Jade 4: Bottle a Jinn
A Whateley Academy Story
Jade 4– Bottle a Jinn
by Babs Yerunkle
14: She's dead, Jinn
Whateley Academy September 25, Monday morning
She got the idea from two separate classes. In her first class of the morning, Costuming, Mrs. Ryan started them all on a major project.
"I want you all to create a distinctive costume," she said. "Some of you may not end up using this costume – well, except for Halloween perhaps, but it's good to try it. Indulge yourself, even if you never considered yourself part of the 'spandex set.' We'll be tweaking your costume up through winter break, and it will constitute 60% of your grade."
It turned out that Mrs. Ryan had a thing for capes. Not surprising, considering where she worked. But she was particularly insistent that Jinn's costume needed a cape.
"Well, Dear, you're really nothing but clothes, are you? So take advantage of it! One of the main problems with capes is that it's hard to get them to billow properly. But you are the cape! You could billow properly no matter what the wind is like." She patted Jinn on the shoulder. "Just try it out, Dear."
"It doesn't work that way," Jinn tried to explain. "I can come out in two styles – I'm either the clothes, or the person. If I'm the clothes I can billow and all that, but it isn't like I have a body inside. If I'm the person, then it's like I have a solid body inside, but I'm just wearing the clothes. I can't billow any more than you can."
Mrs. Ryan thought about that. "Well, maybe that's even better! Think of the wonderful effects you could make. A real person, suddenly going all flat and everything as you fade into the cape. Billowing and swooping about, before you suddenly re-materialize as a person. Very spooky. You know, getting the proper effect is more than half the battle."
"But I can't switch back and forth – I'm just one or the other."
And that's when Mrs. Ryan dropped her bombshell of a question. "Why not?"
Then, after lunch, Powers Lab was its usual happy chaos. Speedsters were practicing dodges and intricate start-stop maneuvers, bricks and strong types were engaging in an egg toss. Several flyers were on the "water track". This was a walking course that periodically switched between solid panels and open water. The object was to walk "normally", not changing gait as you switched from walking to (effectively) flying. Other students judged, trying to spot errors.
Jinn was with several other smaller students at the instrumented nautilus, while Mrs. Bohn evaluated her strength project.
"Excellent," the older woman said. "Keep this calendar up to date as well. I see you have a measurement of 180 pounds from back in August. What was that?"
"That was when I had my preliminary evaluation, for getting into Whateley," Jinn told her.
"Shame you don't have any earlier data. But at least you kept good records for how long you could stay out before evaporating. We can get a pretty good curve on that one. From our previous discussions, I'm sure you can identify this type of curve?"
"Asymptotic. Technically, a hyperbolic tangent, but why quibble? And as you can see, you've pretty well hit your maximum time of sixty-seven minutes and about eighteen seconds. Right now you're asymptotically approaching a limit," she punched it up on her calculator, "with this data, I see you approaching a maximum time limit of 67.532 minutes. Do you see?"
Jinn nodded. "And my strength is the same?"
"Yes, although I'm not going to run the calculations right now. The data's too sparse until you get a better baseline. Keep measuring on the calendar. It should top out at about 189 pounds, more or less."
"So those are my ultimate limits?"
Mrs. Bohn pursed her lips. "Not necessarily. Often, particularly in the younger students, this turns out to be the 'first bloom'. You need some special challenge or trigger to 'kick it up a notch' as my favorite chef says. It's hard to predict what that might be, but often some or all of your power will suddenly be pushed into a new upward power climb. That generally follows an S-curve, which is another reason to monitor these values. If something kicks you into a higher power range, we'll want to study it carefully, to derive maximum benefit from it."
Jinn nodded, although she wasn't sure she really understood.
"So, are there any other values you can think to measure numerically about your condition?"
"Uh, strength, duration (although I tend to think of it as 'lifespan'), I don't know – quality of my vision? Some sort of eye test?"
"Good, good. How about some non-numeric elements? According to your assessment file, you should be able to perform all sorts of interesting maneuvers in your bound-to-fabric form. I don't believe I've ever actually seen you that way."
"Uh, well," Jinn scratched the back of her head in embarrassment. She didn't actually ever get itches, but it was an old habit.
In the background, a flyer was struggling against a gravity-inducer. She suddenly crashed down into a padded foam pit, spewing obscenities.
"Language, Miss Ware!"
"I could handle this if you'd let me use my broom!"
"The exercise is to develop your innate levitation skills."
Mrs. Bohn turned back to her. "I believe you were explaining why I hadn't seen your bound-to-fabric form?"
"Well," Jinn tried, "it makes it tough getting back and forth to class. I mean, what if it was a amber flag day? I don't look that human if I'm just a bunch of animated fabric."
"Why don't you just switch from one form to the other in class. Perhaps right now?"
"Uh… I can't. When I'm cast, I'm either one way or the other. I can't switch."
Mrs. Bohn frowned. "That doesn't sound right. It seems like more of a psychological limit than anything else. I don't see why you can't easily switch from one style to another."
"Well, it's just sort of like how I get cast into a set of stuff. I can't extend my influence to cover more 'stuff'. It's only when I'm first cast."
The teacher was shaking her head. "No, that's completely different. Material focus, time of instantiation, there's plenty of documentation on that type of phenomena. But you're nothing more than a psychological collection of telekinetic forces. You should be able to flip yourself around, or whatever, without disrupting your bond to the original material."
"Well, work on it. That will be your project for this week. And keep in mind that initially, it may be easier to go in one direction than the other. Start out both ways, then try to go to the other state."
Later, back at Poe, Jinn thought about it. She certainly wasn't getting anywhere (as Jinn) in martial arts. Ito Sensei wouldn't work with her, since she had no body and no ki. He kept claiming that he had "nothing to teach her." Tolman Sensei seemed more tolerant, but was a bit puzzled on how to craft any tricks or techniques for the non-physical girl. She kept her practicing the same maneuvers in different orientations – mid-air, upside down, etc.
If Jinn could master this, she might be able to open up a larger raft of possibilities.
Of course, this wasn't the time to experiment. Everyone was piled into the study corner, with Jade lying on a blanket-chair in mid-air as she typed on the laptop, Toni dangling from a foot-loop tied to the ceiling, Tennyo reclining in mid-air, and Ayla poking halfway through the wall like a mounted trophy. Fey was missing, having said something about modeling practice, and Hank had offered to walk her there and back.
Jinn was taking up the slack. In addition to holding books, tables, pens, blanket-couches, drinks, and the like, she was also holding desk lamps in position to provide reading light. Fey usually handled the lighting, and she was sorely missed.
Jinn had also taken a subtle hold on Toni's clothes. The girl had been warned to be extra-careful of her head this week, but here she was dangling upside down and hanging by one foot. She'd have to let go if Toni moved more than a few feet away, but today the hyperactive girl had been unusually subdued. Perhaps it had something to do with Ito Sensei's brutal analysis of Toni's fight, or whatever had happened when he kept her behind class today.
They finally met up with Hank and Fey on the way to dinner. The green flag was up, so Jade decided to practice. For Jinn, she left behind the mask and wig and used only the black hood, full-body leotard, and gloves.
"Whoa, looking a bit flat, Jinn," Hank said, as he strolled up to them. "New look?"
Jade explained it for her. "We're trying to learn to switch between being a person, and being the object."
"Yeah," Jinn added. "There's a lot I can do in this form that I can't do as a person."
"Yeah, you can look a LOT more skinny," Toni quipped. "Damn! I've never seen such an effective diet."
Jinn floated up to the black girl. "Well… I can do this." She flopped her arm out toward Toni, then wrapped the sleeve round-and-round the other girl's arm.
"Hmmm." Toni pulled back against the binding. "Might be a good way to tie someone up, if they aren't strong enough to rip lycra."
Jinn unwound the sleeve. "I'm going to roam around, while I try to figure this out."
The rest of the team nodded at her.
"Look," Toni began, continuing her previous crusade, "I'm just saying that we all need to have code names."
"Is she on that again?" Fey asked, with a bored expression.
"Hey, it's fine for you. You already have 'Fey', and Billie goes by 'Tennyo' half the time anyway. But what about the rest of us?"
Ayla spoke up. "Phase. I told you back when we were first introduced."
"Huh?" "News to me." "I don't remember that."
Ayla shrugged, unconcerned. "Maybe I only thought about it. But I definitely picked it out then. I was sure I mentioned it to someone."
"Ooookay," Toni said. She eyed the selections with dismay. "Anyone notice that Mondays seem to be the low point on the whole menu biorhythm? I mean, meat loaf? Cabbage rolls?"
"Hey, do we have to do a trademark search or something when we come up with a name?" Hank asked.
"They recommend it, but you can let that slide for a couple of months. It's really only an issue when you start using it in public."
Nikki had a thought. "Can we change our code name?"
"You getting tired of 'Fey'?"
"No, it's just – maybe a girl needs some variety."
Surprisingly, it was Jade who answered. "My friend Juanita, from upstairs, is changing her name. She decided that 'Quickie' didn't convey the image she wanted."
Hank started snickering. "Oh, Lord…!"
"She's thinking of using 'Go Go', but a lot of us weren't sure that was much better."
Hank was laughing now. "Does she have special thigh-high boots? And a miniskirt? Does she wear really bright polyester?"
"Hank! I'm serious!"
"So am I."
So automatically that they didn't consciously think about it, the crew entered the domed cafeteria and moved to their socially-approved seating.
As freshmen, the school hierarchy pushed them to get tables around the far edge of the dome room. This was just as well, since a yelling match erupted in the center of the dome at least once a week. This time, it was a bunch of the high-status Alphas yelling at someone that Jade actually recognized. She'd eaten dinner with Mindbird a week ago, before Tennyo's big hearing.
She briefly wished that Jinn were around, so she could see the energies being gathered up. These sorts of events were usually pretty colorful to Jinn's special vision, including both the violent emotions and the mutant energies that were generated. Instead, she turned back to the conversation.
"I swear, that Don Sebastiano makes me so sick. I wish Mindbird would just shove her boot straight down his throat!"
"Naw, nothing can penetrate his Aura of Smugness."
Jade looked quickly around at her companions, but they were as surprised as she was. It was more of the curious acoustics of the dome. When you sat at the edge, you sometimes heard conversations from the other side of the dome. There was no telling who they were hearing.
"Well," Toni said, speaking as much to their unseen companions as to the team at the table, "I think he's about to be wearing her soda."
Sure enough, Mindbird flung her drink in the direction of the large Latino that was bothering her. But the Latino's companion, a lithe-looking Frenchman, held his hands out and immediately conjured a shield. The drink splashed harmlessly against the shield. While the Latino laughed, Mindbird stalked away in a huff.
"That makes me want to puke, every time I see it," the voice came.
"What are you talking about?" Toni asked the voice.
"Uh… I've probably said too much. If you want to know, ask what happened to Cavalier and Skybolt. Just don't ask too loudly. Get my drift?"
"No, I don't," Fey said. "What are you talking about?"
But the voice was gone.
After that bit of entertainment and mystery, the group returned to the perennial favorite of code names.
"Well," Jade admitted reluctantly, "I was thinking of something like 'Clothes Ghost'. What do you think?"
"Oh, puh-leeze!" Ayla groaned. "Clothes Ghost? Why not, 'Haunted Laundry' or 'Creepy Cleaning'?"
"Well it's a start!"
"You know," Tennyo realized, "you're probably going to need TWO code names. One for Jinn, and one for Jade."
"One for…me?" Jade squeaked. "But, I don't HAVE any powers! Not without Jinn."
"Yeah, but you were on the field with us when we faced the ninjas," Toni pointed out. "It's probably going to be the same in the future. Better get used to it. Besides, haven't you been learning anything in martial arts?"
"But… but… I'm just a normal person."
Hank snorted. "So is Ito Sensei – in theory. He sure smacked me around."
Fey looked over at the lone guy at the table, as he finished his third helping of meatloaf. "How about you, Big Guy?"
"Well, since I'm so tough, someone suggested 'Dense'." He glared at Tennyo, who seemed to be staring out the window so that she could concentrate on her whistling. "I didn't like that one, for obvious reasons."
"Oh, didn't want to go with 'Studmuffin'?" Fey slipped in.
Hank almost choked on his drink. Jade watched Fey and Tennyo exchange glares. She wasn't entirely sure she always understood the other girls.
"How about you, Toni?" Ayla asked. "You keep bringing it up. Are you settled on 'Chaka'?"
"Well let's run the numbers," the black girl said. "Whatever I pick, it's gotta be cool. That just goes without saying. Something sleek. And it would be nice if it mixes in martial arts, somehow. And since Chaka is the Masai name for the leopard, we got," she began to tick off points on her fingers, "we got the cool – 'cause what's cooler than the Masai? We got sleek. Are leopard's sleek? Betcher ass. And last – big cats 'n' martial arts? Hell, I'm there. Yeah, I'm sticking with Chaka."
"And you'll fit in absolutely perfectly with the Tigers!" Jade suggested. "They were already pretty impressed by your match. I think they kind of want you to join them. And once they hear your code name –"
Toni scowled. "I'm not sure if that's a plus or a minus."
"So what's with them?" Fey wondered. "Aren't the tigers all black? Aren't they, like, Afro-centric?"
"Yeah, none of you melanin-deprived types allowed. Nothing but brothers and sisters. You got a problem with that?"
"Well, aren't tigers native to India, not Africa?"
"Hey, get off their case, okay? There's a limited set of good martial arts names. 'Dragons' was already taken."
Dinner finished with no one (aside from Phase) coming up with a good code name. As they headed back up the walkway toward Melville and then Poe, Jade pushed things to a new topic.
"You know, we're going to need more than code names. We're all going to need costumes, too."
"Where'd you hear that?"
"It's for the yearbook pictures. You get your picture in your costume."
"That isn't until practically spring!"
"Well," Jade defended, "it's different for me. As Jinn, I mean. My name and my costume are practically the same thing."
"Clothes ghost!" Ayla muttered to herself, snickering.
"I don't know if I need a costume," Tennyo said, rubbing a hand back across her hair. "After all, no one's going to be mistaking this beautiful head."
"Do we need to learn how to do a quick-change?" Ayla wondered, gruffly.
"Hmm, maybe I don't need a costume," Fey mused. "If I could just sort of glamour something up…"
"Speaking of costumes," Hank said, "isn't that Jinn, up on the bench? Looks like she hasn't figured out how to switch into a girl, she's still pretty flat looking."
In fact, she was completely flat. The full-body leotard had been draped over the bench as if drying. The slippers and gloves were lying on the ground nearby, and the hood was quickly located on the ground.
"Weird," Fey said. "It's like she just dropped everything right here." She lifted up the empty clothes, which were obviously not inhabited by Jinn. "When did she come back to you, Jade?"
There was a quiet sob, and everyone turned to look at the small Asian girl. A girl that was suddenly shaking and white.
"She didn't!" Jade choked out. "She never came back!"
15: She sucks
Back in the common room, the other girls were trying to comfort Jade.
"She's just … gone," Jade whispered, hoarsely.
Tennyo awkwardly patted her roommate's shoulder. "Could she have gone flying off as a bit of lint or something?"
Jade sat up abruptly. "Maybe. Maybe!" She looked at her watch. "I always set this when I charge Jinn. I've been timing how long she can be out, and I know the maximum time is just a bit over sixty-seven minutes. That means we've still got ten minutes left!"
That cheered everyone up, but the tension mounted as Jade's watch moved forward. Finally, the second hand swept toward the magic mark of sixty-seven minutes. Then it swept past.
"That's… impossible!" Jade wailed.
"Maybe you mis-set your watch," Fey offered.
Five minutes later, there were no such excuses, and Jade had retired to her room in tears. "I'm dead!" she kept saying over and over.
The other girls looked uncomfortably at each other, but there was nothing they could do.
EARLIER THAT DAY, things had not been going well for Tansy Walcutt. She was a junior this year, and the way she figured it, it was about time they started looking to HER for leadership. After all, wasn't she beautiful? Wasn't she charming? In her own mind she answered the question, "Fucking right I'm charming! I can out-charm any of you god-dammed bitches all the way to hell and back!"
The other women in question were trying their first bit of runway work, under the guidance of 'Poise', the nominal leader of Venus, Inc. The "nominal" part was mostly in Tansy's mind – everyone else seemed to think that Poise had the position locked in.
Like 'Poise' is such a fucking great code-name. It should be 'Poison', which is what I'd like to do to her and all those other fuck-faces out there.
One young girl, in particular, was collecting her wrath. A freshman, of all things. This girl was one of those faerie types. She was an exotic near-human who practically glowed with beauty. Even worse, this girl seemed to have it all. Beauty, grace, an excellent figure, and a "sincere personality" (completely overrated, in Tansy's opinion). Tansy had thrown a couple of psychic jabs at the girl, just to get her to stumble on the runway. The girl had stumbled – the first time. Then she seemed to wave her hand dismissively, and the jabs didn't seem to get through to her again. Even worse, her impossibly wide elven eyes seemed to focus on Tansy briefly.
After that, Tansy just sat back and sulked. It wasn't like Whateley needed that many models throughout the school year. The freshmen were supposed to be gawky and naïve, not exotic beauties. They were supposed to need her guidance. But instead of asking her to lead them, all they wanted was help and some tips.
Well, Tansy decided to herself, if I can't run Venus, Inc. then I will god-dammed OWN the Alphas.
But that had problems of its own. Don Sebastiano's powers were too much like her own. Although neither of them were full telepaths, they both had tricks and techniques they used to control others. A game that Don seemed to be better at than she was.
Maybe if she slept with him, distasteful as that thought was.
No. She needed an edge. She ran through the power structure in her mind. By rights, Kody should have run the alphas this year. He was the senior. He had the muscle. No one was going up against Kodiak, if they had more than half a brain. But The Don had fear on his side. Somehow, he'd pulled a major coup last Christmas with Cavalier and Skybolt, and now everyone was more likely to shit their pants than go up against "The Don."
Abruptly, she pushed herself upright and went walking away from the stage. As an experienced member of Venus, Inc., she was supposed to be helping the new girls, providing them with critique and suggestions to help out their modeling careers. Well, to hell with that. She had plans to put under way.
She plied Kody at dinner. At 6' 6", the massive senior had a build that spoke of pure muscle and power. What wasn't so obvious was the native intelligence lurking behind those yellow eyes.
"Kod-ie," she wheedled, hanging off one of his massive arms, "the alphas would be sooo much better off if you were in charge."
He grunted non-committally, taking another large bite of salad. "Leaving you in the number two slot, huh?"
"Well, every king needs his queen."
"Look, I'll be square with you, which is a lot more than you're doing for me." He used his napkin to wipe his lips, apparently not even noticing that he half-lifted her from her seat as he moved his arm. "I don't like the way The Don is handling the alphas. Not at all. When Freya ran things –" he paused "Well, let's just say that things have changed, and NOT for the better.
"But after Cavalier and Skybolt – no one's going to touch The Don. You remember last year, before Christmas? She slapped him. She wouldn't even speak to him! But after we all came back in January, The Don brought a bunch of us guys together. We didn't know what he planned to show us.
"It was Skybolt. She was looking at him like he was the son of God. He just nodded at her, that was all, and she dropped to her hands and knees and sucked him off, right there in front of us. And Cavalier, her boyfriend, watched with a big smile like it was the finest thing he'd ever seen."
Tansy sighed in boredom. "Yada yada yada. You know how many times I've heard that stupid story? He probably paid her off. If so, he certainly got his money's worth."
Privately, she knew it was more than that, even if the telepathic probes had never turned up any evidence. Still, she was sure she could accomplish the same, given enough time to reinforce a few post-hypnotic suggestions.
"With what I know right now," Kodiak said carefully, "there's no way I'm going up against The Don."
"Poor little Kody," she said, stroking his huge arm, "so scared of The Don's evil mind-control."
"No," he said. "I hold the spirit of the Bear. The Bear protects me from that. But there are others who aren't protected. Don't start a war, unless you're willing to accept the casualties."
She slapped at him flirtatiously. "Silly bear! Why should I be bothered with casualties?"
She stopped for a smoke after dinner, going over the conversation in her mind.
"The Bear protects me from that."
Hmmm, she mused, maybe that's the edge I need over The Don. Tansy didn't believe in revealing the full extent of her abilities. She knew she was an avatar, but about the lowest level you can get. Back before she'd shown any of her other powers, back when she'd still been an ugly little fat girl, she'd always tried to get away from things. And Daddy's summer cottage was about as far away as you could get.
She'd hiked out on her own, once, trying to get to the "special spot" the groundskeepers always talked about. A little waterfall and pool that were supposed to be "something special."
It had been special, alright. She'd felt impossibly guilty at the time. With what she knew now, it was just some dumb nature spirit in its hallow. She'd stumbled into the spot and inadvertently sucked the spirit of the place into her. And had it given her any great powers or abilities? Hell no. It gave her "serenity" and an ability to gather peaceful animals around her.
As her fury had grown, she could feel the trapped spirit struggling to escape. From her point of view, it had been monstrously unfair. If she gained super powers, she was supposed to turn into some sort of beautiful mutant girl, so pretty that it hurt people to look at her. She wasn't supposed to gain the power to charm a bunch of god-dammed game animals.
Looking back on it, she was sure that it was her anger that clashed against the spirit's serenity. It has struggled desperately to be free. Even now, she wasn't sure whether it had escaped and returned to its hallow, or whether she had just shredded the useless thing in her rage. She'd certainly never returned to the spot. And there'd been even less need, when she finally did develop the type of powers she was supposed to have.
But she and The Don were pretty evenly matched. What if she had an edge? What if she had her own spirit, to protect her mind from Sebastiano's touch?
The problem was, finding spirits wasn't that easy. It seemed like a third of the avatars around hadn't linked to any spirits yet.
She wondered if she could buy a spirit off of someone.
While enjoying that little fantasy, who should come up toward the cafeteria but the stupid faerie model-girl that had irritated her earlier. Tansy's eyes almost popped from their sockets, when she saw who faerie-girl was meeting. It was Trevor! What was he/she calling itself these days? Ayla, she remembered.
She suddenly realized that these were the girl from the ninja attack, a couple of weeks ago. She hadn't recognized faerie-girl until now. In the daylight, she looked more filled out and feminine. Probably stuffs her bra, Tansy decided.
She kept back in her smoking hole, behind a screen of bushes, watching the girls talk. The floating clothing was weird, and wrapped its arm around the black girl. Then the girls headed into the cafeteria, while the clothing floated away.
That can't possibly be a spirit, Tansy told herself. There's no way I'm that lucky.
But fortune favors the bold, so she sauntered her way up the walk, following the floating leotard.
"Really," Tansy drawled out, "basic black is attractive, but this carries things a bit too far, don't you think?"
The leotard pivoted in mid-air until it was facing her. It hadn't moved suddenly, as if startled. This was a smooth pivot, as if it was hesitant.
"I'm just… practicing." The clothes had a girl's voice.
"How droll. Practicing what?"
"I – I should be able to, I don't know, come alive inside the clothes. Fill them out, as if a normal person was wearing them. I just can't figure out how to make the switch."
"Maybe I can help," Tansy offered. "I'm Tansy Walcutt. You've probably heard of me." She held out her hand.
And empty sleeve and glove flopped up into her hand. "Uh, sure. I'm Jinn Sinclair. I'm just a freshman."
"Hmmm, fascinating," Tansy said. She could get a tingle from the glove. She knew that there was something in the glove, something ticking at her avatar senses, but she couldn't quite get a handle on it. The material of the glove prevented her from making contact with the spirit.
"Uh, can I have my hand back now?" The clothes-girl was surprisingly strong as she tugged her arm back.
"Be patient, damn you!" Tansy hissed back. "I'm trying to figure this out!"
"Oh. I guess."
Tansy pulled the glove away from the sleeve. It stretched, like it was connected by elastic, even though there was nothing visible between the glove and the sleeve. But Tansy's avatar senses were suddenly sensing a thin film of pure spirit that joined the glove to the rest of the garment.
"What? What are you–?"
Tansy jabbed the bright-red painted fingernails of her right hand straight into that film of spirit. Harnessing all the greed in her power, she sucked at those energies that should rightfully belong to her.
"No! What are you doing? It hurts!" The clothing girl gave a thin screech of pain, then utterly collapsed.
Tansy smiled a predator's smile, and tossed the empty garment onto a nearby bench. She could feel the energies crackling over her skin, as they settled into place. She felt… strong! She reached over to the iron bench, which had to weigh nearly a hundred pounds. She lifted it in one hand.
Laughing madly, Tansy stretched her arms out, cruciform. Gathering the power in a way she couldn't explain, she lifted off the ground, flying into the sky.
To hell with The Don, she exulted. I should have done this AGES ago!
16: Jinn's sister
Tansy was careful to let herself down quickly. So she could fly now? Not as fast as some, but it was a hell of a lot better than the spirits some people had gotten. Still, she'd always been one to keep a little reserve hidden away. It wouldn't do to share this secret prematurely.
She wondered if she'd picked up the mental fuzzing that Kody had talked about. Her roommate should be able to answer that one.
She practically skipped her way back across campus toward Dickinson. The power didn't have to be used to fly – she could just make herself light on her feet. That meant less effort, added grace, and for once she didn't mind wearing high heels.
She was in such a good mood, she decided to have a little fun with the lower-tier dweebs she ran across.
And there, a bit ahead of her, were the perfect set of victims. A group of sophomores, mostly, that had pretensions of being criminal masterminds. The girl in front, the Asian one, what was her name? Hazard? She was a little too attractive for Tansy's liking. She saw no reason to share the spotlight with anyone. The rest of them were non-entities, completely dismissible. Except of course, for Jello. She wasn't sure why a bunch of reasonably good-looking kids would hang around with that thing. The girl – although it was hard to tell at times – seemed to be in the process of melting. It was revolting, and Tansy was under the firm impression that Jello and the rest of the freak-show crew should take separate classes and separate meals, so that they didn't disturb their betters. In fact, it would be better for everyone if there were just a separate school. One for the normal and attractive kids, and another for the losers and freaks.
Still, they did make amusing targets.
She prepared her favorite ability, the one she called "brain zap." It didn't necessarily make you stumble, or stutter. It just caused a little hiccup in the thought process. And if you happened to be in the middle of speaking or taking a step… well, that was too bad, wasn't it? Like all of life, half the trick was in the timing.
Strolling elegantly behind them, she was part of the sparse crowd that wound its way out of Crystal Hall and through campus on their way back to the cottages. The gas lights alongside the brick walk were beginning to provide more illumination as the twilight deepened. Clusters of students walked and talked. Tansy waited for the proper moment – when Jello had just raised her right foot. ZAP! And the melting girl stumbled, toppling forward flat onto her face. She was apparently so confused that she didn't even have time to put her hands out. She hit the brick walkway face-first, and splashed. Like a water balloon that doesn't burst, the uncontrolled shapeshifter bulged out to the side, before sucking back into roughly human shape.
Tansy howled with laughter. Around her, she felt other students joining in, some with uncomfortable chuckles, but a few bold ones echoing her own mocking howls.
"Oh, that's rich!" she chortled. "I'll bet that made an impression on you! Hey, I'd heard you were strong, but now you can be a real BRICK!"
Sure enough, as her friends helped her up, the Jello-girl's face held a perfect imprint of the walkway. Tansy howled again as she strode regally past them.
You did that on purpose, didn't you?
"What? Who said that?" The girl, whoever she was, sounded like she was right next to her.
Why would anyone be so deliberately cruel?
Tansy suddenly recognized the voice. She'd last heard it coming from a flat piece of fabric. She kept walking, until she was out of earshot. "Be quiet, little spirit. I guess I'm not done digesting you yet."
You don't have the slightest idea what you're doing, do you?
"I know more than you do, that's for damn sure. And look!" She lifted off the ground briefly. "Guess who's got your powers now?"
Guess who's about to get haunted.
"Don't make trouble for me, or you'll regret it."
Oh, sure. What are you going to do? Hit me in the head?
"Hmm. We'll see." And she hurried a bit more, going back to Dickinson.
As always, it was a relief to get back to her room. For a trendy private school, it was surprising how shabby most of Whateley was. She'd actually had to pay out of her own pocket to get her dreary little room fixed up halfway decently. Even now, she couldn't get good maid service or plant service – her people had to contract out with indigent students to do the work for her. It was solid proof that being a mutant didn't qualify someone as adequate domestic help. Still, dreary as this home-away-from-home was, it was a hundred times better than what most of the other students had to put up with. She always got a bit of a lift coming back into her own little kingdom of a room.
The quality of her upgraded room was probably why her creepy roommate spent so much time there. As she entered, she was unsurprised to see that her girl sitting on the bed and meditating, or whatever it was that she did. It was weird – sometimes it almost seemed like Sahar was the only girl on the floor that would put up with her. Tansy didn't understand that at all. She was rich and beautiful – she decided that her other roommates just had a problem dealing with their jealousy. As for Sahar, she was attractive enough not to offend Tansy's sensibilities, and seemed grateful enough (given her terrible reputation) to have some contact with Venus and the Alphas.
Tansy breezed into the room, pirouetting on her toes. "Notice anything different about me, Semi?" In her one burst of amicability, she'd bothered to memorize Semiramis Vesmarran's actual name. Like most foreign names, it was a mouthful of gibberish, so she usually shortened it to the much more convenient "Semi."
The olive-skinned girl was sitting in full lotus on her bed. She pulled the curly black hair away from her face and stared with her creepy eyes. The eyes with a red ring around the iris. "What, you mean like the spirit you're carrying?"
"Not bad. I guess being a mind vampire pays off."
Sahar merely made a quick hand gesture. Tansy assumed it was vulgar. Whenever she translated any of the girl's Arabic phrases, they turned out to be rude enough to strip paint.
"What can you tell me about it?"
Sahar held out a hand. "One hundred dollars."
"I should have known!" Tansy flounced over to her purse and pulled out a pair of fifties. "I want everything you can figure out. Especially whether this fuzzes my mind out, or protects me from telepaths."
Sahar peered at her and did her creepy mental thing for a moment. "First, it's not a spirit, it's a human girl. I would say a human soul. And you call me a vampire? I'm not sure how it's going to affect either you or her, if you keep holding her. For all I know, she could end up taking YOU over."
She peered a little longer. "She does provide some shielding. Your thoughts and hers are too close together. It's hard to pick either one apart. Maybe with practice. It's not like a real shield, but it does confuse things. Yeah, 'fuzzing' the mind is pretty accurate."
Jinn had looked to the roommate as a possible rescuer. The girl had spotted her right away!
But then she took Tansy's money and began probing at her. It was technically interesting to watch the probes happen. Sahar had a mass of ultra-violet that covered her head like an Afro hair-do. Periodically, a laser-line of ultra-violet would snap out from her head and pierce through Jinn. After a couple of those, Jinn tried to communicate.
Hello? Can you hear me?
Slightly. You are strangely hard to hear – it's like your frequency is interfering with Solange's. And I can only hear what you send, not what you're simply thinking.
Can you contact my roommate, Tennyo, or my…uh…my sister, Jade?
Perhaps. What would you offer me? One hundred dollars?
That was as much as she earned in a week! Let me think on that. They've over at Poe Cottage.
I'm afraid I cannot help you. I would not be welcome at Poe. And contact ceased.
Sahar sighed. She'd agreed to report everything. "She claims to have a sister, and a roommate. I presume she'll be missed in her classes tomorrow, if not sooner."
"Oh, right. Like I'd be so much better off if I just let her go. I don't think so. Watch this!" And with a negligent wave of her arm, Tansy floated up to the ceiling. "Pretty impressive, huh? I'm strong, too." She reached over and hefted their mini-fridge. "Spirit-girl is staying right where she is. And that hundred bought your silence, too. Right?"
Sahar reluctantly nodded. "That is our arrangement."
"Maybe if I have any trouble, I'll pay you to give my little passenger the old evil eye, and shut her up permanently."
Sahar sighed again. Life with Tansy Walcutt continued to be educational. And Tansy was effectively immune to her powers. Sahar could learn skills from those she was extremely close to, but Tansy had nothing worth learning. And Sahar had the ability to discern hidden secrets and weaknesses. Again Tansy foiled her. Her flaws and weaknesses were so transparent that practically everyone already knew them.
But most of all, it was Tansy herself who was educational. Here was a woman with beauty, power, and more wealth than she could possibly spend. And inside, she was so vacuous and immoral that she put to shame most of the pimps and thieves Sahar had known in the streets of Beirut.
As a telepath, she was well suited to judge inner beauty.
She contemplated her own life, and felt nothing but sorrow.
Jinn discovered that she didn't sleep. She was somehow an unwilling passenger in Tansy's body.
This had some unusual benefits. She'd wondered what it felt like to be a real girl. She was swiftly finding out. Bound as she was to Tansy's body, she apparently shared in all the girl's sensory nerve endings. So she knew exactly what it felt like as the girl undressed and slipped into her negligee. Jinn might even have felt guilty at the voyeurism, if it had been anyone other than Tansy.
After the girl fell asleep, though, Jinn was in a quandary. She could feel everything the girl felt, but she couldn't move so much as a muscle.
Plainly, she was cast in her human-body form, with her spirit-body stretched to exactly match Tansy's physical body. If it were true that she was a body image template, what effect would it have if she continued to inhabit Tansy's body? Would Tansy begin to look more and more Japanese? Would her blonde hair turn black? Would her 17-year-old figure slim down to match Jinn's 14-year-old figure?
Then she realized something vital. She was in her "body" form!
When Tansy had absorbed her, she'd been in her flattened "cloth" form.
Which meant that she could change, without being re-cast. And somehow, this possession technique required her to be in spirit-body form. If she could alter herself, perhaps to flow along Tansy's skin, perhaps she could break free!
Ignoring the sleeping and lightly snoring girl that held her captive, she got to work.
Jade's alarm clock went off at the usual time. As she'd trained herself to do, she rolled over and slapped the gloves. It causes the usual small burst of fatigue. Suddenly, Jade sat up in bed, utterly, totally awake.
The gloves floated there in the air, in front of her. "I – I'm alive?" came the question from the speaker disk.
"No!" Jade almost squealed the word. "Come back!"
Instantly the gloves dropped.
Jade was already charging up the empty leotard. It rose, clearly displaying the contours of the girl underneath the fabric.
"Anything?" Jade asked, anxiously.
"No. Nothing. I don't know why we expected to pick up some lingering impression."
Tennyo rose slowly, rubbing her temple. "Jinn? You're alive?"
"No," Jade began, while "Yes, but –" came from the leotard.
"It's like this," Jade said.
"I'm not Jinn. She's still missing. I'm –"
"Jann," Jade and the new girl said together.
"Well you sure don't look any different," Fey said, around a bite of muffin. "Normally OR mystically. How do you know you aren't Jinn?"
"I just know," Jade explained, quietly. "There's a place where her memories ought to be. She should have come back. But there's nothing. And if I can be killed once –"
"I can be killed again," Jann finished.
"It might have been the exercises," Jade reminded.
"Yeah. Well, I'll try those again, but only while you're watching. That way, we'll know for sure."
"I don't get it," Toni said. "Whatever happened, you beat it. You're back from the grave. That's a good thing, right?"
"You've just been killed," Jann suggested. "But, lucky you! There's a clone ready. She looks like you, talks like you, and even has some of the same memories telepathically implanted. Are you happy?"
"Okay, okay, I get it."
"I'm not going to be happy for a VERY LONG TIME," Jann said, in case anyone had missed the point.
"So, Jinn, have you decided on that cape design?"
Jann's mood hadn't improved any. She'd given up trying to correct people on her name.
"Yeah, I guess. I'll take a cloak, but only if I can get a hood, too. Something black. Blacker than black."
"My, we aren't in a very nice mood, are we?"
"I died yesterday, and I haven't gotten over it yet."
Mrs. Ryan peered at her. "Sometimes it's so hard to tell when you kids are joking."
Jann said nothing, she just stared woodenly forward without blinking, in the way that she was so uniquely qualified to do.
"Well, maybe you'd like this fabric. A devisor came up with it. It's called ultra-black. See? You can't even tell where is folds or creases. It's like a hole across your desk there, isn't it? It isn't as strong as spandex or lycra or any of the Kevlar fabrics, and it needs special cleaning, but you don't sew it, you just apply a bit of electrical current. Also on the plus side, it mends easy and it's fireproof. Here, I'll show you how to work with it."
"I'll take it."
Tansy, on the other hand, was having a fabulous day.
"Are you still in there, little spirit?"
What do you want? Jinn replied, grumpily.
"Hmm, guess I haven't finished digesting you. Well, don't worry! Soon you'll be a permanent part of this fabulous package!" Following her typical morning ritual, Tansy gave her sexiest morning stretch, then rose to admire herself in the full-length mirror on the back of her door. She ran her hands down her perfect figure, while watching herself in the mirror to make sure the effect was as stunning as possible.
"I don't believe it," Sahar said from under her pillow. "You've finally gotten the power you always wanted."
"A built-in audience."
"Ooo, is that right? Are you watching all of this, little spirit?"
After a moment, Jinn replied, I can't really help it, can I?
"Have you ever seen such a beautiful face?"
I don't see with light. I assume that's a mirror, but I can't really tell. I only see outward. I can't look back and tell what you look like.
"Too bad you can't feel what it's like to be inside the nation's classiest chassis."
"What was that? You almost said something, didn't you? Don't tell me you really can feel this?"
Tansy had peeled off her see-through pink negligee, and was grabbing a towel for her morning shower. She paused to laugh. "You really can, can't you? You can feel everything I feel!"
I'm occupying your physical body. For some reason, your sensory nerves seem to be directly connected to me. At least, everything on your skin.
Tansy laughed again. "Why you lucky little minx! This little partnership of ours will probably turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you."
Allow me to disagree.
"So how exactly do your powers work?"
Jinn debated, but there wasn't much she could tell that Tansy couldn't pick up on her own. She decided that she had more to gain through any information exchange. I can lift things and move things. Your avatar powers seem to have taken my spirit and stretched it out to exactly fit in your body. My skin matches your skin. And wherever my skin is, I can lift or push or move – exactly 188.6 pounds, in any combination. So I can lift you off the ground, or help you lift something with your hands. She didn't want to give too much away. If Tansy couldn't figure out that this was basically a limited TK field, that was her problem.
"Really?" Tansy held an arm out and used the power to float the arm up in the air, then over her head, then she lifted herself by the arm. "Ow, it kind of hurts doing it that way."
For Jinn the experience was much different. The TK field was her body. Someone else had short-circuited the control nerves. She could feel exactly what was being done, but she had no power to influence the outcome. It was like being paralyzed, but feeling somebody else move your arm.
"I bet I can use it to make faces!" Tansy looked in the mirror while using the power to push and prod at her face. Jinn couldn't see the result, but it seemed to amuse her host. "Still, what's the point? I already have the most beautiful face. I suppose when I'm older I can use this to smooth out wrinkles or something – if I ever get wrinkles, which I doubt."
She wrapped the towel around herself when she suddenly realized, "Ooo! Instant boob job!"
There followed some of the most unusual sensations Jinn had ever felt, as Tansy used the TK to lift first her left, then her right breast.
"Hey, check this out, Sahar honey. Bet you wish you could have stolen this great 'perky tit' technique. Oh, but I forgot! You 'B' types don't really need the support that us 'C' girls require, do you? But you know what? I think I'm going bra-less today." Tucking the towel around her buoyant boobs, she flounced off to the shower.
Jinn was, once again, forced to play helpless passenger. It was interesting to see how many of the other girls moved out of Tansy's way. The colors of their emotions made it clear that they weren't moving from being intimidated, almost all of them seemed to harbor an active dislike of the girl, and merely wanted to be out of her way.
It was also apparent that cosmetics seemed to increase directly in proportion to age. The freshmen girls at Poe didn't use more than a fraction of the various preparations these juniors were using. Maybe she'd have to sneak up to the fourth floor of Poe some day, and see what the girls were using there.
Then Tansy was in her shower and washing up. Jinn's eyes metaphorically crossed. So this is what it felt like to be a girl!
"Like what you feel, little voyeur?" Tansy was whispering. It seemed unlikely that anyone else would be able to hear her over the shower, but Jinn heard just fine. "I forgot – you were just a little flat-chested freshman, weren't you?"
I was an 'A' cup – pretty much! Jinn defended.
Tansy chuckled to herself. "Poor little thing. Hey! I'll bet you were still a virgin, weren't you?"
Well, what do you expect? I'm just a freshman. Of course, there was also the matter that her physical body was somewhat mis-equipped, as well.
"You probably never even kissed a boy, did you?"
I'm not going to answer any your stupid questions about my love life, okay?
"You just did, honey." She made a hmm'ing sound to herself. "I think I'll have to see just how badly I can blow your naïve little virgin mind."
Jann was working with a new mission. She'd never been big into atemi – the hard, direct strikes. She'd always preferred ukemi – flowing around your opponent and redirecting them into the ground. But right now, she really felt like hitting something.
And, working away here in costume shop, she'd suddenly figured something out. As Jinn (or rather, as Jann, now), she'd never been able to perform decent atemi. Her TK-body just didn't deliver a sharp blow. It was fast enough and strong enough, but it was like wearing a big boxing glove. Even with all the power and strength, the blow was invariably cushioned, greatly reducing it.
For a moment, she had a fond recollection of the last time she'd held a boxing glove. It was the day she had first appeared in her spirit-girl body, and the day that her life started changing for the better.
But the boxing glove brought up another idea – the concept of cheating. Tolman Sensei was always trying to convince them to find new tricks and techniques to compensate for their weaknesses. What if she added a horseshoe or brick to her boxing glove?
Or more realistically, what if she put hard striking plates over her knuckles, and added weight to the gloves themselves? Sort of the "brass knuckles" idea, but with extra weight behind it. Five pounds in each glove ought to do it. She'd test and see if she could up it to ten. It needed to have some heft, while being light enough for her to move with full speed using her TK. It would be like punching with a sledgehammer. She'd have to wear practice gloves over her regular gloves, and maybe start off fighting some of the more durable students.
Hmmm, some sort of rigid bracers for her arms and shins would help, too. That way she could really block.
With grim satisfaction, she set to work modifying her costume.
At lunch, Tansy made an entrance to the Crystal Hall. Part of it was the sleek skintight knit dress she wore, and the fact that she was obviously wearing nothing underneath it. Part of it was the bevy of male admirers she'd picked up along the way. Part of it was the way she focused on The Don, who was just sitting down.
