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Diane Castle / Ayla / Ayla #3: "Ayla and the New School"

Ayla #3: “Ayla and the New School” 

- a Whateley Universe Tale

by Diane Castle (with oodles of help from the whole Whateley crew!)

Chapter 1 - Dog Day

Thursday, September 7, 8:25 am
(right after our meeting with Chief Delarose)
Whateley Academy

I hurried off to my first class.  After last night, I needed yet another cup of coffee.  Or maybe a caffeine IV.

It had to be a bad omen that we had fought super-powered ninjas from the Yama Dojo before our first day of classes.  What was next?  A lunch food fight with Sinistro?  Powers Theory, as taught by Doctor Doom?  Basic Martial Arts with Galactus?  A pillow fight with Billie and Hank when they’re both mad at me?

I made a quick detour so I had another big to-go cup of coffee for my first period class, Costume Shop I.  I still thought costume class was a stupid idea.  I had better things to do with my time than argue the ‘cape - no cape’ debate all over again.

I reached the room, and scanned it for a friendly face.  Jinn!  Or else it was a young Madonna, hiding behind sunglasses and a black bodysuit.  Of course, since this was Whateley, it could be a Shifter or an illusion or a robot, or any of a dozen other weird things I hadn’t considered yet.

I slid over and sat beside her.  I wondered if she could get tired.  If not, she would be perfect for taking notes when I fell asleep in this stupid class.

I was wondering who was going to be teaching this class.  I had a mental image of a short Edith Head/Edna Mode kind of woman with cat-eye glasses on a chain, and a cigarette dangling out of the side of her mouth.  Or even worse, a real superheroine in spandex, with high-heeled boots and a cape that constantly rippled in the wind.  Even indoors.

I was not expecting Mrs. Ryan.  Our teacher looked like an eighty-year-old librarian.  From Mayberry.  She was wearing a dowdy ankle-length dress that looked like she had gotten it from the Sears catalog during the Depression.  And, just to make herself look even less like someone with fashion sense, she had a shawl draped over her shoulders.  Not a scarf, but a shawl.  What, was she going to a costume party as a piano?

Mrs. Ryan talked for a while about the course requirements and the course supplies.  Then she led a discussion about why one would need a costume.

One problem with sitting next to Jinn showed up pretty quickly.  Jinn didn’t turn her head like everyone else did, so I had no idea where her attention was focused.  Like everyone else, I was turning my head to see who was talking.  But not Jinn.  It was that 360-degree vision thing that Jade had told us about.

Finally, a twitchy-looking guy who was moving and talking like he might be a speedster, said, “Uhh, freedom of, umm, movement, I mean, umm, street clothes might be, uhh, kind of, uhh, cumbersome, if you’re making fast moves...”

Mrs. Ryan nodded.  “Exactly.  Which explains why miniskirts are so popular among female costumes.”

Okay, I had sort of expected her to be in the no-miniskirts camp.  She looked like her idea of a great superheroine costume would be a big burlap bag, or maybe a burkha.

She pressed on, even if she looked a tad uncomfortable talking about it.  “Every so often the news goes on a bugaboo about exploitation and role models for young girls.  Honestly.  They don’t expect policewomen or female troops to wear long dresses.  Why should a superheroine?  And if a young girl wants to show off a bit, well, so long as it isn’t vulgar, I say what’s the harm in it?

“In this class, well, to be frank, I’ll insist that ALL your costumes follow this.  Some of you mentioned showing off, some mentioned protection.  This last discussion, about the news and exploitation, reminded me.  Ahem.  Costumes for the girls will be.. padded in certain areas.  To protect those areas that are vulnerable.  But it will also tend to emphasize certain things.  And you boys, well, I must insist that your costumes contain a cup.  Which will be somewhat flattering, while guarding against embarrassment, and offering very useful protection.”

Ouch.  I knew that I could have used a cup when I was fighting Sparkler.  But what kind of costume was I going to have to put together, if I had girl parts to pad (and emphasize too, ugh) and also boy parts to guard?

Jinn looked at me, and I just shrugged.  What did she want from me?  She was the costume.  She could have a costume that looked like a three-headed elephant in a tutu, if she wanted.

Or maybe Jinn was seeing my embarrassment and worry, and wondering what was bugging me.  Okay, having her be able to see my emotions could be another drawback to sitting with her.  If she was willing to spill the beans about everyone else’s emotions, sitting beside her could be a plus.

But Mrs. Ryan was onto her next topic.  “Who would like to be my first volunteer? Who feels they don’t fit in, and would like to have a costume that lets them walk among a normal crowd?”

Interestingly, Jinn raised her hand.  I thought she passed pretty darn well.  That showed how much I didn’t understand her.

Mrs. Ryan picked a guy from the back of the room.  “The rocky-looking lad.  What’s your name?”

I turned and looked.  Jinn didn’t.  Of course, she didn’t need to.  Jeez, it was the rock guy from assembly.

In a rumble that sounded like it was nearly subsonic, he growled, “Igneous.”

My first reaction on seeing Igneous up close was along the lines of ordinary Tokyo residents when Godzilla lurches out of Tokyo Bay.  Fleeing in mindless terror.  Holy crow, he was a creature of solid rock!

But it was pretty obvious as he walked down to the front that he was trying his best not to smash everything.  I thought back to my first times going heavy against my will, and my terror as I tried not to destroy everything I touched.  I found myself feeling a strange kinship with him.  Which just seemed weird and freaky to me.

For some reason, Mrs. Ryan got on his case about his name. “Igneous.  Hmm.  Well, if you don’t mind my saying so, I think that’s a poor name.  Too close to ‘ignoramus’.  You muscle-types have to fight a constant battle to appear intelligent.  Just an example of stereotypes working against you.  Instead of choosing a name which associates with stupidity, you should go for a different association.  Perhaps ‘Granite’, which I feel associates with Cary Grant, a fine image.”

Cary Grant?  What millennium was she from?

She picked on him about his name, while she used him as an example of ‘fitting in’, rather than ‘blending in’, since he was never going to blend in anywhere other than Easter Island.  Class was actually interesting for a while, as she showed how outfits that held specific ideations in the minds of the observer could help make Igneous look less threatening.

When class ended, Jinn was in a huge rush to get out the door.  I wondered if she had to meet up with Jade every hour in between classes to get a recharge, or whatever Jade was calling it.

I took a second to walk up to Igneous, who was shrugging out of a doctor’s labcoat that most definitely did NOT make me feel more comfortable around him.  No, the labcoat reminded me of Dr. Emil Hammond, and that was never going to be a comforting association.

But that wasn’t why I was making an effort to get up to the front of the room.  I was going to overcome my fears, or at least do a damned good job of making everyone else think I was.  And I had something to say to him.

He looked down at me, and obviously wondered why I was walking up to him.  “You want something?” he rumbled.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Ignore that wrinkler. Igneous is a cool name.  I think it sounds smart and scientific.  I like it.”

He just stared at me like I was yanking his chain.  He obviously was expecting some sort of nasty joke at his expense.  I gave up and left.

The halls between Costuming and Spanish were really crowded, so I went heavy to avoid getting knocked around.  Some of the smaller kids seemed to be getting bounced off the lockers if they weren’t careful.  A couple big guys lumbered into me as they worked their way down the halls, and I just shrugged off the bumps.  Being able to be heavier than that huge blond Bigfoot was paying off for me.

Then it dawned on me.  Holy crow!  Was Jade going to be all right with these bozos bumping their way down the halls?  Or Vanessa?  I wasn’t worried about Toni.  If these goons could even touch a fast-moving Toni, I would be surprised.  Nikki?  Nah, one look at her, and these galoots would be kneeling at her feet offering her their protection.  Hank and Billie?  Get serious.  If one of these dorks pissed off Billie, she’d grab him and crush him into a pretzel.

I got to Spanish I with enough time that I copped a seat right behind Toni and Riptide.  I was already in dire need of more coffee, but Toni was bouncing in her chair as she gave Rip a blow-by-blow description of her big fight with the ninjas.

“…So then he thinks he can hypnotize me with this bullshit hand-jive, and he tries this two-finger strike right at me so he can paralyze me, and I gave him the…”

“Class!  Please pay attention!”  A Hispanic guy, who looked sort of like a cross between Jimmy Smits and Edward James Olmos, except older and with better muscle tone, was trying to get everyone to shut up.  Fortunately, he had more speaking presence than I did, and even Toni stopped talking.  I could tell there were still a couple whispered conversations going on in the back.

“Class, my name is Mister Ramirez.  You may call me Señor Ramirez…”  He looked at the rear of the classroom.  “…And Mister Alworth, if you wish to get a passing grade in class participation, I suggest you stop pestering Mister Jimenez about the girls in this class, and whether any of them were running around in their nighties last night!”

Ugh.  I watched as Toni actually winced.  Maybe that had something to do with the fact that half the campus saw her panties last night.

But Ramirez had not only seen those kids back there, but had known what they were saying.  Did he have super-hearing?  Was he a psi?  If he wasn’t a psi, how did he know their names?

As Señor Ramirez went around the room and found out how much Spanish some people already had, I noticed that several of the kids in the room already spoke a little Spanish.  Well, I fell into that category.  Some, like Riptide, and ‘Mister Jimenez’ in the back, probably spoke it fairly fluently already.  That meant that this class was going to be a bitch, since I wanted an ‘A’.  Maybe even an A+.

Okay, my memory had improved until it was nearly eidetic.  My reading speeds at study, scan, and skim levels had improved drastically, and they had been pretty high already.  All right, Toni had mentioned that she could read a 400-page book in an hour and recall almost all of it.  That sounded like a ‘study’ speed to me.  I would need maybe two times that long to memorize everything in a book that size.  My mental calculation gifts had improved too, but that wouldn’t help me in Spanish.  I could probably start by memorizing the entire vocab section at the back of the text, and give myself a boost.  I could probably use my French and Latin background to help, too.

But I was going to have to work at this class.  Damn.  Especially since Señor Ramirez preferred to conduct the class en Español.

After that, it was off to Powers Theory class.  I didn’t arrive early enough to get my pick of seats, but that was probably just as well, given what I saw.

Billie was just sitting down, and...

OH MY GOD!  She was deliberately sitting next to the werewolf!  Was she nuts?

Oh, wait.  We were in Poe.  We were supposed to be nuts.

I knew she was really powerful, but wasn’t she worried about sitting next to a freaking werewolf?  I decided to sit a lot further back, where Charmer was trying to get an annoying nerdy kid to stop bugging her.

I sat down beside her, and she sighed in relief.  She lapsed into French, “Ayla!  How good to see you!  I am so glad I know someone in this room, and perhaps this annoying American will stop trying to ask me out on a date.

The kid who was bugging her virtually had ‘GEEK’ written across his forehead.  In little transistor components.  He was wearing braces, and he had a pair of glasses that were thick enough to be bulletproof.  Even sitting down, he looked like he was pear-shaped.  He had a vest with gadgets hung off the front, including a pocket protector full of pens and non-pen tools.  The vest looked like it had been drawn by M.C. Escher, since it did this weird fold-over thing at the side that would have made Euclid faint.

I leaned over to Captain Geeko and said, “Hey, take a hint.  She’s from Monaco, and she’s rich, and she’s gorgeous.  She’s not interested in guys like you.  She’s hoping Prince Rainier will introduce her to one of his young cousins.”

The geek choked out, “No shit?”

“No shit.  Now stop bugging her, or I’ll feed you to the werewolf up front.”

The nerd laughed, “What, Harry?  He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

Did he say ‘Harry’ or ‘Hairy’?  Maybe he said ‘Hairy’, which sounded like a pretty stupid codename to me.  But the alternative seemed worse.  I mean, what kind of sicko parents would name a child who was a werewolf ‘Harry’?

Billie certainly seemed to be having a great time chatting away with the werewolf, so maybe Nerd-o-Rama here knew what he was talking about.

I asked, “His name is Harry?”

The nerd grinned, “Yeah.  Harry Wolfe.”  I gave him a look of utter disbelief, and the guy just gave me a shit-eating grin.  “Yeah.  No kidding.  I didn’t believe it either, at first.  I thought he was just pulling my leg.”

Charmer seemed pretty freaked at the sight of the werewolf, so I tried to distract her by asking about her first two classes.  But we didn’t get a chance to start yakking.  We were interrupted by the dullest monotone voice on the planet.  I mean, zombies would have thought this guy was too monotone.

“Class.. please.. give.. me.. your.. attention…”

Oh God, it was the Lecturer From The Boring Part Of Hell.  If I had thought Dr. Filbert Quintain’s book was painfully dull, it was nothing to his lecture style.

I had the kind of prof who not only can’t write and can’t lecture, but makes you buy his boring book as the textbook for the boring class.  Paul had warned me about running into guys like this in college.  Quintain started talking about the course, and it was almost as if I were reading from the preface of his textbook.  Oh God, please don’t make me sit through an entire term of The Guy Who Lectures Right Out Of His Book!

I had seen some bad lecturers in my day, but Dr. Quintain was Hall of Fame boring.  Man, he was unbearable.  Even Doctor Doom for Powers Theory would have been better than this.  At least that would have kept me awake.

While Ol’ Filbert caused massive coma to set in across the entire room, I had Charmer going all Euro-trash in my left ear.  “Oh, in Europe a man like this would never be allowed to teach at your high school levels, and furthermore…

I had to admit that Filbert up there was not making a good case for the American school system.  I decided that it was going to be impossible to listen to this guy without falling into a coma, so I would use this hour to do homework instead.  I managed to get all of my Costume Shop homework done.

At least Nerd-boy was entertaining.  He and I spent a lot of the period doing Professor Binns jokes and Ben Stein ‘Ferris Bueller’ jokes, so I managed to stay awake.  I did wonder who was more clueless: parents who would name their kid ‘Filbert’, or parents who would name a werewolf kid ‘Harry’.

At the end of class, the nerd looked at me, got up his nerve, stuck out his hand, and said, “I’m Möbius.  Freshman deviser.”

I grinned and shook hands, “Phase.  Freshman.  Warper.  And this is Charmer.”

He just grinned at me, “Charming.”

Lunch was with the gang.  Pardon me, Team Kimba.  Could you get laughed out of superhero school for a sufficiently stupid team name?

Nikki looked sick.  Really sick.  I hoped she wasn’t going to get like this every time she used her powers.  Even if she had kicked ass last night.  Maybe this was just what she was like when she was too tired.  I opted for more coffee.  A lot more coffee.  I figured that the worst that could happen was that I would have to pee a lot, which would also keep me awake in class.

Then it was off to the Eastman Annex of Laird Hall, for what I was sure was going to be the class I was most anxious to transfer out of, even after enduring Powers Theory.  Basic Martial Arts.

I walked in, and found that most of the class seemed to know what to do.  That seemed like a bad omen for me.  People had taken their shoes off and piled them by the door, then crowded to the edge of the mat.  I shucked my shoes and followed.  I could tell at once who knew anything about this kind of class.

They were sitting in the front row, in a position I had only seen in Japan.  It was called sitting seiza, as I painfully remembered.  I had tried that position a couple times when we were in Japan, and I remembered all about the amount of agony if I was in that position for more than a minute.  First, my legs had that ‘pins and needles’ sensation, followed by a painful burning from my ankles to my thighs, followed by a numbness that left me unable to stand for a while.  Great.

Oh, wait.  I had powers now.  I sat in the second row and went light.  Not so light that I was glowing with that faint blue tinge, but light enough that my weight was maybe around thirty pounds.  I should be able to sit like that for a few minutes now.

Vanessa came in and squeezed in beside me.  I gave her a big smile, and she gave me a surreptitious pat on the thigh.  Pilar sat cross-legged behind us, and we whispered a quick ‘hi’.  Kismet and Charmer came in, and sat down behind us and off to one side.  I nodded to them.  Jay Jay zipped in at the last second and sat in the back row.  Vanessa gave her a tiny two-finger wave, and Jay Jay returned the little wave with a wild, two-armed wave that would have been fine.. if we were trying to spot her in the middle of a football stadium.  There were a couple other people I had seen over the past few days who I didn’t know, and some kids who I had never seen before.

And I know I would have recognized them if I had seen them before.  Okay, I had seen the half-deer girl from a distance at First Assembly.  She was covered in short tan fur instead of skin, but other than that, most of her looked human.  She looked like a girl who was trying out for a ‘Cats’-style live-action theater version of “Bambi”.. except for her legs, which were definitely not human.

The deer-girl didn’t bother me much.  Not nearly as much as the monster-girl sitting at the far end of the row, with the people nearest to her trying to edge away from her.  I mean, Monster-girl had flame-red hair, three eyes, and two big reptilian tails sticking out the back of her skirt.  Okay, I was pretty sure she hadn’t awakened one morning and said, “Gee, I’d like a superpower that makes me look like a hideous freak.”  But she sure seemed to be doing something that was creeping out the kids sitting near her.

Then there was the boy - well, I was pretty sure he was a boy - who was solid black.  Not a color black, not a black with reflected highlights, but the complete absence of light.  That was just odd.  But he was obviously solid, since he was shaking hands with one of the other students.

And then there was the scaly-looking guy with the noseless, reptilian face and the club-like tail sticking out the back of his pants.  He stretched his neck and yawned.  Holy crow, were those huge incisors, or were they stumpy fangs inside his mouth?

The rest of the room looked pretty normal.  Well, there were several ‘way too pretty to be baseline’ people, besides Vanessa and Kismet and Charmer.  And there was one guy who was in full superhero regalia.  He was a nice-looking kid, but not exactly built like Champion.   His metallic silver spandex suit was a bit much, and the silver eagle-wing cape that attached to his shoulders and biceps was definitely over the top.  He looked like one of the failing grades from Costume Shop I.

The bell rang.  The microsecond it stopped, a door off to the side popped open, and out strode two people who couldn’t be more mismatched if they had tried.

One was a little old Japanese man with thinning white hair, who looked about Jade’s size.  He was maybe sixty, and was in old-fashioned martial arts gear, like I’d seen in pageants in Japan.  He was wearing the montsuki and hakama, the wide-sleeved top and the pants with the super-wide legs that almost looked like a skirt.  Of course, I’d seen a demonstration in Tokyo, where a sensei who was even older than this guy just kicked the crap out of six musclemen armed with machetes.  So I wasn’t taking this guy for granted.

The other was an extra from the movie “Undercover Brother”.  She had to be over six feet tall, and was ultra-curvy even for someone that tall.  She was a dark-skinned African-American with frizzy hair in pompoms on either side of her head.  She wasn’t wearing a gi.  She was wearing a skintight black spandex bodysuit.  And she had a major ‘tude going.  She looked like she probably had a superhero name like “Sista Smash”.

The black woman stepped forward.  I could feel Vanessa revving up with interest.  I didn’t know whether it was sexual, or a ‘sisterhood’ feeling at seeing a really good example of a black superheroine.

The black woman fired off, “I am Amanda Tolman.  Everyone who wishes to remain in this class will purchase a gi for practice.  Unless otherwise notified, you will change into your gi before class.  When the bell rings, you will begin in seiza position, lined up, as you see the more experienced students here.  We will practice in a variety of situations, including street clothes, costumes, and real-life situations.  However, most classes will be taught here, and you will be wearing gis.  Any questions so far?”

But she didn’t give anyone a chance to ask a question, as she tore onward.  Which was a darn good thing, since I doubted that even this woman could get Jay Jay to shut up once she got going.

“The students in this class have a variety of skill levels, and an even wider variety of powers.  This will require the use of some unique training tools.  Some classes will be taught in the combat arenas.  Some will be taught outside.  In the dojo here, we will use a variety of tools and weapons.  Everything from a simple bo stick...”  She held out her hand, and the older man swung a quarterstaff toward her that smacked into her hand.  “...to the bokken to simulate a sword.  There will be similar substitutes for knifes, explosives, gas, even guns.  There will be many training tools that you have never seen before, such as the capture cage.”

At this, she pointed to one of the far corners.  The Japanese man pulled aside a floor-length curtain, to reveal a fire-engine red cage with weirdly-shaped bars.

“The capture cage is a simulation for a device that can nullify your powers.  I don’t care how that would be done, or whether it is even possible.  You will act as if it is true.  Once in the cage, you are caught.  Dead.  Lost.  In some of your training, the object will be to get someone else into the cage, or to keep yourself out of it.  Any questions?”

Still, no one was showing the cojones to talk to this steamroller.  Since my only question was “how do I get out of this chicken outfit?” I figured it wasn’t time for me to open my yap yet.

She bulled on, “The single greatest benefit of this training is that it will teach you to think.  You will be constantly planning ahead, assessing danger, planning escape routes or attacks.  You will study tactics, learn to sense weakness and danger, and change your view of the world.  This training is actually more important than the hand-to-hand skills.  You will also learn that any power and any technique has holes.

“This is a good time to mention waivers.  By virtue of the fact that you are here at Whateley, I know that your parents or guardians have signed damage, injury, and liability waivers.  That means that I am not responsible if you get hurt in this class!  And you WILL get hurt, every last one of you.  This is a rough class.  But it is also worth it.

“You will have to learn that what you don’t know, can hurt you.”  She suddenly stepped up to a boy in the front row.  “You!  You’ve just been given a magic power-neutralizer gun.  You’re fighting a scrawny kid whose only power is massive telekinesis.  Does the gun let you win?”

“Uhhh.. yes?”

“Wrong answer!”  She pointed at the suddenly-nervous girl next to him.  “Does the gun let you win?”

She looked at the guy who had just been shot down.  Then she quietly said, “I can’t tell.”

Tolman nodded briskly, “Good answer.  You don’t know enough yet.  Is the scrawny kid levitating a piano over your head?  If so, you may not want to neutralize his powers.  If you are going to instigate the fight, you’d be wise to learn as much as you can ahead of time.

“You should all know that conventional gym, with its own forms of combat training, is still open.  You may transfer out of this class and into gym anytime through next Wednesday.  After that, you will simply receive a FAIL in this class.  There are also many more advanced martial arts classes, taught by a wide variety of instructors, in a wide variety of disciplines.  You may ‘graduate’ to those classes, once you have mastered the basic concepts of this beginner’s class.

“Which brings us to our first demonstration.  Allow me to introduce my sensei, Tatsuo Ito.”  She bowed deeply to the little man, then stepped into the background.

The short man stepped forward with a lithe, gliding movement that looked a lot younger than someone his age ought to be moving.  He had already used a couple small cords to tie back the sleeves of his montsuki.  He looked like he was ready to kick somebody’s ass.

“I am Tatsuo Ito.”  He had the accent that you often hear from Japanese who learned English from a British teacher.  “You may call me either ‘Ito Sensei’ which means ‘teacher Ito’, or ‘Soke’ which means that I am a founder of a new school.

“I was formerly a Hanshi in the shin-shin toitsu school.  However, my exposure to mutants has led me to seek something much more ambitious.  I am now attempting to blend together radically different techniques.  The goal is to allow normal humans – well trained but normal – to successfully stand against powerful, though untrained, mutants.  And to allow trained mutants to be more than capable of taking care of themselves.  Allow me to demonstrate.”

He looked over the room.  “We have several interesting students, including one freshman girl who has already fought a supervillain and a mutant with ninja training...”

I gulped.  I was praying he wasn’t going to single me out in front of everyone.

“But I believe that the best person for this demonstration is Mister Clark Langston.  Silverwing.  Would you please take your place on the mat opposite me?”

The dork in the silver costume got up and stood opposite sensei Ito.

Ito said, “I do not approve of superhero costumes in this class.  Wear a gi to the next class, and do not wear this again to class unless asked.  Understand?”

“Yes sir.”  I could hear the nervousness in the boy’s voice from where I was sitting.  Ito could probably smell it.

Sensei.  Call me sensei, or soke.”

“Yes, sensei.

“Silverwing.  You are an AV-3, possessing the spirit of the eagle.  You can fly.  You are tough enough to resist small-caliber bullets.  You can lift up to three tons with some effort.  You have superhuman sight.  You have a rattling ‘eagle scream’, and you can manifest an ‘eagle claw’ attack.  Is that correct?”

“Yes, sensei.”

“But you are untrained.  You did not take Basic Martial Arts last year.”

“My mother talked the guidance counselor out of it… sensei.”

Ito snapped, “And is your mother going to accompany you through life, talking supervillains out of attacking you?”

“Umm, no, sensei.”  By now, the kid was beet red from his face down into his costume.

“You are superhuman, but untrained.  I am completely human, but trained.  I wish to fight you, to demonstrate what proper training may accomplish.”

The boy tried one more time, “Umm, I don’t know if that’s a good idea.  What if you got hurt?  I don’t want to hurt you, even by accident.”

“Then attempt to restrain me instead.  Or to place me in the capture cage.  If you can do that, then you have won the match.”  Ito put out his hand, and the bo stick flew into it.

Oh.  Teamwork with Tolman.  She must have tossed it as soon as he started his motion.

“Since you are a new student, or kohai, let me explain that we begin on opposite sides of the mat, here and here.  We bow to each other, but don’t take your eyes off me, then we wait for the referee, or Tolman sensei in this case, to begin the match by saying ‘hajime’, which means ‘begin’.”

The two of them faced each other across the mat.  Silverwing took a deep breath and seemed to become somehow stronger.  He still looked unsure of himself.  Ito, on the other hand looked surprisingly confident as he moved into position.  He moved with a smooth grace that for some reason reminded me of Toni dancing in the train depot.

Hajime!” Tolman snapped.

Silverwing took one unsure step toward Ito.  By the time he had completed the step, Ito had moved so close that Silverwing could have reached out and grabbed him.

Wing-boy tried it.  He reached out.. and Ito was gone.  Damn, that old man was fast!  Ito was behind him, and Ito knew how to use that stick.  The bo smacked Silverdork on the shins and the backs of the knees.  Silverdork gasped in pain and staggered forward with one leg, just enough for Ito to strike in between the shins and send Silverdork to the floor.

Ito stepped a couple yards back and calmly said, “I was under the impression that you could fly and had several ranged attacks.”

Silverdolt immediately leapt to his feet and flew right at Ito.  Sucker!  Even I could see that this was a set-up, and I had no idea what Ito had planned.  Silverdolt opened his mouth wide and let out an ear-piercing shriek, then manifested some sort of ‘eagle claws’ over his hands.  But Ito wasn’t in front of him anymore.  That old man was faster than lightning.

The students who were in front of Silverwing got the brunt of that scream, and most of them grabbed their ears in pain.

But Ito was moving behind Silverwing as he flew past, and he whacked upward with that bo, catching the flier right in the shins, with spectacular results.  If Silverwing had been a bit higher, he might have spun in mid-air and recovered.  If he had been a bit lower, he might have been able to reach out to the ground and catch himself.

Instead, Silverwing did a major faceplant, and then cartwheeled, head-over-heels, like he was in an anime.  Frankly, I didn’t know whether to gasp in amazement, or laugh out loud.  Neither did anyone else.  A quiet wave of noises swept through all of us as we sat: there were gasps, and there were snickers, and there were winces, and there were even some girlish coos of compassion.

By the time Silverwing got to his feet, Ito was on the other side of the gym, waving the kid on.  Silverwing soared up to the top of the gym and divebombed Ito.  I could see those ‘eagle claws’ manifest as he came down.

At the very last second, Ito moved.  He raised his hand and there was a brilliant flash of light that appeared to blind the flier.  Ito was pretty much of a blur after that, but it looked like he pivoted, grabbed Silverdolt by one forearm, and gave him a judo throw that threw him tumbling through the air, straight into the capture cage.  Silverwing hit the far side of the bars with an ‘oof’ we could hear across the gym, and Ito slammed the cage door on him.

Ito stared at the kid and said, “Do you yield, Silverwing?”

“Yes, sensei,” the kid groaned as he picked himself up off the floor of the cage.

Ito strode back to us and said, “You have just seen a highly trained human gain advantage over an extremely powerful mutant.  Did I use tricks?  Of course!  That is one of the things my school will teach.  There are many tricks to be aware of.  Gas.  Poisons.  Flashes of blinding light.  Ropes.  Smoke screens.  And, unfortunately, the ubiquitous gun.  Do not be contemptuous of ‘ordinary humans’.  I hope to teach you that any of you, all of you, can be vulnerable.”

Okay, at that point, I agreed that he had kicked some serious Silverwing butt.  However, I no longer believed that Ito was a baseline.  He was too damned fast, and too damned strong.  And he was smart.  I had finally figured it out.  If your opponent had enhanced senses, you could attack your opponent by overloading those enhanced senses.  In this case, a flash of light against someone with ‘eagle sight’.  That was one sneaky old man.

He went on, “I also hope to teach you speed and control, bare-handed techniques, planning, awareness, and naturally, how to create your own arsenal of tricks and techniques.

“But before that, we will begin with the basics.  Tolman shihan will instruct you, while I examine you individually.  Shihan…?”

At that point, they split us up into students who had any degree of martial arts expertise, and those of us - like Vanessa and me - who had none.  Only six of the thirty or so students in the class claimed to have any martial arts background at all.  Okay, so maybe I wasn’t that far behind the class average.

While Ito Soke tested the six kids with martial arts skills, Tolman sensei started the rest of us - including one limping and sore Clark Langston - in the basics of the aikido stances, and the front and back roll-falls.  I went just a little bit heavy, so it didn’t hurt when I hit the mat.

After class, I went straight to Sensei Tolman.  “Sensei?  I have a question.”

She looked down at me and snapped, “Are you asking to transfer already?”

I admit it.  I had been considering it.  But I was most certainly not going to transfer now.  Not after that little jab.

But if she wanted to be a snot, so could I.  I switched to Japanese and said, “Sensei, I need to know if there is a private shower that I could use.”  She started to tell me to go use the girls’ showers like everyone else, and I cut her off. It may not be obvious.. yet.. but I am intersexed due to my mutation.  I cannot shower in the boys’ showers because I look like a girl, and yet I cannot shower in the girls’ showers because I still have a penis and testes.

Sensei Ito stepped over.  “Your Japanese is very good for an American.

Thank you, Soke.  My family has extensive business dealings with Japanese companies, and we have traveled to Japan a number of times.

He looked at Tolman and got some sort of response that I didn’t catch, because he switched to English and said, “Sensei Tolman will show you where the women instructors’ showers are.  You may use those until you have resolved your problem.”

I gave him a slight bow and said in English, “I hope to be able to resolve my problems and return to being a boy.  But it may take time.”

He had an odd little smile on his face as he replied in Japanese, “It takes a very wise man to know which problems may be resolved, and how long it may take to resolve them.

Tolman led me to the women instructors’ showers.  There were only two showers, and a small locker area.  Maybe there weren’t that many female martial arts instructors, so this wasn’t a big issue.  I hoped not.  I’d just as soon not spend every post-class shower getting my ass kicked by super-powered karate instructors who wanted me the hell out of their area.  As it was, Tolman stood there in her super-suit, glaring at me with her arms crossed, watching me to make sure I didn’t steal the soap or something.

Okay, she did seem pretty shocked when I turned around and she got the full Monty, so maybe she had just figured that I was lying to get a private shower area.

I dried off, dressed again, and hustled to Powers Lab.  I was a couple minutes late, but so were Charmer and the solid-black guy.  This class was really just a ‘first day’ class, with Mrs. Bohn telling us where we would be meeting during future powers labs, and what we would be assessing, and how classes would be graded.  Billie was sitting with that werewolf again, so it had to be deliberate on her part.  That was definitely weirding me out.  At least Charmer was a lot more nervous about the werewolf than I was, so I didn’t feel like a total wuss.

Möbius, on the other hand, thought that Harry was a great guy, and offered to introduce me.  Apparently, Harry was a gadgeteer or deviser and was in ‘workshop’ with Möbius.  From the way Möbius was saying the word, Workshop was something specific, like a lab class for devisers and gadgeteers.

I asked him, “So do you know Bunny too?”

He grinned, “Bugs?  Of course!  She’s like the hottest deviser on the planet!  The other deviser girls all look as nerdy as me.  Well, no one looks as nerdy as me.”  He gave me a self-effacing grin.  “Sure I know her.  I’d like to know her a lot better, but I figure I’ve got about as much chance with her as I do with Charmer.”

I suppressed a smile, since Bunny was definitely lesbian.  He actually had a better chance with Charmer.  Not that I was ever going to say that.

And finally, after an entire day of unbearable sleep deprivation, I got to attend a class I really wanted to be in.  Sixth period trig/pre-calculus.

There was no one that I knew in this class.  The class seemed to be largely sophomores and juniors, and I didn’t know that many people yet.  If there were other freshmen in here, I had no idea who they were.  I didn’t know where to sit. 

Then a hot, curvy brunette with silver ‘bride of Frankenstein’ streaks in her dark hair put a hand on my shoulder.  “You’re Ayla, right?”

I agreed, “Yeah.  You can call me Phase, if you’d rather.”

She led me to some seats in the first third of the room.  “I’m Electrode.  I’m just upstairs from you.  Nice work, last night.  I’m glad you kept up the Poe tradition: kicking ass and taking names.”

Just upstairs from me?  So, was Electrode a TG or a lez?

Oh holy crow, it finally hit me!  Electrode?  Those silver streaks in her hair?  I was sitting with a Lady Lightning fan-girl!  I figured that had to mean she was a TG.

Electrode patted the shoulder of a tall, well-built blonde sitting on her other side.  “Unicorn?  Meet Phase.  Phase?  This is Unicorn.  She’s a junior, and she’s on my training team.  She’s a PK supergirl.”  Electrode turned back and said, “Phase is a frosh.  She’s one of the girls who whupped those ninjas last night.”

Unicorn’s eyebrows went up, and she spoke in a cultured New England accent, “One of the Negligee Nightingales?  Which one are you?  The one in the white nightgown?”

I growled, “I was the one in the jeans and shirt and trenchcoat.  And we’re NOT the Negligee Nightingales!”

Unicorn grinned, “Well, that’s better than a lot of the names I’ve heard going around.  How about the ‘Unbound Beauties’?  The ‘Bedtime Babes’?  The ‘Sleeping Beauties’?  The ‘Five Easy Pieces’?”

The Five Easy Pieces?  Crap!  If I found out who came up with that name, I was going to.. to…  I was going to tell Billie and Hank who came up with that name, that’s what I’d do!  “Look, we have a name, and it’s not one of those!”

Unicorn just smirked, “Well, you better start telling people your team name, because fighting badguys in your lingerie is going to get you a really interesting rep around here.”

Electrode murmured to me, “Hey, it could be worse.  The training team bastards stuck Unicorn and me on a training team with Hexette - she’s a mage - and Lynx - she’s black and a speedster.  You’ll never guess what everyone calls us.”

I looked at the two of them.  A Lady Lightning clone, and a tall blonde PK supergirl.  Plus a mage and a speedy black girl named for a large cat…

I got it.  “Oh crap.  You’re kidding.”

Electrode winced a little, “Yeah, we’re supposed to be ‘Strike Team 4’ for training purposes, but even the sim jockeys call us ‘AEGIS Junior’.  So it could be worse.”

Actually, it could be.  They could be on a team that was named for a stupid anime lion.

“Class!  Class, please pay attention.  I would like to get started, and I’m sure we would all like to get back to our homes after a long first day.  I’m Mrs. Bell, your instructor.”

Mrs. Bell actually looked like a high school math teacher, as opposed to, say, looking like an overly-tenured college professor who was going to bore the pants off you, or like an aging Hispanic superhero out of uniform.  “First, I want to take roll.  Then I’ll go over the course syllabus and talk about grade requirements.  At the end of class, when I dismiss you, we have a freshman student who has not yet received her laptop, and I’ll need to take care of that.”

With that, she got started on roll call.  Which meant that, within minutes, everyone in the class was going to know my last name.  Oh God.  I waited tensely…

“Archibald Fenster?”

“Here.”

“Kevin Garrett?”

“Here.”

“Ayla Goodkind?”

I admitted, “Here.”

But the entire room seemed to be staring at me.  People in the front rows were turning to stare at me.  I just knew people behind me were staring.  There was an uncomfortably long pause before Mrs. Bell spoke.  “Ayla, please be sure to come down after I dismiss class, and get your Whateley laptop.  Understood?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied.

She went back to roll call.  “Carolyn Hatfield?”

“Here.”

Unicorn looked over at me and glared, “Goodkind?  As in Humanity First! and stuff?”

I closed my eyes and sighed.  “Yeah.  One of those Goodkinds.”

She turned angrily and stared at the front of the room.  She just wanted to avoid me.  That was better than a lot of what I was getting.

One good thing about the roll call, I found out that Electrode’s name was Jackie Warwick, and Unicorn’s name was Brenda Matherson.  With that cultured New England voice, she might even be one of the Connecticut Mathersons.  Not that I was going to be asking her anytime soon.

Mrs. Bell got down to business faster than I expected.  She passed out handouts with the course syllabus, and the required homework for each section of the text, and the course grading system.  Then she started on her lecture.

“Trigonometry, or just trig for short, is not only an interesting area of mathematics, but it provides a set of powerful tools that you will need in calculus.  There will be formulas and identities which will seem unnecessary.  But be sure to memorize them, because they’ll be important later on. 

“Trigonometry comes from the Greek for ‘measure of a triangle’, and that tells us what we will be working with.  We’ll be looking at triangles, often right triangles, and we’ll be thinking about the way that the angles of the triangle and its sides will relate.  These relationships will give us the trig functions, and then we’ll look at computations using our trig functions...”

Well, I wanted to take this class a lot more than martial arts or costuming, but it was late afternoon, and I was short on sleep, and it was all I could do not to doze off.  I really did not want to miss anything.  Math wasn’t one of those courses where you could skip a few bits and still be fine.  I needed more coffee.  And a triple espresso.  I settled for pinching myself every time I started to doze off.

Still, it wasn’t long before Mrs. Bell was dismissing the class for the day, and calling me down front to get my Whateley laptop.  Several more people glared at me as I worked my way past bigger students to get to Mrs. Bell’s desk.

Someone behind me hissed, “Goddamn Goodkinds!”

I just pretended I didn’t hear, and I walked up to Mrs. Bell.

She looked at me like I was any ordinary student, instead of an angry mob of Humanity First! picketers.  She smiled, “Miss Goodkind, you’re one of the last freshmen to get their laptop.  Please sign here to indicate you received it, and check here that the serial number is correct.  Now did the Headmistress explain about them at assembly?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Good.  Be sure to re-format the hard drive the very first thing.  Last year I had a student who didn’t, and it turned out that she had a ‘senior prank’ that waited three weeks after her first use, and then erased everything she had, right before she was going to turn in a couple papers.  Poor dear.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Bell.”

I took my new laptop and looked it over.  It was certainly designed to stand up to a lot of hard use.  But it wasn’t as powerful as my machine in my room.  Nor was it anywhere near as ergonomic.  I took it and stored it in my locker.

I decided to keep it in my locker, except when I was using it in classes.  The locker would provide easy access for me.  I would just use my own computer more.  Mine was a lot more powerful, and its ergonomics were vastly superior to this thing.  All I needed was a memory stick for easy transfer of anything I wanted to move back and forth.

After that, I went to the optional Business Accounting I (personal study) open session.  Even though I really needed to go back to my room and take a nap.  I sat next to Vanessa, and we just smiled at each other.  There were another fifteen kids there.  About half looked like freshmen.

A lean, forty-ish guy in an expensive tweed coat and khakis was at the front of the room, sitting back against the desk.  He looked like an ex-athlete, rather than an accountant.  But that might just mean that he was an exemplar or something.

He waited until about five after, when people were no longer trickling in.  And I do mean ‘trickling’.  One kid sitting toward the back of the room looked like he was actually made out of water.

The teacher finally stood up.  “Good afternoon.  I’m Mister Marley, your instructor for this class.”

Oh, come on.  Marley?  Accounting?  Give me a break.

He looked around at our faces and nodded, “Yes, I get those jokes all the time.  But my first name is Randall, not Jacob.  So I’d appreciate it if you would skip the Ebenezer Scrooge and Christmas Eve jokes, please.  Now this is just a little get-to-know-you session to start off the term...”

He had us go around the room and say our names.  He looked like he was making mental notes of the names as we went along.  Of course, the whole classroom came to an abrupt halt when I said my name.  Mister Marley had one eyebrow suddenly leap upward in a look I had seen before at Chilton.  The ‘oh, I have a Goodkind in my class’ look.  At least it wasn’t the ‘dollar signs in the eyes’ look.

Most of the class gave me that look.  The ‘I hate and fear your whole family and everything they stand for’ look.  I didn’t want to know what Water-Boy in the back was thinking.

Mister Marley then gave us a quick overview.  He told us what the textbooks were.  (I already had mine.)  He pointed out what the online resources were, and where on the Whateley net to find the syllabus and homework assignments.  Since this was a ‘personal study’ course, the tests were self-paced, and we could finish the course any time up to the last day of exams.  I had no intention of taking that much time with intro accounting.

