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Diane Castle / Ayla / Ayla #4: "Ayla and the Tests" / Part 2

Ayla #4: “Ayla and the Tests” 

- a Whateley Universe Tale

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

 

CHAPTER 2 - The Augean Stables
Saturday, September 30
mid-morning

I choked out, “I’m late for class!”  And I took off running across the green.

Not that running was going to help any.  I was HOURS late to class!  I was so in trouble!

I slipped into the classroom, although EVERYONE turned and stared at me.

Dr. Zinn glanced at me, and then went back to his subject.  “…and so we see how the classical epic unfolds.  The heroes must face their tests and emerge victorious from their trials.  The have to demonstrate not just bravery and skill and the devotion of friends and family, but also cunning and intelligence…”

He kept looking over at me.  I wondered if he was trying to tell me something related to knowing when to miss classes and when not to.

When he wrapped up his presentation, he turned to me.  “Miss Goodkind.  Are you aware that you are over an hour late to my class?”

I confessed, “Yes sir.  I wasn’t planning on being late.  But my friends were attacked by a squadron of Alphas, and I had to help them.  That isn’t why I’m late, though.  Afterward, I wasn’t allowed to come to class until I had been completely de-briefed by a Security officer.  Then I ran here as fast as I could.”

Okay, it wasn’t a good excuse.

And several members of the class definitely were hoping to hear more of the big fight with Alphas.

Fortunately, I had turned in my Ovid paper several days ago.  Zinn made me stand up and discuss my paper in depth.  Then most of the class wanted to argue with me about my paper, since I had postulated the end sections of Metamorphoses as political spin-doctor work.  Bubble, that bimbo ‘Miss Wells’ didn’t get spin-doctoring in modern politics, so she just wanted to argue that it didn’t even exist.  What a dimbulb. 

Codename Bubble, huh?  Bubblehead was more like it.

Oh, it turned out I had an ‘A+’ on my Aeneid paper, and Pendragon and Silver Serpent had ‘A+’ papers too.  Majestic was really angry at all of us.  Professor Zinn wanted all three of us to write papers.

Gah!  That made two stinking journal articles I was stuck writing!

At least Zinn had a detailed set of comments and citations for me, this time four pages in that same small font.

After class, I tried really hard to apologize to him.  But he wasn’t buying it.  I probably wouldn’t have, if our positions were reversed.  After all, how can you explain something like getting pulled into a massive 7-on-7 superpowered brawl?

Then I rushed back to Poe, even though Pendragon and Silver Serpent wanted to hear about the battle with the Alphas.  I put them off and ran for the tunnels.  I figured the fastest, most covert way to get back to Poe was running down the tunnel to Hawthorne and cutting through the ground to get to the Poe basement.

I was worried.  Really worried.

Jade had been in tears.  Billie had been holding her like a mother would, and if Tennyo The Destroyer decided to avenge a hurt to someone she thought of like a sister - or, God forbid, like a daughter - there was going to be a crater the size of New York state left afterward.

The rest of the team wasn’t going to take this lying down, either.  Hank was pretty damn protective of the girls on the team.  Toni had faced off against Montana to help Billie: what would she do to protect Jade?  Tear all of Dickinson Cottage into pieces?  Fey had been ready to disembowel Tansy, probably with something dull and rusty.

That left me.  Now that I wasn’t insane with anger at that cow Tansy, I was seeing that we had a problem.  A big problem.

If anything happened to Tansy now, we were the prime suspects.  I had to find a way to keep anyone on the team from going unilateral on Tansy or even a few Alphas.  Just saying “don’t do it” wasn’t going to be enough.  “Just say no” hadn’t worked for anyone.  So what was I going to do?

Even if I presented a case for not launching retaliatory strikes, there was no guarantee that one unconvinced teammate might still decide to go pound some Alphas into the concrete.

Okay, Politics 102.  When faced with an uncoordinated group who all had an agenda, there were usually ways to persuade them that their overall idea was bad.  In this case, the best approach was probably going to be ‘agree and embarrass’.  Take their position and co-opt it.  Overdo it.  Demonstrate the most idiotic points of their argument.  Make them see their own position as untenable and just plain dumb.  Force them to tell you that their idea won’t work.

I stopped in the Hawthorne tunnel, took a deep breath, and dove through the wall.  I was in the Poe basement in seconds.  I floated up through first floor, to our floor.  Then I started rounding everyone up for a meeting in my room.  I let Hank start talking and running the meeting, since he was taking a rational approach to the aftermath.

Jade and Tennyo trudged in last.  Billie closed the door and asked, “Any conclusions?”

She looked so disheartened that I really feared for someone’s neck.  As soon as she stopped being so listless, she was likely to explode in anger.

I carefully went for ‘anger’.  I growled, “No good ones.”  Even though Hank had some good conclusions he just needed a chance to bring out.

Toni snapped, “This whole thing has been great for those ‘real life lessons’.  I mean, it’s pretty obvious why it’s so handy to wear a mask and hide your identity.  Imagine an adult getting caught in a situation like that.  We know we were right, but we can’t prove it.  Somehow, Mindbird of the Betas did a telepathic scan of Walcutt afterwards and couldn’t even see Jinn in there.  All of this argues so well for adopting the techniques of the bad guys that it positively drips with irony.  We should have been in disguise, we should have attacked from ambush, we should have made sure there were no witnesses, we should have had alibis, and on and on.  I think the moral is, if you aren’t helping some old lady across the street, if it might possibly be interpreted as a crime, you’d better assume that it WILL be.  Sooner or later, you have to face the music.”

Crap.  This was almost exactly the kind of thing I had been afraid everyone would think.  I needed to re-direct them all toward Hank’s point of view.

Jade miserably moaned, “They took my gun.  I can still practice on the range, but I’m not allowed to carry it.  Indefinite suspension.  It’s because I shot her ‘without provocation’.”

Or rather, because we couldn’t prove the provocation.  And maybe Jade had gone off on that bitch Tansy too soon.  I still thought Fey’s magic had been our best bet to resolve things.  But what I knew about magic would fit in an ant’s navel, and still leave room for Tansy’s conscience.

Nikki added, “The thing that gets me is how everyone knows about Walcutt.  About the Alphas, too.  Everyone knows what scum they are, but they still end up with their high status and spotless record.  And for us – who knows?”

Okay.  My first opportunity to attack the position.  I tried to sound smug, as I said, “Well, at least we kicked their butts.  I’ll bet ol’ Tansy’s pissing her panties right now, thinking that Billie might come for her.  I don’t think they’ll be bothering us for a while.”

Sara seized on my comment as if she knew what I was up to.  Oh, wait.  Psychic.  Maybe she did.  Maybe I already had another ally on this one.  She snorted, “Really?  I think they’re positively ecstatic.  We’re the ones that look like fools right now.  That puts us on the back foot.  Narcissistic bastards are probably laughing it up, having a ball, planning their next move.”

“I’m sure they are,” Nikki agreed.  “And I’m sure they’ll pick a move that don’t allow us to hit back.  In fact, it might be easier for them, since we don’t dare hit back.”

Perfect.  Maybe I didn’t have as many people to convince as I had thought I did.  I pretended to go Tennyo right there.  “So let’s do what they least expect!  Hit ‘em now!  We’ll do it in secret, exactly like you were talking about, Toni!  No witnesses, masks and disguises, hit ‘em hard and fast!  Breeze in, beat Walcutt to a pulp until she lets Jinn free, and there’s no evidence at all!”

If that didn’t sound stupid enough to convince even Tennyo and Chaka, I was pretty much out of ammo.

“Nope,” Hank said.  “No chance.  Maybe if we’d done that first.  Now they would know it was us.  All it takes is one report.  I mean, we’d be the obvious choices, wouldn’t we?  Heck, we’d better hope no one thinks to frame us.”

Oh, thank you Hank!  That was exactly what I needed someone to say back to me.  I had been expecting Sara to say it.  But the smug little smile on Sara’s face told me that she knew what I was up to, and she had known that Hank would say all the right things.

Hank continued, “But for now, our best bet is to pull a Steve McQueen.”

The girls - other than Sara - looked at him in complete confusion.  Heck, it took me a moment to figure out what he meant, and I’d watched just about every Steve McQueen movie there was with my Mother, the Steve McQueen fangirl.  Whenever we Goodkinds had decided to pick an old movie to watch in our cinema projection room, it was inevitable that Mother would push for a Steve McQueen flick.  I must have seen “Bullitt” twenty times.

Hank tried again.  “Oh, come on.  Steve McQueen?  The Great Escape?  Best damn war movie ever made?”

I looked around at all the blank looks.  Hank had definitely flummoxed the room.

He insisted, “Okay, but as soon as possible we’re all getting together to watch it.  POW movie, Americans and Brits in a German POW camp.  The ‘cooler’ was a hellish little uninsulated concrete bunker they used for solitary confinement.  Roasting in the day, freezing at night.  McQueen is the ‘Cooler King’ because he’d attempted the most escapes and been tossed into the cooler more than anyone else.  Something like twenty times.  But he never let it get to him.  They’d toss him in, and he wouldn’t bat an eye.  Other men cracked in the cooler, but never the Cooler King.  And that’s why so many of the other prisoners held him in awe.  He could take whatever they threw at him.”

Hank smiled, “That’s the way we have to be.  We take our punishment with a smile.  A little thing like this won’t get to us.  We’re Team Kimba.  That doesn’t change the fact that, as soon as we see an opportunity, we’re going to turn right back around and do whatever we have to.  Oh, we’ll get smarter, all right.  The Cooler King was no idiot.  The scary thing is that there’s no way to stop us.”

