stared at her, speechless. Then, they looked at each other and shrugged.
“If you say so…” They both said in unison.
Nathan’s car was a beat up old Ford Falcon, from before the turn of the millennium. He’d parked it straight across the road from the chemist. Sara filled Nathan in on the events of the afternoon while she disinfected Gary’s wounds.
“Bob? Bob and Sally Thomas? I know those names.” Nathan snarled. “Bob’s… er, was a small time pusher. Sold dope outside the local high school. Too small to fry, but god knows vice won’t miss him. How the fuck did he get custody of a kid?”
Sara glanced out the back window.
“No prior convictions.” Gary winced.
“Shit.” Nathan summed it up.
Sara took another glance out the back window. “Nathan? You see the car, black sedan, tinted windows, Canberra plates in the left hand lane, 20 feet back?”
Nathan adjusted the rear vision mirror, “Yeah.”
“That car was parked six cars behind yours at the chemist’s. It’s been following us for the last fifteen minutes.”
Nathan glanced at the mirror again, “You sure?”
Sara nodded, “There’s a white scratch on the right hand side near the rear wheel.”
“Now that’s a catch.” Nathan whistled. “You both got your seatbelts on?”
Gary nodded, “Yeah, why?”
In answer, Nathan planted his foot down and twisted the wheel, rocketing over the meridian, tires screeching, into the oncoming traffic. Sara and Gary screamed as the car left the road, leaping into mid air over the off ramp into the city. As the car straightened out, Sara whipped her head around in time for the sedan to copy their maneuver. “They’re right behind us, Nathan.”
Nathan weaved through the traffic, “How the fuck did he know? How could he have known?”
“You’re bugged,” Sara surmised, “It’s the only possible explaination.”
The back window shattered, a millisecond later the sound of gunfire echoed down the freeway. “Who the fuck are these guys? There’s civies all over the place!” Nathan yelled.
“We’ve got to lose these creeps,” Sara answered as the tire on the car next to theirs exploded, sending it spinning out of control, “get to a less populated area.”
“Easier said than done, got any bright ideas?”
Two more bullets pinged off the trunk.
“The Harbour, up ahead,” Sara suggested, “ditch the car, we can swim for it. If any of us are bugged, the water will take care of it.”
“That’s crazy.” Nathan answered.
“You got a better idea?”
Blood spattered her skin. But it wasn’t her own dark ichor. It was red. Gary stared at his chest in shock, a small hole was torn through his chest just beneath the collar bone. A second hole punched through the front window, sending a cobweb of cracks throughout the pane.
“GARY! NO!” Sara screeched, pressing her hands firmly over the bullet hole to staunch the blood flow. Gary’s eyes rolled up into the back of his head.
“HOLD ON!” Nathan yelled. Sara looked up in time to see the hood crash over the side of a bridge and dark blue water rush up to meet them.
The impact and water pressure simply ripped the weakened front windshield apart, sending small shards of glass through the cabin. Water filled the space in moments. Sara hardly noticed the impact, but Nathan seemed to be dazed. Taking the initiative, she used her claws to shred their seatbelts apart, freeing the captives. With Nathan firmly in one hand, and Gary’s limp form in the other, she kicked out the back window towards the light of the city, the current whipped them away.
By the time the group surfaced, the bridge was nowhere to be seen. Nathan spluttered as the cold air hit his face. “Did it work?”
Sara was too busy dragging Gary to shore to bother looking, more worried about sharks than gunshots with Gary’s blood in the water. A second later, Nathan was helping her, “What the hell happened to him?”
“He got shot right before we took a dive. They got him.”
Nathan took off his jacket and laid it on the muddy bank, giving the eleven year old something to lie on. Sara obliged, ripping Gary’s shirt away from the wound and compressing the wads of cloth on both sides of the gaping hole, front and back. Nathan checked the kid’s pulse, then put an ear to his chest. “He’s not breathing.”
Nathan put his lips to the boy’s mouth, breathing forcefully into his lungs. A second later, Gary spluttered, spitting water out onto the ground. Sara laughed with joy.
“S-Sara? We get away?” Gary groaned hoarsely.
“Yeah, yeah we did Gary. We made it.” She smiled down at him.
“You’re really beautiful, you know.”
“You’re the first person who was ever there when I needed help, y’know?” The kid coughed up some blood, “My Mom and Dad, they were great and all, but they were always fighting crime. Going after the bad guys. I was an afterthought. They weren’t there, then they died and couldn’t be there. My foster parents? I was a convenience. A tax break, a scam. When I wasn’t, they hit me. They weren’t there for me. You were.”
Sara’s black tears dripped onto Gary’s chest. Gary smiled, “Don’t cry, Sara. Hey, Nathan, you believe in anything? Y’know, like the hereafter? Go to church?”
Nathan paused for a moment, then shook his head, “Not for a long time. When you see the things people do to each other, like I have… you kinda lose faith. But, yeah, I do believe. I have to, or I’d stop trying.”
Gary smiled weakly, “Good, that’s how I feel sometimes. It’s hard holding onto that hope isn’t it? I’ve always liked the idea of reincarnation. You know about that? When your spirit comes back for another chance? I’d like that.”
Nathan nodded, “Sounds pretty good to me.”
“Hey, Sara?” Gary whispered.
“Think next time you could be my mommy?”
“I promise, Gary, I promise.”
Sara lent forward to kiss the dying boy on the forehead. His body collapsed into blue ash and was swept away by the breeze.
Chapter 2: The Covenant of ARC.
Sara stumbled through the undergrowth behind Nathan as he led her through the waterside park. It’d taken her some time to calm down after Gary’s death, and a bit longer to dry off their clothes. Try as he might, Nathan couldn’t find a bug anywhere, even checking his underwear for wires. “Must have been on the car,” Nathan continually muttered to himself, “Must have been on the car.”
Sara could tell that Nathan was having a hard time as well. After breaking down on the beach, She felt numb to it all. She didn’t like the feeling. “I should be feeling something now. What am I missing?”
Nathan glanced over his shoulder, “You’re exhausted. We’ve been shot at, fallen off a bridge and had a friend murdered. It doesn’t get rougher than that.”
“Unless you’re the one who killed him.” Sara retorted.
“Cut that out,” Nathan snapped, “in all of my career as a police officer, I’ve lost one partner. That was enough for me, I almost quit. I said the same things to myself, ‘I killed him’, ‘I should have been there’, ‘I could have saved him’. And maybe if things had been different, yeah, he might be alive. You like to talk about choice? Try this one: he made his choice to be with us tonight, knowing that it was dangerous. But the killer made the choice to pull the trigger. The best we can do now is honor what Gary died for and find his killer.”
“I sucked out his soul!” Sara screamed.
Nathan grabbed her shoulders, “You don’t know that! Besides, I daresay that kiss was the kindest thing that kid ‘d ever experienced. Now, come on, we’ve got to get you inside before dawn.”
It didn’t take us long to find a motel. Nathan sauntered up to the cashier as if he wore half-soaked clothing every day of his life. I kept my back to the window, trying to hide my new eyes.
The cashier seemed to be happy to accept cash. “That your daughter, sir?”
Nathan glanced over his shoulder, covering his double take, “Yeah. I was bringing her back from a costume party when our car broke down.”
“Oh. Bad luck, eh?”
“Yeah. Got that key for me?”
Sara kept Nathan between her and the clerk as they headed for the room, making sure that he didn’t get a good look at her face. She didn’t speak until the door was closed behind them, “Daughter? What on earth could have provoked that?”
Nathan stared at her for a minute before answering, “How long has it been since you’ve taken a good look at yourself in a mirror?”
“Er… I saw my face in the morgue, but… I guess I haven’t had a good look since this all started.”
Nathan shook his head, “Then you better take the first shower. Take your time, I’ll put the heater on and get the place warmed up.” He opened the cupboard, threw Sara a bathrobe, then put the ‘Do not disturb’ sign on the door handle.
At first, Sara tried to ignore the full length mirror to the rear of the bathroom, keeping her back to it while she stripped out of her ill-fitting clothes. She then screwed up her courage, turned and opened her eyes.
The person in the mirror was nothing like her old self. As Michael Waite, he’d been a 6 foot tall, gangly, 25 year old man with pasty yellow skin, hair from chest to crotch and no muscle tone to speak of. His hair had always been greasy and prone to split ends, and was never very lustrous or healthy. His condition had prevented him from getting any decent exercise, particularly because he’d never been able to stand sunlight for more than a few minutes at a time without heavy clothing, sunblock and glasses.
Sara, on the other hand, was slightly less than five foot tall, with perfect, hairless, white skin, slender yet well defined hips, delicate shoulders and kissable lips. Her legs were smooth and gracefully curved. Her stomach, while not ‘ripped’, was pleasantly toned as was the rest of her body. The line of her rib cage was visible beneath the swell of her small breasts. While too skinny to be a classic beauty, the girl Sara was staring at in the mirror had her own mysterious, dangerous, beauty. Even her dark nails, eyes and lips seemed to simply add to the look.
And she appeared to be about thirteen years old.
Sara stared for about five minutes before she shook herself and span to check her back. Her curves were far more visible from the side. Her back arched gracefully over her buttocks, which were slender and pert. This led her to lean forward to get a better look at her face, which had changed slightly over the last day. Her skin and bone structure had smoothed out, lending her features a much more feminine touch. She now had a small widow’s peak on her high brow. Her slender cheeks and pointed chin lent an aristocratic look, along with her cutely upturned nose.
She shook herself again. She was beautiful, certainly, but sinister. As hard as she rubbed, the black around her eyes and mouth wouldn’t come off. Her eyes themselves seemed to burn red in the dark pits of her eye sockets, framed by the black locks of her hair. They were more like the eyes of a cat, crossed with a lizard. Unnatural. Combined with her jutting canines, she looked like a vampire from a bad Hammer flick.
She sighed and stepped into the shower. The hot water running down the curves of her body was soothing and relaxing. She just let the water wash away all her worries and, for a while, forgot everything outside of the cubical.
Nathan fell off the bed when he saw Sara come out of the bathroom. She blushed and unconsciously tried to adjust the hem of the silk robe, which only reached to just above mid thigh. Blood pounded in her temples, “The guests must usually be a bit more racy around here.”
Nathan grinned, “I’m not complaining.”
Sara glared at him, “Aren’t I a bit young for you… daddy?”
Nathan chuckled, grabbed his robe and pushed past her into the bathroom door, “Just remember dear, daddy knows best.” He closed the door before she could retort.
Sara threw herself onto the bed and waited. The sound of spurting water preceded a sharp scream by only a millisecond.
“By the way, daddy,” Sara grinned wickedly, “I think I used the last of the hot water.”
Sara couldn’t sleep that day either. While Nathan slept, she unconsciously poked and prodded her body in various places. She could feel the tentacles underneath her skin, even make them ripple and move. She decided to test the limits of her control, concentrating, she made a tentacle pop out of her wrist. There was no pain or any unpleasant sensation. She made the tip sprout a fanged maw and throat, then a claw, then an eye. Startled, she found herself looking at herself from two different perspectives, and quickly retracted the tentacle. At least she knew she could do it.
The day passed slowly, so she decided to read some of the magazines on the bookshelf. Thirty minutes later, she had read everything in the room, including pamphlets and menus. “Nathan! Nathan!”
Nathan shot to his feet, yanking his gun out from under his pillow, “What! Where are they?”
“Not that,” Sara sighed, “come and check this out.”
Nathan groaned, putting his gun into the waistband of his jeans (he’d worn them to bed ‘just in case’). “Can’t this wait until tonight?”
“No, I’ve got to test this. Pick a book out of the book shelf and ask me a question from it.”
Nathan groaned, not in the mood, but complied, “OK. Page 151 of Natural Aromatherapy, third paragraph, second sentence.”
“Mixing different oils may have a less positive effect,” Sara quoted, “always test the solution before applying to the skin.”
Nathan plucked another book from the shelf, “Vittorio the Vampire, by Anne Rice. Page 35…”
“Has a squashed mosquito in the bottom right hand corner over the word ‘freebooter’.” Sara interrupted.
Nathan stopped. “Have you always had a photographic memory?”
Sara shook her head. “This is new to me. I couldn’t sleep, so I tried reading something. I’ve read everything on the shelf already.”
“Crap,” Nathan swore, “I’m not going to be able to sleep either now. When was the last time you got some kip?”
“Four or five days ago. If you don’t count being dead for a few hours.”
Nathan blinked. “Hardy-ha-ha. What the hell is going on with you?”
“I’ve been asking myself that for two days.” Sara sighed. “I think it might be time to call for help.”
“No way. I’m taking you in, the State Police can protect you, get to the bottom of this…”
Sara shook her head, “No they can’t. On the bright side, the guys that shot us yesterday and… killed Gary… were super villains, or their agents. Either way, there’s someone out there after me who can control people’s minds. The State doesn’t have a charter to go after SPB’s, they’re not equipped, that’s why they leave it to the hero teams or other agencies like the MCO. On the other hand, if the MCO are gunning for me as well, they might have been behind the attack on our car. They’re government, they had both the motive and opportunity to bug your car, and they don’t like mutants. The Police would probably just hand me over to them wrapped in a tight little bow.”
“You’ve gotta trust someone, Sara.” Nathan sighed.
“Yeah, I do.” Sara replied, “I trust you and I trust the old lady. It’s time to call Dr. Bell.”
Nathan fished the card out of Sara’s discarded capris, “Shit. Water’s destroyed it.”
“555 030 74698.” Sara quoted, tapping her temple.
Nathan passed across the phone, “You’re starting to enjoy this, aren’t you?”
“You have no idea.” Sara confirmed while she dialed the numbers. The phone rang three times before someone answered.
“Hello, Dr. Bell speaking.” The voice was of a young woman, probably in her late twenties.
“Doctor Bell? I…” Sara considered her choice of words for a moment. “I’m a mutant, I need your help.”
“Are you in immediate danger?”
“No, I don’t think so, but people have tried to kill me over the last two days.”
“Who gave you my number?”
“An older woman arranged for me to get your card yesterday. She called herself Ms. P.”
There was a pause. “Where are you now?”
Sara scoffed, “I’m not comfortable telling you that just yet.”
“Yes, I understand, I’m sorry. It’s just…” The voice sounded flustered, “I’m sitting in the car park of the Bay View Motel, Sydney. On the recommendation of a woman calling herself Mrs. P.”
Sara sighed. Her guardian angel seemed to have done it again. “We’re in room 9. Come on up.”
Nathan’s eyes almost popped out of his head when Doctor Donna Bell walked through the door. She was easily six foot tall, tanned skin and long blonde hair down to her waist, held in an attractive ponytail. Her smart business attire was conservative and tasteful, yet managed not to conceal any of her femininity, while her glasses simply screamed ‘brainiac’.
Sara casually snapped his jaw shut before he could start drooling and embarrass himself. “Doctor Bell, I presume? I apologize for the cliché, but it was all I could think of on short notice.”
Donna smiled, “Michael Waite. Honestly, you’re not what I was expecting. Was that a clichéd enough reply?”
Sara chuckled, “You’ll do nicely. Don’t you think so, Nathan?”
Nathan just nodded, not trusting his tongue yet.
“And please,” Sara continued, “call me Sara.”
Donna raised an eyebrow as she sat down, “Why not Michelle?”
Sara shrugged, “Seemed a little passé to use the feminine variation. Besides, Sara was my mother’s name, and she kept telling me that I looked much more like her than my father.”
The doctor took out her palm pilot and made a quick note, “I hope you don’t mind if I keep a record of this.”
“Not at all. Now, if you could explain to me what ARC is, who you are and why you decided to park outside this morning, I’d be very grateful.” Asking a laundry list of questions was starting to become easier the more she had to do it.
Donna chuckled, “Yes, of course. Forgive me. As you know, my name is Donna Bell and I am a field researcher for the Arkham Research Consortium, based in Arkham, Massachusetts. What that means is, I track down, aid and study mutants who find themselves in trouble. We are an international corporation with a world wide charter and deep connections with various other mutant groups. The majority of our sponsors are mutants or those related to mutants. We do liaise with various governments and attempt to influence mutant policy, but we are not a government agency.”
She took a deep breath, “I, myself, am a mutant, classified as an Exemplar 2. I was fortunate that my changes were wholly beneficial and not too far above the human norm. My parents switched my school and I went on to university, gaining a masters in both psychology and parapsychology from Miskatonic U. It was through my course in parapsyke that I came into contact with the mutant community and earned my place at ARC.”
Sara smiled, counting her questions off with her fingers, “Two down and one to go.”
Donna chuckled, making another note on her palm pilot, “Last, but not least, one of our major contributors decided to drop in on her way through from Boston a day or two ago. She came straight to my office and gave me very specific instructions on where I had to go and what would happen when I got here. So far, she hasn’t made a single mistake, and I can tell you, for a prognosticator, that’s pretty good.”
“Prognosticator?” Nathan asked.
“A mutant who predicts the future,” Sara supplied, “very rare. Most burn out after one or two manifestations. There are also Augers, but their gifts are usually more limited to yes, no or maybe answers.”
“Very good,” Donna clapped, “most teens that I work with don’t know the first thing about mutants. Shows what our education system is coming to.”
Sara blushed, “Er, Doctor, you do know who I am, don’t you?”
Donna tapped her chin with her finger, “No… I’m sorry, I don’t think I’ve heard your name before, though it does sound familiar.”
Sara sighed. Fame was a fickle thing, “I am… was, excuse me, Michael Waite, the writer.”
Donna just stared blankly.
“I wrote horror books. Like Stephen King? H.P. Lovecraft? Bram Stoker?”
Donna shook her head, “I’m sorry, I don’t really read fiction that much. Were you popular?”
“Uh, yeah. My second book, ‘Incongruity’, was the 1# bestseller for eight months.”
Donna whistled, “Well, that’s quite an achievement for a 13 year old.”
Nathan was busy trying to stifle his mirth, sputtering into his hand.
“I’m… I was 25.”
“WHAT!” Donna shouted, rather piercingly. “You regressed! But that’s unheard of!”
Sara shrugged, “Hey, I didn’t ask for it.”
Donna started wringing her hands, “If you regressed back to 13 years old along with a change in gender, that means the BIT probably consolidated when you reached puberty, but somehow it didn’t kick in until recently. OK, I think we can save these questions for the car. We’ve got a long trip to Arkham and a lot of explaining to do.”
“Exemplar 2, no, maybe 3.” Donna surmised as Darling Harbour disappeared far below into the distance, the ARC sub-orbital shuttle carrying them far away from Sydney. Though Sara had never heard of ARC’s private shuttle, or even that there were privately owned sub-orbital shuttles, she found herself mesmerized by the view out the window as they speared through the clouds. They sat in a private cabin, Sara facing backwards while Donna and Nathan faced front. Nathan took the outer seat next to the door, one eye out the window into the hall. Donna leant over her briefcase trying to work out a preliminary classification of Sara’s powers, “Shifter 3, limited? Darn I’m not sure. Regen 4 or 5 for certain… wait the same thing could happen if you were Exemplar 6, Shifter 3…”
Sara sighed. Getting from the door of their motel to the car in the sunlight hadn’t been simple. Though the burns faded seconds after entering the BM with its tinted windows, watching her flesh smoke and blister wasn’t fun. In contrast, the Airport was easy, moving from building to building via covered walkways and conveyors, Sara hadn’t ever really noticed the tinting on the windows at Sydney International Terminal before. Whatever pull ARC had with customs was impressive, the customs agents hadn’t even given the group a second glance, Nathan still carried his service pistol.
“You said something about reading auras?” Donna interrupted her thoughts.
“Yeah. Everyone’s got feint colors to them. Purple seems to be lust or something… I get that a lot. Sometimes its almost like I provoke it, like I’m controlling people’s emotions, or minds. I’m not sure either, I haven’t done it on purpose.”
“Hmmm. Esper of some type, still uncontrolled power. And what about this ‘feeding’.”
Sara shuddered, “OK, you had to know sometime. So far, I’ve vampirized three people. Each time, it was like I was possessed, I couldn’t help myself. I get hungry, ravenous. When it becomes too much, my body seems to take over a bit and I grow tentacles. The tentacles have little mouths on them and they burrow into the victim’s skin, where they start draining blood. I do it with my mouth and tongue too. Along with the blood, I draw in the person’s aura like a black hole. When I’m done, the body disintegrates into blue ash.”
Donna frowned, “Have you seen that, Mr. Coleman?”
“Not exactly. The boy who was shot had time for a last confession of sorts. Sara kissed him on the forehead and he disintegrated. The forensics team that analyzed Joe Mullin’s remains said that the blue powder was made of the same atoms and compounds that you find in the human body, only in solid configuration.”
Donna tapped her chin again, “Yes. There are rumors in the occult world of a spell that can destroy a living organism by breaking it down into its components. The end result was supposed to be a cobalt blue powder.”