Then he asked if we had any questions yet.  Several people had questions about things like prerequisites.  One person had a basic question about the introductory material in the first chapter.  I looked over at Vanessa.  She looked like she had a question but didn’t want to ask it in public.  The old ‘I really do not want to look stupid’ problem.

Finally, Water-Boy in the back asked, in a voice that was liquid enough to make the back of my throat tickle, “Is it fair to have someone like that Goodkind girl in this class?  Isn’t she gonna blow the entire curve to pieces?”

There were several other muttered complaints.  Obviously, lots of other kids were thinking the same way.  Great.  Now I had yet another thing for people to hate me over.

Mister Marley replied, “First, I think it is unfair to assume that just because Ayla has a particular last name that she is one of THE Goodkinds.  And even if she is, she’s only fourteen or so.  She’s not a thirty-year-old Goodkind executive.  And, even if she were, it still wouldn’t matter.  This course is computer-graded on a strict percent scale.  There is no curve.  If the best student in this class only gets 50% of the points, everyone flunks.  If the worst student in this class gets 90%, everyone gets an ‘A’.  So there is no one to compete against.  This is personal study.  You do the best that you can, and your score is not based on the rest of the class.  Last fall, three-quarters of the class had a B+ or better.  I expect that this class will do likewise.”

Then he turned to me and said, “Miss Goodkind?  Would you like to say something in reply?”

I carefully stood up.  I was going to have to make things clear now, if not sooner.  “Yes, I am one of those Goodkinds.  My father is the CEO of Goodkind International.  Yes, I already have several years of financial background from exposure to company dealings.  Yes, I wanted to take a more advanced course, but my guidance counselor stomped all over my plans when I tried to.  And yes, I expect to get a high grade in this class.

“But no, I’m not out to get you.  I’m a mutant, just like you.  I have GSD, just like some of you.  I’ve been mistreated by the Goodkinds just like you’ve been mistreated by Humanity First!.  If anyone, and I do mean anyone, in this class wants study help from me, all you have to do is ask.  You can put that word out to your friends who aren’t here today.  I’m not out to get anyone.”

Mister Marley smiled, “Thank you.”

As we walked down the hall after class ended, Water-Boy - Philip Gliese, if I heard his name correctly - got right in front of me.  He gargled, “You?  GSD?  Like I believe that.  I go by Aqueous.  You just watch it, or I’ll show you what I can do.”  Most of the hall stopped to watch.

I handed my bag to Vanessa and faced him.  I took a deep breath, “My codename is Phase.  That ought to tell you that you’re pushing your luck here.  If you can’t figure out what I can do to someone like you, then you’re likely to need my help getting through this course.”

“Pushing my luck, huh?” he gurgled.  Then he did almost exactly what I thought he might.  Which was why I had taken that deep breath.

It wasn’t that long ago that I had wondered if Jade could animate a body of water to drown an opponent.  Okay, she didn’t think she could do that, or would ever want to try.  But someone who was apparently 100% water was likely to have an obvious water-based attack.  The ‘flow over and drown you’ maneuver, or the ‘firehose’ type of maneuver.  He went with the flow-over.

I had already gone light.  I just walked right through him.  He nearly fell as the resistance he was expecting simply wasn’t there.

I turned and faced him.  “Last chance, Aqueous.  I just phased through you this time.  Next time, I’ll have to get tough with you.  I don’t want to do that.”

He burbled, “Get tough with me?  You can’t hurt me.  What are you gonna do?  Punch me?  Blast me?  That crap won’t hurt me.  I’m made of water!”

I gave him my coldest stare.  What we Goodkind kids had always called Greg’s ‘death squint’.  I said, “If that’s all you can think of, you need to take Superpower Theory I over.  What I’ll do is pass through you and disrupt your entire body.  Every cell, every neuron.  If you’re lucky, you’ll just lose consciousness.  If you’re unlucky, you’ll lose coherency and separate into ten gallons of goo all over the floor.”

“You’re bluffing,” he said.  But he obviously wasn’t sure anymore.

I shrugged, and lied my ass off.  “Fine.  You won’t be the first bully I’ve killed in self-defense.  If you’re too stupid to recognize what other mutants can do, you’re too stupid to be walking around by yourself.”

Aqueous looked over my shoulder in surprise.  So I wasn’t shocked when Mister Marley’s voice snapped, “Is there a problem here?”

Aqueous gargled, “No sir.”

I didn’t take my eyes off Water-Boy as I disagreed.  “Yes sir, there is.  Aqueous is bullying me, and I am not going to take it.  The entire hall heard it.  But, of course, no one is going to stick up for one of those Goodkinds, so they just waited to see what would happen.  I avoided his first attack, but if he attacks me again, I’m not going to avoid it.  I’ll defend myself.  I have no way of knowing if my powers will kill him or not, but I’ll defend myself.  If I have to.

Mister Marley firmly insisted, “I don’t think that is going to be necessary.”

I calmly said, “I sincerely hope not.  But Aqueous is not the first person to over-react because of who I am and what I am, and I have no intention of putting up with that every day for the next four years.”

Mister Marley stared at Water-Boy.  “Mister Gliese?  Do you want to rebut Miss Goodkind’s comments?”

Aqueous glared at me.  “I wasn’t bullying her.”

“Did you attack her?”

“Well…”

More than one person spoke up.  “He did.”  “He tried to drown her.”  “He started it.”

Mister Marley said, “Very well.  Mister Gliese, I’ll be speaking to your house parent about this.  Don’t expect that we will tolerate bullying, regardless of who does it.”

Aqueous sloshed off, giving me a look that said we weren’t done.  Great.  Just fucking great.  Now I had another enemy.  And as soon as he bitched to his buddies and told his warped little version of the story, I would have another dozen new enemies.

I turned and said, “Mister Marley?  I’d just like to point out that Aqueous has probably been brutally treated by any number of baselines.  A last name like Goodkind is bound to trigger a reaction.”

He raised that eyebrow again.  “So.. what are you proposing?”

I said, “I’d like to recommend an anger management class instead of a punishment.”

He thought it over.  “Hmm.  I’ll talk it over with his house parent.”

I still heard someone mutter, “Fuckin’ pretties always get every fuckin’ break no matter what.”  If I hadn’t already had more than enough confrontation for one day, I would have tried to find out who said that.

Vanessa took my arm as we walked back to Poe.  She smiled at me, “That was pretty brave.  Have you really killed someone?”

I whispered, “No.  But don’t tell anyone.  If I’m going to have to be a tough guy around here to handle the bullies, I want to have a rep that’ll scare them off.”

She giggled and said, “Well, I thought you were pretty convincing.  You were pretty tough there.  If I didn’t know you, I’d have thought you were getting ready to really hurt him.”

I sighed and admitted, “I was.  I was going to do what I threatened, and phase through him hard enough to knock him unconscious.  I have no idea how drastic that would be when he seems to be made of water.  I mean, would that just drop him?  Could it really damage him?  I don’t know.”

She said, “I should’ve done something.  I should’ve used my power and made him stop it.”

I gave her hand a little squeeze and said, “Thanks.  But how long would it be before he figured out that you ‘voiced’ him?  What would he do then?  You can’t hide from bullies or run away from them.  You have to face them with enough force that you can deal with them.”

“You make it sound like it has to be a fight.”

I pursed my lips.  “Sometimes it is.  Sometimes it’s just standing up for your rights.  I’ve been bullied since I was about second grade, and I found out that you can’t let the bullies get away with it, or it never ends.  It just escalates until something drastic happens, one way or another.”

                   

She looked uncomfortable as she revealed, “Sharisha said she’s been bullied since she was little.  Because she wasn’t pretty, and she wasn’t thin, and she was too big, and she wasn’t one of the in-crowd, and she didn’t do the cool things.  And in her ‘hood, if the wrong kids bullied you, and you didn’t have a gang behind you, you just took it and shut your face about it, or else.”

I thought about that for a second.  “Look, I don’t know what it was like for Sharisha.  I’ll never really understand.  But a bully is a bully everywhere, whether he’s a loser in a black neighborhood, or a loser at a prep school, or a super-powered loser at Whateley.  If you let a bully see that he’s getting to you, he’s won.  He got exactly what he needed.  He’ll be back at feeding time tomorrow.  You’ll be his lunch buffet for the next ten years if you don’t make it stop.  If no one will stand up for you, you have to stand up for yourself.”

She frowned, “You make it sound like it’s simple.  It’s not.”

“I know it isn’t.  I just made it sound simplistic, as you noticed.  Sometimes, you have to put yourself out there and risk getting clobbered.  Sometimes you have to find out what to do to resolve the problem, so you don’t have to take that risk.  Sometimes you have to find out what infrastructure there is to handle problems like bullying.  Sometimes it’s a lot harder, and you have to start the infrastructure, and take the time to build it from the ground up.  Sometimes it takes a combination of the above, and a lot of pain, for the first people who stand up to that bully, so they can make things better for everyone else.

“Now I know there’s infrastructure in place here.  There are three entire sub-sections of the Whateley handbook on bullying and student violence.  I read that already, and I intend to use that information, as needed.  But I think I’m going to be a target for a lot of people on this campus.  I’m a Goodkind.  I’m going to have to live with that, and a lot of people here are going to have to learn to live with me.”

She smiled, “Just remember, you have me on your side.  You don’t have to live with that all by yourself.”  She gave me a kiss and headed off to her room.

I headed back to my room.  I needed a nap.

But something was going on next door.  Jade was carrying sheets out of the room.  Toni was helping Nikki back into the room, and Nikki looked like crap.  Tennyo was flying down the hall with a bucket of what looked like shaved ice.  And Hank was watching from the doorway as Toni did whatever with Nikki.

I walked over in time to hear Hank ask in a worried tone, “How’s she doing?”

Toni was making Nikki take ice chips, and Nikki obviously didn’t want to let the airplane into the hangar.

Toni looked up and said, “Better.  At least now she’s moving and muttering, instead of curling up and moaning.”

Nikki looked pretty awful.  Well, pretty awful for Nikki.  We helped a bit while Toni over-mothered her.  Actually, with Toni, it was more of an over-excited big sister than a mother.

Nikki grumbled, “Peace and quiet, that’s what Ophelia said I neede..mpfff…”  Toni made one of her lightning-quick moves and shoved another ice chip in before Nikki could get her mouth closed.

“We’ll see you get it,” Toni assured her.

“That’s what worries me,” Nikki mumbled, as her eyes closed again.

I asked in a whisper, “What happened?”

Toni whispered back, “Seems it was her power use last night.  She’s having a sort of semi-burnout, but she’ll be okay in a day or two.  We just gotta keep her hydrated.”

Nikki began snoring softly, in more of a sexy purr than a real snore.

I whispered, “Come on.  My room.  Leave the door open, and we’ll hear if anything happens.”

Hank and Billie joined Toni and me.  Jade showed up just about the time everyone was getting settled.

Toni looked around and let out a low whistle.  “Ayles, I just knew you were gonna pimp your crib first chance you got.”

Billie looked back and forth for a second before she said, “The walls aren’t all the same color, are they?”

Hank said, “Pretty snazzy.  My room looks like it was decorated by a couple of color-blind sewer workers.”

Jade burst out, “Hey!  No sewer worker jokes around here!  Got it?”

“Sorry.”

I asked, “So how did everyone’s day go?  Other than Nikki coming apart at the seams.”

Billie looked at Jade and said, “That sounds more like Jinn.”

“Hey, I got my lion all sewed up again!”

I turned out that Jade had actually let Jinn sew herself up, as icky as that sounds.  She just cast Jinn into the lion and a sewing needle and some thread.  Then Jinn threaded the needle and sewed a line of really tiny stitches with lots of knots on the inside of the lion where they wouldn’t show.  Man, the things you can do with mutant powers.

Toni, of course, wanted to talk about Martial Arts.  Especially the part about Ito letting Hank have it.  Hank just sat there and blushed while Toni gave me the blow-by-blow description.

“Man!”  I said, “In our class, Ito beat the crap out of some dorky sophomore.  Silverwing.  But I don’t think Silverwing’s in Hank’s league.”

Holy crow!  If Ito could take someone like Hank, even with some tricks, then maybe BMA would be worth taking.  I was going to have to re-think this.

I could see that I was going to have a lot of confrontations until people stopped assuming I was Humanity First! and the MCO and Emil Hammond and everything else that mutants saw when they saw me.  I just wished that I could stop seeing things like Humanity First! and Goodkind Research and Emil Hammond when I looked at me.

I asked Toni, “Hey Toni, you don’t really think Ito is a norm, do you?”

“Sure he is, Ayles.”  Ayles?  I guess it was better than a lot of names I’ve been called.  And it wasn’t the first time she’d called me ‘Ayles’.  I figured I’d better get used to it.  It was still better than ‘whitey’ or ‘vanilla-girl’.  Or some of the other names I’d heard, like ‘that fucking Goodkind bitch’.

I pushed, “Oh, come on!  He took Silverwing, and he took Hank!”

She shook her head no and said, “I was watching.  I could see him using his ki to do it all.  Sure, he’s fast, and he’s really good.  But most norms could learn to do all that in, say.. sixty years, working hard every day.”

Sixty years?  Oh.  Good point.  Maybe BMA wasn’t going to help me anytime soon.  Not if I wanted to fight the Hanks of the world.  Not that I wanted to fight anyone, but it seemed like a lot of people were going to want to fight me.

I got a half-hour nap before we went off to dinner.  Toni wanted to stay with Nikki and keep a watch on her, but Jade wouldn’t let her.  So Jinn stayed behind and kept an eye on Sleeping Beauty.  Jinn shooed us out of the room, reminding Toni, “Go on, it’s not like I eat, you know.”

At dinner, before I could even get through the food line, Kismet was waving me over to the Beret Mafia table.  She had her usual impatient look, and there was no point in aggravating some of the few people who would actually speak to me.  I walked over.

Kismet immediately started in French, “Is it true that you are in the Lunatic House?  Poe Cottage?

A good-looking blonde boy I didn’t know asked, “Is it true what I heard?  That you are part girl and part boy?

Cytherea seemed quite unaffected by that news, and merely pointed out, “That is nothing new.  In ancient Greece, the mortal hermaphrodite was traditionally given a special place in the society, as deemed by the Gods.”  I hadn’t expected that someone like Cytherea would be well-read about ancient Greece.  Some people were full of surprises.

I admitted, “Yes.  I was born male, and I have a bizarre case of Gross Structural Dystrophy, so my body has become female everywhere, except for my privates.  And this has happened just over the last six weeks, so my life has been most stressful.  I am not adapting well to this, and so I am living in Poe Cottage until I can stop being so depressed and angry over my status.

Cytherea said, “Not all of the students in Poe are crazy.  I hear that some are there merely for easier observation in case they need counseling, and some are there because they are natural helpers who would be good roommates with a lunatic.”  Hmm, did she know some people in Poe?

But none of the Beret Mafia could admit to being so bourgeois that my intersexed state would bother them.

In fact, Kismet broke into a wicked grin.  “We must introduce Phase to Dynamaxx!

Every other girl at the table, and most of the guys, thought this was a hilariously good idea, and that it needed to be done as soon as possible.  That told me everything I needed to know about Dynamaxx, whoever he was.

Dinner was another masterpiece from Chef Marcel.  Anyone else might have made beef Burgundy the usual way, but Marcel made a boeuf bourguignon with a whole-wheat flour and cracked peppercorns and lemon thyme.  The rich sauce was sharply unusual and delicious.  I also suspected that the burgundy used in my sample was a much better vintage than usually used, because the richness of the sauce was quite striking.

After dinner, I took another nap.  Vanessa woke me up before long, with some basic questions about our Business Accounting homework.  So we sat together on my bed and I went over the material with her until she was ready to go back to her room to do the first homework assignment on her computer.

I was about to try to get some more sleep, but I could hear something going on in the sunroom.  So I went light and stuck my head through the wall.  It was my team, hogging the study area all around the lone study table.

And when I say the area all around the table, I mean ALL around the table.  Billie and Hank were floating over the table.  Billie was completely upside down, not that you could tell by looking at her hair.  Jade was floating on a sheet which was alive and reading its own book.  Nikki was looking well enough to be sitting at the table with everyone, while Toni was sitting next to her, studying.  If studying included spinning a pencil in her fingers like a miniature propeller.  Toni looked at me, winked, and went back to work.

I pulled my head back, and put a bolster on my bed so I would be at the right height.  I slapped on my headphones, cranked up Brass Monkey, and leaned through the wall with my Spanish text.  Then I lay on my bolster with my elbows on the wall side of the table, and joined in the study group.

I looked up and said, “Hey, Billie!  Gravity: it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law!”  She rolled over, grinned at me, and slowly rolled back until she was upside down again.

Once I finished my Spanish assignment, I started working my way through the vocabulary section at the back of the textbook.  I took breaks from that by starting my trig homework and reading ahead in my trig book.  Some of the trig made perfect sense, and some of it made no sense yet.  I was careful not to get into the ‘makes no sense’ sections.  I’d let Mrs. Bell explain them first.

For some reason, everyone bitched about my music.  I mean, I was wearing headphones!  I just wanted to listen to Brass Monkey while I studied.  Was that such a big deal?  And Brass Monkey was really a great band.  Nikki - Miss Sensitive Elf Ears - was acting like I was listening to Spinal Tap, and I had my speakers all the way up to eleven.

Okay, Nikki was sick.  And really cute.  So I turned down the volume.  A little.

Pretty soon, everyone was pestering Jinn to hold stuff for them.  I was pretty well set, but the flyers could have used a little assistance so that all of their gear floated next to them.  I watched carefully, because I had wondered about Jade’s powers.  But it looked like she couldn’t pick up anything new.  She had to start from scratch, cast Jinn into everything at once, and then not drop anything or it was lost to her PK.

I was going to contribute a reading lamp or two, but Nikki objected to my stuff.  Again.  “Ugh.  Halogen?  Isn’t that a little.. harsh?”

I snorted, “It figures.  Miss Sensitive doesn’t like halogen, either.”

Nikki blinked, which just reminded me how huge and gorgeous her eyes were.  She said, “Well, it isn’t uncomfortable or anything, just a little, I don’t know, glaring.”  She thought for a moment and looked at Jade.  “You know, if you held my books and things too, I think I could arrange lighting for everyone.”

I gave a sharp laugh, “This isn’t going to electrocute us or anything, is it?  Or spontaneously create a swarm of homework-devouring killer beetles?”

“No,” she said seriously, “There shouldn’t be any problems with this.”

Oh come on!  I was kidding!  Lighten up!

Or was she really being serious because some of her other magics might do something like that?  Maybe I’d better protect my homework and textbooks until I knew for sure…

But Nikki was already in mage mode.  She made this weird gesture with her hand, like she was slowly scooping something out of the air.. and something appeared in her hand.  Suddenly there was a golden ball about the size of a golf ball.  The golden ball seemed to have a flickering flame inside it, but the sunny light that came out was as steady as the light from a light bulb.  She lifted the ball and placed it in the air just above and behind her chair.  It just remained in place, like Billie had told it to ignore that dopey gravity nonsense.

Then she made her first big mistake.  She asked, “Who else wants one?”

Of course, everyone wanted one.

Jinn said, “Wow!  I can actually see that!”

“The light?”

“Yeah.  Except I don’t see light.  I think you left behind a little tangle of mutant energy, somehow.  It’s like a knot of glowing purple string.”

Weird.  Jinn could see mutant energies?  That might make for a really useful monitoring system.  Maybe she could see other stuff that most people couldn’t.

Toni thought out loud, “You know, it just isn’t fair that you guys get to float around in mid-air while the two of us..”  She gestured at Nikki.  “...are stuck on the ground like this.”

Nikki confessed, “Well, I can cut the lines of gravity that connect to me.  I did that last night, when those pesky ninjas were bothering us.  But...  I don’t know.  Using that much power left me feeling kind of.. strange.”

Kind of strange?  As in deathly ill the next day?  That ‘kind of strange’ feeling?  Euphemize much?

I said, “How about a hammock?”  Then I just had to get in a little teasing.  “Aren’t you elves supposed to be sort of arboreal?  I saw Lord of the Rings too, you know.”

I got the perfect reaction out of her, too.  She glared at me and yelled, “I’m not an elf!”

I just barely kept from laughing.  Instead, I pretended to wave her off.  “Whatever...”

“Besides, it’s not like I’ve got a hammock,” she grumbled.

I smirked, “Oh, that’s no problem.  I brought half a dozen.  I thought I might fix up my room with them, and silk rolls up so compactly that...”

“They’re silk?”

I replied, “Yeah.  It’s pretty durable.”

And suddenly, study time was interrupted with an episode of “Trading Spaces”.  I sent Jade down to get Mrs. Horton so we would have official permission, while Toni helped me dig out the hammocks and the bag of metal fasteners that came with them.

Hank said, “I can put a nail in with my thumb, but I need to put it into the framing, or it won’t hold.”

I thought for a second and said, “Let me try something.”  I went light and passed my hand through the wall.  I could almost tell whether I was touching a solid or not.  But not quite.

I went just a tiny bit heavier - not heavy enough to damage anything, but just enough to feel a little tingle in my hand when it passed through solid matter.  Then I could definitely feel whether my hand was in a solid or in mid-air in between the verticals.

I couldn’t tell if it was wood or metal or what, but I could tell that there were solid rectangles inside the stronger-than-plaster walls, and they were bigger than a 2x4 ought to be.  Well, in a cottage like Poe, with people like Hank and Billie around, they probably needed framing that was so far past New Hampshire state building codes that it might as well have been made from adamantium.

So our construction project went really quickly.  Hank shoved in nails or screwed in hooks everywhere I pointed.  In a couple minutes, we had two hammocks hanging in my room, and three hammocks hanging in ‘our’ corner of the sunroom, along with three ropes hanging from the ceiling for Toni.  Billie used her Boy Scout training and her strength to put secure loops in the ends of the ropes.  I had a feeling that it was going to take Champion to get those knots out.

So we went back to studying.  Jade was floating in her sheet.  Hank and Billie were floating on their own.  Nikki was looking exhausted in one of the hammocks.  I was lying in a hammock in my room, with my head and arms sticking out through the wall.  Nikki’s magical lights were floating where they were supposed to, while Jinn held everybody’s drinks and laptops and pens and pads and junk.  Toni, of course, was about as stationary as a hyperactive lemur, as she jumped from one rope to another, or to a hammock and back, about every three seconds.  It was kind of hard not to watch her, since she was casually doing stuff that Olympic gymnasts would have ruptured themselves trying to copy.

Toni turned and looked at me.  “Hey Ayles.”  I looked up.  “Dude, I wish I had a camera.  You look like someone shot you and mounted you on the wall.”

Hank looked over.  “Student, caught at study.”

I laughed.  Uncle Herb had wild animal trophies just like that, mounted on the fireplace wall of his den.

I was nearly done with my trig when the flashbulb went off.  I looked up to find Mrs. Horton standing there grinning, with a camera in one hand.  She smiled, “Just had to preserve that for the scrap book.  I think I’ll call it, ‘Team Kimba settles in to study’.”

The only downside to the whole thing was that our study area got tagged ‘Kimba Korner’.  With two K’s.  Ugh.  Jade thought it was cute.  I pleaded for some sanity, but as usual, I was completely ignored.

After I wrapped up my homework, I decided to catch up on sleep.

But first I used my new laptop to go onto WeTube and pull up several classic videos of Lady Astarte.  Damn, but this internet connection was a dog…

Waiting…

Okay!  I looked over those videos.  Ooh yeah, serious babe-age factor there.  Lady Astarte was hot, even for a superheroine.

Oh yeah.  Ick.  If she was in her seventies now, I was ogling a wrinkler.

But there was no mistaking that style, or that voice, or that pouty lower lip, or that ‘large and in charge’ way that Carson had.  I was betting that Lady Astarte was my headmistress.  Wow.  I’d better not get on her bad side either.  What was next?  Was Mrs. Ryan going to reveal that she was Deathlist in disguise?

Just after I went pee and brushed my teeth, Vanessa dropped by my room.  She thanked me for the accounting help.  Then she gave me a long goodnight kiss that lasted until I was about ready to explode and she was about ready to melt.

Man.  That woman was gonna kill me.  I was seriously thinking about acquiring some condoms, and she wasn’t ready to go past first base.

Condoms.  Hmm.  What if I went heavy?  Were there extra-strong condoms for bricks?  And if so, where would I go to find them?

 

Chapter 2 - Days of Heaven

Friday, September 8

NOFX was blaring away on my stereo, but this time I had enough sleep, and I clambered out of bed.  The one thing I didn’t want to miss at this time of day was The Wonder That Is Showering With Exemplar Babes.

When I walked in, Billie was drying off and Vanessa was undressing to get in the now-available shower.  Bunny was just opening up her shower and stepping out.  Rip was in the third shower, only with the shower open because she was doing this funky thing making the water in her shower swirl all over her like a vertical jacuzzi.  Pilar was shaving her legs all the way up, and giving herself a Brazilian trim.  Toni was doing this utterly impossible thing where she was brushing her teeth, combing her hair, and trimming her toenails all at the same time, jiggling madly while wearing nothing but a pair of really sheer panties.

Man, sometimes I love this school.

After I showered and dried off, I went and did my morning sink-stuff.  After all, watching hotties parade around naked is just as great when you’re looking at them in a high-quality mirror.

Jade sauntered in, looking like she had a huge secret.  She was cute, but she wasn’t exactly the Great Stone Face.  She peeled off her towel to shower, and I nearly choked on my toothpaste.  She had a slit!

I knew that she didn’t really have female privates.  I mean, just a few days earlier she had nearly had a meltdown as she admitted that she hadn’t changed a bit from her old boy body.  So where were her male genitals?

Of course, this was Whateley, so there were only about seven hundred possible explanations.  Maybe she was wearing some sort of plastic prosthesis.  Maybe Nikki had performed some sort of illusion spell for her.  She was a psi: maybe this was psychically forcing us to see something that wasn’t there.  Or maybe she could cast Jinn into her own body and re-mold her own flesh.  Okay, that last one sounded way too stupid to be right; after all, she wasn’t a Shifter.

Whatever it was, she was a little genius when it came to figuring out how to use her power.  The stuffed animals.  The floating blanket.  Jinn.  This, whatever it was.  I was going to have to find out what it was, in case it could help me go back to being a boy, or at least look like it.

I felt lame.  What was I doing to improve my abilities, or to find new things I could do with my powers?  El zippo grande.  Not a damned thing.  I needed to get my act together on this.

Still, upgrading my powers was somewhere way down my to-do list.  I had a blackmailer to crush first.  Second, I needed to get my body fixed back.

I strolled off to breakfast with some of the crew, but I stopped in the Crystal Hall to say hi to Charmer and Cytherea, so I ended up going through the food line without the rest of Team Kimba.  I supposed that worked well, since Billie’s tray looked like she wasn’t planning on leaving any food for the rest of the students.

Chef Marcel just ‘happened’ to stroll out as I reached the baked goods, and he dropped down a brioche that looked like it had been painted with a chocolate ganache.  Oh, man.  I grabbed that and gave Marcel a big smile.

Ohh, was that good.  The brioche was perfectly baked.  The ganache was a rich, unsweetened dark chocolate with a little green tea in it to give it some extra tang.

Man, sometimes I love this school.

Costuming class was the usual, although ‘Mister Uberman’ back there at the back of the room was a bigger dork today than he had been yesterday.  I was sort of hoping Mrs. Ryan would manifest some major power and kick his ass all over the room.  Now that would have been a great class.  Afterward, Jinn took off as usual, and I started off to Spanish.

The halls were pretty crowded, and there were plenty of massive students who didn’t leave much room.  Guys like Igneous, or that blond Bigfoot who didn’t seem to care who he bumped, or the kid with the horn-like spikes sticking out all over him.  Yesterday’s technique of walking the halls while going heavy had worked for me, so I was doing it today as well.  I was jostled occasionally, but I was heavy enough that it wasn’t a problem.

Until two goons deliberately stopped in front of me.  One of them, I recognized.  Mister Uberman, the guy with the mouth in Costuming class.  The other one had that same ‘too handsome and well-built to be real’ exemplar look as well.

Uberman sneered, “So, faggot, I hear you’re a boy with tits.  You must really wanna get your ass kicked.”

I felt more than heard as a couple other guys closed in on me from behind.  I went as heavy as I could.  “So, Uberman.  I hear you’re a mouth with no brains.  You must really want to get even more detentions.”

He snarled, “Girlie-boys like you make me sick.”

There was quite a crowd around us now.  I figured the odds that anyone would want to come to my rescue were somewhere below winning the California state lottery.  I decided to play to the crowd.  I adjusted my stance like Tolman sensei showed us the day before.  “Oh, come on, Uberman.  Admit it.  Everyone in Costuming class knows you have the hots for me, you big perv.”

“Shut your face, queer!”  And he shoved me hard with both hands.

Okay, Uberman was an Exemplar, but not a Hank-level superman.  I felt the push, but I didn’t lose my balance.  I smirked, “Man, you are a pervert!  I’m a guy with GSD, and you’re trying to feel me up right here in front of everybody!”

Most of the crowd laughed.  He turned an angry red.

That was when one of his creepy friends closed in behind me.  I could feel the guy pressing against my back.  So let me guess what Uberman was going to do next…

He launched a vicious punch right into my stomach.

It would have been really effective.. if I hadn’t gone light already.  The punch went right through me and hit Uberman’s partner in crime.

“Ooof!  Jesus, M.K.!  That hurt!”  The guy behind me grabbed his stomach and keeled over in pain.

I phased through Uberman and walked off, smirking, “See you Monday in class.  Try not to make all these passes at me.  I’m a guy.  I don’t date guys.  I really hate to see you coming out as gay in public like this, and getting embarrassed in front of all your friends.”

I was hardly even late to Spanish.  Plus, I was one of only about a third of the class who had completed all the homework.  What, didn’t they believe Señor Ramirez?  I learned a few really useful new words in Spanish, as Señor Ramirez chewed out the two-thirds of the class who hadn’t done all their homework.  A couple times I had to bite the inside of my mouth to keep from laughing.  If lots of the students kept neglecting their homework, this was going to be one of the most entertaining classes of the term.

Powers Theory was its usual oppressively, mind-numbingly, tedious self, except for a demonstration of an interesting Energizer trait.  It was sheer-darkness boy from martial arts class.  His name was Richard Henry, and his codename was Blot.  Clever.

The demonstration itself was actually interesting.  Dr. Quintain showed how Blot absorbed all electro-magnetic radiation, and used that energy to make himself stronger and tougher.  Quintain put a spotlight on Blot, and then used a red laser, followed by a microwave generator on him.  Blot just soaked it up, and then could lift more weight.  Cool.  He went from average fifteen-year-old strength up to about Exemplar-2 with that extra energy.  I wondered how strong he could get, and what happened when he hit the ‘catastrophe point’ where he overloaded and something drastic happened.

But where did Blot store all that energy?  Quintain wanted to talk about that, since apparently Richard didn’t have any unusual organs or any adaptations that might explain it.  So was Blot storing it all in some alternate dimensions or something?  Research question time.  Apparently, when Quintain was doing something that interested him, he returned from The Land Of The Zombies and was just an over-focused nerd.

The demo was so interesting that I didn’t get my Spanish homework done before class ended.

That, and Möbius was doing his ‘Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’ imitation of Quintain talking to Rich Henry, and I was having a hard time not laughing.  “Anyone?  Henry?  Henry?”  Charmer totally did not get the joke.

I would have spent lunch thinking about those bullies, but I was distracted.  First, Chef André had a Marseilles adaptation of New England clam chowder for me to try.  It was outstanding.  Then Nikki was feeling well enough to come eat with us.  That was good news.  And finally, Toni had a copy of the school paper, with a couple columns devoted to what the newspaper assholes editors had written about us and Ninja Night.  I wasn’t the only one at the table who wanted to grind those guys up for reporter tartare.

I scanned the article and exploded, “That’s the LAST time we talk to that paper!”

So Jade had to look it over.  “‘Baddies grab bust, babes bounce back.’  Uh, that makes it sound...”

“Oh, it gets better,” I complained.

Jade was trying to read it, but she was having to fight Toni and Nikki for possession.  Billie cheated by floated over everyone and reading from over Jade’s head.

Jade worked her way through the article, “Let’s see.. car alarms.. historical ninja problems...  HEY!  Why is everyone so down on Hello Kitty?”

No comment.  I took the Fifth on that one.

She kept reading, while Nikki was trying to peel the paper out of her hands.  “Oh, here’s something.  ‘Have you seen these babes?’  Well, obviously he isn’t talking about me.”

Toni pushed, “Keep reading!”

“Oh yeah.  ‘Have you seen these babes?  If you ask me, they can fight in their nightgowns whenever they want!’“

“What!” Nikki yelped.  “It was an emergency!  We didn’t have time to change!”

Jade just said, “Uh huh.  It goes on.  It says that bystanders were competing to name the new and nubile team.”  She looked up.  “Guys, am I nubile?”

I wasn’t going to touch that one either.

“Keep reading!”

“Right.  ‘While the girls themselves...’“

“What am I?” Hank groused.  “Chopped liver?”

“‘While the girls themselves chose the inexplicable name ‘Team Kimba’, bystanders had already provided several superior suggestions for the ‘budding’ young team.’  They’ve got that in quotes.  ‘Budding.’  What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means I’m gonna kill me an editor,” I explained.

“‘Suggestions include the ‘Bedtime Angels’, ‘Negligee Nightforce’, and our personal favorite, the ‘Unbound Beauties’.  This last suggestion receives our full...support.’  What the heck is *that* supposed to mean?”

“Ayla?” Nikki asked quietly.  “Want some help, when you go to kill that editor?”

“Count me in, too,” Toni promised.

Hank smirked and actually said out loud, “They might have seen them, but only I got to hold them.”

Swift move, Hank.  You really have become a guy, haven’t you?  I just let the girls descend on him.  In Billie’s case, that was a literal descent.

It was time to get to my next class, before the girls remembered that there was another member of Team Kimba walking around with male privates, and decided that I needed a little walloping too.

At least, in aikido, no one was giving me shit about ninja night.  But if I ever found out who came up with the name ‘Five Easy Pieces’, I was going to feed him to Billie.

Tolman led us through warm-ups and stretching, and then showed us how to take up our stance and punch properly.  After that, she paired us up for practicing the chudan tsuki, or the punch to the solar plexus.

Ito waved me across the mat.  “Goodkind?  You will partner with Phobos.”

Oh man, I had Monster-girl for a partner.  And her name was Phobos.  Which was ‘fear’ in ancient Greek.  Let me see…  Phobos, his twin brother Deimos, and the goddess Enyo accompanied Ares to battles.  I looked at her and I had to ask, “Phobos, huh?  Is there a twin called Deimos?”

“My sister.”

“Oops.  Sorry.”  One of these days I would learn to keep my big mouth shut.  Especially around Whateley.

She looked at me and asked, “Is Goodkind your codename?”

“No, it’s my real last name.”

She got this ‘oh my God’ look in her eyes - all three of them - and managed a tiny “…oh.”

I shrugged, “I get that a lot.  At least you didn’t try to punch me.  Yet.”

She grinned a little, and we got down to the serious business of punching each other in the solar plexus.

She was tough.  Exemplar-4 tough.  And just that strong, too.

And once in a while, one of us hit a little too hard.  Neither of us was good enough to pull our punches perfectly.  I just went heavy and dealt.

But just being near her was making me kind of scared.  Which I was not going to admit.

Finally, she looked me in the eyes and admitted, “I’m sorry.  It’s my fear aura.  I can’t turn it off.”

I said, “Oh.  I thought it was just me being a big wuss.  If it’s your aura, I can block it.  Probably.  I have to put up with a different kind of aura all the time.”  I wasn’t going to tell her about Nikki and make her feel worse.

She reluctantly said, “And let me warn you about something else.  I’m a rager.  Sometimes I get too mad, or too upset, and I just flip out.  I hate it.  But I can’t control it.  Ito must figure you can soak up more punishment than anybody else here, because if I get hurt and I lose it, I’ll just be going nuts on you.  He should’ve put me up against the girl who beat the supervillain and the ninjas.”

I blushed a little, “He did.”

She just looked at me and said, “I’m a receptive empath too.  I can feel your pity.  I’d rather you just hated me.”

She had a fear aura AND she was a receptive empath?  So she could feel the fear of everyone who got hit with her aura that she couldn’t turn off?  Holy crow, had she gotten the crappy genes.  This kid needed some help.  But if she could feel my emotions, then the most help I could give her was not feeling constantly afraid and pitying around her.  I concentrated on being focused.

Except I kept losing my focus.  I kept thinking about other stuff.  Did Ito pair me off with Phobos because he really thought I was one of the toughest kids in the class?  Or did he just not care if a Goodkind got torn up by a rager?  Or did he figure that my ‘partial phase knockout’ was the fastest way to stop Phobos if she went Rambo on us?  Or did he have something more subtle in mind?

Or were there stronger, more dangerous kids in the class who needed to be paired up, leaving me with Phobos?  So far, I hadn’t seen anyone who looked all that tough.  It looked to me like Hank or Billie could cream every kid in here with one hand tied behind their back.  Heck, so far it looked like Toni could wipe the floor with ninety percent of these kids, and even Jade could take a bunch of them.  Maybe, once I got a chance to see what everyone could do with martial arts and their powers, I would revise that.

Once Ito soke dismissed class and I started heading for the instructors’ showers, a couple of the girls just had to get in my face.  One exemplar hottie was obviously the ringleader.  She was facing me down, and she was about half a foot taller than I was.  She had golden blond hair and vivid green eyes, with a pretty Britney Spears/Gwen Stefani kind of face and the usual sexy Exemplar build.

She snapped, “Fuckin’ rich-bitch Goodkind.  I should’ve known.  Has to have a private shower because she’s too good for the rest of us.”

One of the other girls urged her on, “You tell ‘er, Jayne!”

I turned to ‘Jayne’ and said, “Haven’t you heard?  It’s all over campus.  I figured a vicious gossip like you would know by now.  I’m not welcome in the girls’ showers.  I have male privates between my legs.  Large ones.”

A couple girls gasped, “Eeeww!”

She snapped, “You’re shittin’ me!”

I said, “No.  My mutation changed me from a boy to a half-girl half-boy freak.  So I have the kind of GSD that no one wants to see in the showers.  Unless you want a naked boy to stare at you while you’re naked in the showers.  Unless you want to watch me get a hard-on while I’m staring at you naked…”

“EEEEWWW!”

“You’re shittin’ me!”  This time, she gasped in revulsion.

“That’s so gross!  Don’t shower with us!”

I said, “That’s what I’m doing already.  Remember?  Just stop giving me grief about it, unless you want me in the showers with you.”

“No!”  All four of the girls shouted that one.

“I’m so glad I get appreciated for trying to make things nicer for you guys.  You want to know how fun it is to shower, with Sensei Tolman standing there in her super-suit in the locker room, glaring at you the whole time, tapping her foot and staring at her watch like you’re making her late?”

No one did.  They backed off.

I stalked off to shower, with Tolman once again watching me like I was Willie Sutton rummaging around in her private bank vault.  “Sensei?” I asked.

“Yes, kohai?”

“I’m going to use the codename ‘Phase’.  Since everyone seems to get called by their codename instead of their real name, I would appreciate being called Phase in class.”

She said, “I will notify soke.”

I thought for a second and said, “Also, would you tell soke that I’d be willing to partner Phobos again?  She has a fear aura, but I was able to block most of it when I concentrated hard.”

She just stared at me as if she were trying to figure out what kind of scam I was pulling on Phobos.

When I was done showering, I tried something new.  I concentrated really carefully, and went light.  I managed to do it just right.  I managed to leave the water on my skin untouched when I went light, and it fell through me to the floor.  My hair was still a little damp, but that was manageable.

Take that, Nikki, and your magic hair-drying trick!

Tolman actually sounded impressed as she said, “That should save time in the showers.”

I replied, “Yeah, if I could figure out how to do that with sweat and dirt, I could take instant water-free showers and really save time.”

My new shower trick saved me enough time that I was on time to Powers Lab.  Mrs. Bohn was introducing flyers to the ‘water track’, so I was expected to work on that.  I felt like it was a huge waste of time for me.  I was used to walking around after going light, and I didn’t really stand on the floor when I did it.  So it was really easy for me to walk on the steps.  The trick was that some of the time we were on solid surfaces, and some of the time we were suddenly over water.  We were judged on our ability to make it look like we were walking when we were actually using our power to float or levitate or whatever we did.  But for me it was business as usual.  At least I got one of the top grades from the judges.