I looked over at Sara, who was smiling supportively.  I started nodding, trying to get everyone else to.  After a second, Toni started to nod as well.  Once I got Toni onto Hank’s side, she’d talk everyone else - even Billie - into it.

Hank added, “For now, there’s no choice.  The foe is alert, the school is watching us.  Jade, did Jinn sound desperate?  Did it sound like time was running out?”

Jade thought for a second, and then actually gave us a fraction of a real smile.  “Hardly.  She was just getting started.”

Hank nodded.  “Then we wait.  Monday morning, they’ll try to scare us with The Cooler.  I don’t know what it’s going to be, but be prepared for a shock.  Our reactions should be mild.  No happiness, no sorrow, no anger.  Just accepting.  ‘We can handle this.’  We’ll do our time in the cooler.  And afterwards… we’ll see what things look like then.”

I looked around the room.  Everyone was nodding along with Toni.  I mentally sighed in relief.  Sara gave me a sly wink, telling me that she knew exactly what I was up to.

To hell with worrying about ‘psychic incursions’.  At times like this, I needed a teammate who could peek inside my head and help me out!

I got some very late lunch, and I checked in with Security to find out what I could about the other reports of the ‘Breakfast Brawl’.  They didn’t want to tell me much.  Crap.  I was going to have to find some ways of getting additional intel.

As I was about to walk out, I realized who was sitting at the front desk on duty.  Officer Trews.  I casually stepped over to him and pretended that I was filling out a form from the stack of possible incident reports.

I quietly said, “Officer Trews.  Nice to see you again.”

“Do I know you?”

I didn’t look up.  “I’m one of the Golden Kids.  We met at the last meeting, when I was asking about how we paid you and Green.”

He cleared his throat cautiously and whispered, “Keep it down.”

I kept from smiling.  “Oh, I have no intention of messing up the deal.  In fact, I’d like to offer you a little bonus.  Copies of all the incident reports from this morning’s big fight on the green.”

“How much?” he wondered.

“Name your price.”

He choked.

I waited until he had his windpipe under control again.  I added, “Seriously.”

He shuffled some papers and said, “Ten K.  The reports’ll be in an unmarked envelope left in your mailbox.  By tomorrow afternoon.”

I scribbled some more, and he noticed that I was writing a check, which I slipped into the carbons of the report.

I handed him the report I had scribbled all over.  “Agreed.  It’s a pleasure doing business with you.  Let’s do this more often.”

He cautiously slipped the check out and pocketed it.  He gave me a brief nod that he’d be willing to feed me intel for cash, anytime I was interested.

I added, “Tell Green the same deal applies.”  And I strolled off.

Okay, I had another information pipeline, even if this one might be more like a garden hose.

I was going to have to convince Zenith to spill some beans.  Cottage fixers were probably too important (or self-important) to buy into my intel network in any reasonable way.  But people who were aiming to be the next fixer might be perfect.  They needed help to show what they could do and who they could influence.  I could help them, they would help me…  And, once that worked, maybe I’d have a hook into the NEXT cottage fixer.

Plus, every cottage seemed to have its own bookie.  Risk and Hazard seemed to be muscling in on that action already.  I needed to talk to both of them about a little quid pro quo.

And there were probably more than just two Security guys who were potential intel sources.  There had to be some people in Admin who could be targeted.  Also, there was the information I’d picked up at the last meeting of the Golden Kids…

I got back to the dorm, and I went to check on Jade.  I walked in on something that was just sick and disturbing.

Jann was standing there, looking a lot taller than usual, while Billie and Jade trimmed her ‘Shroud’ costume.  Only they were jamming scissors into her and slicing pieces right off her body!

“What the HELL are you doing?  That’s the sickest thing I ever saw!”

All three of them looked up like they’d been swapping makeup tips or something.  “Hi Ayla!”

As I stepped closer, I realized that Jann was HUGE!  I mean, she was over half a foot taller than I was!  “Jann?  When did you get so tall?”

“That’s Jeanie,” Billie blithely corrected.

Jeanie?  What about Jinn and Jann?  What about…  “Right.  Why do I even bother?”

So suddenly, Jeanie was around 5’7”, and I was still stuck at five-foot-nothing.  I really couldn’t wait until the powers testing wonks finished with me and I could get started on turning back into a man.

Dinner was interesting.  We took one of the far tables, but still people were going out of their way to avoid us.  Great.  Marvelous.  Now we were the up-and-coming Ultraviolents.

On the upside, maybe fewer people would be inclined to get in my face about my surname and my intersexed status.

I paid careful attention to the Alpha table.  They just looked beaten-up.  Kodiak had a whopper of a bruise on his jaw, and he was eating really gingerly.  Damper was walking like Tennyo had castrated him, and Hamper wasn’t doing a whole lot better.  Icer had a huge bruise on his face and a bandage on the back of his head.  Skybolt looked like she’d been shaken, not stirred.  Cavalier hadn’t even made it to dinner.  Aries looked roughed up.  Only The Don looked unfazed; but I had noticed that he had ducked out of the fighting.  However, he too was casting the occasional hateful look our way.

We were going to have to do something about them, some day.  Because it was pretty obvious that they weren’t going to let this one drop.  Any of them who were busy defending their status as Alphas probably couldn’t let this one drop without risking their position.  It couldn’t be good for your status to get your ass kicked in a very public, very clear-cut way.  By a bunch of freshman girls.  And then have said kids walking around like they didn’t have a mark on them.

Come to think of it, did any of Team Kimba even have a bad bruise?  Maybe we had given those jerks a worse beatdown than I had realized at the time.

Right about then, Toni said, “I’ve been thinking it over, and we were pathetic.”

Hey!  We had pummeled those so-called Alphas!  I insisted, “Bull!  We kicked their butts!”  But then I realized what Toni meant.  Oops.

Toni corrected me, “Yeah, but we took way too long.  And we took some hard shots on the way there.  I’m thinking that we’ve got a lot of weaknesses, and this is our first real incentive to look at them.”

Good point.  I’d been looking at all my weaknesses, ever since Emil Hammond fried my ass with his force fields.  But I just kept finding more weaknesses.  Now it turned out that I had weaknesses in team operations too.

Jade meekly said, “I’m willing to listen.  What are your suggestions, sensei?”

We talked it over.  The consensus was that Jade had a good start.  The ‘devisor’ gag had worked well: the bad guys had focused on knocking out the gadgets and leaving the ‘deviser’.  She’d even gotten in a good piece of ukemi on the battlefield.  But she needed more gadgets, and years more martial arts training.  Toni had a lead on the gadgets too.  Bugs.  I hadn’t even thought of getting widgets from her.

The REALLY interesting part was that Jinn and Jann had been kidnapped, Jeanie was back at Poe, and yet Jade could call up another manifestation.  The J-Team was growing by leaps and bounds.  So Jade could have Shroud out scaring people, and also have Jann powering a bunch of faux-devises all around Jade.  This was good!

And Sara had suggestions for Shroud.  Everything from sand to concealed weapons to thousands of ‘hands’.  I guess it takes a dead non-human thing to know a dead non-human thing.

Interestingly, it was Jade who had ideas for Toni.  That girl’s watching too much bad kung-fu junk on tv.  Shuriken, throwing knives, little needle darts, and all manner of martial arts weapons.  I wondered where Toni was supposed to stash everything.  I’d tell her about Möbius when we had a little more privacy.  Toni was thinking in terms of ‘harmless’ stuff that could be weapons in her hands.  Forks, playing cards, you name it.  Personally, having seen her ‘dartboard’ in her room, I was thinking in terms of a little ‘sewing kit’ full of needles for her to throw.

Hank was next.  People actually thought he had weaknesses.  Okay, he did need to find some sort of defense against mental attacks.  Who didn’t?  Some people thought he needed better flight and better fighting forms.  Hey, he was still way better than me in both.  And Toni wasn’t the only one who thought he needed some holdouts.

She insisted, “You, all of us, need to work on holdouts or backup.  For those weird cases when our powers fail.  It’s going to happen – I’ve heard too many stories.  Some kids have the power to stop you cold.  They’re rare, but we need to think about it.”

She looked over at me, and I nodded.  She was about the only member of TK I’d really told all about Hamper and Damper.  Maybe I needed to tell the whole team about the fights I’d been in, and who could do what to me.  That would wait until later, when we had more privacy.

Hank had a great idea for Fey.  Elven body armor that she could manifest with a magical spell.  For most people, I would have put that in the ‘dream on’ category.  But for Fey that was probably only a couple days’ studying and preparation away.

Sara was scribbling away on a notepad.  I didn’t get why, since she had an eidetic memory.  Was she making notes to hand out to everyone else?

Then they got around to me.

“Well,” Toni temporized.  “Obviously, you need some work on formalized hand-to-hand.”

I snorted, “Figures you’d concentrate on that part.”  I’d bet no one was surprised she came up with that.

She said, “I know, you’ve got classes like everyone else.  But I’d say your biggest problem is speed.  Your intangible form can reach flyers and probably disrupt them, but only if you catch them.  Likewise, your super-dense form can go toe-to-toe with most anyone, if you can get them to come after you.  The biggest issue is, how do we get you to there?”

I was about to explain about the troubles I’d had getting my ‘go heavy, jump, and then go light’ trick to work reliably, but Jade cut right across me before I could get a word out.

“Rocket pack?” Jade suggested.  “No, wait, rocket shoes!  See, she goes super light, then the shoes could push her super-fast.”

“I don’t know…”  I had to wonder if that was workable.  Between the Conservation of Momentum and Conservation of Angular Momentum problems I was having, I wasn’t sure shoes with rocket propulsion would even work for me.  Maybe I’d need a deviser to build something that got around the physical law limitations…

And then Hank said, “I throw her.”