“Doctor,” Sara licked her lips nervously, “am I sucking out people’s souls?”
Donna glanced over her glasses at Sara, “No, I don’t think so. The existence of the soul is still in debate among parapsychologists. The proven existence of ghosts and other forms of undead is a much maligned study that has muddied the waters on the subject. Practitioners of Necromancy claim to be able to call a soul back from the dead and place it in a corpse, but most of these Zombies are mindless husks animated by life energy with only a semi-autonomous mind. A few mutants have been able to live on after death as decaying corpses, but the source of their power comes from elsewhere, apparently. Personally, my theory is that you take the blood and life energy from living organisms, disrupting the being’s pattern and causing it to collapse into its components. The soul, if it exists, would depart for whatever awaits over the boundary. If you sucked out someone’s soul, you’d just have a corpse, or at worst a living machine.”
Nathan looked puzzled, “Did you understand that?”
“Scarily enough,” Sara answered, “Yes. So I’m just a murderer, not a soul-sucking monster.”
Donna sighed, “Some mutants, like myself, have it easy when they change. Some have it hard. What you’ve done is regrettable, but not entirely your fault. I’ve seen trained and prepared super heroes lose it in the face of the enemy, and had to put them back together afterwards. And against much better odds than what you’ve had to endure. Ever heard of a Rager?”
Nathan piped up, “Yeah. They gain strength when they get mad. Some buddies of mine in Civic Repair had to clean up after a few got into a brawl downtown.”
Donna nodded, “Exactly. Ragers can be dumb, smart, educated or ill-mannered, but once they get mad, there’s going to be property damage. Any day that a Rager doesn’t kill, maim or injure someone is considered a good day. ARC funds several programs that combine methods of hypnotism, relaxation and meditation to help Ragers control their emotions and their actions during a frenzy. Most have up to a dozen kills to their name within the first year of their manifestation. Compared to Ragers, your problem is minor. You are in control of this hunger, Sara. You can redirect it to suitable targets, I daresay like this odious ‘Bob Thomas’. Or more positively, animals and plant life.”
“I’m not sure I could… I mean, is it right for me to suck out the energy of a dog or cat? What did they ever do to me?” Sara vacillated.
“I had a steak for dinner last night.” Nathan answered, cryptically.
Donna and Sara looked at each other in bewilderment.
“The point is, did that cow deserve to die because I was hungry? No, probably not. But I’ve got to eat, don’t I? Or I’ll starve. I had vegetables with it too, did my carrots deserve to die because I want to live? No. But if it’s a choice between me or them, It’ll be them, every time.”
There it was again, Sara chuckled to herself. The chuckle became full throated laughter. Soon, Donna joined in and Nathan laughed along with them, not wanting to be left behind.
They were interrupted by the stewardess, who poked her head politely through the door, “Good evening. We’ll be landing at the Sanitorium in a few minutes, Donna.”
Donna smiled back, “Thanks, Liz.”
Sara watched the stewardess walk down the hallway, “She’s another mutant, isn’t she?”
Donna nodded absently, “Yes. 85% of ARC employees are mutants of one type or another.”
Nathan was watching the stewardess as well, though his gaze was directed somewhat lower than Sara’s, “I’ve gotta see this place!”
The ARC building was a sight to behold. Built over and under the refurbished Arkham Sanitorium, the grounds were splendid rolling hills of green, punctuated by artificial lakes and Japanese rock gardens. The building itself was a magnificent amalgam of old, 18th century, gothic styles with 21st century chrome and glass.
“It’s beautiful.” Sara assessed as they stepped onto the runway.
Donna smiled proudly, “Yes, we’re rather fond of it ourselves. Impressed, Mr. Coleman?”
“Please call me Nathan.” He answered shyly.
Donna grinned mischievously, “Like a big, cute, puppy-dog isn’t he?”
Sara nodded knowingly, playing along, “You can take him home with you if you want, I’ve almost managed to potty train him.”
“That was uncalled for.” Nathan muttered, storming towards the front doors. The girls tittered, following behind. A minute or so later, the shuttle rocketed back into the sky, becoming a tiny dot on the horizon.
The inside was just as grand as the outside, though more reliant on bare concrete than luxurious furnishings, the building was built more like a monolith than an office block. The centre of the building was taken up by the original Arkham Sanitorium, preserved behind three feet of bulletproof glass and reinforced steel. Warning signs plastered over the single airlock declared that neither ARC, nor the US government, was responsible for any persons caught inside without proper clearance.
“Our research includes all things paranormal, including magic, mutations, regular science and devises.” Donna explained as she led them to the upper floors above the preserved building. “As such, many of the experiments are unstable and dangerous, so our headquarters has to be able to withstand regular explosions and accidents. You get used to them after a while. Up here we handle the simple things like administration and mutant assessment. All the really scary stuff goes on deep underground.”
Sara and Nathan marveled at some of the rooms they passed by. Most were offices containing mad scientist types in white lab coats, though a mutant with seven eyestalks ringing the top of his head did pass by. Some seemed to be working on various chemicals or harvesting strange plants. Others were busy soldering or working on their computers. Finally, the trio arrived at a steel door marked ‘Conference Room 1’. Donna entered first, gesturing to two older gentlemen in lab coats and a middle aged lady in a blue shawl, who decided to put down her knitting. “This is Dr. Otto, Dr. Tanaka and our benefactor, Mrs. Potter.”
Sara shook each of the Doctor’s hands before coming to Mrs. Potter, gracing her with a not-too clumsy curtsey, “Thank-you, Mrs. P. I owe you more than I can say.”
Mrs. Potter smiled motherly, “I’m sorry I couldn’t do more, child. Gary was a good boy, but I did what was best for him.” She turned to the rest of the gathering, “Now, you people have a lot to talk about, as Donna is so fond of saying, so I’ll be on my way. Look out for her as best you can, gentlemen, or you’ll have me to deal with and I play a mean game of chess when I set my mind to it. See you later dear, and buck up, things will get better.”
Sara stared after the amazing woman as she left.
“I know how you feel, Michael-san.” Dr. Tanaka smiled, pulling a seat out from under the table for her.
Sara sat, “Please, it’s Sara now. So, where do we start?”
As the schedule panned out, most of the next week was taken up with tests, tests and more tests. Sara’s ability to go without sleep allowed the researchers to work in shifts 24 hours a day, though Donna insisted that she get at least 4 hours of her own time at night. Both newcomers were given their own bedrooms. Not trusting the ARC researchers completely, Nathan carried his pistol, fully loaded at all times. They were also given several pairs of official ARC research clothing, consisting of dark blue overalls, a black singlet and a tracksuit, socks and sneakers.
Though the Wednsday of their arrival was entirely taken up with organizing her schedule, Thursday began with Xavier test, overseen by Mr. Tanaka. “The Xavier Test,” Tanaka-san explained, “is much like an IQ test and a footrace. It consists of several challenges that rate your average performance in different talents based on standardized measurements. For example, we’ll get you to run on this treadmill to test your speed and endurance. Naturally, the barbells test your strength and so on. All fairly simple and straightforward. If you’re ready for the first test, we’ll start you on the treadmill.”
Simple and straightforward turned out to be an utter lie. The first time Sara used the treadmill, everything was going well, the walk wasn’t too fast and the incline gradually raised to thirty degrees. Then a wrecking ball crashed through the wall, aimed straight at her head. Once again, like the bullet before, time seemed to slow, allowing her to dive off the platform and dodge the solid iron ball.
“Excellent reflexes, Sara.” Dr. Tanaka ticked the appropriate box. “Now, back to endurance training.”
‘Endurance training’ turned out to be speed training. The moment Sara stepped back on the track, she was running to keep her balance. Meanwhile, the incline kept increasing well beyond 30 degrees, until Sara found herself climbing a perfectly smooth vertical incline.
“I guess we can add wall crawling to the list, Dr. Tanaka.” One of the assistants grinned.
“Indeed.” Came the only reply.
Though Nathan had several heart attacks in the first few hours, Sara decided to play along, taking each challenge as it came. Every time she thought she knew one of her limits, she kept breaking it. The barbells were the first case in point. Each time they increased the weight, her body would adjust itself to match the challenge. As she lifted, muscle mass would expand, straining the seems of her clothes, then collapse when she let go.
“It’s a shifter trait,” Dr. Tanaka explained, “your body is adding muscle mass to compensate for the weight. At the moment you’re doing it instinctively, but perhaps you can learn to do it consciously as well. We’ll have to work on that.”
The same thing happened when crushing soda cans, though of different strengths of metal. Another assistant whistled when Sara managed to crush the adamantite can after ten minutes of effort. Reflex testing turned out to be a breeze, despite the six hours of previous strength testing. Her body didn’t seem to get tired as long as it was fed. Flexibility was almost a joke, Sara watched with amazement as Dr. Tanaka managed to bend her elbow backwards without any pain or loss of control.
To test her mind, Sara played a very weird game called Dis-Chess, played on a 3 dimensional chess board. Worse, the rules would change randomly once every five minutes, necessitating fast play in order to win. Somehow, Sara managed to win the game 8 out of 10 times. “It’s not the world record,” Tanaka-san smiled proudly, “but it is impressive.”
Over the next few days, Sara took to dressing comfortably in a sports bra and panties, tracksuit pants and singlet, mostly foregoing footware altogether. For some reason, Donna took this as a good sign that she was adjusting to her change. As the days progressed, meals became easier. Sara choked at eating dogs and chickens at first, so her daily meal consisted of a few common pot plants. She graduated to chickens on the third day and managed a cat on the fourth.
“Exemplar 3, Shifter 4, I think.” Dr. Tanaka mumbled to himself the Saturday after the full test was finished, trying to fill out the examination forms. “And from all accounts, Regen 4. I’m sorry, Sara, but we don’t have much of a test for Regenerators. At the extreme ends, people tend to die from injury.”
Sara chuckled at Dr. Tanaka’s wry smile, “I can show you what I know I can do, Doctor. Any knives about?”
Ten minutes later one of the lab assistants was losing his lunch in the hallway.
“By all that’s holy, doesn’t that hurt?” Another assistant stared as Sara’s hand grew back for the second time. He was looking slightly pale.
“No, not really. There’s a slight twinge, but that’s all. I’ve been shot three times, and all that managed to do was stun me for a second. My skin burns in the sun, but it heals as soon as I step into the shade.”
“Fascinating,” Dr. Tanaka smiled, his eyes alight, “do you mind if we try a few more things? I’d like to get a sense of any vulnerabilities.”
Sara shrugged, “Go ahead.”
So began a long list of what would have been, for anyone else, an 8 hour torture session. Stab wounds, with various materials, healed in a second along with bullet wounds and lasers. Fire didn’t work, acid didn’t work, and the tazer tickled. Nathan managed to stop the party at bisection when Tanaka ran out of healthy lab assistants.
With a sigh of pure delight, Tanaka made a big note on his clip board, “Possible Regen 6. REGEN 6. Do you have any idea how rare a 6 is in any stable mutant? I can count the number of known 6 ratings on my fingers and toes. If this is true, and considering some of the details of your transformation it just might be, you’re going to live a very, very long time, Sara.”
Sara gulped. She wasn’t sure if this was good news or bad news.
The next day, Sara was taken to the medical wing and subjected to every scan, x-ray and sensor known to man and mutant kind. Doctor Otto was in charge for that stint, the session ended up with Sara watching various holographic displays of her body in different positions, all of which added up to a complex picture of her physiology.
“As far as we can tell,” Dr. Otto explained with a sigh, “you aren’t human any more, Sara. Not even close. See these cells gathered around your bone structure? They’re almost a solid mass of tendrils. Even the brain has been replaced. Extraordinary.”
“I’m starting to get used to people saying stuff like that. So, Doctor, if I’m not human, what am I?”
Sara broke into a fit of coughing, “What?”
“All your internal organs have been replaced by cells very similar to malignant cancer cells. These cells have taken over and replaced all the functions of your major organs. You don’t need to breathe or eat because you have no digestive system or lungs. You can talk by sucking air into a cavity in your chest and expelling it through a simulated voice box. Every cell in your body also acts as a neurone, your whole body is now your brain, which explains your superhuman perceptions and photographic memory. I daresay you’ll find mental tasks such as mathematics far easier than they once were. Also, you have no physical weak points. It doesn’t matter if someone shoots you in the head or the heart, you’ll just grow right on back.”
At that point, Sara decided to take a break from tests for the rest of the day, retiring to a welcome psychotherapy session with Donna. Naturally, they started with less strenuous tests, much to Sara’s chagrin, before moving on to more serious topics.
“How are you feeling?” Donna began once Sara was comfortable.
“Confused,” Sara answered tentatively, “a week ago I was human.”
Donna’s brow furrowed, “What do you consider human, Sara? Are all mutants part of another race?”
Sara shook her head, “No, not at all. Lets take you, for example. You have lungs, a heart, a brain. Liver, kidneys and even an appendix. You’re a bit smarter, a bit stronger and a bit better looking than average, but you’re still human. If I shoot you, you’ll bleed red. I’m not even similar to you on a genetic level. Six million base pairs? More than a billion memo groups? You’re looking at mother nature’s attempt at over-engineering.”
“At least you’ve got a sense of humor about it.” Donna smiled.
“I don’t have much of a choice. Look, everywhere I go people smile at me and tell me how well I’m taking this, or how great it is that I’m doing so well. To tell you the truth, I’m not, I’m just rolling with the punches.” Sara sighed. “As far as I can see, I’ve got a few alternatives. One: Crawl into a corner, curl up and wait to die. I’ve tried that and it’s not all its cracked up to be. Added to that, it seems that I’d be in for a long wait.”
Sara held up two fingers, “Two: Deny that I’m a girl. Yeah, that’s funny. A guy with a vagina and tits, not to mention curves like Uma Thurman. Besides, I don’t see what’s so bad about my new body. I’ve been a dorky looking guy for a quarter of a century, it might be nice to be a girl for a change.”
“Three: Accept I’m a girl and a mutant, get on with my life.” Sara chuckled. “A skirt doesn’t seem so bad, but looks so impractical.”
“Four,” Sara paused for dramatic effect, “Go mad, become a super villain and try to take over the world. I hate paperwork. I know that sounds funny coming from a writer, but filling out forms is a pain in the butt. Besides, I’m not the dictator type. All I want is a bit of peace, a good challenge or two and someone to share it with. That’s it.”
“So, what are you doing now?” Donna questioned.
“I’m going with number 3. I owe it to Gary to do my best. To be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with this body. For the first time in my life, I’m free of pain. I’ve paid a high price for this, though, too high. But, like I said, I’m trying to roll with the punches. I’m a girl now, there’s no denying it. I’m a living cancer as well, there’s no denying that. All I can do is accept it and do my best.”
Donna changed tack, “Your file mentions that your mother died of cancer, four years ago?”
“You were 21 at the time, then. How much do you know about your mother? What about your father?”
Sara took a deep breath, “My mother became pregnant with me when she was very young and living in Dunedin, New Zealand, where I was raised until I was 6. She was about fifteen when I was born, living in a boarding home. We moved to my grandfather’s house in Sydney so I could attend school and she could help grandpa raise the mortgage money. When he died two years later, we’d managed to pay off the house. My family’s had several genetic disorders as far back as anyone can remember, among which was a genetic strain of Porphyria. You’ve heard of it?”
Donna nodded, “Sufferers have a purple tinge to their blood and urine. Prolonged exposure to bright lights burn and blister the skin. Effects can be alleviated with regular injections of heme, a substance found in the blood.”
Sara nodded, “Yeah. My publishers like to bring it up, grabs the imagination of the whole vampire set. It’s good for sales, they tell me. But I had to live with it. I suppose that’s why I’m not more freaked out at the moment, I’ve always been abnormal.”
“We were talking about your parents, remember?” Donna steered the conversation back on course. “Was your mother or father a mutant?”
“My mom? No, not that I ever saw. She was really sickly, had it a lot worse than most of the family did. I don’t know who my dad was, so I can’t tell you anything about him. I’ve never met the man.”
“Has he ever been in contact with you or your family?”
“Other than one night with Mom, no.” Sara replied flippantly, “No letters, no calls, nothing. Mom just didn’t talk about him, neither did Grandpa. I never got any answers, so I just stopped asking.”
“Have you considered that he might have been a mutant?” Donna pressed.
Sara shrugged, “Not really. What does it matter now?”
“I suppose it doesn’t.” Donna gave up. “Oh, by the way, Sara…”
“You don’t look anything like Uma Thurman.”
Donna barely managed to dodge the cushion that was thrown at her.
Monday, September 25.
Sara was in for a surprise when she came out of her room the next morning. Dr. Otto and Dr. Tanaka stood in the hallway, pouring over a sheet of notes, so engrossed she had to cough a few times before they caught on.
“Sara, there you are!” Dr. Otto smiled. “I have good news and bad news. I’m afraid that you have managed to defeat the Xavier test. After the results we obtained last night, it has become unreasonable that you should be tested against standards meant for relatively normal, yet powerful, human beings.”
Sara grinned, “What’s the bad news?”
Tanaka-san smiled, “That was the good news, Sara. The bad news is that the executive board wants us to do a temporal spectroanalysis, and we’re in agreement with their decision. You see, your physiology is alien to this planet, in fact there is only one type of being known to share your traits, and we have a specialist in that field flying in from London on the sub-orbital shuttle right now. The problem with the TS machine is that it’s a devise. Do you know what that is?”
Sara nodded, “I’ve been doing a bit of reading in my time off. What does this thing do, then?”
“To cut a long story short, we don’t know.” Otto admitted. “What we do know is that it will give us your complete genetic history; your current genetic breakdown; a list of powers, abilities and talents; and, in your case, possible origins.”
“That’s it?” Sara laughed derisively, “Why didn’t we do that before?”
“There are a few catches,” Tanaka took up the battle, “which is why we only use it in extreme circumstances. The Xavier test is fairly accurate, takes more time but is more efficient and cheap than the TS, which is expensive, difficult to operate and only works one time in four. It is also a devise, so it requires its deviser to operate it and nobody except he knows exactly how it does whatever it does.”
“I asked for an explanation once,” Otto shuddered, “and, honestly, I still have dreams about the answer.”
Sara stared at them both, then sighed, “Well, if I don’t do at least one mindbendingly impossible task before breakfast, I feel my day hasn’t been fulfilled. Lets do it.”
The TS devise was big. Really big. A retractable bridge led to a podium inside a completely spherical metal chamber about fifty feet in diameter. On the podium sat a single, throne-like chair. Sara had to be re-dressed in a special, form fitting, white neoprene body suit. Dr. Tanaka walked her to the platform and made sure she was comfortable, “You’ll have to sit here for five minutes without moving once we start. You have to remain perfectly still. If you twitch, bat an eyelid or suddenly need to go to the bathroom, let us know, because we’ll have to start all over again. There’s a microphone and a camera in the ceiling, so we can see and hear you at all times. Good luck.”
“And the same to you.” Sara replied, relaxing back into the seat and closing her eyes in preparation.
The procedure seemed to go on forever, and repeated more than twenty times. Finally, Tanaka came back with Otto to escort her to the main booth, where the results were flooding in fast. Donna was waiting outside, holding her breath.
“Anyone would think that this was exciting.” Sara murmured into her ear as the boys practically skipped over to the console.
“Well, it’s a bit more than boys and their toys, this time,” Donna grinned, “they only get to use this contraption once or twice a year. And this is the second time they’ve got it to work, even with the deviser’s help.”
“Where is this deviser, anyway?”
Donna pointed to the other end of the room, at a tall metal cylinder. A small trapdoor popped open in its top, extending a speaker on a scissor arm from the hole. “Hi, Sara, pleased to meet you and all that, wot?”
“Ah… yeah, pleased to meet you too. I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“OH! Yes, of course. How silly of me. My name is Microcroft. How do you do?” The cylinder gave a jerky, rattling, bow from the cogs where it was bolted to the floor. “I apologize for my appearance, but I replaced my fleshy body some time ago and have yet to update it using the latest technologies.”
“Oookay. Hey, hasn’t anyone tried to sue you for your name yet?”
The cylinder broke into a tinny laugh (what else would you expect?), “No, I’m too small a fish. I don’t get the same publicity as the Avenger or any of that lot, so they leave me well enough alone. I know it’s odd, but I have a warped sense of humor.”
“I see.” Sara managed to keep a straight face. Donna was having a little trouble though. “How does this thing work exactly?”
“NO! NO! NO!” Dr. Otto clamped a hand over Sara’s mouth. “Ha-ha… er, sorry, Microcroft, but we really better be showing Sara her results now. Nice talking to you, bye-bye now.”
Otto dragged Sara to the other side of the room, Donna following quickly behind. “That was close. I think one mindbending event is enough for one morning, don’t you Ms. Waite?”
“Curiosity may have killed the cat, doctor, but it also invented fire. OK, so who or what am I?”