Then, in math class, Mrs. Bell explained some of the trig I hadn’t grokked the night before.  Some of the kids in the class had that bored ‘I already got that’ look, which made me nervous.  I wanted an ‘A’ in trig too, and I was up against a bunch of upperclassmen.  I was used to being one of the smartest kids in the class, and I didn’t like feeling as if I were in the bottom third.

Electrode pointed out that a lot of the deviser and gadgeteer kids had already placed out of trig, or could learn any level of math in minutes, using neural implants or their own devises.  That just made me feel even worse.

Before dinner, Team Kimba had to go to ‘team orientation’ with Mister Shane.  What on earth was team orientation?  We met in the tunnels just under Schuster.  Toni was bouncing excitedly at the prospect of learning to fight as a team.  I was just hoping we weren’t going to get beat up, right after the not-fun of ninja night.

Mister Shane looked like a cross between a drill instructor and Bruce Campbell as ‘The Surgeon General of Beverly Hills’.  The fact that he was in mufti wasn’t fooling any of us.  Even Jade picked up on him right away.  He led us to a simulation area underneath what he said was Arena ‘99.

He smiled, “You’re already an interesting group.  You’ve already fought as a team, and no other freshman group can claim that.”

Okay, I didn’t think that we had fought as a team, as much as we piled on whenever we could.

He continued, “Plus you demonstrated some real talent out there.”

I was pretty sure that Billie muttered, “Yeah, a talent for destruction.”

I thought she had done a great job of controlling herself.  So what if she couldn’t get her energy sword to go away that time?  She disposed of it without blowing anyone up.

He went on for a while, until he checked us over and finally realized, “Your mage is not here.  She was supposed to be here!  This is not optional!”

Toni jumped in, “She’s out sick.  Didn’t you get a note or somethin’ from her advisor?  She’s got permission to miss classes for two days, until she’s better.”

“Hmph.  I needed to see what your mage could do.  You need to know each other’s abilities and limitations if you’re going to work as a team.”

I didn’t think that we knew what all of our abilities and limitations were.  How could our teammates know, if we were still learning what we could do?

He explained, “As you have no upperclassmen on your team, you won’t be eligible for team training in the simulators until next term.”

Oh rats.  I was so disappointed.  Just what I needed.  Something else to interfere with my curriculum.

Then I realized.  Jeez, Toni and Hank really were disappointed!  Man, did they just want to have battles all the time?  I looked at Toni’s face, and I knew.  That was a pretty definite ‘yes’.

Then he asked for quick demos of each of our abilities.  Jade showed him Jinn.  I went heavy and I went light, but I didn’t do the ‘phase-through knockout’ trick or the ‘phase-into and disintegrate’ trick.  I told him about them.  But there was no one there I wanted to render unconscious, and it hurt when I disintegrated stuff.  Toni showed off a bit with some martial arts moves that made “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” look lame.  Hank lifted off and gave him the ‘PK superman’ bit.

Then we had some problems, since Billie didn’t want to blow up the place.  Mr. Shane argued with her, but she didn’t want to show off her energy sword or her energy blasts after the trouble she’d had Wednesday night.  Mr. Shane finally snapped at us that we were miserably uncooperative and he didn’t see how he could help us if we wouldn’t help him.

So much for team training.  I mean, what was Billie supposed to do?  Risk blowing up a huge chunk of the tunnels so Captain Chin there could get his jollies?  I thought she did the right thing.  We all backed her up, even if we all got chewed out for it.

As Mr. Shane stomped off, Hank quietly said, “Shane…  Come back, Shane…”

I laughed.  I think most of the group didn’t get the joke.  Hank spent most of the walk to the Crystal Hall trying to explain it to Jade.

At dinner, Chef Marcel had something new for me to try.  A small plate with four small toasted diamonds of bread, each with a smaller diamond of a thick, meaty slice centered perfectly, with a dollop of some sort of puree and a garnish of several pomegranate seeds on each.  He gave me an expectant look but wouldn’t tell me what it was.

It was…  It was exquisite.  The meat was a really high-quality fresh foie gras, and the dollop was a date puree.  The toast was toasted brioche, probably left from breakfast.  The foie gras was rich and silky, while the date puree gave each bite a rich depth that perfectly complemented the foie gras.  The pomegranate seeds added a burst of sweet and sour.  The seeds and the toast gave it some crunch, while the puree and foie gras gave it smoothness.

After I ate, I had to go back and chat with Chef Marcel.  “Was that date puree?  It tasted like real Medjool dates.

He grinned, “Why, yes.  I knew you would know what was in it.  Peter is going to owe me another ten dollars.  Now tomorrow…

But Kismet walked up before Marcel could tell me about tomorrow’s cuisine.  I knew Kismet well enough by then to recognize that her fussiness and impatience had probably collided head-on with Chef Marcel’s cuisine last year, and she was on his shit list.  Or else there was a France-Belgium argument going on between them.

Kismet smiled wickedly, “Come over with me.  I want you to meet Dynamaxx.  Or rather, I want him to meet you.

At the Beret Mafia’s usual table, there was a student I didn’t know.  He was sitting between Charmer and Cytherea, and it looked like he was trying to hit on both of them simultaneously.  That seemed like a really bad idea to me, but I had never been God’s gift to women, like this guy obviously thought he was.  He looked like a sophomore or junior.  He had dark blonde hair that was combed back spikily in a very European style.  He also had an overbearing smirk on his face that I knew the rest of the table wanted to wipe off.

Kismet introduced me in English.  “Phase?  This is Dynamaxx.  Maxx?  This is Phase.  She is one of the freshmen from Poe who fought those ninjas.”  I noticed that her English was quite precise, but not very idiomatic.

Dynamaxx leapt to his feet in what he no doubt thought was a smooth move.  “Ahh!  Another lovely without peer!  And what would it take for you to go out with me tonight?”

I tried to keep a straight face.  “Umm, quite a lot, actually.  I’m a guy with a weird case of GSD, so I just happen to look mostly female.”

For a second, emotions flew across his face.  Disbelief, realization that he had been set up, humiliation, anger.. and then a sudden excited recognition.  “You are the Goodkind girl!  I heard people talking about you today.  A Goodkind who is a mutant?  There must be a lot of families who are enjoying that bit of gossip.”  He paused and explained, “I am Maximillian Dynsen.  My family is Dynsen Telekom.”

I smiled and shook his hand, “Ayla Goodkind.  My family?  Everyone seems to have heard already.”

He said, “This is excellent.  We must talk.  At once.”  He got up and led me away from the table, to Kismet’s obvious disapproval.  “Ayla, you said?  You must join the Golden Kids.  We will be having the first meeting of the school year quite soon, and your attendance would be a coup.”

I had been looking for connections to any other well-to-do students at Whateley.  Every school had a group like this.  Even places like Chilton, where most of the student body came from well-off families.  There were always the people at the top, who wanted to spend time with the kind of people their parents saw.  There were always important opportunities that grew out of connections like this.  The opportunities might be friendships, or romances, or business ventures, or stock tips, or a dozen other chances that would be worth my while.  I said, “Count me in.”

He grinned avidly at the thought of being the one who brought in a Goodkind.  Then he said, “And, if you ever become fully female, look me up first!”  He walked back to the Beret Mafia table, his smug smirk back in place.

The idea of dating a guy just made me want to vomit.  He was never going to be my type.  Even if I someday got stuck in a totally female body, and even if something insane happened to make my brain change so I actually liked guys, a smug asshole like Maxx was never going to be on my to-date list.

After dinner, Billie sprinted off for, of all things, ballroom dance class.  She wanted to go to ballroom dance class?  Ugh.  I had spent way too much time being forced to learn ‘appropriate’ dances when I was nine and ten.  It paid off at proms and weddings, but I had not enjoyed learning at the time.

I supposed that if I were fourteen and I were getting to hold a nubile Exemplar babe wearing a sexy dress, I wouldn’t mind learning ballroom dancing.  But now I was in the sticky situation of being expected to be the one in the dress.  Unh-uh.  Not happening.  I was wearing a tux, no matter what, or I wasn’t attending.

Toni and Billie were organizing a little team get-together for when Billie was back from dance class.  I volunteered to provide snacks, but they were already set on delivery pizza.  Okay.  I didn’t want to shove my bank balance up their noses at every breath.  I let them go for it.

Then I did some Civics personal study work.  After that, I did some reading for World Lit.  Then I finished my Spanish homework and went back to work on Spanish vocabulary.  When it was about time for the team party, I just walked right through the wall into the sunroom.

I nearly stepped on Kenny and Jeff, who were busy swapping spit right there in the sunroom.  Classy.

They sort of over-reacted.  Kenny screeched, “Holy shee-it!” and Jeff fell over, nearly clobbering Kenny in the process. 

Then they over-reacted again.  Well, Kenny already hated me, and it seemed inevitable that his boyfriend would hear Kenny’s version of ‘Ayla Goodkind: Threat or Menace?’.

Kenny snapped, “Hey, bitch!  You’re not supposed to be using your powers like that!”

Jeff angrily chipped in, “Yeah!  Someone could see you!”

Assholes.  Everyone in the room could see the indicator light was green.  I gave them my nastiest glare.  Once they wilted, I clapped my hands to my cheeks and gave them the Macaulay Culkin face.  “Oh no!  I forgot!”  And I ducked back through the wall.

It sounded like Billie was trying hard not to burst out laughing.  Either that or someone was strangling a sea lion.  So I stuck my head back through the wall and sneered, “There, is that better?  Boys?”

But they hadn’t wised up.  Jeff snapped, “That’s not funny, bitch!”

I was really getting tired of this crap. I strode through the wall and went heavy before I got in their faces.  “You got something to say to me?  Boy?”

Even though the floor was starting to groan under my weight, they were still too stupid to get the hint.  Fortunately, Billie stood right behind them (well, she was standing, but her feet were on the ceiling) and chased them away with a mere sentence.  It was frustrating to realize that I was never going to be even a fraction as intimidating as Tennyo.

I did a crappy job of thanking Billie for stepping in and preventing me from having to do whatever I needed to do, like picking them up by the scruffs of their necks and handing them over to Jody for counseling.  But Billie was focusing on food again.  As always.  Did she have to get up in the middle of the night and eat stray cattle for a nighttime snack?

“I’m getting hungry!”

What a surprise.  I smirked, “We wouldn’t want that to happen!”

She just grinned, “What does that mean?”

So I said, “We saw what you did at dinner.”

“So?”

I added, “Let’s just say.. we don’t want to get between you and your food.”

She mock-frowned, “Hey! I’m not that bad.”

I got the last word in by stepping back through my wall as I said, “Well, we’ll see...”

The purpose of the party was simple.  Toni and Billie wanted to make sure everyone had codenames for important stuff.. like being humiliated by school newspaper nerds again.  Billie was using ‘Tennyo’ more than her real name, and Nikki was going by ‘Fey’, but someone seemed to think that the rest of us were lacking in codename coolness.

I was pretty sure that I’d told them I was going to use ‘Phase’, back when we were doing our getting-to-know-you bit at the Quad with Beltane.  So I waved off the attempts to code me up.

And hadn’t Toni chosen ‘Chaka’ already?  From what I’d heard, it came up in the middle of a hot make-out session with Riptide.  Hard life there, dudette.

The names for Hank and Jade were somewhere between boring and lame.  Powerlift and Dense were just two of the dorky names for Hank.  I ‘helpfully’ suggested “Ito’s whipping boy”, and Hank was nice enough not to crush me like an egg.  Billie came up with ‘Dual’ for Jade, which was about the best suggestion I heard.  It was certainly better than my suggestions, even if it did sound too much like ‘duel’, and Jade probably didn’t want to spend all her time getting into fights.

On the upside, I did get a couple pieces of halfway-decent delivery pizza, before Billie finished her two whole pies and then cleaned out the rest of the pizza boxes like a plague of locusts.

Saturday, September 9

I was almost late to class, because of Nikki.  Fortunately, I had gotten up early to shower and dress, before all hell broke loose on the floor.

I was just finishing tying my Doc Martens when a way-too-chipper knocking started on my door.  Three guesses who that could be.

The door cracked open, and Toni popped her head around the edge.  “Hey Ayles, is it safe to come in?”

It was way too early for a “Marathon Man” comeback, and I needed to go get some coffee.  So I just gave her my best Daria imitation.  “Sure, Toni.  What can I do for you.. this early in the morning?”

“I got the hint,” she grinned as she bounced in on.  She looked at my stereo system, which was playing Psychostick.  It was obviously not her first choice of music.  It struck me that I didn’t even know these girls well enough to know what music they listened to.

She tried to ignore a rousing chorus of “Two Ton Paperweight” and obviously failed.  “Umm, Nikki has kind of a problem I think you might be able to help with.”

Okay, I had to ask.  “Nikki?  What kind of problem?  And why couldn’t she come and ask me?”

Toni shrugged, “You don’t know how Nikki gets when things go kind of funky on her.  But I think there’s a really good chance that everyone in Poe is going to learn about that pret-ty soon.  I got her into the bathroom and hopefully into the shower.  The problem is that she.. umm.. developed some more overnight and none of her undies will fit her any longer.  I was wondering if she could borrow some stuff until she can get some more of her own?”

Suddenly my throat tightened up.  “Developed how?”  I mean, Nikki was already incredibly hot.  Was Toni telling me that Nikki had morphed into a curvier, even sexier version?  I had to swallow hard.  Man, what a lousy time to be wearing a gaff.  I tried to think about stock portfolios so I wouldn’t get an erection that would make me double over in pain.

Toni admitted, “Well, she’s at least a C-Cup now, and her hips and bottom are definitely looking more like a grown woman.  Her own bras and panties are way too small now.  Would you have something that might get her through the day, at least?”

“Oh, yeah,” I said.  I don’t think I was actually answering Toni.  I think I was fantasizing about Nikki.  This I absolutely had to see for myself.  I started going through my on-hand collection of oversized lingerie and clothing.  My doctor had told me that I needed to have some larger sizes on hand in case of emergencies, but she was figuring on my needing them.  “Non-synthetics, right?  And does she need outerwear too?”

“Oh probably,” Toni said.  Then I definitely heard her giggle.

I was fairly deep in my closet by then, so I had to ask, “What’s so funny?”

“I was just picturing poor Nikki wandering around campus in just bra and panties...” she giggled again.

“That would sure cause some heart attacks,” I agreed, while I tried really hard not to fantasize too much about Nikki walking around in really sexy lingerie.  “We sure can’t have that now, can we?”  Except here, where I could look at her.

“Nope.”

By then I’d found the C-cup bras and several sizes of panties that were possibilities, but I hadn’t found the right tops yet.  From the back of the closet, I said, “Ok, I’ll find some stuff and bring it to the bathroom.”

“Thanks, and Nikki will thank you, too.”

But I was hearing a rumbling that didn’t sound like it belonged inside a dorm.  And it was getting audibly closer.  By the second.  I stopped and asked, “Uhh Toni, what was that?”

“Kind’a sounds like thunder.  But.. in the hallway?”  Toni suddenly smacked herself in the forehead.  “I’ve gotta go!  Nikki is going crazy about something, I just know it!”

We both turned toward the door, and a cloud was coming into the room through the open door.  A real, honest-to-god, rain cloud surrounded by nearly-constant flashes of lightning.  It was rumbling thunder so loudly that we had to shout to be heard, even though we were only a few feet apart.  The cloud had to be three feet across, and it was threatening to rain all over my floor.

I was about to complain about that, but maybe the rain cloud was touchy.  It let loose with a little lightning bolt that nearly fried my hair.  “AACK!” I choked out, as I ducked.  Of course, I was ducking way too late, but it was instinct.  “What the hell was that?”

All right, that was largely a rhetorical question.  I knew what lightning was.

Toni answered anyway, in a shout loud enough to be heard.  “A thunder storm!  In the hallway!  I’ve gotta get to Nikki now!  She also turned into a real girl down there last night!  Do you know anyone who might have something to help with PMS?”

“Oh shit.”  I closed my eyes.  Someone with Nikki’s powers with PMS?  That didn’t bear thinking about.  “I’ll go find Tennyo!”

But Billie was already outside in the hall, flying about in her bathrobe and dodging lightning bolts like it was easy.  Damn!  I knew she didn’t believe in gravity, but didn’t she have to believe in inertia?

I shouldn’t have stopped to watch Billie jiggling around in that little bathrobe.  “OWWW!”  That damned cloud nailed me right in the ass with a miniature lightning bolt.  I went heavy, which I should have done right away, and I pushed the cloud back out of my room.  Which I shouldn’t have been able to do, but that cloud was a lot more dense than a real cloud ought to be.

Believe me, indoor rain and lightning are not conducive to good relations with other people on the floor.  Or all other floors in the dorm.  Or house mothers.  By the time we got Nikki calmed down, most of the dorm was on our case.  I should have left then, but I had to watch Nikki get dressed.  I mean, it was my stuff, right?  I had to make sure it all fit right and didn’t cause any allergic reactions, didn’t I?

Okay, Billie didn’t actually let me watch Nikki putting her undies on.

But THEN we had to clean up the water all over the floor!  Man, if only Rip had stuck around and offered to help us out.  One wave of her arm, and all the water would be up off the floor and down a drain.  The clean-up took us longer than I could afford.

So I had to sprint all the way to the caff on my way to class.  It was a good thing my speed and endurance had really picked up since I manifested.  Chef Marcel must have seen me racing across the Quad, because he had a paper bag for me when I ran in.  I grabbed it with a quick merci beaucoup, and raced off to English class.

I rushed in past a chubby twenty-five-ish guy with a lame van Dyke beard.  The guy had ‘grad student nerdboy’ written all over his button-down shirt, which was too tight across his gut.  He looked at me and made a note on his clipboard.

I looked around nervously as I plopped down in a seat.  I was apparently the only freshman in a class of 29 students.  Plus our grad student note-taker.  But Chef Marcel had rescued me.  The bag contained two warm, buttery croissants, and some real coffee (one real cream, no sugar) in a large to-go cup.  I was going to have to figure out some really nice thank-you for him.

Just as I was shoving a big wad of delicious croissant into my gaping maw, Dr. Paul Zinn strolled in.  He looked like he was ready for a gentlemanly tennis game: casual khakis, a polo shirt, real tennis shoes, and a right arm that was noticeably more muscled than his left.

He looked over the room and then announced, “There are too many people signed up for this class.  We will have a ten page printed paper due every week.”

Several people behind me gasped loud enough to be heard.  I didn’t say a thing.  I knew that my years at Chilton had given me expertise in outlining and writing a paper properly, so I was going to have an advantage in here if Zinn actually stuck to that rule.

That would make me even more unpopular than I already was.  Great.

He went on, “As everyone in here who has bothered to look at the book list already knows, the topic for this course is going to be the epic.  We will begin with the Iliad and the Odyssey, since these are the classics that everyone will be the most knowledgeable about.  I expect you to have read both the Iliad and the Odyssey by Tuesday.  Paper choices must be validated by me via email by the end of Tuesday classes, and the paper will be due next Saturday.  Also next Saturday, we will have class discussion of these works.

“Now, as you ought to know if you are sitting in this room, the epic is traditionally a long, let us say exalted, poem.  It is on a serious subject, although we will see in the secondary or tertiary epic styles that there are exceptions to this rule.  The epic is centered on a heroic figure who must prove his heroism in difficult trials.  After all, if the trials are not difficult, then who requires heroism to endure them?

“The epic poem typically makes such great demands on a poet’s knowledge and skill that it has been deemed the most ambitious of poetic forms. Some of its most important conventions, which have been followed by epic writers in varying degrees, include, first and foremost, a hero who embodies national, cultural, or religious ideals.  Traditionally, the fate of his people will depend to some degree upon his actions.  Then the epic covers a course of action in which the hero performs great and difficult deeds.  Often the poem will extend to an entire era in the history of his civilization.  We usually see the intervention and recognition of divine or supernatural powers.  We face concerns over eternal human problems.  And we expect a dignified and fairly elaborate poetic style.

“The earliest epics, known as primary, or original, epics, were shaped from the legends of an age when a nation was conquering and expanding.  We will see this more clearly as we study the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer, and the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf.

“In the coming weeks, we will cover the Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  After a week on each of these, we will temporarily leap forward to Milton’s Paradise Lost and Spenser’s Faerie Queene, as well as Bermondi’s excellent translation of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, in order to understand the context of the classical Western ‘secondary’ or ‘literary’ epic and how it has evolved over the centuries, before we leap back in time to see how Gilgamesh and Beowulf differ from what we traditionally view as the Western narrative style.  The true heroic epic never evolved far from its preliterate origins, and it arose only in the Heroic Age which preceded a given settled civilization. The conditions reflected in, say, the Iliad and the Odyssey are much the same as those of the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, the German Niebelungenlied, or the Irish stories of Cú Chulainn…”

I took careful notes as he talked.  He was a wealth of information on a huge range of works.  He obviously loved his subject, and his interest was contagious.  This class was going to be a ton of work, but it was going to be great! 

“…and then we will look at the hypermodern epic poem, as evinced by works like Ezra Pound’s The Cantos.  We will finish the course with some research work by you.  Your final paper will be finding a work that you feel is either a primary epic or else a secondary epic, and demonstrating in your paper that your choice of literature meets all the necessary requirements.

“Now, in addition to the readings on which we will write papers, we have some optional reading.  Over Thanksgiving weekend, we won’t be holding classes.  But you’ll be expected to read at least two of: the French Song of Roland, the Spanish Song of the Cid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Tasso’s Gerusaleme Liberta, or Camões’s Lusiads.  None of these are fair game for the final research paper…”

“Professor?”  A hand went up in the second row.  A hot Oriental girl who looked older than me but maybe not ‘senior’ raised her hand.  When she got a nod, she asked, “About the final paper.  Would a work in the original language be acceptable, even if there is not a reasonable translation available?”

“Miss…”  The grad student whispered something, and Zinn continued, “…Miss Hua, the answer to that is ‘yes’.  In fact, that brings up another point.  Any sufficiently innovative and well-written papers in this class may be selected for re-writing with me and publication in academic journals.  Such papers will be given extra credit, since they will require extra work on your part.  A paper like that, which provides translation and explication not in current journal articles, would qualify.  I suggest you consider your translations carefully, since you might find yourself having to defend them to unsupportive academics.”

The Oriental girl practically glowed with excitement at that.

Dr. Zinn then gave us another hour or two of his expert knowledge on epic poems, including the sort of thing you normally never heard in a Lit class.  He said, “You will probably not like Lucan’s The Civil War.  I agree with Pete Toohey’s evaluation of it.  You will find it seriously lacking after you have read works like Metamorphoses and the Odyssey and the Aeneid.  But Lucan wrote it after suffering a great deal in that war, and he worked under a difficult political situation.  You will feel his powerful libertarian voice, and you will be able to see his suffering as you read between the lines.  But you will also find his characterizations oddly one-dimensional.  He obsesses over the macabre and the pathetic.  He exaggerates constantly to such an extent that it affects the tone of the poem.  And many people will find that his history is somewhat.. umm.. opportunistic.  What Toohey called ‘historical amnesia’, a term I have always liked.”

Wow!  What other professor would ever admit a thing like that about his own materials?  He was really a great lecturer.  I was going to stick with this class if it killed me.

After he wrapped up, I walked to the front of the class and waited until two brown-nosers were all done.  I said, “Dr. Zinn?  I have my paper topic in mind already.  I read the Iliad last year at Chilton.”

“Chilton?”  He looked down at me and guessed, “Last year you were.. what.. a seventh grader?”

“Eighth grade, actually.  My teacher, Dr. Hardy Lester, said you were the best professor he ever had, and if I ever had the chance I should do whatever it took to get into one of your courses.”

“Hmm.  Hardy Lester?  I wrote a recommendation for him.  Excellent student.”  He paused and asked, “And what would your topic be?”

I admitted, “I only manifested my power about six weeks ago, and I was a boy before then, believe it or not.  It changed my appearance, and it changed how everyone treated me.  And becoming a mutant changed how everyone treated me.  So this is somewhat driven by my experiences.  Here’s my working title.”  I handed him a sheet of paper:

The Triple Standard: the Behaviors Expected of Gods, Men, and Women in the Classical Greek Epic

          by Ayla Goodkind

He frowned and murmured, “Goodkind?  I have a Paul Goodkind in one of my classes at Yale.”

I admitted, “My older brother.”

He considered for a moment and said, “This topic is acceptable.  It looks.. very creative.  Very promising.  Remember, ten pages printed, at a minimum.  But no longer than twenty pages maximum.  My grad student Jeff has better things to do with his time than grade papers that look like Michener novels.  I will expect proper English grammar and a well-structured paper.”  He paused again and stressed, “And I will be checking with Hardy Lester and your brother, to make sure that this paper is yours, and not the work of an older sibling, and not something you wrote last year.”

I insisted, “I wouldn’t do that.  I think you’ll find that I was Dr. Lester’s best junior high student last year, and one of the valedictorians of my junior high class at Chilton.  Of course, last year my name was Trevor James Goodkind.”  I pointed at my chest and continued, “As I said before, my mutation forced some changes on me that I didn’t want.  Just ask Paul about that.”

He just nodded,  “Hmm.”  He turned to ‘grad student Jeff’ and said, “Let’s get going.  I’d like to say hello to Mrs. Carson and arrange a tennis game for next Saturday, before you drive us back.”

Whoa!  Dr. Zinn knew Mrs. Carson?  And he could play tennis against her?  Color me impressed. 

She had to be taking it easy on norms like Dr. Zinn, because she could probably take the entire American Davis Cup team.  Simultaneously.  I mean, what sort of tennis serve would Lady Astarte have?  A 400 mile an hour service that caused the tennis ball to explode on impact with the ground?  I wouldn’t challenge Carson to a tennis match unless I had to.

As I walked down the lunch line, I saw Marcel elbow Chef Peter.  Peter did the usual ‘casual stroll’ routine and put a small, square plate down.  It had four elegantly presented Japanese rolls.  Peter whispered, “They’re my Atlantic rim version of negimaki.”  Ooh!

I took my tray and carefully went light.  I was able to get the whole tray to go light with me, and I casually strolled off to the Team Kimba table.

As I walked past a table full of Melville morons, one of Uberman’s buddies tried to trip me.  But I saw the leg jut out at the last second.  I had already gone light, so I walked right through his leg.  Then I went just heavy enough to feel a tingle in my own leg.

He screamed in pain and doubled over as he grabbed his shin.  “MY LEG!!  JESUS!!!

I went heavy as I turned back, in case I was going to have to fight.  But he was pulling his shin up to his chest and trying not to scream again.  His jerkface friends were sitting there looking shocked, since they had been eagerly anticipating seeing him humiliate some freaky little frosh.

I set down my tray and lied to him, “Oops.  Sorry.  I can’t control that.  You’re lucky you didn’t lose that whole leg.”

The hot brunette sitting next to him looked horrified as she echoed my words.  “Lose his whole leg?”

“Yeah,” I insisted.  “I can’t always control how I phase in and out of things.  So some of the time, I’m heavier than lead, and some of the time I’m completely immaterial, and some of the time I disintegrate matter that I pass through.”

He had a new textbook and a couple notebooks on the table by his food.  I put my hand into his textbook and then went solid enough to disintegrate it.  Shit, that hurt.  I tried not to show it.  But there was now an Ayla-sized handprint gone out of the middle of his book.  “Oops!” I said, as insincerely as I could.

“Hey, that cost a lot of money!” he growled.

I stared at him coldly, “Not as much money as a prosthetic leg.  Tell your pals.  Put the word out.  Trying to trip me or hit me is about as smart as starting a fight with Nex.  Nex would break both your arms.  I might accidentally disintegrate a couple of your limbs.  Nex might break your spine.  I might disintegrate the family jewels.”

That got a gasp of pure horror out of a couple guys at the table.  Good.

I picked up my tray and sauntered off, wondering if I had made enough of an impression on Melville Marvin and his pals.

And the pseudo negimaki were great.  Real negimaki would have had sliced scallions and a wrapper of beef.  These had vertically-arrayed haricots verts instead of the scallions, and prosciutto instead of the thinly-sliced beef that normally served as the outer wrapper.  The binding agent was a tangy homemade mayonnaise with lemon zest and sieved hard-boiled egg.  Holy crow, were they good.

I went back and chatted with Peter and Marcel.  Apparently, Peter had finally learned not to bet against my palate.  I told him, “The binder was just right.  Not too much lemon, not too much scallion, and just enough pepper to give it some zing.  You’ve outdone yourself again.”

They both grinned widely and strolled back into the kitchen.  I had to wonder if I was the only person at Whateley who appreciated their cooking skills, or who ever said ‘thank you’.  Didn’t anyone else understand what it took to keep a great chef?

I walked back to our table and told all of Team Kimba that I was going to hold a ‘roomwarming party’ at 1:30, after I made a couple purchases at the campus store.

Toni said, “What?  Popcorn and sodas?”

I shook my head no.  “A mini-fridge, a microwave, a real coffee maker, and a small pantry.  THEN the popcorn, sodas, and so on.”

Toni grinned, “This I have to see.  ‘Shop-styles of the rich and famous’.”

I laughed and said, “Fine, but anyone who comes along has to help carry stuff back.”

Hank decided to come with me and Toni, so I knew I had enough capability to buy out a furniture store and get it all carried back.

We ran into Jody on the way out, and I stopped her.  “Hey Jody, I’m going to have a room-warming party at 1:30.  After all your hard work, I want you to come too, so everyone can meet the person who made it look so nice.”

She broke into a big smile and said, “That’s really nice of you!  Where are you off to now?”  When I told her about my purchasing plans, she said, “Well, that’s silly, I’ll come too and help carry stuff.”

I said, “You don’t have to.  I’ve got Toni and The Hulk here with me…”

“Hey!” complained Hank.

But she said, “Oh, I’d love to help.  It’ll be fun.”

Toni’s eyebrows went up in an unspoken ‘is she always like that’ question.

I just said, “Sure, I’d love to have your help, if it’s really not messing up what you had planned.”

She just smiled and said, “What?  Studying geometry?  I’d rather do this.”

I walked into the campus store and went straight back to the Special Orders section, while I sent my three helpers off for two shopping carts and a handtruck.

I asked the bored-looking, pimple-faced clerk, “Hi, I’m Ayla Goodkind.  Do you have my special orders in?”  He looked at a clipboard and finally said, “Uh, yeah.  Not all that special, for around here, but we got ‘em.”

I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out what real special orders were at Whateley.  Jars of hand-pickled slugs?  Appliances only available on Venus?

The clerk struggled with the mini-fridge, which told me a lot about him.  The fridge was only about three feet high, and I probably could have managed it before I manifested my powers.  I let Hank slide it on the handtruck, even though he could have lifted it with one finger.  After that came a Krups 7550 programmable coffee maker, complete with its own freezer compartment to protect the roasted coffee beans, and its own grinder to prepare the grind correctly for the coffee maker.

Toni looked at it and said, “Ayles, you do know that the caff has coffee every morning, right?”

I grinned, “I’m a caffeine addict.  I gotta have that fix.”

My last special orders were also in: a refrigerated box holding three pounds of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans, hand-roasted and then flash-frozen for storage; and a high-end UPS to protect all my new toys from the inevitable hits the dorm power systems had to be taking from all the Energizers at Whateley.

We didn’t have any trouble getting my other special orders into the shopping carts.  Other than the fact that Toni’s bad ‘Robin Leach’ impression was making the clerk glare at us.  “…ahnd it’s caviah dreams as the fahbulous Ayla Goodkind makes those fahbulous food purchases she’s so famous for!”

Then we went shopping.  I bought four beanbag chairs, a small cabinet to serve as my pantry, and snacks.  Lots of snacks.  Hank had an unfortunate taste for deep-fried pork rinds, but I bought a bag for him anyway.  Toni and Jody had better taste, but Toni couldn’t drink any of the sodas they had, because they all had concentrated sweeteners, and they would make her hyperactive.

Hank grinned, “Good Lord, you mean even more hyperactive than you are now?”

She nodded yes and said, “Imagine Jay Jay.  On crack.”

“Ouch.”

So I picked up some bottled water too, even though it’s a phenomenal waste of money.  Really, why pay several thousand times what tap water costs, if you’re only buying someone else’s tap water?  Even a lot of the well water or spring water used in bottled waters comes from contaminated aquifers, and the water that didn’t come from places like that still had to be cleaned and purified before bottling it.  There were a few places around the world that had real spring-fed or artesian well water that was worth drinking, but they didn’t have the volume of outflow to be able to bottle it and sell it as a mass-market product.

Toni also admitted that if she ate chocolate, she got really horny, which was definitely Too Much Information.

Hmm…  I wonder if Rip knows about the ‘chocolate’ thing…

Once I purchased everything, it was time to lug it all back to Poe.  Hank looked at the flag, which was amber.  He said, “I think we can get away with this.”  He took the fridge out of its protective padding, loaded all the sodas and snacks into it, and easily placed it on one shoulder.

Jody said, “I’ve got the beanbag chairs.”  She stacked them on top of each other and stretched a bit to get her arms around everything.  It wasn’t too obvious if you weren’t standing nearby.

Toni took the cabinet, and I took the coffee maker and UPS.  We walked back to Poe, mostly kidding Hank about his taste in deep-fried snacks.

He shrugged, the weight on his shoulder having no effect on him.  “Hey, I picked up a taste for them when we were on the base in Fayetteville.  That’s North Carolina.  Could’ve been worse.  Could’ve been chitlins, or mountain oysters.”

Gah!  Chitlins?  He was about to make me lose my lunch.

Toni occupied herself by balancing the cabinet on one corner and spinning it like a basketball on the tip of her finger.  I think it says something about what I had seen her do over the last week that it didn’t even occur to me that she might drop the thing.

We walked all my new gear up to my room, and Hank took my old studio cooler down to Mrs. Horton while the rest of us set stuff up.  I sent Toni off to invite Rip and Bunny and Belle.  I asked Jody to go invite Electrode and Pilar and Jay Jay and Evvie.  I had already told Vanessa, so I figured I was good to go.  I put the cabinet on top of the mini-fridge, with the programmable microwave on top of that, and the Krups coffee maker on top of that.  Then I plugged all of them into the UPS and plugged that into the wall socket.

I even checked with Mrs. Horton about the power supply, and I checked the dorm circuit breakers, just in case.  I was fine unless I kick-started the fridge, ran the microwave on high, and also ran the coffee maker, all at the same time.  If I did that, the UPS would beep at me and keep everything from popping one of the dorm circuit breakers.

Then I had to unload all my goodies.  I tossed a bag of microwave popcorn into the nuker, stacked things away in my little ‘pantry’, rearranged everything else in the fridge, and broke open my three pounds of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans.  Mmm.  Half a pound went into the freezer compartment of the coffee maker, and the rest got re-sealed and tucked into the freezer compartment in the fridge.

Jody popped back to tell me that she’d invited everyone I had asked her to contact.  I looked at my Tower of Snacking, and asked her, “Would you be willing to add ‘restocking cabinet and fridge’ to your weekly chore list?  I can set up something at the campus store so you can just charge stuff to my account.”  I wasn’t worried.  I didn’t think Jody was going to suddenly go berserk and charge a Gizmatic™ Death Ray 4000 to my account.

Of course, she thought it was a good idea and asked me to keep a ‘grocery list’ of things to pick up every Saturday.

So I told her, “Look, this is going to be a pain come the dead of winter when it’s freezing cold outside.  So you have an extra obligation.  Every week, you have to put down at least one item you would want me to have on hand, so you can have it to eat or drink when you’re around.  Okay?”

But ever-helpful Jody tried to wave me off.  “Oh, no.  You don’t have to do that.  I mean, you’re paying me too much as it is.”

“Right.  I don’t have to do it.  But I’m doing it.  So you’re stuck having delicious things to eat.”

She flung her head back, slapped the back of her hand to her forehead, and over-emoted, “Oh no!  Somehow, I’ll just have to make do!”

I smiled, “Thank you, William Shatner.”

She looked at me and grinned, “Ow.  Now that one really hurts.”

I even went upstairs and invited Zenith to come down and meet the new kids, but she declined.  Too good for us froshes, I supposed.

People started sticking their heads in around a quarter after one.  Jade quietly mentioned that she had to leave before two to go work, so I went ahead and got things going.  First, I tossed Billie the popped bag of popcorn so she wouldn’t eat everything in my room including the frozen coffee beans.

I reached over to my stereo.  “I was thinking I would play Brass Monkey’s second CD, and…”

“No way!”

“Oh come on, Ayla!  They’re horrible!”

I tried again.  “They’re really good!  They’re just a lot more complex than standard rock and roll.  Just listen to a couple songs, and you can hear the polyphonic sound.”

“Not on your life!”

Even Toni wasn’t up for Brass Monkey.  “Ayles, if you put Brass Monkey on, you’re gonna have a party for one.  ‘Cause no one but you wants to hear ‘em.”

I sighed, “Fine.  What would you rather hear?”

Toni asked, “Got any Macy Gray?”

Jade said, “How about Puffy Ami Yumi?”

I put my foot down at that.  “No.  Absolutely not.”  She gave me The Big Sad Puppy Dog Eyes, but I was not going to fold on that one.

Fortunately for me, no one else wanted to hear Puffy Ami Yumi either.  I doubted whether anyone else in the entire state of New Hampshire wanted to hear Puffy Ami Yumi.  There was a big rush to find something to play other than my choice and Jade’s choice.

Pilar actually spoke up for the first time I could remember, and lobbied for Shakira.  Jay Jay wanted Britney Spears, and wouldn’t take no for an answer.  I swear, with that ‘just ignore the other side and talk at a thousand miles an hour’ routine, that girl could argue Socrates into giving up and just drinking the hemlock.  Britney Spears?  Ugh.  Evvie wanted Vanessa Hudgens.  Vanessa wanted Alicia Keys, but I didn’t have any on my MP4 player.  And if I’d had any Alicia Keys, you can bet I would have queued her up for Vanessa.

Toni looked up from my MP4 player and complained, “You got like 800 classical pieces on here, and you like Brass Monkey?  What, you got a jones for their singer or somethin’?”

Man, why couldn’t anybody else get Brass Monkey?

I ended up playing mostly Blue Man Group and Interpol and The Killers.  I could live with that.

Jade had to leave fairly quickly to go work in the sewers with two guys named Stan and Morrie who didn’t sound all that trustworthy to me.  That didn’t sound like a safe job.  But there was no way she was going to accept a big wad of cash from me and then quit her job.  Jade wasn’t that kind of girl.

People came and went, although Hank spent a long time playing a video game on my computer.  He had the visor on, so no one could see the ‘screen’ but him.  However, based on the way he moved, and his occasional wicked laughs, I was pretty sure he was playing Leisure Suit Larry.  I had loaded three editions on the machine.

Everyone thought my room was utterly cool.  Billie even left some drinks and yogurts and one cheese in the fridge.  Although she cleaned me out of all my microwave popcorn and granola bars, in under two hours.  I swear, that girl eats more than most third-world countries.

At least I didn’t have to worry about the possibility of left-over deep-fried pork rinds contaminating my room.  The way they were chowing down on the things, I was surprised Billie and Hank didn’t eat the plastic bag too.

With the bunk beds, the desk chairs, the two hammocks, and the four bean bag chairs, there was room for about fourteen people to lounge about, not counting Hank and Tennyo just floating about the room.  I never had anywhere near that many takers at any time, but it was nice to know that my room had that kind of functionality.

After the party ended, I went back to the campus store for re-stocking.  Inviting both Hank and Billie to your room is hazardous to your food supply.  Also, Electrode could really pack it away.  I figured that went with being a ‘Lady Lightning’ Energizer.

At dinnertime, I walked into the Crystal Hall and looked over at our table.  I spotted an incredible dish sitting with Tennyo and Jade.  The dish looked like she was in superhero spandex, instead of a school uniform.  But holy crow, did she look good in spandex!

Automa-tech saw me staring, and walked over to me.  I already knew that Spanish was Automa-tech’s native language.  She was from one of the high-rent districts of Barcelona.  And she knew that my Spanish was pathetic.  She said in English, “That is Mindbird.  She is one of the ‘Wild Pack’, like Stormwolf.”

‘Mindbird’ and ‘Stormwolf’?  I broke into a grin and switched to French so I would be sure she understood my snotty comment, before I asked, “Mindbird and Stormwolf, and they call themselves the ‘Wild Pack’?  Is this a theme group?  Do they have other teammates with names like Landshark or Supercow?

She giggled and said, “Exactly.  They have teammates named Stormbear and Thunderfox, I believe.”  I snorted in amusement.  “They act as auxiliaries to Security, and keep the peace around here.  They are very tough.  However, the Alphas like to refer to them as the ‘Betas’, and many people use that name too.”  She gave me a wicked grin that told me which name she used.