“What?”  Was that workable?

He pushed, “It solves my problem of a distance weapon, too.  Phase runs up to me, makes herself a little tougher, and picks a target.  Then I throw her as hard as I can, straight at the target.”

And it hit me that it took care of my momentum problems, too.  I said excitedly, “Yeah!  I phase through them on the way out, disrupting them if I can.  Then I loop back and grab on, turn solid, and start pounding.”

Fey snorted angrily, “Yeah, Hank used the same trick with me, back during the ninja attack.  Watch out for him, Ayla.  Especially when he’s ‘getting a grip’ on you.”

Oh yeah.  Like I wouldn’t have tried to cop a feel of that sexy form, given the chance.

Hey, wait!  Hank had better not try that crap with me!

Hank panicked, looking back and forth between me and Nikki.  “But that was just –” he glanced at me  “– I mean, I wouldn’t, not with you –” then back to Nikki, “how much self-control do you expect –” until his brain caught up with his mouth “oh shit…”  He buried his head in his arms.

I glared at him to let him know that if he groped me by mistake, he’d be a very, very sorry boy.

As for Tennyo, everyone agreed that the issue was toning things down and using her optimally.

Sara was concerned that a good telepath could cripple us.  I wasn’t too sure.  I couldn’t see a telepath getting anywhere with Fey or Shroud or Tennyo, much less Sara.  I’d already found out I could stand up to the Tansy-level psis.  Toni had demonstrated with Cavalier that she could take on a pretty tough telepath and kick ass.  Hank and Jade might be vulnerable, but someone like Sara or Fey could probably do some close-in shielding if we needed it.

I carefully pointed out, “You know, a lot of what you’re talking about is special clothing or gear or whatever.  But it won’t do any good unless you get used to living this way, full time.  I mean 24-7.”

“What do you mean?” Jade asked.

She really didn’t get it.  I tried not to sound snide as I pointed out, “Well, look at you.  There you are, wearing that Barbie t-shirt and pink skirt.  What were you wearing this morning?”

“My devisor outfit.”

I stressed, “Right.  And we got slammed today, because we were all ‘premeditated’.  So if the only time you wear your devisor outfit is when you’re spoiling for a fight, it’s going to be a lot easier for them to tag us with another premeditated charge.  Same for you, Hank.  Either dump the camouflage, which would be a damn shame, or wear it more often.  Remember Skybolt, with her power harness thing?  Hell, she was expecting to go to a picnic!  But she had it on.  We’ve got to be like that.  Mix it up; wear our battle gear to class a bit.  And make sure that wherever, whenever, we are completely ready for a fight.  That way, next time we start one, we can say, ‘But this is what I always wear’.”

“Communications too,” Sara added, “I was caught with my pants down, figuratively speaking. If you’d given me a call, I might even have been able to make a flank attack before Bluejay showed up. They may also decide to take us out one by one after we separate between classes, we have GOT to be prepared.”

Hmm.  Bluejay was a separate problem.  If what Sara had said was true, Bluejay was a MAJOR Warper.  He was a really fast teleporter, and he had some sort of reality-warping power that could’ve killed Sara if she were a mere meta-human.  We were going to have to worry about him in future, too.

Hank was nodding, but he looked really disturbed.

“What’s the matter, Hank?” Fey asked.

“Yeah,” Tennyo added.  “You look, I don’t know, kind of upset.”

He grabbed his head in frustration.  “Don’t you see?  Doesn’t anyone get it?”

“Wha?” Toni asked around a mouthful of food.

“Tactics!  That’s all we’re talking about here.  Just tactics.  We haven’t even touched the big issues.  Strategy, intelligence, the mission itself.”

Good points there, Hank.  I figured his dad had to be a high-level officer, instead of a non-com.  Sara was nodding vigorously and making more notes.  Clearly, she agreed too.

“What are you talking about?”  Fey was scowling in confusion.

He insisted, “Look, I grew up on a bunch of different army bases.  A lot of the stuff just seeps into you, you know?  And for most of the grunts, the stuff we’re talking about is perfect.  Refining the tactics is what soldiers work on.  But there’s more to the situation, more to real combat, than just a bunch of enlisted!  You’ve got officers.  You have strategy.  You have maps and plans, and a higher level goal.”

“Yeah?  We had all that,” Toni said.  “Admittedly, in retrospect, our plan was kind of stupid.  We’ll fix that next time.”

Hank exploded, “No, we WON’T.  Not if we do it this way!  Look Toni, you’re pretty good at tactics.  Hell, the plan against Montana was brilliant.  But we have to approach a real fight from a completely different perspective.  We start with the goal.  Let me use the fight as an example.  We start with the goal: rescue Jinn.  It we’re thinking this through, from a strategic perspective, we do not jump directly into a confrontation.  Particularly since we knew that she was doing okay, and could hold out for a while.

“Step two is intelligence.  We gather as much as we can about the target.  About everything else that we can think of.  Avatars.  The layout of Dickinson Cottage.  Walcutt, her powers, friends, allies, foes.  Maybe we look up the Alphas, since they came to her defense.  Find out the same sort of stuff about them.  THEN, and only then, do we sit down and craft strategies.  Do we use force to influence Walcutt?  Diplomacy?  Bribes or favors?  Is there some other approach?  Do we ambush her?  When and where?  Do we try to hide our identities?  It all revolves around accomplishing our main goal, and minimizing the cost to ourselves.”

He waved at Sara.  “Maybe she could have helped block the mind attack I got hit with, but it might have only helped if we’d known in advance about that Alpha mind-zapper.  And Sara wanted to switch up Tennyo’s targets.  That only works if we have a chance to plan ahead of time, who we’re going to hit and what their strengths and weaknesses are.”

Which meant that I had REALLY screwed up by not filling in the entire team on all the Alphas and Alpha-wannabes I had run into, in the last four weeks.  If I was collecting all this intel, I had to be using it, too.  Tennyo had told us about Hamper and Damper, but we hadn’t put it all together then.  I had faced off against them, and knew more about their powers.  I should have thought about combat strategies.  I had just been too damned mad at Tansy to think straight.  Somebody could have gotten really hurt because I wasn’t helping my team enough.  That really made me feel like shit.

Jade still didn’t quite get it.  “But how do we even find that stuff out?  You just said ‘learn about Walcutt, her powers, and all her allies’ powers.’  How are we supposed to do that?”

“We could start by asking.  I’ll bet the Betas would help us.  She’s got to have some unhappy enemies that would talk to us.”

“Anyone doing modeling,” Fey offered.

“The library,” Sara added, “cross-reference what we know with heroes’ past battles and look at tactics that have worked in the past to counter similar threats. Search for anything we can exploit.”

“Exactly!” Hank agreed.  “And beyond that, we have our own ways of gathering intelligence.”

Everyone looked at him in anticipation.

“Well, first there’s Fey.  I’ll bet if you pushed it, you could learn all sorts of useful things with your powers.  Sara, you can read minds, find out their darkest secrets and fears.  Ayla – you’re pretty well off, aren’t you?”

“I guess,” I shrugged.

“Ever considered using some of that money to build yourself a network?  People talking to other people, all funneling in to you?  It would cost a bit, but probably not all that much, if you’re really rich.  And I’ll bet there are contacts at Poe we could use.”

Of course I’d thought about that!  But it wasn’t that simple!

“And lastly, we have a unique method – beyond Fey, who’s pretty damned unique already.”

“What?”

He looked at Jade.  “How small can Jinn make herself?  How tiny can she get, while still being completely hidden inside an object?”

Jade suddenly understood.  “About the size of a grain of sand.”

“And she can still move, and see, and hear perfectly, can’t she?”

“Yeah.”

“You couldn’t ask for a better spy.”

Hank’s gaze swept over the table.  “Look, we have some weaknesses.  I hate to admit it, but we need a Telepath on this team.”  He stood and reached over the table, offering his hand to Sara, “Sorry I was a bit of a jerk back there. Friends?”

Sara took his hand without hesitation, “We never stopped.”

“I’m hoping we can shore things up through magic,” Hank continued, “but that puts a lot of burden on you, Fey.  Among all your other tasks, you’ll need to investigate magics to spy on people, and counter-techniques to prevent them from spying on us.”  He slapped his forehead.  “Now that I think of it, they might already be spying on us!  Weakness number two: electronics.  You mentioned this ‘Bugs’ girl, Toni.  Think she can help us to start sweeping our rooms for electronic bugs?”

Toni shrugged.  “Dunno.  I’ll ask.  Or better, why don’t you ask her, Nikki?”

Nikki even blushed sexily.

Hank insisted, “If we’re going to be a real team, we need to start thinking about this professionally.  We made a lot of enemies in the Alphas.  We probably made a lot of friends, by fighting the Alphas.  Let’s start the intelligence process both ways – learning about them, and hiding details about ourselves, or better, providing false information.”

He seemed struck by a sudden thought.  “Jade, you should start by not revealing that you can create more than one of Jinn.  Practice plenty, but do it in a way that doesn’t reveal things to outsiders.”

Jade nodded.

I sighed, as I realized that my ‘simple intel network’ was going to run into everyone else’s already-established intel networks, and they weren’t going to be happy about my doing that.  Not to mention what the Alphas would do when they wised up to what I was doing.  And how hard it would be to keep the Alphas from learning all about us if they had solid contacts in place.  I groaned, “This has suddenly gotten a lot more complicated.”