Across the table from The Don, Hekate was taking her seat. Her eyes locked with Tansy's, and the air smoldered. Gauntlet thrown, challenge accepted.
Jinn had sensed, in a sort of peripheral-vision way, as Tansy had spun up an illusionary glamour about herself. She also sensed as Tansy sent tightly focused beams of mental energy at the people around her. The males escorting her received bursts of adoration. The Don was given a much more subtle treatment: greed and lust. Hekate got a diffuse transmission of doubt and uncertainty.
Tansy tossed her jacket casually to a male follower, then slinked her way up to the alpha table. Jinn had learned that Tansy was involved in the local modeling group. If she walked half as well on the runway as she walked on her way to that table, it was easy to see why she was successful. It was like she fed off the psychic emanations of those watching her. The more they adored her, the more powerful and confident she became.
Coming up to the tall Latino, she ran her finger down his arm. "Hel-lo, Sebastiano," she cooed. "Do you mind if I… sit with you?"
Don Sebastiano has an amused sneer. "To what do I owe the coming entertainment?"
"Well," Tansy wrapped herself halfway around him, making sure that her breast was mashed into his cheek, "it's just that you make such a splendid king up here. I thought you deserved a queen."
"Job filled, Solange," Hekate hissed out.
"Isn't that for the king to decide?" Tansy countered. "Maybe he's tired of looking at the same scrawny sticks."
Hekate glanced quickly at Don Sebastiano. From her vantage point, right there at the table, Jinn could see that so far Hekate was only showing mild irritation. Jinn thought that she wasn't taking Tansy very seriously yet.
"I would not dream of coming between two lovely ladies, who merely want to fight over me."
"Perhaps you forget everything I've done for you?" Hekate was growing much more irritated now.
The Don examined his fingers disdainfully. His aura showed him to be highly amused, and almost breathless with anticipation. "Old news. Have you done anything for me recently? Answer: no."
For some reason, that seemed to spike Hekate into a nearly volcanic fury. The magnitude of her anger didn't show on her face, though. She turned to Tansy. "You: begone, while I deal with this." As she said this, Jinn saw the other girl's eyes fill with ultra-violet energy. It launched out like twin beams, striking Tansy in the forehead.
But Jinn was in the way. She could feel some of the malevolence in that bolt. It was a compulsion, a powerful burst intended to accomplish several things at once.
First would be a total loss of bladder control. Fortunately, Jinn didn't have a bladder, and she apparently diffused enough of that energy that Tansy could cope with the remainder.
Second was fear. Pure, unadulterated fear. That momentarily reminded Jinn of the creepy tunnel she'd worked on, just two days ago. Next to that, this fear was a pathetic second. Jinn wasn't sure that any of that penetrated through to Tansy.
Third was an utter lack of confidence, and a need to flee. That struck through pretty solidly, but Tansy seemed to field that one on her own. So long as she had her audience, Tansy was solidly bolstered.
In short, Hekate's attack bounced. She snapped her fingers as Tansy sat down, and suddenly the chair wasn't there. From her 360-degree vision, Jinn saw it scoot silently backward. Tansy didn't see that, but she didn't fall, either. She merely sat down on the air.
"Can't one of you boys help me with my chair?"
The chair was immediately slid in under her.
Tansy had the next move, spotting the boy who'd fetched her soup for her. Somehow, Jinn was able to perceive where Tansy's attention was focused. Emotional bleed-through, perhaps. While trading glares with Hekate, Tansy waited for just the right moment before shooting out her favorite brain zap.
The boy stumbled, and the soup went flying – half missing Hekate, but half hitting her as well.
"You – clumsy – WORM!" The hapless boy collapsed immediately to the ground, before scrambling away on all fours, not even rising in his haste to escape Hekate. Jinn thought she was the only one who saw the torrent of energy that had blasted out of Hekate's eyes to drill through the boy's skull.
"Well, I can't eat that now," Tansy commented. "It's all filthy."
Hekate stood, glowing with a pulsating crimson aura. There was a sickly silver sheen outlining her as well. Without a word, she turned and stalked off, still dripping soup.
"Entertaining," Don Sebastiano said. "This seems to be the week for flying food. But I'm afraid it wouldn't be fair for you to continue without Hekate here. We'll resume this at dinner." He made a shoo'ing gesture toward Tansy. "You may go now."
Tansy stood, suddenly angry herself. "You're just … dismissing … me?"
"Yes. You may go."
Angry and confused, Tansy turned and walked away. Behind them, Jinn saw an almost delicate-looking girl holding a fork up to feed The Don. The look he gave her was covetous, and his face glowed with – Jinn would have described the emotion as "pride of ownership."
After every class, when they saw each other, Jann completely released, flowing completely back into Jade. They were both shuffling through classes, wondering when she would die. It seemed like every time she re-merged with Jade, that was one more hour that she'd cheated death.
The most satisfying time had been designing the costume and the new "punch gloves".
They didn't actually have the slightest idea what had happened to Jinn. The most likely theory was that she'd somehow obliterated herself while practicing changing her casting form. That certainly made the most sense, given what they knew. It was also hardest to accept emotionally. Jade, and particularly Jann, needed to believe that it had been some kind of attack – something they could learn to defend against.
Psychologically, it was impossible to just sit around waiting for an unknown death to strike. Jann needed to do something – anything – to fight back. It made things harder, since she had no idea who or what the threat was. Under circumstances like that, it was hardly surprising that she went with what she knew. And what she knew was Aikido. As Jinn, she'd been singularly ineffective in class. It was time to change that.
The whole "defend by hitting it" concept was trickling over to Jade, as well. Particularly since they re-merged after every class. And there'd been Tennyo's comment about Jade needing a costume and code-name. So it happened that Jade began fiddling with ideas, too.
All through bio class she found it nearly impossible to listen to the teacher. Instead she kept doodling strange costumes for herself. Should she go with armor? For someone of her size, armor seemed more hindrance than help. If the bad guys put out enough effort to penetrate the armor, they'd blow her to smithereens. It almost seemed better to emphasize her vulnerability, with a costume that was armless and legless. That way, if she got hit, they might not waste the extra effort and she had a chance of recovery. Besides, that kind of costume would enhance her movement and dodging.
The other thing to think about was a weapon. Her fascination with all things Japanese caused her to think of a sword first – specifically a Japanese katana. But although she might have a good time practicing with it, she wasn't sure she'd actually be able to use it against someone. It was a pretty deadly weapon, and cutting someone open was serious business. It was only the disaster of Jinn's death that even allowed her to consider it. Even so, she finally decided that her hesitation would kill her. If she ever was in a situation where she really needed the sword, she'd hesitate before making the killing stroke. That sort of hesitation would make her lose every time.
A staff or bo stick might be good. The question was: how many hand-to-hand fights was she going to get in? Even if she had excellent training, her size worked against her. By the time the fight came to her, she was probably in big trouble. It might be better to rely on standard Aikido.
Which brought her around to a point that she hadn't wanted to consider: guns. In a way, this was even worse than a sword. It there was one thing that spelled cheap, ugly violence, it was the gun. But … she was already a victim. Jinn was gone. And while Jinn obviously hadn't been attacked with a gun, Jade was supremely vulnerable. In one sense, the smaller and weaker she was, the more she needed an equalizer.
She finished sketching out various fanciful guns on her notebook, while trying to listen to the biology lecture.
As usual, Jann met up with Morrie and Stan, for the noon shift. Today was cleaning out the air-conditioning filters at the top of Shuster Hall. She didn't try to explain to them that she was "Jann" not "Jinn".
"No, you numb-nuts!" Morrie was yelling at Stan. "That's the old stack! We just took those off. We supposed to put on the new filters!"
"Geez, you make one little mistake…"
"Hey, Morrie," Jann finally asked. "You know a lot about guns, don't you?"
Morrie adopted an overly modest pose as he scratched his chin. "Yeah, well, I've been around the block a few times, if that's what you mean."
"Well I, I mean, Jade, we've had some trouble recently. And she was thinking that she needed a – an equalizer, I guess you'd say."
"Yep. That would be a gun, alright. You know, in any normal spot I'd be advising her to take the problem to someone older. But knowing how this school goes…" He shrugged.
"Well, are there any options for – I know this is going to sound stupid – non-lethal guns?"
Morrie scratched his chin again. "You know, if this were any normal town, I'd say you were out of your mind. You get into a gun fight and you want one thing: stopping power. However…"
Jann leaned forward eagerly.
"Fact is, you're sitting smack dab in the middle of the biggest group of tinkerers and gadgeteers in the world. I've heard tell of at least a couple dozen designs over the years. I'm not sure what's out there right now, though."
Jann drooped in disappointment.
"But I can tell you who would! Go look up Lieutenant Forsyth. He's part of security. He's always pretty gung-ho about the equipment. I know he sure takes his time looking over any new shipment we get for the maintenance locker."
Tansy spent the rest of the afternoon restoring her ego. Everywhere she went, she strutted, as if ethereally light on her feet in a way that lesser mortals could only aspire too. Her psychic projections were out full force, so that everyone who saw her knew that she was absolutely, positively, the most beautiful woman in the cosmos.
Jinn noticed that the whole shtick wasn't as effective as Tansy seemed to think it was. Nearly half the girls she passed rolled their eyes or made some other indication of disgust. Of course, Tansy has been going to class with these girls for weeks. Jinn wondered how often she turned on the "I am so beautiful" vibes.
There was a minor percentage of guys who also seemed less than enthralled. And of those who watched her, a minority seemed to have somewhat predatory emotions.
Of course, no one expressed their emotions openly, where Tansy could see. Jinn had the advantage of having eyes in the back of her head. It also helped that she could see emotions directly. And to be fair, there were plenty of admirers, among both sexes.
She wondered why the teachers allowed it. Why did they let Tansy walk broadcasting telepathic compulsions? Was it deliberate – an exercise to build up Tansy's generating power, while simultaneously building up the telepathic resistance of the rest of the students? Or was it just a matter of, "if it isn't causing problems, ignore it"?
Jann was brutal against the bag. Her new gloves really were like punching with sledgehammers. She'd finally ended up with seven pounds in each fist, and when she hit, that momentum was concentrated on a solid metal ridge over her first two knuckles.
"Not bad," Tolman-sensei said from behind her. "You're suddenly looking mean. What happened?"
Jann explained, briefly.
"Well, the gloves are a good first step. Tell me what you come up with, so I can adjust training. I'd advise more of a hard style, considering how you're going. How's your movement? Have you compensated for the change?"
"Let's try you sparring against a brick. You've sparred with Punch before, haven't you?"
Jann nodded at the somewhat chunky girl. "Hi, Evvie!"
Jann didn't bother correcting her. She noticed Evvie cringing slightly, and explained, "Not your fault. I'll explain later, back at home." Evvie was an empath, which was pretty strange considering that she was turning into a pretty powerful brick. She lived in Poe, just three rooms down. "Something happened and I kind of decided it was time to get serious." She slammed her knuckles together. "Metal fists, you know?"
Evvie smiled. "Cool. Let's see what you've got!"
The two of them often sparred together. Evvie sometimes had trouble controlling her own strength, and she could accidentally do a lot of damage to normal opponents. Fortunately, they both knew that even if she accidentally obliterated Jann, she wouldn't actually hurt her.
Jann moved in, raising her hands into position. Evvie was strong but not fast. It gave Jann a perfect live punching back, and within moments she had the chance to duck down, slamming one shot into Evvie's gut, with a follow-up to the jaw.
The results surprised her. She knocked the other girl over onto her back.
Evvie rose, shaking her head. "Hey, not bad! I almost felt that!" She wiped a hand across her mouth. "My turn."
"You seem to be practicing more seriously than I have seen from you before," Ito Sensei told her.
Jade paused, and bowed to her opponent, signaling for a break. "Yes, Sensei. I've had trouble."
He nodded, saying nothing.
"Sensei, I was considering learning about guns."
The old man nodded again, then, seeing that Jade would say no more, he said. "It is something to consider. It would certainly make you more of a threat than you are at present. However, that is a problem, as well. Are you certain this conflict must be escalated to lethal levels?"
"I was thinking that there are non-lethal guns."
He nodded again. "So there are. Investigate. Find what you are comfortable with. When you have mastered this gun, not as an expert but a comfortable mastery, come to me. We will see then about joining your separate arts."
Tansy had finally decided on a strategy. She dismissed her flock, and took off on her own. She didn't need any witnesses for what was to come.
First, she stepped into an empty office. She knew from experience that the teachers usually lingered more than a few minutes after class. Closing the door, she pulled out her cell phone and made a quick call.
"Yes?" a male voice answered over the phone.
"This is Solange," she said. "I have work. Usual place, 4 o'clock?"
"I'll be there."
Saying nothing more, she hung up. Another call, to another memorized number. This one was answered by a rough voice that she didn't recognize. "What is it?"
"I want a meeting with Thuban."
She fumed. Who was this jerk to talk to her like that? "I can meet with him at five. It will be worth his while."
"Who is this?"
"An old client," she told the voice, smugly.
"You know his place?"
"Of course I know it! And tell him to clear away anyone unpleasant."
There was actual growling from the other end.
"Oh, yes. I'll be coming in through the back door. I expect you to make sure that I don't run into that carpet Montana. There might be trouble with that."
"Ah. You'd be Solange."
She was half irritated and half pleased at her notoriety. "It shouldn't matter to you. Just do what you're told."
There was more growling, then, "Thuban will see you."
"I thought he would."
Jade discovered that security was located inside Kane Hall. It seemed to be a public entrance, so she and Jann let themselves in. Inside, there were old walls with posters (she'd never before seen supervillain wanted posters) and FBI-style sheets on "Secret Organizations". She wondered if it was some kind of joke. There was a small waiting room and a glassed-in receptionist.
"Do you have an appointment?"
"Uh, no. I was advised to see Lieutenant Forsyth? I want to find out about getting a gun."
"I see." The woman paused to light a cigarette. "And the purpose for obtaining the weapon?"
"Well…" How much detail to go into? "I was killed recently. I think."
The receptionist raised an eyebrow, and drawled out. "That's a pretty good one, even for here. It seems to me that death is the sort of thing you can be fairly certain about. You're either dead or you aren't, right?"
Jann pushed in, in front of her. She wasn't wearing the Madonna-face, she was wearing an all-black skintight outfit. "We can make duplicates of ourself, like me. An earlier duplicate is missing, and we think she's dead."
The receptionist nodded slowly, while taking a drag on her cigarette. "You're lucky it's a slow day. Yeah, I'll see if the lieutenant has time for this one."
While they waited, they looked over the posters. Jade revised her earlier opinion. Half the wanted posters were for super-heroes, who'd skipped out on damage bonds, or were wanted for other reasons (paternity suits being common).
Shortly, a door opened and a dark-haired man in a dark blue jumpsuit and padded SWAT vest walked out to see her. "Hello? You're the one who asked about the gun?"
Jade and Jann nodded together.
"Why don't you step into my office, and we can talk about it."
She followed him through the door, and was surprised to see an unusual blend in the cubicles beyond. The central area had open desks, currently mostly empty. There were glassed-in cubicles along two walls, while the far wall was taken up with a huge bank of monitors. The largest, central screen displayed a schematic of the campus and outlying areas, with complex codes and tags that made the display look like an air-traffic control screen. Strips of smaller monitors bordered that, with lines of displays to the left and right. These images were displaying scrolling pages of data, or cycling between camera views.
Jann suddenly recognized part of the schematic. "Hey, that's the sewer system, isn't it? And those are the tunnels for the underground class areas."
The lieutenant peered at her. "You know the sewer system?"
"Yeah. I'm Jann Sinclair. This is Jade. We work with Morrie and Stan."
He got back to his glass-in office and sat down. He quickly punched something in to his computer, while Jade took a seat and Jann floated. Jade noticed that he had his back to the wall, and had a perfect view not only of his guests, but also of the main display, and everything that happened in the common room.
"Right. Jade Sinclair. Although your other half is listed as 'Jinn', not 'Jann.'" He read a bit more. "Part of 'Team Kimba.' Huh. I had you figured for the quiet one. But I can see where you'd have more than your share of physical danger, considering your roommate –"
"She's not that bad! It's just that things happen…"
"Uh huh. But when the tornado comes through, it doesn't matter who's to blame. The point is, get out of the way of the tornado."
"She's not like that!" Jade was getting really tired of the way people picked on poor Tennyo.
"You familiar with the concept of the lightning rod?"
"Yeah, well, but –"
The lieutenant smiled. "That girl's a lightning rod if I ever saw one. That doesn't mean I blame her. And in a lot of ways, she makes my job easier. I'm still smart enough to be careful when I see a thunderstorm coming." He leaned forward. "Is that why you want a gun?"
"No! It doesn't have anything to do with her at all! And I don't want a gun, exactly. I mean, I can't really imagine shooting someone. But I was talking to Morrie, and asking about non-lethal guns. He said I should talk to you."
The lieutenant turned back to his computer. "Yes. You cleaned the Class X site at the end of the tunnel this past weekend, didn't you?" He seemed to be speaking to himself for a moment. "Morris's report said you held up pretty well. Says he issued you a laser rifle, and gave 'Jinn' a Mark 3 variable-dispersion flame thrower."
"Yeah, and some machetes and stuff."
"Uh huh. Laser rifle checked in with no shots fired."
"Uh, well, there was nothing to shoot at. Not like the flame thrower."
"Good, good." He paused, turning his attention to the display board outside for a moment, before settling back. "Okay, let's hear why it is that you think you need a gun."
"Well…" Jade launched into the story of how Jinn had vanished, and her discovery that she could still conjure Jann, but that Jinn was still gone. "And, I know she wasn't taken out with gunfire – that's stupid, it's not like guns could hurt her – but all of a sudden I'm realizing how vulnerable I am. I mean, we've seen those crystal chanting guys, and ninjas attacked, and Tennyo seems to be getting in trouble all the time. And, hey, she had assassins after her before she came here!"
Lieutenant Forsyth looked up at that. "That wasn't in her file."
Jann reached over to swat her physical self in the head.
"Uh, maybe she didn't want to talk about that. Can you forget that I said anything?"
The lieutenant made a "hmmm" sound while scribbling a note.
"Well, considering the fundamental purpose of this school, and your roommate, and incidents we've seen so far, AND the reports I've gotten from Morris, a non-lethal firearm is a reasonable request. Of course, you'll have to purchase both the equipment and ammunition on your own."
Jade winced. "Can you deduct it from my paycheck?"
"Uh huh. And you'll have to be extra-careful when you're off campus. We won't restrict you from using it off-campus, that would destroy the whole point behind this exercise, but other law enforcement agencies are bound to see things a bit more suspiciously. I'll get you permits for regular and concealed carrying."
He stood up.
"Come downstairs with me, and we'll check you out on something you might be able to use. Oh, and you'll need to get scheduled for the practice range. You'll want to start taking some afternoon or evening classes."
Jade gulped and followed him.
Tansy browsed through the books in the "obscure wing", as she liked to think of it. Personally, she would have been bored to tears by the technical areas of the library. But some of the students practically seemed to live there.
Speaking of "living there," as she moved through the main room of the library she almost collided with the spiky-haired girl.
Tennyo! Over here!
"Shut up," she muttered under her breath. Glancing covertly sideways, she recognized the spiky-haired girl as one of the ones who'd been talking to the annoying fairy-girl. Fey, that was the fairy-girl's name. Something like that. And the spiky-haired girl was… obviously Tennyo, from the way her internal spirit was carrying on. Tansy turned away, and hurried down a side corridor.
Although Whateley had barely 600 students, it had a library that was suitable for a large college or university. There were also many locked sections, containing collector's items, historical works, and other controversial reference material. She'd sneered at the stories that claimed there were black magic grimoires. Or rather, Tansy believe that there were volumes written by people who believed that junk, but she suspected they were all just ancient deluded psychics.
Finally, she came to the section that was least-used of the entire library. Classical literature.
She crossed her arms and waited, while listening to her inner spirit rail against her.
Oh, you're just LUCKY that my roommate can't hear me! She's got quite a temper when she's defending her friends. And an energy sword that lets her cut through two feet of solid steel! If she found out about me, she'd dice you into pieces that would fit through the shower drain! Of course, she'd probably regret it – afterward. She's like that, a real decent person. Not like SOME PEOPLE.
"Oh, shut up. Nobody cares what you think."
"I haven't said anything yet."
Despite herself, Tansy couldn't help jumping. She immediately tried to regain control. "Nex, how good to see you! You're late."
He just silently shook his head. "How is my woman?"
Tansy shrugged. "Eh, Sahar's okay. She should be, considering how much she extorts from me. I mean, who can tell with her? She just sits there and mopes."
The boy's bowl-cut hair wasn't flattering, considering his thin face. Still, his eyes narrowed as he heard of Sahar moping. "She'll be happier, once I reclaim her."
"Yes, yes. And you can do that so much better with a little spending money."
"I want more than money, this time. I want a favor, as well. Your influence with Sahar. Another date."
Tansy waved him off. "Like she'd be willing to listen to me. I swear, that girl doesn't appreciate ANY of the things I do for her."
"Your promise. You will arrange the date."
Tansy had had enough of this. "Alright! If I'd known you were going to be so tedious, I would have used another source."
"There are no sources as good as me."
She smirked. "For the right price, there's always another source."
"What do you want?" His voice was flat.
"Hekate. Everything about her. Her flunkies and friends, especially her powers – how she attacks and what her typical strategy is. Who's gone up against her, whether they won or lost, why and how."
He seemed suddenly leery. "Hekate is head of the Alphas."
"No," Tansy hissed, "Don Sebastiano is head of the Alphas. Hekate is just his current arm candy. Which is all about to change."
"She's a pretty big target."
"You'll do it for five thousand."
"And the date," he insisted.
"ONE thousand and a date," she countered.
Tansy was surprised. Was he THAT hung up on her creepy roommate? Who knew? Well, maybe she'd finally get something useful out of the girl.
Tennyo finally finished her shift at the library, and dragged herself over to Crystal Hall to join the crew for dinner. When she finally spotted them, they seemed to be clustered around Jade and –
"Is that a GUN?"
Ayla answered. "Could you speak up? I don't think they heard you over in New Zealand."
"Who'd a thunk it?" Toni said. "Our little girl is all grown up and carrying her own piece. Next thing you know, she's going to be running drugs and capping rival dealers, just like home."
Nikki glared at her roommate. "You said you lived in an upscale suburb."
"Oh, yeah. Would you believe I was having a flashback to my brother?" She shuddered. "Who'd have thought that I'd occasionally miss the dumb jerk?"
"It's not really a gun," Jade explained. "It's non-lethal. The Cobra 400, linear-induction projector. It's got a nine-shot magazine, and I can prep it with all sorts of different loads."
"Uh huh," Tennyo said, nodding. "Can you hit anything with it? And what happens when you DO hit?"
"Well, it's got a pretty good kick. I had my first session at the practice range today and I'm pretty good." In a much quieter voice she added, "Unless it's more than twenty yards away."
Everyone else at the table snickered at that.
"But I've got all sorts of cool loads! You should SEE what some of the devisors can mount in one of these capsules." She held up a small ball that was a little over two centimeters in diameter. "I've got smoke loads – they'll make a cloud about ten feet wide. And there's the webbing load – it explodes into a bunch of fibers that tangle around you and stick together. And the shock load – it's like a taser gun. I can switch between three different magazines of three each. There were others that I didn't get, like the incendiary and high explosive. Oh, I did get two knockout gas. I'm not sure if I'll ever use them, but they sounded interesting."
Tennyo was half pleased. She liked the idea of Jade being able to defend herself better. But she was half disturbed. She realized there was only one explanation for this behavior from the smaller girl – Jinn's disappearance had really hit her hard.
"What if someone takes it from you, and shoves it up your nose," Toni asked. "That's the problem with carrying a gun."
"No way! It's a devisor special. Well, a 'gadgeteer special', I guess. I have to be wearing this ring to fire it, see?"
"I don't know, doesn't it seem wrong for a mutant to use a gun? Sort of like cheating?"
"You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead fingers!"
Nikki looked at her in horror. "You didn't join the NRA, did you?"
Jinn was still in a bit of shock at how much Tansy had been willing to spend for information on Hekate. There were currents on this campus that she'd had no clue on. Not until now.
Right now, Tansy seemed to be having a serious anxiety attack. Jinn didn't know why. She recognized the dorm they were approaching – it was Twain. This was where that sasquatch Monty lived, who'd given so much grief to Tennyo and Toni.
Tansy slipped around to the back of the cottage and knocked on the door. Some boy with slightly scaly skin was there.
"You'd better hustle downstairs," he said quickly. "Monty's upstairs, but he's in a bad way. Mood he's in, if he saw you now, he'd probably just say 'hell with it' and tear you limb from limb. And that'd be a real shame, 'cause Monty don't deserve that. Even if he is the world's biggest idiot."
Tansy opened her mouth to say something, but closed it again. Instead, she just hurried down the stairs. At the bottom, there was a boy with a kind of scaled helmet. He looked like he had a somewhat bloated body under his clothes. He led her down the hallway.
"Look, I know the drill. Third door on the left."
"No. This time it's the fourth door."
Tansy gave a theatrical sigh. "I don't know why I bother to put up with this theatrical shit. It's not like it impresses me."
The helmet-headed boy opened the door, then stood outside, letting Tansy go in alone.
Jinn was surprised. There was a hallway that led to a thick, bronze door. As Tansy approached, the door rolled aside, as if it were a gigantic disk. Jinn estimated the disk must have been at least six inches thick, and it was carved with what looked to be ancient Chinese illustrations.
The hallway had been long enough that they must have passed beyond the basement of Twain Cottage. And beyond the bronze door, a cavern opened up. The bulk of the cavern was below them. The ceiling held stalactites, and Jinn saw a pools of water below them, forming grottos. Some were lit with deep blue lights. In the center of the grotto, a tent was set up. It glowed as if there were fires within.
A man that seemed to be made out of stone held a rope, which looped through a pulley in the ceiling and lowered a small chair.
Tansy paused, then climbed into the chair. The stone man slowly lowered her down to the floor of the cavern below.
"Stay on the path," he called down. "It's not safe, otherwise."
Muttering to herself, Tansy got out of the chair. "I've seen the Wizard of Oz, too, you know!" As she stood, a pair of torches came alight, and a pair beyond that. She followed the torches through a winding passage until she finally arrived at the tent-like silk pavilion. From inside, a low voice rumbled.
"Come in. You may wish to restrict yourself to the outer chamber."
Tansy walked boldly in. The first chamber of the tent held piles of pillows, braziers, and comfortable-looking camp chairs. Tansy pushed past the curtain at the back of that chamber and entered a larger one. Inside, there was a scaled man – half man, half reptile. His face grew out in a pointed, reptilian muzzle, and he had sharply pointed teeth. He had spines instead of hair, and his fingers and toes were actually wicked-looking claws.
"Welcome, Tansy Walcutt. Please excuse the sssetting. These little … illusions … entertain me." Jinn's senses operated differently from any normal person's. While there had been a diffuse glow of power around the entire underground complex, she hadn't seen anything that indicated that this was an illusion. As for the lizard-man, she initially thought he wasn't displaying any emotions, but then she realized that he had the sickly silver sheen that she was coming to associate with hatred.
"Cut the mumbo-jumbo, Thuban. I'm offering a contract."
The lizard-man shifted, and Jinn saw that he appeared to be sitting on a pile of coins, shaped into the form of a chair.
"Why should I care about your money?" the other asked, in a hiss.
"What are you talking about? Everyone cares about money!"
"There are thingsss which are more valuable, and lessss replaceable."
"What will it take to get rid of Hekate?"
The lizard-man gave a hiss of surprise, and Jinn saw that his tongue was more like an animal's tongue than a man's. "You ssset your sssights high. Even as Queen of the Alphasss, she has power and influence beyond what is obviousss. She is also very … high profile. Besidesss, I do not do assassinationsss."
Tansy ran a hand through her long hair, tossing it back over her shoulder. "Okay then, a week. I want her utterly missing for a week."
"Possible. What price?"
The creature gave a dry laugh on its throne of coins. "You waste my time. I want money, and more."
Jinn thought she felt a spark of fear from her host and captor.
"What? I made a good offer. Do you have a counter offer?"
"You. I am free to use you and your body, however I will, for that sssame week."
"Get real! I need that week. And I've never heard such a stupid offer in my life. Given a deal like that, you could kill me. No chance." She paused, and when she spoke again, she had a too-clever tone in her voice. "One hour, I never appear in public, no pictures or recordings, and I get to veto anything."
"One day, after the week is over, during which your body will be under the complete mental control of an …acquaintance… of mine. No permanent harm shall come to you, and your handler would feel any pain you felt, so you would obviously gain an amount of protection from that. I agree to nothing public and no records."
"But if your little telepath-girl or whatever messes up and can't handle me, then tough luck. And Hekate's gone tomorrow."
"Acceptable. After the twenty-four hours have elapsed, you are free from the contract. AND, the price will be thirty thousand."
And if Jinn had still had a stomach, she would have had a very cold feeling in the pit of it.
Jinn spent another fruitless night trying to somehow manipulate the sleeping lump of flesh she was trapped inside. True, she was getting lots of experience as a real girl – but she hadn't expected to get it as a helpless passenger! Besides, Tansy was hardly a model for women everywhere. Clearly, Tansy was hardly a model for anything. Jinn had to laugh at the irony, since the girl was also the school's lead model. It sounded like a bad joke. "When is a model not a model? When she's Tansy Walcutt!" Or perhaps, "Tansy Walcutt: she sure isn't a role model!"
That brought up another thought. Hadn't Fey just started doing modeling? If Tansy did any modeling work, would they run into Fey? Perhaps Fey would sense what was going on.
By this time of the early morning she usually gave up her various efforts at changing her state or slipping free. As the early morning arrived, Tansy grew more restless and rolled around more in bed, so the sensations were a bit more interesting. Jinn tried to relax, and fantasized that this was her body, and that she was now fully female, lying in bed in her see-through negligee. Occasionally she'd roll over or shift to keep from squashing her large breasts.
She studied the way she slept as a girl – on her side, or on her back. The closest she got to sleeping on her stomach was a sort of three-quarters turned over, with an arm and leg thrown over an oversized pillow. Jinn imagined that they were next to her lover, draped around the person. She tried to picture what her lover was like – man or woman? Living in Poe, she'd been slowly abandoning her preconceptions about herself.
Rolling over to sleep on her back was most comfortable position, but each time she took a breath she couldn't help seeing her breasts rise and fall, gently straining at her negligee and the sheets covering her.
Equally interesting were the sensations that were missing. No matter how her legs shifted, she never felt the pinch or pressure on those annoying boy parts. She never felt the slightest urge to reach down and pull herself out from being trapped between her legs. Instead, everything always felt just perfect down below. It felt exactly right.
Another thing that was odd, but oddly right were her hips. They were so wide! They definitely affected how she slept, particularly when she was on her side, but somehow, they felt completely correct. This was the way she was supposed to be.
Like all fantasies, though, it eventually had to end. In this case, when Tansy's alarm went off, and Tansy began to wake. Of course, Jinn's first impulse was to reach over and slap the gloves to charge up … her. Naturally, that had no effect on Tansy, who did her morning stretch as she slowly opened her eyes.
Jinn retained a bit of her fantasy mood, as she imagined that it was her stretching, feeling the fabric stretch tight over the swell of her bosom. It was a shame – Tansy's body would be so much nicer if it wasn't for Tansy inside of it.
Finally awake, Tansy paused at her vanity. She opened a small container and carefully popped a pill out of its appointed spot. She quickly washed it down.
What are those things? You take one every morning.
Tansy started briefly at the unexpected voice in her head. "Well, duh! You've never seen birth-control pills?"
No. I'm a little young to be involved in that. Not to mention that in her normal body she wasn't exactly equipped to become pregnant. And my roommate… She trailed off. Tennyo was probably old enough. But the thought of Tennyo taking birth-control pills, the thought of WHY Tennyo might take birth control pills, it was too much for her little mind to handle. She started giggling internally.
"What? What's so funny?"
A couple months ago, Tennyo had been a BOY. And while she was obviously equipped, the thought of her doing THAT was hilarious – and then suddenly not funny at all.
Yeah. Someday, Tennyo might need those little pills. But Jade wouldn't. It didn't seem fair. She wasn't entirely sure what she'd do once she became a girl, but she NEEDED to be one so bad.
Forget it, was all she'd say to Tansy.
Her unhappy mood lasted until Tansy's shower, which was an eye-opener. Tansy figured out she could use her "new TK power" to hold her skin stretched tight, to give herself a safer and closer shave. Jinn had to give the girl credit – when it came to finding her own advantage in a situation, Tansy was brilliant. Jinn wasn't sure she'd have thought of all these uses of her power on her own.
Then Tansy started shaving there. Jinn's mind went bright orange in embarrassment.
Apparently Tansy felt the emotion. "What's the matter, little spirit? Never shaved yourself down there?"
I don't even have HAIR down there yet! Not to mention that she didn't have a "down there" at all, in her physical body. This was so freaky!
"We don't want to give The Don any chance of a turn-off."
Jinn gagged, appalled. You aren't planning – you wouldn't do THAT with him? The birth-control pills seemed to indicate that "that" is exactly what Tansy would do.
"Men are only interested in one thing. You want to play the game, you have to pay their price. But they get bored quickly, so it's up to the girl to keep them interested. Either that, or get what you want and leave, before they wise up."
Jinn gulped. She had to get out of this body! That wasn't to say that someday, maybe, when she was physically female, she might not… But now? Tansy Walcutt and Don Sebastiano? She'd be emotionally scarred for life! There had to be a way out!
At breakfast, Hekate was missing from the Alpha table, but there were several other members of the clique in attendance.
Tansy breezed forward, much to Jinn's terror, and sat comfortably across from Don Sebastiano, while waiting for a male admirer to bring her breakfast.
"Where's Hekate?" she asked, in a voice that oozed sympathy. "Nothing too serious, I hope."
"No, not at all. Apparently she had a distant great aunt who passed away. They're reading the will on Maui, and they offered to fly her in, all expenses paid, first class. We think she might actually have a bit of money coming to her. With the flight out and back, and a few extra days at their expense, she should be gone for about a week."
Jinn was getting more adept at picking up her host's moods, and she could tell that Tansy was steamed. She'd just paid a large sum of money to send her worst rival on a paid vacation. Jinn herself was amused, until she remembered what Tansy would be trying to do in the intervening week.
"Gosh, Sebastiano, I guess that leaves you high and dry. No arm candy? No companionship? Those long, cold, lonely nights. My heart goes out to you. I want you to know if there's anything I can do to help…"
The man in question leaned over and kissed the delicate girl who seemed to wait on him hand and foot. "I lead the Alphas," he told her, with a tone of disdain. "Lest you forget, we Alphas are the tip-top of this school, the highest, finest, and best in every way. And I am the best of the best. If I want for anything," he snapped his fingers and figures to either side of him snapped to attention, "it is mine the instant I form the wish."
He looked to his left. "Skybolt, darling little doormat that you are –"
"Yes, my hero?"
Jinn had never seen a look of such devotion.
"If I asked you to strip naked and fuck me on this table, in front of the entire school, what would your answer be?"
"Oh, please, yes!"
He nodded. "Maybe later." Turning to the extremely attractive boy on his other side, he said, "Cavalier, lad."
"I think I'll be taking a dump in a moment. But I heard they're out of toilet paper, so I'll need you to lick me clean."
Jinn felt Tansy's gorge rise.
"Yes, Sir! My privilege, to help you in any way I can, Sir!"
He turned back to Tansy. "So… what can YOU do for me?"
Jinn found it fascinating to feel the second-hand emotions. Right now, she could literally feel the blood draining out of her host's face. She was surprised, though, when Tansy's answer was level, and even seductive. She hadn't thought the girl had so much self-control.
"What can I do for you? Aside from providing power, and beauty, and absolutely flawless style? Remember, I'm an Alpha, too. Unlike those lusterless lackeys, as an Alpha, as me, I am the best at everything." She leaned in closer to breath the words in his face. "Everything."
"Ah, I see. Perhaps I'll have to take you for a test drive later, and see how you stack up."
If Tansy had been emotional before, that was nothing compared to the fury that suddenly shot through her. In a silent rage she rose, turned, and strode away from the table. At her back, Don Sebastiano laughed. After a moment, the other members of the table joined him.
"You finished the costume?" Tennyo asked, seeing Jann floating around the room in her flat-black bodysuit and hooded cloak. "I don't know, you look like a giant shadow. I mean, that super-black cloth is a pretty nice effect, but it's missing something. You need some sort of highlights."
"But this is spookier," Jann insisted. "It's like I am a shadow. See?" She pulled her arms and legs into the cover of the cloak, and they became invisible. There was only a cloak floating there in mid-air.
"Yeah, I see what you mean, but it would still be better with highlights. Especially if you could hide the other bits when you did the shadow effect. That would make it that much more spooky and mysterious. Besides, you need at least a couple of accessories. At least a belt or something."
Jade nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I guess you're right. The whole shadow-thing is too cool to lose, but it's really time to get a face again."
"Not the mask," Jann said. "That was Jinn."
"Well they must have something in the costume lab."
Tennyo paused as Jade continued dressing. "Are you going to wear that gun to class?"
Jade had just buckled on the holster, and was busy tying it down to her thigh. "Of course. That's the point. If I don't have it when I need it, what good is it?"
"But, it looks like a huge honking pistol! And you're wearing a skirt! What will people say?"
"They'll probably say that it messes up my skirt – which it does – but why should they say anything other than that? How many devisors do you know that go to class without their hardware?"
Tennyo shrugged. "Well, yeah, but that's different. They're devisors."
Jade fumbled with the holster. "Dang. They warned me about the big gun. Well, it'll just give me time to get used to it. Maybe I should check out the behind-the-back holster." She looked up to see that her roommate was still staring at her. "Hey, don't worry. I picked this up from security. I've got all the permits. They've told the staff and teachers. I only have to notify them if I ever change to a lethal load."
Tennyo gave it up. "Whatever happened to that sweet, innocent girl I moved in with?"
Jade's voice was flat. "Someone murdered her."
Tennyo turned back around and went to hug her roommate. She wasn't always so good at this emotional stuff, but once in a while the need was obvious. She squeezed Jade close. "Are you doing okay?"
"Yeah." Jade sniffed once. "But sometimes… I'm really scared, you know? It's the not knowing. What if it happens again?"
"We're all here for you."
Jade finally hugged her back. "Thanks."
In costume shop, Mrs. Ryan had the same comments about accessories. And, after many probing questions, she revealed that they did indeed have the ingredients needed to create masks and other forms of artificial skin. It was a common request, due to the many students with "skin conditions" or other physical abnormalities. Jann made an appointment for the next day, when she'd have to appear with Jade.
That afternoon, Jade and Jann had another session with Dr. Bellows.
"After today, you should be able to enter the trance on your own, and work through self-hypnosis," he told her. "It's still often useful to have someone else directing the session, but you'll be able to work without that, if you feel the need."
Once again, Jann was in the earplugs that buffered Jade from directly hearing the hypnotist.
"Is there anything in particular you'd like to accomplish this session?" he asked.
"You aren't going to try to alter my Body Image Template?"
"This session, we're merely going to confirm that we have a solid, reliable, repeatable trance."
Jann thought for a bit. "I've had some trouble, recently, so I got this gun from security. But I have to admit, I'm not very good with it. Is there any way that hypnosis could help me shoot better?"
The middle-aged man nodded. "Perhaps. I did some target shooting for a while, years back. I know some of the principles. I can give you some suggestions, but you'll still need plenty of training."
Jade gave a wan smile. "Almost anything would help."
"Very well. Let me strap on these monitoring devices. They will measure your heartbeat, respiration, and brain waves. It will help us measure the depth and potency of your trance."
That was quickly accomplished, and Jade lay back on the couch.
"I'd like you to begin counting backward from 100…"
From there, Jade proceeded quickly into the trance. Once she was completely under, the doctor rose to examine his instruments. He then made several pleased sounds.
"Alright, Jade. I'm going to give you a new spell for your book."
In her earplugs, Jann relayed the command, modifying them. <We will create a new command for your gauntlets. This will be on the pinky knuckle of your left hand…>
"You shoot most accurately when you see the target, align the sights on it, squeeze the trigger gently but firmly, and hold the gun steady through the recoil. You can do even better if you fire between heartbeats, while holding your breath. This spell will allow you to train all of these reflexes together. When you activate this spell, it will operate each time you spot your target. At the moment you decide to shoot, you will smoothly bring your pistol into exact position, align the sites, squeeze, and then allow the pistol to move smoothly back. Your movements will automatically coordinate with your breathing and heartbeat, so that you fire between breaths, and between heartbeats."
He also gave her another spell. "This spell will allow you to create your own trance. Activating this spell will quickly pass you through the countdown, into a deep state of suggestion. While in this trance, you will consider whatever issues and instructions you prepared for yourself ahead of time, and be able to incorporate those ideas into the deepest recesses of your mind."
Tansy was also contemplating hypnosis. Her second-favorite trick after her "brain zap" was to drop a post-hypnotic suggestion on someone. She tried not to over-use it, since people got particularly riled up about any sort of mind-control. But when there was no way to detect what she'd done, it had proven enormously useful.
She wasn't about to try anything on The Don. She wanted him to need her, after all. Hekate was another matter, but she was gone at the moment. No, she needed something subtle.
Then she had it. It wasn't a great idea, but it was a start. She needed to get to that little mind-slave girl The Don was always dangling. The girl, in turn, would feed suggestions into Sebastiano's ear.
Now, the only problem was when and where.
On the range, Jade noticed a dramatic improvement. Her aim still wasn't very good, but it had suddenly gotten a lot more consistent. That made correcting things much easier.
She burned through her entire salary for the day taking practice shots with the cheapest loads she could buy. They had assured her that the more complex devisor capsules flew the exact same way. Train for one load – train for all.
So your big plan was just to have sex with Don Sebastiano, figuring that afterward he'd make you his new queen? Jinn was less than impressed.
"You make it sound so tawdry," Tansy whispered. "But that's about right. See, I have this particular talent. I weave a mental projection around myself that gives people a finer appreciation for who I am. That's why my code name is Solange. That's French, for 'precious jewel' – because that's how people see me when I send my projection."
Uh huh. And how was this going to get you The Don?
"I can use the same technique during sex. Under such close, deeply intimate circumstances, it makes me the world's absolute best lover. The Don would be ruined for other women." She shuddered briefly. "Not that his attentions would be any great thrill. Take it from one who has the experience to know, sex is vastly overrated."