Dr. Tanaka produced, of all things, a dot matrix printout and read down the list. “Subject: Sara Waite. Height… Weight… Measurements… Shoe Size… A-ha, something relevant. Powers: Exemplar 4, Shifter 4, Regen 6. Instinctive Psychic Potential active. Vulnerabilities: Mild sunlight, binding spells, positive energy, psychic vampirism. Origin:…”
Sara tapped her foot impatiently, “Well?”
Dr. Tanaka cleared his throat, “Origin: Unknown.”
“So, what did we learn today?” Sara sighed, her head buried in her arms at the head of the conference table.
“Quite a lot, despite the surprise ending,” Dr. Tanaka answered, concentrating on the results, “for starters, your powers. Usually when I receive a result like this, I ask ‘when did the subject expire?’. But with Regen 6, I’ll be surprised if anyone ever manages to kill you permanently.”
Sara squeezed her eyes shut, “What do you mean?”
Dr. Tanaka scratched his chin, checking for stubble, “Most books on the subject, even here at ARC, only list the common abilities gained from the first three levels of any mutant trait. Exemplar 4 is easy: Your Body Image Template is significantly different to the human norm and generally stronger, faster and hardier. That’s not entirely the case for you, but it is close. Shifter 4 means that you can multiply your size and abilities significantly from your natural form, as well as make your own alterations, I’d say that you’ll pick that up with a bit of practice and knowledge of biology. Regen 6, however is the draw card of the lot. At level 6, regenerators don’t age, don’t breathe and don’t really have to eat, they just go into hibernation without food or water, or in your case life force. They never tire either. Nothing less than complete disintegration will actually kill a Regen 6, though it may take a while to pull yourself together in the case of more grievous injuries, like being blown to bits.”
Dr. Tanaka sighed, sealing himself to deliver the bad news, “I should warn you that there are some side issues. For starters, you probably won’t grow up, ever. Essentially, your BIT is stuck on this form, though you may be able to alter it for short periods of time using your shifter abilities. Also, since you are now a girl, you won’t have to worry about suffering through a normal menstrual cycle, but you will always be fertile. In addition, you’ll never lose your virginity. Your hymen and other… equipment will return to the state it is now.”
Nathan’s jaw snapped shut.
Sara looked over her shoulder at the red-faced detective, “Shut up.”
Donna pouted, “I’m almost jealous.”
“That goes for you too!” Sara snarled. She turned back to Dr. Tanaka, “And Instinctive Psychic Potential?”
Tanaka paused, considering again how he could answer. “What do you know about magic?”
“Not much.” Sara shrugged.
“Then, I’ll start from the top,” the doctor leant back in his chair, “Mages aren’t classified like the other mutant abilities, because magic covers a wide variety of applications. Mages and Natural Mages manipulate the fabric of reality by harnessing the power of ley lines and other natural energy sources. The key to this is that they must draw the energy from an outside source, which puts stress on their bodies, the price of their versatility. Psychics and Instinctive Psychics are similar, except that they draw on inner reserves of energy and compel their will to effect reality. This puts enormous stress on the mind of the psychic and not a few go mad attempting something beyond their capabilities. Otherwise, the difference between the two ‘schools’ of magic is minor, except that psychics focus their powers internally while mages focus their power externally. This makes mages better at flashy spells such as throwing fire at people, calling lighting down from the heavens and so fourth. Psychics tend to be a bit more subtle, like your habit of speeding up your perception of time to help you avoid incoming projectiles.”
Sara nodded, “But I don’t do that on purpose.”
“Which is why you’re classified as an Instinctive psychic. Instinctive psychics and Natural mages often do things automatically, without having to think about doing it, like having a sixth sense or an extra set of hands. You will require training to harness this potential and stop yourself from having a catastrophic burnout which even you might not be able to recover from.”
Sara put up her hand, “Sir, can we stop now? My brain’s full.”
Nathan almost collapsed with laughter. The two doctors tried to cover broad grins while Donna stifled her laugh, “I think that’s a good idea. As soon as it gets dark, I’m taking you to your most grueling task yet. It’ll be tough, but I think you’re ready for it.”
Sara looked slightly worried, “What?”
Donna drew herself up to her full height, “I’m taking you shopping!”
“NONE of the guys are coming with us?” Sara muttered.
“No.” Donna replied firmly as she unlocked her BMW. “This is a girls only outing. The specialist that’s coming to review your case won’t be here for another hour. So while it’s dark and you don’t have to cover yourself, we’re going to crash in on an old friend of mine in Dunwich. No offense, girl, but from the moment I met you, you looked like a train wreck. You said you wanted to be a girl now, dressing nice to attract the boys is a part of that. A very nice part once you get used to it.”
Sara felt slightly sulky as she stepped into the car, “I’m not entirely sure I’m into boys yet.”
Donna grinned, “Come on, you said yourself that Nathan was cute.”
“Besides,” Donna smiled innocently, “It’d come in handy with girls too.”
The look Sara gave Donna had daggers in it.
Dr. Otto poured over the TS transcript, noting something unusual. “Tanaka-san?”
“Otto?” Tanaka looked up from his coffee.
“You kept a few things from Sara today, didn’t you?”
Tanaka nodded, “Sara-chan has been through enough in the last few days. I felt it best not to pile more on her shoulders than was necessary.”
“You should have warned Donna, though.”
“She already knows. What do you think this ‘shopping trip’ is about anyway? We could have left it until after we sent her off to Whately, you know.”
“But what if Sara…”
“Then Donna will have to deal with it.” Tanaka interrupted. “She knows the risk and she can handle herself. Besides, I have full confidence in Sara. I can’t imagine what she’s going through, but she has a will of iron. They’ll both pull through this and be better for it.”
The BMW pulled up in front of ‘Rogers Fabric Boutique’. The door was made of old wood with a large glass window, a sign hanging from the frame said ‘Sorry, come back soon!’ but the lights inside were still on.
“This is it?” Sara asked.
“Yep,” Donna confirmed, “Cecilia Rogers is the greatest seamstress in the world. She is one of the few costume designers sanctioned by the Justice League and the Hero Commission in the UK. She designed The Galvinator’s reversible adamantite chainmail suit, you know. But today, we’re here for some decent clothing for you. All expenses paid by ARC.”
Donna hopped out of the car like a schoolgirl. Sara sighed and hauled herself out of the cabin. Donna had to half drag her up the steps before rapping three times on the glass, then twice more. A smiling brunette beauty in her mid twenties threw open the door and caught the blonde in a bear hug. “DONNA! It’s so good to see you! How long have you been in the Miskatonic?”
Donna returned the hug for a moment before pulling away, “Transferred a month ago to Arkham. I would have called in sooner, but I had a lot of settling in to do. Anyway, Cecilia, I would like you to meet our newest recruit, Sara Waite. Sara, this Cecilia Rogers.”
Sara hesitated a moment, then smiled and took Cecilia’s hand, “Pleased to meet you.”
Cecilia smiled warmly, “Pleased to meet you. Come on in and get comfortable, I have a feeling the we’ll be here all night.”
Sara was surprised how light and airy the inside was, even at night, considering the lack of windows facing the street. Racks of cloth lined the walls, several raised platforms off the main area held strange, robotic, devices and a weird cubical graced the opposite wall from the doorway that looked like a cross between Hal from 2001, the Star Trek transporter booth and a changing room. Cecilia circled her, examining Sara from every angle.
“Donna, Donna, Donna, can’t ARC afford anything better? Dear, the bathroom’s over there, could you take your make-up off for me while I get the machine ready please?”
Donna coughed, trying to interrupt, but Sara waved her off, replying almost meekly. “I can’t, Miss… this is my real skin.”
Cecilia stopped in her tracks. “I’m sorry, dear, I didn’t realize.”
Sara smiled, “That’s OK, it can’t be helped. Oh, please call me Sara. I’m still trying to get used to the new name.”
“Sara.” Cecilia smiled again. “How much experience have you had with this sort of thing?”
“Uh…” Sara felt herself blush. She absently wondered if she went red or purple. “I-I’ve only been a girl for a week or so. Oh, and, uh, I’m really allergic to sunlight.”
Cecilia patted the adolescent-looking girl on the shoulder, “Never mind, Sara, I’m used to this sort of thing. All right, we’ve got a lot of work to do then. First up, go into that booth and follow the instructions it gives you.”
Sara wandered into the tight alcove and closed the curtain behind her. A mechanical voice immediately asked her to strip and place her clothes in a container that popped out of the wall. Sara complied, then was asked to stand and sit in various positions so that several beams could scan her body. After it was finished, the machine disgorged her clothes, and bid her a nice day.
Sara came out to find Cecilia and Donna chatting over coco. “Ah, there you are!” Cecilia suddenly cut off their conversation. “Now, onto the platform and we’ll have you fixed up in no time. Wait right here, Donna, this won’t take a moment.”
Cecilia pulled the curtains around one of the platforms behind Sara as she stepped in. The only other occupant was one of the strange robotic dolls she’d seen before, except this one was exactly her shape and size.
“OK, dear, lets start with something fun,” Cecilia rubbed her hands together as she approached a remote console in one corner, then appraised Sara’s body once more, “Hmmm… I think in your case, we’ll have to go with the Goth look, unless you want to be putting make-up on every morning with a paint sprayer. That never looks good anyway. So, how about black, purple and red, maybe orange highlights if we can squeeze it in…”
Bolts of cloth leapt from the shelves around them. Thick black thread formed itself into a tight fitting, lacy, bra and matching panties right on the robotic mannequin. A bolt of leather circled the platform like a vulture, cutting lasers shaped each piece of the first outfit perfectly before an invisible force slapped it over the underwear. Black thread stitched each segment perfectly into place. In a moment, the creation was done.
“Um… can I actually wear something like that?” Sara gasped, half fascinated by the outfit and half repelled.
“You can and you shall!” Cecilia grinned. “Not the most practical outfit, to be sure, but a girl of any age is entitled to some fun. Here, I’ll help you with the bra, then we’ll put a brush through that hair.”
Cecilia poked her head through the curtain, “Ready?”
Donna nodded, bringing her coco to her lips. Cecilia threw the curtains wide with a magnificent flick of her wrists and a triumphant “TA-DA!”
Donna spat her coco back into the cup. Sara stepped down the stairs, her hips unconsciously sliding from side to side. The outfit was all leather and almost skin tight in most places. On top, she wore a full sleeved leather ‘shirt’ with a hem that reached just below her breasts and a high, Chinese style, collar. For pants, low cut hip-huggers barely covered what needed to be covered, though her panties didn’t show. The pants were tucked into knee-high leather boots with a medium heel. Over it all was a sleeveless black leather long coat with a hood rather than a traditional collar. A set of elegant wrap-around sunglasses hung from an inside pocket.
The overall effect called attention to Sara’s perfectly sculpted abdomen and hips as well as her face and hands, while showing off her other attributes. Most shocking was the contrast with her burning red eyes, which seemed to be impossible to look away from.
“How do you people walk around in these things?” Sara growled, teetering slightly on the heels.
Donna chuckled, “You’ll get the hang of it. My, my, aren’t we the bad girl now?”
Cecilia preened, “Not bad, if I do say so myself. Have a look in the mirror, dear.”
Sara ignored the ‘dear’ and whipped her head around in the direction the seamstress was pointing. Then she froze. “I… uh… what? Who? I mean… wow!”
“You like it?” Cecilia smiled.
“I like.” Sara span around, trying to get a good look at every angle. In fact, her spin was so fast that her head forgot to follow her body and span 360 degrees.
“OUCH! Please don’t do that again!” Donna winced, rubbing her neck. Cecilia shrugged, “I’ve seen stranger things. Had a nice girl in here a little while ago who’s hair defied gravity.”
“So,” Sara grinned, skipping back up to the platform, “what’s next?”
Cecilia rolled her eyes at Donna as she closed the curtains.
“That’s my girl.” Donna whispered.
“Which do you think I should wear back?” Sara looked over the various outfits in some of her new black negligee with her hands on her hips, the very picture of concentration. Though the changing room was small, both she and Donna fitted comfortably into the back room while Cecilia worked on her last few creations.
“What do you think?” Sara repeated.
Donna stepped forward to look over the girl’s shoulder. The flowing, bright red, gown had been placed to one side along with most of the casual shirts and pants. “Don’t you want to be comfortable going home tonight?” Donna inquired.
“Weeeelll. Yes and no.” Sara vacillated, “I want to be comfortable, but I want to knock their socks off when I get out of the car. The gown would be too uncomfortable but the singlets and cargo pants are too plain.”
Donna pulled a black and red pleated miniskirt from under some other dresses, “How about this with the purple shirt and sockless sneakers? Show off those legs a bit?”
“Nah, it’ll be light soon. If I burn to a crisp, it’ll ruin the effect…” Sara stopped in mid sentence. Something inside her started to beat really fast, she could almost feel her blood pumping through her limbs. Her gaze shifted to Donna’s face. Donna stared back.
Time started to move sluggishly for a moment. Sara could feel the heat rising in her body once more. As their eyes met, Sara’s mind reached out to connect with Donna’s bright blue aura. She could hear Donna’s heart start to flutter in her chest, her breathing became deeper. Donna stumbled back as red fear clashed with the dark purple of her aura. Sara followed, pulled toward the beautiful woman in front of her, forcing her to hold their gaze.
The thirteen year old grew slightly, her lush body stretching her undergarments, until she was only slightly smaller than her mentor. Sara smiled seductively as she pressed herself against the other woman, pinning her against the wall, she followed suit by immobilizing Donna’s arms, spread out above her head. Despite her strength, Donna found herself helpless under those lustful red eyes.
“You know, Donna,” Sara purred, “I think I do like girls more than boys.” She pressed forward, their lips met and Donna’s aura exploded into bright purple.
Donna felt all resistance drain from her body as bolts of pure pleasure rocketed down her nerves. She found herself responding to the kiss, parting her lips to welcome Sara’s probing tongue. She thrust her hips forward as Sara’s hands expertly massaged the small of her back. Donna wrapped her arms about her lover’s soft, supple, body, grasping the back of Sara’s head. Her heart pounded, her moans of ecstasy stifled by hot lips.
Sara felt her tentacles worm their way out of her skin, sliding up Donna’s shirt and down her arms. A long, thick, tentacle nuzzled its way out of her abdomen and slipped slowly down inside of the blonde’s pants…
Something in the back of Sara’s brain snapped. With a screech of despair, she wrenched herself from Donna’s arms, shrinking back to her normal size in a moment and pushing herself away, backing into a corner. Her tentacles withdrew into her flesh slowly, thrashing and groping towards Donna like hungry beasts being pulled away from a choice meal, straining against their leashes.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Sara cried, black tears streaming down her face, repeating the words over and over.
It took Donna a minute to recover. The lust she’d felt drained away slowly, the rush of love and need replaced by a momentary surge of fear. Fear gave way immediately to concern. She took a step towards Sara, but the young girl’s hands shot up to ward her off. “No, don’t come closer, I’m not safe…”
Donna raised her hands gently, shushing the scared little girl, “Shh, it’s all right. It’s all right. You stopped it, you are in control. It’s all right…”
Donna managed to wrap one of Sara’s new satin jackets around the girl’s slender shoulders and guided her into a seat. “…It’s all right. I’m the one who should be sorry. I didn’t think.”
There was a short, insistent, knock on the door. “Is everything all right in there? I heard a scream.”
It was Cecilia. “Yes, we’re all right now, come on in.” Donna replied.
Cecilia gasped as opened the door, looking down at the crying girl’s black tears, “Heavens! What on earth happened?”
Donna sighed, wrapping her arms protectively around Sara, “Just a bit of a panic attack. She’s had a rough week.”
Sara’s eyes ached as she looked up at the seamstress, who stared back in sympathy. She produced a tissue from her back pocket and began to dab the tears away while stroking Sara’s hair.
“Thank-you for everything, Miss Rogers,” Sara smiled weakly, finding it hard to meat the seamstress’s eyes, “I’m sorry about all that before. I really like these new clothes.”
Cecilia gave the girl a big hug, “Any time, dear. And call me Cecilia. I think we can be good friends.”
Sara had ended up wearing her first, and secretly her favorite, outfit for the journey back to Arkham. The leather creaked slightly, but Cecilia assured her that it would break itself in. The sky lit up with false dawn, so Sara gave her new friend a quick kiss on the cheek before racing into the car.
“I’ll come back myself in a week or two, Cecilia,” Donna gave her old friend a hug, “we can catch up and chat about old times.”
“I’ll look forward to it.”
The drive back to Arkham was quiet for the first five minutes while Sara fidgeted with her new sunglasses.
Donna smiled weakly, “You shouldn’t be. That was my fault.”
“How?” Sara asked, perplexed, “You’re not the one who… who…” She felt herself blush again as the words failed in her throat.
Donna sighed, “Can you keep a secret for a day or so?”
“What kind of question is that?” Sara snapped, starting to become suspicious.
“An important one. Dr. Tanaka didn’t want us to tell you this until you’d had time to get over the TS results. We’ve been keeping a few things from you to help you cope with your change, letting the truth come out in small doses. We were very afraid that if we told you everything at once, you might snap mentally or suffer a catastrophic burnout. Tanaka-san didn’t want you to know this until tomorrow, but I think in light of my mistake tonight, you’re going to guess what’s going on eventually anyway.”
“Go on.” Sara urged, intrigued.
Donna tapped her chin, ordering her thoughts, “It started with the Xavier Test. You do realize that they’re not really what they seem, don’t you?”
Sara nodded, “Yes. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to spoil it. Rather elegant, really. Basic pop quiz theory taken to the next level. The only thing better than springing a test on a subject is to test them while they don’t know what they’re being tested on.”
Donna smiled, “Well, part of that is watching you. Learning your unconscious habits, how you interact with others and questioning your peers. While you were concentrating on those tests, I was watching videos of you from the day before or grilling Nathan on what happened the night he picked you up. One of the first things he told me was about the way you handled that clerk in the chemist’s.”
Sara felt her blush deepen.
“As a psychologist, I could see the signs. He was getting aroused just thinking about it. Now, despite what people think, it takes a lot of skill to effect a man like that. And, to be honest, few girls have the capacity or the nerve to do something like that, much less a girl who was a guy the day before. That led me to start looking at your sexual habits and preferences. Then Dr. Otto did that medical scan and we were sure what was happening to you.”
Sara felt herself holding her breath, but she couldn’t let it go. Then she remembered that she didn’t need to breathe.
“Have you noticed how you’re acting differently since the change? Are you more emotional about little things? Find yourself thinking about sex a lot? Finding different things appealing since becoming a girl?”
Sara nodded, “Yes.”
“I’m not surprised,” Donna continued, “You have noticed that you’re staring at both guys and girls lately, haven’t you? I’ve seen you doing it on our surveillance tapes. I’ve also seen you unconsciously watching both myself and Nathan, you know.”
Sara nodded, “Yes, I have been. When you were so close back there and I was practically naked… I don’t know I could just smell you. Then the heat just hit me and it was like you were the only person on earth…”
Donna squeezed her shoulder, “It’s not your fault. Lets get this straight now: it’s your body. You may look like a 13 year old girl but chemically, you’ve got enough hormones running through your system that the staff at Arkham are amazed that you don’t just tear everyone’s clothes off and turn the sanitorium into a brothel. With your psychic abilities, you could do that, you know.”
Sara shook her head, “Not with Dr. Tanaka about, or Dr. Otto. You should see their auras, Donna, they’re like mountains in the middle of a typhoon. They are the only people I’ve met who didn’t turn purple the minute I walked into the room.”
“That’s your body as well, you know. Your Instinctive Psychic abilities invade unprepared minds to weaken inhibitions and induce a state of lust.” Donna scratched the back of her neck, blushing furiously, “What happened to me is a case in point. I’m heterosexual, through and through. I’ve never had a sexual thought about another girl in my entire life. But when you kissed me, it was like wanting you, being with you, was as natural as breathing or sleeping. More than that, I wanted you to make love to me, I even wanted to have your children.”
Donna snapped her mouth shut. Sara was biting her hand, her fangs sinking slightly into the flesh of it.
“I’m sorry, are you OK?” Donna apologized.
Sara smiled weakly, “Yes, I’m all right. You couldn’t really have my children, though, you know.”
Donna seemed disturbed, “I wouldn’t be too sure about that. You might not be producing any sperm, but weirder things have happened when it comes to relationships between mutants. I mean, who really knows what your body is capable of? The point is that you’re bisexual, Sara. The earlier you come to terms with that, the easier your urges will become to control. I knew all of that when I looked over your shoulder, and I should have known better. Maybe subconsciously, I wanted you too.”
“That still doesn’t make controlling other people’s minds right,” Sara disagreed, “Whether I was making you want me or not, it still would have been rape.”