After dinner, we headed back to Poe.  We used my room as a conference room, as usual.  Tennyo drifted lazily alongside the hammocks, while Fey did some spells to check for magical snooping, and Bugs came in for a couple minutes to check for.. ahem.. bugs.  She so did not look like a genius gadgeteer, especially in that hot little skater skirt.  And she was wearing some flirty, spicy perfume that just followed her all over the room.  Fey was a lucky, lucky girl.

Once we had everyone in my room, and I had doled out drinks and snacks to the two bottomless pits of the team, Toni got down to business.

“Okay, crew,” Toni started out, “we have to start thinking about Monday morning.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and the first thing that we have to remember when we go into this is: WE are NOT the bad guys.  If we go in there like we got caught with our hands in the cookie jar, then we are dead meat.  We blew it when security came.  I gotta admit, that Walcutt bitch handled that like a pro.  But then again, she probably has a lot of experience with that kind of thing.”

Oh yeah.  And she took advantage of something unexpected, too.  I could see her face when she was talking with Mindbird.

Toni realized something and looked at me as I lounged in one of the beanbag chairs.  “Ayla, you say that your family has been dealing with this crap for generations.  So, private school bureaucrat, who apparently has it in for one of our crew, and according to Tennyo, is a Grade-A bitch.  How would your father deal with her?”

I leaned back on my beanbag and thought it over.  “Well, every bureaucrat that I’ve ever heard of, academic or otherwise, was scared for her job.  Since threatening her with the Goodkinds would be cutting our own throats, and none of the rest of you have families with real name recognition value, we can’t use family influence.  So we’ll have to go with suggesting favoritism, incompetence, corruption, cowardice, or some combination of those.”

Toni chewed on that for a bit.  “Corruption is overplaying it, I think.  After all, we’re school kids, what can any of us offer an administrator?”

We were talking about Tansy Walcutt, right?  She could offer most administrators some major perks.  But not Amelia Hartford.  Not one of the Rhode Island Hartfords.  I was figuring that Hartford was a spoiled rich snot before she ever came to Whateley.

Billie perked up at Toni’s comment.  “When I first met her, I noticed that Hartford was wearing that ‘Alpha’ pin that you see the Alpha bitches and some of the guys wearing.  If she was a Whateley student, wanna bet that she was an Alpha when she was here?”

Toni gave a feline grin.  “Bingo.  We lead off by insisting that an investigation as to the disappearances of Jinn and Jann - who ARE registered as students - hasn’t been begun.  Then we hit her with the ‘Are you cowardly or just incompetent?’ charge.”

“Only Jinn is officially registered,” Jade corrected her.  “I never filed on Jann.  But I did mention the ‘murder’ to security, back when I was getting my gun.  And remember, we want to keep Jann, and Jeanie, and any other spirits a secret.”

Nikki groused, “I don’t know why WE’RE the ones being called on the rug.  WE didn’t start the fight, the Alphas did.  We confronted Walcutt, but the Alphas were the ones who started getting violent.”

“Good point, Fey!” Toni agreed.  “We still open with ‘where are Jinn and Jann?’ – okay, maybe ‘where’s Jinn?’ – but if Hartford still keeps harping on us supposedly starting the fight, then we retaliate by confirming that we confronted, not attacked Tansy.  We call as many witnesses as we can, until we…”

“I don’t think that there’s gonna be any witnesses,” Hank grumbled.  “Odds are, Hartford’s just gonna call us into her office, yell at us, and throw the book at us.”

“Hartford doesn’t have an office, just a nook in the open general office,” Tennyo smirked.  “I think that she doesn’t like that very much.”

Toni said, “Better and better!  We go into the office and beat her to the punch, by loudly asking WHY nothing’s being done about Jinn’s disappearance.”

I warned her, “Whatever you do, Toni, don’t yell.  Yelling at a teacher or an administrator is an automatic charge of ‘disrespect’.  Whether it’s a real charge or not, it’s something that Hartford can beat us over the head with.”

“Okay, then I’m gonna havta do most of the talking,” she insisted.

“Hell, you’d do that anyway,” Tennyo complained.  I tried really hard not to burst out in loud snickers.

“Because, I can pitch my voice to be very clear and carrying, without actually raising my voice.”  Toni suddenly raised one eyebrow.  “Come to think of it, that’s not ALL that I can do with my voice…”

“You’re not gonna break the windows, are you?” Nikki asked worriedly.

“Not to worry, girlfrien’, just gonna do a li’l voodoo,” Toni grinned.

Hmm.  What was she planning?

Oh.  I suddenly thought about Vox, and it hit me.  I probably knew what Toni had in mind.  How the heck was she going to do that, when she wasn’t a siren like Vanessa?

Toni said, “When we go in, I want Ayla by my side.  Ayles, I want you to back me up.  I do outraged PC, you do rules, regs, and consequences that could severely impact on Hartford’s career.  Guys, Ayla and I switch off; if Hartford tries to drag you into the debate, you hand off to one of us.  Nikki, I want you flanking me, about a step to the rear; Hank, you flank Ayla, same way.  Fey, if you can, put that Glamour that’s always causing you so much trouble to work - intimidate the bitch with it.  Hank, put on your best ‘soldier of honor’ face.”  Hank nodded and gave her a thumbs-up.  “Billie, Jade, I want you two to be the last to come in, the first to leave, and stick behind the rest of us as much as you can.  We don’t want Hartford focusing on either of you.  We don’t want her trying to stick a ‘dangerous’ tag on Billie again, and Jade, you DID shoot someone, so you’re the most vulnerable target.”

“Does it help that it was a non-lethal weapon?”

“Yeah, and we’ll hammer on that as much as we can, IF the gun becomes an issue! But if it doesn’t, we avoid the whole gun thing, right?”

I thought for a second.  “The real problem is, our defense relies purely on Jade’s accusation that Tansy ‘kidnapped’ her ‘sister’.  How do we prove that Jinn didn’t just change her name to Jann?  Because she never stopped going to class!”

“But she DID!” Jade wailed.

“And I believe you!  But try and prove that to Hartford.  No, our best bet is to try and get a Change of Venue.”

More than one person asked, “‘Change of venue’?”

I explained, “Get someone besides Hartford to handle the matter.  If she’s wearing her ‘Alpha’ pin, maybe we can make an issue of her ahem! ‘notorious preferential treatment of the Alphas’, and maybe hassle the other people in the office to get someone else to take over.”

“Does she really give the Alphas preferential treatment?”

I shrugged.  “I dunno.  But either way, it’s gotta be something that she’s vulnerable to.  Open bias for or against one group is career suicide for an administrator.  If she does favor the Alphas, then she’s probably very careful to keep it under wraps.  Tennyo, what was Hartford’s general tack when you spoke with her?”

“Tack?”

“What approach did she use?  Was she carefully neutral, openly hostile, dismissive, inquiring, sarcastic, what?”

“Oh, she was blatantly hostile to everyone and everything,” Tennyo unhappily recalled.

I checked, “Did you get the impression that she was having a bad day, or did it seem like that’s the way she normally is?”

She growled, “Well, from what I heard, she pretty much has a bug the size of a Volkswagen up her ass, 24-7.”

Perfect.  That matched up with my intel on Hartford.

I said, “Okay, so she’s used to being the aggressor, and putting everyone else on the defensive.  So, we go on the offensive and stay there.  Don’t give up just because she doesn’t fold after the first volley, and don’t cave in, no matter what she says.  With that attitude, she probably isn’t that used to people standing up to her.  I say, make it an all or nothing gamble.  Either she lets us skip, or we get thrown out.  But an expulsion would require a meeting of the board, and we can call witnesses, have telepaths scan our minds for lies and everything else that we can come up with.  Hartford would never put her precious Alphas in a position where they’d get the boot.  After all, if us attacking them is an expulsion charge, then THEM attacking US is too!”

Hank sighed and said, “Nope, nope, it doesn’t work.”

“Hunh?” I complained.  Didn’t he want us to get off?

He insisted, “We can’t make a big deal of getting out of detention, or KP, or whatever they have around here.  Justified or not, we gotta accept the consequences of our actions, or we won’t get any respect from anybody worth bein’ respected by.  We got in a fight, so we gotta pay the price.  There’s nothin’ that says that we gotta put up with more’n a week or so of it, but if we get off scot-free, it’ll be more trouble in the long run than it’s worth.  Look, the Alphas never take any punishment, and how do people see them?  Remember the Cooler King?  That’s us.  We accept responsibility and we take their punishment and we don’t even blink, because we’re so damn tough we can take whatever they dish out!”

Well, maybe he was that tough, but I wasn’t too sure about me.

But everyone else liked his approach, so that’s what we chose as a team.  I just had to make it stick, come Monday morning.

Right about the time I had the mess cleaned up from Billie and Hank pigging out and floating around the room at the same time, Vox dropped by.

She walked in with a big smile.  Then she sniffed.  And sniffed again.  She growled, “Was Bunny in here?”

“Oh.  The perfume. Yeah, she was in here for a minute.”  Vox gave me a real glare.  So I had to explain, “Nikki brought her over to check for snooping.  Team Kimba was having a meeting.”

She fumed, “What is it wit’ all of you?  You had to get into a major fight, and in front of the whole school, and wit’ the damn Alphas!  Are you trying to get beaten up?”

I said, “Come on, Vanessa!  We didn’t want a fight at all!  They started it!  We just wanted Tansy Walcutt to give back a kidnap victim.  And she sicked the Alphas on us!”

“You’re kidding, right?  A kidnap victim?  Here?”

“Yeah.  Jinn.”

She thought for a second.  “Wait a minute!  I saw Jinn!  She’s here!”