Jinn wasn't about to accept Tansy as an authority on anything. Well, I wouldn't know. So you sleep with him, give him a mind-blowing experience, and that's it?
"Oh, I can usually work things up to a pretty strong love compulsion. Even with other telepaths. The projection is subtle, and works its way in while they're distracted. And just at THE moment, I give him some extra oomph. It's one of the few times that even the strongest male telepaths are completely vulnerable. And after that, he's addicted. The Don will be hopelessly in love with me."
Except that he seems to want to humiliate you more than sleep with you. For which Jinn was profoundly grateful.
At that moment, Skybolt left her last class of the day. Predictably, she headed toward Melville Cottage – probably either her room or Don Sebastiano's.
Tansy stood up from the bench behind the hedge and moved to fall in behind the delicate-looking girl.
Before Skybolt could turn around, Jinn noticed a beam of energy issuing from Tansy's head, spearing through the other girl's skull. After a moment, Tansy moved up close to the other girl, and began to talk quietly. It was loud enough, though, for Skybolt to easily hear the words.
"Tansy? She's about the hottest girl in school. Everyone knows it."
"God, is Solange pretty! I wish I was even half that beautiful."
"Tansy is so unbelievably rich. She could just buy all of Whateley if she wanted. Heck, she could buy most of New Hampshire."
Then Tansy moved away again. Afterward, Jinn asked. What was that about? You just repeated some stupid catch-phrases to her?
Tansy smirked, Jinn could feel it. "You're nuts if you think I'm going to give away my secrets that easily."
As Tansy attended that afternoon's modeling session, Jinn thought she might have a chance.
"Alright," the photographer said, "today's shoot is for calendar pictures, background and exotic shots, some seasonal images. And of course, if anything fabulous comes out, there's the possibility of a poster."
One of the younger girls raised a hand. "What are 'exotic shots'?"
While the photographer set up against the background of trees on the east side of campus, Tansy sauntered over to explain. Jinn was surprised, initially, then figured out that it wasn't so much that Tansy wanted to be helpful – she just liked playing the expert.
"Exotic shots go into your portfolio and the school's expanding image gallery. We keep the photos in two very different categories. There's the normal, ultra-glamorous, like me. For these background and filler shots, my image might be picked for fill-in or emphasis on anything from a outdoor-wear catalog to a corporate report.
"The second category is super-hero and exotic. Those are used in plenty of similar circumstances, but they're usually trying to emphasize some point, rather than just furnishing an attractive image. That's why we keep the weirds and exotics around, like you," she said, gesturing toward Fey.
Fey, at the moment, was adjusting a costume that made it look like she was wearing so many leaves. She scowled at Tansy's barb.
Seeing that, Jinn tried to project an emotion as hard as she could. Fey was an empath. If she spotted Jinn's projection: familiarity, friendship, shared times, surely Nikki would understand those emotions couldn't possibly be coming from Tansy.
Fey stared at them, with her inhumanly large and beautiful eyes. For Jinn, those eyes glittered with an ultra-violet color, as Fey's face shone with the tint of confusion.
"You are obviously one of the most confused people I've ever met," Fey decided.
Tansy couldn't even let such an innocent comment pass without counter-attacking "What are you, anyway? Some sort of dryad? Wood nymph? Tinker Bell?"
"You're not nearly so hostile as you'd like me to believe," Fey replied.
"And what makes you think that, Tinker Bell?"
"I'm an empath. I can tell that a part of you, deep inside, really does hold friendship for us."
Tansy felt a jolt of fear that was strong enough for Jinn to feel, and doubtlessly strong enough for Nikki to notice. She immediately moved away from Nikki, saying, "Haven't they taught you freshmen telepathic ethics yet? You don't go prying into other people's heads!"
Jinn gave a mental sigh of defeat. Perhaps she hadn't projected well enough. Perhaps Nikki just hadn't conceived that there might be two different people occupying the same head.
The study group agreed that Jann's new costume was better. She still had the ultra-black hooded, but now she had cuffed-off gloves and boots, and bone white arms, legs, and face. Her body-suit was like a black void of a one-piece swimsuit, and she had normal black hair (exactly like Jade's real-life hair). Moreover, her face and eyes were just like Jade's, except for the bone-white skin tone.
As she moved, they saw that the inside of her cloak wasn't exactly the same as before. It had been lined with a material that was black, except when it rippled or bent. Then you could see iridescent shimmers of pure crimson.
"Not there yet," Toni decided, "but definitely a lot better. How'd you get the face? It looks so real. And that white isn't such a bad effect on you."
"It's Japanese," Jade admitted. "Geisha makeup, kabuki, and all that. Pure white makeup is pretty popular in classical Japan. I wanted something that was a little exotic, but attractive, but I kind of changed my mind in the middle, too. I'm trying for a shadow / ghost thing, as well."
"Yeah, right," Ayla agreed, sarcastically. "You want to throw in a few more themes, maybe?"
Tennyo was examining Jann closely. "How'd you do your face? It's perfect!"
"Thanks," she said. "It's just talcum powder. My doctor gave me the idea last week. But I need the black fabric behind it, otherwise my skin ends up being transparent."
Toni shook her head. "You need some makeup. And you still need accessories. Still too plain. How are you doing on a name?"
Jann floated up a bit so that her feet were dangling. "I want something that talks about my connection to fabric. And I want it to imply shadows, or gloom, or spookiness. That's why my first attempt was 'Clothes Ghost'." She paused to look at Ayla. "Some people thought that was silly. I tried 'Cloak' but that was copyrighted. 'Cape' was too super-heroic; I'm feeling a bit more morbid. I think I've got one, though."
Ayla tapped her foot. "Yeah? Let's hear the latest."
Toni nodded. "Yeah, that accomplishes what you were talking about."
Billie broke in. "What's with all the spook imagery? Please tell me you're not suddenly going Goth on me!"
Jann shrugged. "I don't have enough style yet to be Goth. But … I'm probably the weakest member of our little group. I think I need to look for advantage wherever I can get it. One way to do that is by choosing a name and a style that confuses my foes, and doesn't give away my powers and weaknesses in one single word. I'm not going as 'Telekinetic Fabric Girl' or anything. That would be just stupid!"
Toni hunched over and rubbed her hands while cackling. "Besides," she hissed, "criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot!"
"Mostly," Jann admitted, "I'm just hoping I can scare the piss out of SOMEone, SOMEwhere. If the spook show will help, I'm all for it."
They got ready for studying while Jade went to change. Fey was still off at her modeling session. Just as they were settling in, Jade returned in a very different looking outfit.
"And this is MY costume! What do you think?"
She was wearing cargo pants, a tube-top, and a fisherman's vest (with about fifty pockets) over the tube top. She also had on a headset with an antenna and a Plexiglas screen that covered one eye. On her right side she had her gun and holster.
Everyone stared at her.
"Uh, you look like some sort of devisor," Tennyo said, stating the obvious.
"Of COURSE I look like a devisor!" Jade hollered. "That's the whole idea! I've got my gun here, I'm going to have to collect more stuff over time. Half of it will be stuff that I can TK-charge, if necessary. I'll bet I can fake a lot of devisor gizmos by substituting with Jann."
Toni pointed at the headphones, eye-screen, and antenna. "What's that?"
"Well, right now it's just a plastic mock-up from costuming props. I figure it's a good idea to have a radio link to Jann, especially in combat. We need to coordinate better. So once I can afford it, this will be a walkie-talkie. She'll have her own unit, but it'll be inside her where you can't see it. As for the eye-piece, well, it looks cool. Sort of Dragonball, don't you think? And maybe someday I can actually make it do something.
"Oh, yeah, and for my code name, I couldn't decide between 'Central' and 'Generator.' I think I'm going to go with 'Generator.'"
Billie nodded. "Yeah, that sounds like a devisor."
"Yeah, but it's also accurate, since I'm the one who generates Jann."
"Confusion to your foes, again," Toni said.
Jade nodded. "Exactly. And life preservation, too. I've noticed that people zap the gadgets really well, but they don't waste too much energy on the devisors themselves. After all, the devisors are usually just normal people. I want to take advantage of that habit."
Billie suddenly laughed. "So now I'm rooming with a ghost and a geek!"
Jade waved her fist in the air. "Take that back, you goof!"
And for a bit, everyone forgot their troubles.
Nex suddenly appeared at her side, holding a manila folder. "You wanted everything on Hekate? Here it is."
Tansy snatched the envelope from him. A quick flip through showed details about friends and family, her followers and confidants here at the school, dates and romantic relationships, and run-downs on her powers.
"I… haven't had time to arrange your date, yet," she admitted.
"That's fine," Nex said. "You can take the information as a good-faith offering on my side. I'm sure it will motivate you that much more. This Friday would be good. I'll expect a call." And he was suddenly gone again.
Tansy trudged back to her room, feeling the full burden of promises made that she wasn't sure she could keep. When she slipped into her room, she squeezed through the door – just in case Nex was invisibly following behind her. Then she realized there was a good chance that her creepy roommate would detect him, if he tried it.
She wasn't sure whether she wanted Sahar to be there or not, but the girl was in her regular lotus position on her bed, a textbook open in her lap.
In typical fashion, Tansy opened the issue bluntly. "What would it take to talk you into going on a date with Nex?"
Sahar looked up. "That worm? Is he still obsessed on me? That was last spring."
Tansy smirked. "Maybe he hasn't been able to get any since then."
Sahar's expression didn't alter. "He was not that good in bed. A typical shoot-and-sleep type. I'd be surprised if any other girl put up with him for long."
Tansy shrugged. "So he's a bad fuck. Does that make him different from any other man out there?"
Sahar stared at her through long, dark eyelashes. "If you didn't always go so psycho on it, I'd think you were a closet lesbian."
Tansy shuddered. "Don't even go there. I can't believe that you sleep with other women. That is just so… so…"
"Disgusting! God, I'm not even sure what you do! You don't let her put her mouth on your pussy, do you?"
Sahar's smile was smug. "It's called cunnilingus. Her tongue touches you everywhere. Every fold, swirling around your most sensitive spots. And all the while her hands roam your body until you can't take it anymore."
Tansy was half-fearful, half needing. Already she was as hard as could be up top, while melting down below. Aloud she said, "That is about the sickest thing you've ever said! I think I'm going to puke. They idea that my own roommate is a twat-sucking cunt-licking lesbo – you just stay over on that side of the room."
"I've been licked out by guys, too."
"Look, can we just change the subject?" The whole topic brought images to Tansy's mind that she didn't want to think about until she was alone.
"I thought the subject was that you wanted me to go on a date with that worm – and I do mean to indicate size here." Sahar stared at her with a dangerous look in her eye. "And I sure hope we're ONLY talking about a date – if you even think of trying to pimp me out –"
Tansy held up her hands. "No, no, just a date!"
Sahar tilted her head. "How about value for value? You arrange for me to have thirty minutes, in private, to talk to Zenith, and I'll go out with that idiot."
Tansy ran a hand through her hair. "Look, I'm starting to get really strung out here. Can we maybe just arrange for cash?"
Hey! the voice came in her head, I know Zenith! I was talking to her just last week. If you let me go, I'll arrange for Zenith to have that private conversation!
"Not a chance."
"Huh?" Sahar looked puzzled. "Make up your mind. You offer cash and then change your mind?"
Tansy shrugged. "Sorry. I was talking to –" she tapped her head "—you know."
"Interesting. You know, she doesn't look any weaker. Any signs that she's starting to possess you?"
"No. It doesn't work like that!" Tansy was pretty sure that Sahar was just jerking her chain. "You don't know much about avatars, do you? We act as hosts to the spirit, and provide all the energy they need to keep going. In return, we get complete control over their powers."
Is that why I haven't faded yet? the voice came in her mind.
"Yeah, but don't avatars come in different power levels?" Sahar asked in her oh-so-smart tone. "What happens when a weak avatar holds a strong spirit?"
Tansy was pretty sure that if she ever got tested, she would be an "Avatar-1", the weakest level. She did not want to be putting ideas in her spirit-girl's non-corporeal head. "That doesn't matter. I've had no problem so far; I'll continue to hold her just fine."
"Uh huh. Except that I seem to remember at least three or four different classes of metaphysical entities. And avatars work real well against the most common class of entities, but they usually do squat against the more exotic entity types. And your ghost-girl is not a normal type of spirit."
Tansy was starting to get extremely irritated by this line of conversation. "Look, I've had no trouble so far, and I'm not going to HAVE any trouble, got it?"
Sahar nodded. "Two thousand dollars," she said, holding her hand out.
"What? Just for talking to you?"
Sahar rolled her eyes. "For agreeing to the date. Don't you even remember what we were talking about?"
"ARGGG!" Tansy stalked to her purse and pulled out her checkbook. She scribbled a quick check. "There! He expects you Friday."
"Oh, joy. Something to look forward to for the rest of the week."
As Tansy slipped into one of her amazingly indecent negligees, Jinn reflected on what she'd learned.
Tonight she'd work extra hard, trying to break free from the avatar's hold, and trying to break the lock on her form. Perhaps they would end up being the same thing. She figured she had double the chance to discover something.
Tansy was obviously still irritated at her roommate. Jinn wasn't sure why. It was hard to tell whether Sahar was as mercenary as she appeared, or whether she was just taking advantage of an unpleasant situation. Jinn had personally found the Nex character to be extremely threatening. She wouldn't go out with him for any price. Well, not that she'd ever been on a date.
Sahar and Tansy seemed to go to sleep by mutually ignoring the other. At least, that was the pattern she'd seen the previous two nights, and they seemed to be following it tonight, as well.
Jinn pushed and prodded in every way she could think of, trying to connect or alter her telekinetic body. But all she could sense, all she seemed connected to, was the skin of Tansy's body. And no matter how she struggled or strained, she couldn't lift so much as a finger.
But now she had a backup plan. It seemed to work best when the target was unaware. So once she could tell that Tansy was really asleep, she began talking in a low "voice" to her host.
You really want to let the ghost-girl go. You want to let the ghost-girl go. You don't want anyone else in your head, let the ghost-girl go.
It was going to be a long night.
Billie was about to turn off the light. That in itself was odd. For the past week, Jade had been summoning up Jinn for extra study, after both girls went to sleep. Jinn was silent and worked in the dark, and to be honest it was kind of comforting to think that someone was there watching over them as they slept. It was also handy, since she could just call out to Jinn and have her turn out the light (not that Billie had any trouble seeing in the dark).
The past couple of days, though, Jade had been going to sleep without calling up Jinn.
And tonight, she thought she heard a sniffle coming from the tightly wrapped bundle in Jade's bed.
"Jade? Are you okay?"
Billie moved closer to her roommate. "What's wrong? Are you still bothered about Jinn?"
There was a sniff from the lump on the bed. "It's been two days! I keep hoping that somehow, some way, she's still alive. But it's been two days!" The smaller girl way openly crying now, and it was hard to understand her through the tears. "The most she's ever been away from me was 67 minutes. There's no way she could still be alive! And the worst part is –" she was sobbing in earnest now "—I'll never even know what happened to her! It could happen again! How can I even protect myself if I don't know what killed me?"
Billie found herself in the odd position of having her arms wrapped around the other girl, pressing Jade's head to her chest and rocking her back and forth, while trying to make comforting sounds. Just like a mother, Billie thought. It was a strange realization. Even now, she was occasionally hit with something like this, that reminded her of what her gender had been, not so long ago. It was usually something unexpected, where she found herself acting so very female – in a way she wouldn't have anticipated when she'd been a boy.
"I used to love becoming Jinn," Jade admitted, more quietly. "She was a real girl, like Jann. Not a – a freak like me. I was so happy when I did the charging and I came out as Jinn. I always thought I was the lucky one. Poor Jade was stuck in that dumb old wrong physical body.
"But now – now I'm afraid to be Jann. I'm a girl, but I could die at any moment. It's the not knowing. I just don't know what to do!"
"Shhh. It's okay. I'm here." And, utterly surprising herself, Billie held her smaller roommate, stroked her hair, and said whatever she could think of. She thought that maybe the school had some ideas that weren't so bad. Who else besides a fellow gender-switcher could have coped with Jade's confession? She wondered if Nikki and Toni ever supported each other like this. Did Ayla missing having a roommate? Did Hank ever need to be comforted? She tried to remember her own life as an emotionally self-reliant boy, and found her former gender and the thoughts that connected to it oddly distant.
Perhaps that was because, all this time, it felt like she was holding a child. It triggered a thought that Bill Wilson had never had. The thought was, Will I make a good mother?
She was shocked to think of herself having a maternal instinct. With her change and other upheavals she'd entered Whateley as a freshman. Despite the official forms listing her as fifteen, she was actually sixteen years old. Jade was fourteen, but looked twelve. So – four years difference, in one way of thinking. Was that enough to allow her to feel maternal toward her roommate? Not really.
She knew that she was comforting a friend. A friend who was sometimes a bit like a child, but was also sometimes an equal.
But as Billie fell asleep, gently stroking the other girl's head, her mind was filled with questions. What would it be like, to hold her own baby? Could she even imagine that? Was it really possible that she, Bill Wilson, was thinking about being a mother? Could she care for a child?
And so the two girls fell asleep. The smaller one held and comforted by her roommate, whom she trusted utterly. The larger one confounded by her own thoughts. Realizing that she had been a boy, so very recently, but that her mind was now filled with thoughts that were completely female.
Picking up her assignments from Miss Devlin, she really didn't have any trouble getting out of her morning English class. So far, her teachers had been very understanding about powers tests, medical appointments, and all the other reasons she'd gotten out of class. Of course, it probably helped that she kept up on her homework, and was getting fairly good grades.
They'd taken a chance and last charged Jann at breakfast, which meant that she'd be expiring in the middle of costuming class. But since Jade had to join her anyway…
Jade checked her watch as she made her way to the lower floor. Six minutes to go. She let herself into the Costuming Lab, and made her way to the back door that Mrs. Ryan had shown her yesterday. Before she entered, she almost ran into Mrs. Ryan coming out.
"May I help you, Miss?"
"Uh, yesterday you told me that we'd be doing the face mask stuff?" Jade reminded her. "I'm already in there, aren't I?"
Mrs. Ryan started to respond then seemed to think twice. "I swear, some of these powers DO take some getting used to. You're Jinn?"
Jade winced. "The name I use for my physical body is 'Jade.' But we're really all the same person – at least every time we reconnect."
"I think I see." She turned and headed into the back lab, gesturing for Jade to follow. "The plastic mix we use is pretty good. It's durable and very flexible – we use it for hands and even feet, which take a lot more wear and tear. The only problem is that it's pretty sticky in its liquid form, and it's hot enough to burn normal skin."
Jade came into the room where Jann, dressed as a shadowy figure in a hooded cloak, was standing above a boiling pot of goo. It looked like a giant fondue pot, filled with skin-colored cheese.
"Now that you're here, we can get a skin-tone reading," Mrs. Ryan announced. She took a small probe and touched it to Jade's arm, then to her forehead and cheek, then to the back of her hand and her palm.
"Pretty good, quite consistent," she announced. "We could tweak a little for the different pourings, but I really think they're close enough already. Let me bring it up to your current average tone." She carefully measured out some color from a bottle. Using a pipette, she added a precisely-measured amount to the bubbling "cheese".
"Okay, that should be close to perfect." She measured the pot with her probe. "Good. Let me stir it a bit."
"Okay. Give us a minute here," Jade asked, "I need to charge up Jann. She's due to vanish in," she glanced at her watch, "thirty seconds. I have a Powers Lab assignment to measure the exact duration, so I need to wait for it."
While they waited, Jann talked with her teacher about how to do the pouring. For most people, they made a negative mold using their face (or someone else's face), then poured the plastic into the mold to get a positive. Jann wanted to skip that step and have the plastic poured directly on her head.
"It's not like it can hurt me – I can't even feel heat. And if Jade gives me a new charge right afterward, I can incorporate the plastic and then I can provide the shape myself."
"Odd idea, but I'm willing to give it a try."
Jade was closely watching the second-hand on her watch.
Sixty-seven minutes and fourteen, fifteen –
She reached out to touch Jann. They'd be doing the super-quick merge-and-return, getting Jann back in place before the clothes collapsed.
Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen,
Had she gained another second?
Something was seriously wrong here. She shouldn't have picked up TWO seconds. Not in the last few days. Had she set her watch wrong?
thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two
That was just plain impossible! Her teacher had calculated her ultimate maximum time at sixty-seven minutes and just under thirty-two seconds. She must have set the dial off by a minute.
forty-nine, fifty, fifty-one
And suddenly Jann was back in her mind. She was already holding the outfit. Reflexively, she immediately charged Jann back into it. Jann glanced at her own watch.
"It matches yours," she said.
They both reset their watches, very carefully this time. "Must be an error." "Has to be a fluke." they said together.
Whatever had happened, they didn't have time to figure it out now. Mrs. Ryan announced, "I'm ready for the pour." She dipped a huge ladle into the bubbling pot and scooped out several cups of the mixture. "Now, pull off that cloak and we'll see about pouring it onto your head.
Jann complied, and Mrs. Ryan lifted the ladle high, then slowly poured it over the black hood that seemed to cover Jann's head. The thick mixture began to roll down the front and sides of her head.
Jade reached out and held each of Jann's shoulders, being careful not to touch the hot plastic.
Jann slumped for a moment, then rose again. This time, the plastic flowed under the control of her telekinesis. It quickly flowed around her head, forming a duplicate of Jade's head, if it had been totally bald.
"Remember to open your mouth," Jade reminded. "We need it to flow in through the opening. Nostrils. Eyes closed, to get enough eyelid."
While all this was going on, Mrs. Ryan was bustling about with black plastic hair, planting it like young shoots of rice in the still-molten plastic.
"Oh, this is a good one! Try making a few expressions – I think the stretching might help."
Jann had allowed the plastic to completely cover her neck, shoulders, and a bit down her back and upper chest.
"This is one of the most interesting cases I've had!" Their teacher was almost bubbling. "Usually, there's something underneath, but not in your case, is there? We have glass eyes, of course. Plenty of brown, if you don't mind matching your natural color –"
"That would be fine! Much better than the weird novelty eyes we had before."
"Yes, I remember those from the first week of class. But I'm not sure what to do about your mouth."
"I had some dentures that were the right size," Jade explained. "I should have brought them – they could have gotten set right into the plastic."
"Yes, too bad."
Jann was stretching out her tongue, trying to get enough material to cover a natural extension.
"There! That should do it for your hair. Not exactly like your normal hair, but pretty close. Of course, you'll have to get it cut and styled. I'll teach you how to attach the eyelashes and eyebrows. You'll want permanent tinting for your lips and the inside of your mouth. It's up to you whether you want to do makeup normally or permanently. I can warn you that cleaning is a bit of a problem – a plastic mask isn't as easy to clean or as durable as skin."
"Yeah, but at least I don't have any complexion problems," Jann could help adding.
"You realize what this means?" Jade asked her double. "Haircut, styling? More bills!"
"Ouch," Jann agreed.
Mrs. Ryan made sympathetic noises. "At least the mask and basics are free. We provide them to any student who has qualified in Costume Lab." She gave a stir to the bubbling pot. "Now, were you saying something about hands?"
"I'm suddenly thinking about feet, too."
By the time she attended Powers Lab, in the afternoon, Jann was sure of it. Her time had increased several more seconds since this morning. She was barely over sixty-eight minutes now. Powers Lab was in the normal gym room. She updated her chart, including the numbers from the morning, then waited for the nautilus machine set up for measurements.
The answer shouldn't have been a surprise. Last time she'd checked, her maximum effort had been 188.6 pounds of force. Today she managed 192. She headed for Mrs. Bohn.
"Well, those are certainly impressive results," the woman said. "What I can't figure out is why. If you've been triggered onto a new development cycle, there should have been some incident, or burst, or stimulus. Can you think of anything that might have triggered you off like that?"
Jann shook her head. "No, exactly the opposite. The only big thing that's happened recently was that…" her voice trailed off as she realized that she had the answer.
Jade and Jann went together to get Jann's haircut. They wanted it to look exactly like Jade's – perhaps just a bit longer, so it would match as Jade's hair grew out. They had to wait until after they got off work. Then they snuck back into the room, and Jade picked out a good shirt. It had a scoop neck (not that she had anything to show off) and long sleeves. Together with a light tan leotard, Capri pants, and sandals, and she was ready.
Jann came back into her, and then she cast Jann into the clothes.
Normally, her girl-shape came out at the height she was supposed to have – five foot three. But she could compress herself – that's usually what she did when she possessed a stuffed animal. It was her girl-shape warped into a slightly different size and shape. She supposed she could make herself bigger, too, she just hadn't had any reason to try yet.
Now she was planning something different. Jann was normally five foot three. Jade was four foot nine, a good six inches shorter. But with the newly realistic face mask and hands, Jann looked very much like Jade. Slightly older, slightly more feminine, and about six inches taller. Could she deliberately make herself shorter?
The clothes inflated. Jade watched as the leotard stretched, as Jann rose up taller than her – and then shrunk back down again. The other girl's height seemed to bounce up and down for a moment, before it settled at the same height Jade was.
Jann stared at her with normal-seeming eyes.
Jade smile back and gave a thumbs-up.
It was almost dinnertime, so Jann sauntered over to Toni and Nikki's room. It turned out that all the other girls were hanging out there, listening to Nikki's story.
"So I'm wearing nothing but these leaves," Nikki explained, "I'd had an actual outfit earlier, but the photographer suddenly wants to go all artistic. I mean, what do I know about this stuff? So he's talked me down to just my underwear – luckily I'd worn a beige set that was pretty close to skin color – and I'm draped around this tree and I'm supposed to be smiling like I've just swallowed the universe's best chocolate malt, and he's placing the leaves on me. 'Artistically' he says."
Jann leaned forward, enraptured by the tale. The other girls, even Ayla, seemed to be hanging on Nikki's words.
"And just as he's at the camera, ready to take the shot, what happens?"
"The wind," Toni guessed, snickering.
"Damn right! But he's already shooting! And does he stop? Hell no! So I stand up to go stomping up to him, but that makes it even worse, of course. So I do my thing, you know," she waggled her fingers "and pull up a bit of wind. If there's going to be wind around, it had better be doing what I want it to do! So I pick up the leaves, 'cause there about the only covering there, and they're swirling around me like a little dust devil, hiding what you better believe is supposed to be hidden! And – I don't know – I guess I've got a pretty fierce expression on. That's what the other girls told me afterward. But this guy doesn't even budge. He's just fussing over his camera and clicking away as I come stalking up to him. And finally, just before I'm ready to deck him, he starts cussing and saying things like, 'Damn, out of film!' "
By now the other girls were laughing so hard that they could barely hear.
"And before I can kill him, and his little camera too, he starts babbling about how it was absolutely perfect, and that I could hit him all I wanted to, but please don't damage the film."
This proved too much, and even Ayla was laughing now.
"How – how'd it finally turn out?" Toni gasped.
Nikki shrugged. "Don't know. He still has to check the film. He said if it was anything like he's expecting, we might do best by offering an exclusive poster deal to the Sierra Club. 'Nature – beautiful, but fierce.' Something like that."
"God, I'd pay for a poster like that," Ayla blurted out.
Jann glanced over and was surprised to see the aura colors that she usually associated with guys who watched Nikki, but she suddenly realized that Ayla was standing rather awkwardly, and remembered that Ayla wasn't entirely unqualified in the guy department. Embarrassed, she quickly turned away… only to notice Nikki staring at her.
Nikki slapped her roommate and whispered into Toni's ear. Toni glanced at her, then did a double take.
"Hey, Billie," Toni called, "going to get your roommate for dinner?"
Tennyo looked at her, then looked back at Toni, puzzled. "Huh? What's up?"
"Your other roommate."
Tennyo shrugged. "I guess. Hey Jade, is Jann out?"
Jann smiled. "If you call, I'm sure she'll hear you."
Tennyo scratched her spiky blue head. "What's up with you people? HEY JANN! DINNER!"
Jade came out and walked over to Toni's room. She was wearing a long-sleeved sweater, gloves, long pants, socks and shoes. "Dinner? Great, I'm starved."
Jann grinned as Tennyo and Ayla peered back and forth between her and Jade.
"Ah ha!" Tennyo announced, pointing toward her. "Jann!"
"Hmph. How'd you figure it out?"
Tennyo blushed. "Uh, well, no offense, but you've got breasts. They may not be that big, but they're there. And even through your bra, we can see your – you know – your tips." She turned to Jade. "Sorry, kid, but you still haven't started developing."
Jade scowled. "'s not fair!"
Tennyo wrapped her arm comfortably around her smaller roommate. "Yeah, but what are you going to do? Give it time, girl. You'll grow up."
"I'm tired of waiting," Jade grumbled. "I'd do almost anything to have a real figure."
"I want to be my real height," Jann said. With that, she closed her eyes and suddenly grew six inches taller.
"There's a magic trick you don't see every day," Nikki observed.
"Our little girl's growing up so fast!" Toni added.
Jann smiled. "Hey, now that it looks like we're actually related, I get to be your big sister!"
Jade crossed her arms and scowled. "And once again, I get nothing!"
Jann grinned as she put a comforting hand on her 'little sister's' shoulder. "Sorry. But look on the bright side: I'm having a great time!"
Jade couldn't help grinning. "Yeah, good point."
"That's frightening," Ayla said. "I think that actually made sense to me."
At that moment, Jinn was trapped inside Tansy's body, as Tansy visited The Don in his room. Even he hadn't been able to get an attic room, not as a junior, but he was up on the fourth floor, which was still a pretty impressive feat. The room was decorated even more extravagantly than Tansy's, and it seemed to be entirely done in a style that Jinn would call "bachelor pad." There was an enclosed waterbed with a mirror set into the ceiling. A sound system for both the room and the bed. A wet bar along one corner. She wondered how he'd managed to get a room to himself, until she spotted a bedroll protruding from one of the cabinets under the waterbed. Putting the clues together, she guessed that Cavalier was The Don's roommate, and slept on the floor, so that The Don could have as much space as possible.
Tansy sat down delicately in a tall bar chair.
"Can I get you something," Sebastiano asked. "Jack Daniels? Bacardi? Absolut? Neat, on the rocks, mixed – I'll have Cav-man whip you up something to help you relax. Elaine?" He nodded toward Skybolt. "I'll have a slow comfortable screw against the wall."
She blushed as her hand moved, apparently unconsciously, to the top button of her blouse. "You mean the drink, or…?"
Sebastiano laughed at his wit. "The drink, little dick-licker, the drink. I've changed my mind, though. A margarita. And make sure you get the salt right this time!"
"It's so hard to find good help," he confided loudly to Tansy. "Now, I believe you were going to talk some more about me?"
"About us," she corrected. "The Alphas – well, of course they're the best. That goes without saying, but couldn't they be a bit more?"
"What are you saying?"
"Well," she shifted closer to him, and began running her finger up and down his arm, "what have the Alphas done this year? Not much. No recruitment, no publicity. Remember the charity drives? Or the collection for the poor mutants afflicted with hideous, disfiguring alterations? I do so enjoy being generous to all the lesser creatures below me."
Sebastiano was frowning, but Jinn didn't see any irritation in his aura, so it was probably an act. "You're saying we haven't done anything since I took over."
"Not at all! Anyway, you're the leader and the idea man. You have people to make these things happen. You just need a better … partner. Someone who can brainstorm for you, supply ideas for you to approve or disapprove. No, if anything, I'm criticizing your current, ah, associate."
The Don accepted his drink from Skybolt. "Well, I don't know about that. Kallysta has done a lot for me. What do you have to offer?"
Tansy crossed her legs, idly swinging the top leg and allowing her high-heel to dangle off her toes. Jinn had watched as Tansy deliberately practiced the move. She assumed it was meant to draw attention to the girl's nylon-clad legs. Now Tansy leaned forward, deliberately displaying her cleavage.
"Do you have even the slightest idea of how rich I am?"
Sebastiano snorted. "Elaine over there seems to think you're rich enough to buy most of New Hampshire."
Tansy gave a practiced laugh. "Oh, hardly! Even with all of daddy's money, I'd be hard-pressed to buy a city like Concord. Now control, well, that's so much easier than outright purchase. And often more convenient, too."
Sebastiano laughed briefly, then paused. "You – weren't serious."
Jinn felt a flash of triumph from her host. "Well, the most expensive areas would be downtown. The last skyscraper we bought came in at 230 million. What does Concord have? Twenty-thirty skyscrapers in that range? Okay, so that's do-able. Not petty cash, but do-able. Moving out to the rest of the city center, we'd need to liquidate some of our holdings. Perhaps that film studio – I've been pretty disappointed in them. Or the record label. Or the distillery." She reached out for the bottle of Jack Daniels. "One of our Brown-Forman holdings, as I recall. Last I checked, we owned about a third of the company. Glad you like it. Every bottle you buy, a third of the profit goes straight into my pocket."
Jinn was fascinated to note that The Don was suddenly showing the slightest tinge of intimidation. "But – why –?" He pulled himself together. "If you're that rich, what are you doing out here? Why aren't you in some rich-girl private school?"
"Dear Sebastiano," Tansy's voice was purring now, "do you think there is any school in this hemisphere that's more exclusive than Whateley? You don't get rich by playing fair. Power and wealth go hand in hand. I'd love to show you how." She reached over to finger the buttons on his shirt. "I think you'd quite enjoy the experience."
"Well… yes… but Hekate…"
"Oh, piss on that little tramp."
Tansy and Jinn both noticed Skybolt moving forward. They turned to her. "Don't like to hear anyone badmouthing your mistress?"
Skybolt shook her head slowly.
"Well, I can be generous, I suppose."
And the rest of the evening continued in that vein. To Jinn's immense relief, Sebastiano didn't make a move on Tansy that night. She'd even learned his full name – Sebastiano Lorenz Valensuera y Ramirez. She'd thought Sebastiano was his last name. It turned out that "The Don" was simply a title he'd adopted.
Sebastiano and Tansy fenced, as Tansy tried to spin the web of what her money and connections could do for both Sebastiano and the Alphas. The Don, for his part, was remarkably resistant. Whatever connections he had with Hekate, they seemed to be strong. But throughout the evening, Tansy had been using her projection of beauty on him, and Jinn was afraid he was weakening.
For his part, Sebastiano had obviously been overwhelmed by the extent of Tansy's wealth. He seemed to rally, slightly. She notice him emitting various beams of energy toward her head – telepathic probes? – but none of those penetrated the chaos of her dual mind with Tansy. And it seemed to her that Tansy had taken and held the lead for the entire evening. Sebastiano never quite overcame his initial surprise.
She'd almost panicked when Cavalier and Skybolt had been sent out to fetch dinner. Fortunately the pair had returned just in time to interrupt a scene that was growing ever more intimate.
By the time Tansy finally headed back to Dickinson (escorted by Cavalier – a generous offer extended by Sebastiano), Jinn was desperate. Another night of this, and she wasn't sure that they'd hold back.
So she planned and schemed as Tansy went through her nightly pre-bed ritual. She'd have to try the hypnotic suggestions first. Then she'd make more attempts to break free. And if none of that worked, she had one last backup plan.
Once Tansy was deeply asleep, she tried a new set of message.
Sorry, Don, I'm just starting my period.
No, nothing, it's just my period.
God, I have the most horrible set of cramps.
You aren't turned off by a period, are you?
She repeated those messages over and over, for a full hour. Maybe they'd help.
Then, she worked at breaking free. Perhaps it was her desperation, perhaps she was just pushing harder than ever before, but she accomplished a breakthrough. It wasn't quite what she'd been expecting, though. Normally, her "essence", her spiritual existence or however you'd describe her ghost body, was spread evenly throughout Tansy's body. No, she decided that wasn't quite correct. When she merged with herself, she was spread evenly throughout Jade's body. But tied to Tansy, she seemed to be stretched like a rubber band to conform exactly to Tansy's skin.
Now, through intense effort, she managed to gather herself together into a smaller patch – perhaps the size of a hockey puck. It surprised her and she let go – immediately snapping back to conform to Tansy's shape. Concentrating, she squeezed herself back into a small shape.
She held that for a bit. She quickly discovered that the slightest lapse caused her to snap back into Tansy's skin. On the other hand, she was growing more familiar with "pulling herself into a point."
There were interesting side effects. First, it wasn't really all of her that got pulled into a point. It was impossible for her to let go of Tansy's skin. But instead of being spread in an even layer, she was able to pull most her herself – all of her mind and soul and perceptions – into an ever-tighter little globe. At the same time, she still had tenuous filaments that stretched out across Tansy's skin.
Once she was comfortable holding herself in a "point", she wondered what to do next. She wanted to leap free of Tansy, but that proved impossible. Her "point" had ended up centered on Tansy's forehead. Could she move? Again, she had to learn a particular style of concentration, but she could. She slid across Tansy's skin like a puck on ice. It didn't seem to help any. She tried sliding onto Tansy's hair, and then onto the bed.
No luck. She could move anywhere on Tansy's skin, but only on the girl's skin. She could only flow along one of the existing filaments. She let go, snapping back to normal shape.
Okay, time for exploration. She pulled herself into a point again, then slid over Tansy's body. Her ears, her eyelids, along the front of her neck. She skimmed over large breasts and rested across one gigantic nipple. From her bug's-eye perspective, everything seemed gigantic. She thought that she was even smaller than when she'd first discovered this. With the new practice, she was now able to squish herself down into a spot only a quarter-inch across.
Now she traveled down the breast, across the belly and navel. What about the intimate areas? If she was trapped here, she saw no reason not to explore. It was an interesting perspective, but ultimately unhelpful. She eventually returned to her original location on Tansy's forehead.
She let herself unsnap for a moment, resting. This new discovery must mean something! But how to use it?
She lay there on her back, watching her breasts rise and fall as she breathed.
There were old illustrations she'd seen, long, long ago. One showed the spirit leaving the body, exhaled through the mouth and nose, along with the last breath. Another showed some night creature – a hag, perhaps? – taking over a sleeping victim by covering their nose with her mouth, and breathing her breath and essence into their body.
Jinn realized something. She couldn't move down to the eyes – the eyelids were closed. She'd briefly tried and failed to enter certain intimate passageways (strictly curiosity, of course). Those passageways were clenched closed and Jinn had failed to get in.
But the nostrils – the nostrils were open. They provided a path into the body, into the lungs. Did the filaments reach there? She quickly squeezed herself into a point once more, then traveled down to the nostril. As with her physical, weeks before, as the opening was entered she seemed to flow forward. She wasn't sure whether she was actually extending the reach of her filaments, or merely activating threads that had been, until now, dormant. But it worked! She was inside Tansy's body, moving down the throat to the lungs. And there –
Tansy inhaled, filling the lungs wide. Jinn felt the familiar rubber-band pull, pulling her back out of her point and into the shape of Tansy's skin. But as she expanded, she merged with the lungs. She passed through the entire body as she was pulled from the inside, through to the outside. And the filaments were pulled with her. For one moment, she was every organ in the girl's body, as she was pulled through them all.
A moment later she was back. Conforming to Tansy's skin, once more, as she lay on her back and breathed the deep breath of sleep.
Jinn sighed in frustration. Her body echoed that sigh. She was so frustrated that she rolled over in anger.
And she did.
Stunned, she couldn't help herself. Her eyes snapped open in reflex. Jinn didn't see anything; she still couldn't see through those eyes, but someone else did.
Waking, Tansy sat up.
Instantly, the pressure on Jinn became tremendous. She was pulled the rest of the way through the body, like water through a sieve. Before she knew what had happened, she had snapped back to the surface of Tansy's skin, and was helpless once more.
"What was that?"
The girl looked around the dark room in confusion for a moment, before falling back into bed and quickly returning to sleep.
Jinn waited a few minutes for the breathing to become regular, then tried it again. She entered the lungs, Tansy inhaled, and – she was pulled up and into the body. The sensation was more recognizable this time.
Now, how much could she get away with, without waking Tansy?
It wasn't that she had any objection to waking the girl in the middle of the night. That had been her plan of last resort – to shout in the girl's ear all night long. She was afraid that, as a telepath, Tansy might have some sort of mind block that would lock her out. But this was a different kettle of fish. Once she had some idea of what could be accomplished, who knew what she might be able to do?
First, she practiced "releasing", returning to her original state. Then she practiced "possession" as she thought of it, moving to take control of Tansy's body. She got much swifter at both maneuvers.
It troubled her that she still couldn't seem to connect to her telekinetic powers. She could feel that they were there, but Tansy's avatar ability seemed to have the TK gripped like a bear trap.
Jinn practiced moving 'her' body. Rolling over brought Tansy to the edge of wakefulness, but she didn't wake. Sitting up or opening her eyes woke the girl, every time.
"What's going on?" Tansy demanded after the third incident. "Are you doing something, spirit?"
If I am, you can always solve it by letting me go.
"Dream on. Now quit bugging me, or I'll make you sorry."
Oh? And assuming that I was responsible, what could you possibly do to me?
"I could pay to have Sahar hex you or something. She's got some mental techniques that are way beyond anything I've got."
The concept was disturbing, but Jinn couldn't let herself be swayed. This was the first time she'd had power, and by God, she was going to exploit it!
Tansy fell asleep, and Jinn continued her practice. She tried breathing with Tansy's lungs, and speaking with her voice.
"Hello, I'm –"
Immediately the other girl woke, and sat up again. Jinn strained and tried to hold her position, but she snapped back into helplessness. And with Tansy awake, it was extremely hard to compress herself into a spot.
"It IS you. I felt something that time."
Jinn said nothing.
"Just stop it, okay!"
Once Tansy was asleep, Jinn went back to work. The voice had definitely sounded just like Tansy.
"Hello, I'm Tansy Walcutt, and I'd like to make your life a living hell."
Tansy woke more slowly this time. Jinn clung to her holds, but was ripped away again.
"What are you doing! Quit it! I swear, you're going to pay for this!"
Sahar sat up in her bed. "Whass going on over there?" she asked, inarticulately.
"The little pest is trying to do something! Every time I fall asleep, she does something to wake me up! ARGGG!"
"Oh." Sahar thought for a moment, then touched herself on the forehead. "Psychic technique: muffled senses." With that, she fell back into bed and began to snore.
"Hey! Don't go away! You can't just leave me with this little bitch! Sahar! Wake up!"
But Sahar didn't budge, and Jinn could tell from Tansy's emotions that her host was too intimidated by Sahar to actually touch her or shake her awake.