I got my dinner.  Chef André had a vegetable dish for me to try: wilted baby spinach and golden chard, with nutmeg butter.  Oh man, it smelled sublime.

I went over and sat with Billie and Jade.  And Mindbird.  So this was Mindbird.  I didn’t mind if people called them ‘Betas’ behind their backs.  Mindbird was definitely ‘alpha’ by me.  Really hot.  However, I didn’t like the way the Alphas were looking over at us.  What was it about Mindbird sitting with us that had their attention?

The wilted greens with nutmeg butter were excellent.  I had to go back to the food line to pay my compliments to the chef.  We got into a foodie argument with Marcel about the amount of garlic in the greens.  André thought he had hit it just right, while I would have added a touch more garlic in, and Marcel thought it needed a soupçon less garlic.

It didn’t matter how long we had our little discussion.  I was back at the table before Billie packed away her fourth plate of food.  So I walked back with the gang.  On the way back to Poe, another Beta just happened to show up.  This one was named Thunderfox.  Wow again.  She wanted to talk to Billie about what had happened to Billie Thursday night.  Something happened Thursday night?  Damn!  Why didn’t anyone tell me about it?

Well, I got to hear about it as Billie told her story to Thunderfox.  It sounded like Billie just about got fried.  But Friday she was fine, wasn’t she?  I mean, I had seen her drying off Friday morning, and she didn’t have a cut or a burn or a bruise on her.  (Okay, so I had spent a lot of time watching her dry off.  So sue me.)  Did she heal that fast?  Holy crow!  And why were all these ‘Wild Pack’ characters just ‘accidentally’ showing up to chat with Billie?  Something was going on.

It took me a while to pull it out of Billie and Jade, but I really didn’t like what I was hearing.  Billie was being screwed over by Hartford.

But what could I do?  I had no contacts around Whateley.  If Billie already had Zenith on the job, then anything I could do would just be a waste of time.

I hated not being able to help my friends.  I was going to have to build up enough of a network at Whateley that I could do something the next time.

Or else I was going to have to nail that Hartford bitch to the wall.  If she was also behind that extortion note, then she was definitely up to something involving changelings on our floor.  Had Billie been the real mission goal behind the extortion note the whole time?  And if so, then how had the Assistant to the Headmistress not known this already?

I went up to Zenith’s room.  I asked if there was anything I could do to help, and she just brushed me off with the standard ‘I have everything under control’ bit.  Fine, but she’d better get Billie off!

After that, I floated back downstairs.  I figured it was time to start looking at my options.  I went over to Nikki and Toni’s room.  Toni was out.  That was both good and bad.  It meant that I had privacy for my question, but it also meant that I had to focus on not getting overwhelmed by Nikki’s Glamour.  It meant that I was wise-ass free for a couple minutes, but it also meant I wasn’t going to get any creative thoughts from a disinterested party.

Nikki smiled at me, and I had to make an effort to keep my brain from going off-line.  “What can I do for you, Ayla?”

I tried to say what I wanted without getting sidetracked by her Glamour.  “I think I’ve told you that my weird body is a Gross Structural Dystrophy problem.  Do you think you could do some magic and fix it?  Turn me back into a boy?”

She looked worried.  She said, “That’s a lot more complex than I think you realize.  Maybe, once I get my powers under control, I could look into it for you.  But don’t go trying anything crazy, understand?  This area of magic is dangerous.”

Okay, if a mage who could just ‘whip up’ a magical sky-net the size of a football field thought this was ‘dangerous’, I was going to be really cautious about a magical approach.

So I went right downstairs and asked Mrs. Horton, who I knew had to be some sort of mage.  I knocked on her door, and was invited in.  But once I explained what I wanted, she started to frown.

She said, “This is really not a good idea, dear.  Believe me, if it were as simple as studying the person and whipping up a spell to fix their GSD, don’t you think that every GSD victim at Whateley would be getting fixed as soon as we could do it?  Mages have tried this sort of thing before, and the results were usually.. catastrophic.  So don’t even consider it on your own.  But you might go talk to one of the mages in the Magical Arts curriculum and see if they can do anything for you.  If they can’t, no high school student playing at being Merlin is going to be able to fix you.”

Okay.  That at least gave me some direction.  Perhaps this was a difficult problem, but that didn’t make it an insurmountable problem.

I went to bed thinking about magical solutions, when I didn’t know enough about magic to even guess how it would be approached.  Maybe I needed to take that “Intro to Magic” course Toni and Nikki were in.

 

Chapter 3 - Hell Week

Sunday, September 10

I woke up to NOFX and dragged myself to the showers.  I didn’t even bother with a towel this time.  I just used my ‘go light and let the water fall through you’ trick, then slipped on my bathrobe.  The bathroom was way too small for this many girls, so I had an up-close-and-personal view as two of them shaved their legs.  All the way up.  Holy crow!

And I got my first really good view of the new, improved Nikki Reilly, as she stepped out of the shower.  Stark naked.  WHOA!!!

Nikki had REALLY blossomed.  I mean, before she had been hot enough to scorch steel, and now she had a build that made Billie’s shape look tame.  Now she made those mere Exemplar chicks around campus look ordinary.

Holy crow, I didn’t care if I never got those bras and panties back, as long as I got to see this on a regular basis!

And if I did get them back, I was going to have them bronzed.

Vanessa had to punch me in the arm to get me to stop staring.  Sharisha looked like she wanted to really tear into me about my ogling Nikki and sporting a hard-on you could have used as a ball-peen hammer.  Vanessa just gave her roomie a look, and marched me back to my room.

Of course, she chewed me out the whole way back.  The fact that most of the girls in the room had been ogling Nikki the same way wasn’t cutting much ice with my girlfriend.  I at least had enough sense to keep my mouth shut, because if I had said what I was thinking, I would have been in a lot more trouble with her.

After I let her chew me out for a few minutes, she wrapped up and left.  Man, how could anyone expect me not to stare at Nikki Reilly naked?  Like Vanessa didn’t do any staring either…

I put on a nice blouse with a nice pair of pants, and had a quick breakfast before I went to early services at the campus chapel.  It seemed like a strange holdover from my years as Trevor.  But I had always gone to church, and I had always found church to be meaningful.  I had been a good Episcopalian boy before everything had hit the fan.  Now I wasn’t even a real boy anymore.

I hadn’t gone to church since I had manifested, but I had missed it.  I had missed the sense of belonging, of warmth, of righteousness.  I had missed that special, uplifting feeling when everyone sang hymns together.  So I went.

I noticed that it wasn’t all that well attended.  That didn’t surprise me at all.  I remembered how poorly the church services at Chilton were attended.  I had never been able to get David, my little brother, to go, so there wasn’t much point in bugging other Chilton kids about it.

There were some seriously weird hieroglyphs, or squiggles, or something all around the doorframe of the chapel.  That seemed really suspicious.  I mean, if the building had been defaced by Satanists or something, you’d think people would be cleaning it up.  But they didn’t look like anything that a Christian would be putting up on his own church.  So what were they?

The crowd was small, but still much larger than I expected.  I could see a few parents attending with their kids, which probably explained why the flags outside were marking this as an ‘amber’ day.  I didn’t recognize anyone.  I was pretty sure I would have remembered the ‘Sarah Michelle Gellar’ Exemplar down near the front.  But other than her, the crowd was pretty normal for Whateley.

The Reverend Darren Englund led the service and gave the sermon.  He seemed.. how can I put this.. fanatical.  Crackpot-level fanatical.  I was used to a minister who was half “God’s love” and half “God’s fiery wrath”.  You know.  Both the carrot and the stick.  The Reverend Englund seemed to have dropped the carrot somewhere.  His sermon was all fire and brimstone.  That seemed a bit harsh for a chapel of mutants, some of whom had to be having trouble dealing with their life since they manifested.

The scary thing was the sense of conviction he had.  He didn’t seem to be acting or posturing up there.  It was like he not only believed, he had seen.  Of course, given that this was Whateley Academy, that was possible.

After church, I walked back to Poe.  I was all alone.  I felt all alone.  I felt.. wrong.  Church was supposed to make me feel better.  It was supposed to make me feel uplifted and spiritual and part of something larger.  I felt alone and isolated and cut off from God’s love.  Maybe it was the sermon.

Maybe it was me.  Maybe it was my mutation, or my body, or what my changes had done to my family.  I was never again going to sing hymns with Mother.  My mother was clinically mutophobic, for damned good reasons.  She could no more be in the same room with me than an arachnophobic could be in the same room with a dozen loose tarantulas.  My family had devoted decades to investigating and stopping the mutant menace racing across the globe, and now I was nothing but a thing for my family to despise.

“I should have known.  A fucking Goodkind would be going to one of Englund’s ‘worship like me or die’ services.”

Goddamnit, couldn’t I even go to a church service without getting hassled?  If these assholes wanted to bully me, I was going to give them some fire and brimstone!

I turned and looked.  Great, now I had Goths giving me shit.  The tall Marilyn Manson wannabe was obviously the leader.  The twin Exemplar punkers backed him up, while the girl, who looked about my age and maybe a bit shorter, just pressed her lips together like she wanted to spit at me.

The twins said simultaneously, “We don’t need a Goodkind here.  Why don’t you leave?”

The ‘simultaneous talking’ bit might have been more intimidating if I hadn’t already seen Jade and Jinn do it.  I said, “I have a better idea.  Why don’t you go off and desecrate a church or two, and stay out of my face?”

King Goth didn’t bother to turn his head as he said, “Romulus.  Remus.  Hurt her.”

I smirked, “Romulus and Remus?  Jeez.  How lame.  I should apologize to Phobos and Deimos.”  I went heavy.

They grabbed me.  Nothing.  These guys looked like Exemplars, but if they were above Exemplar 2 or 3, they needed a membership to a gym.  Since they had already taken the trouble to get a good grip on my arms, I figured I shouldn’t waste it.  I slammed them together hard enough to bend their mohawks.  They dropped to the ground and looked like they were going to need a moment to get back up.

I glared at the ringleader, “Look Marilyn, if you want to keep your lame Goth gang in one piece, stay away from me.  Next time, I’ll show you how I kill people.”  I stomped off, and no one followed me.


At lunch, Chef Peter had another surprise for me.  A slice of frittata.  Asparagus and yellow pepper frittata.  It had thinly sliced shallots and zucchini in it, as well as lots of coarsely-chopped flat-leafed parsley.  It had a zingy mixture of freshly-ground white and green peppercorns, along with just enough garlic to make the asparagus and yellow sweet pepper flavors pop in your mouth.  Oh man, that was excellent.  I had to go chat with him about the vegetable selection in the frittata.

As I was eating, I saw Dynamaxx give me a ‘come over here’ head-tilt.  I gave him a terse nod that I had gotten the message.  Once I finished, I cruised past the Beret Mafia table on my way to drop off my tray.  Maxx casually followed.

Once he was sure he wouldn’t be overheard, he said in German, “We’re having the first meeting of the Golden Kids for the school year on Saturday night.  Meet me in the hall outside the cafeteria after dinner.

I checked, “Maxx, this isn’t a date, right?  Because remember, I’m a guy, I have guy parts, you don’t date guys…”

He laughed in German, “No no no, this is real.  Meet me here after dinner.

Then, before going back to Poe, I did my homework.  My anti-bully homework.  I took the elevator and went down into the tunnels.  I walked until I figured I was out under the Quad.

I went light.  I took a deep breath and floated up through the tunnel roof to find out what point in the Quad was directly over the tunnel.

I couldn’t breathe!  Oh my god, I couldn’t breathe!  I was somewhere in between the tunnel and the surface, but I couldn’t see either.  I couldn’t exhale or inhale.  I couldn’t see.  I moved upward as fast as I could, terrified that I would run out of air, until I popped up head-first out of the brickwork.

I gasped for air, more out of panic than a real need for oxygen.  I was still about two-thirds buried in the ground, but I could breathe.  I could see, and I could breathe.  Crap, that had NOT been fun.  I wasn’t sure I could do that again.  I knew I could physically pass through the ground.  But that had been scarier than I wanted.

I made a mental note of my exact place in the Quad, and where the tunnel had to run from Schuster outward.  Then I took several deep breaths and sank back down.

That was a lot harder than it sounds.  I was scared.  I knew I was over the tunnel, but I also knew I wouldn’t be able to breathe for several seconds.  I told myself that it was like jumping into a murky lake.  I wouldn’t be able to see or breathe for several seconds, but I would be fine.

I floated down into the tunnel, and exhaled in relief.

Okay, I had survived my first attempt.  I could do this again.  At least, I thought I could do it again.

I told myself that, over and over, all the way to my next stopping spot.  I didn’t convince myself.

I took a deep breath, went light, and jumped upward.

I burst through the ground alongside one of the brick paths.  Well, that was easier than the first time.  I made sure I knew where I was, and then I dove back down into the tunnel.

That worked just fine for the first hundred yards.  But the tunnel stayed fairly level, instead of following the contours of the land.  As the ground sloped up toward the hill that Melville surmounted, the distance I had to go from the tunnel to the surface got longer and longer, until I began worrying about things like whether I could hold my breath for long enough, and what would happen to me if I dove down toward the tunnel and missed.  I could kill myself doing this if I ran out of air while I was deep in the ground.

On the far side of Melville’s hill, the surface got much closer to the tunnel again.  I mentally marked another dozen spots on the surface that were right over the tunnel.

The tunnel went within fifty yards of Poe.  I found that I could hold my breath long enough to phase horizontally through the soil and walk right into the Poe basement.  And vice versa.  You know, this could be really convenient when the weather got extra-nasty in the winter.

After that, I spent a couple hours trying to do real homework, while we all sweated out Billie’s hearing.  I hadn’t realized how attached I was getting to the rest of Team Kimba until I saw how anxious I was at the thought of Billie being moved to another dorm.  I mean, it wasn’t like she was being expelled or arrested or anything.  But I didn’t want her to leave.  I had so much trouble concentrating that I finally gave up and did something mindless and stupid.  Homework for Civics class.

I heard Nikki go downstairs to wait in the common room, and then Toni went.  Finally, Hank came by and talked me into going downstairs too.  So we all had a big, anxious wait down in the common room with everybody else.  I was just as worried as Nikki, which frankly surprised me.

But Billie and Jade came back triumphant, with a couple other people in tow.  Apparently, Zenith pulled Billie’s fat out of the fire right in front of Hartford, when Hartford had even tried to stack the deck with biased supervisors.

For someone who was so squeamish about us TGs, Zenith was certainly being a big help to us.  I’d have to find some way to pay back that favor.  Maybe Zenith wanted to pull some more financial expertise out of my brain.

That night, after dinner, I stopped to talk for a while with some more of the Beret Mafia before I walked home.  That turned out to be a tactical error.

It was dark by then, so I didn’t notice the two massive goons until they bracketed me on either side of the walkway.  I immediately went heavy.

One of them snarled, “You’re toast now, Goodkind.”

I smirked, “Oh.  Melba, French, or Texas?”

“Huh?”  I should have known better than to overtax brains that teeny.

I said, “Never mind.  So long, losers.”  I threw them a mock salute.

And I jumped straight up.  I went light as soon as I was in the air, and I rocketed upward out of their sight into the dark sky.

A simplistic examination of Conservation of Momentum would have my velocity going to insane numbers when I changed from nearly a ton to essentially no mass, but my power didn’t work like a simple three-dimensional science experiment.  I knew from prior experience that I would speed up a lot, but not to insane velocities.

Fortunately, it was dark, so they couldn’t see me.  Because that smart-aleck salute completely screwed me up.

You see, there’s also Conservation of Angular Momentum.  Not only was I rocketing upward, but I was spinning and yawing uncontrollably.  It took me a couple minutes to get myself slowed down and straightened out again, and by the time I got my spinning under control, I was miserably nauseous.  I must have been damned lucky the first time I tried this stupid stunt.  And I was going to have to be really careful with it until I got it under control.  Why couldn’t I have had a nice, simple, easy-to-use superpower like ‘PK superman’ that came with its own instruction book?

Monday, September 11

For once, showering was not fun.  It seemed like most of the girls on the floor were suddenly starting their periods, and almost all of them were really early, and were really upset about it, and were angry with me for even existing.

I wondered if this could have anything to do with a powerful nature mage exploding in PMS just two days before, because Nikki was starting her first period.  So was Billie, apparently, and Pilar was really worried because hers had just wrapped up a week or so ago and this was a bad sign, and Bunny and Rip were starting theirs, and Jody, and almost every other girl in the bathroom at that moment.

Upside?  Watching a lot of excruciatingly hot babes spread their legs and give me more knowledge of where a tampon goes than I ever expected to get at age fourteen.

Downside?  Having a really surly Sharisha, who was definitely on the rag and pissed about being really early, getting in my face about my using her bathroom when I was armed and dangerous between the legs.  Like I wanted to look at her, when hot babes were all around her.  Not that I was going to say that out loud.  How did Vanessa put up with such a grouchy bitch?

I also decided to keep my mouth shut about my guess on why everyone was starting their periods at the wrong time, because the girls were all grouchy and upset enough to disembowel Nikki if they thought she had done this to them, even accidentally.

In between Spanish and Powers Theory, I tried to make an appointment to speak with one of the mages in the MA curriculum.  I was told that I would be ‘notified’ when someone could speak to me.. someday.  Why couldn’t they just be honest and say “Go blow it out your shorts, Muggle!”

I was a few minutes late to Powers Theory, but I slipped in while ‘Professor Binns’ was writing on the blackboard, and he never noticed.  I went light and floated across the row to my chair.  Charmer whispered, “That is a very good power for sneaking in and out of class!

Möbius reached into his vest-thing and pulled out something like a miniature fax machine, which could not possibly have fit in that narrow slot.  With a codename like Möbius and that vest, I could make a guess about his inventions.  He turned it on and ran off a full page of notes, which he handed to me with a grin.  It was a verbatim transcript of Quintain’s lecture so far.  And it was obviously computer generated from a microphone, because it had ‘misheard’ the phrase “on the second hand” for “awn the sec in hand”.  I gave him a big ‘thank you’ and didn’t say anything snide about his alpha-test version dictation system.

At lunch, as I was picking up a ham and spinach tortilla wrap, Chef Marcel did his ‘casual stroll’ routine and gave me a small bowl that smelled heavenly.  He whispered in French, “My poached shrimp in escabeche.

I hustled over to the Team Kimba table to try the shrimp.  Now, normally ‘in escabeche’ means that already-cooked seafood is put into a marinade of sorts.  Originally, it was a kind of pickling.  But this was nothing harsh like an old-fashioned escabeche.  The shrimp were poached first, then stirred into a cold marinade that had thin slices of what was probably more of that Vidalia onion, plus just the right amounts of fresh garlic and oregano and cracked peppercorn in a silky vinaigrette, along with what I thought was California bay leaf.  The shrimp were perfectly prepared, and tasted amazing.  I had to go chat with Chef Marcel after that.

Basic Martial Arts was not exactly a load of laughs.  Sensei Ito had us trying a little supervised sparring using our powers and what we had learned so far.  I didn’t think I could have learned enough in two days to do this.  But these were quick little sparring matches with a one-minute time limit.  Ito and Tolman had two matches going simultaneously, so there were four people on the mats at any time.

Vox got Verdant, Rhiannon, Mechano Man, and Glass.  I got most of the heavy hitters of the class: Golden Girl, Silverwing, Phobos, and Britomart.  You think Ito was trying to tell me something?  Well duh.

And Golden Girl really seemed to hate me.  Probably the intersexed thing or the Goodkind thing or the rich-kid thing.  It turned out that her hair wasn’t the only reason she was named Golden Girl.  When she kicked in her powers, she glowed a golden color.  When she powered up, she was stronger than I was, she could fly while at her strongest, she had gold-colored force fields at her command, and she could blast me with fairly powerful golden energy beams.  That made her probably the perfect person in the class to kick my ass.

She grabbed me, even though I was at my heaviest, and threw me over her shoulder.  I went light in mid-throw and phased right through her hand.  So, while I was floating back to the mat, she blasted me with a couple of her energy blasts.  They went right through me, and hurt like she had rammed a couple red-hot pokers through my torso.  Jesus!  I nearly blacked out.  It was all I could do not to scream like a banshee.

I went as heavy as I could, but she put up one of her golden force fields right in front of her.  So I took up my best stance and punched her field as hard as I could.  It actually rocked her a little.  I gave her field six or seven punches as fast as I could snap them out, and it looked like I was actually getting to her.  Hey, maybe I had learned something in just two days!

So she dropped the force field to tackle me directly, since we both knew she was stronger than I was.  She thrust a punch at my face, and I phased right through her.  I clocked her on the way through with my not-fully-immaterial disruption trick, so she dropped like a rock.

I beat all four of them.  Well, I was pretty sure that Silverwing wasn’t using his full abilities on a ‘girl’.  Ito got all over his case about that.  But Clark didn’t use his ‘shriek’ or his ‘eagle claw’, so I was pretty sure he was trying too hard not to hurt me.  Several girls gave me the ‘I hate you’ stare for clobbering Clark.  What, did he have girlfriends in the class?

Phobos was tough, but at my max density I was a lot stronger than her, and only slightly slower.  I hit her twice, and managed to block a couple of her punches.  The rest of her punches just didn’t bother me much while I was at my heaviest.

Britomart looked like she really didn’t want to use her power.  But Tolman insisted.  When Britomart stepped up to the mat, she looked like a cute, freckle-faced blonde.  But then she manifested this hideous grayish shell thing all over her body.  When she was done, she looked way too much like a Guyver.  Or something from “Alien 4”.  It was fairly creepy.

Her shell made her a lot tougher and a lot stronger, but not as strong as I was at my maximum density.  I threw her a couple times and slammed her to the mat, and she didn’t roll through the throws very well.  Like I would have been able to, after only a couple days of martial arts class.

However, her shell apparently gave her a jumping ability, so she could try to get away from me.  Then she manifested this sort of claymore-like sword out of her right hand, and she whacked me with it.  Damn, that hurt!  It broke off when she hit me with it, but it still hurt.

After the matches, she needed help from Prism and me just to pry the armor stuff off her.  She acted like she really didn’t like her armor stuff.  She seemed nice, and not at all like someone who would manifest creepy armor.  But I didn’t know her yet.

Some of the other matches were pretty interesting.  Adamantine looked pretty tough, and had some bursts of speed.  Prism had some major energy powers.  Kismet had some cool magical talents, but didn’t look expert at some of them.  Psydoe had a major PK blast that slammed Britomart all the way across the mat, but she didn’t have anything else.  If she didn’t get you with that PK blast, she was toast.  Charmer had a couple cool magical spells that she used - I guess they had to be ‘charms’, given her codename.  And Vox beat one of her opponents by ‘voicing’ him into submission.

I was pretty sore by the time I got to Powers Lab.  Mrs. Bohn had most of the class doing weight-lifting, which I really didn’t feel like doing.  Some student aides who knew what they were doing were spotting us and making sure that we lifted properly.  Apparently, I didn’t know squat about lifting the correct way.  Pardon the pun.

At my heaviest, I lifted 3847 pounds, then 3795 pounds, and finally 3871 pounds.  Man, I needed a break between martial arts and this stuff.

Mrs. Bohn looked at my results and said, “That’s normal variation, dear.  So you have a mean of…”

“3841 pounds,” I supplied.

“…and a standard deviation of…”

“39.06 pounds,” I said.

She pursed her lips, “But you don’t have that many significant digits dear.”

“Okay, 39 pounds, rounding off.”

She nodded, “Much better.  Now a coefficient of variation around 1% is quite good.”

I wondered out loud, “But when I was tested, I was told I could only do a little over a ton.”

She raised her eyebrows at me.  “And you have continued to change since then, right?”  She waited until I nodded.  “And you have learned how to lift properly, right?”  I gave her another nod.  “And you are increasing your strength from your work in your PE classes, right?”

Okay, I got it, already!

She said, “I want you to keep a log.  Every class day, take the time to weigh yourself at normal density, go as dense as you can, weigh yourself again, and then lift those weights 3 times.  Record all that in your journal, and we’ll track your maximum density and your strength.”

After trig class, which was actually pretty interesting, I managed to catch a shuttle into Dunwich.  But I had less than an hour to catch the return, so I wasn’t sure I could get anything accomplished.  Okay, first meetings don’t have to be more than sizing each other up, no pun intended.

Rogers’ Fabric Boutique was down in the ‘business district’ of Dunwich.  (As if Dunwich was large enough to have districts.  Really.)  It was in an old glass-fronted store, in a building that had seen better days.

I walked in, letting the bell ring as I opened the door.  I took a good look around.  The interior looked new and clean and well-designed.  That much was promising.  “Miss Rogers?  Is anyone here?”

Whoa.  Billie hadn’t told me that ‘Miss Rogers’ was a hottie.  The brunette who came smiling from the back room looked about twenty-five and very attractive, even in a shop coat and perfectly-pressed slacks.  I figured that there was no way she could be twenty-five, and just chalked it up to mutant traits.

She smiled, “May I help you?”

I smiled back.  “I certainly hope so.  I’m Ayla Goodkind.  I called a while ago, but I couldn’t get a shuttle to come over here before today.”

Her eyebrow rose slightly at the name ‘Goodkind’, but she didn’t throw me out.  I sighed, “Yes, I am one of THOSE Goodkinds.  It’s not very helpful at a place like Whateley.”

She looked me over and said, “Hmm, I see why you wanted some personalized tailoring.”

“Yes,” I agreed.  “I have GSD, and my body has decided to become feminine, except for my groin which hasn’t changed.”  Actually, I thought that my privates had gotten bigger, but I had no real evidence, and it sounded too much like bragging to say so.

I checked my watch and said, “I only have about forty minutes before my shuttle leaves, so I just wanted to meet you and talk about what you might be able to do for me.  What I was hoping for would be a variant of the Whateley uniform.  Girls’ blouse and blazer up top, boys’ pants below.  And I’d like a little extra room across the small of my back, under the blazer.”

She knew instantly what I had in mind.  “Ahh, the classic utility belt.  Always in fashion at Whateley,” she grinned.  “If you have that much time, then we can - at a minimum - get your sizes.  If you could step into the booth there and just follow the computer instructions…”

I did it.  The booth was a good eight feet high and five feet deep, plus being wide enough for a sleeping bag.  I felt pretty uncomfortable just walking into it, even if it didn’t look like one of Dr. Emil Hammond’s torture cells.  I wondered if I was going to be somewhat claustrophobic for a long time, because of those days trapped in his laboratory.  Still, I figured I could walk right out through the walls of the thing if I had any trouble.

A bin popped out from the back wall, and a computerized voice told me to remove all my clothes and place them in the bin.  I thought twice before I decided to do it.  But if Ashton Kutcher showed up to tell me I had been punked, I was going to be mad.

I stood there stark naked, and let the machine do its stuff.  Scanning beams measured me as I stood, and sat, and bent over.  I had to raise my arms, and hold them to the sides, and bend at the knees, and a host of other postures.  I hoped there was some purpose to this, and not one of Cecilia’s personal quirks.

After a couple minutes of poses, the bin popped back out and returned my clothes.  I got dressed and stepped out of the booth.

Miss Rogers was already at work on a mannequin.  When I had walked into the booth, that mannequin had been six feet tall and built like Heidi Klum.  Now it was five feet tall and built like me, right down to the embarrassing bulges at the chest and the masculine bulge at the crotch.  That was a pretty useful devise for a tailor to have.

She didn’t turn her head, but said, “Come on over, dear, and give me a minute…”

I watched in amazement as fabric flew off a series of bolts, and formed itself into a bra and panties and socks.  The panties received a couple extra layers of fabric and some sort of plastic cup, with the fabric cut so that the bulge at the crotch was well-disguised.  Then more fabric flew onto the mannequin and formed itself into a blouse and long pants.  A black leather-like material flew around the waist over the blouse, and turned itself into a utility belt with flat pockets at the front and back.  Then more fabric jumped out and became a blazer.

Miss Rogers went to work on a second uniform for me, while she explained without turning her head, “The pants and blouse and blazer are all interwoven with Zylor, which has nearly twice the strength of Kevlar, and is more resistant to fire, UV, and edged weapons.  More importantly, it improves the durability, since you Whateley kids seem to put a lot of stress on your outfits.  Everything including the lingerie has been treated with Hydrospell, to repel moisture, spills, and stains.  It also makes them much easier to clean.  Grass stains, dirt, ink, even blood…  They all come right out.  And these outfits all come with the extended warranty.  Just pop the damaged items into one of my mailer boxes - I know there are some at Poe right now, and I’ll send some more over - and I’ll fix them up as good as new.  I know it’s expensive, but considering where you go to school, I think it’s worth it in the long run.”

I tried on one uniform, while Miss Rogers boxed up the other uniform and put my clothes into a shopping bag.  The materials were well past first-rate.  The tailoring was amazing.  The fit was superb.  I made arrangements to get some more clothes from her, and I took several dozen business cards from her to pass out to some people who would appreciate Miss Rogers’ talents.

I still made it back in time to catch the shuttle, although I had to run a couple blocks.  I was running at my best speed, but that was only at Olympics-competitor speed, so it wasn’t really like I was really flaunting my powers and zipping along at 200 mph or anything.

Perhaps I had worked up an appetite, or perhaps Chef André was really on his game, but his seafood bisque with crab butter was just intensely crab-flavored, with a rich finish that told me he had added something extra.

I walked back to the food line and had a little chat with him and Marcel.  “Did you use Cognac in the bisque?  It was excellent, and the finish was superb.

He grinned appreciatively, “But yes, I did.  And did you like the crab butter drizzled across the top?

It was amazing.  Really intensely tasting of the crab.  Was it blue crab?

He grinned, “Yes.  I was considering making it with Dungeness crab, but we couldn’t get a reasonable shipment from the West Coast.

I pushed, “Tell me.  How do you make a crab butter?”  If it was a cooking secret, I knew he would just tell me so.

He teased, “Are you sure you want to know?

I grinned, “Actually, no.  The American author Mark Twain once said ‘those who love sausage, like those who love the law, should not watch either being made’.  I think that may extend to crab butter.

He laughed, and then told me, “I learned this from Fernand Chambrette, when I was at L’école de Cuisine La Varenne, in Paris.  The secret is to waste nothing.  You take all the leftover solids from cracking the crabs, put enough unsalted butter over the top, and cook them in a covered pot in the oven for an hour or so, until the richness of the sea has permeated the butter.  Then you fill the pot with water and let the butter rise to the surface, where it waits until you skim it off.  You boil any remaining water out until it clarifies, and you sieve it.  Simple, no?

I thought about trying something like that back in Janet’s kitchen, and I told him, “I am afraid that it is far too complicated for my meager skills.

He grinned and said, “Anyone with your palate can learn to cook like the great chefs.  It only requires the training and the practice.

I walked back to Poe with the gang, and hit the books.  After I had studied for a while, I happened to catch Jade while we were both brushing our teeth for bed and no one else was in the bathroom.  We had plenty of privacy for at least a few seconds, so I asked her, “How do you do that trick in the bathroom in the morning?  You know.  Making it look like you have a slit.”

She blushed and ducked her head.  “I.. umm.. I cast Jinn into my body, and she.. ahem.. moves my skin around a bit so it looks right.”

“Oh.”  I was blushing too, by then.  “Um, thanks for telling me.  I was kind of hoping you’d found something that might help me, too.”

Rats.  Well, that was one more thing that wasn’t going to do the job for me.  But this was Whateley, so there were probably a thousand things left to check.  If I could figure out what to look for.

I did more homework, and got into bed.  Then I read some literary criticism of Greek epic poetry that I had checked out of the library.  I finished the book before I fell asleep…

“AYLA!  WAKE UP!”  There was a wild pounding on my door too.

“Hunh?” I groaned.

It was Toni.  About the time I opened my eyes, she was shaking me.  She yelled something that sounded roughly like, “ComeonAyles! Getyourassingear! WegottagorescueNikki!”

“Huh?”  What was she babbling about?

But she was gone in a flash.  Was she really sure she couldn’t do the speedster stuff?

By the time I threw on some clothes and got out to where the lights were insanely flashing, everything was over.  I had missed the thirty-second fight with a bunch of Crystal Wavers, because I was so hard to wake up.

Toni glared at me, “What kept you?”

I muttered, “Sorry, I don’t wake up well, especially in the middle of the night.”

“Yeah.  I noticed.”

Dang, I hoped the others didn’t think I was ducking on them.  Meanwhile, everyone was telling me what I missed.  Did Hank really throw a boulder?  Oh my God, did Nikki really switch those dorks into each others’ bodies?

After Security let Nikki go back to Poe, I followed that sashaying tush into the building and asked her, “Could you switch me into a different body?”

She actually looked alarmed at the thought.  She said, “Don’t even ask that!  I didn’t do it, and I doubt I could do it if I wanted to.  It was the energy in all their crystals.  And it could have just as easily killed them, or switched them with earthworms in the ground under their feet, or shoved all of them into a single body, or something even worse!”

Okay, that didn’t sound like a good thing to try.  Maybe I needed to take that ‘Intro to Magic’ course and find out what I was missing.

I got back in bed, and became instantly unconscious.

Tuesday, September 12

I did my usual instant drying routine, going light and letting the water fall through me to the floor.  I slipped on my robe and stepped out of the shower…

To find half a dozen girls glaring angrily at me.  And believe me, when Tennyo glares at you, you have been officially glared at.

“You pissed on the toilet seat!”

“It had to be you, you’re the only one in here with a dick!”

Great.  There’s some pee on a toilet seat, and I’m instantly The Prime Suspect.

I stared angrily at them, “Of course it wasn’t me!  I know how to use a toilet!  And I’ve had to share a bathroom with girls before.  Several times.  A number of the times when we traveled as a family out of the country, we had to stay somewhere that wasn’t a five-star hotel.  I’ve had to share a bathroom with my sisters and my younger brother.  And believe me, no one can be a bigger bitch about ‘watch where you pee’ and ‘toilet seat down afterward’ than my sister Heather!

“And it wasn’t like she didn’t spray all over the toilet seat some of the time when she did that weird ‘toilet seat hover’ thing she did, as if the toilets weren’t sanitized or something.  I bet half of YOU do that too!”

I got enough guilty looks from the crowd to escape with my life.

Tennyo didn’t have a guilty look, but a lot of girls stared at her, since we all knew she had a tendency to sit down in mid-air and pee from whatever height was comfortable.  Maybe she really didn’t realize she was sitting above the toilet seat, instead of on the toilet seat.

Anyway, I KNEW it wasn’t me.  Well, I was pretty darn sure.

Still, I was going to be a lot more careful about that in future, just in case.  The last thing I needed was Nikki hexing my wiener.

Or Bunny building an anti-personnel pee detector for the toilet seats.

Or Rip making the toilet back up in an explosion of liquid sewage every time I used it.

Or…

Well, a lot of the girls could make things pretty unpleasant for me if I ever did pee on the toilet seat.  And I wasn’t even including Billie whipping out that energy sword and hacking me into chunks small enough to flush down the pipes.

I rushed off to breakfast before more of the girls could blame me for pee on the toilet seats, and I found a nice reward for my hurry.  Chef Peter had something new for me to try.  Smoked salmon and chevre quesadillas, topped with avocado slices, sliced Vidalia onion, toasted cherry tomato halves, and arugula.  The chevre was mixed with a little cream cheese to improve the consistency, and the salmon was Nova Scotia salmon so it was milder and less salty than the usual salmon.  Man, was that good.

On my way down the halls from Costuming to Spanish, I heard the usual whoosh of one of the many speedsters at Whateley.  It was a regular occurrence between classes.  There were way too many speedsters running the halls at Whateley, and that didn’t even count the fast fliers, or the people like Toni who could sprint over 50 mph when they tried.  So far I’d met Jay Jay and Quickie, and seen several others in passing, so to speak.  So you gradually got used to blurs zipping by you at Warp Two.

But suddenly the people behind me were laughing.  I could guess at whom, especially after some dickhead kicked me in the ass.  Fortunately, I had gone heavy to walk the halls, and Mister Head got a sore toe from kicking me.

The speedster had tagged me with a “KICK ME I’M A GOODKIND” sign.

As I looked at the sign and endured all the laughter at my expense, I went light.. about a half second before someone else tried to kick me, and his leg went right through me.  I had a furious temptation just to go heavy instantly and cut his damned leg right off, but of course I didn’t.  I just put the ‘unconcerned and civil’ face on, and moved on to class.

At lunchtime, I got a note from admin that completely ruined my appetite, even though Chef Peter had prepared a deliciously spicy poblano cream soup with coriander and allspice.

Mrs. Hawkins wanted to have another meeting with me, right after sixth period.  Oh lovely.  I could hardly wait.  Well, I had to wait.  And I had to focus on other things first.

In martial arts, we were learning kicks, and I was paired with Adamantine for the first half of the class.  She was strong, and durable, and she got off some really fast kicks that she didn’t control very well, so I got knocked down several times.  Okay, I went heavy as soon as I realized I might get kicked hard, so it wasn’t like she really hurt me a ton.  And my kicks were just as uncontrolled as hers were.  So we both whacked the other.  It was a good thing we were paired up with each other, instead of accidentally hurting someone like Vox or Verdant.

Jay Jay was going by ‘Scrambler’ now, which seemed like a reasonable handle.  Maybe ‘Scrambled’ with a ‘D’ would have been better, given the way she behaved.  She was paired up with Silverwing, and she was whipping out these insanely fast kicks that had no control whatsoever.  I think she hurt herself even more than she hurt Clark.

Golden Girl was paired up with Phobos for a while, until she walked over and started bitching about something to sensei Tolman, at which point I was switched with her.

Phobos and I started practicing kicks together, and I quietly asked, “What’s her problem?”

Phobos glanced miserably in Golden Girl’s direction.  “My fear aura.  She can’t block it.  Or at least, that’s what she said.”

I kicked Phobos and resumed my stance.  “Yeah, she hates me too.”

Phobos kicked me and smirked, “She was such a bitch to me yesterday in sparring.  I really liked it when you clobbered her.”

Then I had to rush to get showered and over to Powers Lab to do my weighing and weightlifting before Mrs. Bohn had me doing something else new.  She had some students trying to recognize when people were using their powers.  I was one of the ‘test subjects’.  So I spent most of the class going heavy, going light, and going normal.  A couple of the espers could tell every time.

Möbius had a gadget the size of a tricorder that he had pulled out of that slit in his vest.  It only identified power-use correctly about a tenth of the time, before it burned out in a big fiery flash.  Charmer had a ‘power use identification’ charm she was trying out, but it didn’t seem to work yet.  As far as I could tell from the reactions of the really accurate espers, Billie was using some of her powers all the time, even when she was trying not to.  I didn’t know what that meant, but I thought it was intriguing.

And finally, trig class was really interesting.  Mrs. Bell was talking about graphing trig functions and inverse trig functions.  I had been reading ahead and working on the graphing homework the night before, so I knew that I was weak on it.  Especially the inverse functions.  But lots of the class had that ‘bored now’ expression.  I hated feeling like I was one of the dimwits of the class.  At least Electrode was taking notes like she didn’t know it either.  That made me feel marginally better.

Then I had to go over to admin to meet with Mrs. Hawkins.  Frankly, I would rather have been back in martial arts getting kicked in the stomach.  Apparently she had heard about Team Kimba and the battle against the ninjas.  And she wanted to know how I felt about it.

“Yes, we did have to fight a bunch of ninjas.”

“So, how did having to fight ‘a bunch of ninjas’ make you feel, Ayla?”

How Rogerian.  I was not going to take this from someone who was not a trained psychiatrist, and who did not have to stick to patient-doctor confidentiality.  I replied, “How does it make you feel to have to ask questions like that?”

She pursed her lips and said, “That’s not an appropriate question, Miss Goodkind.”

So I gave her the Rogerian therapy bit some more.  “And why do you feel that it’s not an appropriate question?”

She snapped, “Miss Goodkind!  Try to remember who the counselor is in this room!”

“And why do you feel that it’s important to assert who the counselor is?”

I kept that up for another couple questions, until she lost her temper and told me that I was not a suitable student.  She warned me that she was going to find me another counselor, and that this behavior was going on my ‘permanent record’.

Oh dear, color me hurt.  As long as my next counselor wasn’t that Hartford bitch, I was good with that.  I’d prefer Valerie, the clerk out front, as my counselor, over this smarmy old badger.  Maybe even Stan and Morrie.

After dinner, I went back to Poe.  Before I launched into study mode, I walked upstairs and knocked on Zenith’s door.  Her roomie Shrike answered, and I asked to talk to Zenith for just a second.

Obviously, she remembered me from the ‘graduation and careers’ chat.  She casually said, “Sorry, but I’m still not interested in putting all my money in your hands.”

“Fine, that’s not why I came up to see you.”

Shrike said, “I guess that’s my cue to disappear.”