“No, Jade’s been faking it for a week.  Remember the night she was crying like mad and screaming ‘She’s dead!’ a lot?  That’s when Tansy vampired Jinn.  Right out of her clothes.”

Vanessa slowly shook her head, “You guys…  This is crazy, even for Whateley!”

I said, “And the fun part is we still don’t have Jinn back, but we got a letter from her, and she’s working angles from her end.”

“She wrote you a letter?  When she’s kidnapped?”

I admitted, “Right now she’s trapped inside Tansy’s body.  But it looks like some of the time she can take over Tansy and do stuff like write letters.  I’d love to know what else she’s been doing.”

Vanessa shrugged, “Sounds like Tansy bit off more than she can chew.  Is Jinn gonna keep taking Tansy over until Tansy goes nuts or something?”

“I wish.”

She gave me a coy look.  “So…  Who did you fight?”

“Skybolt.  Then Kodiak.”

“Wow!  My baby’s playing in the big leagues!”

I grinned, “That’s nothing.  Tennyo was fighting Aries, and when she finally got him, she took out him, then Hamper, Damper, and Skybolt all in about twenty seconds.”

Vanessa just let out a whistle.

I nodded.  “Yeah.  Bad Bad Leroy Brown ain’t got nothin’ on her.”

She laughed and squirmed down next to me on my beanbag chair.  Then she ‘rewarded’ me for being a superhero.

Man, is she a great kisser!

Sunday, October 1

It was finally October.  It seemed like several decades worth of stuff had happened to me, just since I met all the rest of Team Kimba on the 3rd of last month.

I showered, and used a chat about last night’s meeting as an excuse to stand there staring at Fey and Bugs and Tennyo for way longer than usual.  I even got away with it.

Then breakfast started out really well, too.  Chef Peter had a little something special.  Stone-ground grits, made extra-creamy by cooking them with whole milk instead of water.  And the bowl of grits was topped with a shrimp stir-fry of shelled shrimp, chopped shallots, and coarsely-chopped orange sweet peppers.  I had always thought of grits as some hick Southerner thing, but these were excellent.  And the shrimp accompaniment was just spicy enough to set off the smooth creaminess of the grits.  I realized that you could probably use this kind of grits as a down-home replacement for polenta in a lot of things.  Maybe medallions of roast pork with garlic, and some kind of Southern-oriented or Creole chutney…

Unfortunately, just as I was enjoying my breakfast, that kid James from admin showed up with a note for me.  The testing wonks wanted me in Lab W at nine am.

Come on!  This was Sunday!  Didn’t these guys believe in church?

Hillary wasn’t there, so maybe she did.  Hewley and Shandy were there with Sean Clark, and Quintain was back.

Dr. Hewley smiled, “Well Phase, I believe we’re all done – for now – with your extra-dimensional ‘density change’ ability…”

Yeah, sure.  I totally believed that.  I had seen what they were like when some new idea popped into their collective consciousness.

I interrupted him, “Then I want my utility belt back.  Now!  I really needed it yesterday, and one of my teammates could’ve been really hurt because I didn’t have it on me.  I told you it was a bad idea for you to hang onto it!”

Quintain blithely said, “But it gave us enough time to study the belt’s trans-dimensional stability.  We needed it all day yesterday.  There’s probably two, maybe three papers in the data!”

I snapped, “Great.  Because one of my teammates could’ve DIED or something yesterday, so I hope they’re really terrific papers!”

Mister Clark interceded, “I read the Security transcripts of that fight.  It sounded like your team is really quite remarkable.  I’m hoping Security will let me see some of the security camera footage of the battle.”

I snorted, and I took the belt back from Dr. Shandy.  But I was not going to be unprepared anymore.  In fact, I probably ought to buy an emergency backup utility belt from Möbius, just to be safe.

Then they pointed out something I hadn’t even noticed.  I no longer glowed blue when I went light.  When had I stopped glowing blue?  I knew I’d still been doing that at the beginning of September.  I remembered showing that to the rest of Team Kimba our first day together.

Dr. Hewley said, “At first I thought the blue glow might be Cherenkov radiation, when charged particles were crossing the convex hull of your trans-dimensional boundaries, and momentarily moving faster than the speed of light in the different medium.  But that’s not it.  Now we think it’s a side effect of your E-M warping abilities, as you shift ambient light into a different set of wavelengths.”

“But if I’m not doing it anymore?”

He smiled excitedly, “Then you’re getting control of your tertiary warping abilities.  You can already fly when light.  That shows you have substantial control over your gravitic warping power.  And you should be able to affect E-M radiation crossing your extra-dimensional convex hull.”

Dr. Shandy said, “And that’s what we want to examine today.”

Dr. Quintain added, “You know, it’s really extremely rare for a Warper to have warping aspects in two different categories, much less three!  We hardly ever get to study the interactional components of the powers of high-level Warpers.  The possibilities are endless!  There could be results here that impact the development of unified field theory!”

You know, he was just way too excited about this stuff.  Of course, that made him a perfect person for the powers testing labs here at Whateley.  But it didn’t change the annoyance factor any.

I changed into the usual boy’s cup and girl’s spandex super-suit for the testing.  Then they had me stand on a clear plastic platform, and they tried beaming coherent light at me to measure reflectivity, expected reflectivity, and absorbance.  Since they had all kinds of photometers behind me too, I could tell that they were expecting to observe at least some of the energy passing through me.

Some of the wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum were, in fact, passing through me.  Tiny proportions of certain unusual wavelengths were doing something freaky with my Warper talents.

And every time they found another wavelength that partially passed through me, no matter how small the fraction of the overall E-M emissions, Quintain pestered the crap out of me about ‘why can’t you turn invisible?’

I think that they did more electro-magnetic tests on me than there are E-M wavelengths.

And then I also had to do a ton of gravitic tests.  Pardon the pun.  They monitored my local gravitic field while I went light and floated about.  They put me in a gravity generator, let me go light, and bumped the gravity in the chamber up to 3.5 Gs to monitor how that affected my ability to fly around.  At my lightest, it didn’t seem to have any effect at all.  Quintain was certain that I was actually moving my entire gravitational mass out of our 3-D hyperplane, while moving only a portion of my inertial mass out.  Apparently, I was walking proof that, from a deci-dimensional perspective, gravitational and inertial mass were separable.  So they needed another hour of repetitive testing so they had enough evidence to publish on that.

Hillary dropped by around twelve thirty with lunch for everyone, which was damned nice of her.  Even given that she really just wanted to hang around Jared.  But she remembered what everyone had ordered before.  And she must have gone to the trouble of talking to the chefs and mentioning my name, because my grilled chicken sandwich had a really good variety of German-style stone-ground mustard on it, plus sliced Roma tomatoes and oak leaf lettuce.

While we ate, I told them about my own experiments with my phase-leap: going heavy, jumping, going light in mid-jump, and speeding up to velocities that I couldn’t control.  I thought Quintain was going to wet his pants with excitement.  So that meant that they took me down in an elevator to Lab S for more testing.

Lab S was big.  It was larger than a professional soccer field, with a ceiling about two hundred feet up.  It had a track oval on the ground, a matching track oval on the ceiling – on the ceiling? – and a similar ring on the walls about halfway up.  Wow.  What the heck did they test with that?  I could envision speedsters using the floor oval, but the other stuff just seemed freaky.  Freakier than usual around here.  I wondered if they’d tested Billie in here.

In the middle of the room were dozens of monitors and meters and computers for measuring whatever people did in here.  All I had to do was the stuff that I couldn’t do well.  I stood at one end of the room, went heavy, moved as fast as I could, and went light.  Then I went heavy again so I didn’t rocket through the wall.  I stopped, and went back the other way.  Over and over and over.

Then they had me wave one arm while I sprinted and went light, so that angular momentum took over and launched me into an out-of-control spin too.  That was like being put on the Tilt-A-Whirl after too many amusement park hot dogs.  And they wanted me to do it about twenty times!  I managed not to barf all over the room, although I came close a couple times.

They were really excited about my momentum problems.  They measured my miserable efforts over and over, until they could show me an interpolated three-dimensional curvature that they thought represented the relationship between my inertial mass, my gravitational mass, and the Petrovsky space-time curvature of our normal 4-dimensional hyperplane that I was causing.

Quintain was nearly jumping with excitement.  “This is big!  This is so big…  This could get us the Nobel Prize in physics some day!  We have clear experimental evidence of the relationship between inertial mass and gravitational mass.  And Petrovsky’s hypothesized relationship is wrong!  This is going to revolutionize post-Einsteinian physics!”

Shandy couldn’t keep the grin off his face as he showed Quintain another computer screen.

Quintain looked like Jared had hit him in the face with a water balloon.  “Are you sure?”

Shandy smirked, “When I saw the results, I checked three times, just to make sure.”

Quintain stood there, scratching his chin for a couple minutes.  “Hmm…  Couldn’t be Ward’s containment hypothesis.  Not with a curvature like that…  Perelman and Chakravarty’s QCD revision?  No…”

Finally, he looked up and said, “Jared, you HAVE to publish that.  I’ve been arguing against pattern theory for a long time, but this looks like a real substantiation of Teraskovitch’s meta-pattern hypothesis.  I can’t think of anything else it could be.  You’ve got to get it out for peer review, and let other scientists see it!”

I just stared at the man.  I’d been thinking of him as one more bad lecturer.  But I’d just seen something I’d never expected to see: a man so dedicated to science that he was not only admitting he had been wrong, he was insisting on the truth being put out there for everyone else to see.  Maybe he was a lousy lecturer and a crummy writer, but he was a remarkable scientist.

I had just seen Filbert Quintain be the great research scientist I had always hoped was really out there somewhere.  That one epiphany made up for all the nausea and effort of that miserable afternoon.