Donna sighed, “You are the most stubborn person I’ve ever met, Sara. The real point here is that you stopped yourself before anything serious happened. I wasn’t raped. You beat your body, Sara, that means that you are in control of it. Now that you know that you can stop yourself, it will become easier and easier. Once you fully accept that you are a girl and your new sexuality, you will be fully in control of your urges and will be able to turn them to your advantage. Did you notice how much fun you were having tonight?”
Sara smiled, “There were just so many choices and everything looked so good on me… I’ve never had that much simple fun in my life! I really have turned into a girl on the inside, haven’t I?”
Donna nodded, lapsing back into psychiatrist mode, “How does that make you feel?”
Sara grinned broadly, showing off her fangs, “Really good, actually.”
“That’s my girl.” Donna applauded.
There were several more minutes of silence as both the girls considered their progress tonight. Finally, Donna broke the silence, “By the way, Sara.”
“You are a really good kisser.”
Years later, Sara wondered if that blush made her face look like a beetroot, “Thank you.”
Donna smiled warmly, “That’s my girl.”
Nathan was too busy picking his jaw up off the floor to give Sara a proper greeting when she slinked into the conference room, his eyes following the sway of her hips like a charmed cobra. “Oh my god! Call in some exorcists, there’s a succubae on the loose!”
Sara winced slightly at his poor choice of words, but tried not to let it show. Donna covered her own embarrassment with a cough. Dr. Tanaka and Dr. Otto smiled appreciatively, sitting next to an older gentleman with a long grey beard and a matching robe, who’s bushy eyebrows raised slightly, but kept his opinion to himself.
Sara had a sudden, wicked idea. Carefully, placing one foot in front of the other, she sashayed over to Nathan, caught his chin with one finger, bent over and pulled his face as close to hers as possible, “I don’t think I ever really thanked you for saving my life, did I?”
“Wha…?” Was all the detective managed to get out before Sara licked underneath his lip with the tip of her tongue. She favored him with a lascivious smile before letting him fall back into his seat.
“Um… Erg… na…” It took a moment for Nathan to stop speaking in tongues. “If you gentlemen will excuse me, I think I need a cold shower.”
The old man in grey robes started to clap, “Excellent! Capital! Well done, miss, I haven’t seen anything like that since Vampiria cottoned on to Captain Courageous back in the 90’s. Poor shlock married her too…”
Tanaka-san coughed, embarrassed, “Pardon my manners. Sara Waite, I am proud to introduce you to an old friend of mine, the Grey Wizard of England. Grey, I’d like you to meet our newest recruit, Sara Waite.”
“The pleasure is mine.” The wizard bowed.
Sara managed to curtsey with some sense of grace, “Charmed, I’m sure.”
The Grey Wizard chuckled, “You did say she was a wild one, Tanaka. Oh, and I thoroughly enjoyed your book, ‘Incongruity’. You must have done a lot of research, I’ve set it as required reading for some of my apprentices.”
Sara blushed, “Well, mainly just my family library, really. Miskatonic University was very helpful in allowing me to study in their restricted section while I was on sabbatical there from Oxford with my Professor.”
The good mood seemed to fall off the wizards face, “Your family, yes, that’s what I’m here to talk to you about, actually. Have you ever heard the name Ephraim Waite, did your mother or grandfather ever speak of him?”
Sara nodded, “He was my great grandfather. Grandpa told me that the family library was mostly his collection, I have… had, excuse me, a picture of him in my house in Sydney.”
“Hmmm…” the wizard sat back down, sucking on his pipe.
“Do you need a light?” Donna asked politely.
The wizard shook his head vigorously, “No, thank-you, I’m trying to quit. Ever since Lord of the Rings was adapted to film, people seem to expect me to smoke. I find it helps me hide my true feelings socially, so I keep the pipe with me at all times.”
The whole party blinked.
“Ephraim Waite,” he continued, “was a dark wizard. Now, when I say that, I’m sure I’ve got you all thinking of a man wearing a black hooded robe, consorting with demons and creating clever anagrams out of his name to come up with a Lord Somethingorother. The reality makes those books look like children’s stories. Ephraim lived in the Miskatonic River Valley for several centuries by trading bodies with his descendents and leaving them to die locked up in this very place back when it was an asylum.”
“How was he defeated?” Dr. Tanaka inquired.
“After taking over the body of his daughter, he married a local boy who managed to defeat him after they swapped bodies. With the help of a close male friend, naturally. The story was recorded and retold by an author you’d be familiar with, Sara, H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft, unbeknownst to himself at the time, was a mutant with certain telepathic insight into the arcane, which was why he was attracted to the Miskatonic area. But I digress, Lovecraft changed the story to protect the two young lovers and, after moving to a new life in Australia, they had a child, your grandfather I’d wager, Sara.”
“So, I’m a magically altered mutant?” Sara asked, confused.
“No,” the Grey Wizard shook his head, “it’s not that simple. After reviewing your medical reports, I can only come up with one reason for these effects. How much do you know about your own father?”
Sara’s face twisted with disgust, “How many times do you people ask this question? I know nothing about my father. Mom had a one night stand in Dunedin when she was 15. She never told me his name, he never contacted us again. That’s it!”
One of the coffee mugs shattered without warning, spraying pieces of ceramic over the room. Sara jumped in shock, “I’m sorry, was that me? I’m sorry…”
“That’s all right, calm down.” The Grey Wizard soothed, “Forget about it. It happens all the time with adolescent psychics who get mad, that’s what poltergeist activity mostly is, you know. We’ll clean it up later. I know your father’s a touchy subject, but please listen to me. I think that your mother got involved with one of the water cults in Dunedin. As the granddaughter of Ephraim Waite, she would have been quite a catch for any dark wizard. Among their diabolical bag of tricks, dark wizards often summon up beings from the underworld, most people call them demons but that’s really far too simplistic a term. I think that your mother was assaulted by one of these demons and impregnated with you.”
Sara looked at the Grey Wizard. Then she looked at the table. Then she turned to Donna, “Can I go insane now?”
The wizard smiled weakly, “I know this is hard for anyone to hear, but it’s best that you know. Your abilities all fit. Demons aren’t really alive, they don’t need to drink, eat or breathe. They don’t age and are very hard to kill physically. If your father was a demon of lust, that would explain the levels of hormones in your blood and your instinctive manipulation of people’s emotions. You have suffered throughout your life from the competition between two Body Image Templates. When you died, that was just the kick the stronger template needed to take over your failing organs from the other, obliterating its sibling with great speed in the process. The good news is that the worst of it is over. With help and training, you will be able to adjust to your new life style, like other half-demons before you.”
Sara considered what the wizard was saying. It would explain so many things about her family…
“Um, Grey Wizard,” Sara began uncertainly, “does this mean I have to become a super villain?”
The doctors all chuckled, making Sara feel a little silly. The Grey Wizard took her seriously, however. “No, not at all. The common misconception with demons is that they are all Evil. They aren’t. Well, not ALL of them at least. This stems from humanity’s love of guilt. We feel guilty about a lot of things, which makes us more controllable sheep,” the wizard muttered the last bit bitterly, “and because we feel guilty, we feel these things are evil. Sex and lust are prime examples. Lust demons aren’t generally evil, just horny as hell, if you’ll pardon the expression. Some mages summon the weaker ones up as party favors, you know. Really adds to a bash. But they are personifications of one of humanities greatest fears: their own sexuality, which gives them a bad reputation.”
The wizard took another fruitless puff on his unlit pipe, “The bad lust demons are the Demons of Rapine, which are a minority. Even Demons have standards, you know, and rape is one of the lowest crimes even in hell. Demons of Temptation are another matter, but most of them find other bargains more effective than an offer of sex, they’re more into power and dominance. Now, back to the real subject, have you ever heard of guardian demons?”
Sara nodded, “Once or twice in my research.”
“Good! Interestingly, did you know that most mages prefer guardian demons to guard their homes and treasures?” The Grey Wizard inquired.
Sara shook her head.
“They make much better guardians than angels. Angels have compunctions, you know, they like to talk to a thief and convince him of the error of his ways. By the time they finish, the villain’s long gone with the loot. A guardian demon will chew an offender’s leg off and ask questions later. Much preferred, considering some of the things we get them to guard. So, evil can be relative, you see?”
Sara stared at the wizard, “Sooort offff…”
Dr. Tanaka chuckled, “Well, you’ve just managed to survive your first Grey Wizard exposition, Sara. How does it feel to have actually followed his line of ‘logic’?”
“Tanaka!” The Grey Wizard looked shocked.
“One for his side.” Otto remarked.
The conversation devolved into the older men sharing a few friendly jibes. Soon, Sara found herself chuckling away with the deceptively charming gentlemen.
“Now that we’ve broken the mood, I have more good news,” Dr. Tanaka returned to the task at hand, “with ours and the Grey Wizard’s recommendation, the board has agreed to fund your scholarship into the only school we feel suitable for your situation. Whately Acadamy near Dunwich, New Hampshire. Considering that we want to keep a close eye on you and that Whately has special facilities for those of peculiar needs, we feel that this would be the best place for you to learn to control your powers. All that ARC asks for in return is that you allow us to study your development in the interests of science.”
“You want me to keep being your guinea pig and in return, you’ll pay my way through school?” Sara interpreted.
Dr. Tanaka managed to look sheepish, “I wouldn’t put it quite like that…”
“One for her side.” Dr. Otto remarked again.
“Do you know how irritating that is?” The Grey Wizard asked.
“It’s you, Grey,” Otto replied, “You bring out the worst in me.”
Sara smiled, “It’s not like I have a problem with being a guinea pig, I just want to know what the terms are. I mean, just putting me through school seems a little cheap, how many times are you going to get a chance to study a real half-demon? I have to think about my future, you know.”
“Another one for her side,” Otto whistled, “she’s good.”
Dr. Tanaka grinned, “To tell you the truth, Sara, I’d like to see you get a good deal from this. ARC has plenty of money and the benefits of this research into your physiology may just generate an entirely new industry. So why don’t we all nut out something moderately reasonable that I can take to the board of directors, then Grey and Otto can help you fill out the late enrollment forms. What do you say?”
Sara returned the grin, “I say that I like a man with a plan.”
Sara felt as high as a kite, even pouring over the enrollment forms with Otto and Grey couldn’t get her down. Between them, Tanaka-san, Donna and Sara had forged a contract that guaranteed her a 5-figure salary, a full scholarship to Whately and a 5% cut of any profits generated by their research. Even at the most modest projections, she would find herself a very wealthy woman in a few years.
There was only one snag in the enrollment form: “Next of Kin, parent or guardian. What can we put here?” Otto chewed the end of his pencil, reading silently through the fine print. “ARC could probably sponsor you…”
“No way.” Both the Grey Wizard and Sara said at the same time.
Otto looked at them abashed.
“Think about it, Otto,” Grey began, “would you want a corporation that you’re in an agreement with have ANY hold over you or your powers of attorney? Even one like ARC?”
Otto screwed up his face in self admonishment, “No, I see your point. But Whately requires either a parent or guardian for enrollees. Someone to contact who has the best interests of the student in mind and can be responsible for them in court if need be. You know how hard the law of the land is on mutants these days, Grey.”
The Grey Wizard nodded ruefully.
“Which brings up the question of my identity.” Sara interrupted. “From what I remember, physical changes to a mutant during the transformation are particularly difficult to prove in court unless there are certified witnesses, such as doctors, a justice of the peace, a police officer or the subject’s parents, is that correct?”
Grey nodded, “It doesn’t help that Michael Waite has been recorded as officially dead. Your publishing company will have a vested interest in seeing that you remain so, not to mention the state who will get a fortune from the sale of your family home. As it is, Tanaka has some friends in the computer business who specialize in creating new backgrounds for displaced mutants. You’ll get a new Social Security Number, tax profile, US citizenship, the lot, the only bugbear is that you’ll be listed as a 13 year old to match your body…”
“Which means that I can choose a proper guardian, not just a corporate entity.” Sara interrupted forcefully.
Otto and Grey looked at each other. “Do you feel as sheepish as I do?” Grey asked.
“More, probably. I’m in this business, you know, I should know better.” Otto turned back to Sara. “So, you obviously have someone in mind. That Nathan chap seems nice enough, but…”
Sara laughed, “Nathan? No. No way. He’s nice and all, but as a single parent? No. Actually I have someone perfect in mind.”
Sara turned to look Donna directly in the eyes, “Donna, would you please consent to be my guardian? I won’t be a financial burden, and I promise not to get into trouble too much.”
Donna stared back like a scared rabbit, “ME?!? Why ME?”
Sara smiled, “Because you care, Donna. I met a boy a little while ago that made me realize how precious caring for another person is. In the last few days you’ve done a lot of things for me that most psychiatrists don’t do, that’s get involved with a patient on a personal level. You didn’t have to take me shopping last night and you didn’t have to come and get us from the Motel.”
“I don’t know, Sara, I mean this is a big step…”
“Please let me say one more thing, then we’ll give you as much time as you need to think about it,” Sara interjected, “I don’t need an impersonal entity right now. I don’t need schools and teachers as much as I need a friend. Maybe, later, I could call you mother if it comes to that. Please, at least think about it? For me?”
Donna didn’t trust herself to speak, so she just nodded and left the room in a daze.
The rest of the day went quickly. After the forms were finished, with the details of identity and guardianship pending, they were sent by a very special courier (a mutant Warper who could bend space and deliver the letters instantly), the rest of the day was spent packing. It took three large trunks to pack all the clothes bought at Cecilia’s and a carry bag for other necessary items. Nathan was a great help, and surprisingly good at packing.
“My father was a removalist,” he explained as he folded a shirt, “I worked in the family business until I was 18 and ready for police academy.”
“Why’d you join up?” Sara asked, curious.
“I wanted to help people. You know, like the super heroes. Only I wasn’t a mutant, so I just had to live with what I could do. Where do you want the bras?”
“Third draw, bottom left. You sound like you regret it.”
There was a long pause. “I do, now. Being a cop is 95% bullshit, 5% helping people. Traffic cops have one business: raising revenue for the government. Beat cops are there to keep the peace and save kitties from trees. Then you become a detective and realize that the cops are just as bad as the people they chase down.”
Sara stopped packing and looked at him, “Sounds like you’re ready to quit.”
“I’ve been suspended. I’m not sure if I could handle going back now. I’ve done more good in the last week than I have in my entire career as an officer. It makes me sick. They’ve offered me a job here as a field officer. They need norms to mingle with the populace and who can handle themselves. It just seems right, like destiny or something.”
Sara smiled, “I don’t believe in that anymore. Make your choice and its yours. You sound happy to be changing jobs, I say go with your happiness. Besides, it’d keep you close to Donna, wouldn’t it?”
Nathan blushed, “Is it that obvious?”
Sara grinned, “Donna’s not the only one with eyes around here. Don’t worry, she likes you too.”
Nathan scuffed his shoes like a schoolboy, “You really think so?”
“I know so. Did you see the look on her face when I licked you?”
“I was a little distracted at the time…”
Sara laughed wickedly, “Sorry. It was pure envy. You could see the green in her aura from outer space, I’ll wager. Play your cards and keep your cool, lover boy, and she’s yours.”
They were interrupted by Dr. Tanaka, “It’s all arranged. You’ll be moving into your room at Whately tonight, your school councilor will get your curriculum sorted out and you’ll start classes tomorrow.”
Sara whistled, “They sure move fast.”
Tanaka-san shrugged, “The term has already started, so you’ll be expected to catch up on lost time. Thankfully you don’t have to sleep, so you’ll have plenty of that. Plus, your first paycheck will placed in your new account tomorrow and your identity papers will be waiting on your bed by the time we get there.”
Sara sighed, “Where’s Donna? She should know about this.”
“Donna,” Donna grinned, stepping into the room behind Dr. Tanaka, “has just finished all the paperwork. So all we need is your signature.”
Sara launched herself at her new guardian, wrapping her arms around her waist, speechless. Suddenly, she stepped back, ripped the papers out of her hand, grabbed a pencil, read the entire document in 10 seconds and signed on the dotted lines as quickly as possible.
“There,” the teenage half-demon handed the documents to Dr. Tanaka, grinning wickedly (very easy to do when you have half-inch long fangs), “the deal is done! You are mine now, mommy!”
Donna took up the act, gasping with feigned horror, “OH NO! What have I done!”
The two girls then collapsed to the floor in peals of laughter. Nathan and Dr. Tanaka just looked at each other.
“Women.” They said in unison.
Chapter 3: Back to School.
Wednsday, 26th September, 20:00.
Thee great armored trucks pulled into the docking bay of the ARC research centre, directly in front of Sara, Nathan, Donna, Dr. Otto, Dr. Tanaka and the Grey Wizard. An unusually tall, well muscled, Asian man in black stepped out of the lead truck. His uniform looked paramilitary and was emblazoned with the ARC logo.
“Sara, Nathan, I’d like to introduce you to Major Amagata. Major, this is Sara Waite and Nathan Coleman.” Dr. Tanaka introduced.
The Major bowed, “An honor to meet you. Now, intelligence informs us that a group or several groups have a vested interest in seeing you come to harm. In the highly unlikely event that they can mount a serious attack in the Miskatonic valley, I am here to see that they don’t. What we have here is a simple shell game. The docking bay of the ARC building is locked down and protected from electronic and magical surveillance. So, we shall load you, Sara into one of these vans and each van will take a separate route to the target destination. Dr. Otto and I will travel with you to ensure your protection. You will have approximately 5 minutes to say your goodbyes while we load your cargo. Do you have any questions?”
Sara smiled, shook her head, and bowed politely. Amagata gave her a polite nod back before seeing to the loading of her luggage. Her goodbyes to Donna and Nathan were teary, ending with promises to see each other soon and keep in touch every day. She gave the Grey Wizard a generous hug and thanked him profusely for his time. Her goodbyes with Dr. Tanaka were strangely formal, until he took her aside for one last piece of advice.
“Be careful at Whately. It may be one of the safest places on earth for mutants and people like us, but it is not without its dangers. I know some of the teachers there, and they’re worried about something, but they can’t quite put it into words yet. Keep your eyes and ears open. If you find anything, tell Headmistress Carson immediately. Failing that, at least tell Donna to pass a message to me. Oh, by the way, they’ll probably be sending you to Poe cottage, one of the dorms. I know a some of the girls there, Nikki Reilly and Billie Wilson. They now go by the names Fey and Tennyo, though, so keep an eye out for them. Fey looks like an elf with red hair, Tennyo has spiky blue hair that seems to defy gravity. They’re both good kids, I’m sure you can become friends.”
“Doctor Tanaka, Sara,” Amagata signaled to them, “it’s time.”
Sara gave Tanaka-san a last hug before she hopped up into the truck. Donna handed her a few more bags of clothes.
“What’s this?” Sara asked.
“Your uniforms,” Donna grinned, “I got Cecilia to run a few off for you while we were in the changing room. Have fun!”
Amagata and Dr. Otto closed the doors, and the three trucks moved off onto the road. Sara watched the sanitorium disappear into the distance as the trucks parted company.
The three trucks entered the gates of Whately Academy together, passing the great faceless gargoyles that kept silent vigil on their charges inside. The trip had been uneventful. Four people waited for them at the end of the parking lot. Dr. Otto was the first to exit, followed by Sara, with Amagata bringing up the rear. Several ARC workmen began unloading the luggage while Amagata scanned the area for threats. Otto performed the introductions. “Sara, I’d like you to meet Headmistress Carson; Dr. Alfred Bellows, your school councilor, Ms. Shugendo, the dean of students; and last, but not least, Belle Forbes your sempai.”
Sara bowed, feeling awkward and not knowing what else to do, “Pleased to meet you.”
The Headmistress bowed back, “Pleased to make your acquaintance as well, Sara. Your introductory packet has been taken to your bedroom along with several other items that I believe you are expecting. In addition, ARC has generously donated your new laptop, which all the new students here receive, you will be expected to take it with you to all classes. Don’t worry about thieves, all classrooms have locked storage areas provided for student use. Now, you’ve got a lot to do tonight, so I’ll be quick. There are several important rules here at Whately. One, be careful with displays of your powers, we wish to keep a low profile. Two, fraternization between students is severely looked down upon. Three, if you wish to visit Dunwich at any time, you will need permission from administration and a responsible adult to accompany you. Four, welcome to Whately, all the teachers here wish you the best. Now, Beltane, that’s Belle’s codename, will take you to your dorm with Dr. Bellows and Ms. Shugendo, while I fix up a few of the details with Dr. Otto here. I hope to see you around.”
Sara thanked the Headmistress and walked off with the rest of the group. Beltaine greeted her with a smile and a friendly “Hi. Sara, right?” while they walked towards a darkened building nearby, the ARC workers porting the bags behind them.
Sara nodded, “Nice to meet you.”
“Well, like the Headmistress said, welcome to Hogwar… I mean Whately.”