"I swear, come morning I am going to have her put such a whammy on you!"
Jinn pushed herself, trying to spot that exact moment when she could pull herself into a point. It was also helping her refine the skill and extend her natural limits. Each time, she didn't try to wake Tansy up, she just experimented with how much she could do before the girl woke. And as the night wore on, and Tansy became more and more tired, Jinn got away with more and more. Once she rose from bed and moved to sit in the desk chair before Tansy woke. Another time, she opened the door and began to move out into the hallway. Both of those times left Tansy rather disturbed, and it took her a while to fall back asleep. Each time, her curses and threats grew a bit more extreme.
And now that she had some power, Jinn decided to change her approach. Obviously, requests and pleading had done no good at all. If she wanted Tansy to let her go, she was going to have to approach things from the other direction. She would make the girl force her out!
By three AM, Tansy was only coming awake when she spoke or actually tried to walk somewhere. By four AM, Jinn was able to move to the desk without waking Tansy. There she sat, staring at the phone. The answer seemed obvious. I could call myself! One phone call would tell Jade exactly what was going on! But Tansy still woke to the sound of her own voice. She needed to be just a little more tired.
Jinn's eyes roamed across the desk. There, under a pile of other books was The Science of Hypnotism. With an aha of understanding, Jinn reached for the book and began to read.
That allowed Tansy to get nearly an hour of sleep. At five AM, Jinn wondered if Tansy's sleep were deep enough. Before using the phone, she tried speaking aloud. "Hi, it's me, Jinn." There was no reaction from Tansy. Carefully, Jinn picked up the phone and dialed her room. It rang in her ear three times, four times, five –
"Who the hell is it?" Tennyo answered.
Just as Jinn inhaled to answer, Tansy woke. Jinn struggled and strained to get just one word out – her name, but as Tansy's eyes opened the avatar power pulled Jinn away with a force she couldn't resist.
"What? What's happening?" Tansy asked in half-awake confusion.
"How the hell should I know? You're the one calling me at five AM!"
Tansy woke up enough to slam the phone back down on the cradle. "Whatever you think you're up to, you won't get away with it!" She practically screamed the words. "I am going back to sleep, and you are going to be a quiet and peaceful little ghost, or I'll make your life a living hell!"
Jinn just laughed (aloud) at her confused threat, and said, I've decided that since I'm trapped here, I might as well haunt you. This is going to be FUN!
With a growl, Tansy threw herself back onto her bed. It was just past five, and the alarm clock was set for seven. Jinn figured it was time to pull every trick in the book to keep Tansy awake. As "loud" as she could, she sent the mental sounds at Tansy:
Youuuuu light up my liiiiiife, you give me hope –
"NO! I hate that song!" Tansy tried pulling a pillow over her head, but of course, that did no good at all.
Hey, do you like show tunes? I sure do. Let's see how many I can remember!
After a half hour of this, Tansy fell asleep despite the worst singing Jinn could manage. She was thinking of allowing a minute of silence, then yelling a loud "Boo" or a scream, or something like that, but she decided to go back to possession.
Sitting up, Tansy was still asleep. So Jinn opened the door and left the room. It might be interesting to see what happened when she wandered down to the guy's end of the hallway, clad only in a see-through negligee. Stretching her hands out ahead of her, she Frankenstein-walked down the hallway. She'd gotten almost all the way to the far end, when a door opened and a girl came out, headed for the bathroom.
Dang! Forgot that Dickinson was all girls.
"Tansy? Is that you?"
"Hi!" Jinn replied. "I'm sleepwalking."
"Okaaay. Then how are you talking to me?"
"I'm the good twin. I was sealed away in a satanic ritual, so that the evil one could corrupt the world. And you have to admit, she IS pretty evil."
"Riiiight. What's really going on?"
That's when Tansy woke up. "Huh? Janice?" She looked down at her skimpy nightclothes. "Eep!" and then sped back to her room.
Gosh, you really need more chest support when you run like that!
"You vile little shit! I am going to turn you inside out with a rusty fork! You are going to beg for mercy while I cook you over a hot fire!"
Jinn couldn't help wondering how Janice was taking this, since Tansy's threats were audible down the entire hallway.
Tansy slammed the door and locked it, then climbed back into bed. "Now SHUT UP!"
You know, I always thought it might be fun to yodel. I'm not very good at it yet, but you have to start somewhere. Yodeeeeel-ah-he-hooooo!
By the time seven o'clock finally rolled around, Jinn had managed to take a cold shower (or at least start one), greet the mailman down in the lobby, and after discovering a permanent marker, draw a mustache and beard on Tansy's face, bull's-eyes around her breasts, and a giant arrow down her belly pointing toward her crotch, labeled "party here." But it was probably the final incident that pushed things over the top.
Tansy woke to find herself staring at the mirror in the girls' bathroom. One hand held a pair of scissors, and the other hand was stretching out a lock of hair, ready to start snipping away. Tansy didn't say anything, she just stared in horror at what was about to happen.
I decided we could really use a haircut.
"That's it. You are DEAD. You hear me? DEAD!"
Stomping past the curious girl who'd just entered, Tansy returned to her own room to face Sahar. The other girl was just rising.
"How the hell did you hear the alarm if you had your hearing turned off?"
"Mental discipline." Sahar's eyes slowly took in Tansy's state, particularly the drawings made with the permanent marker. Clearly trying her best to keep a straight face, she said, "You must have had an interesting night."
"I want you to blast her brain until there's nothing left! Wipe her out! Obliterate the little shit!"
"Hmmm. There's a teensy little problem with that."
"Well, as I recall, you picked up your amusing little passenger to get some extra mental protection, right? And it worked. The two minds together are much harder to probe or attack. All my normal techniques get tangled up. And if that's true for me, it's probably true for most of the other psi's you'll come across. Which means that right now I can't do it, even if you could pay me enough."
She thought for a moment. "Besides. The problem is that there's two human minds in the same head. If I could manage to get a clear shot at one of them, I'm not really sure I could target all that well. Which means I might get you by mistake."
"I'LL TAKE THE RISK."
"Sorry, not interested. Besides, I never really learned any techniques to wipe someone's mind out. Ugg. Is that sick, or what?"
By lunchtime, she was still in a vile mood. She wanted sleep, and lots of it, but she didn't dare give the little vixen time to take over her body again. For all she knew, she'd wake up naked in the middle of a biker convention, with commemorative tattoos over her entire body. No sleep. Not yet. But she had a plan. She giggled to herself. It was a good plan, too. Let's see the little minx get out of this!
It had taken most of the morning to get a solvent that would remove those god-dammed pen doodles. And it had taken another hour at her vanity to cover the dark circles under her eyes. Admittedly, the makeup was a touch thick, but who the hell cared?
She dragged herself to lunch. She only had a few days to snag Don Sebastiano, and she couldn't afford to waste any of it. She trudged up to the main table.
"Hi Don!" she said cheerfully. "I mean, Sebastiano. Don Sebastiano."
Okay, not the best entrance, but she could recover.
"Tansy," he leaned forward, concern lining his face. "Wow. You look like shit."
Her smile froze, like delicate crystal. "Uh, sorry Don, I'm just starting my period." Realization hit a moment later, and the smile shattered. "I – I've got to go."
Outside, she actually slammed her head against the wall. How could I be so stupid? Why did I say that? Now he won't even want to even touch me!
Hey, careful with the wall! That hurts, you know!
"Oh yeah? This is your fault, you little bitch!" She slammed her head against the wall again. Sure, it hurt, but it hurt the damn ghost girl just as much. "How do you like it now, huh?" Slam, slam.
I hope you don't earn a living with that face.
"I – Shit!" She raced for the medical center. This had better not leave a scar!
19: Good night
Thursday afternoon, Dr. Bellows was finally satisfied with her progress in hypnosis.
"The readings look excellent for the depth and strength of your trance. Have you been using any of the 'spells' I gave you?"
"Yeah, I've been using the marksman technique a lot – it really seems to help. I've used the study one, too. Jann tried that, but didn't seem to notice much difference."
The psychologist made a note. "Interesting. I'd be interesting in hearing about any other differences you notice. Since she's so physically different, we'd expect things to operate differently for her. For example, she doesn't have an organic brain; she seems to be some sort of energy pattern."
Jade shrugged. "Or something. I can tell you a lot about what she isn't. As to what she is – well, I think she's smarter than me. Her memory is certainly better. Ever since I started being able to call Jinn –" she paused for a moment, then swallowed the regret "—ever since then, I've been remembering back to even my early childhood much more clearly. And once Jinn or Jann remember it, I remember it too."
Dr. Bellows scribbled a few more notes. "Fascinating. Well, today I'd like to actually begin to work with you on experimenting with your body image, and seeing whether we can accomplish any changes. What do you think of that?"
Jade's eyes glistened. "Doctor, if you can do that, I'll be grateful forever!"
"Well, our first experiment will be with Jinn. Or Jann, as you're now calling her. According to your file, you're a little over fourteen."
"Your problem – one of them – is that you seem to be stuck at about twelve, not developing at all normally. Your body image template, if that's what Jinn is, is both taller and showing the first signs of adolescence. Not a lot of development, but some. I propose that we hypnotically convince you to increase Jinn's age. If we're successful, we'll have discovered that we're able to hypnotically influence Jinn's form, which might be useful to you. Even better, if she really is your body image template, the ability to alter that through hypnosis might have extremely interesting ramifications. Finally, there is the question on whether such alterations will have any effect on you, physically."
"I see." And she did. She was tired of being the little girl of whatever crowd she was in. Besides, if Jann grew up more, she'd have more of a figure, too, wouldn't she? That would certainly be nice. "What age are you going to try for?"
"Not much change. I was thinking of fifteen."
"Would we even notice much difference? Let's go for six – no, seventeen!"
The doctor tapped his pencil thoughtfully. "A three year jump? Skip straight past most of puberty? I'm not sure how I feel about that."
"It's just JANN. She's an energy being. Or a TK construct, or whatever they're calling her this week. It's not like she's going through any physical changes. Besides, if I started showing any physical reaction," Oh, please, God! "we could back things down again to normal."
"Well, you make an interesting case. Alright. Seventeen it is. Now, prepare for the trance. Let me connect the monitoring equipment. This time, I'd like you to put yourself in the trance, using the method I gave you last time. I will provide some guidance and suggestions once you are under."
Again, Jann was bound into Jade's clothing and earplugs. She'd gotten smarter this time, and had left the earplugs out (and hidden by Jade's hair) until it was time for the hypnotic suggestion. She found that she was able to monitor Jade's hypnotic state through the colors of her aura, better than the doctor seemed able to do using his machine. Initially, Jade started out with a sort of white color, which then took on a pearly sheen as she entered the true state of suggestibility.
She told herself that her inner self – the form she manifested when she called up Jann – should now become an older girl. A girl of seventeen. She emphasized everything she could think of that went with that. Hair of the same length, but a better, more adult figure (she went into detail about everything that should change). Taller. Longer legs. She definitely wanted nice legs. Her voice – which mostly a subconscious effect – should also mature, to become her seventeen-year-old voice.
She was very careful not to give herself specific measurements. She wanted to see what she'd really look like at seventeen. But she did emphasize that she hoped her eyes were large, that her cheekbones were high, and that her nose wasn't too large.
Then, following the doctor's lead, she ended the session and told Jade to wake up.
Jade yawned and stretched. "Oh. Are we done?"
"Yes. The instruments indicate that you were in a fine, deep trance. Are you ready to see if we had any effect on Jinn?"
The wrong name irritated her, but she'd given up trying to correct people. "Uh huh. Do you have anything she can manifest in? More talcum powder or something?"
The doctor offered his Genie-bottle again.
"Okay, let's try it." A moment later, Jade felt Jann come back to her. She reached for the bottle and charged Jann into it.
They'd managed to watch an episode of the old show since the last time they'd done this. Jann gave a good show of the bottle floating up, the top popping off, and pink smoke pouring out (or at least, a cloud of pink powder). She quickly coalesced into Jann, but she'd forgotten her clothes.
"Uh, doctor! Clothes!"
"Oh my, I'm sorry." He rushed off to fetch his blanket.
By this time, though, Jann had finished forming. It was clearly obvious that she was completely unchanged from before. Not seventeen, and no figure to speak of.
"Hmmm. Well, not as successful as I'd hoped. Still, we need to expect setbacks. Let me think. I'll have another idea by our next session, next week."
Tansy didn't see any of the Alphas for the rest of the day. She did manage to acquire several items in her quest to outsmart Jinn. By the time she'd finished dinner (after almost falling asleep in her salad), she was ready for bed.
Sahar, as usual, was sitting in lotus on her bed and reading.
"We'll see who gets the last laugh tonight!" Tansy announced to her roommate. "I'm ready for the ungrateful little bitch now!"
Sahar said nothing, merely lifted an eyebrow.
Tansy pulled out an extremely heavy pair of handcuffs. "I acquired these from a friend of a friend in security. They're rated for an exemplar-4 or a TK-4. No way in hell the little ghost bitch can break them."
Sahar inclined her head. "You going to handcuff your hands together?"
"No, no, that's stupid. I'm chaining my arm to the bed. That way she can't walk off anywhere while I'm sleeping!" Tansy's voice had taken on a slightly demonic tone. "The worst she'll be able to do is to throw off the sheets. I'll need you to unlock me in the morning."
"This should be interesting. And what if she keeps up her singing or yelling or whatever she did to keep you awake?"
"Ha! I've taken care of that, too! First off, I'm tired enough that I could probably ignore her. Second of all, and most, I've got this!" She triumphantly pulled a small bottle from her purse.
"Prescription strength. No way is she waking me up tonight."
Tansy quickly got ready for bed and took the pill. Then she called her roommate over. "Okay, fasten the cuff around my right wrist, so I'll be fastened right here at the wall. Now put the key out of my reach."
Sahar was about to drop the key on Tansy's desk, but thought better of it and put it on a high shelf above the bed.
Tansy lay happily on her back and was asleep within minutes.
"So," said Jinn, sitting up in bed. "You going to help me or not?"
Sahar raised an eyebrow. "I think… not."
"You know, she's guilty of kidnapping. The weird details mean that I might have trouble prosecuting in a regular court, but it's still kidnapping."
Sahar looked at her coldly. "If I've learned anything in my life, it is that you must first of all be self-reliant. If you cannot look after yourself, you will be forever a victim."
"Yeah? What about friends? I can't believe that you consider Tansy a real friend."
"She is useful."
Jinn debated whether or not to talk to Sahar about Zenith. She knew that Sahar was very interested in simply talking to the other girl. A day ago, she'd been desperate to offer her services as go-between. Now, it was different. She'd seen Tansy making promises to one group after another. Promises that she'd have a tough time keeping. Jinn didn't know what was going on here, but she was suddenly reluctant to put herself into the middle of it.
There was also the fact that with her discovery yesterday, she felt much more powerful. Tansy was now going to extreme measures just to get a decent night's sleep. Jinn was sure the girl couldn't last too much longer.
"What if I offered –"
"No," Sahar said. "I do not want to discuss this with you further." She touched herself on the forehead and muttered something. "Now I won't have to listen to you, for the rest of the night."
Jinn honestly wasn't that disappointed. If she needed to, she could bring the offer up later.
For now, she thought about what she had read in Tansy's book on hypnosis:
"Hypnosis functions when the mind is in a pure alpha state. The alpha state, when also combined with a state of suggestibility, achieves what we commonly call the hypnotic trance.
"It has been speculated that an equal or more effective state might be to provide the suggestions during REM sleep, when the mind dreams. This requires much greater time and patience, so is little used."
Jinn kept a close eye on Tansy's aura, and the state of her eyelids, watching for the Rapid Eye Movements that defined REM sleep. Perhaps this was why her suggestions had failed that first night – maybe she'd said the words at the wrong part of the sleep cycle.
She thought about the other useful advice from the book:
"To be accepted, suggestions must fit into the mental world of the recipient. The mind must find the suggestion trivial enough that it will carry it out, simply because it has been suggested, or else there must be a compelling reason – in the recipient's mind – to perform the action, however unlikely, that has been requested."
She also followed Tansy's technique, of wording the suggestion as if it were the recipient's own thoughts. As Tansy began to dream, Jinn began to send the mental message.
Jinn had crafted a new dialog. That damn ghost girl needs to be taught a lesson. You know what hurts spirits? Letting them free, for just an instant. Spirits need to be safe and protected, in a host. It hurts them to be out of the host. That would really show her, if I let her go for just a minute. She'd be begging me to take her back. A taste of the cold, cruel world would scare her to death. Then she'd do whatever I want.
Jinn worked on that until REM sleep passed.
Once that task was done, she practiced possession. By now, Sahar had gone to sleep. Apparently Jinn's contortions on the bed didn't amuse her. Either that, or she was ignoring Jinn.
And unfortunately, Tansy had done her job too well. There was no way that Jinn could break the cuff, or even reach the key. In frustration, she pulled herself into a point. She brooded for a while, then got tired and simply let go completely.
And that was the trick. For a moment, she snapped out again, cracking over the surface of Tansy's skin. But this time, she wasn't IN the skin, she was ABOVE it. The difference was fine enough that you might need special instruments to detect it, but to Jinn it was a universe of difference.
The difference was, she wasn't in girl-shape anymore, she was in object-shape. This was what she'd been trying to accomplish when Tansy had first approached her. Suddenly, she wasn't a girl-spirit, forced to stretch to match Tansy's body. She was a raw TK field, conforming to the object she was charged into. From the outside, there may have been little apparent difference, but from the inside it was completely different. For one thing –she now had control of her TK again!
She lifted an arm, manipulating the fingers, purely through TK. She wasn't nearly as dexterous as when she was in girl-shape, but in girl-shape she didn't have control of her TK field. Or… did she?
She experimented with reversing the effect. She pulled herself into a point, then completely relaxed. She realized that it was that moment of relaxation that allowed her to decide which style to use. Relaxing into girl-form, Tansy's avatar power grabbed at her, pulling back control of the TK field. Jinn was disturbed for a moment, but she quickly switched back, and regained control again.
What about combining the raw TK field and possession?
She quickly discovered that if she remained a TK field, she was never "pulled through" when Tansy inhaled. But if she "possessed" Tansy, she could pull herself into a point and convert to a TK field, but she was no longer "possessing."
So, one or the other. But the choice at least provided her with extra abilities. In fact, she suddenly knew how to get free.
She sat up, glancing over at Sahar. The girl's aura and deep breathing proved that she was asleep.
Jinn lay down, then shifted into a TK field. She was getting better. It only took a fraction of a second to make the switch this time. Now, as a TK field, she could fly. She floated Tansy's body up. She was still handcuffed to the bed, but there was nothing to keep her from floating up toward the ceiling.
Jinn's central awareness was usually located near what she considered to be her "head". This was often a completely arbitrary location, particularly when she occupied something like a blanket. In this case, she moved her awareness into Tansy's left foot.
Floating upside down, she could easily reach the shelf where Sahar had placed the handcuff key. And while her PK fingers weren't quite as dexterous as normal fingers, her PK toes were much more dexterous than normal toes, particular when she could easily see exactly what she was doing. Using her big toe, she scooted the key toward the edge, then grabbed it nimbly between her second and third toes. She floated back down to the bed. A moment later, she was unlocked and free.
It was an instant to shift into girl-shape and possess Tansy (most of that time was due to waiting for a breath). The first thing she did was to replace the key and shut the handcuff. Anything that confuses my foes!
Next… she looked around. And the first thing she spotted was a bottle of sleeping pills. Oh, my. She read the directions. "Adults dosage is 1 to 2 tablets every six hours, not to exceed 6 tablets in any 24-hour period." Tansy had only taken one tablet. Jinn quickly popped another tablet out and swallowed it.
Let's keep that sleep nice and deep.
Now what? This was more freedom than she'd had last night. Those sleeping pills were great – for her! Of course, Tansy might wake up refreshed, but she'd see what she could do about that later.
She sat down at the desk and pulled out paper and an envelope. She quickly addressed the envelope as "Jade Sinclair, Poe Cottage" and wrote a very quick note.
"Jade, it's me Jinn.
"I was captured by an avatar – Tansy Walcutt. Dickinson cottage. Working on a way back.
"Don't worry. – Your better half."
Folded, inserted, lick, sealed closed.
Could she get down to the mailroom?
Tansy would have put on a robe, at the very least. Jinn, on the other hand, was rather enjoying being an exhibitionist. After all, what did it matter to her if someone spotted Tansy in the nearly-nude?
As she crept down the hallway, though, she realized an interesting thing. When you really truly possess someone, it quickly ceases to be "their" body. It becomes "your new body."
She made it to the mail room without being spotted. The outgoing mail was a locked box. Why do they even bother, in a school full of mutants? She slipped her letter in, and sat back to catch her breath. Whoa, slow down. Don't want to get too excited. Tansy might wake up.
The trip back was more interesting. More and more, Jinn was realizing that she was a real girl! For one thing, her breasts bobbed disconcertingly with every step she took. For another thing, the negligee was drafty. Dickinson didn't heat its hallways any better than Poe did. But the draft on her private area was so very different from what it was like as a boy!
Back up in the room, the first thing she did was to put on a bra and panties. The panties were no big deal – she wore those all the time now. It was nice how they fit, though. She ran a hand down her smooth front and down between her legs. No tuck, no stupid boy parts. Just smooth and perfect. It was slightly tempting to experiment around with this body. How would it feel to touch herself or stroke herself?
She almost hit herself in the head for having such perverted thoughts. Only the danger of waking Tansy stopped her.
The bra was completely different. Her normal bra was a training bra. She put it on, but it didn't hold anything yet. But now! She looked down at herself and admired the swell of her substantial chest. Tansy had to be at least a C-cup. She checked the bra tag. Yep, 36-C. Putting it on was a bit different. She had to place the cups around each of her substantial mounds before hooking it in back, and then she had to resettle herself inside the cups. It felt better, though, being supported. And the whole incident had left her a bit tight, her interest dimpling the front of the smooth cups.
She searched through Tansy's wardrobe for something comfortable to wear. Jeans were just the thing. And a bulky cable-knit sweater. That would keep her warm. She didn't dare try any makeup. The only way she could do makeup was if she had previously memorized the colors as Jade. Since she was colorblind, she had to be careful not to create a clashing nightmare.
She brushed her hair briefly, until she thought she was "good enough."
Tansy still hadn't woken, although she had stirred a couple of times. Each time, Jinn had grown still and waited, and Tansy had drifted off.
Okay then, maybe a longer letter. She sat down and composed a much longer letter, explaining what had happened on that first day, and how Tansy was involved in politics in the Alphas – she didn't go into details.
"Apparently, some avatars gain some psychic protection from having spirits with them. Tansy wanted the same thing, but didn't have any handy spirits. So she took me. I'm not a classical spirit, obviously, but her avatar powers are still working on me. They have sustained both me and the TK field for this entire time."
She went on to explain about her helplessness, and last night's discovery of possession, and how Tansy got no sleep. She continued with tonight's discovery, switching forms and exactly how she did it.
"Tansy's conked out on sleeping pills right now, so her body's mine! I'd give you a call, but I already interrupted Tennyo last night, and she didn't sound very happy. Anyway, my plan is to drive this girl absolutely insane. I've told her that I'm going to haunt her, and boy am I! If she manages to survive my tortures for many more days, I'll come over and visit you. I'm sure I'll get another opportunity. Until then, know that I am thinking about me."
"P.S. I really like being a full-grown girl."
She'd revealed a bit too much in that letter. She'd been afraid that Tansy would wake. But she managed to seal it up and address the envelope, with a "read second" on the back.
She made another trip down to the mailbox, with no interceptions.
On the way back, she ran into a girl in a robe, going into the bathroom.
"That's kind of dressed down for you, isn't it Tansy? And what are you doing up after curfew?"
"Oh, well… I've decided to change my wardrobe." And devilish inspiration struck. "In fact, I think I'll get rid of all of it! You don't know any girls who'd like any of my outfits, do you?"
The other girl was looking at her intently. "Your eyes aren't open."
Jinn sighed. "Busted."
"Uh, Janice had this weird story about a 'good twin' and a satanic ritual, and you talking in hellish curse words."
Jinn snickered. "Yeah, well, I was having a little fun. The truth is, I am a different spirit. Tansy's an avatar. I'm pretty sure she didn't let anyone know. Anyway, she kidnapped me, and I've been trying to drive her insane so she'll let me go."
The other girl snorted. "Pretty short trip." She held out her hand. "Hi, I'm Kandy."
"Jinn. Jinn Sinclair. I'm a freshman over in Poe, that is, when I'm not being kidnapped by egomaniacal rich bitches."
The other girl was grinning wildly now. "Wow, I can't believe this! This is great! And kind of weird, even for Whateley!"
"Really? Maybe things are quieter over in Dickinson. This seems about par for the course for Poe."
"Well, what do you expect? Poe had those nightgown girls flying out and busting ninjas, before the year even started."
"Hey, we are not 'nightgown girls'! We're 'Team Kimba'! And if we'd stopped to get dressed, the ninjas would have gotten away!"
"Ohmigawd! You're part of that group?"
The excitement was too much, because Tansy started to rouse. Jinn held a quick finger to her lips, and practiced breathing slowly. "Okay. Whew. Almost woke her. Yeah, it's a fun group. Hey, I'm serious about the clothes thing. I mean, think of how steamed she'll be if miss beauty queen wakes up to find all her clothes gone. If you're lucky, maybe she'll offer to buy them back from you."
Kandy was on the edge of laughter. "This is too good to keep to myself! Can I bring in some girlfriends?"
"Sure, the more the merrier!"
So it was that Jinn snuck back in and emptied every one of Tansy's closets, all her drawers, and cleaned out her shoes and accessories. And when she was with the girls from the far side of the hall, they worked through the pile.
"You know," Jinn said, "I think it would work better if we could leave her with one or two outfits. The more hideous the better. And if any of you want to let Tansy buy back her clothes, I'd better write you some receipts, so she'll know where to go."
"This is just completely freaky," one girl said. Jinn thought the girl might be black, but due to the oddities of her sight, she couldn't tell. "I mean, you look like Tansy, you sound like Tansy, but there's a completely different person inside."
"Well, it's no fun being a prisoner," Jinn admitted, "but at times it's kind of a kick. I mean, I'm just a freshman, and – I hate to admit this – I'm kind of, you know, not exactly well-endowed. So long as Tansy's zoned out on her little sleeping pills, I'm suddenly a big girl. I'm trying to figure out how to take advantage of it without, you know, doing anything gross."
"Model some clothes?"
"Flirt with some guys?"
"No," another girl said. "Too dangerous. Besides, it's after curfew. Where are we going to find guys in Dickinson?"
So they swapped clothes and stories, chatted (quietly, since it was after lights-out), and made plans. Each girl had her own suggestions on the growing "Torment Tansy" project.
Jinn traded away every last piece of Tansy's clothes and collected a small pile of receipts in exchange. In return, she collected outfits the girls had been planning to wear for Halloween – a black witch's dress and hat, a silly "farm girl" outfit, a Shirley Temple dress (sized for an adult woman), and the crowning glory: a clown suit. Jinn hung the clothes in the closet, and scattered the receipts casually on Tansy's desk. Then she returned to the room.
"You know," a girl from the sophomore floor said, "we thought of a way to really get Tansy, if you're up for it."
"Well, you've been living with her pretty closely for a couple of days now. How does she react to lesbians?"
Jinn remembered. "Pretty violently. She and her roommate were talking about some stuff, and Tansy sounded like she was going to be sick. Her emotions were really twisted up, too. It's like she was personally threatened by the whole idea."
"You can feel her emotions? Poor girl."
"Yeah, only while I'm sharing the headspace with her. I normally just see emotions – that's not nearly so intense." Which led to a discussion of Jinn's vision, and other powers.
The sophomore volunteered, "I can do this." She reached out and touched Jinn, then her body began to morph. A second later, she was a perfect copy of Tansy.
"Wow, cool!" Jinn said. "How long can you stay that way?"
"About an hour. I can get a touch of her powers, too, but at a lower level."
"Yeah," one of the juniors broke in. "We were trying to figure out how Duplex –"
"That's me," the mimic said.
"—could copy Tansy's body, then get in some compromising position. But it doesn't seem worth it, does it? I mean, we've already got Tansy's body."
"So I got this idea," Duplex said. "I mean, you know how Tansy goes psycho around lesbians? She's pretty famous for it. Well, what if we filmed her in a lesbian scene?"
Another one of the juniors rubbed her hands together. "I brought my new laptop this semester. DVD burner. We'll shoot it in digital video, and I can pop out five quick DVDs, so we can all have a copy. It's the ultimate blackmail material. Tansy will go absolutely ballistic!"
"Uh, that's real keen and all," Jinn said nervously, "but first, who volunteered to do the scene? And second, I'm just barely fourteen. I haven't really started puberty yet. I'm not sure I'm ready for, uh, a big sex scene. I mean, think back to when all you had was the old 'hope chest'. Remember? And now," she gestured down at her ample breasts "I've got a brief shot at the 'big' time, if you know what I'm saying. But I'm not sure that I'm really prepared to take advantage of it."
"Well…" Duplex began, "I was thinking that I might be your, how can I say it, partner." She looked around at the other girls. "After all, I'm the only one here who admits to being bi. Besides," she suddenly morphed into a taller, older woman – perhaps seventeen or eighteen "it will be handy to have the other person on film be someone who doesn't exist. Tansy's going to go ape-shit when she sees this tape. But as for the seduction, I was thinking of mostly kissing and stuff. Just so it's clear that it's two girls making out."
Jinn felt herself blushing. "I… I've never been kissed before."
"Oh, wow," one of the juniors breathed, "this is so sweet! I can't believe I said that while looking at Tansy, but we have got to get this on tape!"
Duplex said, "I think I'll go for something younger. I was aiming at eighteen, but maybe fifteen would be better. My own age, but just a little different looking."
Jinn brought her knees up and thought. It was really tempting, but what did she know about these girls? On the other hand, she was sure that anything they filmed would really upset Tansy. And that was her goal, wasn't it?
The other girls began quietly to prepare, as if assuming she'd go along with them. Jinn scooted over to talk to Duplex. The girl shifted back into her normal self.
"Tell me about yourself."
"Well, my real name is Theresa Solla. I'm part of a team. We call ourselves the Power Cats. We were actually inspired by you guys. I mean, half of us are sophomores. You guys are all freshmen, but even before class starts, you girls are out building a killer rep. I guess we all kind of got jealous, so we decided, 'we're going to be just like them, only better.'"
Jinn smiled. "Yeah, the other girls tend to be pretty assertive."
"No kidding. Chet – I mean, Redlight – he says that one of the girls looks exactly like an animé character, and acts like her, too."
Jinn was nodding. "That's my roommate, Tennyo. Yeah, she's the spitting image of Ryoko. Long story, and I'm not sure I'm allowed to share it."
"Ryoko, that's the name he said. Anyway, lately Greta has gotten worried. The youngest – Jade – she doesn't even have a codename yet, but she's finally coming out as a devisor or gadgeteer."
"What? No way!"
"Well, she's got this weird gun she carries everywhere now, and either today or yesterday she was wearing a classic gadgeteer outfit."
Jinn was utterly confused at that. A gun? Gadgeteer outfit? How long had she been out of touch with herself? What was going on?
"Greta figures that Jade is her direct competition. She's glad that she isn't competing against one of the stacked ones. She's kind of sensitive about some things, since she's in a wheelchair."
Jinn wasn't even sure what to say to that. But finally she asked, "So are you guys watching our every move or something?"
"Not really, no. It's just that we've got five guys on our team, although you've got six, and since we're freshmen and sophomores, we overlap a lot of classes. We're watching you guys, since you got famous. If we can make a splash, who knows? Maybe you'll be keeping your eyes on us."
She'd been watching the other girl's emotions closely. Theresa's emotions had been sincere and happy all the way through her talk. Nothing negative, no real jealousy.
"I'm still not sure about this."
"Well, it's hard to give you a deep look in the eyes when you keep them closed."
"If I open my eyes, Tansy wakes up."
"Wouldn't want that."
Jinn thought some more. "I'm sure not ready for a lover. Not at all. I told you, I haven't even hit puberty yet – eager as I might be."
"How about a friend who happens to be playful?"
Jinn decided to be honest. "Theresa, this really scares me. Sure, I'm dying with curiosity to know what it's like to be a full-grown, beautiful girl. But I'm afraid."
"Too much, too fast?"
"I was thinking just some tickling and teasing, and some kisses. Think of them as practice for your first boyfriend."
"Or girlfriend," Jinn said, blushing.
Theresa grinned at her. "You're going to be a heartbreaker, aren't you?"
"I hope so. Oh, really I want to find that one pure love. You know how it goes."
"Cameras! Let's get this all on film, okay?"
Jinn had to check just one more time. "Just practice kisses, right?"
Theresa nodded. "That's not to say I won't be doing my best to heat you up. I mean – what's the point of practice if you don't strive for excellence?"
Jinn giggled. "Okay. I'll do it."
That's when Kandy arrived. "Good. We need an outfit change for you. The T-shirt and jeans doesn't cut it for Tansy. Besides, not sexy enough. But we've got her whole wardrobe right here, don't we?" She led Jinn to a pile. "I think you should switch to this burgundy skirt and red sweater. The whole scene happens on the bed there – it's pretty generic looking, and we have that sheet there as a neutral backdrop. If you keep to the bed, the cameras can catch everything, without revealing any of the room. We've got two cameras, and we'll cut between them later, when we edit it all together."
In the background, the other girls were lighting candles and whispering things back and forth like, "White balance" and "let's try the parabolic mike."
Jinn looked at the skirt and sweater, then at her cable-knit sweater and jeans. She finally decided, What's the big deal? We're all girls. With that, she pulled off her clothes and quickly dressed in the other outfit.
"Okay, you have the gloves on? Let me set the title. We're calling it, 'Initiation.'"
"Pretty good," one of the other juniors said.
Kandy moved Jinn until she was sitting on the bed. Jinn noticed that the other girl had long evening gloves on – something she recognized from Tansy's collection.
"Okay, I'm going to tie a blindfold on you – that's to explain why your eyes aren't open. Don't move – All I want the camera to see is my gloves."
"Right." She sat up straight.
"And… action," a girl whispered from behind the camera. She snapped her fingers
Jinn sat stiffly upright while a blindfold was tied on her. Of course, her 'vision' didn't rely on eyes, so she could still see just fine. After the blindfold was secure, another girl in a camisole and skirt approached. Jinn recognized Duplex in disguised form.
"You said you've never been kissed before?"
Jinn shook her head. "Never."
"Well you need some practice, before you try it on a boy."
"What's the blindfold for?"
"So you can imagine I'm a boy."
"Oh." Jinn nodded. "Okay."
"Now," Theresa pronounced. "I'll try it on you, then you can try it on me. Um, first I think, the peck on the cheek."
Theresa leaned over and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.
"My turn." Jinn leaned back and gave Theresa a kiss on her cheek. It wasn't anything grand on its own, but it made her tingle a little, realizing what was going on.
"Okay, now I'll give you just a quick kiss on the lips. 'Chaste,' I think they call it."
Jinn puckered up.
"Uh, that's a little overboard."
"Oh, sorry." Instead, Jinn just gave sort of 'pouty lips.'
And a moment later, she felt Theresa touch her lips lightly. Unconsciously, she reached up to touch her lips. "Wow."
"My first kiss."
"How was it?"
"I—" she shivered. "I guess I better try some more, to see what I think. But enough with this stupid blindfold." Reaching up, she turned away from the cameras. "I want to see what you really look like. And I don't want to imagine you're a boy."
With her back to the cameras, she pretended to be studying her partner. "You're beautiful."
"So are you, Tansy."
Jinn held a hand up. "No names! Remember?"
"Okay," Jinn continued, "I'm going to close my eyes, so I can concentrate on my sense of touch. I want to feel you. And it's my turn to kiss."
"Just a quick, chaste one."
So she leaned forward and brought her lips to Theresa's. It was just a mashing together of their lips – no big deal. But… somehow, it was very interesting.
"Too quick," Theresa decided. "Let's try longer contact. But no tongues! Keep that mouth closed!"
Jinn was shocked. "Ewww! Why – you aren't serious, are you?"
"We'll have to get closer," Theresa decided. She moved as closed as she could, then wrapped her arms around Jinn. "How's this?"
"Our boobs are all squished together. I can feel you pushed up against my right boob."
"Don't like it?"
"No, it's not that at all. Just kind of … interesting." Jinn shifted a bit. "Yeah. Definitely interesting."
"Good." Theresa was tracing a hand over her face, stroking over her forehead and cheeks, capturing a strand of hair and tucking it up behind one ear. She giggled.
"What?" Jinn asked.
"As I was stroking your face, I could feel you getting hard. You know," She gestured with her free hand. "Down where we're squashed together."
"Oh really?" Jinn retorted. "Well I'm not the only one, Lady Stiff-Nipple. I feel you down there." She thought for a moment. "I guess this is an advantage in kissing a girl instead of a guy – you know how interested they are."
"Are you going to kiss me, or not?"
"I thought it was your turn."
By unspoken agreement, they stopped the mutual face stroking. Wrapping both arms around each other, they came together and touched lips, long and hard.
Jinn started it. She pulled back so that she could lightly brush her lips back and forth across Theresa's. She liked the sensation of the brushing touch. Then Theresa started using her lips to nibble at Jinn's cheeks and chin. Soon Jinn was copying that, although they'd come back for kisses frequently.
They were now hugging and rubbing each other's backs, as they sat, as close as they could get to face-to-face, making out. Jinn secretly enjoyed each time they pulled apart, because when they leaned back together they got to do some boob jousting. It was amazing to realize that she had these two large appendages on her chest. Even stranger was that they felt so right, so good. She really liked being pressed up against Theresa, and she also liked the feel of Theresa pressed up against her. Then there was the stretching and moving, as she'd try to nuzzle Theresa's ear, or tip her head back so that Theresa could walk her lips up and down Jinn's throat.
It was while they were shifting their arms during one of these times that it happened. It was purely accident, but suddenly Theresa had her right hand solidly on Jinn's left breast. Theresa looked down, then Jinn felt Theresa squeeze her, just the slightest bit.
"Oh, wow," her partner said. "I can feel you getting hard against the palm of my hand. Even through your sweater and bra."
"Well what do you expect?" Jinn asked. "The touch may have been accidental, but the squeeze sure wasn't!"
"I'm sorry," Theresa dropped her hand away. "I guess we're done, then."
Jinn leered at her. "Not quite. I deserve tit for tat."
The other girl groaned. "I can't believe you said that."
Jinn reached out, almost touching… "Is it okay?"
"Huh? Sure. I'll let you grope me as much as you'd like."
Jinn rested her hand softly on the other girl's breast. It was warm and round, soft to her touch as she gently squeezed. She gulped and withdrew her hand. "I'd better stop."
She was confused herself. "That was interesting. A little too interesting, maybe. I think I'd really like touching your breasts. But if I started doing that, you'd start touching mine. And I'm really not ready for that."
Theresa leaned forward and kissed her, gently. "It's just two girls, playing around together. Seeing what we can learn and what we can discover about ourselves. Did you learn anything?"
Jinn nodded. "Girls taste good. Well, some girls. I haven't tried any others yet. And they feel good, too. And I can't wait to grow up, and experiment some more, but I'm not ready yet."
Theresa brushed Jinn's face with the back of her hand. "Thank you."
Jinn leaned forward for a last kiss. "No, thank you."
They moved apart and Kandy's voice suddenly called out, "CUT." Then, "Pretty good. Probably not explicit enough to really drive her over the edge, but kissing another girl – and you did plenty of that – should get her decently upset."
"I don't know," another girl said. "That was pretty darned innocent. And like, who's going to believe that someone that innocent was really Tansy?"
"Good point," Jinn agreed. "She's spent the past week trying to get into some boy's pants."
"I think you mean, get some boy into her pants."
"Actually," Kandy decided, "I thought it was really sweet. We could pitch it as something from Tansy's past. A tape she made a couple of years ago, before she became the rat she is today."
Theresa had morphed back into her own shape. "Uh, sorry about the hand on you – you know."
Jinn unconsciously put her hand over her left breast. "That's okay, I know it was an accident. I just got kind of weirded out because I don't have any figure. I'm just kind of hijacking Tansy's body, and that's what felt so strange. Maybe in my own body… I don't know."
"How old did you say you were?" Kandy asked.
"Fourteen. And a quarter."
A girl working the camera slapped her head. "Yikes, kiddie porn."
"Yeah, talk about robbing the cradle."
"Oh, come on! It wasn't that bad."
Jinn got up and looked through the clothes. "Hey, what's the worst outfit here?"
"Hey, take my old shorts. They look okay, but the seat's ripped out."
"Not bad." Jinn got dressed again as the girls packed up. "Hey, if you make DVDs, like you said, can you send one to me? Address it to 'Jinn Sinclair' over at Poe."
Theresa gave her a hug before she left. "I'll make sure of it. And, hey, when you get free of Tansy, look me up, okay?"
"Will do. But you know, I'm really not ready for a relationship yet."
"I know. But we can be friends, can't we?"
Jinn hugged her back. "Of course! If you don't mind hanging around with a little kid." She'd realized that Theresa had no idea that 'Jinn' and 'Jade' were the same person. Just the same, she hugged her back.
"And, everyone, thanks for the help!"
Kandy looked up from the clean-up effort. "No, thank YOU. Not only do we get to bug the heck out of Tansy, who's only been asking for it for about two years now, but she'll pay though the nose for these clothes, and probably the disks –"
"If I decide to sell!"
"—so who knows? We might make enough to pay for a semester's tuition."
Smiling, Jinn returned to her room and changed back into the flimsy negligee. She glanced at the clock: 1 AM. That means that Tansy had gotten six hours of sleep. That was as much as she deserved. By Jinn's calculations, the sleeping pills would probably be wearing off in the next hour or so, and she wanted to make sure that Tansy didn't get any more sleep this night.
Dressed in only the flimsiest outfit, and with Tansy's closets now filled with a total of three hideous outfits and a pair of shorts with a ripped seat, Jinn slipped down the hall to the Dickinson fourth-floor common room. In less than a second, she switch from a girl-body spirit to a TK spirit. Opening the window, she floated outside, then closed the window again to conceal the evidence.