It was after three that afternoon before I finally got out of there.  And I was looking at the looming threat of more days of Warper testing in the near future.  I was going to have to figure out the marginal utility of the process for me, if I was going to be spending huge chunks of my life in the testing labs.

I walked back to my room.  I ate a couple yogurts so my stomach stopped feeling so yucky.  Then I showered, so the rest of me stopped feeling so yucky.  I had sweated up a storm in the labs.

Then I rounded up Fey and Lancer.  I got both of them in my room and explained, “I need the two of you to help me with some private powers testing.  I don’t think I’m finding out enough from the testing-lab wonks.”

Nikki giggled, “They didn’t know what to make of me, either.”

Hank grinned, “Yeah, my Powers Lab instructor and my martial arts teachers have been way more useful to me.”

I said, “Exactly.”  I looked at Nikki.  “First I want you to put up a really strong force field, and I want to see if I can phase through it.”  I turned to Hank.  “Then I want you to crank up your PK field, and I want to try to phase through that.”

Hank shrugged, “Sounds easy.”

Fey went first.  She closed her eyes and concentrated, until I could feel something like a huge static charge between us.  I went heavy and pressed against her field.  It glowed in green fractals as it held me.  I went light and tried again.  The field held me like I was powerless.  I tried going disruption-light.  Nothing.  I couldn’t get through that field no matter how I changed my density.  It was doing something really powerful.  I didn’t know what, but I knew it was too strong for me.

Then it was Hank’s turn.  I went heavy and pressed as hard as I could.  Nothing.  It was like pushing against a mountain.  I went disruption light and pressed against him.  His PK field kicked in instantly, pressing back so painfully that it hurt too much to press in any farther.  At my super-lightest, I was able to press into his PK field enough to make him say “hey”.. right about the time his field kicked in and knocked me silly.

I came to as I was flying through the air roughly in the direction of Dunwich.

Damn, that hurt!  His field had knocked me unconscious for a couple seconds.  But that was enough time that I had flown through a couple walls and away from Poe.

I had to go heavy and drop to the ground in order to stop flying backward any farther.  I hit the ground with a crunch and sunk two feet into the ground.  Then I went light and flew back through the dorm to my room.

Hank and Nikki looked pretty worried.

“Are you okay?”

“Jesus, I thought I’d killed you!  What happened?”

After I explained what had happened, and I thanked them for helping me, I shooed them out.  Then I took several Tylenols.  I still hurt everywhere Hank’s PK field had blasted me.

I sat at my desk and thought it over.  I was in trouble against any PK superman who could lift a lot more than I could.  Anything less, and I might be able to beat him by going heavy and fighting it out hand-to-hand.  And I was in trouble against any sufficiently powerful mage.  And I was in trouble against Psis with strong PK force fields.  And Energizers with force fields.  For that matter, Energizers with big energy zaps, any time I was light or normal.  And then there were devisors and gadgeteers with good force field projectors.  And avatars with force fields or field-like properties.  Plus I couldn’t stop speedsters and lots of fliers, since I was so damn slow.  And I was weak to psi and magic in general.

Man, I needed more holdouts.  Or better powers.  Or something.

That evening, Hank showed everybody “The Great Escape”.  I thought it was a great choice.  I remembered watching this movie maybe four times with Mother.  Mother loved everything Steve McQueen had ever done.

The only problem was that thinking about watching old movies with Mother - and thinking about never being able to see movies with Mother again - made me burst into tears.  I had to leave before I humiliated myself in front of everybody.

At least Vox came into my room and hugged me until I stopped sobbing.  We held each other for a while, and then we kissed for a lot longer…

Monday, October 2

I was so tense that I woke up fifteen minutes before my alarm was set to go off.  I was so tense that I didn’t even enjoy the showers.  Fey and Tennyo and Chaka were in there, showering and getting ready.  But I was so nervous that I couldn’t enjoy the view, as I usually did.  Chaka was smiling and joking, but I was so tense I could hardly floss properly.

I dressed in my Whateley uniform, even if it was non-standard.  I seemed to be the only ‘girl’ who was allowed to wear pants with the Whateley blouse and blazer.  That was going to suck for a lot of those girls when it was snowing like crazy in January and February.

Everyone wore their school uniforms.  Nikki looked awesome in hers.  I mean, Tennyo and Chaka looked good.  Really good.  But Fey looked impossibly good in hers.

We gathered as a team in the hallway, and walked off together to a tense breakfast.  Lancer looked determined, and unwilling to let this stop him.  Tennyo looked like she hadn’t eaten since Labor Day.  As usual.  Jade and Fey looked worried.  Chaka was her usual bouncy self.

Holy crow, didn’t anything get her down?

Maybe this was one of her superpowers.  She had this; Jade had the Big Sad Puppy Dog Eyes; and I had the ability to be crabbier than a PMS-ing Nikki.

Then it was time to head over to Schuster Hall.  Toni had me in front with her.  Nikki and Hank moved into flanking positions like we had rehearsed it.  Jade and Billie took up rearguard positions.  Toni started marching, and I found myself falling into lockstep.  Then everyone was marching along with Chaka.

We took the admin offices like Sherman marching through Georgia.  Hartford tried what had to be a standard for her.  The ‘ignore the students and treat them like their time is worthless’ maneuver.  Oddly enough, that made me feel a lot better.  If her bag of tools was this limited, we were in better shape than I had anticipated.

When she finally let the secretary usher us into her ‘space’, as if we hadn’t been standing ten feet from her the whole time, we marched forward in lockstep.  I still don’t know how Toni managed it.

Hartford immediately went for the intimidation factor.  She didn’t even try to keep the malicious smile off her face as she said, “I suppose you know why you’re here.”

Toni promptly demonstrated that she was the right girl for the job.  I had figured she was going to try to pull a Vox.  But I hadn’t really thought she could do it.  I was really, really wrong.  Her voice wasn’t loud, or abrasive.  But it carried through the entire area like she’d used a PA system.

Holy crow, was there anything that girl couldn’t do?

She trumpeted, “Yes we do.  We’re here to find out why nothing has been done to investigate the abduction and possible murder of Jinn Sinclair.”

I was surprised to see how much that rattled Hartford.  Was she that used to bullying students?  Or was this a sign of some sort of guilty knowledge?

“What?  That’s not it at all!  You’re here to explain why we shouldn’t expel the lot of you!”

It was obvious to me that Toni had her off-track, so I used the opportunity to really derail her.  “Ms. Hartford, I just want you to know that we don’t believe the rumors.  In fact, we’ve been asking people not to spread such malicious gossip.”

She snapped her head to look at me.  “Rumors?”  She seemed completely off-track now.  Good.  I didn’t think we could keep the pressure up indefinitely, but I didn’t think we needed to.

Toni whipsawed her by saying, “I’m sure there’s no truth to them, Ayla.  Let’s just move on to the investigation, and the progress you’ve made so far.”

Hartford jerked her head in that direction and muttered, “What are you talking about?!”

Toni calmly went back to her agenda.  “Why, the investigation into the abduction or murder of Jinn Sinclair.  Didn’t I mention that?  I’m sorry.”

Hartford finally got herself back under control.  Sort of.  She yelled at us, “First, all of you, SIT DOWN.  That’s an order!”

Okay, she didn’t have herself under control.  Good.  Fey magically yanked chairs out of cubicles for us to sit in, and intimidated the hell out of Hartford in the process.

After that, it was all downhill for Hartford.  Toni badgered her about Jinn.  I hammered her about her ‘notorious preferential treatment for Alphas’.  We had her so rattled that she could hardly control herself when the headmistress showed up.  And once that happened, Hartford was toast.

It turned out that Tansy had mysteriously made a confession over the weekend.  So apparently, Jinn could do more than write letters in Tansy’s body.  That bitch Tansy was in big trouble, the Alphas were being investigated, and the Alphas were going to get a week of detention right after our week at Hawthorne.  Nice.  We ended up with everything that Hank was aiming for.

We marched out, apparently unmoved by Carson’s decision.  But as soon as we were out of earshot, we were whooping and hollering and hugging and doing everything except running up the walls.

Okay, Toni did run up and down one wall a couple times.  But that was it.

I even got to my first class on time.  Of course, since it was Costume Shop, that wasn’t really a plus.

The staff might have heard about our meeting with Hartford.  They might even have heard that we shredded her.  Because my lunch was magnificent.  Just amazing.

Chef Marcel had for me a Parisian salad of crisp-tender blanched fresh asparagus and haricots verts, with baby lettuces, grape tomatoes, and sliced purple basil leaves, all tossed with a delicious dressing.  The balsamic vinegar and virgin olive oil was blended with Dijon mustard, some minced shallots, fresh tarragon, and thyme.

Chef Peter handed me a rich stew of cubes of braised pork.  Along with the pork were perfectly-browned garlic and sliced onions.  The savory pork broth and hearty apple cider of the stew had just the right amounts of coriander and cinnamon and kosher salt.  Then chopped dried apricots and chopped prunes were added and cooked down until they melded their flavors with the pork.

And, as if those two weren’t the perfect meal, Chef André had a French apple-almond tart for me.  The perfect, flaky crust had a hint of brandy in it, while the filling was rich with ground almonds, more of the rich brandy, vanilla bean, and just enough sugar to create a rich, caramelized framework for the sliced apples that covered the filling.

Man, that meal was so good that I ate all of it.  Then I had to pay my compliments to all three chefs.  I was so full that I felt like I was rolling to aikido instead of walking.