I said to her, “No, you don’t need to leave for this.  Everyone knows I’m part girl and part boy.  It’s GSD.  I just wanted to ask if Zenith knew any way to fix my GSD and change me back to a boy.”

I could see that Zenith was REALLY uncomfortable talking about my intersexed state.  Oh great, just what I needed.  Another Sharisha in the cottage.  Zenith hadn’t seemed so bad at that first Poe party.  Maybe she hadn’t realized then that I was intersexed.

She frowned and thought for a few seconds.  “That sounds like a job for mages.  But mages won’t try that anymore, after the disasters people have created.”

“I’ve read up on that and found out about some of those,” I stuck in.

Her eyebrows rose.  “Oh.  You’ve been doing your homework.  Good.  Well, the most important first step is completing your powers testing.  Have you done that?”

I said, “No.  I haven’t even started.  I’m still waiting to hear when my first appointment is going to be scheduled.”

She frowned at that.  “Why is this taking so long for you?”

I shrugged, “Hey, I’m low on the totem pole.  I’m not having obvious problems controlling or using my powers.  My powers don’t seem that unusual that the testing crew wants me in there for examinations.  I’m not at risk of a burnout.  And I’ve already been through powers testing before I came to Whateley.  Besides, I’m a Goodkind.  I figure my last name means that if there are 130 freshmen, I’m probably Number 200 in the testing queue.  They’ll test the trees for powers manifestation before they get around to me.”

She insisted, “They’re not that bad.  I know Doctor Hewley and Doctor Polland, and they’d never let a student go wanting just because they didn’t like the student’s family.  You know we have the children of some supervillains here.  Whateley doesn’t discriminate on the basis of your parentage either.”

I said, “Fine.  But I still seem to be way down the list for powers testing, and there are lots of kids like Billie who need a lot of testing.”

She recommended, “In your case, this might be good.  I want you to wait for your powers testing before you make any plans.  Your powers may not have been assessed well.  That does happen.  Or you may have changed enough since your last test that the testers could find something new.  There are a hundred reasons to wait until your powers testing is completed.  If it turns out that you are an Exemplar, or an Avatar, or you have a BIT, or you have Regen traits, or you affect your body when you warp, then your plans may have to be revised.”

So she didn’t have anything new to contribute.  I thanked her anyway, and walked back to my room.  It would have been easier if she had understood how desperately I wanted to stay a boy.

Wednesday, September 13

The showers were exquisite.  Vox and Fey both naked, and Bugs drying off?  What more could anyone ask for?  Oh yeah, Riptide and Verdant and Tennyo and Chaka and…  I got shoved out of the bathroom when someone noticed I had been standing there pretending to brush my teeth for maybe ten minutes.

Breakfast was marvelous.  Chef Peter had something special for me to try.  A fresh yogurt topped with sliced apricots and Royal Ann cherries, with a tangy syrup that hinted at orange zest and bay leaf.  The cherries were astonishingly fresh, since Royal Anns discolored within a couple days of being picked, and these were still the perfect pink and yellow and rose that indicated they were fresh off a tree that grew nowhere near New Hampshire.  I suggested that perhaps adding a little lemon zest might give the syrup a bit of zing that would integrate with the yogurt.  He scratched his chin for long seconds before he rushed back into the kitchen, presumably to try that out.

Then Costuming class was even interesting, as Mrs. Ryan showed how to take a boring superhero costume and turn it into either a really sharp outfit, or a massive embarrassment, just by tweaking the colors and the outlines.  Some of the results made the entire class laugh out loud, and one of the outfits even Mr. Uberman thought looked pretty cool.

So I was in a pretty good mood as I walked through the halls to Spanish.  I was going light that day, since I’d found a drawback to going heavy.  Namely, pranking speedsters.  I had walked right through a couple guys who wanted to get in my face, and I was nearly at the classroom.  I heard the whoosh as a speedster tore past me, and suddenly a sheet of paper went right through me, to adhere to the girl in front of me.  It said, “KICK ME I’M A FAGGOT”.  Nice.  I pointed it out to the girl and let her take it to the nearest trash can.  After that downer, Spanish and Powers Theory just didn’t do it for me.

At lunch, the Beret Mafia were all staring at me.  Kismet gave me an insistent wave, so I walked over.  They had heard about yesterday’s prank too.

Kismet frowned, “You should be more careful.  One of the bullies for the Alphas is a speedster named Aries.  He is very dangerous.  He is also a high-level exemplar, and very strong for a speedster.

I complained, “Great.  If I’m the official target of the Alphas around here, I’m going to have an even more fun year than I had expected.”

Spark looked up at me and winced.  She said in French, “Oh no, you are not the only target of the Alphas.  You are one of dozens.  They like to prank the devisers by making their devises backfire in public when it will be the most embarrassing.  Poor Mega-death has enough trouble with his inventions already.  He does not need the cruel to resort to sabotage.

They all chipped in with Alpha prank stories.  Apparently, everyone from the GSD cases to the worst Diedrick’s Syndrome kids to kids with weird BITs to defenseless devisers to the Underdogs were their targets.  The Alphas had, over the last several years, become Bullies Incorporated.  The Don and Hekate were the alpha Alphas, and their idea of fun was somewhere between nasty and sociopathic.

Great.  Maybe I would have been better off at Santa Monica High.

After classes, I was studying in my room rather than wasting my time at the open session for Civics (personal study).  I heard a disturbance next door, and then in the hall just outside my door.  I stepped into the hallway just about the time that Jade and Hank made their appearances.

It was Billie, standing outside Toni and Nikki’s room, and red as a beet.  “Uhh, it’s okay, it’s.. Nikki’s dad.”

It turned out that Billie had heard something and had rushed to the rescue, just in case it was those idiot Crystal Wavers or something.  She had grabbed a big guy by the throat, only to find out that Nikki didn’t need rescuing, and Billie was choking the crap out of Nikki’s dad.  Oops.

So, of course, once everything was settled down, Hippolyta bulled her way onto the floor and charged in to protect a sister from the Evil Male Imperative.  Man, the only women I had ever met who were that serious about hating men were either rich bitches who had nothing else to gripe about, or women who had really been badly mistreated somewhere in their lives.  Given that Hip looked Arabic under that gilded hair, I was going to guess ‘really, really bad mistreatment’.  At least she hadn’t come after me yet.

Hank took her on, which was brave of him, because that bitch can press over eight tons, and she’s got something personal against Hank.  Of course, she wouldn’t listen to reason, so within seconds, Hank and Hip were fighting for real, which was a hazard to every other person on the floor, if not every person within a hundred yards of the dorm.

I yelled, “Brick fight!” and went light.

Someone else yelled, “Run for the hills!”  It sounded like Gerald making fun of Kenny’s accent.  Kenny wasn’t my favorite person, but Gerald was a first-class jerk.

Hip and Hank were rampaging between me and my room.  So I just floated up through the ceiling, so I could walk down the second-floor hall to the second-floor sunroom.  Then I floated down through the floor into our sunroom, and walked though the wall into my own room.  I figured that I already had too many people pissed off at me, for me to just phase through several upstairs rooms that were likely to be occupied.

While bodies crashed into walls and fierce struggling echoed throughout the floor, I got some work done.  I finished my paper for Zinn, and emailed it off to him.  There was no point in waiting until Saturday, getting into a fight with someone on the way to class, and missing getting my paper in on time.

Toni finally got tired of the bricks smashing everything in the hallway to kindling, and stunned them with one of her near-infamous ki-ai shouts.  It made my vision blur, and I wasn’t even in the line of fire.  I figured that her ki-ai shout could probably stop anybody short of Billie.  Man, I so didn’t want to have to spar against her.

From what Jade had said, it sounded like their sixth-period martial arts class was about forty times worse than mine was.  A ton of people with serious martial arts backgrounds.  Unstoppable bricks like Hank and Evvie.  Billie.  Jinn.  Toni.  People I didn’t even know, like Alakazam and Blitz, who had some serious powers.  And that was just for starters.  The list of people who would be kicking my ass all over the mat seemed endless.

I was in the middle of ripping through a pile of tedious Powers Theory reading and Civics homework, when Billie asked if we could meet in my room.  I said, “Sure!  I can even provide popcorn and drinks and music.  I’ll just turn on...”

Toni stuck her nose in and said, “You promise none of that Brass Monkeyshines?”

Gah!  Why did everybody hate such a great band?

But the meeting was serious, and it needed to be private.  Jade wanted to talk about her next step toward fixing her BIT.  If I’d had a BIT to fix, I would have been just as desperate to try hypnosis as she was.  But it still sounded like a bad idea.

She showed us a pair of foam earplugs that she had colored so she could stick them into her ears and have them be hard to spot.  “Okay, here’s my plan.  First, I stick the earplugs in, then charge up Jinn.  She’ll be in the earplugs.  So she’ll hear the hypnotist, and relay the words to me.  The foil on the inside will act like a speaker disk.  And maybe she’ll change the details a little, when she thinks it’s appropriate.”

Toni nodded.  “Interesting.  But what if Jinn gets hypnotized, instead of you?”

“Then I won’t hear a thing, so I won’t be in the trance.”

“What if you need to escape?” Billie asked.  “I don’t want to start sounding paranoid, but...”

“Experience is a harsh teacher,” I suggested.

“Yeah,” Billie agreed.

Jade thought out loud, “Okay, I could charge Jinn into my clothes, too.  Worst comes to worst, she can pick me up and levitate me away.”

“I don’t know,” Toni said.  “It still gives me the creeps.  Do you have to go through with this?”

Jade gave Toni a look.  “You know I do.”

“I still don’t have to like it.”

I didn’t like it either.  But I knew there was no way they would have been able to talk me out of trying it, if I thought hypnosis could help me.  So I knew that trying to change Jade’s mind was a waste of time.  And, if the hypnosis really worked for Jade, I was going to consider finding out if there was a shot that it could help my GSD.

Thursday, September 14

Oh man, there were mornings when the girls’ shower room was a glimpse into Heaven.  I walked in, to find Vox and Fey and Bugs all stark naked, impatiently waiting for their turn in the showers.  Rip and Tennyo and Verdant were in the showers and hurrying to get out for the next girls, so I got to look at them too.  Holy crow!

Forget the Victoria’s Secret lingerie show, or live footage from the Playboy Mansion.  This was where I wanted to be for the next four years.

After Spanish class, I was walking down the hall going light, and I heard a speedster tear past.  A sheet of paper waved through me for a millisecond, and then was gone.  Just like yesterday.  Except today, the speedster came back for a second try.  I could hear him.

I went just the tiniest bit heavy.  Just enough that I’d get a tingle if someone passed through me.  His arm swept through me, and suddenly there was a big dark-haired guy sliding down the floor, bowling over a couple kids as he crashed through them face-first at eighty miles an hour.  He was screaming in pain as he held his arm.  His arm, which was holding a sheet of paper that said in huge block letters: “I’M QUEER FUCK MY ASS”.

It was Aries.  I walked back to the speed-jerk before he could get up, and I phased my arm through his back with just enough heaviness to get a solid tingle.  He twitched convulsively and passed out.  I pasted the paper to his back and turned him face-down on the floor for everyone to enjoy.

Most everyone around seemed to really enjoy the sight, except for a couple of the pretties.  Apparently, Aries didn’t get his comeuppance very often.  I wondered how many footprints he’d find on his back side when he came to.

I hardly had a chance to eat before I was handed a summons to go see the Headmistress.  At once.

Crap.  Well, it didn’t take Adrian Monk to figure out what this was going to be about.  I hustled over to admin, and got to wait for ten minutes for my trouble.

On the other hand, I finally got my first look at Amelia Hartford.  According to the website I had used to find out her background, she had to be about 32, but she looked mid-twenties.  Mutant physiology, no doubt.  She would have been an attractive blonde if she hadn’t gone out of her way to look like a ruthless bitch.  It worked about as well for her as it worked for Bond Girls who were playing scientists in James Bond movies.  Maybe it was working a bit better than that, because she had her lips pursed in an angry expression that made her look a lot less attractive.

Hartford had her hair up in a “don’t fuck with me” bun that made her look like an evil librarian.  She was wearing an expensive Anne Klein business suit.  At that end of the scale, those suits were hand-tailored, so that one was no doubt deliberately tailored to make her look efficient and hands-off.  Plus, she was wearing a pair of black rectangular Prada eyeglasses that she must have deliberately chosen to make her look that mean, because no woman was going to ‘accidentally’ choose an $800 pair of designer frames that made her look bad.

Hartford had a corner office with a large desk and her own personal space.  She even had a secretary to boss around.  But she was still stuck in the open office area, which probably really bugged her.  She was typing rapidly on a keyboard, but she kept doing the pause-and-test motions I had seen lots of Goodkind programmers do.  Plus, she had a Palm Pilot and a couple other computer gadgets on the desk around her.  So I was guessing that she was programming something for the Whateley intranet, rather than doing data entry or spreadsheet fiddling.

She ignored me, of course.  She ignored everyone.  Even the kid who brought her a cup of coffee.  I would have wondered if the kid was child labor, since he looked about ten or eleven, but I had learned that you couldn’t tell a mutant’s age from his appearance.  Jade and Mrs. Carson were two perfect examples of that.  For all I knew, the ‘kid’ was actually a fifty-year-old guy who smoked heavily, and harassed secretaries when no one was looking.

The secretary told me to go on in, so I did.  Mrs. Carson looked just like she had at the First Assembly.  She was a tall, curvy, athletic-looking, blue-eyed blonde who looked like she was in her early- to mid-thirties.  She looked too forceful and competent to be someone like a movie starlet.  Up close, there was a sense of power that just emanated from her.  I couldn’t tell if it was a real mutant power, or the sort of power that Grandfather Goodkind exuded before he became sickly.  Given her real age, it was probably both.

“Sit please, Miss Goodkind.”

I said, “Yes ma’am” and took a seat in one of the chairs right in front of her desk.

She looked down at some notes that she had probably already memorized.  “Would you like to tell me something about the last few days?”

Well put.  Give the target an opportunity to step wrong from the start, and perhaps even incriminate himself.  I would have to remember that this woman had decades of experience at dealing with all manner of lawbreakers and thugs.  I carefully said, “Do you mean the amount of bullying that has been aimed at me?”

I think she was expecting me to spill everything and confess to injuring Aries.  Not going to happen.  She didn’t show what she was really feeling, so it was impossible to be sure.

She frowned, “I was specifically referring to the incident this morning, where you incapacitated a student in the hallways and attached a lewd comment to him.”

I said, “That’s not at all what happened.  Aries has been using his speed to stick offensive messages on my back.  They’re mere pranks, though.  However, I was walking through the halls, and I was going light to avoid being bumped or harassed.  I believe it’s in my files that I can disrupt electronics and knock people out when I’m at slightly less than fully immaterial form.  Apparently, if someone merely passes a limb through me, it sends some manner of painful impulse through the neural system, rather than just knocking them out.  That happened as he tried to stick the paper of record onto my back.  He screamed, fell, and crashed at high speed through at least half a dozen other students.  I did walk back to see who it was, so I know that it was Aries.  I turned him on his back, rather than leave him where he might be tipped onto his back and have people deliberately stomp on his face.  I hear that he’s made himself quite unpopular.”

“But you just left him in the hallway.”

I told her, “Of course I did.  I had to send him some sort of message that I didn’t like being pranked and harassed.  What was I supposed to do?  Carry him to the clinic and be late to class?”  From her stare, that was exactly what she had in mind.

I tried to sound naïve as I asked, “There were dozens of other students who know him and hang out with him.  Are you telling me that not one of them helped him?  That everyone in the whole school just left him lying on the floor?  If his own classmates left him there, why am I being singled out, when I’m the victim in all this?”

But she was way ahead of me on that one, and she knew not to get sucked into some sinkhole about who should have helped someone that she had to know was one of the biggest bullies in school.  Instead, she diverted the discussion and asked me if I wanted armband protection.

I declined, “No thank you, ma’am.  As far as I can tell, the Underdogs and the other kids wearing those armbands seem to get picked on just as much as they did before they started wearing the armbands.  I think that my powers are well suited to avoidance, and self-defense when necessary.  I believe that I’m doing just fine.”

Then I added, “I didn’t think that Lady Astarte would be defending a Goodkind.”

She didn’t even try to deny the secret identity bit.  She just said, “Whateley is an equal-opportunity school.  We don’t discriminate on the basis of race or creed or religion.  We don’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.  We don’t discriminate on the basis of your sponsors.  We don’t discriminate on the basis of your attitude toward legal systems.  And we don’t discriminate on the basis of your family.  If we did, do you really think that we would allow Dr. Diabolik’s children to come here?”

Dr. Diabolik really had kids?  And he had kids who were at Whateley now?  I had a sudden panicky urge to jump up and check to make sure they weren’t out in the hall, waiting to attack me.

I got a grip on myself and thought about what I wanted to say.  “I have four years here, and I want to spend them being a serious student, not a perpetual victim.  So I believe I need to show everyone and their brother that I can take care of myself.”

She pursed her lips and said, “I suppose that you’ll need to learn this lesson in a more direct manner.”

Fine.  Just come right out and tell me that I’m in over my head and you think I’m going to get my ass kicked.

The only problem was that I was worried.  I didn’t want to admit it to anyone, but if Lady Astarte thought I was in trouble, that was bad.  I was not only in hot water, I was probably being parboiled that very second.

 

Chapter 4 - Crunch Time

Friday, September 15

I was tense enough that even watching Fey and Rip drying off wasn’t its usual moment of bliss.  I didn’t even pay attention to what I had for breakfast.  I spent every second outside of classes either going really heavy or going really light.

I spent all day waiting for Aries to make another sneak attack.  But there was no sign of him.

Instead, I got a bunch of loser chicks hassling me between Spanish and Powers Theory.

I was going heavy as I walked toward Powers Theory, when four hotties in different-colored cheerleader uniforms got in my face.  The tall blonde was obviously the leader, while the redhead and brunette had ‘sidekick’ written all over them.  The shorter blonde with the pixie cut looked younger than I did.

The tall blonde did her best to loom over me.  She snapped, “Look freak, you don’t mess with Alphas!”

Oh.  Alpha wannabes who would do whatever they could to get into the club.  Great.  Desperate bimbos.  I wondered if these were the cheerleader-bitches Jade had complained about.  They matched Jade’s description.  So I figured they deserved a little grief.

I tried to give her the ‘calm and collected’ look.  I said, “Oh?  You want me to mess with you?  As a proposition, it’s novel.”

“What are you talking about, bitch?”

“Yeah, shut up!” the redhead chipped in.

I pushed on, since a crowd was watching.  “It’s obvious.  Whateley has no intermural sports teams.  So you must be hookers dressed up as cheerleaders.”

“YOU BITCH!”  Okay, I had managed to find one of their hot buttons.  “We’re the Whateley Academy Martial Arts Cheerleaders, and you’re about to find out why!”

She did a fast spinning backfist that would have broken my nose if I hadn’t already gone heavy.  Her hand hit my face hard enough that I felt it.

“SHIT!” she screamed, as she grabbed her probably-broken hand.  “Kelly!  Ginger!”

The brunette suddenly transformed, so she looked like she was made out of an ornately carved gemstone, in a nearly-translucent blue.  The redhead moved toward me with sparks flying from her fingers.  Okay, ‘heavy’ for Sparky, and ‘light’ for Diamondhead.

But they didn’t want to play by my rules.  They hit me simultaneously, with Rockgirl moving to my side and launching several quick kicks at my legs, while Sparky struck at my face and chest from straight on.

Damn, Rockgirl could kick hard in that form!  I managed to block one of Sparky’s hands, and the other hand shocked me when she hit me in the face.  It obviously didn’t hurt me as much as she was expecting.  It obviously hurt her more than she had thought it would.

I pretended to dodge to the side away from Rockgirl, and both of them jumped to cut me off.  Which worked perfectly for me.  I went light and cut back the way I came, phasing right through Rockgirl and knocking her out.  She collapsed onto Sparky’s foot, which gave me more than enough time to go heavy again and punch Sparky in the solar plexus.  She folded over and dropped to the floor.

I looked down at them and smiled, “Wow.  Fighting girls in cheerleader outfits.  Someone must think I have a thing for Sailor Moon.  This is so much classier than harem outfits or crackwhore miniskirts.  You four must charge a bundle for turning tricks.  But I’ll pass.  There’s no telling what STDs I might get from you four.”

The crowd around us laughed wickedly.  By then the little one was trying to help the tall blonde to her feet.  The way they both glared at me, they looked like sisters.  The taller one hissed, “Nobody messes with the Yellow Queen and gets away with it!”

I smirked, “Yellow Queen?  Is that supposed to be a ‘bee’ ref?  Because it sounds to me more like a ‘King in Yellow’ ref, and you really don’t want to go there, unless you like the idea of yellow as a metaphor for decay and madness...”

I went light and walked right through them.  After seeing what I had done to Rockgirl, they shrieked and dove away from me.  That suited me fine.  If I had to scare the crap out of them to make them leave me alone, that’s what I would do.

Powers Theory wasn’t nearly as interesting as meeting four hotties in cheerleader uniforms.  Actually, it wasn’t nearly as interesting as watching paint dry.  When Filbert wasn’t demonstrating something of interest to him, the class was chapter and verse out of either the textbook or one of two other powers theory books he had written.  (I had checked both out of the library and read them already.)  At least I got my Spanish homework done.

At lunch, I received another note from admin.  I was supposed to meet with a different counselor, right after sixth period.  This time, it wasn’t Mrs. Hawkins, thank God.  It was a Dr. Bellows.

And that name sounded really familiar.  I looked around the table.  “Who has Dr. Bellows for a counselor?”

Jade looked over, “I do.  Dr. Bellows is the one doing the hypnosis with me.  Some of it’s working really well.”

Tennyo added, “Me too.”  She thought for a moment and said, “He’s got some sort of esper talent too.  We shook hands, and he experienced when I  burned up.  It was.. bad.”

Hmm.  I’d have to bear that in mind.

I was thinking about the meeting all afternoon, and I didn’t focus enough on other things.  Especially during sparring.  Prism nailed me with his energy blasts, and Redlight froze me with a psi attack I should have been able to avoid.  At least I didn’t have to deal with that bitch Golden Girl.

I got to the admin area with a minute to spare, and Valerie directed me into Dr. Bellows’ office right away.  He was ready for me a minute ahead of time.  Okay, he was already well ahead of Mrs. Hawkins on points.

He looked like he was around fifty or so, with graying brown hair.  He reminded me of someone, but I didn’t place it until I saw his nameplate.  Dr. Alfred Bellows.  Like in the tv show.  Man, he even had that ‘genie’ bottle up on his shelf.  Oh, wait.  Jade had told everyone about this deal, one evening, and it had sounded utterly surreal.  Now it made sense.  I was going to have to show Jade an episode of “I Dream of Jeannie” off the TVLand channel.

He smiled gently and pointed toward a comfortable chair off to the side of his desk.  Then he came out from behind his desk, and sat down in a similar chair only a few feet away form me.  He smiled, “Ayla, I hope you don’t mind getting transferred to me.”

I couldn’t help smiling at that.  “Frankly, I think we’ll work better.”

He smiled, “I have a bit of empathy, so I can tell you’re glad to have been traded.  You’re not the only one she has traded to me.”

So Mrs. Hawkins had traded with him before.  That didn’t surprise me any.  I was willing to guess that Mrs. Hawkins traded away every student who caused her any kind of problem.

The session went pretty well.  He knew I was intersexed and TG, and he wasn’t freaked out about it.  Of course, he wanted me to talk about how I felt.  But he was a real psychiatrist, so I felt better about that.  He had a couple impressive sheepskins up on his wall.  I felt like he knew what he was doing, and he would respect my confidentiality.  So I talked about meeting some friends, and being bullied.  When I left, we shook hands, and he got an alarmed expression on his face.

“I’m sorry, Ayla, my esper talent is most just empathy, but I sometimes get impressions of prior events, often important seminal events, from a person, especially when I make physical contact.  Have you.. umm.. been experimented on by Dr. Emil Hammond?”

“Yes.  Twice.  The first time was…”  I sighed wretchedly, “It was three days of hell, and my family knew it, and they.. they left me there!”

And then I was trying my hardest not to cry as I sobbed out the whole nasty thing.  He was really considerate with my emotions, but he got me to tell him every painful, horrible thing I could remember.  I even told him things I hadn’t told Gracie or Team Kimba.

When we finally wrapped, it was well past the scheduled end of the appointment.  He said, “Ayla, you need a break, and you need to get some dinner before the Crystal Hall closes.  But you definitely need to talk with me on a regular basis.  These are going to be official psychiatric visits, so I can’t tell anyone what you said.  But you really need to find a way to let Mrs. Carson know that Dr. Hammond is really THE Dr. Hammond, and not a baseline being victimized by some fiendish supervillain.

“And we need to set up at least one appointment a week.  Can you come see me at this time every Friday?”

I nodded, and said, “This time is probably going to work pretty well for me.”

He smiled a little, “Good.  You need to talk about all this, and your changes, and everything else that’s making you so unhappy.  We’ll start out with once a week.  But if one hour a week isn’t enough, I’m going to want to work in another hour somewhere.  I’ll  make time in my schedule, even if I have to cut into my weekends for you.  Okay?”

I swallowed.  I found his empathetic concern really moving, especially after so many people had been unsympathetic to my plight.  It took me a moment before I could speak again.  “Thank you.  I really appreciate it.”

He grinned, “Good.  Now hurry off and get some dinner.”

He was right.  Again.  I had spent so much time talking with him that I nearly missed dinner.  The admin offices were empty, and most of the building was dark by the time I left.  I ran off to dinner and just made it in time to get the last bits left from the descent of the usual ravening hordes.  Fortunately for me, that also included the treat Chef Marcel had been saving for me.

It was a soup bowl holding a braised duck breast with beautifully-presented sliced shallots and parsnips, in a delicious duck stock.  Chef Marcel had figured out how to braise the duck breast perfectly in the stock, while managing to keep the skin above the liquid so it reached just the right crispness.  So I had to go back to the food line and chat with him about his technique.

After dinner, I spent an hour reading some literary criticism books for World Lit, and then I finished my trig and powers theory homework.  I really liked being able to be in my room and yet also stick my head into the sunroom to study with the gang.

Saturday, September 16

Ahh, the morning showers.  Have I ever mentioned that showering at Poe is one of the great experiences in life?  Particularly when Nikki Reilly is standing there nude, chest out and head back, summoning up ley lines to magically dry her hair?  I decided that one of my goals in life ought to be figuring out a way to share a shower room with Fey for the rest of my life.

Not that that was ever going to happen.  But showering with Vanessa every morning would be a close second.  It would also be nice if I could stare at her as she sat naked on the bench and shaved her legs, without getting myself into trouble.

Everybody who used that bathroom was worth ogling, except Jade and Sharisha.  Sharisha really needed to lose some weight and get a new hairdo.  Jade still counted as kiddie porn.  Ick.  Even Evvie and Jody were cute, although not ‘10’s like Nikki and Vanessa and Bunny.  Heck, there needed to be additional numbers added on above ‘10’ for some of the girls like Nikki.  And there were a ton of ‘9’s in the bathroom too.

It was odd, but the one girl (other than Jade) that I wasn’t ogling was the one who most got in my face about it.  Hell, it wasn’t like she didn’t stare at the other girls too.

I had time to eat a croissant and some fresh fruit before I got a nice to-go cup of the good coffee from Chef Marcel.  I said in French, “That was very kind of you last week.  What were you going to do for Christmas?

He said, “I am planning on flying back to Bergerac for the holidays.  My brother and sisters are all going to be at the family home this year.  Why do you ask?

I thought he already had a good idea, given his smile.  I grinned, “Book your seats on Air France.  First class.  My treat.

He gave me a huge grin and said, “All that for a cup of coffee?”  But we both knew he was joking.

I smiled back and said, “No, all that is for the ceviche.  It was outstanding.”  He just laughed.

Then I got moving, so that grad student Jeff didn’t have to mark me late.  As it was, the room looked like I was too early.  I was only the sixth person in the room.  So I sat down front a couple seats to the left of the hot Oriental girl, ‘Miss Hua’.

When Dr. Zinn walked in, there were still only thirteen students in the room, including me.  He looked around and smiled, “Ahh, this is much better.  You will all be happy to hear that you thirteen are the entire class.  Everyone else has dropped.  This will be much better as a discussion group.  Now then.  Has everyone read the epics and finished their papers?”

Of course, everyone who hadn’t been intimidated out of their minds last week had already done their work.  About half the class had emailed their papers in already, and the other half had nice, printed papers ready for Jeff to pick up.

Class discussion mainly centered around our discussing the main points of our papers, and then getting into debates with the rest of the class about them.  Dr. Zinn started things off by talking about a paper he had written some years ago on the role of Paris in the Iliad.  Then we went around the room, talking about our papers.

There was one snotty uber-brunette who had ‘stone-cold bitch’ stamped across her chest.  She was some goofball who Professor Zinn called ‘Miss Summers’.  She was massively disgusted with me for lumping the Greek Gods in with mere mortals in any way.  Apparently, her paper was all about what she thought Homer got wrong about the Greek Gods, and how she thought they really behaved.  I mean, what was her damage?  As it turned out, she was bent out of shape about everyone else’s papers too.  What, was she a Greek Gods groupie?

‘Miss Bosworth’, the hot black girl with the Liverpool accent, was way more on the ball.  She had written a paper that contrasted the view of the war from the Greek side, with the way it might have looked from the Trojan side.  And she had some interesting thoughts on my paper too.

‘Mister Smith’, the oh-so-cultured English guy, had obviously done his homework, too.  He sounded like he had been reading a lot of literary criticism books in his spare time.  I resisted the temptation to do ‘The Matrix’ jokes about his name.

‘Miss Wells’, the bubbly California girl, obviously thought that serious literary criticism consisted of telling Dr. Zinn that she thought the Odyssey was ‘really rad’ and ‘totally gnarly’.  Was she just yanking our chains, or was she really that clueless?  She didn’t have one useful thing to say for the entire class.  Her paper was idiotic too.  So it turned out that it was possible to be a hot Exemplar babe and still have the brains of an ice cube.

And ‘Miss Hua’ had a really interesting non-Western reading of the stuff.  She made me think that maybe some of the texts we had read in middle school might have gotten the wrong ideas about Chinese and Japanese literary works.

After class, I walked down to the front and gave Dr. Zinn my title and outline for the Aeneid paper:

          Aeneas as Superman: Truth, Justice, and the Roman Way

                   by Ayla Goodkind

He laughed as he read the title.  “You really like the mutant world view of the epic, don’t you, Ayla?”

I smiled back, “That sounds odd, given that I’m a Goodkind.  But don’t you think that Aeneas is sort of the hero being given the ‘Spiderman’ choice?  He’s always looking at having to choose between his duty to the gods and to the future of Rome, versus his own personal wishes and needs.”

He grinned, “You wouldn’t be the first person who has posited characters like Batman and Superman and Spiderman as epic heroes.  You might want to do some lit review on that topic.  But I don’t want you to choose a comic book as your final paper topic.  You’re better than that.”

On the way to lunch, I heard that ‘speedster whir’, and a shiver ran down my spine.  I instantly went light.

Aries zipped past me and tried to trip me as he zipped past.  But his leg went through mine, since I was light.  He jumped away like he was afraid he might get trashed like the last time.  I almost smiled at the thought that he hadn’t enjoyed being hurt and humiliated.

He confronted me, “Look you little bitch, you better watch who you mess with!”

I just gave him my coldest stare.  “I was under the impression that you were messing with me, not the other way around, prank-boy.  It’s not my fault you stuck your arm through me when I was disrupting everything around me.  You’re just lucky you still have an arm.”

He wasn’t getting the hint.  “You don’t mess with the Alphas!  You’ll pay for that stunt!”

He ranted and raved for a bit, while I kept walking.  I had a destination in mind.  Meanwhile, he foamed at the mouth some more.  Unsurprisingly, he was pissed about getting publicly trashed when he was pranking me.  Apparently, if I was being pranked by the Alphas, I was supposed to take it and shut the fuck up.

I casually walked a little further across the Quad, while he told me I was a loser frosh, and if I pulled any more crap on him he would make sure I paid for it.

When I was directly over one of the tunnels, I flipped him off and phased into the ground while he swung a fist futilely through my immaterial shape.

I held my breath as I floated down through the soil - which was never going to be one of my favorite pastimes - until I sank into one of the underground tunnels.

It should have been a relief to be in a tunnel where I could breathe again.  It wasn’t.

I came down right in the middle of a crowd of unfriendly mutants.  They all stopped and stared as I phased through the roof and drifted down to the floor.

In front of me, there was a real werewolf - a predator who made Harry Wolfe look like a friendly puppy dog.  He had one of the black Ultraviolent armbands, which told me I was in trouble.  He was walking with two massive guys who also had those black armbands.  One of the two looked like something creepy was wrong with his skin.  They were staring at me like they couldn’t decide whether to eat me alive, or beat me to death THEN have dinner.

On the other side of me were several deviser-types.  Most of them were short and nerdy.  All but one of them were wearing the ever-popular Whateley labcoat as their deviser ‘uniform’.  And all of them had gadgets and devises and tools hanging off the anchor points on the labcoats.  Several of those widgets looked they might be energy weapons or force field projectors, both of which would be bad for me.  One of them was a nearly-handsome guy dressed like a fop from a Merchant-Ivory movie about Victorian France.  One short nerd had an apple-red labcoat, with a shaved mullet, if you can believe it, and a cybernetic left eye.  Count Fop-ula and Mullethead had robot-things accompanying them, and those were probably loaded with offensive and defensive weaponry.  Count Fop-ula’s thing looked like the evil version of a Sceptile or something, while Mister Mullet had a more standard mini-robot, in a matching red color.

On the far side of the devisers were half a dozen GSD kids who didn’t look like they’d ever want to be friends with a Goodkind.  One girl looked like she had eight octopus legs.  One guy had a couple dozen weird metal aerials growing out of his skin, with energy crackling in sparking arcs from aerial tip to aerial tip.  He had a thing like an adult-sized baby’s walker all around him, with dishes that appeared to be draining power off him so he could walk about with other people.

I looked around and worried about what I was going to have to do.  It didn’t look like it would be safe to stay light, since Aerial-Guy behind me could fry me if I stayed light.  So I went heavy.  As heavy as I could go.

My options looked limited.

If they wanted to attack me, I probably couldn’t fight off all of them, even at my heaviest.  And the robot-things probably had weaponry that I couldn’t handle.

I didn’t dare go light and stay in the tunnel, when there was at least one heavy energizer, two robot-things, and a half-dozen armed devisers who might be able to fry my ass.  I hated the idea of phasing through the wall and being stuck underground without air.  I didn’t dare go light and phase back up to the surface, where Aries might still be waiting for me.  I hated the idea that going back up to face Aries might be my best option.

I didn’t want to go disruption-light and phase-KO a tunnel full of people, since I had enough Whateley students hating my guts already.  Not to mention that I was afraid I would really get hurt if I phased through Aerial-Guy.  And I was REALLY afraid that if I disruption-phased through Aerial-Guy’s protective gear, I would trash it and then he would erupt in an electrical storm that might hurt or kill half the people in the tunnel.

But the werewolf and Huge Guy With Creepy Skin and their pal were closing in on me.

“You.  Goodkind.  You don’t belong down here.”

“Clear out before I rip your face off.”

“How ‘bout I just touch her and burn her skin off?”

I so didn’t want to have to fight a tunnel full of opponents.  I tried an opening gambit, “What, you attack other GSD cases?”

The big guy with the creepy skin - who had just let me know that he had an acidic touch - sneered, “You?  You’re one of the pretties.”

I stood my ground.  I figured I could go light and avoid him fairly easily, if I had to.  “Oh, sure.  If you call growing tits and a girl’s butt to be ‘pretty’.  I’m a guy!  I don’t want to look like this!”

He just snorted.  I went disruption-light as he prepared to attack me.

“Goodkind?  You’re the girl everyone’s talking about who used to be Trevor Goodkind?”  It was Mister Mullet, with the cybernetic left eye and the input jacks on the sides of his head.

Okay, conversation was an improvement over all-out battles with mutants.  Even conversations on embarrassing topics.  “Yeah, that’s me.  Except I’m still a guy, just a guy with embarrassing body parts.  Ayla Goodkind, formerly known as Trevor Goodkind.”

Mister Mullet broked into a grin.  “Don’t you recognize me?”

I looked at the face.  It looked really familiar.  I mentally blocked out the hair and the input jacks and the cyber-eye and the red-dyed forelocks.  I was left with a face that reminded me of a kid.  A kid who had been a third-grader the last time I saw him, at the exclusive Franklin Academy in New York.  Malachi Daibliku, who had been in my grade.  His older sister Jadis had been a year ahead of us.  I had really liked her too.

“Mal?  Is that you?”

He broke into a wide grin.  “Yeah.  I never thought I’d see you here.  And I really never thought I’d see you looking like one of the campus hotties!”

I groaned, “Don’t remind me.  I said I had GSD and it was making me grow boobs and stuff.”

Someone laughed, “A Goodkind knows Dr. Diabolik’s son?  That’s funny.”

Dr. Diabolik?  Holy crow!  But those forelock horns were unmistakable, and the last name…  Daibliku?  Diabolik.  Duh.  Really subtle there.  How had I not figured this out?

Oh yeah.  I was a third grader at the time.

But how had everyone else - all the parents and teachers and school administrators - not figured this out?  Or was that why Jadis and Mal had to leave Franklin Academy?

And why wasn’t I panicking about being around a child of the dreaded supervillain Dr. Diabolik?

I asked, “How’s Jadis?”

He shrugged, “Still Jadis.  She’s here too.  Goes by She-Beast.”

I asked, “So is she a hot exemplar now?”

He grinned wickedly, “Nope.  Still looks like always.  Still looks like a beanpole and has a face like a hatchet.”

Oh dear.  Jadis had always been one of the smart kids, like me.  But she was not what you’d call ‘pretty’.  I was shocked to realize that I cared.  She was a child of an internationally-wanted supervillain, and I was feeling bad for her.  I knew it was because I was seeing her as my schoolmate Jadis and not a Supervillain In Training.  But still, it was frightening to realize how much my view of the world had changed in just two months.

Mal smirked, “She’ll be glad to hear you’re around.  She always liked you.  But you weren’t her annoying baby brother, and you were always pulling that ‘oh I read Dickens too’ crap.”

I found myself grinning back at him.  I stuck out my hand in a handshake.  “In case you hadn’t heard, I go by Phase now.”

He shook my hand.  “I’m Techno-Devil around here.”  He pointed to Count Fop-ula.  “This is my friend Nephandus.”

Count Fop-ula wasn’t interested in shaking hands with me, so I just gave him a nod.  But the name ‘Nephandus’ stirred a host of unpleasant associations.  Oh.  Right.  It took me a second to come up with the refs.  The RPG “Mage: The Ascension”.  Back when I was Trevor, my friend Johnathan had braille translations of all those books so he could play with the D&D nerds.  He would talk about that game for hours, if you let him.  The Nephandi were evil mages devoted to spreading conflict and corruption wherever they went.  That told me more about Nephandus than I wanted to know.

Mal introduced me to most of the other devisers, as the kids behind us streamed on to lunch in the Crystal Hall.  I smiled and played nice, but I was really troubled at meeting students who had already marked themselves as future supervillains.  Was Mal one of them?  He was going by Techno-Devil.  His buddy was an obvious ‘future supervillain’.  His dad was Dr. Diabolik.  But he was my old school pal from third grade.

I couldn’t help thinking of “Smallville”, where Lex and Clark start out as pals.  Or of the big finale of “Unbreakable”, where Samuel L. Jackson says, “In a comic, you know how you can tell who the arch-villain’s going to be? He’s the exact opposite of the hero, and most times they’re friends, like you and me.”  Just thinking about that sent a chill down my spine.

I walked back to Poe.  I no longer felt like eating lunch.  I no longer felt like eating, period.

My old school pal was now Techno-Devil.  His nice, friendly, smart big sister Jadis was now She-Beast.  The kids I had once liked so much were now the spawn of Dr. Diabolik.  I ought to be despising them and watching to see what evil machinations they had planned.  Instead, I kept finding myself wondering if they needed help.  And every time I wondered that, I had to wonder if I was being lured into some sort of supervillain plot.  This was too freaky and bizarre for me to handle.

But Mal had pulled my butt out of that little fire, so I owed him.  And he’d always been a good guy back in elementary school, when I was one of the nerdy, shrimpy, unathletic, smart kids.  I could see his forelock horns, but I just couldn’t see him or Jadis as the kids of the supervillain Dr. Diabolik.  Especially not Jadis.  I’d always liked Jadis.