It was rather chilly, in her gauzy nightgown, but that was half the point. She floated up higher and higher, noting how the air got chillier as she rose above 100 feet. It took her several minutes, but she finally stopped at what she guessed was something between 3000 and 5000 feet. She could feel Tansy beginning to stir from the cold. The girl had started Rapid Eye Movement, indicating that she was beginning a dream. Which was just about perfect.
And now – Jinn let go.
It was pitch black, the middle of the night. The only lights were those of the school, far, far below. She plummeted straight down, tumbling slightly, since she made no effort to assume any sort of skydiver pose.
For all of Jinn's flying (or floating) experience, this was the first time she'd really been in freefall. It was a little interesting, but the main characteristic seemed to be the powerful wind. It was quite surprising really that Tansy hadn't woke up yet. Of course, if she hit the ground and died, Jinn was pretty sure that she'd go free. But despite how rotten Tansy had been, Jinn couldn't just kill her. Scaring her to death, on the other hand, that was justice.
She'd fallen about halfway, so far, and Tansy hadn't woken yet. Her breathing and heartbeat were rising, which was a good sign, but she needed enough space to pull out of the fall. Jinn decided to go the extra step. Using her TK, she opened Tansy's eyes.
The dream had been a good one. Tansy had been indulging in her most secret, hidden, never-to-be-revealed vice. Tansy was a lesbian. An out-and-out man-hating, woman-loving lesbian. And she was terrified that someone would find out. If that happened, where would her status go? She would go from being the tormentor to being the victim, back like when she was a kid. Before she had suddenly blossomed, at thirteen. No one could ever know, and she would mock as many dykes, and fuck as many men as she needed to, in order to keep her secret.
But in her dreams, she could indulge. She was kissing another girl, and it was pure and innocent, and completely perfect. The other girl had accidentally touched her breast, and one thing had led to another. They'd been making out pretty hot and heavy, when things changed. Her lover turned to ice in front of Tansy's eyes. Tansy stared in horror, as her companion was frozen to death in an icy wind. A jury appeared, composed of everyone Tansy had ever wanted to impress. Her parents, schoolmates, the Alphas and Venus Inc.. Sahar was there. They stood around and judged her, then her father reached for the gallows rope and pulled it. A trap door opened beneath Tansy's feet and she fell.
It had the terror of a falling dream, but she knew that she'd done something to deserve it. So she fell and fell, growing colder herself, as the ice formed around her. And then she woke. And then the screaming started for real.
The sensor tech had reported a flyer leaving from somewhere near Dickinson. B-shift had just gone off duty, so the rest of the night belonged to C-shift. So Sergeant Hackitt and squad seven got sent to check Dickinson out – mostly to look for open windows or other irregularities. They all had enough experience to know that they weren't going to catch the flyer.
Hackitt was philosophical about the situation. Sure, at this time of night he'd rather be working on his own projects, with a hot cuppa in the squad room. But someone had to take the calls, and he'd prefer it to be something like this, instead of real trouble. Real Trouble was bad. A lot of the kids were okay but a minority were either so bad you just stayed back, or else they were so powerful (and uncontrolled) that they would chew you up without even realizing it. It was sometimes a big game of chance, but Hackitt knew his job. He studied the field and tried to track the major players. That gave him a powerful advantage. Besides, he'd always loved risks and games of chance.
Tonight, Hackitt's ticket was going to pay off big. While finishing the circle around Dickinson and finding nothing amiss, the sensor tech called them back.
"Flyer's coming back, fast. Over 100 miles per hour, headed straight toward you. Watch out, he's overhead coming straight down."
"Incoming," Hackitt snapped out. "Overhead. Visors! Circle formation, odd numbers overhead, evens cover."
Hackitt himself was using his visor to enhance his night-sight. Sure enough, there was a target, falling fast. And then he heard the screams. He boosted the magnification. It was a person, alright, and they looked like they were in free-fall, swimming, virtually clawing at the air as they fell. About 500 yards up, he thought. They'd be hitting maybe 100 yards southwest.
"We're moving to the impact point," he ordered. "Double-time."
There was no way they'd make it before the spat. As the figure fell closer, Hackitt's mind processed the scream and he realized it was a girl falling. Taking a look, then another closer look, he realized that she was virtually naked.
Just then, something changed. The screaming stopped and the girl spread out like a skydiver. She also began to slow, dramatically. It was hard to tell if she was shedding velocity fast enough.
Because of the girl slowing, squad seven managed to encircle the girl's target point shortly before she landed. Hackitt realized with a grin that she wasn't entirely naked – she wore a see-through nightgown that was clothing, at least in some technical sense.
"Business faces, men." Then, like every other man in the squad, he flipped on the visor's record function.
The girl settled slowly to the ground. She seemed to be shaking and possibly hysterical. Hackitt moved forward.
"Evening, Miss. Can we do anything to offer assistance?"
She spoke through chattering teeth. "Just need to get back to my room – back to bed."
"Certainly. We'd like to ask you a few short questions, first. May I offer you a blanket?" He'd already pulled one out from his small first-aid pack. It wasn't much, but it would at least give her some modesty. "And perhaps you could use my coat."
Hackitt had suddenly recognized her. This was one of the school's top models. She didn't look much like her poster at the moment, but Hackitt had a good eye for recognizing mug shots in Real Life situations, and this was much the same thing.
"Could I have your name, Miss?"
"Tansy Walcutt. Solange." Her teeth were still chattering.
"Here, take my coat. The station is just down this way, and it's nice and warm. Once you're warmed up and we know you're safe, we'll drive you back up here to Dickinson."
He was rolling out the red carpet, and suddenly thankful that he'd been so swift on the offer of the blanket and jacket. This was that ultra-ultra-rich bitch that Simpkins in squad eight was always going on about! He wondered if there was some way to tap into the lucrative trade that Simpkins had established with the girl. So while he was extremely solicitous on the outside, on the inside he was grinning to beat the band. Even if there wasn't any profit in this, that visor recording would be a treat worth re-examining again and again.
It was three thirty before she finally got back to her room. The house mother had been awoken to let her in. That would be trouble in the future, she was sure of it. She would have bribed her way past that formality, but she wasn't exactly carrying her wallet.
The spirit-girl had been laughing at her the entire time.
Tansy's explanation to security had been surprisingly close to the truth. She'd had a flying dream, and woken to discover herself thousands of feet above the cottage, and falling. At the last moment, she'd somehow managed to slow herself to touch down lightly, but she had no clue as to how.
In reality, it had taken her a minute to remember the floating power she'd stolen from the spirit girl. She almost hadn't remembered in time. As it was, she'd slowed to a stop barely in time. And then she had NOT been pleased to find herself effectively naked in front of a bunch of leering old men. Fortunately, that kind Sgt. Hackitt had been present.
It hadn't helped a bit that the ghost-girl was moaning continuously throughout, complaining that, "Once you go splat, I go free!" The little bitch was sounding way too bloodthirsty, and it was starting to scare her a little.
Plus, it was three thirty in the morning, and she hadn't had enough sleep, and it was too late for another sleeping pill, and she was afraid that if she did take a sleeping pill, she might wake up in an even worse situation – if she woke up at all.
She returned and re-handcuffed herself to the bed, but from three-thirty until her alarm went off at seven, she only got another twenty minutes of sleep.
Jade stuck her arms out and slowly turned around. "So how do I look?"
"Well, you're not going to like it," Billie warned.
"I'm going to have to go with 'cute.' That blazer-and-skirt combo really works for you." Billie sighed. "I look like an idiot in the school uniform."
"Tennyo! That is SO not true! You always look really, you know, WOW."
"Oh, sure. You know, that would mean a lot more coming from a boy."
For a moment, Jade couldn't reply. She just stared at the ground and smiled in delight, while waiting for her blush to fade.
"You keep trying to convince me I look good," Billie continued, "but I've seen the guys. If I'm in a room with Nikki, they don't even look at me."
Jade had to roll her eyes at that one. "Oh, come on! You could have Marilyn Monroe, Madonna (naked of course), and Eve herself standing next to Nikki, and no one would look at them. What are you worried about? You are sexy! Look at your figure, girl! And that face? And you've got enough 'cute' to burn! Those little fangs are just soooo cute! If I were a guy I'd be all over you!" She never even noticed as she said that. "I mean, reach up and feel your hair! How soft is it? How much do you think your guy is going to like stroking your hair? How much are YOU going to like it? JEEZ! And how about that figure? Especially with your 'no visible means of support' trick. You walk around here topless often enough. You want to capture some guy's eye? No bra, cashmere sweater, and you are SET. He'll be staring so hard he won't be able to stand up without embarrassing himself. I mean, you are so hot you drive me nuts with envy! Power and beauty both in one sexy, dangerous package. Not for wimps, maybe, but the right guy – WOW."
Tentatively Tennyo reached up to touch her hair. Jade caught her glancing into the mirror and giving the shadow of a smile.
Truth to tell, Jade loved this game. Tennyo was normally so confident, but sometimes, in private, she revealed some of her doubts. It was at times like this that Jade could actually believe that Tennyo had once been a guy. Certainly no girl could have been unhappy about turning into Tennyo. But she could almost believe that there was a guy, a Bill Wilson, who was occasionally unsure of her new body and gender. It made her feel closer to Tennyo, and gave her a bit of hope for herself. After all, if someone like Tennyo could have doubts, then surely she was entitled to some too, wasn't she?
She'd been dressing and playing the role of a girl full-time for over a month now. Never once had she been forced to be a boy. She'd been accepted everywhere. And more than ever, she knew this was what she wanted. What she needed.
Heck, she'd even been jealous of their periods!
She'd been a little disappointed that yesterday's hypno session had failed. Much as she enjoyed dressing and being a girl, she really wanted to be one for real. And so far, there hadn't been much progress. She was slowly working up the nerve to ask her doctor for hormones, if she could only come up with a decent justification. But in the meantime…
"We're getting off the topic. I started by asking you how I look."
"And I told you: Fine. Cute. What do you want me to say?"
"I want you to say that you didn't spot the gun."
Tennyo's mouth dropped open to reply, and then just hung there.
"You really didn't, did you?"
"That's right! Where's that canon of yours?" Billie got a hard glint in her cat-eyes. "It isn't under your skirt, is it? 'Cause if it is, you're probably going to flash everyone if you have to pull it."
Jade smoothed her skirt down, sides and back. "See any gun?"
"You could have it between your – no, not the way you're standing. Okay, turn around again."
"Aha! Small of your back! Just under your blazer!" She snapped her fingers. "That's right, you were mentioning that kind of holster the other day, weren't you?"
Jade drew the gun, smiling. "Pretty good, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it really took me a second." Billie leaned closer. "Wait a minute. That's a smaller gun!"
"Yeah. This is the Cobra 250. It only holds six shots, and I can't switch between different magazines. But it reloads pretty quick, and if I need more than six shots I'm probably in big trouble."
At breakfast, Ayla had bad news. She slapped a print-out down in front of Jade.
"Details on a comics character. A trade-marked, copyrighted character."
Jade glanced at it and groaned. "Oh, no."
Ayla nodded. "Uh huh. 'Shroud.' Been taken for years and years. And get this – this guy runs around in a completely black outfit with a long black cape."
Jade groaned some more. "No fair. Anyway, Jann's arms and legs and face are white now."
"Oh, it gets better. Turns out that this Shroud guy is blind. He sees with some sort of mystic vision."
Jade gave up and put her head on the table, covering herself with her arms. "And it was such a good name, too."
Ayla shrugged. "You might as well keep it, at least for a while. 'Shroud' suit you to a T. I mean, suits Jinn. Jann. Whatever."
"Where is Jann, anyway?" Nikki asked.
"I'm studying for my algebra test, right before lunch." Jade mumbled. "The rest of her is in my backpack. I'll zap her up just before class."
"You know," Toni offered, "you really should learn to use pronouns the way everybody else does."
In contrast, Tansy Walcutt was having another morning from hell.
She'd been woken at one AM, as she fell to her death. She barely managed to use the TK powers she'd acquired from ghost-girl to soften the landing when she realized that she was freezing to death, surrounding by a security squad of middle-aged perverts, and (to top it all off) she was only wearing her see-through negligee. Since then, she had only gotten another twenty minutes of sleep. When she finally gave up at six thirty, she found that she'd been robbed. Years, absolute years of shopping and acquiring the absolute best outfits from the best designers had vanished overnight. Instead, her closets now contained a witch's costume, a "Daisy Mae" farm-girl outfit, and a clown suit. A CLOWN SUIT.
"You are so dead for this, you little ghost-bitch!"
The spirit howled in mocking laughter.
"You think I'm beaten, don't you? You don't even have a clue!"
Shoving her robe on, Tansy marched down to the sophomore floor. There were two girls there who were part of her wanna-be entourage. Of course, Tansy was all smiles as she visited the first of her butt-kissing toadies.
"Prue, hi. Hope I'm not too early for you. Oh, so sorry. Say, you remember those Versace numbers I lent you? Yes, I'm afraid I'll need them back. Thanks! You're such a life saver!" Internally, she was thinking, Girl's got a decent figure – just my size – but what a face! I wonder if she howls at the moon and chases cars?
With a trio of decent outfits on her arm, she headed back upstairs, while talking quietly to her mental passenger. "I notice you stole all my underwear, too. Couldn't even leave me with a fucking pair of pantyhose? That's going too far, bitch." She used the TK to lift her tits into the exact perfect position. "But who the hell needs underwear?"
Back in her room, she held out the outfits. She couldn't decide between the black leather mini-dress and the black knit mini-dress. "The leather tomorrow, I'm thinking." She slid into the knit. It had a series of strategic inch-wide holes down the front from neck to navel, where another outfit might have buttons. Another set of holes ran down the outer edge of each leg, from upper hip to hem. Like all her Versace favorites, it would be indecent if she bent over. Doubly so, today.
She'd had just enough sleep to have a wickedly efficient fury, but not enough to actually enjoy ordering people around. So before steaming away her tensions in the shower, she called up two more of her coterie and handed over the receipts, with orders to recover her clothes. She used her laptop to go online to Sax's and have a load of necessities Fed Ex'ed out to her that evening.
"Damn primitive fucking school. Tuition is out of sight and they can't even give us cable modems."
Fortunately, her cosmetics had been untouched. They were specifically formulated for her skin tones, and would have been harder to replace than some of the outfits. She didn't mention that out loud, of course. Not with her ghost rider.
Once everyone was scurrying to meet her needs, she finally indulged herself in a shower. The heat soaked away much of her tension, and she enjoyed the ghost's embarrassment as she gave herself a close shave everywhere.
Breakfast, for once, went like clockwork. The Don was looking bored, and she caught his eye from the minute she slinked into Crystal Hall. Predictably, someone was out to get her. They'd greased the floor on the way up to the Alpha table. She was in heels, so it might have been tricky, but her stolen TK let her strut with no worries. She had all the smiles of a fine sexual predator as she primly sat down across from The Don. She licked her lips, as if ensuring that her bright red lipstick was still in place.
"I hope you aren't still under the weather," Sebastiano offered, in an obvious setup. "I know how tough it is for you chicks when you're on the rag."
She waved her hand negligently. "Not to worry, that's long past. I'm clean enough to eat off of." She noticed him staring at her chest. Specifically, the holes in her knit dress – the hole right between her tits. "Trouble? If there's anything I can do, little ol' Tansy would be happy to help."
For once, Aries was sitting beside The Don. "Fuck. It looks like you aren't even wearing a bra."
She gave him a withering smile. Crass little asshole. Leaning forward, she confided in The Don, "Well, I just hate to ruin the lines of a good outfit. But you know, there are ways to keep underwear lines from showing through." She crinkled her nose at him. "You know. Ways."
And as Aries turned to the white-haired boy beside him, drinking his orange juice, Tansy gave him the slightest little brain zap. Enough to cause him to choke and spit up a mouthful of juice over the hapless Icer. It ended up acting as nice punctuation for her emphasis on "ways."
For once, Sebastiano was looking the slightest bit interested. Tansy pumped up her projection. Experience had taught her that it was subtle enough to slip under the blocks of even good telepaths, like Sebastiano. Radiating to enhance her sex appeal, she gave an 'innocent' morning stretch, arching her back just so. She was rewarded with a flush on Sebastiano's face.
"Well, if you're sure you're okay," the big man said. "Maybe you'd like a little… exercise. Some of us thought we might like a little hike tomorrow morning. Maybe a picnic, a blanket in the sun, far from the oppressive eyes of school?"
Tansy's mind worked overtime on that one. Somehow – she wasn't sure of the method – The Don had used his telepathy to turn both Cavalier and Skybolt from noble true-blue types who wouldn't give him the time of day, into his fuck-toy mind-slaves. She knew the school had brought in high-level telepaths to check for tampering – and found exactly nothing. All of this made The Don about the most exciting prospect around, as well as the most dangerous.
And it was clear to her that a private secluded little picnic would be exactly the opportunity The Don needed to take over her mind the same way.
Which was why she had to put up with that underage virgin-bitch ghost-girl. The psychic protection she received from the spirit should halt The Don's efforts to tamper with her mind. And after a quick rut in the sack, she expected that Sebastiano would be her victim. He'd be spilling secrets faster than seed, if she could just set her hooks into him.
So after barely a moment of consideration, she agreed.
"Sounds," she licked her lips again, "delicious. What shall I bring?"
"Just yourself. There will be a bit of hiking, so dress appropriately."
She smirked. Thanks to this TK, my hiking gear will consist of high heels and that Versace leather minidress. "And where shall I rendez vous?"
"How about here? We can have breakfast, then head out." He turned to Skybolt, beside him. "Arrange a nice picnic lunch."
She bobbed her head. "Of course."
Tansy gave a variety of strange orders throughout the day. Jinn wasn't able to decipher a pattern. The strangest was a call to some mysterious boy, and an arrangement for him to come meet her in her room at 8 that night.
To be truthful, Jinn was a bit impressed with how quickly Tansy recovered from the disaster of the night before. Picking up the Fed Ex packages that afternoon, she had a restored set of underwear, panty hose, shoes, and basic clothes. Of course, having unlimited funds made many things easier.
On the way out to dinner, Billie called, "Hey, I want to see if I finally got a letter from my folks. Anyone else need to check mail?"
"Not me," Jade said, emphatically. "I haven't received anything since we started school. I guess that might be because I have no family or friends (that care), and I didn't leave them my new name, and they certainly have no idea about my address."
"You've got us," Toni offered.
"I sure do! So why should I care about mail?"
Friday night at 8 PM, a scrawny looking boy showed up at Tansy's room. The girl "Prue" appeared, minutes later.
Jinn was burning with curiosity, particularly noticing how solicitous Tansy was being.
"Glad I could count on you, Delwin," Tansy told the geek. "This whole caper rests on you.
"Prue, this is Delwin Florian, also known as 'Negator.' He'll be using his powers on me continuously for hours. We need to test how effective he is, and how long he can keep it up. I'll be his subject on this. I'll even dress the part, with this sweat suit and this black hood to cover my head.
"Delwin – I know prolonged use of your power may drive me unconscious, but that's actually what we want. My main plan calls for the defender to be kept unconscious for ten hours. If we can do that, we're in fat city! The main question is how long you can keep it up for.
"Prue, your job is to monitor my breathing and heart rate, and to log it into this computer over here. Delwin, I'm going to sit on my bed, so that I'll be comfortable when I pass out. Remember, you're getting $30 an hour, basically to sit over me and watch me sleep. There will be a $100 bonus if you can keep this up for ten hours. Okay?"
Everyone nodded and Jinn braced herself.
Tansy pulled on her hood.
Delwin sat down and, apparently, did nothing.
Jinn immediately felt a wave of weakness wash over her.
Tansy collapsed onto the bed, and fell unconscious almost immediately.
Jinn tried to pull herself into a point. It was immensely difficult. She struggled a dozen times. Finally succeeding, she "relaxed" into object form to gain control of her TK. As she'd feared, the contact was there, but the TK was missing. She recalled the words of her physics teacher, "If you ever do find out where someone's power comes from, you know how to turn him off." She'd never been sure where the energy for her TK field came from. Wherever it was, Negator could obviously disable it.
Her next effort was for possession. Without all her practice from the previous nights, she would have never had the determination or stamina needed to pull herself into a point again. As it was, she drifted inside Tansy to take possession of the girl.
Again, this tactic failed. She felt herself come alive in Tansy's body, but she was barely awake. She was too weak to rise, too weak to move, all she wanted to do was sleep…
Jinn snapped back to "normal" just before she could fall asleep. She wasn't sure what would happen if she and Tansy slept at the same time, and she had no desire to find out.
So she was left with her last-ditch backup plan. Whispering hypnotic suggestions into Tansy's mind as she slept.
And after Tansy moved past REM sleep, Jinn figured out that this was the perfect opportunity to practice all her new techniques of pulling herself into a point, and possession. If she could do it when it was such an effort, she'd be able to do it anytime.
Every other Saturday Billie had an early breakfast. The other girls usually slept in, but she had flight class from before the sun rose until 7 AM. So she usually stopped by the cafeteria for early breakfast, came back for the crew, and returned for late breakfast as well. After all, a growing girl needed her fuel.
Billie was just devouring her second plate of bacon when the newest member of their group came rushing through the cafeteria. Sara looked like a pubescent vampire. The truth was even stranger. The Goth girl gave an airy wave before sprinting off to the library.
On the way back into Poe, Billie checked her mail slot, but there was still nothing from her family. Could it have been put in Jade's slot, instead? They did share the same room number.
There were two letters there, but her elation faded when she saw they were both for Jade. Stifling a yawn, she grabbed them and headed upstairs.
When she flicked on the light, Jade was still hiding under her pillow, but Jann (the gloves and speaker-disk workaholic) was busy reading a textbook at her desk. Billie flicked the letters onto her desk.
"Mail for you," she announced. "No return address, but no stamp, so maybe you have a secret admirer on campus."
Jann picked up the first letter. "Read second?" She moved to the other letter and opened it up.
Billie had stuck her head into her closet, considering changing outfits, when the scream caught her. Spinning wildly, she saw a pair of gloves holding a letter. Suddenly, the gloves dropped and Jade sat bolt upright in bed screaming.
"SHE'S ALIVE! She's alive! She's alive!"
Billie reacted on instinct, diving across the room to grab her roommate by the shoulders. She never even realized that she was in a horizontal position, hovering in mid-air.
"Jade! Snap out of it! What are you talking about?"
Jade pulled loose and scrambled toward her desk. "Jinn is alive! She was captured by an avatar! I've got to read the other letter!"
She had time to pick up the fallen letter on the floor when Ayla came bursting through the door, followed closely by Toni and Fey (who actually had to open the door).
"What's going on? Are you okay?"
By this time, Billie's eyes were wide. Silently she handed the letter to Ayla.
"Jade, it's me Jinn.
"I was captured by an avatar – Tansy Walcutt. Dickinson cottage. Working on a way back.
"Don't worry. – Your better half."
Ayla's expression clouded in rage. "Tansy? TANSY? She. Is. Dead."
Toni was prying open Ayla's hand. "Hey, don't crumple the letter! Some of us haven't had the chance to read it yet."
Fey was only just waking up as she asked Ayla, "You aren't talking about Tansy Walcutt are you? She's been on my case all week in modeling."
Ayla and Fey looked at each other. "You know Tansy Walcutt?" they both asked.
"Not as well as I do," Jade announced, with all the authority a middle-schooler can command. "Well, not as well as JINN does." She held up the second letter, which was much longer. "Okay, listen to this. Apparently Tansy – Yes, Tansy Walcutt – has some sort of thing she's up to with the Alphas. And they do this telepathic sniping on each other. Nice bunch. But Tansy's an avatar, although I guess she hasn't told anybody –"
By the end of the explanation, Billie was the one with the temper. "Look, it's no problem, right? If she's DEAD, then Jinn goes free, right?"
"How the hell can you be so selfish?" Ayla shouted. "Did you ever stop to think that maybe somebody ELSE might like the opportunity to gut her? She's been on my case since we were in GRADE SCHOOL!"
"EXCUSE ME!" Everyone turned to see the youngest and smallest girl of the group shouting. She was standing on her bed, to make herself taller. "You seem to forget that I was the one kidnapped. So I think I should get first dibs. Besides, I seem to be the only one who doesn't want to kill her." They suddenly noticed that Jade was caressing her new gun in a slightly psychopathic manner. "I only want to shoot her a little."
"Why is it?" Nikki drawled with a small chuckle. "That I get the idea that your 'only wanting to shoot her a little' is going to be on a par with me saying Oops?"
Things quickly adjourned when they all agreed that Team Kimba's reputation wouldn't be improved by yet another battle in nightgowns. They all gathered in front of the sunroom, and apparently all of them had decided to dress for a fight. Jade was in her devisor outfit, with side holster, army boots, and a thousand pockets. She also had the earphone headset and single eyepiece. Jann was in her "Shroud" outfit, with her powder-white limbs and face.
Toni was going for a 'plausible deniability' look, consisting of a red cowl-necked cable sweater over black glove-leather jeans, and a pair of black leather running shoes. She'd forgone her beloved 'hoopy' earrings in favor of simple studs.
It didn't take Tennyo long to get ready as she hadn't put together anything like a suit yet. So she dressed in a pair of jeans, a red plaid shirt, and boots. She was also wearing a sports bra under protest. But Jade wouldn't have it any other way and Tennyo wasn't going to waste time arguing with her either.
Nikki appeared wearing a halfway defiant, halfway embarrassed expression as the others took a good look at her outfit.
"Hey! My DAD sent me this! I didn't ASK for it. He said to wear it when I saw trouble coming, and if you ask me, this business sure looks like trouble barreling down on us really fast." She gave one leg of her snug pants a pat and grinned. "It's got some kind of armor for a underlay, and that is lined with silk."
The pants and sleeveless top were of dark green, supple leather and left very little for even the overactive imaginations of teenage boys to work with, showing off her curves in all their glory. She glared at the stares she was getting, lifting one delicate foot clad in low-heeled leather ankle boots that matched the rest of the outfit. "What? I'm not wearing high heels with it!"
"Uh, Nikki." Toni quietly answered. "You would be trouble coming in that outfit. At least for any girls with boyfriends they wanted to hang on to."
"I can't believe my Dad sent me this..." The redhead trailed off into unintelligible muttering.
And finally, Hank had come, wearing army boots, camouflage pants, a camouflage "muscle T", and fingerless black leather gloves. As one the girls paused to admire him.
"Hank – not bad. You're looking dangerous," Fey said, with more than a touch of appreciation in her voice.
"Uh, thanks. You don't spend your entire life hanging around army bases without picking up a few things."
Toni called everyone to attention. "Okay, we're ready to go. What's the plan?" She turned her gaze to Jade.
"Uh… find Tansy and hit her until she lets go of Jade?" The girl looked suddenly sheepish. "Okay, I don't have much of a plan. The only thing I can think to say is that apparently Tansy thinks that Jinn is my sister, and I'd just as soon not give away any extra info."
Toni looked to the ceiling, as if she'd expected more. "A little skimpy on details. Where do we corner her?"
"Dickinson? That's where she lives."
"Crystal Hall," Billie offered. "There were a bunch of Alphas coming in, as I came up to Poe. It hasn't been very long. They should be done with breakfast in a while."
"That's it, then," Toni decided. "The green outside of Shuster Hall. We'll wait for Tansy to finish breakfast and head for Dickinson, and stop her there." She looked around. The other girls seemed willing to follow her lead, so she continued. "Jade, you can confront her. Fey, you should see whether you can help somehow, magically. You're about the only one of us who might."
"I want in on that confrontation, too," Ayla demanded.
"No. Too much old blood, too many side issues. Afterward. Somehow, I can't see this confrontation going down without interference. Not with the entire breakfast crowd wandering out. Hank, Tennyo, you're our strongest, try to keep the crowd away, PEACEFULLY. Make it clear that she's a kidnapper. Talk to them. Jann, you can do the same. Talk about your sister. If you have to face up to someone, go for an energizer, since they won't be able to hurt you. Ayla, you and I are backup. Sound good?"
There were minor grumbles from those who had been "cut out of the confrontation," but everyone agreed.
The group of them loitering might have caused a riot anywhere else. At Whateley, they were able to pull off a fairly innocent act. No one saw anything odd about a group of six girls hanging around one guy, and meandering about outside the cafeteria.
What they hadn't expected was Tansy exiting Crystal Hall in the company of the core group of Alphas. Plainly, from the basket the flying girl was carrying, they were headed off on a picnic.
The team spread out as Jade stepped forward.
"Hey you!" Jade shouted. "Tansy Walcutt! You kidnapped my sister, and I want her back!"
The Alphas paused, and Tansy turned to face them. She was dressed in a tight leather dress that barely came down to the top of her thighs and made her look sexy, sophisticated, and vastly more mature than the young girl yelling at her.
"And who might YOU be, little girl?"
"Jade Sinclair! You kidnapped my sister, and you'd better let her go!"
"I don't know where you got such an outlandish idea –"
"She's right," Fey announced. "I can see it now. You are an avatar, aren't you? And you've sucked up Jinn's spirit form. I can see her thread." She made a twirling gesture with one finger. "I'll bet I can pull her right out."
Tansy screamed, and suddenly it all hit the fan.
Tansy panicked as she felt ghost girl being pulled out of her head. She was in utter terror. Without ghost girl's mental protection, The Don would make her into a vegetable mind slave exactly as he'd done with Cavalier and Skybolt. But perhaps she could bluff. She already knew that the elf was an empath. Covertly grabbing and yanking hard on her own hair, she emitted a very realistic scream of pain.
Nikki was suddenly worried. The emotions she read were contradictory. One set was triumphant and gleeful, while another set was in terror. She could also sense pain coming from Walcutt's head.
"Nice job, fairy," Walcutt yelled at her. "You're pulling her apart. You're about to kill your own friend! Hey, don't blame me!"
Nikki couldn't tell who's emotion was which, but she quickly decided that she couldn't take the chance. She let Jinn's thread drop, and noted that the emotion of terror immediately faded. "Bitch! We aren't finished yet. I promise you that much!"
Don Sebastiano motioned to Cavalier and Skybolt. "Those girls are interrupting our picnic. Make them pay. Hurt them BAD. Oh, and see that none of them bother me. I'll be waiting on the sidelines over here, watching the show."
The other Alphas present – Aries, Icer, and the twins Hamper and Damper – hesitated. Behind them, the last member of the picnic, the 6' 6" tower of muscle that was the senior Wyatt Cody, stepped forward toward the one man in the opposition. They saw Kodiak move to face off against a short, skinny freshman boy in camouflage, and nodded to one another. One down. How hard can it be to take out a bunch of freshman girls. Selecting their targets, they moved forward.
Hamper and Damper noticed the girl Tennyo, whom they'd faced before. They headed in the opposite direction.
The linear accelerator pistol made its usual quiet sound. Jade was pleasantly surprised when she actually hit her target. The first shot missed, but the second hit. Electricity arced across Tansy's body, and she gave a choked scream before collapsing to the ground. Moments later, though, she clawed herself back to her feet, as if the stunning voltage hadn't affected her in the least.
"Wow that hurt!" Walcutt looked toward her and smiled. "What's the matter with you? Didn't you get the second letter? She's conked – it's me!"
Jade's eyes went wide. "Jinn?"
Walcutt nodded back to her. "And Fey, I've got to tell you – LOOK OUT!"
In the library, Sara jumped out of her seat, sending the chair toppling over. A nearby boy with freckles and thin glasses shot her an annoyed glance, "Shhh!"
Sara ignored him, walking hurriedly over to one of the tinted windows. Something's wrong I can feel it, she said to herself. And she was right. Students were running past, back towards the cafeteria. Despite the thickness of the glass she caught the words, "FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!"
"This is bad, very, very bad…" She whispered to herself while heading out the door and into the sunlight, leaving her books and bag behind.
Fey and Jade both had enough warning to look up, where Skybolt was floating above them with crackling hands. She shot a bolt of electricity from each hand, one toward Fey and one at Jade. Between the warning and the difficulty of the shot, both girls were able to dive away from the potentially lethal shots.
Jade rolled, trying to bring her gun to bear. But her next shot was another taser capsule. Would that do any good against an electrical energizer?
Before she had a chance to act, a six-foot tall man suddenly appeared in front of her, bearing a sword and small shield. He backhanded her with the shield, sending Jade flying, as she lost her grip on the gun.
Toni and Ayla barely had time to blink. One moment everyone was talking, the next moment it was chaos. Walcutt screamed and yelled to Fey. Jade shot, other people were rushing together, and then a swordsman was knocking Jade across the lawn while a flying girl was shooting electricity at Fey.
"I'll take the swordsman," she snapped. "Can you help Fey?"
"I'll try," Ayla promised.
Clearing her mind, Toni raced toward the swordsman before he could do any further harm to either Jade or Fey.
Lowering her density, Ayla launched into the air after Skybolt. She wasn't sure what a bolt of lightning would do to her intangible form. Bullets passed right through her. Electricity? That might be another matter. She thought her chances were better than Nikki's, though. Ayla was used to bodybuilder and muscled types, and she could go toe-to-toe with even the biggest bruisers. If her ultra-dense form couldn't overpower them, she'd go intangible and slide through them, knocking them on their butts.
Truth to tell, Ayla has a LOT of testosterone in her system, and she liked her occasional stress relief sessions. Also, to her eyes, Nikki the elf-girl looked pretty damn frail. Sure, the girl could throw some wild special effects, but in a real fight you needed stopping power.
Unfortunately for Ayla, while she could fly, she wasn't as fast or maneuverable as Skybolt. Her lanky opponent zipped sideways, avoiding her, then turned for the perfect shot.
Recovering from her impromptu dive and roll, Nikki looked up in time to see Cavalier send Jade flying into the distance, before he turned back in her direction.
Another bolt seared the air and the redhead barely dodged that. But as her hair stood out from the electricity, she felt a sudden surge of strength flood her mind and body.
Not that she had a lot of time to think about things like that. There seemed to be bolts of electricity everywhere, and she definitely did NOT want to be where any of them hit.
Jeez, Toni thought to herself, a guy who carries a sword and shield to Breakfast! Gotta take him out quick, before he decides to gut Jade! Five yards away from the swordsman, Toni executed a vaulting Flying Horse Kick at him. He sidestepped her at the very last second, and clipped her on the back of the head with the butt of his hilt. Toni spun the impact into a low sweeping kick that should have knocked him off his feet, but he nimbly dodged it. The fight quickly devolved into a melee of misses, as Toni used the force of the swordsman's own ki to shove her out of the way of his blow, while he somehow managed to never quiiiite be there when any of her blows came.
A tall stocky boy with short, curly, black hair moved towards Tennyo. He was dressed in jeans, hiking boots, and a heavy, green plaid shirt. Tennyo turned towards him as he approached.
"If you know what's good for you," she warned him, "stay back and let those two work it out for themselves."
"It's not them I'm bothering with. It's you." There was a definite sneer in his voice. "Seems you 'froshes' don't know your place around here and you, girlie have been taking on airs."
"I'm not a 'frosh', I'm a sophomore, and the name's Tennyo, not girlie."
"Names Aries, and maybe you ought to go back to kiddie school where you belong."
"If the best you think you can handle is to take on someone from kiddie school then you ought to go back to third grade where you belong."
"Maybe I ought to show you just how good I can handle you then, girlie."
With that comment he became a blur that stopped in front of Tennyo and groped her left breast.
SLAP! In the next moment he was back in his previous position and waving his hand like it was stinging.
Tennyo had dropped into a fighting stance.
"I've seen better. Take your loose hands and go somewhere else before you lose them."
"So the little girl wants a challenge. Maybe she wants it a little rougher?"
He became a blur again and despite Tennyo's best efforts he landed several blows in the next few moments. He then stopped in his previous position again. Tennyo's clothing was ripped in several spots and most of the buttons were gone from the front of her shirt. Her sport bra could be seen through the open front. She maintained her fighting stance.
"If trying to rip clothing off is the best you can do, you better go back to second grade."
"Hah! I've got your number now, Babe. Let's see what else you have there."
Another blur and he was behind her with his left arm around her neck and his right hand groping for her bra.
Jann stood in her Shroud costume, facing the oncoming horde. A white-haired boy split off from the group and headed toward her. As he approached, ice formed around him, making him look more crystalline. He thrust a hand forward and a film of ice shot down the sidewalk, passing under her feet.
What was the point of that? Oh! He thinks I'm walking! A hasty plan formed. Jann did her best to fake a slip, falling to her knees, with her head down. The way her hood covered her, she'd need eyes in the back of her head to see his approach.
The ice-boy came up to three feet away. "Pathetic –"
But as he was speaking, she was already flying forward. Forward and up, with a glove that packed a solid seven pounds of lead for its fist. Her surprise was perfect as she slammed him in the chin. She pulled the punch at the last second – even if the ice helped armor him, she was afraid that full strength would snap his neck. Still, ice boy rose a good foot in the air before crashing into the flowerbed beside the walk. He didn't rise.
Sara cut through the forest, taking a more direct route towards the noise than the curving path that the rest of the students followed. More shade, more stealth. Sara felt that she'd be needing both before long. Bursting from the tree line, Sara halted dead in her tracks. The last she'd laid eyes on a scene like this, it was a double-page spread in a comic book.
Tennyo was nearest, caught in a wrestling match with a guy who looked like he'd learned his moves from Happosai. Fey was busy dodging lightning from a girl who flew overhead, Ayla rushing towards her while Chaka sempai charged a meaty looking guy with a lightsaber and a shield. Just then, Shroud decked a white-haired kid made of ice while Hank faced off against a big guy twice his size.
Sara made her decision in a moment, leaping forward to help Tennyo…
Sara stopped in mid stride. A wiry American Indian 16 year old boy with royal blue hair popped into existence between her and the fight, arms crossed and a wry smile plastered across his face, "I wouldn't if I were you."
"Who the fuck are you?"
WOMP-CRACK! He disappeared and reappeared in an instant, his nose right in her face, "Such language from an innocent young girl," WOMP-CRACK, he was standing to one side behind her, his tone lusty, "is such a turn on."
Sara span about to face him, "I don't have time for this shit. My friends are in trouble."
He shrugged, "Hey, my friends are in all that too, but you don't see me helping them out do you? Let the children play, we higher beings are above their petty squabbles."
Sara turned his back on him, "Then stay out of my way…"
Reality lurched slightly as Sara felt herself being tugged, as if every particle in her body was yanked back under the cover of the forest. She lost her balance and tumbled across the ground, her flight stopped by the trunk of a large tree.
Ayla wasn't a fast flyer, but she was smart. For a moment, she returned to her super dense form and dropped like a rock. The lightning bolt shot over her head, a clear miss.
"Watch where you shoot those things!" came from the sidelines.
Ayla flipped between super-dense and intangible, and then back again, slowing her speed, hitting the ground in her strong form, and leaping just as she dropped her mass to zero. The technique worked like a charm. She rocketed toward the lithe form of Skybolt.
Caught by surprise, the girl shoved both hands toward her and Ayla felt a bolt of lightning shoot straight through her!
"This is getting real old, real fast." Nikki griped to herself as yet another lightning bolt stuck the ground. It was a clean miss, but extremely powerful. Then she felt it. And knew she had a possible way out of the trouble she was in.
The surge of energy Nikki felt was a surprise, but not unfamiliar to her. It was like tapping into the Ley Lines, only this was more immediate and held a lot of violence. Lightning! She reached her mental fingers out and caught another bolt, drinking it in and watching the flying girl closely for anything that might shift the advantage to her.
Skybolt turned from the distant figure of Phase and threw a hasty bolt at the redheaded fantasy poster girl.
Nikki seemed to sense the buildup, and dodged at the last moment.
Skybolt cursed, "Damn, she's agile!"
Nikki brought on her power, and Fey emerged in a near fury of wind-whipped red hair as a crackling halo of power outlining her body. The flying girl was wearing a pack of some kind that Fey sensed was adding power to the attacks sent downward at herself.
Kodiak smiled grimly at the smaller, younger boy. "I'll give you a chance to back down and leave. No one would blame you."
The kid returned his smile. "I've never backed down in my life."
Kodiak nodded approval, then summoned the bear. He knew the image of the gigantic grizzly as it roared and flickered around him was enough to terrify most opponents. During the moment when the boy would be frozen, Kodiak swung an easy underhand, punching straight into the younger boy's gut. He didn't use his full strength, of course. He didn't want to kill the boy.
His fist stopped as if he'd hit solid steel. The boy didn't budge so much as a millimeter.
Moving as he spoke, the boy grabbed his extended arm, turned and swung. Kodiak was 240 pounds of solid muscle, but the boy swung him up and over like he was a rag doll. He had an instant to cry out, "Shit!" before being slammed on his back hard enough to knock all breath from him and bring stars to his eyes.
He lay there gasping helplessly. It would be a while before he could rise again, and minutes more before he could fight.
Ayla shook her head. The good news: a direct hit by lightning didn't kill her. The bad news: it hurt like hell. She thought even her fillings were throbbing. And to top off her frustration, even the jump-and-fly trick hadn't let her catch the fast-moving girl. She was close enough to hear her, though.
"There will be no dodging this time, Red."
Skybolt was ignoring her slow-moving pursuer to stare at Fey. And why not? There was no way that Ayla could reach her in time. But maybe…
Skybolt wound up like a major league pitcher. Ayla flew – not at Skybolt, but exactly between Skybolt and Fey. The timing was critical. At exactly the right second, she went 'solid'.
This time, the lightning bolt barely tickled.
Hamper and Damper had been running toward the black-clad cape-girl. The twins went everywhere together, and combat was no exception. They figured they could back up Icer. They hadn't expected him to be laid out by the tiny girl in black. Even more surprising was the sight of Kodiak slammed to the ground.
"Fuck. Kodiak in one shot?"
"He's heading this way!"
"Gotta be an energizer! Damp him!"
Facing their targets, the brothers pushed forward with both palms. One attempting to disrupt the brain of the girl in black, leaving her dazed, forgetful, and confused. The other, cutting the power source of the camouflage boy now stalking toward them.
And once again, Ayla found herself slamming into the ground and sinking in up to her knees. By now, she really wanted to hit something. Or someone.
And her eyes found the perfect target.
"Tansy, you are so dead!"
The model backed up in fear. "Wait Ayla! It's me, Jinn!"
"I'm not falling for that!" She stalked forward gleefully, each tread shaking the ground. Her fist pulled back like the hammer cocking on a gun.
"Really, you've got to believe me! Uh… umbrellas in the hallway? Chasing stuffed animals? Our study corner?"
"Damnation." Ayla lowered her fist. "Jinn?"