Ito sensei seemed to have been briefed on the Saturday breakfast brawl, because he was really on my case.  I didn’t want to think about what he was going to do in sixth period, when he’d have five of Team Kimba’s seven to berate.

When we were all back at Poe and (supposedly) studying in the Kimba Korner, we started discussing our detention notifications.  Tennyo The Indestructible was all set to let some uncontrolled siren girl blow out her eardrums or something.  Jade was actually considering doing the cleaning for a ‘skunk girl’ who couldn’t stop stinking.  And Toni was thinking about the kid who generated 8 Gs and couldn’t turn it off.

I looked over the list.  I thought Frostbite, the girl who couldn’t control her freezing power, might be okay if I was heavy.  The kid who couldn’t stop generating that 8G local gravitic field might be okay if I went light first.  If I had zero mass, 8 times zero is still zero.  But then what would I be able to do for him?  Maybe the PK supergirl who couldn’t turn it off, if I could go heavy enough to handle getting accidentally smacked by her.  Still, that was a pretty big ‘if’.  Or…

You know, there were actually possibilities for me.

Tuesday, October 3

Ahh, now that I was more relaxed, the morning showers were once again a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

Especially with Rip doing that upright jacuzzi thing with the shower wide open.

And with Verdant getting a better handle on staying flesh-toned instead of being green all over.  Man, is that girl stacked!  Okay, the prehensile tail and the second, smaller pair of arms are a bit odd.  Not that I had any room to talk, when it came to bodily weirdness.  Plus, this morning she was smelling like peaches.  I hadn’t realized she had some sort of control over some of her secretions.

And with Chaka drying off one-handed while doing her hair with the other hand.  Which seemed to mandate that she be stark naked the whole time.

And with Jay Jay zooming in with no clothes and no towel, only to find that none of the showers were open, so she had to stand there, buzzing like a hyperactive bee, waiting for the next open shower.  At which point she zipped in, showered in twenty seconds, and hopped out.  Only to realize that she was sopping wet and still had no towel.

And with…

Well, it was all good.

At breakfast, I got another note from Admin.  I had more powers testing.  Great.  So I ate, got a to-go cup of the good coffee, and headed on over to the powers testing lab.

“All right, Phase.  We’re finally done with the Warper testing.”

“Definitely.”

“Well, for now.”

“We’re pretty sure.”

Yeah, right.  I’d seen these guys in action, so I wasn’t buying that at all.

Dr. Hewley said, “Though we might want you back after Mister Clark and Doctor Quintain design a new quantum chromodynamics test suite and a new trans-dimensional hyperspace measurement system for cases like yours.  They’re really interested in your separation of gravitational and inertial mass.  But I figure you have a couple months on both of those, since they’ll have to design the things, and build them, and test them, and debug them.  Oh, but you might get to help in the testing phase!”

Ooh.  A chance to be a guinea pig for bizarre devises.  How nice.  I could hardly wait.

Of course, I didn’t say that out loud.

So we trekked over to one of the older powers testing labs that were still up and running.  Lab E.  Was that ‘E’ for ‘Exemplar’?

Could be.  It looked like we were in a normal sort of ‘testing’ room with academic types of stuff in the far right corner, and athletic types of tests on the left-hand side of the room, and a small conversation pit with computers on my immediate right. 

Hillary was setting up some material on one of the desks over on the right, and she gave us a big wave.  Okay, most of that wave was probably for Jared Shandy.

They started me on mental tests.  Sean Clark sat me down on the other side of a desk and showed me a computer screen.

He started out with lists of one-syllable words, flashed on the screen in increasingly short time intervals, until I only had time to spot the first one or two words.  Then he started over with two-syllable words.  Then three-syllable words.  If I could read the words, I could remember them with pretty high precision.  Pretty good memorization skills, but definitely not eidetic memory.

Then he gave me a pamphlet on the Constitution of Karedonia, complete with commentaries on some of the articles of constitution.  He said, “Okay Phase, read it as fast as you can, and then we’ll test you on it.”

I frowned, “As fast as I can how?”  He didn’t get what I meant, so I explained, “I mean, do you want me to read it at study speed, scan speed, or skim speed?”

He stopped for a second and finally turned around.  “Rich!  I have a problem!”

Hewley and Shandy both strolled over.  I had to explain for all of them, “This is something I learned in sixth grade.  It’s a study skill.  Skimming speed is the speed you read when you’re only trying to pick out the main ideas of the text.  Scanning speed is slower than that, when you need to search for key words or phrases or ideas.  Study speed is for critical reading that requires you to get everything in the text, possibly with memorization of important passages and such.”

Hewley scratched his head, while Shandy did a little Quintain impression, stroking his chin until Clark had to try hard not to snicker.  Finally, Hewley said, “I think that you’d want the study speed, so you can answer all the questions on the test we have.  But it might be really interesting to try this with three different pamphlets, at all three reading speeds.”

So I read the pamphlet on the Karedonian Constitution at study speed, the pamphlet on the history of the Thule Gemeinschaft at scan speed, and the pamphlet on lacrosse legends at skim speed.  After each one, I had to take a quiz on the material, and the quizzes were detailed enough that only a study speed would suffice for half the questions.  An eidetic memory was needed for some of the questions.

It turned out that my new, faster reading speeds were faster than I thought.  My scan speed was nearly as effective at memorizing everything as my study speed.  Maybe I was wasting a lot of my time by reading slower than I thought I needed to, when I was reading critically.  And my skim speed was nearly as effective as a scan, so perhaps I needed to try to make my skim speed even faster than before.

Then it was time for the mental math.  They flashed random patterns of dots up on the screen, and I had to tell them how many dots were in the pattern.  They flashed algebraic and trigonometric formulas up on the screen, and I had to memorize the formulas, then solve them in my head.  Right in the middle of solving a complicated trig formula, there was a tweep behind me.

“AAAAAGGHHH!”

It felt like I’d been hit by a lightning bolt.

I fell out of the chair and writhed in pain.

Hillary rushed over and helped me up.  “I’m really sorry, really.  But we have to do it somehow…”

Mister Clark walked up from behind me and tugged the taser probes out of my back.  Ouch!  He winced, “I’m sorry, Phase.  But we have to have some way of testing for a danger sense.”

It was pretty obvious that I didn’t have one.  I sure could have used one right about thirty seconds earlier.

Dr. Hewley said, “We were going to give you the Xavier test, but our records say you once spent a large portion of a summer working with upper-level staff at Goodkind Research, so we figured you would already know all about it.  That tends to invalidate the results.”

Well duh.

Not that getting hit with a surprise wrecking ball while doing sprints on a running machine would have been better.  And the fact that I had actually played Dis-Chess before would completely skew the results on that test.

When I felt better, they sat me at a computer and let me type as fast as I could for a couple minutes.  It turned out that my old 40 wpm typing rate was now a whopping 95 words per minute.  I mean, I’d been writing papers for a few weeks, so I knew I was typing faster than before.  But 95 wpm?  Holy crow!

After that, they had direction sense and time sense tests for me.  Nothing’s more fun than sitting blindfolded in a chair and trying to guess when thirty seconds is up.  Except being blindfolded in a chair, being spun until you’re nauseous, and trying to guess which way is north.

They told me that I did somewhat better than the average baseline, but not more than three standard deviations above the baseline mean.  Which meant that I wasn’t really doing better than normals could.

I wasn’t too worried.  I could always wear a watch and carry a compass.

Then they checked me for heightened senses.  My hearing and eyesight were good for a baseline, but nothing spectacular.  My senses of smell and taste were really keen, definitely better than an ordinary baseline.  But they always had been.  I didn’t think they had really improved any.  My sense of touch was just plain ordinary.

It turned out I was slightly better with my left hand than I used to be, but I was a long way from being ambidextrous.

They took me over to the ‘conversation pit’ and had me sit with a couple espers who tried to read my mind while I did my best to block.  I did difficult math problems in my head and tried not to think about anything useful.  They told me that I could probably benefit from more work on psi-blocking techniques.  That was a nice way of saying I’d done a shitty job of blocking them.

After that, I had to change into running togs and get on the treadmill for an hour.  I sprinted, and jogged, and sprinted, and ran, and sprinted some more.  It turned out my top speed was 28.4 miles an hour, which was absolutely amazing for a baseline, and incredibly lame for Whateley.  My endurance was marathon-runner level, but nothing like what really high-level Exemplars could do.

I managed a dead lift of 475 pounds, which was pretty amazing for a hundred-pound baseline teenager, but utterly pathetic by Whateley standards.  I had to stand on a scale while I did the lifts, so they could be sure I wasn’t going heavy and fudging on the tests.  Well, I could have cheated on the running tests by going light to improve my endurance, but I didn’t see any point.  I wanted to get properly evaluated even more than they wanted to evaluate me.

They tested my reflexes with a computer game that kept speeding up until my little character got smeared.  Then they evaluated my throwing skills and my aim.  I had to throw baseballs and darts and even shuriken.  I thought I did really well, since my aim had really sucked back when I was Trevor.  They thought I was ‘okay’.

And then they did the ‘durability’ studies, which were never going to be my favorites.  They jabbed me in the arm with spring-loaded needles until I had a dozen bleeding spots on my forearm.  It turned out that my skin was roughly 17% tougher than normal for a baseline.  Which was nothing around here.  I mean, we had Exemplars who could probably take rifle fire off their hides.

After I dressed in my own clothes again, we sat in the conversation pit and Dr. Hewley gave me the news.

He led off, “Well, we’re still not sure about your GSD, but you definitely have a BIT…”

“I could have a BIT and also have GSD?” I wondered out loud.

Dr. Shandy nodded, “Oh yes, definitely.  You can be an Exemplar or Shifter, and still have GSD.  Possessing a BIT and having GSD are two separate issues.  We have people here on campus who have both.”