“You’ve used that one with the other freshmen already, Ms. Forbes.” Ms. Shugendo tutted.
“Ah, but Sara hasn’t heard it before, so it’s still good, Miss.” Beltaine chuckled. “So, do you have a code name yet?”
Sara shook her head, “I didn’t know I needed one.”
Belle shrugged, “You might want to consider it. Most of us here use one, it’ll help you make friends faster. Now, I’m your Upperclassman here at Poe cottage. I’ll be upstairs if you have any problems that you and the other Lower Forms can’t handle. Now, the fast version is that Poe cottage is the alternate sexuality cottage. Twain is for the hetero boys and those boys with special needs. Whitman is for the hetero girls, similar to Twain. Emerson is another boys only, but they’re a little stuck up. Dikinson girls only again, but they’re far too into themselves. Then there’s Melville and Hawthorne. Melville’s eliteist. Hawthorne is for mutants who have dangerous powers and/or need very special conditions just to lead normal lives. Poe is divided up into gay, lesbian and changeling areas, so watch where you walk. I’m the Upperclassman for the changelings, naturally, and we are the defectors in the war against the sexes. If we have time, I’ll try to introduce you to the other changeling students tomorrow morning... err, at breakfast. Now, I have to show you something before you can get started, then I can get back to bed.”
By the time Belle had finished, they had arrived at the dorm. Sara paused outside for a moment while a matronly woman handed Belle some strange looking keys. Ms. Shugendo and Dr. Bellows followed the luggage. For a moment, Sara felt someone watching her from one of the dorm windows. She scratched her forehead absently, trying to look without seeming too obvious. For a moment, she caught a glimpse of what seemed to be tall, spiky, blue hair jutting up from under a windowsill alongside a floating pair of boxing gloves. A moment later they were gone, ducking to avoid being seen.
“Sara? You Ok?” Belle called. Sara decided not to make a fuss about it, “Yeah, coming.”
Belle passed by a bust of Edgar Allen Poe, which Sara smiled at with some amusement, to open a secret door in the wall. “By the way, that was Ms. Horton, the mother of the cottage, she’ll introduce herself later. This is the trophy room, where alumni of Poe send treasured possessions for our collection. We keep it secret from visiting norms to maintain the illusion that we are just another boarding school. The only thing I really have to show you in here is that painting there.”
Belle pointed at a large oil portrait. It showed a long view of a trim, athletic man, dressed in a deep purple coat cut in the manner of a Napoleonic era officer with a high collar, tails down the back, large cuffs, embroidered silver trim everywhere and a white lace jabot down the front. He was wearing tight white trousers tucked into black riding boots, bound up with a silver lame sash and had a white cape thrown over his shoulders. The man was aiming his classic patrician features up at the mantle of a rough-hewn fieldstone fireplace, contemplating a bust of a hawk-faced man with a large mustache. The overall effect was supposed to be Byronic, but the pompous Napoleon wannabe only managed to come off as Machiavellian.
“Lord Paramount,” Sara identified the man, “Prince of Wallachia. What on earth is that thing doing here?”
Belle sighed tiredly, “Lord Paramount is one of Whately’s principle benefactors. Part of the conditions of his donations is that all new students are shown this painting when they arrive, which is why I couldn’t just go back to bed as soon as we got here. Now that’s over, lets be getting on, shall we?”
Sara ignored Belle scrappiness (she would have been the same back when she had to sleep) and thanked her extra politely for the tour. Belle smiled weakly, “That’s alright. We’ll talk more once you get settled in. Your room’s in the basement, just go down and follow the lights.”
Sara was surprised that she wasn’t on the first floor, which was clearly labeled as ‘Freshmen Rooms’, but followed her new sempai’s instructions. The basement was built like a concrete bunker, and her own room was the last on the right after the stairs. A strange red aura emanated from the end of the hall, where there was a door marked ‘Maintenance: Do Not Enter.’ Sara did a slight double take when she got to her door. A small picture easily recognizable, particularly to a scholar of horror literature such as herself, as Howard Phillips Lovecraft hung at eye level. A sign below labeled the area behind the entrance as ‘The Lovecraft Room’.
Sara entered, finding an almost regular small dorm room with red carpet and grey concrete walls. Unlike regular dorm rooms, the walls were painted with strange red hieroglyphs that seemed to shift oddly under her aura vision. Ms. Shugendo and Dr. Ballows sat at a small table in the centre of the room surrounded by her trunks and bags. A pile of letters and packages sat on her bed.
“Come on, dear,” Ms. Shugendo, “lets get on with this. If we’re quick, I might be able to get this all entered officially by morning.”
Dr. Bellows gave her a smile, “Come on, Sara, we don’t bite too hard. Now, let me see, the file that we received indicates that you have already attained a Oxford degree in Arts and Literature, is that correct? You seem a bit young.”
Sara sighed. It was going to be a long night.
“So,” Dr. Bellows sat back, rubbing his eyes, “You’ve already achieved distinctions in your regular high school classes, so you can skip most of the basic classes. We’ve got you for Advanced Genetics, Hacking Theory, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Basic Martial Arts, Costume Design, Powers Theory, Music and Magical Theory and Practice. That’s a rather heavy load, you know, will you be able to handle it coming this late into the semester?”
Sara nodded, “And I’ll want to take a few electives at night once I catch up. I don’t sleep, you see, and I have a very high reading comprehension and a photographic memory. If I don’t load up on classes, I’ll get bored very quickly.”
“Very well,” Ms. Shugendo gathered up the paperwork, “I’ll get this over to admin right away. Good night Sara, Doctor.”
They waved her good-bye as she half ran out the door. “This is really good of all of you, doing this so fast.” Sara thanked the Doctor, who waved her off.
“All part of the job. You will quickly find, Sara, that the unusual is commonplace here at Whately. Now, I understand that you are a transgendered individual and that you are Bisexual, is that correct?”
“Well, let me be the first to reassure you that Whately has a strict non-discrimination policy, which is why we have Poe cottage. Everyone here knows what they are, so there are no misunderstandings, just keep it quiet from the other cottages. Usually, we would have placed you in one of the first floor rooms with the rest of the Freshmen, but space is short and your unique physiology meant that our resident Mages had to place a few wards over your room to counteract the concentrated disturbance your long term presence here may generate. I’m sorry if it’s a little disconcerting, but it is necessary.”
Sara smiled, “Actually, I rather like it. I was a horror writer before my change, which is rather ironic when you think about it.”
The doctor seemed curious, “Did you write many books? Would I have heard of them?”
Sara blushed, “I was Michael Waite. I’m best known for my book ‘Incongruity’.”
Dr. Bellows slapped his hands together, “Of course! I knew I’d heard your last name somewhere. I heard that you’d died, though.”
Sara launched into the entire explanation, leaving out no details, throwing caution to the wind. The doctor seemed troubled by her story. “Oh dear. I’ve heard some rough tales here at Whately, my dear, but that has to be the most disturbing yet. Don’t worry, I won’t breathe a word of this to anyone. As your assigned councilor, you have my complete confidentiality in any matter. I better let you get unpacking now, but I want to see you again, in fact regularly for the next few weeks. I’ll contact you tomorrow night so we can arrange a convenient time.”
Sara thanked Dr. Bellows again as he left, closing the door behind him. The moment of dead silence that proceeded seemed strange to Sara, who had become used to the constant hum of electricity throughout Arkham Sanitorium. With an excited sigh, she ripped open her introductory package and started reading.
“We have another one!” Peeper chuckled manically, collapsing his infra-red binoculars, squatting behind a thick shrubbery at the edge of the forest.
Greasy was too busy slobbering over his computer. Peeper, the larger of the two Twain freshmen, slapped him on the side of the head, “Get your brain back in the saddle, minion!”
“OH! Sorry, boss. You should check out this babe on level three…”
Peeper slapped him again, “Back on task, I said! So, how many of our original targets did we get? Two, three?”
Greasy cycled through that day’s snapshots. Over the last few weeks, Peeper and Greasy, founding and sole members of the Whately Boy’s Peeping Tom Club, had placed secret cameras surrounding Poe cottage, each pointed at a particular window.
“Ahhh…” Greasy sweated, “None, boss.”
“NONE! What do you mean, none?”
“The Negligee Nightingales all close their blinds when they’re changing, sir. If you want pictures, we’re going to have to get something inside the rooms or buy those X-ray lenses I told you about…”
“Like I said before, X-ray vision lenses suffer an intolerable degree of graininess and artifacts. We need film quality resolution if we want to hawk ‘em for a good price.” Peeper scowled. “Ever since their battle with the Ninjas, the demand for pictures of these gorgeous ladies has skyrocketed! If we don’t cash in now, we’ll miss the bus!”
“I know, sir.”
“I was hoping to avoid using my secret weapon, but circumstances have forced my hand! Now they will know the FULL TERROR of mocking THE PEEPER!”
“I know, sir, but…”
The Peeper reached over Greasy’s shoulder, into the smaller boy’s backpack, pulling out a clear plastic Tupperware container that seemed to be empty. “With my creations…”
“My creations, don’t you mean, sir…”
“…with MY creations I shall invade every nook and cranny...”
The Peeper began to pant.
“…the showers, their rooms, the hallways, the toilet! NOWHERE SHALL BE SAFE FROM MY PRYING EYES!”
“Our prying eyes, don’t you mean, sir…”
“We’ll make a fortune, Greasy, just think of it. My own Armani suits, Gucci Sunglasses, sports cars, luxury yachts… why, Greasy, I might even be able to afford to buy you some Zit-b-Gone! Won’t that be nice?”
“Yes, sir, but I was wondering…”
The Peeper ripped open the container, allowing a puff of blue dust to disperse into the wind, “With these Nanomollecular Cameras, all will be revealed!”
“But sir, I built those with spare stuff from the school workshops. The teachers know I took the parts. If they’re discovered, I’LL be the one facing the music.”
“That is a risk I’m willing to take for you, minion. Now, back to home base before anyone notices we’re missing! I have a cunning plan to keep the interest in our girls waxing until the pictures start rolling in…”
Sara narrowly avoided the shaft of light that shot through the small, high window in her room as the sun rose above the horizon. Scowling, she hopped up onto her bed and, from the cover of the concrete wall, threw the thick, black, curtains closed over the glass.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid.” She cursed, “I’ll have to see about getting those tinted.”
Sara checked the time. 05:00. Her new backpack sat in the corner near the door, waiting to be taken to class. Her cupboards were fully packed and arranged, the trunks tucked neatly under her bed. Her bookshelf and desk were bare, except for a few pencils, a notepad and a few of the items ARC had sent along with her identity papers. Her wallet was organized with a hundred dollars worth of spending money pre-drawn from her account by ARC, along with her passport, enrollment forms, schedule and map of the school.
With nothing left to do, she decided to take a shower, clothing herself in a long, dark red, hooded bathrobe for the trip upstairs. The hallways were deserted, as was the female bathroom. The sounds of deep snoring could be heard from some of the rooms, particularly to the south. Sara showered quickly, not wanting to disturb the other students, padding back down the stairs with no-one left the wiser. Sara sighed with relief once she was back in her own room, she wasn’t sure how she’d handle showering with other girls yet. For a moment, it seemed like yesterday that she was a guy…
Sara unzipped the bags that contained her school uniforms. She wasn’t disappointed. A thick, rubbery, black full bodysuit, complete with detachable gloves and socks, went on directly over her underwear. The white blouse tucked into a short, black, pleated skirt with white trim. A dense silk scarf wrapped across her shoulders, designed to be pulled up over her face as a half-mask when needed. The hooded blazer matching the skirt went over the top, the Whately crest emblazoned on the left breast. Black loafers and wrap-around sunglasses completed the ensemble. The blazer’s hood hung low over her face, obscuring her vision slightly but shading it from the sun completely.
Sara marveled at how good it looked while managing to keep her covered from the sunlight. The black bodysuit was so tight and form-fitting that it fit like a second skin, and looked enough like latex to keep her ‘bad girl’ look shining through. With her sunglasses and mask down, she looked positively frightening. Checking her schedule, she packed her Martial Arts Gi into her bag. It was a regular white Gi, like so many she’d seen in the movies, except that hers included a tight full head mask with built-in tinted glasses for her eyes made from high impact plastic. A hole in the back left room for her hair to flow out in a plat.
She waited another half-hour for the other students to start moving about, then even longer for them to start coming down the stairs. When the rush increased, she crept up the stairs and joined the throng, blending in with the rest. The first thing that she noticed was that she was among the smallest students in the cottage, far shorter than the hulking Amazon that stalked the hallway at will, practically pushing the other students aside. Most seemed to be in their mid-teens, which wasn’t usual, she decided, considering most mutants manifested at puberty.
Sara felt more nervous than she ever had in her life. The last time she’d been in high school she’d been one of the weakest nerds in the set, and a loner to boot. Only her condition and the constant supervision by the teachers had protected him from bullies and their ilk. Now she didn’t need their help, but old habits die hard. She kept a low profile, eyes slightly downcast, as she moved in the direction of the cafeteria.
Sara did a double take as she entered. The room was already full, most of the students were seated and eating five minutes after seven. Sara looked about for the ‘Special Service’ section, then noticed a fourteen year old kid with green skin scooping up a bowl of dead cockroaches onto his plate. She stepped into line behind a snaky-looking kid who was busy asking for mice.
Sara suddenly felt someone looking at her from behind. She turned slowly, catching a glimpse of an odd group of friends sitting at a nearby table. The first girl on the far left, facing me, was an average girl with short, spiky black hair and green eyes, wearing several layers of torn clothing rather than a uniform. Next to her was a large, well built, boy with short dark hair who must have been what SPB’s call a ‘brick’ with his square jaw and muscular shoulders. Next was a fierce looking girl with familiar spiky blue hair that was so long it was either plastered together with moose or resistant to gravity, wearing a nice-looking school uniform with white socks pulled up to her knees. Two girls had their backs to me, a lithe black girl wearing a bright red singlet, a black jacket tied around her waist and red track pants, gold chains and bracelets enhanced her look. A Hispanic girl pressed close enough to her to be overly friendly without making her way into the ‘obviously friendly’ bracket. She wore a clinging blue and green splotched shirt with a matching, tassled, skirt. A slender silver chain wound up her right arm, made its way down to her waist where it was clinched at one side.
The girl with the blue hair was shoveling food into her mouth like it may be the her last meal on earth, while staring in Sara’s direction out of the corner of her eye. Sara labeled her as a possible ‘Tennyo’. After a break in their conversation, the black girl said something to ‘Tennyo’, the babble from the rest of the cafeteria drowning it out. ‘Tennyo’ answered over a mouthful of noodles and jerked her head in Sara’s direction. The black girl glanced over her shoulder, but Sara turned away, too shy to meet her gaze.
“What are you here for?” A busy woman demanded from over the counter. The snaky boy was walking away with a plate full of dead mice. Sara turned her full attention to her, “I-I’m Sara Waite…”
“Oh, new girl. Yeah, we’ve got something here for you.” The lady bent over and pulled a large cage up over the bench. A piece of note paper labeled it as ‘For Sara Waite’. It contained a medium-size Labrador.
Sara choked, “You can’t expect me to… in here?”
The matronly woman sneered slightly, “Look, hon, we get all types here. Just keep it all in the cage and leave it next to the garbage cans. NEXT!”
Despite the woman’s reassurance, Sara turned to find all the occupants of the room staring at her. She sucked in her breath and held it, winding through the maze of tables to the last single bench on one of the sides. Several students pulled their legs out of the way as she passed, or shifted in their seats nervously. ‘Tennyo’ was still eating like a machine.
Sara placed the cage on the table and sat, pulling her mask down and tucking her sunglasses into the inside pocket of her blazer. The boy next to her chewed his cheerios slowly, watching her every move. Might as well get this over with, Sara sighed, they were bound to find out, sooner or later.
Sara opened the top of the cage and reached inside. The Labrador sniffed and nuzzled her hand curiously. A girl nearby cooed, but was silently hushed by one of her friends. Sara stroked the side of the dog’s head, working her hand into position, then grasping it’s throat, cutting off air. It tried to bark, but all that it could manage was a low whine, which was immediately cut off as a fanged tentacle tore its way from Sara’s palm and burrowed deep into the animal’s innards. A moment later, the dog collapsed into blue ash. The tentacle withdrew slowly back into Sara’s arm, giving the spectators a long look.
Now the room was completely silent. ‘Tennyo’ was gone, along with the food that was once on her plate. A helf-chewed cheerio fell from the boy’s mouth next to her, plunging into his bowl with an audible ‘plonk’.
Sara stood, fighting the urge to cry or run, picked up the cage and left it next to the garbage cans on her way out. She left the stunned audience behind her, managing not to break out into a run before she was out of sight of the building.
Naturally, Sara was the first person to arrive to Costuming class. She left the lights off and the blinds closed, allowing her to take her sunglasses off and pull down her mask as she sat at one of the back tables. The crackle of the speaker at the head of the room made her jump, after a minute, the crackle became a voice.
“Good morning Whately! Welcome to the new, officially approved, Whately Acadamy Radio Station! OR W.A.R.S!”
There was a round of recorded applause.
“Thank-you, thank-you. Those of you who know me know me as THE PEEPER!”
Pre-recorded cheering echoed through the room.
“And this is my minion, Greasy. Say hi Greasy.”
“Uh,” a different voice muttered, “…hi.”
A few disheartened ‘yay’ noises groaned out of the speaker.
The Peeper’s voice broke through before they could finish, “And I’ll be here each breakfast, lunch and dinner traveling with you to class as we pick out the latest gossip. Our first question for this morning pertains to one of the hottest topics of the first school season: That of the self named ‘Team Kimba’, who most memorably foiled a band of ruthless Ninja in their unmentionables, much to the delight of the Twain boys. As a case in point… sir? Excuse me, sir…”
“What is it Peeper?” A new, hurried, voice came on mike, “I haven’t had breakfast yet…”
“Congratulations, Gargant, you are the first interviewee on the new Whately Academy Radio Station, WARS! How does that feel?”
“Excellent! Now, the question all our listeners are asking out there is ‘How much would you pay for a nude picture of the Negligee Nightingales? Take your time.”
“Uh… er… well…”
“Fifty, one hundred? This includes the gorgeous redhead Nikki Reilly, remember, who is currently taking the boys of Whately by storm.”
“Uh… one hundred…”
“ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR A SNAPSHOT, ladies and gentlemen! And a bargain at twice the price, if I do say so myself! Thank-you, Gargant. Now, while attention has centered on the lovely ladies of the Bazoonga Babes, a new student has managed to sneak in under our radar. The school is a buzz with talk of this gothic goddess. We are proud to be the first media outlet to bring you exclusive pictures of this femme fatale’s arrival at Poe! Just check out our website at whately.wars.com! And now, back to your regularly scheduled lessons, be ready for more earth-shattering news at lunch! See you then…”
The speaker went dead. Just then the door burst open, an older woman Sara took to be Mrs. Ryan. She was yelling into some sort of high-tech phone, “…doesn’t she remember what happened last time? Those two young idiots could ruin their careers! It’ll be a scandal, you mark my words!” She dumped her bags onto the front desk, hung up her ‘phone’ and flicked on the lights. She then jumped out of her skin when she saw Sara’s dark form up the back.
“Oh, dear! Please don’t do that! Frightened me out of my wits. You’re Ms. Waite, aren’t you?” Mrs. Ryan managed to smile.
Sara nodded shyly.
“Well, move your bag down here, child, you’ve got a bit of catching up to do. Have you had any experience with sewing before? Knitting, anything like that?”
“No.” Sara shook her head. Moving to the table the teacher indicated in front of her desk.
“Oh, well, it doesn’t matter that much today, we’ll be doing color theory this morning. See if you can borrow someone’s notes and try to get out one of Stan Lee’s Hero Beginner’s Guides from the library in your spare time. That should cover the basics.”
The students came in one by one over the next few minutes, until the classroom was full of teenagers of all shapes and sizes. The girl with the short spiked hair and ripped clothes from the cafeteria sat directly behind her, along with a strange-looking girl wearing a Marilyn Monroe mask. Other than the mask, she wore a similar outfit to Sara’s, except her body suit was cloth rather than latex and her blazer didn’t include a hood.
“OK, class, settle down, settle down,” Mrs. Riley shushed them, “Color theory and its application to a super hero costume is an important skill to master. Here is a case in point…”
Mrs. Ryan pulled two large mounted posters from her bag and pinned them to the blackboard. The first was of a short, stocky, man in yellow spandex with blue fins at his shoulders, blue underwear and boots. His black mask swept up into fins as well, four black slashes followed his ribs and he wore a black belt with an X on the belt buckle. The Second portrait was of the same hero, except his costume was predominantly brown and black. There were also silver holes just below his knuckles in both pictures.
“You should all know this hero, and if you don’t I suggest you brush up on your super hero history. Now, this first costume was also his first costume during the 70’s when he emerged from the Canadian wilderness. This second was a re-design during the 80’s. Now, can anyone think of why he chose to change his image?”