"Yeah. Tansy got knocked out, so I'm in control while she's in la-la land."
"I really need something to hit."
"How about that huge guy, who's starting to get up?" She pointed at Kodiak.
"Shit, it's not working!" Hamper yelled. The girl hadn't slowed in the least. From the feedback he got through his power, it almost felt like she didn't even have a brain!
In terror, Hamper swung his aim toward the camouflage boy that was almost upon them. He projected as he never had before. The boy halted, looking confused. As Hamper poured on the power, the boy sunk to his knees, dazed.
Damper was having even more luck. As he turned his power on the girl in the black cloak, she fell to the ground like a puppet with cut strings. He realized a moment later that the cloak had gone completely flat. The girl had vanished, leaving an empty suit of clothes behind. But as he relaxed his power in superstitious fear, he saw the flat cloak begin to rise. The girl was rising from the ground like a spirit of the dead! He blasted forth with his ability again, then began to stomp on the flattened cloak.
What IS IT with this guy?, Toni wondered to herself. He isn't that fast! He just seems to know what I'm going to do, like he's... reading... my... mind... Toni grinned and shut the 'brow' chakra, which her reading suggested was the point at which psis managed to enter the mind.
Okay, Scaramouche, now we do this MY way.
Toni set up a lightning barrage of kicks and punches that 'Scaramouche' was having a much harder time dodging. Toni noticed that he wasn't really trying to hit her with the 'sword', he was just using it as an 'area denial' technique. He was using it to try and steer her into a position where he could hit her with the shield. Not a bad technique, actually. The sword was probably very deadly- too deadly for a schoolyard brawl. But the hilt didn't have any power source that Toni could tell. It was just a thin, flashlight-like cylinder, like a Star Wars lightsaber.
Curious, she shifted to a more defensive posture, and checked out his ki.
Odd- the sword and shield both had ki. Hold on- if he was a telepath, why couldn't he also be a psychokinetic? The sword and shield were PK manifestations, like Jinn was, and the dinguses that 'Scaramouche' was carrying just refined them somehow.
But if the shield was formed of PK energy, then the battle was suddenly a lot more in Toni's favor that it had seemed up to then.
Toni allowed a plan for a combination array of moves to 'slip through' her brow chakra. Sure enough, 'Scaramouche' fell into a counter-array that would have neatly blocked her finishing blow and set her up for a counter-strike. At the last minute, Toni shifted the ki in her blow from Yang to Yin. It merged with the PK energy of Scaramouche's shield. The shield imploded in on itself, destroying the bracer and knocking Scaramouche back into a tree.
Toni gave a quick chuff! of breath to center herself again. She turned to check out how the rest were doing.
Then she felt herself lift off the ground. She twisted around in mid-air, to see 'Scaramouche' picking himself up from the ground, one hand extended at her. Man, he was tough!
Scaramouche didn't bother picking his 'lightsaber' up. Instead, he took a few deep breaths, and Toni could see his brow chakra glow an angry red.
Toni did NOT want to see whatever Scaramouche had in mind. She took a deep breath and belted out: "Kiiiii-YAH!!
That was all Aries had to say as Tennyo grabbed his left elbow with her right hand and drove her left elbow into his lower ribs. Then she launched into the air and was fifty feet up before Aries recovered enough to start protesting.
"Owww! Hey! I can't fly!"
"Should 'a thought of that before you started with me, Honey!"
Tennyo twisted free and started looping around and slamming into him in such a way as to start knocking him even higher into the air. His speed, strength, and training allowed him to block most of the hits enough to reduce the amount of damage that he was taking, but since he couldn't brace himself, that was all he could manage. When they reached about 150 feet up there was a sudden interruption caused by a loud KIIIYYAAA!
Fey probed, trying to loosen the pack and maybe even detach it from the girl's form. The synthetic materials of the casing resisted her, but the metal buckles started to loosen as she concentrated. Until a slightly glowing sphere of energy surrounded the girl, keeping any probes Fey sent from penetrating to their target. Another, very close bolt, momentarily staggered her, but for once didn't spoil her concentration.
Skybolt paused as the redhead began to glow, then positively seethe with crackling energy. Even her long, thick red hair was crackling with the fury of whatever power the girl had brought up. Another bolt aimed to probe that power glanced off the girl, but managed to stagger her a little.
Then she noticed that her power pack was coming loose – as she watched! The buckles holding it in place were working loose as if they had minds of their own. She recalled that the redhead was a magic user, swearing at first herself then the other girl. "That bitch is getting through my shields."
And immediately put more power into those. While sending a flurry of bolts at her opponent in hopes of hitting her enough to get through the energy surrounding the small figure on the ground.
Nikki, seeing that her small attacks were having no effect reached for the lines she could see in the air to create a wind that swirled around the flying girl, hoping to at least knock her around enough to get a respite from the electrical bolts falling around her like raindrops.
A sudden gust of wind sent Skybolt careening towards Shuster Hall, then suddenly reversed itself to shove her away from the dangerously close walls. But it didn't stop with that. Violent gusts whipped her from side to side, up, down, and in zig zags that had her head spinning. In desperation, she powered up to launch one more attack. The most potentially devastating one she had ever used.
Nikki watched her manipulation of the air currents bounce the flying girl around like a ball bearing inside a metal jar with some satisfaction, but still couldn't get anything through the girl's force field. thinking hard, she suddenly came up with a solution. So, if I can't get through it... Of course!
Skybolt took very careful aim. It wouldn't do to damage school property any more than was absolutely necessary to get rid of this upstart little girl. Her next shot had to hit precisely, or she knew there wouldn't be another in this fight. Not from her, at least.
Nikki suddenly dropped the wind she had been using with such good effect, wrapping the other girl's force field tightly in one of her own. Then poured her power into holding the second sphere, her own, in place.
To Skybolt's consternation and horror, her attack rebounded from the inside of her own force field. Filling the small globe of air surrounding her with sparking, hissing, static discharge that shorted her power pack out and stunned her in the process.
Nikki grinned in triumph when she saw an extra powerful bolt rebound from her own force field and disintegrate into static that filled the sphere that had once protected her opponent.
A very loud, very familiar shout literally filled the air and Nikki was very glad that she had already set the globe around the globe trick up as Toni's Kiai shout interrupted pretty much everything else that was going on just then.
Sara pried herself from the indentation she'd made in the bark, sticky sap clinging to her blazer. "KI-YAI!" A girl's shout echoed through the trees.
CRACK! "You know, I'd heard you were a regenerator, but that's pretty impressive." The Indian boy whistled in appreciation.
Sara snarled, "I thought you weren't helping your friends."
He rolled his eyes, "Weeellll, they aren't my friends exactly. More like toys or playmates or eye-candy."
WOMP-CRACK! "Like you." He whispered into her ear. WOMP-CRACK! "Besides, the Don has yet to make me an offer I can't refuse," he spread his arms wide WOMP-CRACK!, "and I really couldn't let you rush in and pull a Deus Ex, how lame would that be?"
Sara glared as the boy leant against a tree, standing on a branch ten feet in the air, "This isn't some stupid story. Someone could be killed out there!"
He shrugged, "So? Why burden yourself with mortal concerns, Sara?" WOMP-CRACK! He was standing on the leafy ground again, "Why not enjoy the conflict? As we stand apart, they fight for our amusement. Morituri salutamus te!"
He chuckled to himself at his own joke.
"Well, ave Caesar." Sara growled, concentrating. Time slowed, the blue haired popinjay's grin seemed plastered to his face. She spat a fanged tentacle at him, the maw speeding straight for his face, closing about the tip of his nose…
WOMP-CRACK! "Well that was close," he laughed from behind her again, "I thought…"
The second tentacle scratched his face before he could teleport again, WOMP-CRACK! He stood back in the tree, rubbing the wound, "Oh… you foxy mythos minx! You are soooo cute when you're angry, you know."
Sara let her tentacles snap back, annoyed with the gaping hole in the back of her blazer where the second tentacle had ripped through, "War-torn vet'ran, skilled debater, trickster famed of bridge and road, now for each grim gladiator gapes oblivion's drear abode. Should the last great final jury turn their thumbs down -- it must be! 'Ave, Caesar, morituri salutamus te!'"
He laughed, "You are fun! Just what was that?"
"Banjo Paterson," Sara snapped, "Now get out of my way!"
"Oh, go on then," he smiled, leaning back against the tree, "I'll stay here if you need me. For anything. Name's Bluejay, by the way. Try not to become one of the Don's mind sluts, I prefer 'em feisty."
The explosion that shook the leaves stopped her from making a retort, she span about and sprinted back towards the noise, which had turned into frightened screams.
By the time Tennyo recovered from the shock of that shout, Aries was on his screaming way towards the ground. Tennyo dived after him and grabbed him from behind. Then she accelerated down. Aries' screams increased in volume.
At the last moment, Tennyo decelerated some and made a 90 degree turn so that they were traveling about four feet off the ground and heading right towards Hamper. At the last moment she released Aries and looped around. Aries drove into Hamper at about 40 miles per hour and the two of them tumbled along the ground.
The loop put her right in front of Damper who was kicking the clothes that kept trying to form into Shroud.
"Hi! Remember me?"
His look of shock and his reflexive defensive maneuver came too late to help as her foot connected to a sensitive part of his anatomy again. Tennyo grinned and commented as he folded up around himself again.
"You're getting pretty good at that. You might consider doing it as a profession."
Toni shouted into the general melee "Nikki leave her! Get on to damage control! Try and protect the bystanders and property from any more damage!"
Nodding, as she saw a satisfied looking Tennyo boot one of the twins in a very sensitive place then arcing gracefully upwards towards Skybolt, Nikki turned her attention to keeping the damage from getting too out of hand.
Skybolt, still stunned from the static discharge that had filled her force field globe focused long enough to see an animé Character come to life flying towards her wearing a huge grin and with a fist cocked for a strike. It was the last thing she saw for a while.
Wyatt Cody, better known as Kodiak, was 6' 6" tall, and 240 pounds of solid muscle. On top of that, he was a high-level exemplar and filled with the spirit and power of the bear. And he'd just been slammed by a skinny little freshman.
He sat up, then slowly came to his feet. He could still barely breathe, but at least he was standing.
Being so large, Kodiak often equated size with power. That's why he didn't pay much attention as the five foot tall girl came stomping up to him. Perhaps he should have noted how her tread shook the ground, but she looked scrawnier than the classic 98-pound weakling, and besides, she was a girl.
Normally, Kodiak might have put up a better showing, but he was still catching his breath. And, bent over as he was, his chin made a nearly perfect target. So when Ayla swung, it caught him utterly by surprise. And although the punch didn't hit with the power of a freight train, it did have the impact of a good-sized SUV. So Kodiak barely had time to think, "Not again!" before he was, once again, flat on the ground.
And Ayla was heard to mutter, "Damn, that was satisfying!"
Tennyo lowered Skybolt to the ground. The energizer had been so preoccupied that she hadn't seen Tennyo until it was too late, and she didn't have time to dodge or put up a defense. One hit was all it took and she was out.
As Tennyo looked around to see if her help was needed elsewhere, she saw a small group to one side that looked as if they might join in. Forming one of her contained bolts, she sent it into an ugly old iron bench nearby. The results were more than she had expected. The blast totally shattered the bench and sent shrapnel flying that sent most of the nearby crowd diving for cover or setting up defensive barriers.
The echo of some impossibly loud sound echoed in her ears. Tansy wavered as the shock snapped her back to consciousness. She actually felt it this time as she pushed ghost-bitch out of the way. That would explain why she was standing. And perhaps also explain why none of Ayla's little friends were attacking her. The ghost-bitch had been possessing her again. Who knew what she'd told everyone?
What Tansy really wanted was a few minutes alone with that little devisor girl. That underage shit has shot her! The girl was across a no-man's land of insane melee, so that was out. This was probably her best opportunity to slip away, without anyone noticing her.
She used an aspect of her power that didn't get much practice. Her normal "I'm fantastic" projection enhanced her beauty, importance, prominence, and sex appeal. Although it galled her, she could reverse it into an "I'm nothing" projection, which left her seeming plain, inconsequential, and of absolutely no importance. It wasn't invisibility, but people tended to ignore her.
She made her way along the edge of the fight. If she could slip back into Crystal Hall, she'd be safe, protected by the crowd.
And then she spotted a target of opportunity that was too good to pass up.
It was ghost-girl, almost. The costume was similar, but there were many differences. As Damper turned his power on her for a moment, she went as flat as ghost-girl, when Tansy had drained her last week. Were there two of them? It didn't matter. Damper was fighting someone else now, she only had a second. She rushed forward, as the other ghost girl struggled to rise.
Tansy wasn't sure how strong her avatar powers were. She wasn't sure she could hold two spirits, but she couldn't pass up the opportunity. As the costume re-inflated and the black-clad girl rose from the ground, Tansy yanked back the girl's head and grabbed her powder-white face.
Yes! She could feel the spirit! She pulled it free, hearing the mental scream of agony and rage as she sucked it into her. The effort was almost too much, and she staggered backward.
For a moment there were two of them. Jinn / Jann. Shoved together in a space only large enough for one. It didn't matter. Their natural need was to merge. But the memories! A week's worth of separate experience tried to merge and re-integrate. She was Jinn, and for a week she'd been physically female and the top model of the school. She'd been inside Tansy's body and learned and done so much! She'd been Jann, coping with death, stunned by her loss, surprised to find her powers increasing, trying costume after costume, buying a gun…
There was too much. Her mind couldn't handle it. Jinn/Jann never slept, but under the astonishing mental load, she passed out.
Nikki had more than enough to do containing potential damage to other people and property. A large piece of masonry from an exploding bench was headed straight for the downed Kodiak, and it was clear that he wouldn't have a prayer of moving before it hit him. Grabbing onto the lines surrounding the fragment, she diverted its path so it landed harmlessly (mostly) in a nearby pool.
The one who had been fighting Toni was in danger, as well. The tree he was leaning against had caught fire for some reason, and he was engulfed in flame. She gripped the lines on and around him, forcing the flame to die away, then restored the fellow's clothing and without realizing it, the burnt skin that would have had him incapacitated for a long time. She also restored the tree to its original state.
"Get back you idiots!" She screamed at some gawkers who hadn't run back into Crystal Hall when the fight started while putting a hasty screen between them and more shrapnel-like debris from some part of the fighting. The debris hit the screen and stopped in midair, then slid harmlessly to the ground.
She continued shielding downed people, regardless of what side they were on, and the glass walls of Crystal Hall for what seemed like forever. It seemed that the more power she drew from the lines around her, the more was needed. Her body was beginning to feel fatigued, and she knew that she wouldn't be able to keep it up much longer.
Sara stopped, ducking down behind a shrubbery as she caught a glimpse of men in security uniforms hustling down the path. She cursed herself, then stepped calmly out into the light, following as slowly and innocuously as possible.
They made their way out across the battlefield, towards the yelling match that was being overseen by another Indian guy. Though this one is a bit more pleasant to look at, she judged. The fight was over, so she disappeared into the crowd and waited.
"That's ENOUGH! STOP THIS NOW!"
The authoritative shout rumbled out of 6' 2" of Amerind perfection. Adam Ironknife stood in a pose that commanded attention. Arrayed behind him, in poses that indicated they were instantly ready for action, were the four other members of the Wild Pack, sometimes derisively known as The Betas. One of them burst into flame, another man was as tall as Kodiak and even wider. Of the two women, one crackled with power, and the other had a look in her eyes that promised that absolutely nothing would stand in her way.
They weren't in costume, but everyone recognized them. And as much as some liked to snipe behind their backs, there were few that would risk standing against them together, when they assembled as a team.
As the new group stepped in, Nikki dropped her shields. It looked like the bystanders could take care of themselves for a moment. With more than a little relief, she gingerly sat down to catch her breath. Panting combatants on each side glared at each other for a few seconds, but no one seemed at all inclined to disobey Adam Ironknife's order. Nikki had no objection so, holding her hands carefully away from her body, she shouted back, "Ok with me! I'm stopping right now!"
Adam Ironknife, AKA Stormwolf surveyed the carnage. "Who started this?"
Tansy Walcutt stepped forward, and he forced himself to suppress a sigh. Of course. Another one of her games. Is it too much to hope that this time some of the pain will stick to its creator?
"SHE started it!" Tansy yelled, almost hysterically. She was pointing, Adam had to do a double take, at a small, twelve-year-old girl. "She SHOT me! Right here!" And Tansy began rubbing her left… female chest area.
"ENOUGH!" He beckoned to the young girl. "Is any of this true?" He tried to speak kindly, to pose as little threat as possible to the child. "Did you really shoot her?"
"You bet I did! And I'd like to do it again! She kidnapped m– my sister! She's still got her!"
"You underage little fuck! I'll see you DEAD!"
"Hey!" Nikki jumped up to enter the argument. "All we did was ask the bitch some questions. Then these others jumped us! I was dodging lightning bolts before I realized anything was happening for crying out loud!"
At that point, the usual happened. Adam was well used to it, as the situation degenerated into chaos. Everyone began to speak at once, most of them yelling, and no one listening to anyone else.
At least in this stage they weren't actually fighting. He signaled subtly to the team, and they began to spread out to keep things stable. If they could keep the lid on for another few minutes, security would arrive in force.
Lieutenant Forsyth was positively thrilled to discover that the fighting was already over, with apparently no permanent injuries. The Wild Pack (he tried not to ever call them "Betas") had apparently been first on the scene and handled things perfectly. A quick glance at the two lines of combatants caused him to metaphorically gulp.
On one side, The Alphas. You never saw them in a real fight. Not directly. Not openly. He certainly had no liking for the stuck-up crew of scheming manipulators, but they were skilled at never getting caught with dirty hands. Which meant that (once again) one of their victims had been pushed too far, and had lashed back.
On the other side, the girls from the ninja attack. Two of the girls, Nikki Reilly and Billie Wilson were already up on the "beware board." Of the others… he groaned, recognizing the girl who'd talked to him about the gun permit. Tell me she didn't use it! He knew what the answer was going to be, though.
"Alright men. Notebooks out. Let's start taking statements."
Tansy was almost trembling with glee. She wasn't sure how, but the two ghost girls had canceled each other out. She could only feel the barest hint of presence. But the powers were definitely there. A brief test confirmed that.
"I'm sorry Officer," she peered at his name tag, "Haskins. I'm sorry about all the trouble. Lord knows, I didn't start it. But those girls jumped me, with some insane story about kidnapping her sister. Can she even give a hint as to where I'm supposed to be hiding the body?"
"Well, I haven't talked to her yet, miss."
"And then they were accusing me of doing something mental to steal the girl's spirit or something. I insist on an immediate telepathic probe to ensure that I'm not harboring some extra mind or spirit or whatever."
She tried to control her glee. She couldn't be sure, but the spirits seemed to be gone – for the moment. She had to act fast, before anything changed. Besides, a check at the scene itself would carry more weight.
"Well, I suppose I could get Mindbird to check. So long as you're volunteering."
"Please. I would consider it a personal favor. My character has been impugned."
A moment later the officer returned with Dale in tow.
The other girl nodded to her, brusquely. "Tansy."
"Dale. These girls are spreading some sort of story about me. I don't know what they're thinking, but in one tale I've kidnapped someone's sister – I don't know how I'm supposed to be providing room and board. Maybe I'm just supposed to be desperate for the petty cash. And in the other scenario, her sister is in my brain or some such lunacy. I'm not going to let my shields down, but I want you to confirm that there's no sister living in my brain, whatever that means."
"If you're actually requesting it, Tansy." She closed her eyes and tipped her head forward for a moment.
"There's something there. I can't tell what – it's just a jumble. She's much harder to read than she's ever been before. It almost feels like … an avatar effect. Tansy, are you an avatar?"
"I don't have to answer that."
"Hmph. So much for cooperation." Dale tipped her head forward again. "No, the other whatever-it-is doesn't seem to have any intelligent thought, it's more like a churning pool of impressions."
"Then you would certify that I am 100% free of having her sister inside me."
Dale snorted. "I'm not going to go that far for you, Tansy. But if she's there, I sure can't find her."
Their statements had been taken, and Team Kimba huddled together, rather subdued. Sara shoved two gawkers aside as she approached, her expression concealed by her mask and glasses but her worry plain in her voice, "Are you OK?"
Hank glared, "Where were you?"
Sara put her hands on her hips, "I was delayed. We'll talk later."
An officer came up to them, holding a loose collection of fabric. "I can't find your other teammate, the girl named 'Shroud.' This is all we could find." He held out the empty costume, weighted with lead in the hands and feet.
Jade looked at the costume in horror, and then finally reached forward to touch it. "Not again," she wailed. "Not again!"
"That's the last straw. This time, she has to pay," Ayla promised.
"Excuse me," Fey said in a cold voice. "DIBS."
They looked to see Tennyo, but the girl was busy holding her crying roommate.
And at that worst of all possible moments. Lieutenant Forsyth returned, shooing Sara off to one side. "Well, I'm not going to sugar-coat this. You're in big trouble. You admit starting this. You attacked as a group. And you deliberately launched a premeditated attack on another student. The only thing in your favor is that no one was permanently injured, and there wasn't too much property damage. But we can't let this go."
"What's going to happen to us, sir?" Hank asked, rather meekly.
"One of the administrators will decide on your punishment. You've got an appointment Monday morning with Ms. Amelia Hartford."
Those who recognized the name were too stunned to groan.
"We'll send notes, excusing you all from your first-period classes."
"God, combat makes me hot," The Don admitted. "And watching those dweebs get slapped down like that…!"
Tansy put her hand on her hip, as she cocked those hips just so. She knew how good it looked in her leather mini-dress. "Maybe you should come back to my room and… cool off."
"My place, I think."
They hurried off together.
Jade wasn't hysterical – not quite. She was crying pretty solidly, though. "All my fault!"
The entire crew was gathered in mutual depression in the Poe's downstairs library. The others were doing their guilty best not to see the too-intimate scene between Billie and Jade.
Billie was sitting and holding Jade the way a mother would hold a small child. Jade was much larger than your standard small child, but then again, Billie was much stronger than your standard mother. And as she held her small, young, crying roommate, Billie was growing steadily more furious. Not at Jade of course, but at the cause of their problem.
"I swear, I'm going to use my FINGERNAILS, tear open her belly, rip out her guts, and STRANGLE her with them!"
"Tennyo, no!" Jade grabbed her even tighter than she had been. Not that the small girl was strong enough to hurt Billie, but she still had an impressive grip. "I know you could stop her, kill her, or whatever you want, but what would they do to you then? At the very least, they'd take you away. I'd probably never see you again. EVER. Tennyo, you have to promise me! Promise me that you won't go and hurt or beat up … that woman!"
Billie groaned. "Don't make me promise that! It's not fair!"
"Please! You have to! I've already lost Jinn and Jann! I don't want to lose you, too."
"Aw, you know you haven't lost 'em. You got that letter. You know where they are. And they'll find a way to get free."
Jade started crying again.
"Oh, come on! You sound like a little girl."
Jade sniffed. "No fair, trying to cheer me up."
"Okay, I'll promise. But if she pushes me or does something else to provoke me, all bets are off!"
Jade just hugged her again.
God, what a fiasco, Toni thought to herself. It's just like fucking junior high – the goddamn 'cool kids' got the whole thing wired just the way they want it, and if you do anything to them, they sic the fucking teachers on you. Yeah, we beat the crap outta 'em, but they got us busted. As usual. Gotta be slicker about it, next time.
The scene with Jade and Tennyo was getting a little too thick. Toni needed something to take her mind off the mess that they were in. Sara and Hank sure weren't helping to calm her down.
Sara had been subdued, as they all walked back to Poe, staring mutely at the ground. The girl had told them about Bluejay, but then Hank had gone into a tirade about how he would have never been taken down if the demon-girl had shown up. It was obvious to Toni that Hank's anger was mainly at himself, and that he was just blowing off steam.
But Sara had finally fled from Hank's ire, claiming that she'd left her things in the main library, and needed to get them.
Toni decided that was her cue to slip away to find her own stress relief. And since her old standbys, chocolate and ice cream, were off limit – the sugar drove her crazy – it looked like it was going to have to be exercise. God help Hippolyta if she was hogging the Nautilus machine again!
Toni was almost at the door to the stairway, when a hefty black girl that she vaguely remembered seeing on the floor blocked her.
"So, I heard that you got yer ass kicked. 'Bout damn time!"
"I SAID, it's about damn time that somebody showed you 'Team Bimbo' fags up for the losers that you are! You ain't such hot shit now, are you?"
"You got a problem with me and my team?" Toni was beginning to see red.
"Yeah, I got a problem wi' you! I got a problem with a fucking FAG like you goin' around dressed like a girl! I got a problem with that fucking he-she freak goin' around wavin' his balls in ever'bodies' face! I got a problem with that red-head BOY walkin' around like he was some kind of queen! Oh, that's right! He IS a queen – a drag queen!"
Toni was about to reply that this loudmouthed bitch was obviously in the wrong cottage if gender-benders bothered her that much, when she was staggered. A burst of red-hot ...emotion... for the want of a better word, lanced out and all but slapped her down to the ground. It was like experiencing someone else's rage, disgust, loathing and... despair?
The hefty girl was obviously just getting warmed up, when there was a gentle *ahem!* They both turned to see Mrs. Horton standing there, looking blandly at them. "Is there a problem, girls?"
Vanessa, the curvy girl that Toni and Rip had been dancing with at the train depot when they first got to Whateley, came up and interrupted before either of the two other girls could get started. "Ah, no, there's no real problem. We gotta go now, Sharisha!" She tugged at the chunky girl's shoulder.
"Oh, I ain't _nohow_ finished!" Sharisha grated, her eyes fixed on Toni.
"I beg to differ." Mrs. Horton said calmly. "Tony- Sharisha- there are too many fights that break out in this house as it is. I don't want this developing into a feud. Whatever your differences are, deal with them."
"Mrs. Horton, I'd love to deal with our differences, but I don't know what they are! I've never even spoken to this girl before! I didn't even know her name until Vanessa said it."
"Oh, you're gonna know my name, all right!" Sharisha started up again.
Mrs. Horton gave another calm *ahem!* "Vanessa, would you see to it that Sharisha gets to her room all right? Toni, where were you headed?"
"Down to the exercise room."
"Very good. Tell Hippolyta that I said that it's your turn on the Nautilus."
Jinn slowly came back to full awareness. Or should she be calling herself Jann now? It didn't matter any more than what she called herself when she was back in her body. All of her were still her, whether separate or combined. Jinn was probably most convenient.
She remembered both sides now, in perfect clarity. Is merging always going to knock me out like that? She suspected that it might, at least when she had to sort together days upon days of separate memories. But the merging seemed to have worked fine. Both sets of memories were fit back together, and she had no trouble at all remembering every detail of the last week, from either perspective.
As the integration-induced fog lifted, she realized she felt different. As always, she felt Tansy's skin as if it were her own. It took a moment to realize that she was feeling a bit more than before. Aches and feelings inside that skin. An abrasion on her neck, a bit of a bruise forming along the side of her left breast. Churning indigestion in her stomach. A strangely warm feeling in her vagina, accompanied by a seepage of sticky fluid from that same region.
She recoiled in horror. Surely Tansy didn't – she hadn't – !
As quietly as a mouse fearing a cat, she opened up other senses and peeked out.
She was in a bed, lying on her back. A canopy bed? No, it had four posts and a wooden roof or something built over the top. A sheet was pulled up over her chest, providing some modesty. Sitting up on the far side of the bed, facing away from her was a MAN. He was smoking a cigarette.
Jinn told herself rapidly over and over that it wasn't her body, this wasn't her, it was Tansy, she hadn't even been aware or awake or present, so it didn't matter and it hadn't happened to her!
Her panic was diverted by another discovery. The scene was in color! Jinn was seeing. She was looking out of Tansy's eyes!
A quick double-check assured her that she still had her own unique style of vision. She could see behind herself, and she could see the man's deep glow of satisfaction.
"God, Walcutt," he said – and she finally recognized Sebastiano's voice, "you are without a doubt the best fuck I have ever had."
She felt the churning roil in her gut and realized that those were Tansy's feelings, not her own. It began to dawn on her that the girl hadn't liked this any more than she did. But if that was the case, then why…?
The thought came floating up from Tansy's mind. Jinn had felt feelings from Tansy before, but never complete thoughts. Not like this one.
Set those hooks even deeper, next time.
Things were definitely different since she'd awoken. She could feel the inside of Tansy's body, not just the skin. She was getting emotions clearly, and thoughts occasionally. What she was afraid of was that somehow, they had begun to merge. That she and Tansy were becoming a single person. But before she went into a full mind-blowing panic, she wanted to consider other possibilities. There was the sex. She could think of it, now, in a sort of abstract way. She finally decided that this didn't matter. She was definitely still a virgin. This wasn't her body, and she hadn't been around for it anyway. But maybe the sex had altered her connection to Tansy, somehow. Or perhaps it had been adding Jann to the equation, or the period of unconsciousness. There was too many possibilities. She did her best to lay low, study, and learn.
"You know what the best part was?" Sebastiano continued. "It was your utter disgust. And, hey, I'm not insulting your shield. It's pretty good. But I specialize in prying out people's fears and weaknesses. And, as I'm sure you're aware, contact, especially intimate contact, makes telepathy sooo much easier. I could tell you hated it and hated me. Everything I did just made you sick, didn't it? GOD, that was such a total fucking turn-on! It was practically like I was raping you!"
As ill as this entire conversation made her, she could tell it was affecting Tansy just as badly.
"You knew? The whole time, you KNEW?"
"Naw. I told you that. Just while I was banging you." He turned to face her, a lazy smile on his face. "You're good. Hell, you're great. Putting yourself through that, just for a chance at the brass ring." He punctuated that by blowing a smoke ring into her face. "It's the power, isn't it? You couldn't resist the power."
Tansy pulled the sheet up tighter around herself, and tried not to cough. Jinn could feel the effort it took. She could tell that Tansy was considering Sebastiano's words.
"What if it was? The power, I mean."
"Nothing. Well, I mean, it's perfect. It is so god-dammed perfectly Alpha that I could cry. Most of those shits down there have no idea what we have to go through to be on top. Like those stupid cunts that tried to jump you this morning. Was there any truth to that, by the way?"
Tansy's emotions pegged way into the defensive.
"Truth to what?"
"The kidnapping and avatar stuff you guys were yelling back and forth, for everyone to hear. Besides, they took statements afterward. Cavalier typed up a nice little summary." He raised his other hand which held a wireless personal organizer with glowing green text against a black screen. "In more detail, they claim that you're actually an avatar, that their friend was some sort of energy being, and you 'sucked her in'."
"What of it?"
"If so, it's sweet. Like I said, perfectly Alpha. Seize the advantage. You might work a little more on your defenses – you've been leaving quite a few angry psychos in your wake, haven't you? Never know when the bill might come due."
He gave her a look that made both Jinn and Tansy erupt in clammy fear.
"God, I could almost do you again. You are, without a doubt, the best lay I've ever had. Maybe even better than the first time I went down on my little fucktoy, Skybolt. Frankly, she's gotten a little old, if you catch my drift. But you, forcing yourself to spread for me and hating it so much, hell, I'm almost stiff again."
Quickly and carefully, Tansy slipped out of bed and moved toward her clothes. Jinn noticed that Tansy sat up, she turned away, hiding as much of herself from Sebastiano as possible. She stepped into the black lace thong quickly. To Jinn's mind, it didn't provide nearly enough protection. Likewise, the black lace demi-cups of her bra didn't cover enough. Notably, Tansy slipped on the leather mini-dress before she bothered with her pantyhose.
"Hey, no need to rush away. I haven't even paid yet."
That sent another wash of self-disgust through Tansy.
"What about Hekate?"
Tansy was turned away, so she didn't see the face and derisive gesture that Jinn saw. "That cow? She's okay for relieving the tension, but she's a little too possessive, you know? Going on and on about her needs, like I give a flying fuck. Can you believe, the first time she actually wanted me to wear a condom? That sums up our relationship right there. She even tried objecting when I used Skybolt. I was like, so what the hell were you thinking?"
Tansy's interest had pegged over to high. Jinn even caught a corner of a thought, – clue on what/how he did it?
"So, even with Hekate back, you'd still –?"
"Well, we'd have to keep it quiet, of course. Hekate would blow a gasket if she found out. She's still in hate with Dale Townsend."
They were both confused until Tansy's mind connected, Mindbird!
"Thinks Dale came between us or something. As if. Frankly, all of the 'us' was really only a 'her.' Not even much of that, since she's stopped putting out. Which is pretty much of a green light, so far as I'm concerned. Still, best to keep it on the QT. And seeing as how my touch seems to disgust you, I'm guessing you won't be so fucking clingy, will you?"
Sebastiano finally pulled on a pair of boxers and sauntered over to drop in a chair.
Now that she was dressed again, Tansy grabbed her purse and started fixing her hair, turning to the mirror and digging for some makeup.
"So, let's talk price. Lemme be honest here. Now that I've dipped the wick, I'm going to be coming back for more. Lots more. And you probably aren't going to help out, unless I make it worth your while. After all," he gave a nasty smile, "you sure aren't coming back for MY sweet touch. Makes me wonder who your main man is? Never heard even a hint of a rumor. Anyway, name your price."
Done primping, Tansy gracefully lowered herself into the chair facing Sebastiano. "I want the Alphas. You're king, I'm queen."
Sebastiano shook his head. "Not going to happen. Hekate's got that. Don't even think of going up against her. That means you don't get the public status or leadership either. If she catches on that I'm drilling you, we'll both be in a world of hurt. Believe me. On the surface, she's all hexes and jinks. Tip of the iceberg. The lady gives me nightmares sometimes."
"If that's the case, it looks like I was wasting my time then."
"Not at all! Alphas are a hell of a lot more than status. We're contacts and influence. We're the people to see when something comes along. We are the movers and shakers. It may be that I've got something for you that's a bit more interesting than being queen of the Alphas."
Jinn felt her eyebrows rise.
"Well, now that we know you're an avatar…"
The pause grew uncomfortable, before Tansy reluctantly nodded.
"How's your little passenger, by the way?"
Jinn was utterly quiet and still as Tansy lanced out with a quick probe.
"I've taken care of her. Finally finished the digestion, maybe. She was trouble for a while, but it's handled." She briefly rose up an inch off the chair, as if assuring herself that she still had the powers. "Why?"
"Well, you might be able to assist me in a little project that's come along."
Tansy nodded for him to continue.
"Well, the question has come up: Can avatars trade spirits? Which brings up a whole slew of new questions. Such as, Can you take an avatar's spirit? There's even the possibility of opening up a bit of a black market.
"It's not really my idea, but I was the man in place to help with a few technical difficulties. You know, of course, that they're only barely starting to understand what avatars are, and what they do. Hell, we've all heard the intro-lecture bit about how Champion One and Two died. What they're less open about is that they're still doing a lot of poking around in the dark. And you know what the problem is?" He leaned forward, with a very disturbing expression on his face.
"Lack of test subjects."
Jinn was thankful that her conditions spared her from the more visceral emotions. She had enough of a cold fear at the moment that she didn't want any hormones helping it along. Even Tansy was swallowing in reaction.
"Look, I'm not the point man on this, but I was there when they needed some rough spots smoothed over. We're just starting, but the possibilities are VERY interesting. As an avatar yourself, I'm sure you can see that. Maybe you're interested in upgrading? Unload whatever you picked up from the Poe Pussies and slip in something with a bit more power?"
Tansy finally found her voice. "I'm not sure I'm –"
"I don't think you understand what I'm talking about here. Imagine if we figure out how to rip the spirit out of one avatar and push it into another. Do you have any idea what I'm talking about here? What about Kodiak's bear spirit? How'd you like to be packing that sort of power?"
Jinn caught enough of a mental flash to see that Tansy was suddenly imagining herself as hairy and bulked-up as Kodiak. "Ugg. No thank you."
That stopped her.
"He's just another avatar. We've all heard it, ever since the intro lectures. Hell, we've all heard how his successor is training here at Whateley. They keep a plane on tap for him at Berlin Airport, in case he has to fly out to accept the Champion Force. Plenty of people have attacked Champion the hero. As if it would be so wonderful to defeat the hero and rob some fucking bank. Those idiots have missed the real treasure! They should be trying to steal the Champion Force!"
"I don't know…"
"What is there to know? How would it feel? How would you like to be the new Miss Champion, or Champion Girl or whatever the hell you wanted to call yourself? How would you like to have the power to walk up to those in your way and step on them like the bugs they are?"
The images in Tansy's mind were much sharper now. This morning's fight was a fresh memory. Jinn had the strange experience of remembering as the little girl Jade shot at her. Jade's image was up there in the "To be dealt with" category. Other images loomed larger, though. Fey's image was sharp and clear. Just as prominent was Trevor/Ayla, with his/her disturbed sexuality.
"Even if the Champion Force remains out of reach, there are other spirits, some of which are extremely powerful. But until recently, we never understood about avatars. And there were never enough of them around for us to poach on. But Whateley has such a fine crop of powerful spirits, housed in naïve young hosts."
"You're not suggesting –?"
"I'm not suggesting anything. Just pointing out an opportunity. You know that someone is going to exploit it eventually. Only question is, do you want to be in on the ground floor? Do you want to pick and choose the spirit you get? Maybe not. Maybe all you can stand is a financial investment, or maybe you want to simply act as a purchaser, without knowing any of the dirty details. Whatever you're up for."
Tansy's mind was spinning faster than Jinn could follow, but as she finally seemed to catch up with what Sebastiano was offering, she said, "What's in it for you? Do you see yourself with the power of Champion?"
He laughed, lounging easily in his boxers. "I'm no avatar. Besides, I see myself more in a position of leadership. After all, look what an inspiring leader I've been to Cavalier and Skybolt! Imagine them with spirit upgrades and I think you'll see what I'm looking at. They're not avatars either, but you get the point."
Tansy nodded, engrossed in thought.
"So, I think you agree, you've been more than paid for services rendered. And such fine services they were, too."
"Yeah, yeah. Say, does Hekate know about his little venture of yours?"
"Ah, well, she was always more interested in other areas of mysticism. Avatars don't particularly tickle her fancy."
So did Jinn. It seemed to her that Don Sebastiano was about as bad a leader as you could imagine, if he was really busy betraying everyone he knew, so rapidly and incautiously.
"You realize that I'm not a captive slut like your little Skybolt, to come running whenever you need to, how did you put it, 'dip the wick'?"
"Oh, but you are! This is my scheme now, and if you want to be a part of it, you'll put out whenever I tell you to." He held up a business card. "Or else you don't even get the first contact. Agreed?"
Jinn could feel the self-loathing Tansy was pumping out, but the girl answered, "Agreed."
Jade followed Tennyo, and they both wandered listlessly across the hall, to Toni and Fey's room. That was empty, but they found the gang in Ayla's room. The two girls slipped inside and closed the door behind them.
"Any conclusions?" Billie asked.
"No good ones," Ayla practically spat the words.
Toni sounded equally depressed. "This whole thing has been great for those 'real life lessons.' I mean, it's pretty obvious why it's so handy to wear a mask and hide your identity. Imagine an adult getting caught in a situation like that. We know we were right, but we can't prove it. Somehow, Mindbird of the Betas did a telepathic scan of Walcutt afterwards and couldn't even see Jinn in there. All of this argues so well for adopting the techniques of the bad guys that it positively drips with irony. We should have been in disguise, we should have attacked from ambush, we should have made sure there were no witnesses, we should have had alibis, and on and on. I think the moral is, if you aren't helping some old lady across the street, if it might possibly be interpreted as a crime, you'd better assume that it WILL be. Sooner or later, you have to face the music."
"They took my gun," Jade told everyone. "I can still practice on the range, but I'm not allowed to carry it. Indefinite suspension. It's because I shot her 'without provocation.' "
Nikki picked it up from there. "The thing that gets me is how everyone knows about Walcutt. About the Alphas, too. Everyone knows what scum they are, but they still end up with their high status and spotless record. And for us – who knows?"
"Well," Ayla added, with some satisfaction. "At least we kicked their butts. I'll bet old Tansy's pissing her panties right now, thinking that Billie might come for her. I don't think they'll be bothering us for a while."
Sara snorted, "Really? I think they're positively ecstatic. We're the ones that look like fools right now, that puts us on the back foot. Narcissistic bastards are probably laughing it up, having a ball, planning their next move."
"I'm sure they are," Nikki agreed. "And I'm sure they'll pick a move that don't allow us to hit back. In fact, it might be easier for them, since we don't dare hit back."
Ayla suddenly had a wild gleam in her eye. "So let's do what they least expect! Hit 'em now. We'll do it in secret, exactly like you were talking about, Toni. No witnesses, masks and disguises, hit 'em hard and fast. Breeze in, beat Walcutt to a pulp until she lets Jinn free, and there's no evidence at all."
"Nope," Hank said. "No chance. Maybe if we'd done that first. Now they would know it was us. All it takes is one report. I mean, we'd be the obvious choices, wouldn't we? Heck, we'd better hope no one thinks to frame us.
"But for now, our best bet is to pull a Steve McQueen."
The girls universally looked at him in puzzlement.
Sara nodded knowingly, but the other girls looked at him in puzzlement.
"Oh, come on – Steve McQueen? The Great Escape? Best damn war movie ever made?"
Everyone but Sara had blank looks.
"Okay, but as soon as possible we're all getting together to watch it. POW movie, Americans and Brits in a German POW camp. The 'cooler' was a hellish little uninsulated concrete bunker they used for solitary confinement. Roasting in the day, freezing at night. McQueen is the 'Cooler King' because he'd attempted the most escapes and been tossed into the cooler more than anyone else. Something like twenty times. But he never let it get to him. They'd toss him in, and he wouldn't bat an eye. Other men cracked in the cooler, but never the Cooler King. And that's why so many of the other prisoners held him in awe. He could take whatever they threw at him."
"That's the way we have to be. We take our punishment with a smile. A little thing like this won't get to us. We're Team Kimba. That doesn't change the fact that, as soon as we see an opportunity, we're going to turn right back around and do whatever we have to. Oh, we'll get smarter, all right. The Cooler King was no idiot. The scary thing is that there's no way to stop us."
Ayla was nodding, and Toni started to nod as well.
"For now, there's no choice. The foe is alert, the school is watching us. Jade, did Jinn sound desperate? Did it sound like time was running out?"
Jade gave the first glimmer of a smile. "Hardly. She was just getting started."