Had I ever really known Jadis or Mal?  Surely, way back in second and third grade, they were just kids.  That was way too young to be plotting nefarious schemes and covering one’s tracks like a pro.  If either of them had been evil back then, everyone would have known.  But Jadis wasn’t.  Mal wasn’t.  Jadis had been one of the smart kids.  One of the good kids who looked out for the younger kids and fended off the bullies.

And yet their father was Dr. Diabolik.

Not only had they not been the school bullies or troublemakers, they had been ‘white hats’.  And they had been schoolchildren.  They had been too young to conceal how they really felt or how they really thought.

Something didn’t compute.  I was going to have to think long and hard about Jadis and Mal…

Mid-afternoon, as I was walking down our hallway in Poe, I heard one of the things I had been dreading.  “Phase!  Stop!”

It was Hippolyta.  And when Hippolyta wants your attention, she gets it.  She was six feet or so of dangerously powerful Amazon goddess, with an Arabic cast to her face, gorgeous olive skin, and short hair that looked like real gold.  If she hadn’t been a threat to every penis-equipped person within a hundred miles, she would have been glorious to stare at.  As it was, guys who ogled her had a tendency to get things.  Like broken bones.

Oh great.  I had figured it was only a matter of time before she got on my case for being part-guy.  I went as heavy as I could.  “Yes?”

She said, “Did I hear right?  You took out Aries in the middle of the halls the other day and left him for everyone to walk on?”

“Yeah.  He had a paper he was going to stick on my back, and I left him face-down with it taped to him.”

She asked, “What did it say?”

“It was the typical thoughtful and considerate Alpha message.  It said ‘IM QUEER FUCK MY ASS’.”

She checked, “And you left him face-down with that on his back?”

“Yeah.”

She actually smiled for the first time I could remember.  “Good.  Show those bastards.  Keep up the good work.”  And she gave me a ‘pat’ on the shoulder that would have crushed my collarbone if I hadn’t been heavy.

Well, that was nerve-wracking and freaky.  I had expected some major threats, followed by some ligament ripping and the Contusion Concerto, played all across my torso.  I watched her walk off, and I realized that sweat was trickling down my back.

I dressed in my version of the Whateley uniform and went to dinner.  Chef Marcel had something special for me to try.  It was a breaded sole with red pepper mayonnaise.  But the breadcrumbs were made fresh from what tasted like homemade sourdough bread.  The filets of petrale sole were perfectly sautéed.  And the hand-made red bell pepper mayonnaise was pepped up with a little cayenne pepper and some ground red peppercorns.  Ooh, every bite of sole with mayonnaise together was a spicy little bit of heaven.  After that, I had to go have a long chat with Chef André about how he made the mayonnaise to accompany the sole.

After dinner, I waited around for Dynamaxx.  I wondered if this was a set-up, or an Alpha prank, or something even more sinister.

Finally, about the time that I had worked myself up into a real sweat, Maxx turned up.  He strolled toward me, talking with Unicorn.

She looked at me and turned on Maxx, “You didn’t tell us you invited a Goodkind!”

I interjected, “Hey, I’m not even a Goodkind anymore, Brenda.”

“Unicorn!” she flared.

I put my hands up in a peace gesture.  “Sorry!  But you’re one of the Connecticut Mathersons, right?”

“So?” she asked angrily.

I explained, “I know some of your cousins.”

She snapped, “But the Goodkinds still won’t come to any parties my folks throw, now that I manifested.”  Oh.  The real issue finally rears its ugly head.

I said, “Hey, that’s nothing.  At least they didn’t invite Emil Hammond to dart you in the butt and then experiment on you for days.”

Real horror flared in her eyes.  “Holy shit!  You’re kidding!”

I sighed miserably, “I really, really wish I were.”

Maybe I shouldn’t have admitted that.  I’d told other people.  But thinking about it always made me feel wretched.

At any rate, Unicorn stopped giving me grief.  For a while, anyway.  They led me down through the underground tunnels to a secret entrance.  They had a couple real Whateley Security officers guarding the doors for them.  That had to be payola.  This couldn’t be part of the regular patrol routine for campus Security.  I made a special note of the namebadges on the Security guys.  Officers Green and Trews.  The officers waved us through a well-hidden door, into a lavish atrium.

Once the door closed behind us, I asked, “How much do the Security guys cost?”

Unicorn shrugged.  Maxx said, “When it’s your turn to pay them, you’ll find out.  They’ll tell you.  You pay.  You don’t discuss it with anyone else.  Understood?”

I nodded, “Got it.  I just needed to know which rules they play by.”

Okay, I guess I wasn’t too surprised that some of the Security guys at a place like Whateley picked up major pocket change whenever it was convenient.  The more I thought about it, the more logical it sounded.  After all, if you were, say, The Syndicate, or the MCO, or the Yama Dojo, and you wanted to keep tabs on Whateley, what would you do?  In their shoes, I would put an infiltrator into Whateley Security, so I not only had eyes inside Whateley, but I had eyes that would see everything that Whateley Security saw, including all the Security reports.  That would be WAY better than sneaking someone in as a gardener or a janitor.

Oh crap.  That probably meant that the Yama Dojo now had a report on the kids who had demolished one of their ‘graduation exercise’ teams.  That did NOT sound good.  I needed to warn the rest of Team Kimba.  Toni would probably be ecstatic at the news.

The atrium had a polished granite floor, and a really impressive decoupage job on the walls.  One side of the atrium was a large built-in coatrack, which would be nice for meetings during inclement weather.

They led me into a good-sized reception hall decorated with what looked like real Queen Anne furniture, not replicas.  The furniture was arranged to provide several conversation groups.  There were also several wingback armchairs tucked away at the edges of the room, for privacy.

Some really nice hors d’oeuvres were brought around on serving trays by real servants in livery.  I saw two formal butler suits, and a French maid costume on a rather plain twenty-something woman who didn’t really have enough up top or good enough legs to be wearing one that tiny.  A couple of the ‘servants’ looked like students, and a couple of them looked old enough to be staff.

I instantly recognized Renshaw Egerton.  I knew that last year, Ren had needed to leave Chilton because he had become a mutant, but I hadn’t realized that he would be here too.  He looked like he hadn’t changed a bit.  With a first name like ‘Ren’, you know that everyone at Chilton had called him ‘Stimpy’.  He seemed to be slumped in an armchair looking his usual sullen, unhappy self.  Then I saw that he had a bottle of Krystal and a large champagne flute.  Not good.  Ren was a little less than a year older than I was.  He was decidedly under-age.  And the bottle was already half-empty.  So he really hadn’t changed any with his mutation.  Double plus ungood.

Maxx grabbed two champagne flutes of bubbly and handed one to me.  He grinned, “Don’t worry,  It’s non-alcoholic.”

Unicorn frowned, “It would be better if they could find a decent non-alcoholic drink to put in the glasses.  The last stuff tasted like Welch’s grape juice.”

A couple other people walked in behind us, and Maxx waved them over, “Tabby?  Hatamoto?  Let me introduce Phase.  This is Ayla Goodkind, of the Westchester Goodkinds.”

Neither one warded me off with a cross and holy water, so I said, “Yeah, I’m one of those Goodkinds.”

Tabby was a nice-looking girl a couple inches taller than I was.  She was slender, with bright green eyes and gingery hair cut in an expensive style that helped a lot with her triangular face.  She shook my hand and said, “I’m Abigail Dunne Kitteridge.”

I asked, “Of the San Francisco Kitteridges?”  Tabby didn’t look like a Kitteridge.  Well, her eyes and hair looked a lot like the Kitteridges I had met, but she obviously wasn’t as rigid as Tracy Kitteridge and her parents.

She rolled her eyes and admitted, “Yes.  It was all Mummy could bear to let me go this far away for school.  But once I manifested, they had to.”

It was pretty obvious that she was enjoying being out from under Mummy and Daddy’s thumb.  Most of the Kitteridges were staid, conservative, old-San-Francisco money, with all that implied.

Hatamoto looked like the Exemplar version of the classic samurai, except for his dark-red irises.  He was a few inches short of six feet, with an athletic build.  He shook my hand and said, “I’m Ken Yagimura, from Tokyo.”

I bowed slightly and switched to Japanese, “Yagimura Consolidated?  My father met with some of your family when we last flew to Japan.

He grinned and said, “Yes.  That was my uncle and my cousins.  Your Japanese is really very good.”

“For a gaijin?” I asked.

He laughed and said, “For anyone.  As you know.  Here, let me introduce you to a couple of my friends…”


I looked around and said, “I’m glad Tansy Walcutt isn’t here.”

Unicorn groaned, “Oh my God, that bitch!  After what she did her freshman year, we blackballed her.”

Tabby rolled her eyes.  “God, as if.  She’s too busy trying to be the head of those Venus Inc. posers.  She doesn’t have time for us.”

“Blackball?” I asked.

Unicorn explained, “Yeah, we blackball a lot of people.  Like there’s no way we’re ever going to invite She-Beast and her little brother.  Their dad is a damn supervillain!”

I felt sort of funny about that.  On one hand, I liked Mal and Jadis.  On the other hand, they were the fiendish children of Dr. Diabolik!  I sort of wished I could do them a favor.  But inviting them to a place where they would be rejected out of hand was hardly doing them a favor.  And shouldn’t I be worrying about their evil schemes to take over the Golden Kids and do horrible things to the members?  I mentally shrugged and moved on, but I was going to have to think some more about Mal and Jadis…

I asked, “Have you talked to Charmer?  Her dad is Villabianca Importing.”

Dynamaxx sneered in a mocking parody of Charmer’s attitude, “Oh, we have been presented to the Prince and Princesses!  We are going to be the Royal Wizardess one day.  We do not need your little squalid group!”  He muttered angrily, “She ruined her chance.”

“Oh, she’s not the only one…”


I wondered out loud, “I actually was expecting some robotic servants instead.”

Dynamaxx glowered, “We HAD them, up until last year, but Glitch blew all of them up.”

I asked, “Who?”

One of the upperclassmen I hadn’t met, a tall guy with shiny silver irises, turned and yelled across the room, “Hey!  Stimpy!”

Ren got up.  He sulked as he walked toward us, “Shut up, it’s not Stimpy!  It’s Renshaw.. or Overload.”

Several people snorted at that.

“Hey Glitch, tell Phase how you blew up all those GX-4000 service robots.”

He yelled, “That’s Overload!”

“Whatever you say, Glitch.”

“THAT’S OVERLOAD!”

And most of the lightbulbs within twenty feet of him suddenly blew out.  We had to move to a different part of the room so we had enough light.  Ren came with us, and Dynamaxx introduced Ren to everyone.  Ren just sort of went through the motions, until Maxx introduced me.

Ren stared at me, “Is that really you, Trev?”

I sighed, “Afraid so, Ren.  My case of GSD is just a lot more peculiar that most.  I grew tits and a butt, and my face and body changed, and it all happened in the last two months.”

He stared right at my tits and gasped, “SHIT!  Here.  Have a drink.”

I shook my head no.  “I’ll pass, Ren.  I’m underage.”

He ignored my really subtle ‘underage’ hint.  “I need a drink.  You wouldn’t believe the stupid hayseed they stuck me with, in the dorm.  And my dad said he wouldn’t push to get me a single over in Melville until I got at least a 3.0 GPA.  How am I supposed to get a 3.0 against a classroom full of fucking Exemplars and Gadgeteer geniuses and Paragons and Avatars and shit?  That’s impossible!”

But I knew Ren from some of Chilton’s classes.  He hadn’t done well at Chilton either.  He blamed it all on his parents screwing up his life.  Of course, since I had heard that his parents did meddle constantly, some of his griping was probably legit.


Dynamaxx pointed out, “Oh, Charmer and Solange aren’t the only ones.  There are other students with money who are too busy or too.. what is the English word.. too snotty to associate with us.”

Stimpy slurred his words slightly as he waved his again-full flute of Krystal and complained, “Stephen Cheng Lee’s too busy being Mister Super-secret Powermonger, like everyone doesn’t know what he’s doing.  Matt Holloway?  His dad is Holloway Chemical?  Icer’s too fucking busy being an enforcer for the Alphas.  Like they’re ever gonna let him be in the top Alphas.  Same with those fucking Kenner twins, Hamper and Damper, their mom is Magdalena Maracksen-Kenner.”

I wondered out loud, “Hmm, Kenner Publishing Group in Europe?”

Tabby nodded, “That’s them.  The pricks.”

Unicorn snarled, “Hmph.  You can’t get much slimier than Kenner Publishing.  Their garbage makes ‘The Sun’ look classy.  Some of their stuff out of Denmark is nothing but pornography with a fancy gimmick.”


“Yeah, we have to hire servants and chefs for every meeting.  We’ve got two of the staffers who are willing to make some more dough whenever we ask, but it’s a bitch getting some student peons to work for a stinking three hours.

“Oh yeah, there’s all this hassle and regulation just because a couple years ago the Bad Seeds tried getting cheap student labor for THEIR meetings with these Gizmatic™ WF400 Obedience Helmets.”

“Oh Christ, admin had a giant hissy over it, like anyone cares what some redneck mutant from Arkansas does with the rest of her life after she’s worn an obedience helmet too long…”

“The Bad Seeds?” I had to ask.

“Yeah, one of the Whateley clubs.  If your mom or dad is a supervillain, you’re in automatically.  They’re all a bunch of fucking menaces, and their families are worse!  Did you hear that Emperor Wilkins has a kid here this year?  Jobe Wilkins?  And he’s a chip off the old block, from what I hear.  Sociopathic bio-deviser.  If he offers to help you with anything, just run like hell.”

I asked, “Must be great for his roomie, or does he have a single?”

“I heard he’s rooming with Oak.”

“Oak?”

“Some kid who’s mostly tree, I hear.”

“You’re kidding me!” I gasped.  But this was Whateley, where anything seemed possible.


I learned a lot of other interesting things at the party, but the most important thing might have been the real names of Icer and Hamper and Damper.  It occurred to me that if most everyone knew their real names, it ought to be relatively easy to find out who Aries really was…

In bed that night, I suddenly had an epiphany.  I was a Goodkind.  I had gone to school with Jadis and Mal.  Was it possible that someone like, say.. Dr. Diabolik, had done this to me because I was a Goodkind?  Some super-powered mutant who was mad at me because I was spouting the Goodkind party line when I was going to school with his kids, had gotten some vicious little revenge on me in this way?

Because there were just TOO MANY mutants from the kids I knew!  If the average American had a 1 in 40,000 chance of becoming a mutant, then I shouldn’t know any other mutants - or maybe just one other mutant - from my old life as Trevor.

But I knew Jadis and Mal.  (Okay, maybe they didn’t count, since we were all at Franklin Academy because we were rich New York kids, and it might have been inevitable that they would turn out to be mutants.)  I knew Renshaw.  I knew Tansy, even if I didn’t want to know her.

I knew Mathersons who were related to Unicorn, and Carruthers who were related to a mutant or two.  I knew Kitteridges who were related to Tabby, and I had met some of Hatamoto’s family while we were in Japan.  There could be even more mutants out there that I had met before they manifested.

America had an abnormally high mutancy rate.  Did rich people - or American rich people - have an even higher rate of mutancy?  Could that bastard Hammond be right about transmission processes and mutancy vectors?  Could there be something that rich people were doing or eating or using that was putting them at a higher risk for mutancy when their behaviors were putting them at a lower risk for all kinds of common chronic and fatal illnesses?

Maybe it was that beluga caviar, and they’d better send it all to me so they’d be safe.  Heh.

Or was it possible that I was reading way too much into a random spike that real epidemiologists would dismiss as not statistically significant?

Maybe it was something even nastier, like the poorer you were, the more likely that you were killed by hatemongers before you got your powers under control when you first manifested.  I thought about Kenny, and winced.  I thought about Hank fighting off that anti-mutant military squad, and I cringed.

Unfortunately, there was no way I could research that any more through my old connections: Mother and Goodkind Research.  There had to be mutants who were researchers who studied stuff like this, even if they couldn’t get top-secret MCO reports.

Hmmm.  Maybe they’d be willing to exchange some of their research work for insights into the MCO research papers Mother had shown to me…

Sunday, September 17

I went to church again, but I just wasn’t enjoying it like I used to.  Maybe it was the Reverend Englund.

Maybe it was me.  Maybe I felt like I was a Godless mutant now and I no longer deserved God’s love.  Maybe I missed being with the family in church and singing along with Mother.  Maybe it just reminded that I didn’t have Mother and Father and Paul and Connie anymore, and I never would be able to get them back.  Maybe it reminded me that now I was exactly the thing that my own mother feared above all else.

I didn’t know.  And that really bothered me.

I was walking back to Poe, feeling miserable and staring at the brickwork.  I should have been watching for threats.  Sensei Ito would have clobbered me for not paying attention to my surroundings.

“Hold it right there, faggot!”

Crap.  It looked like I was going to get clobbered anyway.  I was looking at a black kid who had Exemplar written all over him, with three black guys hanging behind him egging him on.

I immediately went heavy.  I tried, “Look, this isn’t a good time.. OOF!”

He gave me a palms-out shove in the chest, and I went flying.  Even though I was heavy, I still flew backward maybe twenty feet before I crashed onto my back, putting a big Ayla-shaped dent in the ground.  That did not feel particularly pleasant.  Okay, it wasn’t any worse than being slammed into the mats by Golden Girl or Adamantine, but it still hurt.

I got back up as he closed in on me.

One of his pals egged him on, “Show that freak, G-Force!”

G-Force.  Oh.  So he was a gravitic superman, instead of a PK superman like Hank, or an Exemplar superwoman like Hippolyta, or an Avatar superman like Champion, or an Energizer superwoman like Sparkler.

But I could deal with a g-supe, probably more effectively than I had dealt with Sparkler.

He did the classic palms-out move again.  Obviously, he was going to hurl me gravitically back a furlong or two.  I went light.  As light as I could go.  I felt a sort of strong backward tug on me, but I resisted against the tug, and I stayed put.  If I had had any noticeable gravitational mass at that point, it would have been different.

I went disruption-light and walked through him.  He froze and fell face-down into the grass.  His three buddies just stood there with their jaws dropping open.

I would have called it quits right then, but one of the homeys turned his palms up and cupped his fingers as he started manifesting some sort of fireballs.  I didn’t dare stay light until I took care of that threat.

So I went heavy and punched the guy in the stomach.  He doubled over and flew back a couple yards before crashing to the ground.

I turned to the other two, and walked right at them.  I glared at them, “Next?”  They backed up even faster than I was moving forward.  When I was at the spot I wanted, I stared at them and warned, “Right now you still have all your limbs.  The next time you dorks hassle me, I won’t play nice!”

Then I went light and sank down through the ground.  I had sited myself just right, and I came down in the center of the tunnel to Hawthorne.  I had a nice, quiet, underground stroll back to Poe, although I did have to phase through fifty yards of soil to get into the Poe basement.

There was a big crisis going on in Gurlzone when I got back.  Jay Jay had chosen ‘Scrambler’ as her codename.  But some dork over in Twain had chosen ‘Scramble’.  Whateley rules suggested mediation when two codenames were too close together, and mandated it if you had identical codenames picked out.  If someone had that name already, you were S.O.L.

“…so it’s only fair that I get to keep the name ‘cuz I thought of it first and that’s the rules and I picked it days ago and you all heard me…”

So, Jay Jay and Scramble and a Whateley mediator had met in Schuster, and had gotten nowhere fast.  Jay Jay always picked a thought and then ran with it until she crashed and burned.  So she wasn’t going to change her codename.  Scramble was some sort of headcase, so he wasn’t going to change HIS codename.  Apparently, they argued insanely with each other for over an hour until the mediator gave up.

“…and he was so mean and I tried to be nice but he wouldn’t take it back and I already picked the name and his name isn’t as good and he needs to get another name and the lady wouldn’t listen to me either and I told them I had to stay with Scrambler and they just wouldn’t listen to me and then he said…”

So Scrambler was going to have to put up with a guy named Scramble for the next four years.  And vice versa.  Unless he was really nuts, I was betting he would fold under her relentless illogic within the next two weeks.  And if he didn’t fold, I was betting he really was nuts.

“…so the lady told us we would have to work it out between us and that kid just wouldn’t listen to reason and I told him and told him that Scrambler was already my codename but he was just being a butthead about it and he wouldn’t listen to me and it’s just not fair ‘cuz I already picked Scrambler and his name sounds too much like mine and I don’t want to have a guy with a codename like mine but he wouldn’t listen to me…

I couldn’t take it any longer, so I left.  I went upstairs to see Zenith again.  She was probably getting pretty sick of my face.

Shrike asked, “Do you want me to leave?”

I smiled, “No.  This visit is even shorter than the last one.”  I turned to Zenith.  “Do you know Aries’ real name and hometown?”

Zenith gave me a deadpan look.  “That information is confidential, you know.”  Like she didn’t know the name, rank, and serial number of every stinking kid in school.

“Yeah, yeah,” I sneered.  “Confidential.  Just like my real name, and my real name before I changed, and my physical problems that make every gay-basher on campus target me.  That stuff is really top secret around here.”

Shrike utterly surprised me.  She butted in,  “His name’s Arnold.  Arnold Harvey, from some hick farming town in Wisconsin where his folks have a dairy farm.  He was in Intro English and Algebra I with me.  He used to be a nice guy.  At least, I thought he was.  Back when we were freshmen, some Alphas were calling him ‘Arnold Ziffel’ and pranking him all the time with these really stupid pig-related pranks.  When he was a kid, he got picked on for being a chubby farm kid.  Then he got picked on for becoming a mutant.  Then he got picked on here.  Finally, he got tired of being picked on.  He knocked the shit out of about four of those jerks at once, including taking down Hardtack and Crustal.  After that, some of the Alphas rushed him as some muscle for one of their hit teams.  I guess he really likes being the bully instead of the victim.  Now he’s The Don’s personal goon.”

That was all the information I needed.  “Thanks, Shrike.  Thanks a lot.  I owe you one.”

She said, “I’ll take that favor in stock tips.”  She looked over at Zenith first before she turned back to me.  “I’ve got about twelve thousand bucks in this mutual fund my folks’ve been adding to since I was about three, and it’s been losing money every year for the past four years.  Even if you only do market average, you’ll be helping me.”

I grinned, “I think I can do a lot better than market average for you.  And that favor I owe you is going to include no broker’s fees from me, either.  Come on down to my room, and we’ll get that money invested in something more reasonable.”

It took less than an hour to get ninety-five percent of the money moved, even if it was on a Sunday.  Of course, if we had needed to go through humans, it would have taken weeks.  I figured it would take Shrike most of a month to get her account closed out, once money managers running that mutual fund got involved.

Monday, September 18

I got up extra early, and took a shower while the bathroom was still empty.  Wow, the place really lost its cachet without naked hotties sashaying about.  I also skipped breakfast at the Crystal Hall.  I brewed some fairly good coffee, had a couple yogurts from my fridge, and went to work with my cell phone.

It took me a quarter of an hour to get set up with the private phone anonymizer I needed.  Then I made four phone calls to various Goodkind International contacts that I could recall from my years of working at Goodkind International headquarters.  It took me that many calls just to find out who I ought to hire.  Trin and Macintyre, Planetary Investigative Agents, headquartered in New York City, with offices in London, Sydney, Hong Kong, Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, and Capetown.

After that, it took me half an hour of conference-call negotiations to convince Trin and Macintyre and some of their junior partners that they should take my money and tackle the less-than-scrupulously-ethical jobs I had for them.

I still made it to Costuming class with six minutes to spare.

In the lunch line, Chef Marcel walked over and smiled at me, “I missed you at breakfast.  Here is a little something to make up for that.”

He had something fantastic for me.  Grilled sweet potatoes with a lime-cilantro vinaigrette.  Oh, man!  Was that good!  I spent way too much time talking with him afterward, and I had to run to martial arts class.

I hurried to get my gi on and get in line before the bell sounded.  Phobos straggled in late, grappling with her gi.  And I could see why she was struggling.

Oh, holy crow!  What had happened to her?  I mean, she was fine on Friday!  Now she had an extra set of arms under her regular arms, jutting out through holes in the sides of her gi.  All four of her hands now had wicked-looking claws instead of fingernails.  Her face had changed: she now had fangs jutting out over her lower lip, and she had devil-horns jutting up from her forehead.  And her legs were moving all wrong…

Holy crow!  She had hooves now.  She had hooves, and her legs looked like.. like she had a goat’s legs under her gi pants.  What the FUCK had happened to her?

The deer-girl, Psydoe, rushed over and helped Phobos get her gi fixed.  Then they sat at the end of the third row.

Psydoe.  Gah!  What a lame codename.  With a codename like that, I had to wonder why didn’t she just call herself Doe-nut or Power Bambi or something.

Ito and Tolman showed everyone how the katate dori grab was supposed to work, and how it would be applied in action.  But we were going to start by practicing it from a static position.  Like any of us were ready to learn something like that in any other way.

Tolman proceeded to point out where she wanted every pair of partners.  “Phase!  Phobos!  Stand over here and begin.  Vox and Mechano Man!  Here!  Silverwing and Adamantine!  Here!  Golden Girl and Britomart!  Here!”

She and Ito walked the room as we worked on our form.  I whispered, “Phobos, what happened?  Are you all right?”

She snarled, “I’m fine!  I don’t wanna talk about it!”

“Okay.  Sorry.”

But she did want to talk about it, and apparently she was picking up my emotions enough to know that I was concerned, instead of afraid, or enjoying her misery, or whatever other girls were doing to her when she wasn’t in martial arts.  “It was that sick fuck Jobe.”

“Jobe Wilkins?  Gizmatic’s son?”

“Yeah.  Deimos and I…  When we get too angry, we merge into what we call Fury, a two-headed monster with all our limbs and tails.  And our fear aura grows a couple orders of magnitude, and it’s bad enough that we start ripping up reality all around us.  But this time, we.. we couldn’t separate!  We were stuck!”  I thought she was going to burst into tears.

Tolman was coming back our way, so I focused on movement and grab, making Phobos concentrate in turn.

After Tolman corrected our forms and set us back to work, Phobos explained more.  “He said he could help us.  We were so desperate, and no one else would help, and everyone was afraid and running away from us, and we didn’t know what to do…”  She was getting angrier and more upset by the second as she recalled it.  “He mixed up this junk and injected it into both sides of us.  It worked.  We finally separated.  But it did THIS to both of us!”  She looked mad enough to bite this guy Jobe’s head off.  “Deimos looks just the same.  And he was such a bastard to us!  He said…”

I never heard what Jobe said to them, because Phobos got so angry that she flipped out.  She went rager on me.  Which was a hell of a lot scarier than it sounds.  Suddenly she just went insane, and violent energy flared from every one of her claws.  She screamed, and slashed at me.

I went as heavy as I could.  I actually got lucky and grabbed one slashing hand in the katate dori we were working on, but the energy gleaming from her claws looked vicious.  I managed to block her second hand too, but only just barely.  I didn’t catch her third hand, and she slashed across my left bicep.

“SHIT!”  I screeched in pain as those damned energy claws actually sliced into me even though I was heavy.  “Phob!  Stop!”  I couldn’t hold her with my left hand anymore.  So there were four clawed hands thrashing about, and I had one good arm to stop them all!

I went as light as I could, and she began furiously slashing at me with everything she had.  And the energy from those claws was still slicing into me even though I was light.  “Ow!  Phob!  Please!  Ow!  Try to.. Jeez!  Stop!”

I was just about to phase through her and try to knock her out, when Tolman popped up beside us and glared at Phobos.  All three eyes rolled up in her head, and Phobos dropped to the mat.  I tried to catch her, but I was still light and she fell through me.  I went normal and knelt beside her to see if she was all right.

Tolman frowned at me, “What did you do to her?”

I was not going to take that crap from a teacher who had to know better.  I gave her my coldest stare and snapped, “You’re a psi.  You know perfectly well that I didn’t do anything.  She was telling me what happened to her, and she got so upset that she went rager.  She couldn’t help it.”

Tolman looked at my arm and said, “You’re bleeding.”

Well duh.  My upper arm was slashed in four fairly nasty, really deep, parallel cuts.  If I hadn’t gone heavy, I might have lost my arm.  Blood was running down my sleeve.  A lot of blood.  My upper arm was really hurting like a bitch.  I mean, it was hurting worse than getting kicked in the balls.  Plus, I had stinging, burning sensations from everywhere she had slashed me while I was light.  Her energy claws had shredded my gi even though I had been light, and had left what looked like stripes of first- and second-degree burn everywhere she had clawed me.   The thought of what Phobos might have done to me with all four hands if I had stayed heavy, or if I had been normal density, was making my legs get rubbery.

Vanessa and Verdant and Jay Jay and Charmer, and a couple other kids, rushed over to see if I was okay.  Psydoe rushed over to see if Phobos was all right.  I noticed that she was the only one who did.  Tolman ripped open my sleeve, raised my hand to my shoulder to push the wounds closed - which, by the way, hurt so much that I screamed again - and applied pressure to the cuts.

In seconds, Ito was there with bandaging.

But so was a classmate I didn’t really know.  Prism.  He was a tall frosh who was too handsome to be anything except an exemplar.  He was nearly as tall as Tolman.  He had auburn hair and bright yellow eyes that probably had all the girls swooning over him.  I knew from sparring against him that he was about as fast as I was, and a little stronger than I was, unless I went heavy.  Plus he could fire off some serious energy bolts.  He’d nailed me with them when we sparred.

He took the bandaging from Ito and said, “Let me.”  I was pretty surprised that Ito just let him.

The guy knelt beside me and gave me a warm smile.  “Let me take a look at you.”

Ito added, “Prism has Energizer and Healer traits.  I would recommend that you let him help.”

I gritted my teeth and said, “Go ahead, Prism.  I can take any help you’ve got.”

He looked at my arm and my shredded gi, with the reddened, raw skin showing at every tear, and said, “Can you stand?  I can do more if I’m in direct sunlight instead of this shade.”

To my surprise, I was able to stand up and walk.  I felt light-headed and sick from the blood loss and the reaction, and I hurt all over.  Why didn’t guys like Spiderman go through this when they took damage?  Was I just a pathetic wuss?

Tolman sent everyone else to the showers, even though Vanessa was really insistent about staying.  Tolman didn’t let her.

Prism put his hands over my slashed arm and closed his eyes in concentration.  Suddenly I understood where his codename came from.  All the colors of the rainbow flashed around him as he did whatever he was doing.  From what he’d said, I guessed that he was absorbing the sunlight and channeling it into his powers.

Within minutes, my arm felt much better, and the raw places all over me weren’t bothering me that much.  I grinned, “Thanks.  Thanks a lot.  I really feel a lot better now.”

He smiled as he bandaged up my bicep, “You should still go to the clinic, and get a unit of blood.  You’re A-negative.  You lost a lot of blood there.  And your arm isn’t completely healed, either.  You should let the doctors look at it and patch you up.”

Man, he really was into the whole Healer bit.

Ito said, “I will walk you there.”

“No,” I insisted.  “I need to make sure Phobos is okay.”

“You are injured, and you need to see the medical staff.”

“I will.  I promise.  I’m not Vin Diesel or something.”  And I walked back over to where Phobos was coming to.

Phobos groaned wretchedly and opened her eyes.  My first impulse was to jump back about forty feet, or hide behind Ito.  I managed not to do either.  I knelt beside her, even though I was still pretty nervous about being near her.  I said, “Phob?  It’s okay.  Everything’s okay.”

“Ph-phase?”  She looked at my arm with all three eyes, and tears began running down her face.  Which was just bizarre, because her middle eye was leaking tears at both sides, and the other two eyes were leaking from the inner corners.  “I’m so sorry!  I couldn’t help it!  I just…  I just…”

And then she was bawling her heart out, and clinging to me with four arms, and I was holding her and patting her on the back with my good arm.  A Goodkind was holding a hideous, clawed, horned mutant while said mutant cried her heart out.

Three months ago, I would have said this could never happen in a million years.

Once Phobos stopped crying, Tolman marched her off to Security to make a report.  That didn’t sound good.

Ito walked me to the clinic.  I was glad for the support, because my arm was still hurting, and my entire sleeve was soaked with blood, and I still felt wobbly.  I didn’t know how much blood loss would make me pass out.  I mean, my gi looked like someone had poured a quart of blood down my arm and over my side.  I looked like the corollary damage from the ‘prom queen’ scene in “Carrie”.

He carefully said, “That was.. kind of you to help Phobos.  Not many people would do that, particularly after being clawed and injured.”

I didn’t bother to turn my head.  “That was the point of the exercise, wasn’t it?  Match a Goodkind up with a freak?  See if I turned into a bitch, or if I turned into a counselor?”

He didn’t even looked abashed.  “That was one of the things we had in mind.”

“We?”  I really wondered who that ‘we’ was.  I had a feeling from the way that he said it, that it was broader than just him and Tolman.  I also had a feeling he wouldn’t tell me if I asked.

He went on, “We were also concerned about the amount of damage that Phobos might inflict if she did get hurt in class and ‘go rager’.  A couple students in the class have the ability put up force fields if given enough warning, but that was unlikely to be the case in simple hand-to-hand practice.  A couple students are very durable, but as you have seen, her ‘energy claws’ will cut through your average brick.  It was felt that you would be most capable of handling a crisis, if it occurred.  As you did.  Although you did not simply pass through her and render her unconscious, as I expected.”

I almost shrugged, but I remembered my arm in the nick of time.  “I was about to, when sensei Tolman showed up and did that psi knockout trick.  Pretty cool trick for an aikido master to have.”

“Tolman shihan has many remarkable attributes.”

But that was all he was going to say on the subject.  I was really getting tired of that ‘inscrutable sensei’ routine he had.

The clinic doctors gave me a pint of blood, some Derma-glue over all four of the drastically-healed slices on my arm, a pill bottle with ten extra-strength Tylenols, and a stern warning to be more careful in future.  Right.  Like I had asked a rager to attack me just for laughs.

Apparently, when soke wasn’t being an inscrutable conniver, he was a pretty good guy.  He made a few phone calls, and Vanessa showed up with my regular clothes and a new gi (which Ito had charged to my account).

Vanessa hung on my good arm and worried about me all the way back to Poe.  I was feeling pretty good by then, even if my arm still hurt.  And having her worrying about me made me feel a lot better, too.

I had to admit, knowing there was a mutant Healer like Prism in my aikido class made me feel a lot better too.

Vanessa helped me while I took off the ruined gi and then cleaned up.  I showered off the blood and sweat and fear.  The singed areas from when I had been light were almost all gone.  They were just reddened areas that felt like an old sunburn.  My left arm felt like I had some cuts from a penknife, instead of four hideous slashes that if I had moved a little slower would have gone through the bone.

Vanessa babied me and worried over me, which I had to admit I really liked.  She retrieved her textbooks from her room and stayed with me for a bit.  We did Business Accounting homework, even though I had already read the whole textbook, and I was half a dozen chapters ahead of her on homework exercises.  She was a smart girl, but she still needed to learn that it was a good idea to ask questions when you didn’t understand some of the material.

Vanessa walked with me to dinner, too.  She was surprised when I made a beeline for the soup table, where Chef Peter was doing his casual stroll routine.

He put down a bowl of a thick yellow soup and whispered, “It’s my version of a Brazilian calabaza squash and coconut soup with corn relish.”  It smelled incredible, so I hurried to get the rest of my dinner.  I wanted to try that soup.

Vanessa caught up with me at the salad bar.  She murmured, “Did that chef just give you something special out of the kitchen?”

I nodded.

“Do they do that every time?”

I shrugged, “About once every day or two.  You want to try this?”

She stared at it.  “I don’t like creamed corn.”

I grinned, “This is about as much like canned creamed corn as I’m like Paris Hilton.”

She sat with me at the Team Kimba table, even though her friends were waving her over to their place.  I let her take a taste of my soup, and her eyes fluttered like she was having an orgasm.  God, was she beautiful.  I was getting a hard-on just from watching her enjoying that soup.

She gaped, “That’s amazing!  What is it?”

I took a taste and sampled the soup.  I inhaled slowly and sampled the richness.  “It’s a calabaza squash and coconut cream soup, with corn and onion and garlic, and some kind of spicy pepper.  If it’s supposed to be a Brazilian soup, it may be malagueta pepper.  The creaminess is partly from the coconut milk and partly from pureeing the squash.  Then Peter added this corn relish on the top.  Fresh cooked corn kernels with cilantro and chopped shallots, tossed in a mixture of lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and I think a pinch of sugar.”

She stared at me, “How in hell can you tell all that?”

I smiled, “Vanessa, I’ve been eating fine cuisine every day since I was old enough to eat solid food.  My family has two chefs, both of whom could be the next Wolfgang Puck if they wanted to put in the effort of marketing.  When we travel somewhere, we always sample the cuisines at the finest restaurants.  I’ve been learning about food for over a decade.  After all that, how could I NOT know something about dining?”

She just shook her head.  And stole half the soup.  She frowned, “You know, you’re making it incredibly hard for me to find you a decent Christmas gift.”

I smirked, “I’ve been a bad boy this year, so you don’t need to get me anything.”

She said, “Yeah, I know you’ve been a bad boy.  I notice it most mornings in the bathroom.”

Before we could get too mushy, her friends came by and stole her away to talk about some guy I didn’t know named Mace, and what he was doing with some girl I didn’t know, and something about some group called the Tigers.  What was that?  A sports team?  I’d have to ask her later.

Fey leaned over and said, “I thought you two were about to move into a liplock right here at the dinner table.”

Hank asked, “And why would that be a bad thing?”

She gave him a whack on the arm that he hardly noticed.

I carpe’d the diem.  “Hey Nikki, you know the Magical Arts people, right?”  She shrugged in a ‘sort-of’ gesture.  “I’ve been trying to talk to one of the experts about whether a spell can help my GSD, and they keep giving me the run-around.  Apparently I have to keep watching the local sty to see when the hogs sprout wings.”

Toni snorted into her food when she got the joke.

Fey thought for a second and said, “Let me see what I can do.  I’ll talk to a couple teachers for you.”

Well, that sounded a lot better than the ‘we will get back to you some day’ routine I’d heard so far.  “Hey, thanks!”

She gave me a big smile which nearly knocked me out of my chair.

On my way out of the Crystal Hall, Unicorn stopped me.  She murmured, “I heard you got ripped up today.”

I shrugged, “It’s okay.  I’m fine now.”

She frowned, “Look Phase, if you’re going to get beat up by bullies every day, you should check out some small technical stuff from Sin d’Rome’s Mercenary Emporium.”  She gave me an arcane URL that I memorized.

I told her, “Really, it’s not a problem.  It was an accident in martial arts class.

She just said, “I’ve heard about the bullies too.”

That night, I was studying in my room when Vanessa dropped by.  “Hey Ayla, I just wanted to thank you for the soup.  That was great.”  And she kissed me.

We kept kissing.

I never did get back to homework that night.

Tuesday,  September 19

I woke up and went straight to the bathroom.  I missed Fey and Billie, but Vanessa was just stepping out of her shower with a towel wrapped about her hair, and another towel rubbing all over those glorious curves.  Wow.

The only downside of watching Vanessa shower was that Tempest was almost always there at the same time.  Sharisha had a hate-on going for Chaka, for some reason I couldn’t fathom, and she was spreading it to every one of us changelings too.  If she’d been as powerful as, say, Aries, I would have worried about her.  As it was, she was just nuisance value.

She hissed, “Hey girly-boy, why don’t you just take that dick and get the fuck out of our bathroom?”

“Nice to see you too, Sharisha.  I see the anger management classes aren’t working out for you.  Have you considered Prozac?”

“Just shut the hell up, you white bitch-boy!”

I grinned, “And you have a nice day, too.”  Then I strolled out without looking back, which was a big enough diss to set her off again.

I was still fantasizing about Vanessa and trying not to think about Sharisha when I left Poe.  I was already past Melville on my way to breakfast, when I heard the shout.

“Stop right there, you pervert!”

It was a voice like a radio announcer’s version of a superhero.  I turned toward ‘Space Ghost’ and looked.  It was a dork who couldn’t be more than a freshman, but already had the face and body of a superhero.  Well, actually, he had the face and body of a superhero impersonator.  He had a lantern jaw that even Jay Leno would have laughed at.  He looked like a cartoon parody of some super-bozo who couldn’t get accepted by the Justice League, even after they’d accepted Green Arrow and The Atom.  And Homer Simpson.

As if his face and bod and voice weren’t bad enough, he had a costume that was just super-lame.  He was wearing a tight blue t-shirt that looked like he had cut a ‘B’ out of gold foil and used Elmer’s Glue to stick it on the shirt.  With the not-quite-heroic shirt, he had on a pair of jeans with a belt that was over-ornamented with a huge belt buckle.  Of course, the belt buckle had a big ‘B’ on it, too.  And to go with the outfit, he had on a cape that was probably supposed to be golden, but looked like its Pantone color name was ‘Vomit Yellow’.