“’Cause he looked gay?”
There was a small titter from the class. Sara whipped her head around. The guy who had called out was a tall blonde brick who had his hands behind his head, looking pleased with himself. Sara noticed that she wasn’t the only one giving him a hard look, the spiky haired girl and not a few of the boys had joined her. The girl in the Monroe mask snorted in disgust.
Mrs. Riley wasn’t impressed either, “Mr. Uberman, this class is about costuming and color theory, not social and cultural bias. You will see me after class for the details of your detention.”
That wiped the smirk off his face.
“Unfortunately you were close, his yellow outfit did provoke jibes over his sense of style. The brown and black costume lasted for ten years before being torn in battle by an old nemesis, when he converted back to his original costume out of necessity. The old costume was kept, however, for another ten years, can anyone think of a reason?”
Several hands shot up, Mrs. Riley picked the girl in the Monroe mask, “Jinn.”
“The brown costume looks a bit dull. Did he want to provoke a more vibrant image?”
Mrs. Riley smiled, “Very good. Yes, he did want to evoke a different set of values. By the beginning of the 90’s, his image had devolved into that of a contract killer, barely different to the villains he was fighting. His old costume took his image back to the days when he belonged to the classic heroes and he was able to counteract some of the spin the media put into his actions. By the new millennium, heroes changed styles again to appear more technologically savvy and ‘cooler’ to a new generation of values. This is why current costumes favor black and darker tones as well as casual clothing. Only two heroes have not had a significant change of image in more than half a century. Both of their costumes use red and blue with either white or yellow highlights. Can anybody think why their costumes maintained their stylish integrity over that time?”
Sara put her hand up.
“Yes, dear?” Mrs. Riley picked her.
“Because red, white and blue are associated with the American and British flags,” Sara answered, “while yellow is associated with gold.”
“Correct,” Mrs. Riley smiled, “Now, I’ve got a sketch of a yet to be costumed super hero and heroine and some color pencils here, lets see what each of you can make of them…”
Sara had to admit, Costuming was a pretty keen subject. Powers Theory was a blast, despite Professor Quintain’s mind numbing voice, a few of the energizers in the class were able to give short demonstrations of their powers while the Professor described what each was actually doing in scientific terms and theorizing on possible applications.
It was on the way to Biochem that Sara stopped in the middle of the chaotic hallway. She ignored the annoyed remarks of the people that brushed and bustled past. For a moment, she thought she saw Gary squeezing through the crowd. In a blink, he was gone. She shook herself before taking off after him, shouldering a group of boys aside.
And there was Gary, pinned in a corner next to a locker bay by three girls in green uniforms. Sara blinked and he was gone, replaced by a small, 11 or 12 year old Asian girl hugging her bag over her chest for protection. The foremost girl, the leader Sara surmised, was a good-looking blonde who bent over the much smaller girl and kept her from escaping. Two cronies, a redhead and a brunette stood behind her, a third with short blonde hair kept lookout down the hall.
“…if you know what’s good for you, you and your freak friends will pack up and leave before things get serious. Just because Chaka thinks she’s queen shit doesn’t make it so.” The leader sneered, her hands curled up into fists in front of the little girl’s face.
Sara fought back the red haze that started to cloud her vision. They’re like little Deathlists, Gary’s voice echoed through her skull, Someone needs to do something about them, Sara. Sara stepped forward, following the girls as they pushed the little one into a nearby bathroom.
The leader curled up her fists raising one over her head, “And just to show her how little we think…”
Sara cleared her throat loudly. The three older girls turned about. The little girl took the opportunity to race past them and get behind Sara.
“Anything you bimbos have to say to this girl,” Sara growled, “Say it to me first.”
The blonde laughed, a high pitched laugh like nails being scraped down a chalk board, “And who are you to address me as such, peasant? Ah, but it is customary to give one’s name first, isn’t it? I am Patricia Horton, The Yellow Queen, Leader of the Whately Martial Arts Cheering Squad. Who are you?” The three girls jumped back a step, breaking into a pose reminiscent of Charlie’s Angels and Sailor Moon. There was a puff of pink smoke and suddenly all three girls were clothed in red, yellow and blue cheerleading outfits, respectively.
Sara took off her glasses and handed them to the kid. Her eyes had exactly the right effect on the prissy cheerleaders, who quailed under her gaze. “I’m nobody,” Sara hissed, “And I’m still going to kick your ass.”
Patricia leapt forward at the insult, launching into a spinning punch that might have looked impressive in a practice ring. To Sara, however, the punch seemed to take forever to actually get around to flying at her face as her perception of time dilated, slowing the girl’s movements. Sara swept the punch aside with her right arm, watched the astonished look form on Patricia’s face, then grasped the cheerleader by the throat and lifted her bodily off the ground.
Patricia flailed her legs, unable to deal with her opponent’s grip, even her kicks just seemed to bounce off of Sara’s stomach. Sara laughed as she felt each bruise disappear even as it was being inflicted. She let a few fanged tentacles slip out from under her bodysuit, in between the gaps in her gloves and from under her collar, causing the other two girls to tremble, frozen in terror at the sight.
Sara heard someone or something hit the floor behind her and tossed, one handed, the blonde back into her friends. The cheerleaders lost their balance and fell to the floor. Glancing over her shoulder, Sara saw the fourth girl, the lookout, face eating the tiled floor with the little girl grasping her left arm in a Judo lock, one foot on the same shoulder. She smiled, “I’ve got this one!” Sara smiled back before turning to the other three.
“Now get out of here.”
They didn’t need to be told twice. Sara smiled at the little girl, “Sorry, I thought you needed my help, but I guess I was wrong.”
The girl smiled back. “Not at all, I’m not sure if I could have taken all of them at once. My name’s Jade,” she bowed, “You’re Sara, right? Jinn told me about you, you’re in her Costume and Powers classes aren’t you?”
Sara bowed back, “That’s right, the girl in the Monroe mask. Does this sort of thing happen to you a lot?”
Jade shook her head, “No. I get bullied a bit because I’m smaller, but lately it’s been getting worse. Usually they’re too afraid of my friends to pull anything like this. Chaka thought she’d proved the point when she took down a big baka called Montana…”
Sara nodded knowingly, she’d seen this sort of thing all the time in her last high school, “Bullies, unfortunately, are like puppies that chew your slippers. You have to keep bonking them on the nose with a roll of newspaper until they get the idea that what they’re doing is bad. Humans just need a bigger roll of newspaper.”
Jade chuckled, “Where are you headed?”
“Hey, me too. Come on, we’ve got to hurry, class is about to start…”
Sara waved goodbye to Jade as they parted ways for lunch. Sara only needed one meal a day and wanted to catch up on a few things in the library. Jade assured her that she’d be OK walking over to the cafeteria. Sara was glad that she’d met Jade, she reminded her so much of Gary that she felt heartsick for the little boy, but she had a trusting innocence about her that Gary never did. Sara hoped that they’d still be friends after she found out about her eating habits.
Things were going well, the library was one of the largest and most comprehensive she’d ever visited, rivaling Miskatonic U. for research material particularly in the occult section. A plaque outside the Whately Collection stated that it was the largest single resource on the occult in America.
It was when she left the library that the problem started. Turning a corner, back towards Stanton Hall, three seventeen year old boys and a fourteen year old girl waited, leaning against the low fieldstone wall that separated the path from the garden. The tallest in the middle, with ‘leader’ written all over him, was a Marilyn Manson look alike in a long-sleeved black t-shirt with the phrase ‘Fuck Off World’ splattered across the front in red. The two other boys were twin punks, both with black Mohawks wearing black leather jackets with silver spikes on the shoulders and gloves. The girl was small for her age, held a disemboweled teddy bear loosely in one hand and wore a lacy black dress. Her face was painted the same white as the rest, but punctuated by bright red painted tears streaming down her face. Her bare wrists were also painted similarly.
The leader stepped forward languidly, as if no woman in the world could resist him, “Hey, baby. We just wanted to tell you, we loved your work this morning, didn’t we Screech?”
The girl nodded, keeping her lips pursed tightly together.
The two punks stepped up beside the leader, “Smashing. Can you teach us?” They both said in unison.
Sara ignored them, “Who are you?”
The leader smiled and bowed deeply, “I am Nyarlathotep, pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Sara stared at the ponce for a moment, then started to laugh. The four Goths looked at each other in puzzlement. Sara caught a hold of herself, “But you’re white!”
The Goths looked at each other. Sara continued, “You have read Lovecraft, haven’t you? Or did you just like the name on the back cover? Nyarlathotep appears to mortals as either a tall man with true ebony black skin or an Egyptian pharaoh with the same pigmentation. Otherwise, he has a thousand other forms, each more terrible than the last and interested only in the destruction of the human race. To tell you the truth, you don’t fit that bill.”
His eyes hardened, “Nyarlathotep is my magical name, given to me by the Cult of Cthul. I gave it to you out of respect and courtesy, but if you insist on insulting me, then my use-name is Bloodworm.”
Sara chuckled, “Then, if I were you, I’d hope and pray that the Lord of Corruption, Messenger of the Outer Gods with a Thousand Forms, never catches you using his name. He’ll rip thee a new one and suck your soul out of it with a straw. So, are you the leader of this ‘Cult’?”
Bloodworm drew himself up to his full height in an effort to impress her, “Yes, I am the master of the Cult of Cthul, the most dangerous and knowledgeable cult of the black arts here at Whately. I am here to ask you to join our august group, our researches into the forbidden magicks denied to us by the shortsighted teachers…”
“Are most conversant, I’m sure. The answer is NO. Never in a million years. If you keep dabbling in the dark arts like you are now, you’ll be dead at best within a month. Naming yourself Nyarlathotep, honestly, you’re just asking for it.” Sara dismissed the wannabe Goths with a wave of her hand, walking past them towards class.
“Stay right there, it’s not like you can just turn your back on us!”
“That’s exactly what I’m doing,” Sara snarled, “and if any of the rest of you don’t want to share your leader’s fate, get as far away from him as you possibly can.”
Sara left an offended silence behind her as she stormed off, trying to get as much distance between herself and ‘Bloodworm’ as possible. A block away, a mirrored hand tapped her shoulder, calling her attention to a huge boy that reminded her distinctly of the Silver Surfer, sans surf board.
“I don’t think anyone’s ever done something like that to Darling before. Hi, people around here call me Mirror.”
Sara could see why, “Sara. Sorry, I don’t have a code name yet. I assume that ‘Darling’ is that fool I just ticked off?”
Mirror nodded, “Despite all his airs, his real name is Cecil Darling. He’s a mage, all right, and a number one idiot, but once you get to know him he’s a real asshole. I just thought I better tell you to watch out, he and his ‘Cult’ will be gunning for you now. If he gives you any trouble, come and tell me, I’m a peacekeeper. I’m usually at Twain, just ask for me down in the lobby and I’ll be right up.”
Sara shook his hand, promised that she would, then raced off to class. Despite running most of the way, she arrived late to double Hacking Theory. The teacher, Mr. Babage, wasn’t impressed. “We pride ourselves on attendance, Ms. Waite, continued tardiness will not be tolerated. Now, there is only one rule here in Hacking Theory, Ms. Waite, that any attempt to hack a Whately system or any network outside these walls that has not been sanctioned by this department is cause for immediate expulsion. We have specially set up systems for that purpose which we shall be letting you loose upon, both individually and as a team. You will be required to come up with an appropriate hacker alias different to your code name, I will expect that you will have one by next week. That being said, welcome to the class, take a seat.”
Hacking theory was, to say the least, cool, even though the average class member was male, pimple-faced, with glasses so thick they distorted reality when you looked them in the eyes. Sara felt like part of the same group she’d been in at her last high school.
Despite this sense of belonging, the other students, even the girls, seemed reluctant to look at her, let alone speak. Every time she turned to look in another direction, she found people hurriedly turning their backs to her, so she just hunkered down and concentrated on the computer screen.
It didn’t become clear what was going on until Jade ran out of the ‘Eastman Annex’, the martial arts hall for last period. “Are you all right, Sara? There’ve been some terrible things…”
Sara bent over to talk eye to eye with the girl, “Someone told you about breakfast, didn’t they?”
Jade shook her head, vigorously, “No… well, yes, but that doesn’t matter right now! They’re saying that your power is sucking out people’s souls! This ‘Peeper’ guy has been all over the radio at lunchtime getting people’s reactions and everybody is scared! They’re saying that you sucked the life out of a baby in front of the whole school. I tried to tell them that you’re not bad, but nobody wants to listen…”
Sara smiled and shushed the girl, “Don’t worry about it, Jade, it’s what I expected. I’ll handle it when I get the opportunity. Lets go back inside, I’ve all ready been late to one class because of these bozos.”
Entering the dojo was like walking into a saloon in a spaghetti western. All conversation on the mat stopped the moment she entered. Jade ran past and took her place on the mat next to the cat-like black girl from the cafeteria again, ‘Tennyo’ on the other side. The girl in the Monroe mask sat behind her, patting her on the shoulder.
Sara sighed lightheartedly, trying to keep her cool, walked over to the changing rooms and slipped inside. As soon as the door closed, she could hear the conversation start up again. She slipped into her Gi, leaving her bodysuit and gloves on, platted her hair and placed the special ninja-like hood over her head. The conversation stopped as everyone turned once again to face the newbie. The reaction some of them had to the face mask was priceless.
Sara sat to one side of the rest, not wanting to appear too threatening, mimicking the same sitting position as the rest of the students. Just then, an elderly Japanese man strode into the dojo, wearing broad pants like Sara had seen in the samurai movies. He was followed by a black woman in a kaki singlet and pants, her hair tied back with a camouflage-patterned bandanna.
“Class,” the Japanese man began, “we have a new student today. Sara, come here.”
Sara stood up and walked quickly over to the teacher.
He looked at her, “I am Tatsuo Ito and this is Amanda Tolman. Next time I ask you to do something, you are to say Hai sensei while you set about the task. If you are to refer to either of us, call us Ito-sensei and Tolman-sensi. Sensei means teacher and Hai means yes. You may also refer to me as Soke, which means that I am the founder of a new school. Do you understand?”
Sara bowed slightly, not lowering her eyes, “Hai sensei.”
“Very good. Do you have any knowledge of the martial arts?”
“Do you speak Nihongo?”
“Only a little, sensei.”
“Very well. Take off the mask, turn to face your classmates, bow and introduce yourself.”
“Hai sensei.” Sara turned to face the suspicious glares of her classmates and pulled her mask off. She noted the positions of several shafts of light near the edges of the mat, but continued. She bowed, still not letting her eyes fall from their faces. “Good afternoon, my name is Sara Waite. It is a pleasure to meet you. I look forward to training and improving my skills with you.”
“Good.” Ito sensei nodded, then turned to his co-sensei before taking a seat at the edge of the mat. “Amanda.”
“Who will volunteer to fight Sara?” Tolman-sensei asked the crowd.
Sara winced, but tried to remain impassive. Most of the hands shot into the air, the only exceptions being the group sitting around Jade and the muscular boy she now recognized from the cafeteria. Amanda sensei ignored them, pointing to the black girl near Jade, “Chaka. Front and centre.”
“Sensei Tolman,” Chaka questioned as she stood, “I don’t want to hurt her…”
“CHAKA!” Ito sensei called from the edge of the mat, “You will do as Tolman sensei instructed. You will fight your kohai with all of your skill to the incapacitation of one or the other.”
Chaka looked shocked.
“It seems that, despite sensei Ito’s demonstration on the first day,” Tolman sensei barked, “some of you have yet to grasp the basic concept of this class, which is what we intend to prove to you one way or the other. Sara, you will fight Chaka to the best of your abilities as well. I’ll hold your mask for you. If either one of you is forced into that cage, your powers are considered nullified and you lose. If either one of you becomes incapacitated or rendered unconscious, you also lose the match. Do you understand?”
“Hai sensei.” Sara answered.
“Good, stand on the white lines, bow to your opponent, and take up a fighting stance. You will begin when Ito-sensei says hajime.”
“Hai sensei.” Sara stepped up to the white line, echoing Chaka’s movement. She took the time to study her opponent. Chaka was much taller than her, and better built. Her muscles rippled under her skin, her movement like a great cat stalking its prey. Each movement was perfect, graceful and precise, the walk of a real warrior. Sara knew that her walk was more like a dancer, light of foot and graceful, but not so full of menace as the perfectly tuned instrument of violence before her.
They bowed, not taking their eyes off the other’s. Chaka dropped into a low kung-fu crouch, her right arm stretched over her leg, palm upwards in a beckoning gesture while the other hooked downwards behind her. Sara did the only thing she could think of and took up a regular karate stance, left side forward, feet apart and fists raised like a boxer.
Time slowed once again for Sara, who narrowly managed to jump backward from Chaka’s leg sweep, then threw her head back to dodge the hook that arced up past her jaw before managing to duck the follow-through roundhouse kick that whipped her plat about her neck. Sara saw an opening, launching a lightning fist at her opponent, catching her off guard with her speed and pummeling the small of the larger girl’s back.
Chaka rolled with the punch, practically unharmed. Their eyes met once more as both paused to consider what to do next. Sara could feel her blood pumping through her body. She edged away from Chaka, slightly afraid of the big girl’s strength and skill. The words ‘she’s going to murder me’ repeated over and over in her mind.
Chaka made the first move again, changing to a more direct method. She screamed, charging headlong into the smaller girl, leading with her left fist. Sara dodged, but failed to see the right uppercut that slammed into her chin. Purple blood sprayed over the mat as Sara tumbled across the ground. A cheer went up from the sidelines.
Chaka stood watching her opponent lie on the ground for a moment as the crowd clapped. They stopped when Sara stood, hopping lightly to her feet. The bruise from the blow covered the entire left side of the girl’s face, a gash ran from her throat up over her chin. Stunned silence fell as the bruise faded like a bad dream, the gash sealing over in less than a second. The Goth girl took up the faux karate stance again.
Sara glanced about for the sunbeams, which hadn’t moved since she arrived, but were painfully close behind her. Chaka was edging forward on the balls of her feet, a look of concentration on her face. Sara decided it was time to attack, running forward to deliver a right hook to the face. It was useless, Chaka grabbed the fist, ducked slightly and twisted, sending Sara head over heels over her shoulder and face first onto the ground. Chaka kept hold of her arm and placed a foot on Sara’s shoulder, pinning her to the ground.
Unlike the blonde cheerleader girl that morning, Sara didn’t stay held. Chaka wasn’t expecting Sara’s arm to bend backwards, nor was she expecting that the Goth had the flexibility and strength to perform a prone sweeping kick with both legs to the ankle and shin.
Chaka found herself landing bottom first onto the mat, a lightning fast kick then slamming into her chest from above, bashing her into the floor. Sara flipped back up to her feet, well out of range of the black girl’s ripostes, and continued to flip over and over as Chaka pressed her assault, attacking and springing from the ground in one smooth motion.
Sara ducked another roundhouse kick, diving under Chaka’s leg and delivering a staggering backhand to her shoulders, moving away once more. Sara’s eyes narrowed, trying to assess her opponent, looking for a real weakness that she could exploit. But there were none. Sara knew that she was faster with her time dilation ability, but she could only fight back against the girl from the defensive, making it impossible to win unless she just waited for Chaka to tire. From the look in her opponents eyes, Sara knew that that time was a long way off.
Everything changed when Chaka’s next punch connected. Even with her time dilation, Sara could hardly see the strike that nailed her in the solar plexus. A regular human or mutant would have been left gasping for breath, but Sara just rolled with the punch, springing back lightly to her feet. But Chaka was waiting. A hail of punches and kicks assaulted the Goth girl, each throwing her into the path of the next. The final roundhouse kick sent her high into the air.
Time wound down like an old clock. Sara could feel the air ripple away from her skin as she moved through it. She turned over in mid flight, seeing Chaka pull her fist back for another of those godlike punches. Sara reacted, spitting six fanged tentacles from her mouth at the black girl. The first ripped the sleeve of Chaka’s Gi before wrapping itself about her ankle, one was caught in her right fist as she span away from the other four.
Sara whipped those tentacles about, coiling them around to cushion her fall. Once she was back on her feet, she set herself and started to lift with the remaining two tentacles. Chaka rose into the air, bereft of leverage as she fought with the tentacle in her right hand, trying to stop it from chewing on her face. Sara attacked with the other four tentacles, hoping to force the other girl to yield before the fight got out of hand.
Somehow, Chaka found the leverage she needed in the tentacle fastened to her ankle. She swept her leg around in a wide circle, catching all six tentacles and wrapping them about her thigh. Grabbing the fanged heads with her other hand, she managed to use her momentum to perform a mid-air backflip, yanking Sara off her feet and sending the younger girl sprawling to the mat.