"Then we wait. Monday morning, they'll try to scare us with The Cooler. I don't know what it's going to be, but be prepared for a shock. Our reactions should be mild. No happiness, no sorrow, no anger. Just accepting. 'We can handle this.' We'll do our time in the cooler. And afterwards… we'll see what things look like then."
Now everyone was nodding.
Jinn decided to maintain her low profile. It was the opposite of her initial approach, which had been "annoy Tansy to death." But she was learning things. Incredibly valuable things.
First on the list had been the avatar discussion with (she still shuddered at his name) Sebastiano. Somehow, she had to get that information to the crew, or someone who could do something about it. A threat to Champion? That was major stuff.
Beyond that, there was also the whole mind shield business. Most telepaths had them, and non-telepaths could develop them. Actually, the details she'd heard were more complicated. Apparently there were many different types of mind shields, with varying advantages and disadvantages. Some of them could be trained into non-telepaths, but only a telepath could learn all of them. She gathered that it was a bit like a blind man practicing Aikido. Some of the moves required an intimate awareness of position and movement that was only possible when you could see.
During the discussion with (shudder) Sebastiano (his name seemed to drip with slime), Jinn had once again noticed him sending telepathic probes at Tansy. But this time, she'd noticed something she'd never seen before. His probes hit a layer that was just at the outside surface of Tansy's mind and got broken up. It was like the beam had been scattered, like when a laser beam his a piece of frosted glass. After observing this for a time, Jinn realized that she was seeing this because she was now inside Tansy's mind shield.
Does that explain why I can also feel inside her body and see out of her eyes?
If so, the question was how had she gotten inside of Tansy's mind shield? Had Tansy relaxed during (shudder) sex, allowing her to slip inside? Had it happened when she was unconscious? Was it a sign that they were (double shudder) merging? That last thought made it more important than ever that she escape, and soon. But first, there were a few more things she needed to learn.
She had been carefully experimenting with duplicating Tansy's mind shield. Psi phenomena didn't really follow normal three-dimensional space, but it was easier for her to think of things that way. If Tansy's mind shield was a flat pane of frosted glass, then she could form a "blister" on the inside. Tansy, looking out, wouldn't feel or see her unless she looked super close. And someone on the outside, looking in, would have to get through Tansy's shield and then her shield to spot her. She was creating her shield by feel, as much as anything else. It was a sort of static fuzz that was constantly in motion. A buzzing at the edge of her mind. She knew that Tansy was experienced enough to maintain it, even while she slept. That wouldn't be a problem for Jinn, of course, but she was a long way from maintaining it automatically. It was all she could do right now to generate it at all, and it kept fading away again.
The third thing she was learning was a subtlety to hypnotism that she hadn't previously understood. Her proximity to Tansy's thoughts were giving her occasional peeks at how Tansy perceived the world, and how she could manipulate it. After leaving (shudder) Sebastiano's room, she had immediately looked up Cavalier, and was busy chatting him up in her most flirtatious way. The thought of anything flirtatious made Jinn's skin crawl, but she tried to keep that hidden so that the emotion couldn't leak out.
"You really are a Cavalier! So noble and loyal." Tansy was stroking his arm, as she looked deep into his eyes.
Jinn realized that this was one thing she really missed with her spirit-vision. There was an particular communication, when eye stared into eye, that she missed entirely. Of course, remembering Melodious Silvertongue, there were also advantages to not seeing "eye to eye."
There was the faintest trace of a hum. No, not a hum, more of a special pattern. It was coming from Tansy, as she projected it into Cavalier. It seemed half familiar – and all at once Jinn thought she recognized the alpha wave pattern of brain waves. It was hard to tell, since the waveform was more complex than a pure tone, but she thought that must be it. And she could get glimpses of feedback, too. A … feeling … from Cavalier's brain, and Tansy adjusted her frequency slightly up and down. She spoke and her voice droned on and suddenly there was a harmonic. Cavalier's brain echoed the same pattern back again, the two reinforcing each other like a chorus. At that moment, she felt a flash of triumph from Tansy.
"You know, Cavalier, Sebastiano values you so highly. You're the only one he can really trust. And he's afraid. Afraid he might forget some important detail. That would be terrible, wouldn't it? So the way you made the report today, remember that? He wants you to detail his regular life, so that he never loses any details. But you would never want to disturb him, writing these reports. You must do it in secret. Hide it so that he never sees, and is never disturbed. Write it in private. And then send it to this address, where it will be filed in case Sebastiano ever needs reminding of anything. Do you understand?"
"Let's go over the important details together. Don Sebastiano wants you to record all the details of his day."
"…Don Sebastiano wants me to record all the details of his day…"
"And he wants you to write them into a report, every night or two."
Again, Cavalier repeated the sentence. Jinn noticed the hum growing particularly resonant while he did so.
"You must never never let Don Sebastiano see you writing these reports. It would disturb him."
"You should memorize the email address on the slip. Send the reports there, where they'll be saved for Sebastiano."
"This is such a good idea. No one else suggested it, you thought of it yourself. You don't remember talking to anyone about this, do you?"
Cavalier echoed, "It's such a good idea. No one else suggested it, I thought of it myself. I don't remember talking to anyone about it."
"And we never had this conversation, did we?"
"No. We never had this conversation."
Tansy finished it off by deepening the pattern and then slowing it. There was no snapping of fingers, as Jinn had expected. Instead, Tansy waited patiently for Cavalier to come out of it on his own. When he did, he seemed slightly confused.
"I'm sorry, what were you saying?"
Tansy smiled, as she rose from her seat. "Nothing. It was just talking about how good Sebastiano has been to me, and how much I treasure my time with him."
"Of course you do."
By Saturday afternoon, Jade was ready to try the obvious. She used the gloves, first. Touching them, along with a speaker disk of course, she charged them. The familiar rush came, as the energy poured out of her. She wasn't really surprised, but it was a relief. After Jinn was taken she'd made Jann, so it only made sense that… I guess this would be Jeanie.
"Jade… I feel different."
"What is it, Jeanie?"
Tennyo looked up from a textbook. "Jeanie?"
"Well Jinn and Jann are gone. Jeanie's next."
"Uh huh," the gloves said. "Followed by Jasmine, Jewel, and Jayna, although I hope we never have to go that far."
"Too weird." The cyan-haired girl turned back to her book.
"So what's different?"
"I feel taller. And, uh, older, I think."
Jade had a hope. "Ooo! Come back. Let's see."
Once Jeanie was back in her head, she reached for her Shroud costume. It had some footprints on it, but it was otherwise okay. She cast Jeanie into it. The costume inflated, filled, stretched…
"It's not big enough."
Jade was impatient. Her TK body could really be almost any size she wanted, but only one size was right. She had a hope, and she was impatient. "Push! Do it!"
The Shroud costume overinflated, stretching taller and wider. Jade had a moment to notice that yesterday's attack had left more than footprints on her costume – it had left a large number of small holes and --
"Oops," Jeanie said. "I think I kind of outgrew it."
"I'm… big." Jade stared in wonder.
Tennyo finally gave up and rose out of her chair. "Hey! You're taller than I am! No fair. You're my little roommate. You must be at least five-foot-seven."
"No, I'm … big!" Jade was staring at her alternate self's chest.
"Oh, yeah." Tennyo tossed her the measuring tape. "Check it out. Let's get your sizes."
Jade measured while explaining. "It was part of my hypnotherapy. I wanted to see what I'd be like at seventeen. Hmm, thirty-three inch band, thirty-four and a half bust."
"That's either a large A or a small B, your choice."
"I'll take a small 'B'," Jade announced, giggling. "And let's see, twenty-three waist, thirty-five hips. Five foot seven tall."
"How are you even measuring her?"
Jeanie was wearing the shroud costume, but she'd grown four inches taller overnight. The costume had ripped in several spots – at her waist, left shoulder, right forearm, left thigh, and right ankle. The gaps were empty space, with nothing inside.
"There's enough fabric around her waist that I can still measure."
"You know," Tennyo said, "those rips aren't too bad looking. Sort of a rip, maybe a black flame effect. What do you think?"
Jade dove for her closet. "I think I've got the first costume left over from last Monday or Tuesday…" She pulled it out in triumph, and then immediately cut into it, at the elbows, knees, and waist. "Okay, come on back."
Jeanie stepped over the bed and folded herself back up, then Jade zapped her into the new costume. By the time the other girls knocked on their door, Jade and Tennyo were both cutting artistic flame/rips in Jeanie's top. Of course, they were doing this while the girl wore her costume. So not only was there an invisible patch where her torso was, but the two roommates were reaching inside her and using scissors to trim away at the plane of her skin.
"What the HELL are you doing?" Ayla hollered. "That's the sickest thing I ever saw!"
"Hi, Ayla!" the three roommates called.
"Jann, when did you get so tall?"
"That's Jeanie," Tennyo corrected.
"Right. Why do I even bother?"
She'd just collapsed by the time Toni and Nikki arrived. Jade added the talcum powder and re-charged her. The resultant girl was easily the tallest in the group. Her face was much more mature than Jade's, although the resemblance was plain. Her long limbs and curvy form were all that Jade had ever dreamed of.
"Oh my God!" Jade looked at herself and was in heaven!
Nikki, on the other hand, gave a quick glance at the exposed navel above the low-cut ragged-flame beltline, then her eyes moved up to the skimpy top, which was straining and on the verge of ripping each time Jeanie took a breath.
"Well, you certainly look… healthy."
For dinner, they picked an out-of-the-way corner in the very back. After the violence at breakfast, everyone was eager to give them space.
"I've been thinking it over," Toni said, "and we were pathetic."
"Bull!" Ayla shot back. "We kicked their butts!"
"Yeah, but we took way too long. And we took some hard shots on the way there. I'm thinking that we've got a lot of weaknesses, and this is our first real incentive to look at them."
Jade was well aware of her weaknesses. As the physically weakest, smallest, and most powerless member of the team, she was very aware of her weaknesses. "I'm willing to listen. What are your suggestions, sensei?"
"Okay, we'll start with you. You had that plan for looking like a gadgeteer. Did it work?"
Jade cocked her head and thought. "Yeah, I guess. I tried to go for my gun twice. Each time I got close, either Skybolt zapped off a lightning bolt or else Cavalier zipped in and kicked it even farther away. But they pretty much left me alone."
"How about your Aikido? Why didn't you use that?"
"Against Cavalier? He had a SWORD! Besides, I did use it. I don't know if anyone was watching, but I did a perfect roll after he hit me. Came up on my feet, too. I just… couldn't do anything else."
"Uh huh. In other words, the gadgeteer approached worked perfectly, you just don't have enough options yet. I figure, keep the Aikido for the close stuff, but without a few decades more work, you're not going to be facing down Cavaliers. We aren't all Ito sensei. So you need some more gimmicks. For the first part of that, you need to start talking to Bugs."
"Bugs?" Hank asked, with skepticism.
"You know, Bunny Cormick? Blonde girl, sounds like an airhead, rooms with Riptide, and has an IQ score you wouldn't believe. Fey's little snuggle partner?" Hank's face clouded briefly when he heard this last part. "She's a gadgeteer. She goes nuts over special effects. She'd absolutely love to rig you up some flashing lights and stuff."
"Okay," Jade was willing to pursue the idea if sensei suggested it, but it didn't sound like it was going to turn her into a powerhouse anytime soon.
"For the second half – well, I think you should keep pursuing the gadgeteer angle. It throws 'em off the track, and has a bunch of advantages like you've already figured out. But you need more backup. Extra protection, maybe a little extra punch here and there. Most of the time, something to cover your back when you're using the gun."
Toni grinned. "Got an extra glove?"
Jade pulled out a pair. She always had gloves handy.
"Well, we know Jinn is still around, and that didn't stop you from calling up Jann, did it? And after Jinn and Jann were both captured, you called up Jeanie."
"She's studying right now…" Jade's voice trailed off as she finally got it. She looked at the gloves and charged them.
A wave of fatigue hit her. For a moment she wanted to fall forward into her salad. "Wow. I'm exhausted." And she stared, they all stared, at the gloves hovering over the table.
The right hand formed into a "thumbs up" and the speaker disk quietly said, "Call me Jasmine." She floated back to Jade and tucked herself back into the pocket, then vanished.
All at once, Jade's fatigue seemed to lift. "Whoa. I'm okay again! It was really draining, but once she came back…"
Fey looked at her and wondered, "Just how many can you create?"
Jade started to grin. "Time to experiment. I think I'll wait 'till I get back to the room, though."
Toni finished up, triumphantly. "Now imagine that you've got your gun, but at the same time you've activated a dozen 'gadgets'. Shields and swords and stuff that are 'automatically' controlled by 'magnetic' beams. The hover right around you, protecting you, and providing extra offense and defense. But still part of the whole gadgeteer image."
Jade smiled, nodding. "I'd thought of that. But it was so much cooler being Shroud."
"Why not both? And by the way, Shroud needs more oomph, too. There ought to be plenty she can do. I mean, the weights were a nice start, but you need more than punches and kicks."
"Sand." They all turned and looked at Sara, who was staring at her pot plant with a look of utter concentration on her face.
"What?" Toni asked.
"Or small items," Sara added, "stuff that can be hidden under the cloak. Spit sand in their faces, hit them with concealed weapons from under your cloak. Why only use one hand when you could have thousands?"
"Yeah. Anyway, we'll brainstorm."
Hank nodded thoughtfully. "Good. One down, two if you count Shroud, although we didn't give any solid suggestions yet. Who's next?"
Jade shoved her hand in the air. "I know! Toni!"
"Okay, so you're like the martial arts expert. And you really are, too. But what's your biggest weakness?"
"Hmmm, power of attack against a brick? Too vulnerable against someone like Cavalier, with his sword? Can't reach the flyers, like Skybolt?"
Jade shook her head sadly. "Toni, Toni, Toni, Toni. You aren't watching enough martial arts movies! Shuriken, throwing knives, little needle darts. I've watched you reshelve books from across the room. Tell me you can't throw a pin through a crucial part of Skybolt's harness, even when she's flying thirty feet away."
Toni was stuck dumb for a moment. "Well damn."
"And for real distance and power, what's better than a Zen archer? What you mostly need is some tricky was to stash the bow and quiver when you aren't using them. And for close power, the sword is mighty handy. Classic martial arts, it should be perfect for you. Has some nice blocks, too, although a staff or bo stick might do better. A little on the lethal side, but a true master should be able to control that. Your one big problem is finding a way to stash all the weapons. And there's got to be some trick at Whateley that will let you handle that."
Toni had a wide-eyed look. She stared at her fork, then at someone walking by. "Hell, almost anything. I'll bet I could throw this fork to pin his shirt to the wall."
"Now you're thinking."
"And playing cards! I saw this movie once… I wonder if I could do that?"
Jade rubbed her hands together and chortled. "I got one on sensei!"
Hank smiled. "Think about this when we get the bad news Monday morning. We made mistakes. We'll learn from them. And next time – things will be a LOT different. Now, who's next?"
They moved on to discuss Hank. His points were minor, and not quickly addressed. He needed to work on defenses against mental attacks, he needed better speed and control of his flight, and his form could use some touching up. Only Sara had a suggestion, "Guns. Great big fucking guns. You've got strength to burn and the whole soldier thing, you can carry a lot of ammo. And if it explodes, you're invulnerable, so you won't get hurt."
Hank glared, "I don't want to become just another gun emplacement, thank you."
Toni didn't sound so sure, "You, all of us, need to work on holdouts or backup. For those weird cases when our powers fail. It's going to happen – I've heard too many stories. Some kids have the power to stop you cold. They're rare, but we need to think about it."
Everyone was getting into it now. "What about me?" Nikki asked.
Toni stroked her cheek and thought. "You're really more of a cannon. Maybe a mortar. Really powerful, but best when you've got some distance from your target, not so good close up. I know you've got some tutors to help on that, but…"
"What about body armor?" Hank asked.
Fey looked at him sourly. "Daddy's outfit has armor!"
"That outfit wasn't designed for fighting, it was designed for –" With a sudden halt, he visibly swallowed whatever he'd been about to say. "No, wait, I'm getting an image. I admit, at first I was thinking of some sort of SWAT team flak jacket, like security wears. But imagine some sort of silvery armor, made for your figure, with intricate elven craftsmanship. I can just see some elven princess in her plate mail. Of course, a lightweight sword or rapier would fit the image too, if you had the skill."
Nikki nodded. "Maybe. I can almost picture it. The way you describe it seems… not unacceptable. But I can't believe it would help much. I mean, Daddy's suit was pretty nice."
"Too nice," Hank muttered under his breath.
"So maybe I didn't take any punches or anything, but believe me, it was pretty good. And besides, how often are we going to have enough warning to get all decked out ahead of time?"
"Gee," Hank said with a cheesy smile, "it's a shame you don't have some way to make it just vanish and then reappear when you need it. All that powerful magic, and you can't do that. Still, it's bound to be a really complicated spell. It's probably too much for you."
Fey glared at him. "You think you're really clever, but you're not."
Everyone else discovered that elven faces could be extremely good at glaring.
Sara had pulled a pen from her bag and was scribbling notes.
"How about me?" Ayla asked.
"Well," again Toni considered. "Obviously you need some work on formalized hand-to-hand."
Ayla snorted. "Figures you would concentrate on that part."
"I know, you've got classes like everyone else. But I'd say your biggest problem is speed. Your intangible form can reach flyers and probably disrupt them, but only if you catch them. Likewise, your super-dense form can go toe-to-toe with most anyone, if you can get them to come after you. The biggest issue is, how do we get you to there?"
"Rocket pack?" Jade suggested. "No, wait, rocket shoes! See, she goes super light, then the shoes could push her super-fast."
"I don't know…"
And then Hank came up with the simple answer. "I throw her."
"It solves my problem of a distance weapon, too. Phase runs up to me, makes herself a little tougher, and picks a target. Then I throw her as hard as I can, straight at the target."
Ayla's eyes glittered. "Yeah! I phase through them on the way out, disrupting them if I can. Then I loop back and grab on, turn solid, and start pounding."
Fey snorted. "Yeah, Hank used the same trick with me, back during the ninja attack. Watch out for him, Ayla. Especially when he's 'getting a grip' on you."
Hank was momentarily in a panic, looking rapidly between Ayla and Nikki. "But that was just –" to Ayla "– I mean, I wouldn't, not with you –" back to Nikki "how much self-control do you expect –" until his brain caught up with his mouth and he buried his head in his arms. "Oh, shit."
Nikki and Ayla both stared at him with looks that promised future retribution.
"So what about me?" Tennyo asked, as her eyes glittered in amusement. "Any suggestions for me to become more powerful?"
Toni groaned. "Look, you're the one person who needs to become less powerful."
Tennyo shrugged. "Hey, more power is better, right?"
Toni shook her head. "Most of the fights we get into will be non-lethal. If someone dies, it will be a disaster for all of us. You need some techniques that are weak enough to take someone down without killing him."
Jade added, "Although I almost bust a gut when you got Damper at the end. Have you seen him? He was at dinner, and he's still walking bowlegged!"
Toni shot the younger girl a scowl. "You're not helping here."
"Look," the black girl said, "you've got plenty of power. But unless we're fighting Galactus, we need something more controlled. Heck, with the amount of energy you put off, you ought to be able to clean up a crew like that in a couple of minutes, and do it with enough precision that all of them are taken alive."
"Yeah, I guess." She mumbled something which sounded suspiciously like, "Let God sort 'em out."
Sara's head shot up from her notes, looking with such intensity at Tennyo that the larger girl leant back in surprise.
"Why were you wrestling with that big guy while Ayla was taking on the flier?" Sara asked.
Tennyo scratched her head, "Well…"
"No matter how fast or strong he was, Ayla's practically invulnerable. You could have slapped the flyer down in under a minute, and eaten him for seconds if you hadn't decided to get into a pissing contest."
"WHAT!?!" Jade grabbed Tennyo's arm before she could stand, "Do you expect me to swallow that when you weren't even there, you stuck up…"
"Yes." Sara stated firmly. "Control, Tennyo, control. We were very lucky that Fey isn't in hospital right now, would you want that on your conscience? I've got enough on my own right now. NO, I wasn't there and I should have been. Yes, I have my own problems. Hank was right, if I had been there I could have blocked the mind assault, or could I? I've never had the opportunity to try. As the team is now, a moderately skilled Telepath could cripple us, and from what I hear Don Sebastiano is no moderate psychic. You think he'll stand by when his team gets slapped down next time? Don't bet your ass on it, 'cause you'll be slipping off chairs for the rest of your life."
Tennyo sat back down, not quite so sure of herself.
Toni made a show of dusting her hands off and returning with some glee to her food. "Come on, now. No infighting. We've got plenty of work for everyone, but if we can make progress, real progress, then the next fight we get into will be a lot different."
"You know," Ayla said thoughtfully, "a lot of what you're talking about is special clothing or gear or whatever. But it won't do any good unless you get used to living this way, full time. I mean, 24-7."
"What do you mean?" Jade asked.
"Well, look at you. There you are, wearing that Barbie t-shirt and pink skirt. What were you wearing this morning?"
"My devisor outfit."
"Right. And we got slammed today, because we were all 'premeditated'. So if the only time you wear your devisor outfit is when you're spoiling for a fight, it's going to be a lot easier for them to tag us with another premeditated charge. Same for you, Hank. Either dump the camouflage, which would be a damn shame, or wear it more often. Remember Skybolt, with her power harness thing? Hell, she was expecting to go to a picnic! But she had it on. We've got to be like that. Mix it up, wear our battle gear to class a bit. And make sure that wherever, whenever, we are completely ready for a fight. That way, next time we start one, we can say, 'But this is what I always wear.' "
"Communications too," Sara added, "I was caught with my pants down, figuratively speaking. If you'd given me a call, I might even have been able to make a flank attack before Bluejay showed up. They may also decide to take us out one by one after we separate between classes, we have GOT to be prepared."
Hank was nodding silently, the look on his face mirrored Sara's, but was more disturbed.
"What's the matter, Hank?" Fey asked.
"Yeah," Tennyo followed up. "You look, I don't know, kind of upset."
He grabbed his head in frustration. "Don't you see? Doesn't anyone get it?"
"Wha?" Toni asked around a mouthful of food.
"Tactics! That's all we're talking about here. Just tactics. We haven't even touched the big issues. Strategy, intelligence, the mission itself."
Sara was nodding vigorously, making more notes.
"What are you talking about?" Fey was scowling in confusion.
"Look," he seemed particularly earnest. "I grew up on a bunch of different army bases. A lot of the stuff just seeps into you, you know? And for most of the grunts, the stuff we're talking about is perfect. Refining the tactics is what soldiers work on."
Everyone nodded. The overall impression was, "What's your point?"
"There's more to the situation, more to real combat, than just a bunch of enlisted! You've got officers. You have strategy. You have maps and plans, and a higher level goal."
"Yeah? We had all that," Toni said. "Admittedly, in retrospect our plan was kind of stupid. We'll fix that next time."
Sara was scowling slightly.
"No we WON'T. Not if we do it this way! Look Toni, you're pretty good at tactics. Hell, the plan against Montana was brilliant. Be we have to approach a real fight from a completely different perspective. We start with the goal. Let me use yesterday as an example. We start with the goal: rescue Jinn. It we're thinking this through, from a strategic perspective, we do not jump directly into a confrontation. Particularly since we knew that she was doing okay, and could hold out for a while.
"Step two is intelligence. We gather as much as we can about the target. About everything else that we can think of. Avatars. The layout of Dickinson Cottage. Walcutt, her powers, friends, allies, foes. Maybe we look up the Alphas, since they came to her defense. Find out the same sort of stuff about them. THEN, and only then, do we sit down and craft strategies. Do we use force to influence Walcutt? Diplomacy? Bribes or favors? Is there some other approach? Do we ambush her? When and where? Do we try to hide our identities? It all revolves around accomplishing our main goal, and minimizing the cost to ourselves."
He waved at Sara, having completely forgotten his earlier anger at her. "Maybe she could have helped block the mind attack I got hit with, but it might have only helped if we'd known in advance about that Alpha mind-zapper. And Sara wanted to switch up Tennyo's targets. That only works if we have a chance to plan ahead of time, who we're going to hit and what their strengths and weaknesses are."
Jade still didn't quite get it. "But how do we even find that stuff out? You just said 'learn about Walcutt, her powers, and all her allies' powers.' How are we supposed to do that?"
"We could start by asking. I'll bet the Betas would help us. She's got to have some unhappy enemies that would talk to us."
"Anyone doing modeling," Fey offered.
"The library," Sara added, "cross reference what we know with hero's past battles and look at tactics that have worked in the past to counter similar threats. Search for anything we can exploit."
"Exactly!" Hank agreed. "And beyond that, we have our own ways of gathering intelligence."
Everyone looked at him in anticipation.
"Well, first there's Fey. I'll bet if you pushed it, you could learn all sorts of useful things with your powers. Sara, you can read minds, find out their darkest secrets and fears. Ayla – you're pretty well off, aren't you?"
"Ever considered using some of that money to build yourself a network? People talking to other people, all funneling in to you? It would cost a bit, but probably not all that much, if you're really rich. And I'll bet there are contacts at Poe we could use. And lastly, we have a unique method – beyond Fey, who's pretty damned unique already."
He looked at Jade. "How small can Jinn make herself? How tiny can she get, while still being completely hidden inside an object?"
Jade suddenly understood. "About the size of a grain of sand."
"And she can still move, and see, and hear perfectly, can't she?"
"You couldn't ask for a better spy."
Hank's gaze swept over the table. "Look, we have some weaknesses. I hate to admit it, but we need a Telepath on this team." He stood and reached over the table, offering his hand to Sara, "Sorry I was a bit of a jerk back there. Friends?"
Sara took his hand without hesitation, "We never stopped."
Jade noticed that Fey's eyes had hardened slightly for a moment, but then the look was gone.
"I'm hoping we can shore things up through magic," Hank continued, "but that puts a lot of burden on you, Fey. Among all your other tasks, you'll need to investigate magics to spy on people, and counter-techniques to prevent them from spying on us."
He slapped his forehead. "Now that I think of it, they might already be spying on us! Weakness number two: electronics. You mentioned this 'Bugs' girl, Toni. Think she can help us to start sweeping our rooms for electronic bugs?"
Toni shrugged. "Dunno. I'll ask. Or better, why don't you ask her, Nikki?"
The faerie girl had the decency to blush.
"If we're going to be a real team, we need to start thinking about this professionally. We made a lot of enemies in the Alphas. We probably made a lot of friends, by fighting the Alphas. Let's start the intelligence process both ways – learning about them, and hiding details about ourselves, or better, providing false information."
He seemed struck by a sudden thought. "Jade, you should start by not revealing that you can create more than one of Jinn. Practice plenty, but do it in a way that doesn't reveal things to outsiders."
Ayla sighed. "This has suddenly gotten a lot more complicated."
Back in her room, Tansy opened up her laptop and dialed in to an anonymous email account. Jinn was gleeful. She could see through Tansy's eyes! She could actually read the screen! Even better, she took note of the password that Tansy typed in. She couldn't get the whole thing, but she got the got the first part: "Sex" followed by right-hand (one letter), left, right, left (five letters). She hoped she might guess the rest.
It was interesting to note that her reading speed was much faster than her host's. She read Cavalier's synopsis and tactical analysis of the fight. He had some interesting points, particularly regarding Tennyo:
"In my opinion, she never actually hit her limit. She was holding back the entire time. This makes her upper power levels difficult to gauge. She poses a significant threat. Fortunately, her self control is weak. She is often controlled by her emotions. This opens the door to a variety of tactics, such as drawing her off with a fast and agile opponent, so that her strength is wasted on a 'wild goose chase', rather than in the combat itself."
Of Fey he said:
"Astonishingly powerful for an untrained, freshman wizard. With more skill and training, she could pose an extreme threat. Her magic appears to be broad-based and not at all limited by power or energy concerns, as with many other wizards. Fortunately she remains vulnerable to close combat."
He dismissed Toni as a conventional martial artist, "Extremely well trained, has learned several special techniques, but otherwise ordinary," Jade as a "beginning gadgeteer, not a serious threat yet," and Ayla as a "versatile density manipulator, but rough on combat skills." Jann was listed as, "unknown, good punch, no assessment yet." And lastly, Hank was listed as:
"Extreme threat. Strong, invulnerable, flies. Reasonably good tactical intelligence. May be unstoppable without special measures. Vulnerable to Damper. Telepathic attacks may succeed. Gas or poison?"
She went on to read about the security investigation and Mindbird's probe of Tansy. She read how the team had been charged with assault without cause, and how they would receive their punishment Monday morning.
When Tansy finished, she leaned back in her chair and laughed.
Jinn had a very different reaction.
Back in Ayla's room (freshly checked for bugs and other eavesdroppers), Toni brought up the topic they hadn't wanted to face.
"Okay, Crew," Toni addressed her friends, "we have to start thinking about Monday morning. I've been thinking about this a lot, and the first thing that we have to remember when we go into this is: WE are NOT the bad guys. If we go in there like we got caught with our hands in the cookie jar, then we are dead meat. We blew it when security came. I gotta admit, that Walcutt bitch handled that like a pro. But then again, she probably has a lot of experience with that kind of thing." Toni realized something and looked at Ayla. "Ayla, you say that your family has been dealing with this crap for generations- so, private school bureaucrat, who apparently has it in for one of our crew, and according to Tennyo, is a Grade-A bitch; how would your father deal with her?"
Ayla leaned back and screwed up her face. "Well, every bureaucrat that I've ever heard of, academic or otherwise, was scared for her job. Since threatening her with the Goodkinds would be cutting our own throats, and none of the rest of you have families with real name recognition value, we can't use family influence. So we'll have to go with suggesting favoritism, incompetence, corruption, cowardice, or some combination of those."
Toni chewed on that for a bit. "Corruption is overplaying it, I think. After all, we're school kids, what can any of us offer an administrator?"
Billie perked up. "When I first met her, I noticed that Hartford was wearing that 'Alpha' pin that you see the Alpha bitches and some of the guys wearing. If she was a Whateley student, wanna bet that she was an Alpha when she was here?"
Toni gave a feline grin. "Bingo. We lead off by insisting that an investigation as to the disappearances of Jinn and Jann- who ARE registered as students- hasn't been begun. Then we hit her with the 'Are you cowardly or just incompetent?' charge."
"Only Jinn is officially registered," Jade corrected. "I never filed on Jann. But I did mention the 'murder' to security, back when I was getting my gun. And remember, we want to keep Jann, and Jeanie, and any other spirits a secret."
"I don't know why WE are the ones being called on the rug," Nikki grumped, "WE didn't start the fight, the Alphas did. We confronted Walcutt, but the Alphas were the ones who started getting violent."
"Good Point, Fey!" Toni nodded, "We still open with 'where are Jinn and Jann?' – okay, maybe 'where's Jinn?' – but if Hartford still keeps harping on us supposedly starting the fight, then we retaliate by confirming that we confronted, not attacked Tansy. We call as many witnesses as we can, until we-"
"I don't think that there's gonna be any witnesses," Hank grumbled, "Odds are, Hartford's just gonna call us into her office, yell at us and throw the book at us."
"Hartford doesn't have an office, just a nook in the open general office." Tennyo told them. "I think that she doesn't like that very much."
"Better and better. We go into the office and beat her to the punch, by loudly asking WHY nothing's being done about Jinn's disappearance."
"Whatever you do, Toni, don't yell." Ayla told her, "Yelling at a teacher or an administrator is an automatic charge of 'disrespect'. Whether it's a real charge or not, it's something that Hartford can beat us over the head with."
"Okay, then I'm gonna havta do most of the talking," the black girl insisted.
"Hell, you'd do that anyway," Tennyo grumped.
"Because, I can pitch my voice to be very clear and carrying, without actually raising my voice." Toni suddenly raised one eyebrow. "Come to think of it, that's not ALL that I can do with my voice."
"You're not gonna break the windows, are you?" Nikki asked worriedly.
"Not to worry, girlfrien', just gonna do a li'l voodoo." Toni grinned. "When we go in, I want Ayla by my side. Ayles, I want you to back me up. I do outraged PC, you do rules, regs, and consequences that could severely impact on Hartford's career. Guys, Ayla and I switch off; if Hartford tries to drag you into the debate, you hand off to one of us. Nikki, I want you flanking me, about a step to the rear; Hank, you flank Ayla, same way. Fey, if you can, put that Glamour that's always causing you so much trouble to work- intimidate the bitch with it. Hank, put on your best 'solider of honor' face." Hank nodded and gave her a thumbs-up. "Billie, Jade, I want you two to be the last to come in, the first to leave, and stick behind the rest of us as much as you can. We don't want Hartford focusing on either of you. We don't want her trying to stick a 'dangerous' tag on Billie again, and Jade, you DID shoot someone, so you're the most vulnerable target."
"Does it help that it was a non-lethal weapon?"
"Yeah, and we'll hammer on that as much as we can, IF the gun becomes an issue! But if it doesn't, we avoid the whole gun thing, right?"
Ayla looked thoughtful. "The real problem is, our defense relies purely on Jade's accusation that Tansy 'kidnapped' her 'sister'. How do we prove that Jinn didn't just change her name to Jann? Because she never stopped going to class!"
"But she DID!" Jade wailed.
"And I believe you, Sweetie! But try and prove that to Hartford. No, our best bet is to try and get a Change of Venue."
" 'Change of venue'?"
"Get someone besides Hartford to handle the matter. If she's wearing her 'Alpha' pin, maybe we can make an issue of her *ahem!* 'notorious preferential treatment of the Alphas', and maybe hassle the other people in the office to get someone else to take over."
"Does she really give the Alphas preferential treatment?"
Ayla shrugged. "I dunno. But either way, it's gotta be something that she's vulnerable to. Open bias for or against one group is career suicide for an Administrator. If she does favor the Alphas, then she's probably very careful to keep it under wraps. Tennyo, what was Hartford's general tack when you spoke with her?"
"What approach did she use? Was she carefully neutral, openly hostile, dismissive, inquiring, sarcastic, what?"
"Oh, she was blatantly hostile to everyone and everything," Tennyo recalled.
"Did you get the impression that she was having a bad day, or did it seem like that's the way she normally is?"
"Well, from what I heard, she pretty much has a bug the size of a Volkswagen up her ass, 24-7."
"Okay, so she's used to being the aggressor, and putting everyone else on the defensive. So, we go on the offensive and stay there. Don't give up just because she doesn't fold after the first volley, and don't cave in, no matter what she says. With that attitude, she probably isn't that used to people standing up to her. I say, make it an all or nothing gamble- Either she lets us skip, or we get thrown out. But an expulsion would require a meeting of the board, and we can call witnesses, have telepaths scan our minds for lies and everything else that we can come up with. Hartford would never put her precious Alphas in a position where they'd get the boot. After all, if us attacking them is an expulsion charge, then THEM attacking US is too!"
Hank sighed and said, "Nope, nope, it doesn't work."
"Hunh?" Ayla all but hooted.
"We can't make a big deal of getting out of detention, or Kay-Pee, or whatever they have around here. Justified or not, we gotta accept the consequences of our actions, or we won't get any respect from anybody worth bein' respected by. We got in a fight, so we gotta pay the price. There is nothin' that says that we gotta put up with more'n a week or so of it, but if we get off scot-free, it'll be more trouble in the long run than it's worth.
"Look, the Alphas never take any punishment, and how do people see them? Remember the Cooker King? That's us. We accept responsibility and we take their punishment and we don't even blink, because we're so damn tough we can take whatever they dish out!"
Jinn pondered her self-hypnotic message. It hadn't worked before, but she'd learned a bit since then. So she repeated her last message:
That damn ghost girl needs to be taught a lesson. You know what hurts spirits? Letting them free, for just an instant. Spirits need to be safe and protected, in a host. It hurts them to be out of the host. That would really show her, if I let her go for just a minute. She'd be begging me to take her back. A taste of the cold, cruel world would scare her to death. Then she'd do whatever I want.
But this time, she took the brainwaves of REM sleep and tried to beam them back at Tansy, while she delivered the message. At one point, she managed to achieve the harmonic effect that Tansy had shown with Cavalier. And sure enough, she heard the thoughts picked up and echoed by Tansy's mind.
Once REM sleep was past, Tansy moved into a deeper sleep. Suddenly intrigued by a new idea, Jinn tried echoing that, too. Could she force Tansy to fall asleep? She beamed the 'deep sleep' pattern back into Tansy's brain, but there was no effect.
Rising, the moved to her desk and unscrewed the bottle of sleeping pills. She popped two, then got gently dressed and grabbed her coat and a pair of sunglasses. She slipped out and headed for the window in the common room. Slipping quickly into TK mode, she floated to the ground and made her way down the walk toward Kane hall – where she (as Jann) recalled seeing the security facility when Jade had picked up her gun.
As she got there, she spotted a small patch of a familiar three-leaved plant. She knew from her work that they deliberately left patches of poison ivy here and there around the campus. As Morrie said, "It looks nice, it's evergreen, and encourages students not to mess with the plantings." There seemed to be a nice amount of it around Kane Hall. Perhaps a message not to fool around outside the security building?
Unsurprisingly, the exterior door was unlocked. She was surprised to see a person manning the glassed-in reception booth.
"Name and business?" The man asked.
"Tansy Walcutt," Jinn lied. "I – I'm concerned about the fight that happened this morning. I want to talk to someone in charge."
"That would be Lieutenant Reynolds. Hold on a bit. I'll see if he's available."
She waited in the front room, fiddling with her sunglasses, for about ten minutes. Finally, "Lieutenant Reynolds can see you now."
Jinn followed an escort in to another glassed-in office, a little farther down than Lieutenant Forsyth's office. Reynolds sat behind his desk and didn't rise to greet her.
"It's past curfew. You shouldn't even be out right now."
"I couldn't sleep. I had to get this taken care of."
He leaned forward. The tinge of his emotions was mild curiosity, but his vocal tones were hostile. "What exactly was important enough to make you break curfew, sneak out after lights out, and make your way into security?"
"I'm worried about those girls that attacked me this morning."
Reynolds leaned back in his chair. "Worried, how?"
"Well, they may have had some cause. And, now that you're going to throw the book at them, there's nothing to stop them from coming after me until I give them what they want."
His interest was definitely piqued now. "And what exactly do they want? Why do you say they had 'some cause'?"
She pretended to wrestle with a moral dilemma. She hoped she wasn't overacting, but she didn't have a lot of experience with this sort of thing. "I'm not going to incriminate myself."
"Miss Walcutt, we're campus security, not police. In any case, Whateley has always applied its own unique spin on the normal legal system. Now, why were they after you?"
"Well, you know that whole thing about draining that girl's sister? It's kind of true. I managed to get the other one at the fight – that's why all you found was an empty costume."
"Uh huh. So why didn't Mindbird find this when she scanned you?"
"Puh-leze," Jinn said, "I am a telepath. Probably a better one than she is." It sounded like a good explanation to her.
"And what do you get out of this?"
"Well, I'm an avatar. I never really told them that during my assessment tests. And so long as I hold onto the ghost-girl – that's what I call her – I get these cool telekinesis powers." She switched from possession to TK and rose a few feet in the air, before lowering back down again and returning to possession.
"Jim Dandy. Let me just make a few notes here. Okay. So, why did you feel compelled to visit security at this time, and give us this story?"
"Well, I wouldn't sleep right if I thought those girls were after me. So I want to drop the charges."
Lieutenant Reynolds steepled his fingers and stared at her. "I already told you: we're not a police force. We don't have crimes and charges. There aren't any charges to drop."
"Well, would it reduce their punishment if I asked you to be lenient on them? Or even to let them go completely?"
"Hmmm, perhaps. Would you be willing to go on camera to ask for leniency?"
"I'll try. Can we keep the light dark, so that I don't lose my night vision?" There was no way she could wear her sunglasses on camera. And if she opened her eyes, Tansy would wake up. But if the lights were down…
It was a job of juggling. Her words were a little stilted, but that was because she was busy "humming" the mental pattern for deep sleep. It's possible to sleep with your eyes open, particularly in dim light. That night, Tansy did exactly that. And Jinn got her on tape, confessing to the "kidnapping", inciting Team Kimba, and triggering the whole event.
She was surprised that Reynolds seemed so accepting of her story, but as they continued he seemed to get more and more gleeful. So gleeful, in fact, that he let her go after she taped her statement. He took fingerprints and retina prints (she had to hum extra long for that one) to confirm her identity, then let her walk back to the cottage. He didn't even offer an escort.
Jinn finished the letter. THIS time, she'd mail it directly to Tennyo. Tennyo checked her mailbox every day, so they'd find out quick enough. She would have called, but… she looked at the snipped phone cord in mild regret. Future note: finish communications first, THEN start the mischief. Still, they were probably asleep, and they'd get the letter tomorrow morning. They'd know that she was fine and that Tansy had confessed.
She hadn't mentioned anything in the letter that had happened before midnight. She'd decided that she'd woken at midnight. A nice spooky hour. That would be the official story. And for the important stuff, particularly about Champion, she wouldn't chance that to a letter that might get intercepted. She had to tell someone, but it had to be someone she could trust. Otherwise, the avatars really would come for her, and she was certain she'd vanish forever.
She (as Jinn) was invulnerable to physical weapons, but the last week had proven that she was very vulnerable in some ways. Still, Tansy wasn't going to be the toughest foe she faced. So she considered her next move. So far, Tansy's main strength had been her money. She might not be able to counter that completely, but she could halt it temporarily. But how? She didn't want to just steal.
First she took her wallet. Tansy's wallet. Possession was aptly named in many ways. She took the first card, a VISA platinum, and examined it. That's when she got the idea. Dang, and after she'd cut the phone lines.
That's when she remembered Tansy's cell phone. She carefully dialed the number on the back of the card.
"Yeah, I was wondering if it was possible to cancel my card?"
"Why? Were they lost or stolen?"
"Oh, ah, lost. I loaned them to a friend, and he lost it. So I want to cancel it."
"Alright. We'll put a block on it. We'll mail a new card out right away. It should reach you in three to four days."
She repeated this for every card in Tansy's wallet. For good measure, she then cut the cards into little pieces, and dumped the pieces in the trash can. Then she removed all the money. She didn't want to steal it, but instead, she taped it to the inside top of Tansy's desk drawer. To find it, Tansy would have to pull the drawer out all the way, and then reach her hand in to the back. It wasn't stolen, since it was still (technically) in Tansy's possession. It's just that Tansy couldn't use it.