Plus, he had a ‘team’ behind him.  One guy was twitching and zipping from side to side in a way that made Jay Jay look calm.  The other guy looked like he was probably a ‘Robin’.  He didn’t look like an Exemplar, and he didn’t look like he was ready to rumble, either.

I just gave them my coldest stare.  “Just who are you losers, and why are you bothering me when I’m on my way to breakfast?”

“I’m Captain Bravo!” he trumpeted.  “And we are The Unstoppable Three!  This is Hyper.  And this is Long John.”

I couldn’t help smirking, “Long John?  You named yourself after underwear?  What, ‘Fruit of the Loom’ was taken?”

“Shut up, faggot!”  Man, he really had those snappy comebacks, too.

“Gethimlookathimhe’saqueer!”  No wonder this loser was named ‘Hyper’.

I stared at him and asked, “What’s the matter, forget your pint of Ritalin this morning?”

Hyper went hyper on me and did the speedster thing.  Fortunately, I had already gone heavy.  And I had a fairly good idea of how speedsters attacked you, from watching Jay Jay in aikido class.

He ran right past me and took a passing super-fast shot at my face.  Then he ran on, squealing in pain.  It looked like he might have broken his finger on my eyeball.

My left arm was still sore, and I really didn’t want to fight.  But these pricks didn’t have enough sense to back off.  Long John leapt at me Mister Fantastic-style, with arms stretching out to wrap me up.  I let him wrap me up in his arms and legs, and then I phased right through him.  I went just heavy enough to get a tingle, and he collapsed to the ground in a soggy, stretched-out heap.

Then I went back to ultra-light, just in case, since his teammates didn’t have enough sense not to invest their life’s savings in ePets.

Captain Bravo snapped, “You evil monster!”

“Me?  Hey, you’re the dorks attacking an unarmed kid.”

I was expecting Hyper to try a sneak attack from behind, or Mess Sergeant Bravo to try the standard super-heroic punch to the jaw.  Instead, he launched these energy beams from his eyes.

I was still light, so they passed right through my chest.  Well, they passed right through me in the sense that Godzilla just passes right through Tokyo.  The beams felt like they burned a white-hot hole through my body.  It was all I could do not to scream out loud.

Captain Barfo wasn’t expecting me to just stand there.  I guessed that I was supposed to go flying through the air, or take some massive damage.  He just stood there with his mouth open.

At that point, I no longer felt like playing nice.  My chest was still burning painfully, and it wasn’t making my left arm any better.  I went as heavy as I could, set up in a stance, and I hit him right in the solar plexus with my right hand.  He went ‘oof’ as he was knocked back a few feet, but he wasn’t really hurt.

Damnit, was every third person around here a fucking superman?

Hyper made a whirring second pass and hit me in the kidney.  Since I was harder than concrete right then, he only managed to hurt his other hand.  He yelped and tried to grab his hand in pain.  But both his hands were hurting, so he just looked kind of spastic.

I went light and dove right through Captain Braindead, going just heavy enough to get that tingle.  He dropped like a rock.  Good, because I still really hurt from those damned energy beams he’d used.

I glared at Hyper, who was standing there trying to hold both his injured hands at the same time.  “Go get some help for your friends, or I’ll rip your liver out.  And the next time you dorks come after me, I won’t take it easy on you!  I’ll show you how I took out Aries with one hand.  Now get moving, asshole!”

He moved.  At about 130 mph.  My chest still hurt, but at least I wasn’t lying on the ground in an unconscious heap, like some people I could name.

By lunchtime my chest was feeling a lot better.  And Chef Marcel had something that improved my outlook.  His oignons Monegasque, or Monaco-style onions.  The blanched pearl onions were browned, then cooked with vinegar, chopped tomatoes, and fresh currants, and seasoned with thyme, parsley, garlic, and just enough sugar.  Ooh, did they smell incredible!

Fey met up with me at the Team Kimba table, and she wanted to take me straight to see Circe.  I made her wait until I finished those onions.

As she led me off to the Magical Arts classrooms, I told her, “Thanks.  I really appreciate it.”

She said, “Just don’t smart off to her.  She’s really old, and really smart, and not all that tolerant of non-mages.”

I said, “Nice codename, too.”

“That’s not her codename.  She is Circe.”

I just looked at Nikki with my mouth open.  The real Circe?  As in Greek mythology?  No way!

On the other hand, this was Whateley…

Fey took me to a classroom, and there was a woman sitting there behind the teacher’s desk.  The woman certainly didn’t look a couple thousand years old.  No, she had one of those ageless faces that could be thirty or fifty or seventy.. or maybe over a thousand.  She was still striking, with a cast to her skin and a look to her face that told me she was Greek.  Her hair was dark, rather than the iron-gray or pure white I had expected.  She looked like she could be a mother of one of the students.  She didn’t look like one of the greatest sorcerers in human history, unless you saw that her eyes were old.  They didn’t look like an old lady’s eyes.  No, they looked at you with something that told you they had seen everything, over so many years that there was no point in counting the years any longer.

She looked up at us and smiled, “Fey.  I see that you have brought your friend.  Did you explain about the limitations of traditional magicks?”

Fey nodded, “I even asked Phase to wait until powers testing, but no one has even started with her.  It doesn’t seem fair, when everyone else is getting lots of attention from the testing staff.”

Circe nodded.  “I’ve been called in for a couple of the powers testing sessions, so I can tell you that a number of our students are creating testing problems for our scientists.  It is slowing down the testing process more than usual.  You should know about this.  Right?”

Fey blushed prettily, so I figured her powers testing hadn’t gone smoothly either.

I interjected, “Umm, Circe?  I was tested back in California a couple weeks before school started.  That didn’t show any problems.  So I’m probably rather far down the list.”

She looked at me intently, and then nodded, “And you believe that your family name may have caused the powers testing people to ignore you for as long as possible.  I think that is unlikely.”

Yikes!  She must have read my mind in some way, while I was standing here!  That didn’t make me feel very comfortable.  On the other hand, it gave me some hope that she would prove more than competent enough to help me.

Fey said, “Phase used to be a boy.  Now he.. she has a mostly-female body with male genitalia.”  She looked at me and nodded for me to continue.

“The person who tested my powers said I have an unusual case of GSD.  I don’t want to look like this.  Is there a way to use magic to restore me to a boy?”

She sort of thought out loud, “Hmm.  Using incantations to resolve someone’s GSD.  That sounds like what the Harlequin Witch tried back in 1972 on the Estes boy.  Firesnake.  I predicted it would turn out badly.  I warned her not to, but no one ever listens to me.  Roger Estes was what we now call a Manifestor.  His GSD was a serious problem for him personally.  He had a body that was part snake.  The spell looked good on paper, but it turned him into a real snake.  A snake devil, perhaps.  We were never sure afterward.  But he changed into a 35-foot-long spitting cobra bigger around than a wine barrel, with a taste for anything warm-blooded.  That was dreadful.  A lot of people died, including poor Harlequin, before we were able to stop that snake.”  She stopped and sighed miserably at memories I didn’t even want to think about.

She went on, “And it’s not the only case I know of where a mage tried to fix someone’s GSD.  None of them have turned out well.  Not even The Magus has been able to do it.  I don’t think that any responsible mage would attempt such a thing without months of study, and a lot of consultations, and some way of testing the spells first.  There’s probably not a single GSD child here at Whateley who hasn’t at some time asked if we could help him, and every time a mage has looked into it, the answer has been a resounding ‘not in your case’.  I’m sorry.”

Fey led me out of the room.  I don’t think I was up to walking on my own.  My brain was busy overloading.  I mean, getting changed from a part-snake boy into a giant man-eating snake-thing?  Holy crow!  I didn’t think I could handle something like that.  Maybe magic wasn’t the way to fix my GSD.

But that didn’t mean there wasn’t a way…

Martial arts class was tense.  Phobos did NOT want to partner me, and even argued with Tolman sensei about it.  She wasn’t given a choice.

I told Phobos, “It’s okay.  Really.  I’m nearly healed up.  And next time, I’ll know what to do.  It’s okay, really.”

But she could sense my fear.  I knew it.  I could see it on her face.  All I could do was concentrate hard and try to block her aura while I focused on grappling with her and throwing her reptilian-tailed ass to the mat.

She was a little quicker than I was, but once I went a little heavy, I was stronger, and I was heavier, so I had better balance.  Plus, I was harder to throw.  Okay, so I went heavy enough that an Exemplar-4 had to work at throwing me.  I deserved a little break.  My chest still hurt from my fight with Private Third Class Bravo and The Unintelligent Three.

Wednesday, September 20

Maybe I should have seen it coming.

The day certainly didn’t start well, and it went downhill from there.

I overslept.  I missed seeing the real hotties in the bathroom.  I had to rush through everything, and then run to breakfast.  I got a couple bran muffins, since most everything else had been vacuumed up from the food tables by a plague of locusts, or Tennyo, or something.  So, after that miserable breakfast, it was off to classes.

Costuming and Powers Theory were agonizingly boring.  Lunch was mediocre, with no treats for me from the kitchen.

Martial arts was a bitch.  Several of us were supposed to spar without using our powers at all, against opponents who were told to go all out.  I was one of the targets, as was Golden Girl and Silverwing.  I was blasted by Prism, kicked and punched at high speed by Scrambler, and slammed to the mat by Adamantine.  Damn!  How was I supposed to be good enough to fight off maniacal mutants, after only a couple weeks of aikido?

I was trudging home after trig class, when I suddenly felt ill.  I felt light-headed and weak.  I felt confused and stunned.  I didn’t know what was happening.

Then I heard that speedster whir.  I tried to go light, and I couldn’t do it.  I just felt so light-headed and dazed.  Aries zoomed by me and punched me right in the breast, sending me crashing to the ground in a flare of pain.  I struggled to go light.  I struggled to go heavy.  I struggled to think.  I couldn’t do anything.

Four guys in Whateley uniforms surrounded me.  I knew Aries.  There were twins standing in front of me.  There was a white-haired guy on my right.  I gasped for help.  I struggled to my hands and knees. 

Suddenly, Aries blurred into superspeed, and suddenly it felt like forty guys had punched me at the same time, everywhere from my shoulders down to my knees.  I wanted to scream in pain, but I had the wind knocked out of me.  I was helpless.  Why couldn’t I go light or go heavy?  What was happening?

Aries got in my face and growled, “Now would be a good time for you to drop out of school, bitch.”

Then he stood up.  “Icer, do it.”

All at once, the sidewalk around me was covered in ice.  The ice covered my hands and feet and calves.  The cold was a bitter, slashing pain in my limbs.  But I couldn’t move.  I was already frozen to the sidewalk.  The ice thickened and moved up my arms and legs, until it began covering my body too.  The icy pain was unbearable.

The ice rolled up my neck and over my head until only my face was uncovered.

Aries growled, “Remember this, loser.”

And the ice surrounded me, covering my eyes and mouth and nose.  I couldn’t breathe.  I couldn’t move.  I couldn’t use my powers.  I struggled desperately, trying to get the smallest breath of air.  Nothing.

The pain in my lungs slowly grew, until it dwarfed even the freezing pain of the ice all over me.

I couldn’t breathe.  I couldn’t move.  I struggled for everything I was worth, but it was useless.

I was suffocating.  Slowly.  Agonizingly.

I was dying.  The searing pain in my lungs was more than I could bear.

I was…

 

Chapter 5 - Penalty Minutes

Wednesday, September 20, late afternoon

Beep.  Beep.  Beep.  Beep…

There was an annoying, monotonous beeping that just wouldn’t stop.

It sounded like the backdrop for one of those lame hospital dramas on television.

Beep.  Beep…

Then I suddenly flashed back to being encrusted in ice and suffocating.

Beep beep beep beep…

I opened my eyes and saw the ceiling of the clinic. 

I wasn’t dead.  I wasn’t even cold.  Although the electric blankets above and below me might have had a lot to do with that.  And the beeping heart monitor I was hearing was monitoring me, of course.

A nurse came rushing in.  She was Hispanic, and I hadn’t seen her before.  She took one look at me and smiled.  “Miss Goodkind!  You’re awake.  You just lie still, and let me get the doctor, okay?”

I lay there for a bit, and thought.  I ached all over, but mostly I was just mad.  I was mad at myself for getting caught like that.  I was mad at those bastards for doing this to me.  I was mad at Security for not stopping those assholes.

Who were those dorks, anyway?  And how had they negated my powers, and Confunded me?

Those twins.  That was it.  Tennyo had told us about her little struggle to rescue Harry from three Alphas.  A pair of twins, and a white-haired guy.  She had heard afterward that the twins were called Hamper and Damper, and one of them was walking funny for a few days after getting to meet her foot up close and personal.

Hamper and Damper.  One of them to hamper the mental processes, and the other to damp out my mutant abilities.  Shit.  Maybe Ito had a few good points that I wasn’t getting.  If I was going to have to worry about situations where my powers didn’t work, I was going to have to do more than thinking about when to go light.

The nurse came back.  She said, “Doctor Tenent will be here in a bit.  He’s dealing with an emergency with another patient, so it may be a little while.”

I reached out a hand, and saw that I had an IV in that forearm.  “Wait a second.  Can you tell me how I got here?”

She thought for a second, as if she was deciding whether she ought to tell me.  “You were found unconscious on the brick path between main campus and Poe.  You were hypothermic, and bruised all over.  The medics rushed you over here, and we put you in the ‘warming drawer’.”  She grinned.  “That’s what we call this set-up.  Heating blankets above and below you, an IV of Ringer’s lactate with a deviser drug to spur your body’s thermal mechanisms, and a gadget in the bed that gradually warms you up from the inside out using microwaves or something.”

I winced.  “That doesn’t sound very safe.”

She smiled gently, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s been tested on everything you can think of.  It’s really safe, and we have all sort of monitors on you to make sure that you don’t overheat anywhere.  Do you feel too warm?”

“Umm,” I had to think for a second and take stock.  “No.  I don’t.”

She smiled again, “See?  Everything works perfectly.  As you warm up, the systems shut down.”  She looked at a bank of monitors.  “Between 98.3 and 98.5 degrees on all the internal measurements, and between 98.5 and 98.7 degrees in the extremities.  You’re as good as new, thermally speaking.”

She turned to leave, and I stopped her again.  “Wait!  I need to call my friends so they don’t worry.”

She nodded, “As soon as you’ve talked to the doctor, I’ll see what I can do.  Now just sit tight…”  She walked out, leaving me stuck in the bed with an IV in each arm so I couldn’t walk off.

As I waited impatiently, I thought it over.  I had been found unconscious and hypothermic.  Surely she would have said something if I had also been found buried in a big ice sculpture.  I was going to ask, of course.  But it wouldn’t surprise me if Icer could remove ice just as easily as he could deposit it.  If so, they had just waited until I passed out, then let Icer do his thing in reverse.

I waited impatiently while Dr. Tenent did whatever he was doing.  Maybe he was playing cards while he and his pals laughed it up about leaving a Goodkind stuck in a hospital bed.  I really wished I had a phone or a cell phone or something.

After a while, the doctor finally showed up.  He looked exhausted.  He actually stopped and put on ‘the bedside manner’ at the door, so that he looked less worn out.  “Hi, you must be Miss Goodkind.  I’m Doctor Raul Tenent.”

“Can I go home now?”

He smiled, “That’s what I like to hear.  A patient with enough sense to get out of here before we make you worse.”

I had to grin at that.  “Actually, I do have a couple questions.  When I was found, was I encased in ice?”

He frowned at me.  “Encased in ice?  No.”  He went over and checked the computer screen that obviously served as a medical chart.  “No, you were found in your uniform, slightly damp, hypothermic, unconscious, no sign of head trauma or concussion.  Do you know how you ended up like that?”

“Definitely.  It was an assault.”

“Then you’ll be glad that Security is waiting to talk to you.”

“Can I call my friends first?”

“Oh no, you need to speak to Security first.”

“Well, can you call my friends and tell them I’m okay?”

He shook his head no.  “Not until you speak to Security.”

Great.  I was getting the ‘assailant’ treatment instead of the ‘victim’ treatment.  They were making sure I couldn’t communicate with any potential co-conspirators.  What did they do for rape victims?  Call them whores and brand them with a big scarlet ‘A’?

Before I exploded in anger, I made sure to take advantage of my sitch.  “One more thing before you bring in the troops.  I have GSD.  I’m a boy with boobs and a big butt and stuff.  Is there medical treatment or surgical options for this kind of GSD?”

He frowned, “You can’t expect an instant medical diagnosis like this.  I’d need to see your powers testing results, and your medical scans, and your medical history…”

I said, “That ought to be good for a laugh.  The first doctor to examine me after I manifested was Dr. Emil Hammond.”  He goggled at that.  “Then I saw a family practice doctor who has no experience with mutants.  And there are no powers testing results.  I haven’t even gotten a note from them telling me I have a scheduled appointment.”

He frowned, “You have to get powers testing.  It’s crucial for every student, regardless of their mutation or their adaptation.  I’ll make a couple calls.”

I snorted, “Lots of luck on that.  As soon as you tell them my last name, they’ll probably hang up on you.”

He insisted, “We don’t work that way here.”

I tried again, “So, once you have my testing results, what about my GSD?”

He sighed, “Miss Goodkind, you’re putting the cart before the horse.  Until we know if you have Regen abilities, or a BIT, or reversion issues, or several other things, there is no point in considering medical treatments which might not only be useless and painful, but which could actually be worse than useless.  Depending on features of your mutation, a baseline medical approach might just be the worst thing you could do to yourself.”

Just what I had heard before.  Damn.

He pulled a small bottle of extra-strength Tylenols out of his white coat.  “Here.  I see that you were given some Tylenols just a couple days ago, and you have obviously not experienced any adverse reactions.  These ought to be adequate for your bruises.”

I thanked him and took one.

He removed my IVs and helped me out of the ‘warming drawer’.  Then he showed me where my clothes were, and left me to get dressed.  I was in one of those stupid hospital gowns that cover about as much as a big baggie.  I put on my clothes, which were still slightly damp on the outside, and waited.

There was a knock at the door.

“Come in!  I’m decent!”

In walked Chief Delarose.  That couldn’t be good.  I tried to appear nonchalant.  “Chief Delarose.  What a pleasant surprise!  To what do I owe this honor?”

He sat down in the chair by the window.  “Miss Goodkind, I think you already know why I’m here.”

I tried to sound naïve as I said, “Would it have anything to do with Alpha hit squads beating the crap out of defenseless freshmen, burying them in ice until they suffocate, then leaving their frozen bodies to be found later?”

He didn’t smile.  “You don’t appear to be defenseless.  You’ve been in more fights in the last two weeks than three of our top five Ultraviolents put together.  Ten known fights in two weeks, plus a dozen or so reported confrontations.  That would normally be enough to move you up past Razorback and Bloodwolf to the top of the Ultraviolent List.”

I objected, “It’s not my fault that weirdos are coming out of the woodwork to attack me.  I’m a Goodkind.  I’m intersexed.  People are deliberately spreading the word about me and getting every homophobe and bully and Goodkind-hater on campus after me.  I’ve been attacked every single time I went to church, first by a bunch of Goths, and then by some homophobic jerk named G-Force.  I’ve been attacked in the halls.  I’ve been attacked in the cafeteria.  I’ve been attacked on the paths to and from Poe.  What am I supposed to do?”

He said, “You’re not supposed be punching people.  There is a self-defense clause, but you’re not supposed to be fighting.  You know that.”

I thought for a second.  How did he come up with ten fights?  “Okay, I did fight one of those ninjas, but only after he hit me hard enough to embed me in one of the brick walls.  I didn’t hit Mister Uberman or his jerky pals.  I didn’t hit his buddy who tried to trip me in the caff.  I only fought back against the Goths after the head guy told his punker pals to hurt me, and they grabbed my arms and tried to pull me in half.  I completely missed the fight with the Crystal Wavers.  I didn’t hit Aries, even though it was pretty tempting.  I did hit the cheerleaders, but only after the Yellow Queen tried to smash my face in.  I only hit one of G-Force’s homeboys so that I could go light and escape.  I didn’t hit any of Bravo’s Team Moron, even though I got hurt.  Mostly, I’ve been going light and avoiding a really physical battle.”

He nodded, “That’s the gist of the reports on you.  You’ve taken it easy on some of your assailants.  But you’re still having a lot of confrontations, and you’re going to end up in even more trouble if you can’t find a way to avoid at least some of that trouble.”

I frowned, “I thought I had been doing pretty well.  I even mapped out where on the ground I could go light and phase through the ground into one of the main tunnels.”

He said, “You ought to consider an armband.”

“I did.  I looked into it.  The kids who go with the ‘loser victim’ armbands still get singled out for abuse.  In my case, that would probably bring even more trouble my way.  I don’t think rabid homophobes are going to stop hassling me just because I have an armband.  And I don’t think the Alphas will lay off because I have an armband.  What will help is hammering Aries and Icer and Hamper and Damper so they stop targeting me.”

“Are you officially accusing those four boys of this assault?”

“Yes.”

“Are you aware that there are no witnesses?”

“No, but I think that’s a pretty suspicious circumstance, considering that it happened right on one of the busy campus walkways, at a major traffic time of day.”

He didn’t say anything, but his expression told me that he thought it was suspicious too.

He went on, “You were found unconscious on the ground beside one of the brick paths, with an abnormally low body temperature and a bunch of bruises.  But there was no ice.  And the bruises could have come from BMA classes or prior fights or some other attacker besides Aries.

“And you may be wrong about the attack.  That could easily have been a psi, making you think that it was Aries.  Or a mage, creating the image in your head or making it really seem to happen around you.  It could have been an illusion, or the effect of a devise or a gadget.

“The cold could have been one of the other freezers besides Icer.  Or it could have been psychosomatically invoked, or a psi effect, or a drain from an energizer, or magic, or some devise or gadget, or several other things.

“I already checked on most of your ‘sparring partners’ when the medics hauled your body in here.  Aries and his three pals have alibis.  They were all at a meeting of the Alphas in the Don’s room.”

Hmm.  I asked, “that sounds like it would have been remarkably crowded.  Do the Alphas usually meet in the Don’s room?”

He smiled slightly, “Good question.  You should be in Security.  The answer is ‘no’.  I thought that was a ‘suspicious circumstance’ too.”

I looked him in the eye, and I knew.  He agreed with me.  We both knew it was Aries, with Alpha support.  We both knew that we couldn’t prove it.  And we both knew that the Alphas skated by on stuff like this all the time anyway.

Since he was right there, I asked him what I had been thinking of a couple days earlier.  “Do you think the Yama Dojo has a report from a Whateley insider about ‘Ninja Night’?

He said, “Probably.  But our Security reports are all under codenames only.  So your family’s safe.”

I snorted.  “My family is the Goodkinds.  They’d be safe anyway.  They’ve been defending against mutant attacks for decades.”

He pursed his lips in thought.  “If you’re asking if ninjas might target you and the rest of Team Kimba, they’ll have to come here to Whateley, since they won’t know anything else about you.”

I checked, “But those security reports will discuss powers and team tactics and anything else that was written up.  Right?”

“Right,” he nodded.

Damn.  I really didn’t like the sound of that.  Toni would probably be thrilled.

He checked me out of the clinic and escorted me to Carson’s office.  Great.  Just great.  Now I got to be chewed up yet again.  Could today get any better?

I asked, “Could you do me a favor?  Would you call Vox and Chaka, and tell them I’m okay?  The hospital people wouldn’t let me make a phone call while we waited for you.”

He gave me a firm nod.  I figured I could trust him.  Even if he was marching me into Carson’s office.

And the Headmistress was not a happy bunny, either.  She let me sit down on the other side of her massive desk before she sighed, “And what am I going to do with you, Miss Goodkind?”

I looked right at her.  “I don’t see that you need to do anything with me.  I’m not the instigator in any of these attacks.  I’m the aggrieved party.  Aries assaulted me, and he had three other Alphas aiding and abetting.  I can ID them.  Hamper, Damper, and Icer.”

She pursed her lips, “And the fact that these Alphas have alibis hasn’t altered your opinion?”

“No,” I insisted.  “Ask Chief Delarose.  He agrees with me.  Unofficially, of course.  There are other possible explanations, but Occam’s Razor agrees with me.  And the coincidence of them just happening to have an alibi - a suspicious alibi at that - at the  very moment they need one is.. indicative.”

She said, “Or a big mistake for the mage or deviser trying to frame them for a crime they don’t need to commit.  Security will investigate this.  If it turns out that you did this to get them in trouble, you will be doing some serious detention time, and moving onto the Ultraviolent List.”

“ME?!?!” I yelped.

“Yes, Miss Goodkind.  You.”  She didn’t give an inch.  “It has been pointed out by one of my staff that you could easily afford to pay someone to create this scenario.  And if you insist on Occam’s Razor, then I am free to use it as well.  You are one of the prime suspects in this business.”

Hartford.  It had to be Hartford.  Why was that bitch so determined to screw me over?  Was it something to do with that extortion note?  Was it some deeper game?  Or was she just a hateful bitch?

I said, “We both know I didn’t do this.  I’m even willing to let a telepath check inside my head and verify the incident.”

She sternly said, “That may not be enough.  And it will not be enough to point at Aries, given the number of students on campus who could either imprint that scene into your mind or else make it appear to you that you were attacked by a simulacrum of Aries.”

I said sarcastically, “So what am I supposed to do?  Find out where Aries lives and buy his father’s farm and threaten to evict them if he attacks me again?”  Well, I was considering that option, even after reading the handbook.

Carson got angry.  Really, really, REALLY angry.  I mean, Lady Astarte rose up from that chair.  The pen in her hand shattered into tiny plastic shards that suddenly exploded in fiery white pinpoints.  Her eyes glowed furiously.  “You will NOT EVER threaten another student’s family!”  It took her long seconds to get her control back.  “Not only is that grounds for expulsion, but there are a long list of superhero groups, supervillains, and superpowered sponsors who would immediately come gunning for you, wherever you were.  And if you survived all of that, the MCO would be after you for what is popularly termed ‘mutant extortion’.  You would have a very painful, very short, very ugly life outside of Whateley.”

I took a deep breath, and mentally checked to see if I had soiled my pants.  I tried to sound calm as I said, “Remind me to tell you first when I’m using sarcasm.”  I don’t think I came close to sounding calm.

She snapped, “We don’t joke about this.  We don’t use sarcasm about this.  We don’t make passing remarks which might or might not be construed as extortion using a student’s family.  Re-read your handbook.  This is one of the most important rules that every sponsor of Whateley adheres to ABSOLUTELY!”

She sat back down, but the arms of her chair groaned and broke under her angry strength.  “The last threat against a student’s family was done by a Serbo-Croat terrorist group.  That year’s senior class took it on as their class Legacy.  There is not a single member of that terrorist group alive and intact today.  Those who are alive are all in prisons serving life sentences, and are all on some manner of life support or requiring prosthetic assistance.  So, unless you want to become THIS year’s senior legacy, I suggest you find another resolution to your problem!  Now get out of here before I do something I’ll regret!”

I slunk out of there, glad I still had both sides of my ass attached to my body.  Wow.  I sure screwed that up in a Godzilla-sized way.  At least I hadn’t peed my pants when she went Rambo on me.

I slunk back to Poe, and had another couple people jump all over me.  Vox and Chaka had heard from Chief Delarose, and they wanted to know what the hell was going on, and who they should go pummel.  Well, Vox was frantic because no one had been willing to tell her what had happened to me, and Chaka wanted to know who she should track down and kung-fu into little pieces.

They dragged me into my room and glared at me until I talked.  I told them all about my little problem with Aries, and that I didn’t want it talked around.  I had enough problems with people who didn’t know I could be taken down.  And I really didn’t want to find out what Tennyo would do if she heard about this.  Or, for that matter, Fey or Hank.

Chaka was ready to get out there and whup somebody’s butt, but she was willing to listen to me.  I explained that I had already worked out how I was going to handle those dorks the next time.

Vox didn’t like the idea that there would be a next time, but I was pretty sure those pricks weren’t done with me.  It was remotely possible that they were through, but it was a lot safer to plan the other way.

I managed to get both of them calmed down, and I shooed them out of my room.  Then I used my computer to research Lady Astarte on the internet.  I didn’t find anything that matched what I wanted.  So I ran some pattern searches on particular types of news stories about superheroes.  I found way more matches than I wanted.

Apparently, a lot of superheroes and superheroines had to deal with threats to their families.  Too many of them, at some point, had their secret identity blown sky high and then had to deal with some super-bastard attacking their family and friends.

Case in point: Ms. Might, in 1981, had her secret identity blown, and an old enemy, Der Schwarze Bär, tracked her down, destroyed her home, killed her husband, and nearly killed her two small children.

I looked at the pictures that were linked to the old news story, and I nearly had a coronary.

OH FUCK!!

There was no mistaking who Ms. Might was.  The uniform was different.  The hairstyle was different.  Under that mask, the face - especially that pouty lower lip - was exactly the same.

Elizabeth Carson used to be Ms. Might.  And her family had been destroyed when her secret identity was blown.  Husband horribly killed.  Two small children terrorized.

I had just stepped on one of the major personal landmines of my headmistress.  I was so incredibly fucked.  Maybe, if she calmed down enough, she wouldn’t go out of her way to help Aries beat the crap out of me the next time around.

I thought about my options, and finally decided to do what I had been avoiding.  I cracked my knuckles and said, “Let’s get.. dangerous.”  I went to Sin d’Rome’s Mercenary Emporium website at the URL that Unicorn had shown me.  I carefully typed in the URL from memory:

133.196.071.094.217

It hit the website and resolved into:

httpsx://www3.sindromercenarium.mut/intro395746273643.html

All the official ‘mutant’ URLs had to use the .mut postfix so that they could be easily blocked by anyone who felt they were inappropriate.  Libraries, government agencies, all major email and web services, schools, parents, you name it.  The legit web spiders like Google and Yahoo wouldn’t even search the .mut webpages, and webservers weren’t supposed to cache any pages from .mut sites, so people couldn’t find that icky mutant badness that the MCO was so worried about, unless they already knew where to go.  And no one was going to guess that URL without using a little mutant clairvoyance first.

Hmm…  There was probably a market for a .mut-only web spider.  I’d have to look into that before someone beat me to it.  But it was liable to be problematic, due to all the possible problems I could foresee.  Performing the searches would be complicated, and might step on the wrong toes.  Privacy would be a killer.  I mean, what supervillain wants his email address or real address known?  I wondered how Sin d’Rome handled that.  Or hackers: every computer deviser on the planet would want those weblogs, not to mention the MCO, and a few thousand other people who shouldn’t have them.  I’d have to talk to some computer-oriented devisers and gadgeteers before I tackled that idea.  Or else…

I browsed through the webpages, looking for small ordnance.  First, I had to wade through the large-scale weaponry.

Holy crow!  A ‘live’ moat made of flesh-devouring protoplasm?  Trained attack dobermans equipped with body-mounted lasers?  Specially-trained friendly little bunnies that hopped right up to your invaders and then exploded with the force of three pounds of C-4?  Ick, ick, and triple ick.

Man, there were hundreds of pages of stuff to wade through!  These guys really needed a website designer.

Evil lairs, for sale or rent... 

Evil lair timeshares on the beautiful island kingdom of Karedonia…

Evil lair blueprints...

Modular components for low-level evil lairs…

Expansion units for enlarging your evil lair…

Evil lair construction firms… 

Evil lair architectural specialists... 

Evil lair interior designers…

Evil lair human resources specialists to keep your henchmen happy…

Satellite launch services to put your own geosynchronous defense satellite up over your evil lair...

Okay.  Finally!  Personal armaments.  Let’s see…

Sixty-four combinations of body armor, from the generic minimally-padded henchman get-up to full mock-Dragonskin armor with ceramet plates…

Twenty-seven types of henchman helmets, from Bronze Age up to Space Age…

Forty-two different types of power armor, from the henchman models all the way up to the ‘Lex Luthor’ special - they didn’t even put the ‘TM’ in there to avoid lawsuits from DC Comics - with optional accessories…

Laser rifles, laser cannons, laser mortars, laser tanks…

Ahh, finally.  ‘Small Arms’ and ‘Sundry Small Devises/Gadgets’.  There.  That was what I wanted.

Nuclear hand grenade?  ‘Warning: minimally shielded plutonium and lawrencium carry health risks, and are not approved by the State of California.’  Ouch.  Maybe not.

Ebola sprayer?  Ick.

Sarin-filled chocolate candies?  Gah.

Okay.  I had to hunt through a few dozen more pages, but I finally found what I was looking for.

I paid extra for ‘special shipping and handling’, which at a site like Sin d’Rome, meant warper delivery as soon as the goods were ready.

Then I took another pain reliever and went to bed.

Thursday, September 21

I was still sort of sore when I got up in the morning, but most of my bruises were fading.  By the time I took a nice, hot shower and the pain reliever kicked in, I felt a lot better.  It was also nice being able to drop the water off me afterward, instead of having to make my muscles ache again by toweling the water off.

Breakfast also went a long way toward making me feel better.  Chef Peter had two gorgeous apple, raisin, and brown sugar dumplings, baked to perfection, and topped with cinnamon whipped cream.  The dumplings had just the right amount of cinnamon inside them, with a hint of nutmeg.  Oh man, were they good.

I caught Möbius just before he walked into Powers Theory, and I asked him, “Look, I’ve seen how your devises work.  What would it cost for a utility belt with your kind of special pockets all the way across the back?  And how long would it take you to make one up for me?”

He chewed on his lower lip as he thought.  “What’s your waist measurement?”

“Twenty inches,” I reluctantly admitted.

He gave me a naughty grin and waved his hand in a ‘too hot to handle’ gesture.

You know, sometimes I REALLY hate this stupid body of mine.

He said, “I already have a decent one that I could cut down to your size by.. oh.. classtime tomorrow.  It’ll cost you…”  He thought about it for a few seconds.  He knew I had plenty of money, but he didn’t want me to hate him for jacking me around on the price of a stupid utility belt.  He took a nervous breath and dared, “$500.”

I said, “Fine.  $2500 it is.”

He opened his mouth to correct me.  And he stopped when he realized I was raising the price.  A lot.

I grinned, “Hey, I trust you, and I think you’re under-pricing yourself.  If this works, I’ll want you to raise the price some more.  I don’t think you realize what a top-notch Batman-esque utility belt is really worth.  Especially at a place like Whateley.”

He grinned all the way through class.  And since Dr. Quintain lectured the entire time, that’s saying something.

After lunch, I was on my way over to the Eastman Annex to get my ass kicked some more, when I spotted a dork patrol coming my way.

The leader of the group was a big, macho, too-handsome Exemplar who was busy impressing his sycophants.  I could see the guy obviously aiming my way.  He probably thought he was being subtle.  I could see him and his pinhead pals chortling as they detoured to get in my face.  I went light and kept on walking.

He rammed into me with one shoulder.. and fell through me to land on the brickwork behind me.

I tried to watch for his friends as I looked down at him and said, “Well, that was pathetic.  What’s your big encore?  Hitting yourself in the face with a pie?”

He scrambled back to his feet and snarled, “Hey!  No one gets away with dissing the Gold Stallion!”

I snorted, “The Gold Stallion?  Let me guess.  That name didn’t come from your girlfriend.”

One of his pals behind me laughed, “Ooh, Jeff, you just got dissed major!”

He went red in the face.  “Shut up.”  He took a swing at me.. that went right through me.

I lied, “Oh, I forgot to tell you.  I’m just a hologram.  Your real target left several minutes ago.  If you don’t cause trouble with her anymore, she won’t show DVDs of this humiliation in the Crystal Hall for the entire school to laugh at.”

Then I strolled over to the nearest building and walked through the brick wall.  Once inside the building, I floated up through the ceiling so I could peek out an upper window and see what the jerks were doing.  Judging by the way they were checking the wall and looking through the bushes, they apparently fell for the ‘hologram’ story.  It remained to be seen if they would fall for the ‘showing DVDs in the Crystal Hall’ part, and leave me alone.

I had a feeling that someone in Security had tipped off Ito about my little trip to the clinic yesterday afternoon, because he was working me extra hard.  I had to spar against Scrambler, Prism, Adamantine, Redlight, Silverwing, and Golden Girl.  Consecutively.

Scrambler was really fast, but not powerful.  And she didn’t fight smart.  Still, trying to match her for quickness was never going to work, and would just make my aching body hurt even more.  So I went heavy while she kept running past me, taking shots at me en passant.  It took her about twenty punches and kicks to figure out that she was hurting her hands and feet every time, and not hurting me at all.  So she tried to grab my wrist and throw me.  I let her.  Sort of.  I went disruption-light as she put her hip into me and heaved, so I passed through her body instead of over her hip.  She collapsed in a heap.

Prism, Adamantine, Redlight, and Silverwing all did their usual thing, so I stayed heavy, stayed focused, and tried to move as little as possible.

And then the little bastard had me spar against Golden Girl last, when I was really tired, and really aching.

Golden Girl had that nasty smirk on her face, so she knew I was exhausted and hurting.  As soon as Tolman announced ‘hajime’, GG took to the air so I couldn’t get at her without going light.  Then she started blasting me with her golden energy bursts, which she knew I couldn’t handle when I went light.  I had already gone heavy, and I just stood there and took it.  She was hitting me from above, so the bursts hurt, but they didn’t knock me across the mat.  They mainly just pounded on my scalp and pressed my feet against the mat.

I waited until she paused in frustration, and I attacked.  I jumped up at her, which she knew was futile.

And then I went light in mid-jump.  I rocketed upward faster than she could react, and I went disruption-light right through her before I went heavy again.  Once I was heavy, I stopped moving upward.  I just barely managed to do it about five feet before I hit the high ceiling.  Right as I reached the peak of my ascent, when my velocity was as close to zero as I could manage, I went light again.  I floated down with a bit of speed, since I didn’t perfectly time the switch from heavy to light.  But I managed to slow myself to a stop before I phased down through the mat.

Golden Girl was out cold, and pretty roughed up from a twenty-foot fall onto her front.  Her friends were pissed at me - as usual.

As Tolman and Prism took care of Golden Girl, and GG’s homegirls glared at me, I slumped down into my place in the first row.  Vox and Verdant, sitting behind me, wondered out loud why Ito was mad at me.

Ito walked up to the class and said, “Consider this.  Phase came in today, already injured and still hurting.  She fought six consecutive opponents, none of them easy.  Could you do the same?  In the real world, foes will not wait until you are rested and healthy.  They will seize any opportunity.  The moment you are exhausted, or seriously injured, or defenseless, they may strike!  You must not let your guard down just because you have defeated one opponent.  This is not a comic book, where the next supervillains conveniently wait until the next month’s comic before attacking you.”

I showered, took another pain reliever, and left.  I figured there was no point in griping to Tolman.  She’d probably rat me out and let that little conniving shit Ito do something even worse to me.  Besides, she was some kind of esper.  She probably already knew how pissed off I was.

After trig class ended, I walked back to my locker to put my stuff away and pull out all the things I wanted to take back to the room for homework.  I turned around when I heard the footsteps.

There were four of them.  At least two were sophomores, although they all had that look.  I knew who two of them were.  The petite hottie was Glissade, who was Russian, and a siren of some sort.  The buff Greek guy beside her was Talos, who was a brick and Manifestor.  The Beret Mafia had pointed out Glissade and Talos to me as Alpha-wannabes who had deserted the Berets for higher ground.

The other two I didn’t know, although I had seen them with Talos and Glissade before.  The big guy was the usual classically handsome Exemplar guy.  The Exemplar babe on his right had gorgeous silver hair and beautiful dark skin.  At Chilton, she would have been the queen bee.  Of course, around Whateley, that just made her above average.  She certainly wasn’t in Fey’s class.

The Exemplar babe started off, “You.  Goodkind.  Perhaps you’re too stupid to understand how things work around here…”  Great.  She had that British ‘public school’ voice that most of the Brits at Whateley were trying to have, whether or not they’d ever gone to public schools in Britain.

I interrupted, “Or perhaps I’m too intelligent to put up with what is obviously an outdated societal class structure that is still mistakenly trying to validate Bourdieu’s strict homology hypothesis.”  I just pulled that out of thin air.  Bourdieu’s hypothesis didn’t even apply to social structures.  I’d read about it in a seventh-grade class when we were covering music theory.

“Huh?”

The Exemplar guy stepped in, “Shut up, bitch!”

I interjected, “Snappy comeback, butch.”

He growled, “Look!  Don’t mess with the Alphas!  The next time, we’ll make you sorry!”

Glissade added, in a voice that had way too many harmonics and undertones, “Do not try us.  Do not force us to show you what we can do.”  You could hear the Russian accent in her voice.