Without Sara’s own leverage on the ground, the tentacles practically went limp, allowing Chaka to land on her feet. With a quick yank on the tentacles, Sara felt herself flying through the air again, this time as the weight on the end of a whip, straight towards the open door of the red cage.
Sara panicked. She spread her arms and legs wide, catching the sides of the cage door upside down before she could fly through. She felt the muscles in her shoulders and legs bunch together, gaining the strength to hold her upright. She retracted her tentacles with such speed that Chaka gave a small gasp of pain as they tore through her grip, spinning her about. The black girl kept her legs, folding them into a cross-legged kung-fu position that Sara recognized from another movie. Chaka looked up at the other girl and snarled in frustration, then took a calming breath to steady her nerves.
Sara knew the signs of a seasoned warrior. Chaka wasn’t letting herself get angry, was keeping her breathing steady and controlled, not letting emotion into the equation. Sara wondered if she’d ever have that much control over herself.
The audience had gone from the heights of passion to the depths of despair in a moment. A hushed awe fell as the two combatants paused again. Sara slowly climbed up the bars of the cage to the top until she was performing a handstand on the top bar. Slowly, she tucked her legs back underneath her and stood, balancing herself perfectly on the second horizontal bar.
Chaka grinned. Sara smiled back before the black girl leapt up to join her on the cage. The obstacle, hanging from the ceiling by a single chain attached to the centre, began to swing slowly with the harsh movement. They watched each other from opposite ends of the cage. Chaka gave her a polite nod. Sara returned the bow before striking, slashing past the hanging chain.
Chaka did another roundhouse kick, dodging the attack and slamming her foot into Sara’s back. Sara lost her footing and plunged over the side, catching hold of the bars by reflex before she could fall. Chaka was one step ahead of her, swinging down from the top of the cage, holding on with one foot, grabbing the back of Sara’s Gi and brachiating around the corner bar, sweeping Sara around and slam-dunking her into the cage.
Sara sighed as she heard the cage slam shut. The result was inevitable, no matter how indomitable her powers were, Chaka was too good. A cheer of appreciation erupted from the crowd, which was quickly silenced by Ito sensei. The black girl neither bowed nor acknowledged the spectators, her eye never left her opponent.
“Sara, do you yield?” Ito sensei asked.
“Hai sensei.” Sara answered immediately.
“All right, you can come down.”
Sara obeyed, dropping back to the mat and turning to face her opponent. They bowed once more, not taking their eyes off each other, then both grinned.
Ito sensei wasn’t finished with Sara, though, “Kohai, why didn’t you use your psychic powers on your opponent?”
“Chaka sempai’s aura was too strong, soke,” Sara explained, “she would have thrown off my influence, gaining me at best a momentary distraction.”
Ito sensei nodded, then stalked back to the crowd. “The point is made again. No matter how powerful your mutations may make you, nothing is a match for true skill. The only tragedy is that you consider one of these combatants skillful. Now pair up on the mat, back to the routines.”
Sara was surprised when Tolman sensei tapped her on the shoulder and pulled her aside after practice. “There is one question that your files don’t answer for me, kohai. Most students with their background in the intellectual fields don’t choose Martial Arts as a study topic. Although you have some athletic potential, this was very obviously the first time you’ve ever fought hand to hand in your life. My question is: why are you here?”
Sara considered her answer carefully, “To learn control, sensei. Before my change, I was weak and sickly. So sickly that I’d get a nosebleed in a stiff wind. That barred me from practically all physical activities, so I crept into a book. Don’t get me wrong, I love books as much as I love breathing, but now I have a new body with a whole new set of rules. Not only that it… takes over sometimes, acts by itself. I’m here because I want to learn to use it and control it to the best of my advantage. I may be a rank beginner, but I’m willing to do whatever it takes to learn.”
Tolman sensei nodded, “Very well. I must inform you that Ito sensei and I have misgivings about this. Neither of us are exactly sure how to teach a student without the proper respect for pain.”
Sara nodded, “I understand, sensei. All I can give you is my assurance that if there are two things that I hate, it’s losing and failure. I won’t back down and I won’t give up.”
“Very well. Here’s your mask. You may go.”
“Arigato, sensei.” Sara bowed before rushing back to the change rooms. Again, the other students ignored her as she went about changing into her uniform.
“Hi!” Someone slapped Sara on the back. She turned around to find Chaka’s hand on her shoulder. The black girl wore a towel wrapped around her curvaceous body, her hair wet from the shower.
Sara smiled back, “Hi. You’re really good, you know. I wish I had half your moves.”
Chaka grinned, “You’re pretty impressive yourself, for a rookie. You sure you’ve never had any training? Done gymnastics? Anything?”
Sara shook her head, “None. Just good reflexes and a bit of strength. Tell you the truth, I was copying you half the time. The other half I was just trying to keep away from you.”
“I have to admit, those tentacles gave my heart a jump start,” Chaka let the towel drop to the floor as she started to re-dress herself in the red singlet and pants she’d worn that morning, “You going to take a shower? Jade and Tennyo are in there.”
“No, I’ll wait for them out here. I don’t sweat.”
Chaka stared at Sara funnily. “Ah, look, I want to thank you for saving Jade. As good as she is at Akido, those cheerleaders are tougher than they look. I heard that the Yellow Queen is in one of the advanced martial arts classes. Anyway, thanks.”
Sara smiled, “Glad to have been there. If there’s one thing I hate after failure, it’s bullies. I took too much of that kind of shit before I changed and if anyone deserves better, it’s Jade.”
“Yeah, she’s a good kid.” Chaka agreed.
“The Yellow Queen was inept. Nowhere near your league, at least in what she showed me. Heck, she needed three cronies to take on a little girl, how sick is that?”
“Who’s a little kid?” Jade said, poking Sara in the kidney from behind. Sara didn’t flinch. Tennyo stood behind her, a toothy grin plastered across her face, “Hey, that was some fight, you two.”
Sara noticed that Tennyo’s voice was more like a drill instructor than the voice of a young girl. Jade poked her again, “Come on, I know you’re in there.”
Sara chuckled, “What on earth are you doing Jade?”
“I’m trying to find those cool tentacles! Where do keep them anyway?”
Sara sighed, it was going to be another long night. “Hey, where’s Jinn anyway?”
Tennyo started to speak, but Jade interrupted her, “Oh, she went back to Poe all ready. She doesn’t have to shower.”
Tennyo and Chaka looked at each other and rolled their eyes, but kept what they were thinking to themselves.
They met Hank, the brick, waiting for them outside the dojo. Though up close, he looked slightly skinny, Sara could see the promise of his bulging pectorals through his shirt. He seemed like a nice guy, and pretty impressed with the way Sara handled herself.
“I’d hate to think how a match between any of us would go.” Hank shook his head. “I mean, think about it, me versus Tennyo? Can you see it?”
Tennyo scratched the back of her head, a strained grin on her face.
Chaka grinned too, “I can see a lot of property damage in the future.”
“Hey!” Both Tennyo and Hank said in unison.
“Come on, guys,” Jade admonished, “enough of the gloom. We’ve got a new sister at Poe, and I think that deserves a celebration. So, what room are you in Sara?”
Sara smiled sheepishly, “Ah, I’m in the basement. A place called the Lovecraft Room.”
“What,” Chaka snorted, “is it, like, filled with sex toys and stuff?”
Sara laughed, “I wish. It’s named after H.P. Lovecraft, the writer. It’s pretty much a regular dorm room. Except for the wallpaper.” OK, Sara said to herself, it’s not quite a lie.
“And THERE THEY ARE! The better part of the demure damsels, the tantalizing teasers themselves, the inappropriately named ‘Team Kimba’!”
“Oh, crap.” Tennyo muttered, chewing on her lower lip. Sara noticed that a vein popped out of her forehead as Peeper and Greasy ran towards them from the cafeteria.
“YOU!” Sara pointed to Greasy, who scampered meekly behind the taller boy, “You’re in my Hacking Theory class! Not two seats away!” Greasy scuffed his feet in shame, managing to look like a puppy who’d just been caught doing it’s business on the lounge room floor.
Peeper was undeterred by the, shall we say, less than receptive look on the group’s faces, “So, Chaka, just returned from another spectacularly successful duel with the new resident of Poe cottage. How does it feel to be a winner?”
“Buzz off, creep.”
“Great! So, the whole school has been hard at work trying to come up with the perfect name for your team and the two top contenders are the Negligee Nightingales or the Morning Glories. Which do you prefer?”
Jade and Hank unconsciously moved to restrain Tennyo.
“We prefer Team Kimba. Now, get that mike out of my face before I shove it up your fuzzy white…”
“AH! And the other maiden of the moment, the new girl in town, Sara Waite. How does it feel to have had your butt whooped this afternoon, Sara?”
Sara smiled and remained calm, “It was an honor to train with Chaka sempai.”
“Tonight, WARS has announced the beginning of a new competition to be held throughout the school, searching for your ultimate code name! Do you have any ideas? Any thoughts on the subject?”
“What I name myself in nobody else’s business. I will consider the matter myself and make my own decision at the appropriate time.”
“And now, the real question on everyone’s lips. I’m sure you must know by now that you created quite a stir in the cafeteria this morning. Now, how do you suck out someone’s soul and what do babies taste like?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Sara smiled sweetly, “I can only suck out the souls of vicious little bastards like yourself.”
“Errr…” A look of panic crept over Peeper’s face.
“Oh, dear,” Sara gasped into the mike, “I’m sorry, Peeper, I didn’t mean to make you wet your pants.”
“B-but I didn…” Peeper stuttered.
“Oh, don’t try to cover up over the microphone, you poor dear.” Sara took the mike out of Peeper’s hands and continued to talk into it, “Here, you better get right on back to Twain before you catch your death of cold. I’m sure Tennyo will be delighted to help you. Tennyo?”
Jade and Hank let go of Tennyo, who’s eyes burned a fiery crimson. With one hand, the strange blue haired girl lifted Peeper bodily from the ground and pitched him, baseball style, into the general vicinity of Twain, landing heavily in a clump of bushes.
“That will be the end of WARS for tonight,” Sara announced, “we will now return you to your much preferred, regularly scheduled, peaceful silence. Good night.”
Sara shoved the mike into Greasy’s hand and continued happily on her way to the cafeteria, the rest of the group chuckling along behind her. As the group entered, a great cheer rose up from the crowd, to which they returned a deep, theatrical, bow before taking their seats.
“Hey, Nikki, Belle! Over here!” Jade called to girls who were already standing in line. They waved back. Tennyo and Hank decided not to stand on ceremony and joined the end of the line, leaving Chaka, Jade and Sara to mind the table while they were gone. Chaka was soon joined by the Hispanic girl in blue that Sara had seen that morning.
“Sara Waite,” Chaka introduced, “meet Riptide, or just Rip for short. Rip, this is the new Poe girl that’s caused such a ruckus today.”
Rip smiled, launching into her usual rapid fire speech, “Pleased to meet you! Wow, do you really suck out souls? What’s your sign? Where do you buy your make-up? Are you one of the Goths? What are your powers? Can you show us? I control water, I’d be happy to give you a demonstration.”
Sara smiled back, “Pleased to meet you, too. No; cancer; this isn’t make up; no; Exemplar 4, Shifter 4, Regen 6, Psychic; maybe later and maybe later.”
Rip blinked. Chaka chuckled, “Fair’s fair, Rip, you asked.” Rip punched her lightly in the stomach.
As soon as Tennyo, Hank, Nikki and Belle got to the table, the rest got up to get in line. Sara felt a little peckish, so she went with them. The special requirements bench was free, so she sauntered right up to the clerk. “Do you have any potplants? Fairly small?”
The lady searched about for a moment before producing a tiny shrub from under the counter, “That do?”
Sara smiled, “Perfect, thanks.”
Sara set her plant down on the table and offered her hand to Nikki, “Hi, I’m Sara. Sara Waite.”
The beautiful elfin redhead took her hand reluctantly, “Nikki Reilly. But please call me Fey.”
Sara giggled, glancing between Fey and Belle as she sat, slipping down next to Tennyo.
“What?” Belle inquired, puzzled.
“Oh, nothing. It just explains why you two seem close. Fey and Beltane, the Celtic combination. I’m sorry, I have a strange sense of humor sometimes.” Sara felt a little embarrassed, but Beltane nodded. Fey managed to look perplexed. The contrast between Sara and Nikki was astounding, like day against night. Where one was simply beautiful, the other was dangerously attractive. Where one was flushed with vibrant color, the other was black and white. Where one was innocent and approachable, the other was knowing and sinister. One made boys tongue tied in her presence, the other tied boys tongues in a knot for them. Fey was the type of girl boys pray to take home to mother. Sara was the type of girl boys prayed they’d never have to take home to mother.
“Hey, Tennyo!” A huge boy that looked like a werewolf patted Tennyo on the shoulder with one clawed hand.
“Harry! Good to see you. Ready for more practice tomorrow night?”
“You bet. Just let me get a hindquarter or two and I’ll be right back.”
Nikki and Hank were looking at Tennyo with an almost identical expression, one eyebrow raised in an unspoken question.
“What? He’s just a good friend.” Tennyo defended herself.
Just then, Chaka and Jade got back, squeezing into the remaining seats. Rip was still waiting for some esoteric concoction from behind the counter. Beltane motioned for silence before anyone could start a conversation, “Ok, I’ve got to do this quick before Rip and Tennyo’s boyfriend get back…”
“He’s not…” Tennyo tried to interrupt, but Belle talked over her.
“…Sara here is our new sister in Poe. But more than that she is one of us, a changeling. Though separated from our rooms by a twist of fate, I will expect you to treat her as one of our own, as I’m sure she will treat us in turn. Though many mutants consider themselves unlucky, Sara can truly lay claim to the title. I must remind all of us to stick together no matter what may happen or be revealed, or how we may feel. Tonight might be a good night to get to know our new sister, so I’ll expect to see you all in the study room. We can lock ourselves in and have a good talk.”
Sara gulped as the news sank in. They were all like her? They all used to be guys? Except Hank… who was a girl? Slowly, the others got back to eating. Rip and Harry arrived to a subdued table, looked at each other, shrugged, pulled up a few chairs, and set to their own meals, unsure what to make of the silence.
Sara stared at the plant. Fey kept glancing her way out of the corner of her eye. She took a deep breath and touched the top of the plant. It simply withered until it collapsed into black ash. Fey shot to her feet, Beltane grabbed her wrist to stop her from making a scene. “Solidarity, Fey.” Belle hissed.
“But,” Fey gasped back in horror, “You didn’t hear it scream! You couldn’t. It’s aura was there and she just sucked it in. Inhaled it and it died.”
Sara looked down at her lap. She could feel the tears well up under her eyelids. Jade put her hand on her back. Sara winced. Fey sank back into her chair, partly stunned and partly ashamed. Sara tried to pull herself together, she didn’t want to be weepy on her first day.
Sara fought to keep her voice calm, but she was unable to look up at their faces, “I don’t blame you. The first time I ate, it was a security guard. I’d just changed, I was covered in blood and he fired at me. I was so hungry that I just couldn’t stop. The next day I tried to kill myself, but I couldn’t die.”
Sara paused, her breath catching in her throat, “The next day, I did it again. It was to stop a foster parent from killing his eleven year old son. The day after, the son was shot trying to help me. I took him without meaning to, but he was the last. With his last breath that boy asked me to keep on going, so that’s what I’m going to do. I have to eat to stay alive, and this is how I have to eat. It’s wrong, but I can’t do anything about that.”
Sara got up and raced out the door, leaving the remains of the potplant on the table.
Patricia ducked low behind the shrubbery as Sara ran out of the cafeteria. “Do we follow her, sister?” Little Bee, the smaller blonde asked eagerly.
“No. We wait for Kelly and Ginger. This girl’s too tough to take out on our own.”
There was a rustle behind them. Patricia and Bee turned to see another shrubbery approaching them. They both immediately readied their throwing pom-poms.
“Woah, girls. Ease up on the hammers. It’s me.” Bloodworm’s head popped out from behind the bush, Screech close behind him.
“Eeeww,” Patricia grimaced, “Why don’t you go crawl back under your stone?”
“Ha-ha,” Bloodworm said flatly, “Very funny. Actually I’m here to make you a proposition…”
“Greasy! I command you to get me down from here!” Peeper shouted from his position up in the tree, his underpants caught on a branch.
Greasy nodded, pulling his retractable buzzsaw from his backpack. In a moment, Peeper fell ten feet to the ground along with the branch. “You MORON! GAH! All right, focus, Peeper, focus. Porn… Poe… right. Greasy, how long until we can be expected to have the pictures from the Poe dorms transmitted to us from my ingenious nanamollecular cameras.”
“Nanomollecular Cameras, sir.”
“At about 1 am tonight, sir, but we must be within a hundred yards of the cottage to receive the transmission.”
Peeper scowled, “Next time, Greasy, give them a longer range.”
“I thought they were your invention, sir.”
“They are, but you made them, so everything that’s wrong with them is your fault. Come on, I’ll get some sleep before we have to sneak out. Be sure to wake me when it’s time and no dozing off…”
“It’s not that we don’t trust your judgment, Most Unholy…” One of the punk Goth twins, Romulus, said.
“…It’s just that,” the other twin, Remis, continued, “well, we’ve sold our souls to the Dark Lord Ulu’brechzabuhl…”
“…bargained with Yogchangbaloth the Undying for our first borns…”
“…gave our blood oath to Chakranaleth, the Pustulant…”
“…and sworn our undying loyalty to the Cult of Cthul…”
“…but an allegiance with cheerleaders is just… UNHOLY!” They finished in unison.
Bloodworm rubbed his eyes, fighting back a headache. He turned to Screech, “Where do you stand in this?”
Screech silently took one step towards the twins. Bloodworm sighed, torn by the minor betrayal. “Look, we’re not allies of the prissy little Dikinson gits. We’re just using them to get what we want.”
Bloodworm yanked the black silk cloth, unveiling the ancient stone altar atop the tiered hillock. The tall, black, candles lit immediately as they were exposed to the moon, the rune encrusted manacles glinting in the flickering light. “As soon as Sara graces this altar, all bets are off!”
“It’s not that we don’t trust your judgment, Patty…” Kelly, the redhead, retracted.
“It’s just that,” Ginger continued, “Well… they’re so creepy and icky.”
“And greasy. I mean, how much gel can one use on hair, really?”
Patricia sighed, rubbing her temples to try to stave off the throbbing veins. She glanced at her sister, “What to you think, Bee?”
Bee edged away from her, “Well, uh, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to me, sis.”
Patricia winced, then turned her back on the group, “Whatever.”
Their reaction was immediate, all babbling at once, “I’m sorry… whatever you say… we’re always on your side, Patty.”
Patty smiled, turning back to her teammates, “Don’t worry your little heads, darlings. We’re just using the Goths to get a little revenge. Besides didn’t you catch that smell?”
The girls looked at each other.
“Moselle de Rouche, white foundation number 9. They use only the best French make up, and anyone you can say that about can’t be ALL bad, can they?”
Sara threw herself onto her bed, tucking her head under the pillow. She could feel the tears running down her face and into the sheets, but she didn’t care. Suddenly, there was a soft ‘plonk’ on the floor. Sara pulled her head out from the sheets to find a small soft toy, a beige lion with a mane, picking itself up off the floor. “Hi, Sara.” It squeaked.
Sara stared at the toy. “Great, now I’m stuck in the scene from Akira.”
“Akira?!?” The toy bounced up onto the bed, “Hey, you don’t know anime do you?”
“A bit… but what, or who, the hell are you?”
The lion scuffed its feet, “It’s me, Jinn, remember? Jade told me you’d run down here, she thought you might need some company.”
“Jinn? But how?”
“I bring things to life, toys, sheets, clothing, that sort of thing…”
“OH, HOW SWEET.” A voice boomed from nothingness. Sara clutched the toy to her chest as she jumped from the bed, “Who’s there?”
A puff of pink smoke and sparkly confetti erupted in the centre of the room. When the dust cleared, the three members of the Whately Martial Arts Cheering Squad were coughing in the centre of the room. “Bee,” Patricia whined, “you’ve gotta adjust those things when we materialize in a small room!”
Bee stuck her head in through the small, high, window. “Sorry, sis!”
“Anyway,” Patricia returned to her proper pose, her cronies falling in behind her, “We are here to exact our vengeance! Prepare to meet your doom!”
Jinn growled at the cheerleaders, but it came out as another squeak. Sara allowed them to pose for a few seconds before rebutting, letting some of her malice show through her burning eyes, “Last time we did this, I let you run away with your cute little tails between your legs. If you insist on continuing this, you might make me angry. And, trust me, you don’t want that.”
Though the redhead and the brunette quailed slightly, Patricia remained undeterred, “You leave us no choice but to use our secret weapon! Queen Bee Golden HONEY NETTTT!”