The last thing she needed was a way to make a big splash, announcing the return of her haunting.
She opened the handcuff, then hid the key (jammed under a bed slat where she could reach it but Tansy wouldn't find it). If they tried to use it, it would be more trouble for Tansy than it would be for her.
She spent another hour in the room, engaged in quiet mischief. She was careful to monitor Sahar's aura, so that the other girl never woke. Then, heading downstairs again, she raided the medicine cabinet. Hmmm, that looks promising. I wonder why a bunch of healthy teenagers need such a large supply? Oh well. Waste not, want not.
Now, time to take that last step? She debated with herself for a while, but decided that Tansy had really gone over the line when she absorbed Jann. So, she brought the scissors, shaving cream, and razor into the girls' bathroom, and proceeded to shave Tansy's head completely bald.
22: At last
Tansy shot out of bed, terrified by the deafening scream. Her eyes were still wide in shock as she glanced around the dark room.
"Two AM?" Sahar wasn't awake, so had she been the only one to hear the scream? Then she noticed all the plants in bed with her. "What the?"
It's called poison ivy, hag. Time for more haunting!
Still confused, barely awake, Tansy rolled out of bed. Was ghost-girl gone? "How long have you been back?"
Midnight, hag. I'm starting to like it here. I'm discovering such a talent for terror. My plan is to drive you into a sanitarium, where they put you when you try to take your own life.
The tone had became surprisingly malicious. Tansy had thought the naïve little ghost-girl was more of a victim, but this spirit was sounding disturbingly nasty. She scratched at an itch in her crotch and then at another in her armpit. Then she realized that she itched all over.
"God damn it! What were you doing, rolling in the stuff?"
Yep. I hope it doesn't cause too much trouble, they way I rubbed it up in our privates like that.
"You –! Hey, what do you mean 'OUR privates.' This is my body, ghost. You're just a bit of spirit that I have yet to digest."
Sahar rolled over and opened one eye, then both eyes popped open. "Oh, this is rich!" The dusky skinned girl remained in bed, but continued to watch her.
"What are you staring at?" She paused to itch at her crotch. The ghost-bitch had been serious!
"Did you know you've got little red spots all over your body?"
"Thanks, Einstein. Somebody gave me a bed full of poison ivy!"
"Wait – she's still with you?"
"Duh! What's the matter? Big telepathic brain not working so good this morning?"
"I can't really see her. Not like before. There's your mind, and maybe something else in there, but it's not obvious any more."
That's because we're merging. I'm taking you over. Damn, if I'm going to own this body, maybe I should treat it better. Good thing I didn't start any permanent self-mutilation yet.
They were like body blows to Tansy. "Merging? Self-mutilation? What do you mean about permanent?"
Sahar smirked at her. "And chrome-dome insults my intelligence!"
"What are you –" Tansy reached up to her head.
Between her screams and the shrieks, most of the floor got woken up. Which was a shame, since (for some reason), Tansy refused to come out and explain herself.
Sunday was a work day. It passed fairly quickly, despite the fact that they spent the day doing the regular maintenance cycle on the toilets in Shuster Hall. Jeanie got volunteered for all the nasty jobs (since she had no nose and no skin), although Morrie and Stan still called her Jinn.
Jade explained the whole deal, while Morrie and Stan gave advice. Well, it wasn't advice so much as "pot shots."
"Naw," Morrie said, "I'm just a janit– uh, plumber. I don't get into all this high and mighty posturing and stuff. If someone took something from me, I'd face 'em once and offer to bust their chops unless they gave it back. Threaten and then give some space. Maybe a fight, but lay out the rules and let them decide. And if that didn't work, I guess I'd figure out how valuable the stolen stuff was."
"And if it was really valuable?" Jade asked. "What then?"
"Well, like I said, I'm just a plumber. I'd scrape together enough cash, and hire a professional to make things right. I guess it's tougher for you, since you're sort of in training to BE that professional."
"But Walcutt's rich. If you hire somebody, couldn't she just make a better offer, or higher more professionals or something?"
Stan winced. "Rich? Ouch. That changes the whole game. You don't fight any millionaires in bars, and you especially don't threaten them with fists. Their idea of revenge isn't to hit you back, it's just to ruin you financially for the rest of your life."
Morrie nodded. "So you decide how much it matters to you. And if it's not important, you just walk away. No initial confrontation. If you can't walk away, you hire the professional and make sure the job gets done, whatever it takes."
Jade laughed. "You make it sound like you'd hire an assassin or something."
Morrie shrugged. "Hey, them rich guys got their own rules. If you're going to fight them, you have to decide what it's worth. And if you're going to go for it, you need to hit as hard as you can, before they figure out that there's anything to defense against. It's the only advantage ya got."
"My LAPTOP! What have you done with my laptop?"
I wanted to see how it worked. Don't sweat it. I put it back together again. Mostly. Actually, all she'd done was to disconnect the internal cables. She was sure any techie could fix it in about five minutes, most of that spent opening the case. But it was much nicer to leave Tansy in a panic.
"And what have you done with my cell phone, you slack-cunted, cum-dripping, freelance WHORE!"
Dang, what DID I do with that? Was that the thing I accidentally flushed? Or did I drop it in the garbage disposal? Oh, yeah, now I remember! I left it in the mailroom with a big sign saying, 'Tansy's phone. Let's find out how many free minutes I have!' I'm pretty sure the sign indicated that they should give it back – eventually. Actually, she'd pulled the battery. The phone was on top of the wardrobe, while the battery was buried in Tansy's dirty laundry.
"You bitch in heat! Destruction is too good for you. You're going to suffer like no one has ever suffered before!"
You could just use the regular phone.
"Someone cut the cord!"
Oh, right. Now I remember. I used the same nail clippers I used to cut back your nails. You should thank me. They were getting way too long.
Jade tentatively knocked on the door.
"Coming. Keep your shirt on."
The girl that opened the door wasn't quite Hispanic – she looked more native Mexican-Indian. She also has a strip of scarlet that ran right down the center of her hair.
"Hi, I'm Jade Sinclair –"
"Toni's friend, right? One of the Kimba crew, study corner and all? I think we already met a couple of times."
"Yeah." Jade blushed a bit. "Anyway, I'm really here to see your roommate. Is she in?"
As Jade stepped into the room, she was astounded by one side of it. While Riptide's side was pretty normal looking, the other side, with the pig-tailed blonde (who was reading a thick electronics manual) was positively filled with dozens of stuffed rabbits and glassy-looking eggs of every size from tiny (less than an inch tall) up to wastebasket size (it seemed to be occupying the wastebasket location, too). Jade felt her eyes growing large.
"Ohmigawd! That is SO cute!" She was reaching toward one stuffed bunny who was holding a paintbrush and in the process of painting an Easter egg.
"You like it?" The blonde's voice was exactly what you'd expect from a bimbo. High, and just on the edge of squeaky. "Painter: decorate."
Immediately the bear started waving its brush. It held the egg in one hand, while applying intricate patterns to the surface.
"Wow! That is SO CUTE!"
"Eh, it's an early model, y'know? No real painting or manipulation. The egg has a 'smart paper' surface and just displays colors as it passes under the brush."
"But, wow! It's so cute!" Jade had another thought. "Hey, if it's so simple, could you license it as an Easter novelty? I'm learning that you never want to turn down extra income."
"Hmm, interesting idea. The current CPU and voice activation would go, but if I re-engineered the mechanics…"
"And you need to add a bow around his neck."
"How'd you know he was a guy?"
"He's an Easter bunny," Jade said, as if that explained everything. "Those on the wall are all guys. And that one, but those three are girls and so is that one."
"Hey, pretty good. But Sam's a girl, she's just a tomboy."
Jade nodded, agreeing. "Right. I see it now."
Riptide made a face. "Okay, I just passed my cuteness threshold. I'll be back later."
The blonde reached out her hand. "I'm Bunny Cormick. Yeah, it's my real name. I go by 'Bugs.' And thanks for breakfast yesterday morning. Best meal I've had here, watching those snots get the stuffing kicked out of them." All this was delivered in a high-pitched bubble-headed voice.
"Jade Sinclair," Jade said, shaking her hand. "Yeah, that's kind of why I'm here, actually. Toni recommended you, and said she thought you were trustworthy."
"Trustworthy? What do you mean by that?"
"Is this room safe from eavesdroppers?"
"Was last time I checked. Sniffer: activate and search."
One of the eggs, about five inches tall, suddenly popped a helicopter rotor from its top. It began flying about the room. Occasionally, it would poke out a small probe or suction cup device. As it worked, lights glittered on its surface.
"What's the matter?" Bunny asked. "Got a problem with eggs?"
"No, it's not that. It's just – where in the world did you find pastel LEDs?"
In a few moments, Sniffer announced that the room was free from electronic surveillance. So Jade sat down and explained pretty much everything. Not the problems or issues the other girls had, but her own situation, and their broader strategic thinking.
"So, let me get this straight," Bunny said. "Jinn, who's now Jeanie – don't bother explaining, I got it the first time – is pretty much limited to punching and kicking, and you're looking for more stuff for her to do. And you, all you've got is Aikido and your gun (now confiscated), and you need a boost too."
"Well, I wouldn't put it exactly like that," Jade said. "I mean, it's accurate. I'd just be a little less blunt. Oh, but for me, I've got a plan. This is something we're trying to keep secret, but I can summon more than one of Jeanie. The next one is Jasmine."
"Hmm, yeah, I guess that would follow. More than one, I mean, not the name. Can you do any more?"
Jade shrugged. "The first one is easy. I can zap her, get her back, zap her, get her back. It's no big deal. The second one leaves me exhausted. If one of them don't come back, I'm fairly tired for about twenty minutes. I can do a third one, but I pass out. So I was figuring a second spirit, Jasmine, could help me while Jeanie is out fighting whatever. Only I'd disguise Jasmine as a bunch of devisor gizmos. So far, all I've really got is the gun, which they took."
Bunny smiled. "Hey, this could be really keen! Yeah, you'd be my guinea pig, while I try stuff under field conditions. All right! Stuff that works good I'll copy for myself – a girl can never be too safe, can she? And you'd have to pay for all your equipment – I'm not made of cash you know – but I'd only charge material, not labor or invention. Oh, and I get to be an auxiliary member of the team, okay? I mean TK, that's what some of us call Team Kimba, Nikki explained about the name. Like I said, TK is pretty keen. I mean, telekinesis and Team Kimba, and I guess you have both don't you? But I meant TK as in Team Kimba – you guys are getting a real rep, and hanging with you would just be tops! Especially since it'll keep me all close to Nikki. How can you stand it, being so close to her without just wanting to eat her up? Isn't she just too scrumptious? I hadn't figured on joining up with a group, not set up for the big fight scenes myself, don't like it, don't wanna, but as a sort of SIDE member, that would be keen, you know? Yeah, I think I could really go for this!"
Jade just giggled at her. "Well, I'll have to okay it with the crew, but since they're the ones who sent me here, and since they already trust you, I'll bet they're good with it. The money will take a while. I'm in hock for a couple of weeks paying for my confiscated gun. Jeanie and I both have jobs, so we make a little money."
"Two jobs? Handy." Bunny flopped her head from side to side, making her pig-tails flop back and forth like floppy ears. "Hey, can I meet your Jeanie form?"
"I kind of figured you'd want to." Jade hefted her backpack. She'd stuffed Jeanie's costume (complete with talcum powder and nearly 30 pounds of weight) inside. She charged it and the costume began to rise out of the backpack, inflating as it went.
"I'm undergoing some hypnotherapy to try to adjust my body image, so right now, Jeanie looks like me, but with my body image template moved up to the age of seventeen. I kind of like it. She can be my older sister."
The white-faced woman in the dead-black cape stepped forward to take Bunny's hand. "Pleased to meet you. I'm Jeanie Sinclair."
"Whoa! You really are two different people!"
"Yes, until we merge again," Jeanie said. "Then we're both just Jade. We remember both sets of memories. We're taking double classes. I expect a bit of flack from my fellow freshmen. It's going to look like I've grown three years over the weekend."
"Wow." Bunny seemed to have a thought. "Wait, I've read all the exemplar stuff. If she's really your body image template, that's a major advantage being able to manipulate your template through hypnosis. Majorly useful, particularly when you need a makeover. So why are you getting all the heavy therapy?"
"Why?" Jade gestured to her alter ego: tall, slender, and curvaceous. "That's me! That's what my soul is! That's what I'm supposed to be! Not stuck looking like I'm twelve! Not trapped in some stupid deformed body!"
Bunny looked horrified. "Oh, geez, I'm sorry! I guess I always assumed you really were twelve. How old are you?"
"Fourteen. My body seems to be stuck like this."
"Oh, man, I'm so sorry! You're as old as I am. I – Wait a minute. Day one, you were with the TG tour. When you said 'deformities' you didn't mean – ?"
Jade's face went nearly as white as Jeanie's. How could she get out of this? "You'll hate me."
"Of course I won't hate you! But if you trust me, can't you tell me the truth?"
Jade was curling up, unable to say anything, unable to even show her face.
Jeanie, on the other hand, was able to step forward. She gestured toward herself. "This is me, my soul. I'm completely female, and happily so. But growing up, I always knew there was something wrong. How would you like it, trapped in a body that was just wrong? That is what I go through, every time I'm stuck back in my physical body. Trapped in the wrong body – a distortion. A deformity. I think it's been getting worse. Every day I get to be me, Jeanie, a real girl. And I have to keep going back to that." She pointed at the curled-up form of Jade.
"Jeez, you trannies get it tough, I guess." Bunny scooted over to the other bed and rested her hand on Jade's shoulder. "Hey, don't worry. I'm not going to hold it against you, if you suffered some weird accident of birth. And don't worry – this is Whateley. I'm sure you'll find a way out of your troubles."
Jade uncurled a bit and looked up, tears still shining on her face. "You don't hate me?"
"Naw. Besides, you're cute. And you like some of the same stuff I do" she said, gesturing at her rabbits. "And you're going to grow up to be a fox."
Jade gave a weak laugh. "If I ever get to grow up."
Bunny reached up to grab one of her stuffed animals. "Here. Hug this. Makes everything better."
Jade did for a while, then reached into her pocket for something that looked like a quarter. She pressed it to the stuffed rabbit's throat, then seemed to sag in exhaustion.
"Hey, not so tight!" the stuffed bunny complained in a squeaky voice, as it squirmed free. "Sheesh, a girl could get squished in that grip." The stuffed animal finished wriggling free, then hopped up on top of Jade. "Hi, I'm Jasmine. I'd like to thank you for handing her one of the few girl bunnies." She hopped down and into Bunny's lap.
Bunny stared in astonishment at her toy come to life. "Wow! This is like so totally great!" She started to hug the bunny, then thought better of it. "Wait, if I hug you, does it hurt you?"
"Naw. No pain receptors at all in this form. Crush me, electrocute me, burn me, slice me to bits – I don't even feel it."
Bunny hugged the animal hard. "Wow! You know, someday you're going to make the most perfect mother!"
The three versions of Jade all went still as they stared at her and absorbed the idea. As one, they answered, "I sure hope so."
The stuffed animal hopped free and bounced around a bit more. "So, we were figuring that I could stick around Jade and, I don't know, handle shields or stuff or something, and make it look like they were devisor gizmos. Only we need all the blinky lights and mechanical stuff."
Jeanie nodded. "And I'm kind of hoping to cultivate the 'mystic dark shadow powers' look." She seemed to stiffen for a moment, then the white faded from her as if her body was moving back into the shadow of her cloak. She drew her arms and legs in, until only the midnight-black cloak remained, as it flapped and glided about. Abruptly, the white limbs reappeared, as if Jeanie were stepping out of the shadow.
"That's the best I've got so far. I really need more attacks and stuff, but I'd like to tweak them to match the theme."
Bunny shook her head. "Huh! How did you do that?"
Jeanie held out her arm. Her skin was powder white, and the glove was midnight-black, like her cloak.
"I'm still fiddling with the design. I had to substitute lycra for the arms – long story – but this is getting closer. My 'skin' is actually talcum powder. I could go for something more flesh tone, but I like the white effect. Kind of Japanese, and more spooky. Better contrast when I 'fade to black', too. All I do is shift the talcum powder inside the sleeve of the outfit though small slits. Watch, I'll do it slowly."
As Bunny watched, the white of the arm seemed to sift slowly away, vanishing somewhere into the sleeve. Soon there was only the lycra black, which became invisible when pulled up into the dead black of the cloak's interior.
"It's got a couple of problems," Jeanie explained. "First, I have to switch modes. TK-object mode, versus human body mode. I just learned how to do that from a letter, and I'm still practicing. I'm a little stilted at it, but give me time. Second is the big one. Once I can flap around as a cloak, I'm not sure what to do. There's got to be some way to sneak places, or attack, or something."
Bunny nodded. "Wow. I've got about a thousand ideas. But the first thing you're looking for is special effects, isn't it?"
All three visitors nodded in sync.
"You came to the right place! Special effects are my specialty!"
Tennyo looked up as Jade and Jeanie came back. "How'd it go?"
"That good," Jeanie corrected. "Friend for life, a smart pretty girl who has likes the cutest stuff, and she actually wants to make special effects and even other gizmos as fast as she can think of them."
"So what's the problem?"
Jade groaned again.
Jeanie shrugged and explained. "Well, we've kind of already spent the next few paychecks. And now it just got worse."
Tansy resolved to hang on for just two more days. Two more days, and she'd release the hell-spirit. She'd given up trying to bed Sebastiano again. There was simply no hope for that – not until her hair grew back. Fortunately, she knew of a mutant that could stimulate healing, cell regeneration, and the growth of hair and fingernails. It would mean the difference between weeks and years.
Her wig would be arriving tomorrow, thanks to a loan from Sahar of both laptop and funds. That had really galled – asking (never begging, a Walcutt doesn't beg) for both computer and cash from her usually destitute roommate. At least now she had a replacement cell phone and laptop coming in.
The laxative had finally worked its way through her system.
Security had been trying to talk to her all day – she'd put them off with stories (passed through Sahar) of a "sudden illness." She'd find out what that was about Monday morning. They probably just wanted to notify her that they were expelling all the little shits who'd dared to attack her.
But her mind was focusing more and more on her deal with Thuban. The terms were still crystal clear in her mind. One full day, with her under the control of a telepath (that part had been a bit unclear). Some protection from pain, since the telepath would share any pain she felt. No permanent damage, no public appearances, and no records. That left a disturbingly wide field that she'd agreed to.
At the time, she'd been confident that ghost-girl would strengthen her mental defenses enough to protect her against any telepathic attack. And if they couldn't establish their control, the deal was that Tansy would walk. So no matter how bad the demon-girl got, Tansy had to hold on. Two more days, she told herself. Just two more days.
She lay down on her bed, spread-eagle, as Sahar clicked the four handcuffs shut. Each hand and each foot was solidly bound to the solid iron frame of her bed.
"Let's see you get out of this, Demon."
I feel a case of weak bladder coming on, as soon as you fall asleep!
"Oh, thanks for the reminder. Sahar, can you slide in that bedpan?"
"Five thousand is not enough for this indignity."
"Hey, I'm the one chained to the bed!"
The second floor sunroom was usually reserved for study. In any case, it was the third-floor sunroom that had the 45-inch rear-projection screen. Admittedly, it was usually home of the mighty sophomores (and a few not-so-might juniors), but Hank led the group fearlessly in to the dreaded TV Room.
There was scattered applause. The "Breakfast Battle" had been entertaining, impressive, and showed everyone that Poe folks could kick serious Alpha butt. The team was still riding a brief swell of popularity.
"Thank you, thank you." Hank raised his hands, accepting the accolades. "But tomorrow morning, we have to face the music. In preparation for that dreaded event, we request the TV for the next few hours to study the mighty Steve McQueen, as he struggled against forces even more evil and demonic than the Whateley Administration… er, no offense Sara."
Sara waved off the imagined insult.
"My friends," he held the tape aloft, "I bring you – The Great Escape!"
The crowd applauded, and made room for Hank and the girls up front. Just as it began to play a pair of floating gloves entered the room, carrying a huge bowl. "We made popcorn, too!"
They didn't walk, they marched toward administration. Just as they'd planned. Ayla and Toni in front, Hank and Fey behind and flanking them, Jade and Tennyo keeping low profiles in the rear. After a moment, they were all walking in step, so it actually became a march.
Everyone wore their school uniform, and they'd made an effort to look as sharp as possible.
Upon reaching the glass-fronted door labeled "Administration", Ayla opened it and the group marched inside, still in formation, and approached Ms. Hartford's secretary. The time was 7:59.
The secretary looked immediately intimidated, despite the fact that Hank, the tallest of the group, was a mere five-foot-six.
"Uh, you're the students from Poe? I'll tell Ms. Hartford that you're here."
The secretary used her phone to ring the woman in the cubicle behind hers. Never once looking at them, Amelia Hartford picked up her phone.
"Yes? They are? I'll be able to see them in a few minutes."
She then proceeded to type on her computer, while the team stood and waited. After a few minutes had passed, Ms. Hartford phoned her secretary and instructed the girl to "show them in."
The group stepped forward a few feet, remaining in step and in formation.
"Well," Ms. Hartford said, with an unpleasant smile of malicious pleasure, "I suppose you know why you're here."
"Yes we do. We're here to find out why nothing has been done to investigate the abduction and possible murder of Jinn Sinclair." Toni's voice was level – there was no trace of anger or shouting, but somehow it carried throughout the entire open office. And there was no mistaking the unbending, rock-solid purpose behind her words.
"What? That's not it at all! You're here to explain why we shouldn't expel the lot of you!"
"Ms. Hartford," Ayla said, "I just want you to know that we don't believe the rumors. In fact, we've been asking people not to spread such malicious gossip."
"Rumors?" The woman seemed momentarily derailed by this attack from an unexpected direction.
"I'm sure there's no truth to them, Ayla," Toni responded, in her clear voice. "Let's just move on to the investigation, and the progress you've made so far."
"What are you talking about?!"
"Why, the investigation into the abduction or murder of Jinn Sinclair. Didn't I mention that? I'm sorry."
With a visible effort, Ms. Hartford wrenched control of the discussion back to herself. "First, all of you, SIT DOWN. That's an order!"
Fey reached out a hand, and six chairs slid out of adjoining cubicles. They smoothly slid into position behind every member of the group. There wasn't anything you could pinpoint about Fey's face or expression, but she suddenly looked extremely dangerous. The impression given was that she might just as easily have caused flames to burst from every desk, or nightmarish creatures to erupt from her alien eyes. For a moment, everyone saw her as a creature that was not human at all, who worried as little over the social restraints of these petty humans as she might worry about the pecking order of a flock of chickens.
The entire group sat, in sync and in formation.
"Now then," Toni resumed, "the abduction was reported on Tuesday the twenty-sixth, and this is now Monday the second. What progress has been made in the last seven days? Although security hasn't bothered to contact us, we have additional information on the case."
"BE SILENT! We are not discussing any so-called 'abduction.' We are discussing the grotesque and completely unacceptable events of Saturday morning! We are discussing," her voice took a nasty edge, "EXPULSION."
Toni nodded calmly. "Ah. I understand. We've talked about it, and we'd like to request leniency –"
"Now we're getting somewhere."
"– since we don't think the Alphas should be expelled."
"It's true that they acted hastily in attacking us, but they might have thought they were defending Walcutt. They probably didn't know what she was guilty of. They should be given the benefit of the doubt."
Ms. Hartford seemed to visibly contain herself. "We are speaking of YOUR expulsion. Nothing is being done to the Alphas, since they were obviously innocent victims of your brutal attack!"
Ayla said, "Well, I can see how the rumors started."
"WHAT ARE THESE RUMORS?"
"I'm sure they're nothing. They claim that the reason behind your 'notorious preferential treatment for Alphas' is because you're an old Alpha alumna yourself. I can't believe that at all. The school wouldn't possibly be so foolish as to assign an Alpha alum to such a sensitive case."
Ms. Hartford refused to be led astray this time. "Good. Now that that's behind us, let's begin discussing concessions. If you wish to avoid expulsion, in addition to your punishment –"
"You aren't, are you?" Ayla broke in.
Ms. Hartford simply glared at Ayla, as if considering which pit of Hell to consign her to.
"You aren't an Alpha alumna, are you?"
Taking a deep breath, she said with icy calm, "My past social life has NO bearing on the facts of this case, which is that you brutally planned and executed a group assault on an unsuspecting student! That is the ONLY thing we are discussing? DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?"
Although Ms. Hartford shared an open desk in the common area of office workers, the position of her desk had special importance. Behind her was the door leading to the office of the Headmistress, Elizabeth Amelia Carson. Somehow, in the moments before Ms. Hartford began to shout, the doorknob was seen to turn slightly, and the door accidentally swung partway open.
"Is there a problem, Ms. Hartford?" came the velvety voice from the office beyond.
"No, Ma'am." Her voice was suddenly level and completely controlled.
A moment later, the Headmistress herself was striding forward. Although she was clearly only in her mid-thirties, it was also apparent that she must have seen a great deal of life and the world. Something about her eyes, her poise, and the absolute confidence with which she carried herself with spoke of power and sophistication that would be the envy of a senior diplomat.
"Ah, yes, the Poe team." The gaze she leveled at them was both stern and understanding. "Are they objecting to their detention?"
"We… hadn't actually gotten that far, Ma'am."
"Really?" She turned to look at Toni. "What seems to be the problem?"
Toni licked her lips and then launched into it. "We were surprised that the Alphas were not even being spoken to, and were asking Ms. Hartford whether she was an Alpha alumna. Since there are rumors of her favoritism."
The Headmistress's eyes seemed to twinkle. "Rumors, are there? We can't have that, can we? Particularly since Ms. Hartford is an Alpha alumna. Amelia, from now on make sure that any cases involving Alphas, in any way, are passed on to someone else. We can't let such scurrilous rumors start. Indeed not."
"For the record," she looked at Toni first, then faced them all, "we will be questioning the other students involved quite closely. Particularly in light of Miss Walcutt's rather unusual confession."
That hit them all like an electric shock.
"In a school like Whateley, it's absurd to think that there won't be occasional conflicts. We provide many controlled avenues to express those conflicts, as Miss Chandler here has already exploited. We do not tolerate unsupervised brawls, and will take swift action to stop them. We most especially do not tolerate unsanctioned fights between teams, groups, or mobs. This is absolutely forbidden, as has been expressly laid out in your handbook. In the future, if you witness such action, you may step in to halt or defend. You may not strike, hit, or attack in any way! Consider it an exercise in restraint and control. Do you understand me?"
In unintended unison, they nodded and said, "Yes, Ma'am."
"Excellent. Now, for your detention, I think a full seven days of chores at Hawthorne should satisfy things. I expect your Alpha friends will get the same, although perhaps we'd better leave them to pick up the following week. That will give you an extra incentive – the better you do, the higher the standard they'll be expected to meet."
Her gaze firmed as he looked over them one last time. "Are there any questions?"
"Excellent. Now, if you hurry, you might still be in time for your first-period classes."
They did make their classes, just barely. That didn't prevent them from whooping and hollering in the hallways, hugging each other, and engaging in numerous high-fives.
It was only afterward that they stopped to consider the terms of their detention.
Tansy pulled at her arm. "Dammit! I have to go to the bathroom! How could you lose a key?" She wanted to yell at the stupid cow, but her higher brain kept telling her that without Sahar's help, she'd be in big trouble.
Oh, that's the ORIGINAL handcuff, isn't it? Demon-girl chimed in. Yeah, I remember finding the key for that. I figured you didn't need it anymore, so I flushed it.
Flushed it. You know – toilet? It's where most people go when their bladder is ready to burst, like yours is. Sorry, the key's gone.
"Sahar, forget it." Tansy said in a shaky voice. "I'll take the bedpan. I think you need to find someone who can cut these cuffs."
Sahar looked at her in disbelief. "You want to cut them off?"
"Demon girl flushed the key."
"Didn't you say those things were rated for TK-4? That includes pyrokinetics, and cryokinetics, and energizers. Good luck."
Her mind had a sudden thought. Trevor! Or Ayla, or whatever he was calling himself these days. He could phase through things! Good old Trevor would have her out in about two seconds!
Then she remembered calling them all names, the fight, and getting them expelled.
And the demon-spirit laughed.
Jeanie managed to get to Dr. Bellows' office.
"May I help you? I'm rather busy, so I only have a moment." He did a double take. "Miss Sinclair?"
"The whole 'growing up' suggestion obviously worked, but not until Saturday afternoon! What happened?"
"Well, hypnosis is not an exact science. Often, the suggestion is made, but the mind needs to 'mull it over' for a few days. Then, when you least expect it, the suggestion takes root.
"I'm more interested in your physical form, though. Now that your body image template is so much different, have you noticed any changes in your physical body?"
"Not yet, Doctor."
"Keep watching, and tell me if you see anything."
The team gathered in their study corner to read over the detention notices. Tennyo was looking a bit sheepish.
"Uh, I sort of got this letter from Jinn," she admitted. "It tells all about the confession. I think it came in Sunday or maybe this morning."
Everyone glared at her.
"Look, it's not my fault! I got the letter I was expecting in Saturday's afternoon mail! Why would I check my mail on Sunday? Mail isn't delivered on Sunday!
"Besides, it turned out okay anyway, right? I mean, Hardass sure got smacked down. And the Alphas getting detention, too? Sweet!"
Jade tried to keep glaring, but she was unable to remain irritated at Tennyo. Instead, she snickered. "Yeah, Ms. Hartford looked like she was constipated!"
Everyone broke up as they recounted their favorite part of the confrontation, until Toni pulled them back to the letters they'd received.
"So, my letter is from the House Mother at Hawthorne. You get the same?"
Everyone else nodded.
"Starting Wednesday and for the next seven days, from 4 PM to 6:30, I am assigned duties consisting of clean-up, washing, light maintenance, and 'personal assistance' for one cottage resident. I have a list of candidates below that."
They had all received identical letters except for Jade, who had received two letters (one for Jinn).
"The siren girl doesn't sound so bad," Tennyo opened, as she read down the candidate list. "Just replacing her soundproofing. I'll bet most of it's on the ceiling, I could float up for that. Piece of cake."
Ayla shook her head in disbelief. "Billie, she shatters glass with the sound of her voice. By accident. Do you want to be there when she starts her singing lessons? Say goodbye to your eardrums."
"I regenerate. They'll grow back."
"Hey, Fey, this guy that creates hobgoblins whenever he has a daydream sounds right up your alley."
"Gosh, thanks so much, Hank. I'd recommend you for the little girl who lifts six tons and doesn't know her own strength, except that half the job is dressing her, and you're obviously a guy."
"I, or I mean, Jeanie could take most of these," Jade said. "Except for the energy drainer who ices up his room. But I don't see many that I could take."
"You could do the cleaning for 'Skunk girl'. No danger there."
"Good point. And I'm used to the sewer. But I'm kind of interested in the avatar with the too-powerful spirit. I've taken a sudden interest in avatars. I might learn something."
Fey looked toward her roommate. "See any good possibilities?"
"Well, discharging everything that 'Static Girl' touches doesn't sound great. I'm kind of interested in Dr. Heavy, with his local gravity-field adjustment. Ever since Jade talked me into watching Dragonball…"
And the discussion continued.
Jinn moved her harassment campaign into high gear. Tansy missed school on Monday, so she spent much of the time alone in her room, with only Jinn for company. Sometimes Jinn heckled her. Her barbs were getting a little sharper, since she could sense from Tansy's emotions which jabs struck home. Sometimes Jinn would give her an unpredictable amount of silence, broken abruptly by hideous screams. She made up stories, saying that she'd cleaned out Tansy's bank account and donated the money to Greenpeace, or that she'd sold the credit cards to a hacker she'd met in Emerson, or that she'd snuck into security and confessed to being an avatar and swallowing Jinn. She said that she'd hired Nex to do a hit on herself so the insurance money would go to her family.
The wig, cell phone, and laptop arrived that afternoon. Tansy was able to make herself presentable again. But with Jinn working full-time on harassment, Tansy found it impossible to get to sleep that night.
Jinn made a mistake. She tried possessing Tansy before the girl was completely asleep. To her surprise, she discovered that possession was much easier than the last time she'd tried. Or rather, it was easier since the last time she'd tried with Tansy awake. Now, even though Tansy was awake, she could pull herself into a point. That meant that she could temporarily grab control of her TK powers. Tansy could fight her to a standstill, but only if the girl concentrated full-force on it. Similarly, she could actually possess Tansy's body. If the girl concentrated on it, she could regain control. The problem (for Tansy) was that she got tired, and Jinn didn't.
It was a mistake that was turning into a boon – for Jinn at least.
So Monday's bedtime was not pleasant. Jinn kept speaking with Tansy's voice, slipping in statements that were embarrassing or insulting. She forced Tansy to slap herself, begin undressing, and perform all manner of painful or embarrassing acts. And once Tansy had actually managed to handcuff herself to the bed (she needed Sahar's help), Jinn kept up a constant barrage of irritations that kept the girl wide awake. Yelling in the ear (with enough TK force to nearly deafen) was a good one. TK pinches to the skin were effective, as was using her TK to close off the nose and throat, so that Tansy was forced awake on the verge of suffocation.
Tansy finally got Sahar to give her two sleeping pills. Even that didn't work, so by one AM, she convinced Sahar to give her a third. That, and her extreme exhaustion, finally gave Tansy some sleep.
Jinn grimly returned to the post-hypnotic suggestions.
Tuesday morning, Tansy wearily dragged herself out of bed. She stared at her ugly bald head in the mirror. Not completely bald, now. Stubble was beginning to grow out.
She considered the past week's efforts. On the plus side, her plan to steal a spirit and sleep with The Don had worked. She'd bedded him and set her hooks in place, even if she'd only managed it once. And with his unintended discovery that she loathed his touch, he was unlikely to use the old veggie-brain trick on her, so she could possibly sleep with him again, even after dumping the demon-spawn in her head.
On the down side, she'd spent nearly forty thousand dollars, been through hell, she'd been shot, she had a whole team of killer freshmen that wanted her dead, she hadn't had a decent night's sleep since – she couldn't even remember when. All her beautiful hair was GONE. Half her wardrobe was still missing, and God only knew what else the hell-spirit had done to her.
She plopped the wig on her head and frowned. She looked spectacularly better. Almost as good as when she woke up on a bad day and looked at her 'morning face' in the mirror.
Just let me get through the meeting with Thuban this afternoon, she silently prayed.
While she was distracted, her left hand crept up and snatched the wig off again.
Tansy wanted to cry.
Perhaps it had been a mistake to use a half-bottle of spirit gum to attach the wig to her head. True, the occasional uncontrolled snatches at it were unsuccessful. On the other hand, she wasn't sure how she'd ever get the thing off again.
She hadn't dared sit with the other Alphas at breakfast. They seemed to be glaring at her for some reason. A quick check in the mirror hadn't shown anything wrong, but her confidence was shaken.
In her first period class, she was able to keep herself under control. True, she got caught with her legs wide open, she belched in class twice, and the teacher called on her to ask her to pull her finger out of her nose. But she was able to stop the demon-girl from doing anything worse.
She decided to skip her second and third classes, and rest up for lunch.
Unfortunately, lunch was hell for a different reason.
First, Hekate was back, tanned, rested, and satisfied.
"I only inherited a little over sixty-five hundred. It will make simply darling pocket money, but nothing to write home over. The vacation itself probably cost a bit more than that. It was simply divine. Maui is so nice at this time of year – just before the tourists hit, you know."
The witch peered at her with those evil little beady eyes. "Why Tansy, dear, what in the world happened to you? Pardon my language, but you look like hell."
"Rough week," was all she ground out.
"Yes, I heard. It sounds SO exciting! I heard you got shot by a twelve-year-old girl!"
Tansy said nothing.
"Oh, and you missed the detention hearing yesterday, too."
She suddenly noticed how intently the rest of the table was glaring at her.
"Apparently everyone who came to your defense has been given detention. Starting next Wednesday, you all get to do janitor duty for the freaks in Hawthorne who are too far gone to control their own bodily functions, if you catch my drift."
"That's impossible! There's no way that Ms. Hartford would let –"
"Oh, this didn't come from Hartford," Aries said, from across the table.
"No," Kodiak agreed in his bass rumble. "This came down from Carson herself." He gave a smile of grim satisfaction. "But don't worry. We already looked through the list. We're saving the best job for YOU."
She looked back and forth between angry faces. "But – what did I do?"
Hekate beamed at her. "Dear little Tansy. You're an ALPHA. And you're guilty of the worst crime of all. You got caught."
It was now, officially, the worst day of her life.
Once again she made the fearsome trek into the basement of Twain. Under safe escort, she passed again through the impossibly long hallway, and descended into the strange cavern under the cottage. She threaded her way between the underlit pools and bottomless chasms to the huge tent in the cavern's center.
The journey was not made any easier by the demonic spirit that constantly heckled in her mind. Loser! LOSER! Tansy messed up! The Alphas all hate you! I hope you enjoy your week of scrubbing toilets, BALDY!
She'd had about all she could stand. A person can be pushed only so far before she snaps, and Tansy was nearing her limit. She held on by promising herself that she was close to the end. As soon as she was done with Thuban, she'd dump the hell-spirit, and her life could get back to normal.
She climbed the rock formation to reach the front of the torch-lit pavilion. Pulling aside the silk curtain, she stepped in. Once inside, she remained standing, as she faced the half-reptilian form of Thuban, where he lounged on his pile of gold coins.
"Let's get this over with, Thuban. I've got things to do."
"Indeed, yesss. It would seem that your ssspirit passenger has kept you quite busy."
"Yeah, whatever. The deal was that your telepath would have a chance to take me over. Believe me, I've gotten a lot of practice resisting that sort of thing in the last few days. If she can't hack it, I'm walking."
"Sssubstantially correct. And if you fail, I have the use of your form for the next twenty-four hours. No permanent damage, no records, nothing public. That wasss our deal."
"Let's do it." She wanted this over as fast as possible.
"In a moment. But firssst, I thought you might like to know the plansss I have for you."
"I could care less what –"
The curtain behind Thuban was pulled aside. Behind him stood a medium height American Indian, with a tracery of strange black designs on his face.
"Thisss isss Ssskinwalker. He'sss not a telepath. He possessesss people. He will have total access to your knowledge, memories, skills. Everything you know, everything you are. He isss not eager to possesss a female, but hasss decided that he needs to do this as a lessson to focusss his powersss. Plansss for the future, I'm told. Perhapsss some other female. In exchange for becoming completely familiar with your body, he will perform a small service for me.
"Don't worry. You will be awake and aware the entire time. Merely helpless."
Tansy was shaking her head side to side, but she knew she was trapped. Her agreements, her promises. The only hope she had was resisting this monster that wanted to possess her.
"And now, you should sssee the reason behind thisss agreement."
Thuban gestured, and the second curtain was pulled away. On the other side was the seven-and-a-half foot tall sasquatch-like form of 'Montana'. Two years ago, when they'd both been freshmen, she'd pretended to 'see beyond' his grotesque façade. She'd made him believe that a freak like him actually stood a chance with a dream girl like her. And when he'd swallowed her tale hook, line, and sinker, and had actually fallen in love with her, she had led him through an ever-worsening spiral of pain and humiliation. If she recalled correctly, it had finally ended with her publicly mocking him in front of the entire school at dinner.
As far as she'd been concerned, it had worked out well. She had passed her initiation into the Alphas with flying colors. And Monty – well, he had vanished back into the shadows, hiding himself away, the way freaks like him were supposed to. Aside from being careful to watch her step whenever she was in the vicinity of Twain, she'd always considered the affair to have worked out quite nicely.
Everyone has their breaking point, and Tansy's was swiftly approaching.
"It ssseems that promisesss were made, two yearsss ago. Promisesss you never intended to fulfill. I intend to sssee them upheld. Perhapsss not as pleasantly as they might have been, had you held even a drop of the affection you pretended to. But as you use people, ssso they will use you. No better, no worssse."
She wanted to run, but she knew she'd never outrun Monty's huge legs. And his long, massive arms waited to tear her apart.
"You promised! No damage! Nothing permanent!"
"Nor ssshall there be. At mossst, a few bruises."
And that's when the hell-spirit made its most unspeakable pronouncement.
Well, that's a real pain! Particularly since I swapped in aspirin for all your birth-control pills!
As she snapped, she lashed out at the only element she still had control over. "You fucking ghost! You want to feel pain? Try being outside your host for a minute! How the hell do you like that?"
She didn't release the spirit – she shoved it away as violently as she could. She'd take it back in a second, before Skinwalker could attack. The spirit would be weak and sorry then, and beg her for mercy. Then maybe she'd be able to do something.
But the spirit didn't come back, and Tansy began to realize that she'd just made a BIG mistake.
Jade jumped bolt upright. "SHE'S BACK! OHMIGOD, OHMIGOD! Jinn is back!"
The others rushed to her. "Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. I remember –" Her eyes crossed. "—or was that – I think I –" For just an instant, something within the small girl stood out with intelligence and coherence. "Tennyo, did I ever tell you what happens when I have to merge in a week's worth of memories?"
Her roommate shook her head. "What happens?"
But Jade's eyes had already rolled up in her head. "I feel sleepy." The young girl would have collapsed to the floor, if her roommate hadn't dived forward to catch her.
Jeanie looked at the young girl, cradled in her roommate's arms.
"Great. Looks like I get stuck with all the homework."
Arriving late, Toni and Sara came running up.
"What's going on?"
Tennyo looked up from the girl in her arms. "She said that Jinn was back."
Sara listened, while trying not to lose her balance. The half-demon girl could project tentacle-like appendages from any part of her body. Right now, she was trying to use tentacles to simulate a traditional devil appearance, with small horns poking out of her forehead, and a twisting spade-tipped tail that snaked out of her miniskirt. The tail was still interfering with her balance. "So why's the kid unconscious?" she asked.
Jeanie floated forward, in her black cape and bone-white skin. "When I bring my separate memories together, I have to 'integrate' all the different experiences and thoughts. When there are more than a few hours of separate experience, I fall asleep, as my brain tries to process all the information. I'll be fine when I wake up tomorrow. I explained it all in a letter that I wrote to myself."
The demon girl flexed, and suddenly sucked the horns and tail back into her body. "You know," she decided, "I think I like this place. It's weird, but it grows on you."
In Tennyo's arms, the sleeping girl began to snore.
The end of
Jade 4 – Bottle a Jinn