“You morons are picking on the wrong boy,” I warned.  “If you push your luck, you may end up like Aries.  Or a lot worse.”

I went light.  I was just about to walk through the lockers behind me and leave, when I heard a tap-tap-tap coming up the hall on my right. 

Glissade said, “It’s just the blind loser.  Ignore him.”

I clenched my teeth and went really heavy.  Okay, now I was officially angry.  Picking on me was one thing.  Being an asshole to handicapped people was another.

The kid coming up on my right had ‘deviser’ written all over him.  Assuming you could see it under the hideous clothing combination he was wearing.  He looked like some bastard had rearranged all his carefully chosen clothes combinations, so he could no longer dress himself until someone bothered to help him.

I had a friend, Jonathan Steinberg, at Chilton who was blind and had to do that matching stuff with his clothes.

Oh yeah, I was a mutant and I no longer had Jonathan as a friend.  Damn it.  I had really liked Jonathan.

Still the thought of someone screwing that way with a blind kid like Jonathan just made me want to smack a few people.

Plus, the kid looked chunky and nerdy.  He was a black kid wearing dreadlocks.  He had pure white eyes, so he obviously couldn’t see.  He was tapping his way along with a heavy cane that was probably a devise.  I mean, if I were a blind deviser, the first thing that I would build would be a cane that gave me some sort of radar-like or sonar-like feedback so I could tell what the hell was going on around me.

I snapped, “You do not mistreat handicapped people around here, unless you want everyone else to know what an asshole you actually are.”

I wasn’t sure if I was heavy enough to resist whatever she was about to try, but I was going to find out.  She inhaled as she prepared to hit me with her sonic attack.

The blind kid tapped her on the foot with his cane, and she gave out a polyphonic shriek like an elephant had just stepped on an orchestra.  Then she collapsed in a heap.

The kid turned his head aimlessly and said, “Oops.  Did I bump someone?”

The big guy growled, “You stupid freak, you just hurt her!”

The kid tapped around with the cane and said, “Did I?  How could that happen?  I have medical experience, maybe I can help.”

Talos growled, “No!  Just keep your hands off her!”

The blind kid said, “Then you should take her to the clinic and tell them that Jericho said she passed out in the hall.”

Talos scooped Glissade up off the floor, and walked off with the other two following.

I was about to warn the kid that he had just pissed off a couple Alpha wannabes, when he turned to me with a grin.  “You’re Phase, right?  Phobos says ‘hi’.”  And he strolled off, once again waving the cane about like he couldn’t see a thing.

But he obviously could see, or at least ‘sense’ in some way.  There was no other way that he would have been able to identify me.  Since we hadn’t met before, he couldn’t have recognized me by my voice.

Hmm.  This nerd was one of Phobos’ pals?  I was going to have to ask her about this.

Friday, September 22

I woke up and pulled on my robe.  I was looking forward to showering with everybody, but Mrs. Horton headed me off in the hallway.  “Phase, you have a delivery.  Please come down and sign for it.  Now.”

I had a good idea what was being delivered, so I could guess why she was upset.  I just said, “Yes, ma’am.”

As she marched me down the stairs, she snapped, “I do not think that ordering weapons from Sin d’Rome’s website is appropriate behavior!  I think it sets a bad precedent, and I think it’s going to cause problems!”

I told her, “I don’t like it either.  But if this is what I’m going to have to do to stop all the bullies who keep hassling me, I’ll do it and not think twice about it.  I’ve been sent to the clinic twice in the last four days.  I have to protect myself.”

She harrumphed, “Then you should get one of the armbands, like the Underdogs wear around campus.”

I growled, “That’s not going to stop Alphas who have ways of getting around the Security monitoring system.  I need my own protective widgets that don’t depend on my powers.”

An impatient guy in an expensive suit was tapping his foot inside Mrs. Horton’s office.  He looked at me and growled, “I can’t wait around all day, I’m a busy man!”

I just stared at him.  “Then why didn’t you call ahead, so I would be waiting for you?  You must have known what to expect when you saw the delivery site was a dorm at Whateley.”

He didn’t have an answer for that.  He just cleared his throat and shoved a clipboard at me.  I deliberately made him wait while I opened my box and checked the contents for completeness and any signs of damage.  It looked fine, so I signed in all the necessary places and let him vanish.

Which he did.  Literally.  With a flash of light and a little popping noise.

I rushed back upstairs and showered, but the gang had already finished and cleared out.  I rushed off to breakfast, holding one of the toys from Sin d’Rome in my right fist.

I walked into the Crystal Hall, and there was more of a buzz than usual.  Kismet and Dynamaxx were both waving me over to the Beret Mafia table, so I knew something was up.

Kismet was so excited that she lapsed into French, even though she knew Dynamaxx preferred English to French.  (Well, Maxx was German, so he probably preferred Swahili to French.)  “Is it true about your teammate Chaka?  That she challenged all of Twain cottage to a fight?

I shrugged, “With Chaka, anything is possible.  Of course, there’s also the possibility that she can beat anyone in Twain.  She’s a lot more dangerous than she looks.”

Dynamaxx leered unpleasantly, “She will have to be.  What I heard is that if she loses, she will be giving every boy in Twain a blowjob.”

Kismet curled her lip in revulsion, and most of the girls at the table had looks of disgust.  I think Cytherea was the only girl who didn’t.

I said, “Chaka may be many things, but she’s not stupid, and she’s not a whore.  I think at least some of what you heard must be wrong.”  Meaning, ‘oh please, don’t tell me Chaka really did this!’

I rushed through the breakfast line, grabbing some yogurt and fruit, along with a bowl of granola.  Then I managed to catch  up with Hank just after he left the food line.  He, of course, had enough chow for the Fifth Army piled across his tray.  “Hey Hank, what’s this with Chaka and a duel?”

He started to say something, but we were at the table by then.  I looked across the table and asked, “Hey, Toni! What’s this I hear about you challenging to fight all of Twain Cottage at once?”

From her expression, Toni obviously wasn’t going to do that.  Oh, thank God.  She was just going to fight Montana, the huge blond Sasquatch who rumbled through the halls knocking everyone over.

Oh crap.

Well, if she could hit him with one of her ki-ai shouts, she could probably stop him in seconds.  If not…

Jade asked, “What were you meditating on so hard, Sempai?”

“What else?  How I’m gonna fight somebody who looks like King Kong’s kid brother.”

“No kidding!” Tennyo said in a voice that could have etched steel.  “Have you seen this guy?  He’s at least six feet six, and 250 pounds!”

“AND his arms are disproportionately long for his size, giving him greater reach,” Toni added.

“Oh, it gets worse,” I pointed out.  “Have you heard about the terms of the wager?  From what I heard, Toni agreed to blow every boy in Twain if she lost.”

“WHAT?” Tennyo almost screamed. “You can’t DO that! I won’t let you!”

Toni waved her down, “Billie, calm down! It’s not gonna happen. Besides, it was somethin’ that I hadda do.  If I hadn’t called him out, he woulda just kept ragging on you until you completely blew your cool and vaporized him.  Believe me, I’ve seen guys like him before.  When they find someone they can push around, they just keep pushing until something breaks.  And then they wonder why everyone’s so mad at ‘em.  You wouldn’t swat him on the nose, so I hadda.  I stand by my friends.”

“Besides,” she said, shrugging off the gloom, “I know exactly what I’m doing!”

Everyone at the table had the same look on their face that I probably did.  The ‘you are so fucked’ look.  Oddly enough, Toni took it personally.

In Powers Theory class, Möbius had a package for me.  I took it back to my room, instead of going to lunch.  I opened it up and admired the utility belt I had just bought.  It looked like an ordinary, three-inch-wide, white leather belt at the sides and front.  It latched together at the small of my back, with three pockets on either side of the latch.  Each pocket was about four inches high, two inches wide, and looked about thick enough to hold a Post-it Note.  But each pocket had enough room inside it for something a little larger than my fist.  It wasn’t the Batman utility belt with room for a quarterstaff, a rocket launcher, and a thousand feet of high-strength rappelling line, but it looked good.  I was going to have to try it out.  Immediately.

I put some of my new toys in it.  Then I tried going heavy and going light.  The dimensional folds in the belt pockets stayed stable.  I tried walking through the walls and floating.  The pockets still seemed stable.

I took everything out of the pockets and inspected.  Nothing looked damaged, although I couldn’t tell with some of the gear.  So I loaded everything I had bought from Sin d’Rome into the pockets, along with a couple other toys I had picked up at the campus store.

Then I strapped on the belt and put on my Whateley blazer.  It looked good.  And the hardware didn’t show.  From the front, nothing showed if I had the blazer buttoned, and only a woman’s belt showed with the blazer open.  Cecilia had cut the blazer so I had enough room in back for something like this.  I went to the bathroom and checked in the mirror.  Nothing showed from behind, either.  Bruce Wayne, eat your heart out.

But I palmed one special item.  Aries was too damn fast.  I wouldn’t have time to fish under the back of the blazer, get the right pocket open, fish out my new toy, and use it, all before Aries could get in fifty or sixty punches.  Especially if he had Hamper and Damper helping him again.  I was going to carry it around in my hand.

But my new toy had some serious disadvantages too.  So I had to be prepared to wait to use it at the right moment.

In martial arts class, I bided my time.  As usual, I was assigned as Phobos’ practice partner.  We were working on throws and counters.  Phobos was getting a little grumpy, because she was getting slammed into the mat, but when it was her turn, I kept going light and phasing through her hand in mid-throw.

I told Phobos about the black blind kid in the hallway.  She actually laughed.  She looked around quickly to see if the senseis had spotted her.  I smiled back, since it was pretty rare to see Phobos looking happy about anything.

She grinned, “Jericho is such a clown!  He dresses that way on purpose.  His roommate would never do that to him.”

“Who’s his roommate?”

She gave me a dramatic pause.  “Razorback.”

CRAP!  Razorback?  The Berets had told me about him and most of the other Ultraviolents.  That blind kid roomed with Captain Detention?  That kid was a hell of a lot braver than I thought.  Getting on the bad side of a couple sophomore dorks probably didn’t faze him a bit, if he was used to sharing a room with a frigging velociraptor rager!

That evening, I trooped over to the dojo with the rest of the Poesies for Chaka’s fight.  The word was that Hazard was offering odds on Chaka of 9-7 against.  I figured that showed Hazard was one smart bookie.  I had a feeling that - with a name like Hazard - she wasn’t picking those numbers out of thin air either.

I found Hazard in the middle of a crowd of gamblers, taking money and making notes in a little black book.  I knew her when I saw her.  I’d seen her around before, but I hadn’t ever talked to her or even found out her codename.  She was a cute part-Asian girl with a too-stylish haircut that did nothing for her.  I listened to her overly posh Brit accent as she took people’s dough.

I walked up and waited my turn.  She looked at me, and she suddenly twitched.  Then her eyes grew huge.  She completely lost her upper-class accent.  “Crikey!  No way!  I can’t cover a bet like that, mate!”

Okay, maybe fifty thousand dollars was too much for a wager around here.  I could have lowered the amount if she’d given me a chance.

There was more of a crowd in the dojo than I had expected.  All the Poe and Twain kids were there, of course.  So were all the martial arts nuts on campus, plus a ton of people who knew Chaka or Montana.  Apparently, there were a bunch of people there hoping to see Montana get his hairy ass kicked.  It sounded like that boy needed a Dale Carnegie course.  And then there were the Ultraviolents, who were apparently hoping to see someone get their arms ripped off their body.

The fight itself was spectacular.  Chaka was Jet-Li-eat-your-heart-out good.  Montana looked immense and unstoppable, but Chaka just smacked him around like she was playing with him.  Every time he thought he had her, she just flowed through his attacks like quicksilver.  I was the one who could phase through solids, and I couldn’t do moves like that!  I was taking notes.  That was how I wanted to be moving in BMA class.

She finally paralyzed his arm, wore him out, and pinned him with an armbar on his other arm.  He still wasn’t going to give in, but Sensei Ito made him.  Chaka’s only mistake was trusting the big dork to play fair.  She went over to talk to his housemates, and he sucker-punched her, the big prick.  Chaka must have sensed him at the last millisecond, because she did this freaky mid-air spin as he punched her.  She was still out cold, but at least she wasn’t dead, thank God.

Billie, of course, handled the crowd blocking the doorway by going Tennyo on them.  They got the hell out of the way, and the stretcher crew rushed right in.

Man, I was never going to have Chaka’s moves.  And I was never going to be even a fraction as intimidating as Tennyo.

We wanted to keep watch on Chaka overnight, but the hospital Nazis wouldn’t let us.  So Jade gave them a stuffed toy lion, claiming that Toni would want to have it when she woke up.  They actually fell for that one.  Suckers.  The only problem was that the lion would lose its charge in an hour.

Oh, that wasn’t a problem for Jade, just for me.  Jade used The Big Sad Puppy Dog Eyes on me, and I folded again.

Damn, were they SURE that wasn’t one of her powers?

An hour later, Jade and I were back at the hospital, outside Toni’s window.  I phased through the wall and brought Jinn back out.  Jade recharged the lion, so that I could put Jinn back on Toni’s bed.  And Jade wanted to keep doing this every single fricking hour, all night long!  Damn, didn’t that kid sleep on the weekends?  I had a class in the morning!

Jinn quietly said to Jade, “Let her sleep!  All we have to do is open the window a crack.  You can stick your finger in and recharge me.  Just be here every hour.”

I said, “I really don’t like that idea.  Jade will have to sneak across campus, by herself, in the middle of the night, when she has no powers.  Over and over again.  Someone’s bound to spot her.  And it might not be someone as nice as campus security.”

They both turned to me and said in unison, “Great!  You can come too!”

I muttered, “Terrific.  Creepy simultaneous twins, luring me into rule-breaking.”

Jade held Jinn and turned her toward me.  Then they spoke simultaneously again, “It will be lots of fun.”

“Cut it out, you guys!”

I walked Jinn through the wall and opened the window enough for a tiny hand to slip into the room.  Jinn whispered, “Perfect!”

Then Jade and I walked back to Poe.  I dragged the rest of TK into my room and explained why I didn’t like Jade’s plan.  Everyone except Jade agreed with me.  So we worked it out.  I walked with Jade back to the hospital the next four times.  Then Fey took three turns.  Then Hank took over for a few hours.  And then Tennyo took the last shift until morning broke.

I was a lot happier knowing that Jade would be safe.  I knew I wouldn’t get any sleep if I was worrying about her.

Saturday, September 23

I walked into the bathroom and immediately got angry glares from Fey and Tennyo.  Oh.  They hadn’t gotten enough sleep, and it was my fault for making them take late-night Jade-watching turns.

Like I could have made either one of them do anything they didn’t want to do.  I had a feeling that nothing short of Lady Astarte could make Tennyo do anything she really didn’t want to do.  As for Fey, I’d probably get turned into a rat before I could force her into anything.

I helpfully said, “Tell you what.  Even though I’ve got early class today, you two go first.  It’s the least I can do.”

They were tired enough that they did it.  So I got to watch both of them strip naked and shower.  Since I used my power to drop off the water after I washed up, and I didn’t have anywhere near the amount of hair they did, I was out of my shower and dry before they started drying off.  That way, I also had a great view as they dried off and got dressed.

“Phase?  You’re staring.  Again.”  Tennyo gave me a nasty glare, but she wasn’t really mad, or her eyes would have turned that run-for-your-lives red color.

Fey said, “You’re going to get banished to the boys’ showers if you don’t watch it.”

I stared at her jiggling chest and said, “Oh, I am watching it.  Believe me.”

Tennyo cleared her throat, “We can tell.  You have a hard-on.  How’d you like to have to shower with the boys?”

I shrugged, “Who would want to stare at me?  Besides Hank.  And Michelangelo.  Oh yeah, and Flux and Gabriel.  And maybe…  Okay, there are a few guys who would stare at me.  It could be worse.  But I’d rather stay in the girls’ showers.”

Tennyo growled, “Then at least pretend you’re not ogling everyone in the room!”

“Who’s ogling everyone?” yawned a very sleepy Jade, who was still dressed in yesterday’s clothes.  I was willing to bet that she was just back from an early morning visit to a slightly-open window at the hospital.

I said, “No one’s ogling you, so don’t worry about it.”  Sometimes, Jade was so naïve that it was hard to remember that she wasn’t really eleven.

Oh, wait.  That wasn’t what I kept forgetting.  Somehow, I couldn’t think of her as a boy, either.  She was just so fundamentally female inside that it was impossible for me to remember what was wrong with her outside.

I wondered if other people were having a similar issue with me.  I really didn’t like that thought.  I walked off to get dressed.

Just before I was going to leave for early breakfast and class, Jade suddenly cheered, “Toni’s finally awake!”  Then she rushed about the floor to tell all of us that we could go see Toni.  Like the entire dorm hadn’t heard her the first time.

“Oh, you BET I’m going to see her,” Nikki fumed.  “How DARE she scare us like that?  And they want me to take martial arts classes?  No thank you!  Not if it leads to the sort of testosterone-poisoned thinking my roommate was showing.”  She looked around to make sure it was just the team.  “I swear, you wouldn’t know she was turning into a girl, with the size of the BALLS that girl has to swing around!”

I grimaced, “Ouch!  That sounds more like me. You doing okay, Nikki?”

“Let’s just say that it hasn’t exactly been the best week of my life.  I’m feeling a little cranky, okay?”

I could take a hint.  I rushed off to breakfast and my World Lit class before Nikki could decide to be cranky with me.

I grabbed a couple croissants and a big to-go cup of the good coffee.  Then I was off to class.

Professor Zinn started the class by handing the first-week papers back.  I had an A+.  I had an A+ on my paper!  All right!

Zinn just had to rub it in, “Some of the papers were very good.  But there was only one ‘A+’ paper...”

Uh-oh.

“…and the only A+ was from our sole freshman, Miss Goodkind.  If Miss Goodkind can get an A+, then I fail to see why all of you cannot do so.”

Oh great.  Now I had a dozen more people who would hate me.

I ended up adding to the ‘eminently punch-able little snot’ image.  I got into an argument with ‘Mister Smith’, the pompous English exemplar senior, about Aeneas’ journey to the Underworld.  Since I had read the Aeneid in Latin II the year before, I quoted a couple lines of it from the Latin just to make my point.

Looking back on that discussion, I think the point was that I was a pedantic asshole.

And then there was ‘Miss Summers’, who seemed adamant that she knew what had really happened back then, and Virgil was just a lying moron.  Was she about to evince a nasty case of Diedrick’s Syndrome on us right in class?  She had been pretty flaky last week too.

Professor Zinn handled her perfectly, pointing out that the epic poem was not an exercise in ultra-realism, but an exaltation of mythological concepts in poetic forms.  She still wanted to argue that it was an unfair portrayal of Juno.  Last week I had labeled her a Greek Gods groupie.  This week I was moving her up to ‘Greek Gods loonytoon’.  She was an entire bowl of granola: when she wasn’t fruity or flaky, she was nutty.

Apparently, I didn’t piss Mister Smith off.  After class, he stopped me at the door and said, “I only got an A- from Professor Zinn.  Could I read your paper and see what you did?”

I shrugged, “Sure.  I’ll email it to you.”

“I’m Pendragon on the Whateley net.”  This was Pendragon, the big noise in the Cape Squad?  I’d heard about him.

I said, “No problem.  I’m Phase.”

He shook my hand like I was a regular person, instead of a Goodkind.  Well, he shook my hand like I was a normal girl.

Miss Hua asked for a copy too, to be sent to ‘Silver Serpent’.  Cool handle.  I wondered what she could do.

Miss Bosworth stopped and asked for a copy, since I obviously wasn’t hoarding it.  Her codename was ‘Stunner’.  Well, she was definitely a stunner.  I mean, she was up in the Billie class if you asked me, although not in the Nikki class.  But I suspected her codename had to do with her powers.  She just seemed too together not to pick a good codename.

Pendragon grinned at me and said, “But I’m getting the next A+ here.”

‘Miss Summers’ pushed past us and snorted at his comment.

I asked, “What’s her damage?”

Silver Serpent acerbically said, “Ignore her.  That’s Majestic.  She thinks she’s too good for us mere humans and meta-humans.  She actually thinks she’s the reincarnation of Hera or something.  I bet it’s killing her that she only got a ‘C+’ on her paper.”  Her smirk told me that Miss Hua wasn’t bothered in the least that Majestic hadn’t gotten a majestic grade.

But that sure explained a lot.  If Majestic actually thought she was Hera, then it was no wonder she was such a whiny bitch about portrayals of the Greek and Roman Gods.  So she was just a superpowered nutbar.

Of course, given that this was Whateley, almost anything was possible…

Dr. Zinn interrupted us, “Oh, Miss Goodkind?  Would you stay behind?  I’d like to talk to you about your paper.”

I walked right over to his desk.  Guys with reps like Pendragon don’t want to hang out chatting with freshmen.  Especially not with freshmen who have last names like Goodkind.  “Yes sir?”

He smiled, “Miss Goodkind, I really liked your paper…”

Oh cool!

“…I found it novel and inventive…”

All right!

“…and I expect you to write a paper for The Heidelberg Review of Literature Studies with me, starting this weekend.”

Oh crap.

“Here’s a URL to the style guidelines of the journal.  I want to see a rough draft in three weeks.  And this will not change what I expect from you on your other class assignments.

“Here.”  He handed me several sheets of paper.  They were printed on a LaserJet in a small font, maybe 8 or 9 pitch.  “As you’ll see when you read through them, I have a series of comments and addenda for the paper, plus a number of other citations and quotes, along with a lit review you’ll want to look through.”

I paged through his papers.  Wow.  He had some really insightful thoughts into my paper that I was going to have to think about.  Jeez, that was a lot of lit review!  Given all the work he was just handing to me, did I really have more to do than re-structure the paper and add in all his thoughts?  Okay, maybe this was looking manageable.

He picked up his notes off the table and shoved them all into Jeff’s hands.  “I look forward to your next paper.”  Then he turned, “Come on, Jeff.  I’ve got a tennis game in 25 minutes, and then I want to grab some lunch and talk with Circe about ancient Greece before we head back.”

Silver Serpent and Stunner were still in the hallway talking about class.  Silver Serpent was talking about her plans for the big research paper at the end of the term.  “...so my father can get access to some of the supposedly lost sagas of the early Chinese Dynasties, and I’ve already started translating one of the classics into English…”

Silver Serpent headed off to her dorm, while Stunner and I made our way toward the Crystal Hall for lunch.  We were still talking about subjects for the big research paper at the end of the term.

I said, “I was doing some context searches on-line, and I think I’ve found mine.  Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.  That’s got most of the fundamental characteristics of the secondary epic.. and I think I can weasel my way around the rest.”

She laughed at that.  She said, “I’ve been looking for a good African poem that could be an epic.  But everything I’ve found is the wrong kind of literature.  Most of it isn’t even in poetic form, or it’s just a series of short prose tales in a longer story arc, or…”

She didn’t get a chance to finish.  We were so busy talking literature that we didn’t hear the high-speed whoosh.  The blow that blindsided her sent her flying.  The other blow caught me above my left ear, and might have knocked me unconscious if I hadn’t already gone heavy before we left the classroom.  Hell, it might have killed me.  As it was, the blow knocked me to my hands and knees.  The high-voltage electrical prod shattered against my skull under the force of Aries’ strength.  Bastard.  If I had gone light instead, the electrical shock would probably have knocked me silly.

Before I could get back up, a portal opened right in front of me and four guys stepped through it.  Hamper, Damper, Icer, and some guy I didn’t know who was obviously a warper.

I was on my knees and my left hand, with my right hand in a fist just under my stomach.  The sidewalk suddenly iced up underneath me, and the ice grew to cover my lower legs and my entire left arm.  I was frozen to the sidewalk if I couldn’t use my powers.

And I knew that I couldn’t.  I was already feeling that sickening light-headed sensation again.  I could hardly think, and I couldn’t make my body go light either.  I strained, but I couldn’t go heavy either.

But I’d expected that.  So I held my right fist in readiness under my stomach and waited.

The cold was bitterly painful.  I felt like I’d been dipped in liquid nitrogen and then left out on the Siberian tundra.  But I waited.  I stopped trying to use my powers, and I waited for Aries.

The four of them from the portal closed in on me.  Then Aries zipped over, checked that Stunner was out cold, and stared at me.  He growled, “This time, I think a couple broken ribs ought to be a good start…”  He zipped right at my half-frozen form.

He only got halfway to me.  I triggered and dropped the thing I had been carrying in my hand for most of the last day and a half.  It went off before it hit the ground.

Sin d’Rome’s Mercenary Emporium charged $53,000 (American) for one psi grenade.  That didn’t count the cost of the other gear I had bought from them, or the special delivery and handling.  But the psi grenade was the tool for this task.

It went off with a tiny click.  I saw huge bursts of light in every color of the rainbow, along with some colors that weren’t even real colors.  (The website said this was a psi effect, and not real light.)  Every person using a mutant power within ten or fifteen yards was flash-fried.

All five of them dropped like Champion had punched them.  The website said they would be temporarily unconscious, and their powers would be short-circuited for several days.

When I stopped seeing stars, I went light and floated out of the ice imprisoning my hand and legs.  Then I went to check on Stunner.  She seemed to be coming around.  Damn, I was still as cold as Leona Helmsley.

I walked back to the five jerks.  I had a real temptation to go heavy and turn ten testicles into jello.  But before I could do anything I might regret later, people began running up from every direction.

Two guys in Security uniforms were looking right at me and running toward me, while calling the incident in on their comm systems.  The first one caught up with me and said, “Hold it right there!”

I looked at his nametag.  Daniels.  The other was Metler.  I snarled, “Where the hell were you guys when these assholes were beating the crap out of us?”

Metler actually looked puzzled as he said, “What are you talking about?  We got here as soon as we got signaled.”

Hmm.  Either he was a really good liar, or the Alphas had bought off the monitoring guys back at Kane Hall, or…

Or Hamper and Damper’s powers did more than just target one person and make them confused.  What had Billie said about her run-in with the Alphas when she rescued Harry?  Everyone else had just ‘ignored’ them.  Maybe their powers didn’t work on Billie, but everyone else seemed susceptible.

Sure.  That made sense.  They could pick out a victim and prank him, or beat the crap out of him, while making everyone else fail to notice what was going on.  The perfect power for low-level thugs.  Or industrial espionage agents.  I was going to have to think about protections against mutants like them.

I said, “Just look at this!”  And I pointed out the frozen form on the ground, where I had been iced in.  You could still see the hollow arm and legs.  “They did that to me.  They knocked Stunner unconscious.  Aries threatened to break my ribs next.  All I did was defend myself.”

“And what exactly did you do?” Daniels asked, as he pulled out a notepad.

I picked up the psi grenade, which looked like a harmless little cube, about an inch and a half on each side, painted much like a neon-green child’s toy.  “Psi grenade.  I wasn’t using my powers, or I’d be out cold too.”

Daniels took a statement from me, while medics hauled off the unconscious bodies and a doctor checked Stunner.

Stunner got up and walked over to me.  She grinned, “I didn’t know it was gonna be so bloody dangerous taking classes with you.”

Metler accompanied the unconscious Alphas to the campus hospital, while Daniels escorted me to Kane Hall.  Stunner tagged along to provide testimony, which was darn nice of her.  Metler checked the two of us in, and led us to a  small conference room.

A minute or two later, Chief Delarose walked in.  He smiled at us, “Stunner.  Are you all right?  Phase.  I take it that you found a solution to your problem.”

Daniels made his report to the chief.  But it was obvious to me that Delarose was having a really hard time keeping the smile off his face as he listened.  Apparently, the Alpha hit squads rarely if ever got caught, much less got their asses kicked.

I kept that used psi grenade.  Aries and his buddies now knew what one looked like, and what it did.  They couldn’t just look at a psi grenade and be able to tell whether it was new or used.  I figured that keeping a used one around would be a great deterrent.  Especially since my second psi grenade wouldn’t be ready for seven to ten months.  Apparently, there was only one deviser on the planet who made these things, and he took over a month just to build one, because of the complexity of the process.  So there were only a couple made each year, as the deviser did other stuff too.

As I walked home, it occurred to me that it might be worth my while to keep buying up all the available psi grenades from that guy.  If I was the only person who had them, I wasn’t going to have to worry about someone using them on me, or on my friends.  So what if it cost me 100K a year?  I could easily afford that.

By the time I got back to Poe, I was starving.  Lunch was long over.  I had a couple yogurts and brewed myself some coffee.  Then I checked on the rest of the gang.

Toni was home!  She was lying in her bed in just a tiny nightie, while Nikki focused on keeping Toni calm and quiet.  I figured Nikki would have a better chance of commanding the tide to go back out.  Toni had a headache and was otherwise fine.  Just a headache?  Damn, that girl was tougher than she looked.

And hot babes from our floor and even the upper floors were dropping in on Chaka The Defender Of Poe.  Hot lesbian babes dropping in on a hot Exemplar babe lying in bed in her nightie?  Oh man.  I had to go back to my room before everyone else realized I had an erection on which you could have hung Toni’s bedspread.

I returned to my room, and I had some Brie and crostini to make up for that lunch I missed.  I checked my computer, and I had email.

I HAD EMAIL FROM PAUL!

Holy crow!  This was so amazing!  This was so great!

Oh crap.  It might not be so great.  It could be really bad.

Oh god.  I found myself praying that it wasn’t a restraining order, or something even worse.

No, it was a real email from Paul.  It was a brief note telling me that everyone at the estates and at the office had checked out fine.  Everyone had been able to move back into the mansion and the rest of the estate, even if Mother had to go back on her anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds.  But they still had no idea where my ‘infection’ came from.  Still, Goodkind Security people were re-tracing my steps over the past two years, looking for clues.

Oh, and Professor Zinn had metaphorically hit Paul over the head with the news that I was going to be writing a paper with Zinn for a major European journal, and Zinn wanted Paul to step up his efforts to match those of his baby sister.  I had to laugh at that.

I stopped laughing when I reached the postscript.  “P.S. Please don’t reply to my usual work email address, because Goodkind Security is now monitoring all email traffic company-wide.”

Shit.  What, were they afraid I could make someone a mutant by emailing them?  Assholes.  I just wanted to spit on some of them, which would undoubtedly make them all run screaming for the decontamination chambers.

Sunday, September 24

Even though it was a Sunday, I got my reports from Trin and Macintyre.  They were hand-delivered by a warper who sub-contracted with them.  I signed for the envelope and went up to my room to read them in private.

There was a cover letter signed by Crystal Macintyre herself, and nine pages of detailed information.  Perfect.

I couldn’t use the information in the reports for the purpose of extortion.  That would get me into phenomenal amounts of trouble.  However, I could dream, couldn’t I?  I had a lovely daydream of how I might use all that intel…


I had them all sitting before me.  They all glared at me like they wanted to rip my head off.  Fine.  I didn’t really think Carson’s punishments would stop them, after all the crap they had been doing to me.  It was time to take off the kid gloves.

“I just wanted you all to know that it’s time to stop all this, before someone gets hurt.  Of course, I would never threaten your families.  That’s strictly against school policies.  And I would never consider using force against someone.  That’s not the Goodkind way.  After all, what am I?  A gangster?  No.  I’m a financier.

“I would never stoop to threatening someone’s family, even if people aren’t above threatening mine.  But if I were the type of person who would do such a thing, then I would be using the Goodkind billions to destroy each and every one of you.. financially.  I’d ruin your families and leave you penniless, with your families all knowing why I targeted them.

“For example, what if I paid investigators to discover that Aries is really Arnold Harvey, son of Mildred and Clifford Harvey living on Old Mill Road just west of Fennimore, Wisconsin, with a $327,000 mortgage taken out on their dairy farm to pay your Whateley education and $73,457 remaining on their home mortgage, and that their bank vice-president is a guy named Edward L. Hastings who happens to have a gambling problem and that he just happens to owe $37,450 to the Wapina Reservation Casino nearby, and that he would be willing to sell me your parents’ mortgage at banker’s cost if I paid off that debt for him, then maybe you’d be looking at costing your parents their farm and home and livelihood!  But I wouldn’t do a thing like that, even though it would only cost me pocket change, and would probably turn a tidy profit once the farm and house were refurbished and re-sold…”

Aries’ face had gone from an angry red to a panicked white.

“Oh, it would be tragic if your tuition went bye-bye, and your folks were suddenly homeless and jobless.  Maybe you could get a nice job working in the Whateley sewers to cover tuition.  But I don’t think the Don would let you hang around the Alphas if you were one of the students who have to work for their living in the Whateley sewers...

He gulped.  Hard.  I was glad to see he wasn’t as stupid as he looked.  I turned to my next target.

“Icer.  I would never stoop to attacking someone’s family.  But how hard would it be for someone with my wealth and my connections to find out, say, that you’re Mathew Holloway, and your dad is Holloway Chemical?  Or that your dad is a direct competitor with our European companies, including Goodkind Chimie Européenne?  I would never call my brother Paul and point out that your dad is cutting costs to compete against us right now, so he can’t lower his prices, and that we could just burn forty or fifty million to drop prices way below cost, steal all your dad’s customers, and put your dad completely out of business inside three months, then easily recoup the losses over the subsequent three quarters with all that new business.  It would be dreadful if that happened.  And you’d be dead broke, and your family would know why.  They might not be very happy with you.

He actually looked frantic at the thought.  Good.

“Hamper and Damper?  Hmm.  I wonder how much it would cost me to hire someone to find out that you are.. say.. James and Bradley Kenner, twin sons of Magdalena Maracksen-Kenner and the late Malcolm Bradley James Kenner?  Or that Kenner Publishing currently has some major loans outstanding, including a 47.5 million Euro loan from the Bank of the Hague that is nearly past due?  If I were the nefarious sort who would attack a student’s family, I would know that I could pick up that entire loan right now, from said bank, for only eight percent over face value, and crush your family’s entire publishing empire nearly overnight.  Of course, I would never even think of doing such a thing…”

Man, it sure took these two a long time to get the hint, even after what I had been saying to Arnold and Mathew.  I’d have to remember who the dimbulbs were in this gang.

“So we’re just going to avoid having any more problems, aren’t we?  Because we’re all reasonable people who would never stoop to threatening another student’s family.  Right?”

But they all knew I had threatened their families.  And they all knew I had the means to make those threats stick in financial ways that they couldn’t stop, no matter how many superpowers they had.

I looked at their cowering forms, and I gave them my most evil laugh.  “BWAH-HAH-HAH-HAH!!!


…Of course, I couldn’t really do that.  The Whateley handbook was EXPLICIT on the subject.  You couldn’t extort behavior of another student by threatening his or her family.  You couldn’t threaten a family while claiming that you weren’t making an actionable threat.

Threatening another kid’s family would not only get you expelled, but would get the MCO and all the Whateley supervisors and every Whateley sponsor on your case like ugly on an ape.  And, since the Whateley sponsors included nearly every superhero group on Earth, plus a huge number of supervillains, and the entire Syndicate, and groups I didn’t even want to think about, that option was right out.

So I would have to get creative.

Monday, September 25

I had to grab a to-go lunch, because I was summoned to Carson’s office for a 12 noon appointment.  The note said that my sparring partners Hamper, Damper, Aries, and Icer would be finishing with Carson then.  Translation: they would have been sufficiently chewed up and spit out by then.

I made sure I got there a few minutes early, just to watch the show.  Ms. Hartford’s desk was vacant - some people were allowed to eat their lunches in peace - so I just sat down and waited.

They trudged out of Carson’s office, looking like Carson had reamed them a new one and then sentenced them to Hawthorne.  Or Siberia.  Or maybe a gay bathhouse on Mars.

I gave them all a nasty smile.  “Hi boys!  Did you have a good weekend?  Have any problems when your powers aren’t protecting you?

“Oh, by the way, in case your punishments aren’t enough to convince you to re-think your actions, let me warn you.  Next time, I’ll use my psi grenades on you.  Or something even nastier.  And then I’ll ‘accidentally’ disintegrate a body part while you’re lying there unconscious.  Maybe you’d lose a leg.  Maybe you’d lose your DICK!  You don’t want to find out what I can do with my powers, once the gloves come off.

“So have a nice day, boys.  Buh-bye.”  I gave them the ‘stewardess’ smile and wave as they trooped out.

Then I had to face the music.  Mrs. Elizabeth Amelia Carson.  Lady Astarte.  Ms. Might.  I would rather have faced off against Aries and company again.

A chilly voice announced from the doorway, “Miss Goodkind.  I believe it is your turn now.”

I walked in and stood in front of her desk, while she sat down behind the desk in a new armchair.  I vividly remembered why she had to get a new armchair, so I resolved to keep my mouth shut this time.

She glared at me, “Your four opponents are going to be in maximum lockdown on the second floor of Hawthorne for two days.  They cannot even leave their room to go to the bathroom.  They can’t talk with anyone.  They can’t see their friends.  They will be attending class remotely, as if they are unable to control their powers enough to mix with normal people.  Your other bullies - that we know about - are getting to experience this situation as well.  They will have to spend time each day and evening, going over to Hawthorne to take food to the four, and pick up the leavings, and wheel in portable toilets, and clean the toilets afterward.  I made it clear to them that they could be next if they can’t stop harassing you.  And if they’re too stupid to learn from this, then perhaps they’re too stupid to be attending this high school.  I trust YOU can learn from this as well, Miss Goodkind.”

I nodded, “I try to learn from all my mistakes, ma’am.”

“Then you’re dismissed.”

I left, and took my to-go lunch back to the cafeteria.  The salmon paté sandwich on toasted brioche with oak lettuce, thinly-sliced roma tomatoes, and capers just tasted better sitting with my friends.  I had to go by the food line afterward and give Chef Peter a big thank-you for the sandwich.

And finally, on my way home that afternoon after trig class, I made a little detour.  I floated up to the second floor of Hawthorne and drifted around the building until I found Aries’ room.  I phased through another wall into the hallway, made one quick stop, and then phased through the wall into his room.

“You!” He glared.

I stayed light and floated past him.  “Yes.  Me.  I just wanted you to know that I think it’s time to stop all this, before someone gets hurt, in ways you haven’t even considered.  Of course, I would never threaten your family.  That’s strictly against school policies.  And I would never consider using force against someone.  That’s not the Goodkind way.  After all, what am I?  A gangster?  No.  I’m a financier.

“I would never stoop to threatening someone’s family, even if people aren’t above threatening mine.  But if I were the type of person who would do such a thing, then I would be using the Goodkind billions to destroy you.. financially.  I’d ruin your family and leave you penniless, with all of your family knowing why I targeted them.

“For example, what if I paid investigators to discover that the superpowered Aries is really.. oh, let’s just pretend.. a kid named Arnold Harvey, son of Mildred and Clifford Harvey, living on Old Mill Road just west of Fennimore, Wisconsin, with a $327,000 mortgage taken out on their dairy farm to pay your Whateley education and $73,457 remaining on their home mortgage, and that their bank vice-president is a guy named Edward L. Hastings who happens to have a gambling problem and that he just happens to owe $37,450 to the Wapina Reservation Casino nearby, and that he would be willing to sell me your parents’ mortgage at banker’s cost if I paid off that debt for him, then maybe you’d be looking at costing your parents their farm and home and livelihood!  But I wouldn’t do a thing like that, even though it would only cost me pocket change, and would probably turn a tidy profit once the farm and house were refurbished and re-sold, and a small fortune if instead I sold the land for housing developments…”

Aries’ face had gone from an angry red to a panicked white.  But he was still waiting for The Big Threat to come out.

“Of course, I would never threaten your family.  That’s so crass.  It’s so not the Goodkind style.  Instead, I’m going to help you.  You do something for me, and the bank will mysteriously lose a chunk of that loan on your parents’ farm.”

Aries stared in shock.  “I couldn’t do anything for you.”

I grinned maliciously, “Of course you can.  You can start by calling off this little war we’re having.  Announce that you kicked my ass and you’re done with me.  Let it go.  If you do that, then the others will be happy to move on to someone who won’t get them expelled.”

He frowned, “I’ll think about it.”

I nodded.  “Fine.  Because now you know what I can do if I want to.  Right now, I want to end a private feud.  If you think about it, you’ll realize that there’s no good reason for you not to go along with me on this.”

I phased out through his window and headed back to Poe.  I figured by the look on his face that I had won.  He was going to cancel our little personal feud.  He might even risk pissing off the other Alphas a little, to help me somewhere down the line.

Plus, I knew he and his pals were going to have a miserable time in lockdown.  Before I visited him, I had made sure to visit the supply room just down the hall from him.  I had ruptured the underside of the storage tank on each of the portable toilets earmarked for Aries and his buddies.

There’s nothing like a leaking toilet storage tank to give your lockdown room that certain je ne sais quoi.

I grinned all the way back to Poe.

The End