With a great shout, the blond twirled a baton from behind her back. It split apart, each end caught by one of her teammates. A glistening golden net stretched between them.
The cheerleaders became blurs of motion, spinning around the room. Sara tried to follow their movements with her time dilation trick, but each time she saw an opportunity to attack, Patricia was there to block the thrust with her pom-poms. The net tightened in an instant, trapping Jinn and Sara inside. Both tried to struggle, but the net was sticky like treacle, just getting tighter and tighter the more they moved.
“There you are, all wrapped up like a cute little package with a yellow bow! I can’t wait to see the look on Bloodworm’s face, indeed I can’t!” Patricia laughed, the other cheerleaders able to cover their ears, but Sara and Jinn were caught in the full force of that terrible, mind-shattering sound and blacked out.
Jade blinked as Jinn’s memories popped into her head, stopping dead in her tracks. They were all walking back to Poe, staring at the ground in silence.
“OH NO!” Jade screamed. “Sara’s in terrible trouble, we’ve got to move!”
Sara woke still caught in the sticky net. It rocked slowly from side to side. A pole had been inserted through the top of the net, two cultists in black hooded capes carried her up a long flight of weathered stairs. It was dark, but the moon illuminated the grassy tiered hillock, surrounded by forest. Jinn was still in her arms. She shook the stuffed toy, “Jinn, Jinn wake up.”
It was no use, the toy was lifeless and unmoving. Sara prayed that nothing permanent had happened to the girl. They arrived at the top of the mound, a large granite altar surmounted by huge, thick, half-melted candles sat atop the precipice. The Cheerleading Squad was busy checking their nails off to one side, Patricia giving Sara a smug sidelong glance.
Screech, still toting her eviscerated bear, waited at one end of the altar, toying with a set of manacles. Bloodworm, draped in a robe of black ribbons surmounted with ghostly, glowing red runes, stepped up to the other while Sara was lowered onto the block. As her net crested the altar, Sara caught sight of the other side of the hillock. A short cliff dropped into a cauldron, in which a bonfire crackled and leapt, surrounded by a crowd of twenty or thirty hooded cultists chanting nonsense in what they must have thought was tongues.
“Wow,” Sara snorted as the two cultists laid her on the altar and removed the pole, “from anime to a B-grade horror flick in under an hour. That’s gotta be a world record.”
Bloodworm grinned, “Now, Sara you may regret not joining us, but it is too late for regrets!”
“Regrets, I’m even happier that I didn’t join you now. Let me guess the two boffins in the cloaks are Hansel and Gretel?”
The twins threw back their hoods before casting the pole into the bonfire below. “Our names are Romulus and Remis, bitch.” They snarled together.
Sara laughed, “Oh this is just priceless. Let me guess, you’re going to try to sacrifice me to your dark gods in exchange for ultimate power, right Bloodworm?”
Bloodworm nodded, “Something like that.”
“Well for starters, it’s barely 8:45. You really should wait for midnight, you know. On a mystically significant date, preferably. Heck, you could have waited for All Hallow’s Eve in a month, that would have suited your style down to a tee, and you could have divided your time between plotting and hollowing out pumpkins.”
“A-HA!” Bloodworm laughed in triumph, “I’m wise to your tricks now, wench! You know as well as I do that Halloween isn’t a real mystical date!”
The crowd below stopped chanting. Screech put her hands over her face and shook her head. The twins stared at their ‘glorious leader’ in disbelief. Bloodworm stared back, “What?”
Sara chuckled, “The celebration over the night of October the 31st and through November the 1st was Samhain… the Celtic festival of the dead?”
Bloodworm looked at her blankly.
“Marks the transition between summer and winter?” One of the twins offered.
“I know that! Why didn’t anyone tell me this before?”
“Well, duh, Bloodworm. Everybody knows that.” Patricia looked up from her manicuring.
“OK! None of that matters. This ritual doesn’t require a special date, time or even place. You could do this thing in the kitchen if you wanted to. I got it from Rosery Cruciforms’ Bargain Book of Shadows.”
The cultists all nodded respectfully.
“Oh, please.” Sara scoffed.
“No, honey,” the redheaded cheerleader piped up, “those spells really do work. My cousin’s uncle’s sister’s brother’s old roommate did a money spell from one and won eight dollars and thirty five cents in the state lottery.”
“WILL SOMEONE PLEASE SACRIFICE ME ALREADY AND PUT ME OUT OF MY MISERY!”
Fey tried the spell again, but she was having a hard time finding enough ley lines, something seemed to be sucking all the energy in the area towards itself. “GAH! It’s no use. Every little bit of energy in this whole region is going that way,” she pointed, “And nothing is going to stop it.”
Fey blinked, realizing what she was saying, “You don’t think she could be at the centre of all that, do you?”
“If anyone is involved in that,” Chaka shook her head, “Trust me, it’s Sara.”
Sara fought against the manacles. The magical runes inscribed on the iron glowed the same ghostly red as Bloodworm’s robe. Somehow, they were locking her onto the altar, preventing her tentacles from harming the cultists with some sort of invisible shield. As much as she tore and wrenched at the bindings, the metal wouldn’t budge.
Bloodworm read from his little black book, managing to only mispronounce half the Latin words he obviously didn’t understand. Sara could hardly stop giggling at some of the double entendres he was spouting, oblivious. The cultists below had their hands in the air, performing some sort of mystical counterpoint that looked like a cross between a rock concert and a Mexican wave.
Patricia yawned as the ‘ceremony’ continued. It seemed summoning demons from beyond the gates of eternity was out of her patience range. There was a shudder in the centre of the bonfire, a great quaking vibration as reality split asunder. The bonfire swirled and eddied, forming a great maelstrom that seemed to descend deep into the earth. The crowd leapt back as waves of pure heat rose fourth from the pit.
Sara looked down the maw of hell in terror, “You actually did it?!?!”
“Huh?!?” Bloodworm looked down into the gate, starting to flip through his book, “That wasn’t where it was supposed to go!”
“You idiot!” Sara shouted, “Where in HELL were you trying to go?”
“It was supposed to open on the 33rd layer of Tarterus, where Hades, Lord of the Lords of the Lords of Darkness… but it’s supposed to be black! Who could’ve set Tarterus on fire?”
Sara moaned in frustration, “That’s not Tarterus, blockhead, that’s a Hell of Fire and Brimstone. One of the BAD ones that the Apocalypse is supposed to come from…” It was a pure lie, Sara didn’t know one hell from another by sight.
“Oh, well, I guess I’ll just have to make a deal with whatever comes out of the gate.”
The twins groaned, “Not again.”
But something was coming towards the gate.
A great howl echoed across the clearing, followed by shouting from the crowd down below. Sara looked over to see Harry, Chaka and Riptide launch themselves at the wannabe cultists. A second later, Tennyo and Hank dropped from the sky, hitting the ground with an audible ‘crunch’. Hank dropped Fey from where he carried her in his arms. Sara then caught sight of Jade and Jinn coming up the stairs.
“Hey, guys, I knew you’d make it!” Sara grinned.
Hank drew himself up to his full height, glaring at Bloodworm, “Let. Her. Go.”
Bloodworm turned away, “Screech.”
The little girl opened her mouth, but no sound seemed to come out. “Fey!” Hank knocked the redhead away just in time, a bolt of pure sonic energy blasted him off the hillock and out into the forest.
Fey was distracted and dazed for a moment, Tennyo rushed Bloodworm only to slam face-first into an invisible shield. “Keep her busy while I deal with the wizard, Screech. Twins, take out those fools down the stairs.”
They nodded, pairing off. Sara took a quick glance down the cliff. She found a general riot, Chaka and Harry were occupied by a couple of Goth bricks while Riptide kept the rest of the mob busy with wave after wave of water from the damp grass. Sara struggled with the bonds again as she looked down into the maelstrom, a dark shadowy form slowly approached, growing ever larger. “Guys, no pressure, but we’ve gotta get that gate closed!”
The twins stalked down the stairs, sweeping their cloaks dramatically over their shoulders, “We are the brothers Romulus and Remis,” they said in unison to the two little girls before them, “we are esper/exemplar 4’s. We will crush you where you stand.”
Jade and Jinn looked at each other, “Hey! Stop sealing our act!”
A moment later, the two boys were plummeting down the stairs.
Tennyo twisted and dived through the air, trying to buzz the little Goth. Sonic blasts brushed by, her opponent acting like a living gun emplacement. After what had happened to Hank, she wasn’t keen to get hit by one of those blasts, but the girl was too close to Sara for her to unleash an energy blast safely…
Fey called on the energy from the forest, pulling it into shape with all her might into an energy field before her. Bloodworm laughed, calling fire into his hand, “Pathetic…”
Sara watched as Bloodworm pulled his hand back in slow motion, her time dilation going into overdrive. Then she got an idea. Sara concentrated on the thick candle next to her head. She reached out with her aura and wrapped it around the wax column, applying force… ‘SNAP’
The candle was flung, flame first into the back of Bloodworm’s head. The cult leader screeched, his fire dispersed as he clutched at the wound, “MY HAIR! IS MY HAIR OK?”
Fey shifted her stance, concentrating her energy into a ball of force that launched itself into Bloodworm’s shoulder, spinning the demagogue to the dirt.
Screech launched another blast at the flying girl with the spiky hair, frustration building in her gut. She flittered about through the air like a bird, ignoring gravity and all the laws of physics as if they meant nothing to her.
Screech felt something tug at her sleeve. Looking down, she saw her bear climbing up her dress, groaning, “Scccrreeeeeeeeech… how could you do this to me, Screech?”
The little girl freaked, hopping about trying to get the bear off her arm, whipping it about through the air. Then something hard hit her on the head and everything went black.
Tennyo brushed imaginary dust off her hands, “Thanks for the assist, kid.”
Jade smiled, “No problem. Why don’t you go bail Chaka and Harry out of trouble, Fey and I’ll get Sara out.”
Tennyo nodded, flying off without another word. Fey dusted herself off and jumped up to the altar, “Are you OK?”
Sara sighed, the straight lines some people give you, she thought, “I’m fine. Think you can undo these things?”
Fey nodded, grabbing the wrist cuffs. “OW! Damn! These things are wrought iron!”
Jade took over, grabbing the ankle cuffs, “I’ll get them, you…”
Whatever Fey was supposed to do was drowned out by the deafening roar of something far beyond human. A roar that rose up out of the gate. IT was a pillar of flesh twenty feet high, covered with eyes and fanged maws. Tentacles separated from the main mass, peeling from the body like petals of a huge, disgusting, flower. Slime dripped from its every pore.
“That’s not good, is it?” Jade gasped, finally forcing the anklets open. Fey cast some sort of spell on the other set, but the energy just bounced off, “These things are warded!”
There was a snarl from behind them, a bolt of lightning flashed, hitting Jade square in the chest. A look of surprise crossed her face for a moment before her knees buckled. Fey span on Bloodworm as he groped to his feet.
“You BASTARD!” Sara and Fey shouted together, both unleashing their own bolts of energy. Bloodworm staggered back, then plummeted over the cliff, sliding past the THING from the pit and into the maelstrom, screaming as he fell into infinity.
The beast coiled over, extending its head over the altar, flesh peeled back to reveal two malevolent eyes perched over a gaping pit of a mouth studded with endless rows of saw-like fangs. Fey jumped up onto the granite block, twin spheres of pure white energy formed in her hands, “NO! GO AWAY! YOU CAN’T HAVE HER! I WON’T LET YOU!”
Sara reached out with her aura, snagged the back of Fey’s blazer and yanked her off, depositing the elf on the grass next to Jade, “Don’t. Don’t Fey. I’m ready to die today, after meeting people like you. Look after Jade for me, and tell her I’m sorry.”
Sara turned back to the Demon Lord, it’s mouth so close that she could smell sulphur on ITs breath as it opened its great maw, drawing in air. “DAUGHTER?”
Sara blinked. “D-d-d-dad?”
“SARA! IT’S YOU!” Several great tentacles wrapped around her body while another snapped the manacles. Sara was pulled face first into the Thing’s slimy embrace, “IT’S SO GOOD TO FINALLY SEE YOU, I’VE BEEN SEARCHING FOR 25 LONG YEARS! I’VE HAD MY CULT ALL OVER THE GLOBE LOOKING… WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? HOW’S YOUR MOTHER? OH, DON’T BOTHER ANSWERING JUST LET ME HOLD YOU…”
Sara slapped a tentacle away from somewhere private, “Daddy!”
“OH,” the Thing managed to blush, scratching the top of its ‘head’, “SORRY DEAR, FORCE OF HABIT.”
“AAAHH! It’s a naughty tentacle monster!” Sara heard Jade scream.
“Um, daddy,” Sara stammered, “Ah, could you put me down? You’re scaring my friends.”
“OH. YES, I’M SORRY, I’VE JUST BEEN GOING SPARE ALL THESE YEARS AND TO HAVE YOU JUMP INTO MY LAP TONIGHT! IT’S TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE…”
Sara felt good to be standing on land again. She would have felt better if she wasn’t covered in slime, however. Tennyo, Chaka, Riptide and Harry came running up the stairs, gaping at the effusively happy demon leaning over them. Hank landed beside them, carrying four unconscious cheerleaders over his shoulders.
“Ur… is everything all right here, Sara?” Tennyo asked hesitantly.
Sara nodded, hugging one of the Thing’s tentacles, “Sure. Guys, don’t ask me how, but I’d like you to meet my father. Dad, these are my friends from Team Kimba.”
A malevolent light leapt into IT’s eyes, “Lovely ladies…”
Sara slapped him, “Dad, these are my friends. They’re mine, so hands off!”
IT snapped out of it. “OH, SORRY DEAR. LIKE I SAID, OLD HABITS,” It chuckled sheepishly, “IT’S NICE TO MEET YOU ALL. I’M GOTHMOG, DEMON LORD OF LUST AND PERVERSION. DON’T WORRY, I DON’T BITE UNLESS YOU WANT ME TOO.”
“Uh,” Fey backed away slightly, “are you sure this is your father, Sara?”
“It makes perfect sense to me.” Chaka mumbled. Tennyo nodded in agreement.
Sara turned back to her father, “Yes. Don’t ask me how I know, I just feel the connection. Like it’s always been there. Dad, I’m sorry to have to ask you this, but do you think you could go back home and close the gate behind you? Not that I’m not glad to see you, but earth isn’t ready for someone like you.”
IT sighed, whipping the girl’s hair out of shape with the force of it, “I KNOW, DAUGHTER. MY TIME HERE IS SHORT, I HAVE BUT ONE PRESENT I HAVE TO GIVE BEFORE I MUST GO. BUT IF YOU WILL, LATER, CONTACT ME, WE CAN HAVE A MUCH LONGER CHAT. I HAVE SO MANY THINGS TO TELL YOU AND EVEN AN ETERNITY DOESN’T SEEM ENOUGH TIME.”
Sara heard someone sniffle behind her. Gothmog reached out a slender tentacle and placed it on Sara’s brow. There was a slight burning sensation, until the tentacle popped inside her skull. A burst of memory flooded her being, burning fire lit up her nerves and in a moment, it was gone. Her father pulled his tentacle away, leaving a black rune behind on her forehead. Sara’s jaw opened in wonder as her true name resounded through every fiber of her being. Her father smiled as he slid back into the abyss, the rift collapsing behind him. “SEE YOU LATER, MY LITTLE PRINCESS SARA!”
Just then, Beltane burst from the treeline, Mirror and Ayla following close behind. Several other students and Teachers ran into the clearing, shouting at the top of their lungs. What was left of the dazed and battered cultists were quickly rounded up below. Belle and Ayla immediately headed up the hillock towards the altar.
“So,” Chaka asked the group, “How are we going to get out of this one?”
Belle wasn’t in the mood for stories when she got to the top, “I don’t want to hear it. Whatever your excuses are, I don’t want to know. I told you to stay at Poe while I handled this and where do we find you?”
Sara stepped forward, “Belle, I heard what you just said, but there is a perfectly reasonable explanation.”
Belle paused. “All right. Give it your best shot.”
“When I was kidnapped by the cheerleaders, Jade must have told you about Bloodworm, didn’t she?”
Belle and Jade nodded.
“Well, after you left, the team heard some of those cultists down there making their way through the forest. They went to investigate and were led here. They waited for reinforcements but I tricked Bloodworm into misspeaking his ritual and summoning my Father, Gothmog, rather than the demon he originally intended to sacrifice me to. The others tried to sacrifice me anyway so Team Kimba had to intervene before Gothmog could suck out their souls. Unfortunately during the fight, Bloodworm tripped and fell into the gate. When it was over, I convinced my Father to leave. Then you showed up to nab the rest of the cultists.”
Belle stared at her. “That story is so crazy that someone may just believe it. All of you wait here, I’m sure they’ll want me to escort you back to Poe. Just sit and stay!” She ordered, storming off back down the hill with mirror in tow.
Chaka smiled, a dark gleam appearing in her amber eyes, “Well there’s only one thing left to sort out.”
Sara jumped as Tennyo and Hank grabbed her shoulders. “What?”
Chaka cracked her knuckles menacingly while Jade and Fey glared hotly. A growling noise rose from behind her as Jinn, still in the form of Screech’s bear, began biting her achilles tendon. “Exactly what did you mean by: ‘They’re mine’?”
Sara chuckled lightheartedly. A little too lightheartedly. “Well, I had to tell him something, didn’t I?”
“Wrong answer!” They all shouted in unison, leaping on the raven-haired girl with the full intent of tickling her to death.
They were still laughing when they collapsed into the common room after a quick change into their PJ’s. Even Belle was having a hard time keeping her cool, “OK, you showboats, it’s time to do the honors. Sara, do you want to do it first or last?”
Sara considered. “I’m the odd one out here. I’ll go first,” She got up to stand by the fireplace, which was already crackling merrily away, and took a deep breath, “My name was Michael Waite. A week or two ago, I died…”
Bloodworm slammed into the ground with enough force to break every major bone in his body and smear his internal organs across five square miles of earth. But this wasn’t Earth and he wasn’t that lucky. The springy lichen that sprawled across the Hell that he found himself in saved his life yet also entangled his limbs, making it impossible for him to gain purchase enough to move. Cyclopean tentacles waved in the breeze over his head like trees. The sky was fiery red. Somewhere in the distance sounded an incessant piping noise. And it was coming closer.
Bloodworm screamed as a gigantic toad with tentacles for legs ‘hopped’ into his sight. It played its idiotic tune on a notched implement that looked like a straw. A tall man with skin the color of true ebony, not the flesh tone of human race but as the precious stone, stood upon its back. To the impotent demagogue’s horror, the man grew to enormous proportions, kneeling in order to address him.
“Good evening, Nyarlathotep,” He said with scorn, “We share a name in common you and I. I am here to extract my payment. Servitor? Hand me the straw!”
Bloodworm screamed for the rest of eternity.
“Is it finished yet?” Peeper asked for the 654th time.
“No, sir.” Greasy answered in a strained voice.
“Is it finished yet?”
“In one minute, sir.”
“Is it finished yet?”
“No, sir, not yet, just another…”
“Is it finished yet?”
“YES! Here we are, sir. All… the… data…” Greasy trailed off as picture image after image of meaningless garbage flicked onto the screen.
“WHAT IS THIS?” Peeper roared with indignation.
“I-I’m sorry sir,” Greasy apologized, “I musn’t have calibrated the photonic receptors before you unleashed them on the household…”
“YOU IDIOT! WHY DO ALL YOUR INVENTIONS ALWAYS FAIL?” Peeper’s voice echoed throughout the valley.
He threw the pieces to the floor in a rage, smashing the elegant black and white ivory board in half. It was only a momentary loss of control, an outlet for his pent up frustrations. He straightened his checkered suit and took several deep breaths. “Every day, and in every way, I’m getting better and better.”
The portraits across the table stared at him. The first was labeled ‘Potter’, the second ‘Tanaka’. He snarled at them both, “Well played, but this is only round one. Deathlist?”
There was a whirr of gears and a grinding of hydraulics. The curtains parted, allowing the sun into his study. The figure was but a tall shadow with dead, glowing, white eyes, “Master?”
“Call the syndicate. Tell them that Whately must be taken in hand immediately.”
“Yes, sir.” Deathlist bowed, then left.
He picked up one of his precious pieces from the floor. It was of an exquisitely beautiful girl with flowing red hair and green eyes, her uniform immaculately tailored. The next was of an attractive girl with tall, spiky, blue hair. Next was a black girl in a martial arts Gi. He kept picking up each piece and placing them in a row where he could study them. Finally, ‘Team Kimba’ was assembled.
“Seven queens,” he muttered to himself, “how did you manage to get seven queens, Potter?”
Absently, he crushed his king underfoot, a Goth boy wearing a robe of ribbons. “I will conquer you, Potter, I will prove my destiny to you! Or my name is not THE CHESSMASTER!”