“Like who?”

They gave each other uncomfortable looks.  “Like Fubar, for instance.”

FUBAR?  Were they yanking my chain?  Why the hell would anyone name himself Fubar?

Dr. Hewley said, “So we’ve concluded that you’re definitely an Exemplar.  We are putting you at Exemplar-3.  You showed the mental skills of an EX-4, but we’re pretty sure that goes with your prior mental abilities and training before you manifested.”

Thinking it over, I should have known.  I had all the indicators: mental developments, physical changes, increased strength and speed and endurance, improved kinesthetics.. just not the Exemplar body type I would have preferred.

Dr. Shandy said, “And, since we have time, and Dr. Quintain came up with some more questions…”

Oh no.

“… We’ll go back to Lab W for some more Warper testing.  But you won’t have to change clothes.”

I knew I shouldn’t believe those dorks!

Okay, the tests that they had weren’t that bad.  In fact, they were pretty intriguing.

They gave me a one-pound sphere crammed full of instrumentation, and had me hold it as I went light, and then went heavy.  If I was careful, I could make the sphere change density with me.  I had to do that about twenty times, while they hovered over nearby monitors and made noises like a ten-year-old boy getting chocolate candies on Valentine’s Day.

After that, I had to hold the sphere, go light, and set it on a scale.  It stayed light for a moment, then went to normal density on its own.  It turned out that if I let go of something I had phased, it would stay phased for up to almost a second.

“Okay Phase, now try going light while holding the instrumentation package, and stick it into the middle of this plastic cube.”

Not too hard.  I held the sphere, went light, and stuck my hand into the cube.  Then I opened my hand and left the sphere there.  I pulled my hand out, and…  Nothing happened.

“Phenomenal!  Look at this!”

Okay, they sure thought something had happened.

I walked over and looked at their monitors.  The instrumentation package was intact, but buried inside the cube.  The plastic that it had replaced was simply disintegrated.

Hey, I could disintegrate stuff without hurting myself!

After that, I had to try to find the sphere just by touch.  I had to swish my hand around at something less than fully light, and I was able to feel a difference in.. well.. it felt like texture or solidity or something, but it was probably density.  And I could feel the difference.  It took me three tries, but I managed to get a grip on the sphere and yank it back out.  The monitors showed that there was now a hole left in the middle of the cube where the sphere had been.

So next, Sean Clark had three small water balloons for me.  Each one was about three inches in diameter.  I went light and put one partway into the cube.  In a second, it went normal, and just sat there bulging out of the cube.  Sean popped it with a pin, and the water splashed onto the floor.  The balloon fell out with the water.  And there was a hole left behind in the plastic.

Wow!  Okay, I admit it.  This was worth missing classes.

The other two balloons I put farther into the cube, and both popped when they went back to normal density.  Dr. Shandy thought that the difference was the amount of volume that had to withstand the trans-location of the subtending matter.  Just like when I disintegrated materials by touch.  The more matter I disintegrated, the more energy impinging on me, and the more it hurt me.

After some more replicates of the same tests, they had me try the other case.  I held the instrument sphere and went heavy, then set it on a scale.  The sphere didn’t always go to exactly the same weight, but I was getting roughly a twenty-fold increase in density each time.  And the sphere would go back to normal density in just under a second most of the time.

They had no idea if I would be able to make objects stay light or heavy longer with practice, but it was worth trying.  And they had no idea what my upper limit on external volume would be, but that too might improve with practice.

So the next step was violent fun.  I held the sphere, went heavy, and threw it at a bullseye on the metal wall.  I was denting the wall with the instrument sphere, but each time the sphere was momentarily dense enough that it could survive the impacts.

Hmm.  I wondered if I could hold a two-pound water balloon, go heavy, and make it weigh maybe forty pounds, then heave it like a boulder at someone.  The evidence would splash away in a second.  Heh-heh.  Maybe I could do that with just a handful of water and no balloon…

“Phase?  Phase?  Please pay attention.  Would you try hold the ball bearing next?”

They had a massive solid steel sphere that was supposedly a two-inch diameter ball bearing.  Sean showed me how to throw the sphere like a major league pitcher.  Once I got the movements down, I could really heave that sucker.  They had a radar gun that said I was cranking that baby at 140 or 150 mph.

Holy crow!  Let’s hear it for the Exemplar-3 body!

“Now try holding it, going heavy, and throwing it as hard as you can at the target.”

Okay!

It turned out that I could hold a ball bearing, go heavy, and turn it into a super-dense throwing weapon.  My top speed on their radar gun was holding a more-than-one-pound ball bearing, going dense until it weighed 27 pounds, then hurling it at the test bullseye at 153 mph.

It put a hole in the metal wall.

Holy crow!

Sean Clark looked up from his monitors and grinned, “Excellent!  29,420 joules of kinetic energy, plus or minus about 10 joules.”

Holy crow!

After the new tests, they sat me down and gave me the good news.  Dr. Hewley smiled, “So, Phase.  Our final eval is that you’re an EX-3/WA-4db;gi;eb.”

I stared at him in surprise.  “But that’s not what Sunscreen said.”

Dr. Shandy laughed, “You can’t believe what Sunscreen told you!”

I insisted, “But she does powers testing for the West Coast League!”

Clark snorted, “Yeah.  And she’s really bad at it for lots of kids.”

Hewley grinned, “I’m sorry, Phase.  But Sunscreen is so bad that…”

Clark laughed, “…she’d probably list Champion as an EX-6/EN-5!”

Shandy and Hewley both broke out in laughter.

“Remember the Shifter 5 that she thought was an Exemplar 2?  Hah-hah-hah!”

“Whoo!  Remember the EN-5 that she thought was a Mage-3?”

“Ah-hah-hah-hah!”

You had to be there.

Okay, I was there, and I didn’t think it was that funny.  You had to be there and also be a powers testing wonk.

While they were laughing themselves silly telling Sunscreen jokes, Hillary led me out and helped me get changed back into my regular clothes.

She looked around to make sure no one was listening, and she whispered, “Jared said I was really good at racquetball, and he’d teach me to be even better!  We’re playing together three times a week!”  The last bit was almost in a girlish squeal.

She gave me a huge hug and smiled at me with tears in her eyes.  “This is so great.  I can’t thank you enough!”

Man, was she gaga over that guy.  I thought he was a really lousy choice for a boyfriend.  But what did I know?  I wasn’t ever going to be in the market for a boyfriend.

I gave her a little advice while I laced up my shoes.  “Okay.  But he’ll expect you to actually improve over time.  So don’t mess around.  If you ever get to the point where you’re as good as he is, just let him win by a couple points.  Beat him once in a while, when you think he wants to see some improvement from you.  But guys need to win a lot.”

“Gotcha.”  She gave me another hug, and escorted me to the reception area.

The guys in Lab W were still howling with laughter about Sunscreen.  “Oh!  Oh!  Remember the faux-Exemplar she thought was an Avatar-3?  Ah-hah-hah!”

I left the testing area.  As I walked through the tunnels, Automa-tech came around a corner.  As soon as she spotted me, she flagged me down.  She broke into hasty Spanish, “This is so convenient.  I won’t have to track you down later.  You must come with me.  I want you to hear this.

She led me past a Security guy and into a lab full of devisers and gadgeteers who were working away on weird hardware I couldn’t begin to understand.

Jim Hewley was there, and was obviously preparing to make a big announcement.  He had two non-devisers standing with him.  One of them, Unicorn, I knew.

He held up the mike and clicked a button on its side.  I thought he had it too close to his face, but the mike was probably gimmicked to handle feedback and misplacements like that.  He grinned, “Good news everybody!  We finally have an official - or rather, an unofficial - date.”  That got a host of snickers.  “The 35th annual Whateley Weapons Fair will be on Sunday, October 22nd, in Devisor Lab 4, starting at 1 pm.”

“All right!”

“This rocks!”

“Hey, I’ll have my taser grenades tested by then!  Cool!”

Triaxial and Automa-tech explained it to me.  “We always try to give enough time for the frosh devisers and gadgeteers to have something ready.  And we try to give all those dorks a chance to test their gear first, but it’s always alpha-test stuff.  REALLY alpha-test.”

“Oh, and you’re not allowed to bring Glitch, no matter what.  Got it?”

“Glitch?  Oh my God!  Did you hear what he did to his roommate’s Whateley laptop?  Twice in one day?”

“Glitch?  Oh Jeez, did you hear what he did to Mega-death’s latest robot, just by walking past it?”

Unicorn glared at me, “You’re not allowed to bring Glitch, and you’re not allowed to tell him about the Weapons Fair, and you’re not allowed to give him any information if he starts getting suspicious.  Got it?”

I thought about Renshaw walking through this place, with all this unprotected hardware lying about, and I just cringed.  “Got it.”

Jim quietly explained to me, “We were going to have it on Thursday the 19th this year and catch the Security guys flat-footed, but we had to scrub that idea.  Mister Sticky, the inventor of the self-cleaning rapid-fire pastegun, is giving a guest lecture that day in Workshop, and no one wanted to miss that.”

Someone behind me burst out, “Mister Sticky?  You’re kidding!  He’s great!”

I had to ask.  “Mister Sticky?”  They were kidding, right?  I mean, could there be a lamer name?  Other than ‘Clothes Ghost’, that is.

Someone actually answered me.  “Mister Sticky!  He’s a genius!  He invented the first glue that could hold a brick!”

Another voice behind me jumped in, “He invented the first gluegun that could reliably switch between DermaGlue, BrickGlue, SuperGlue, and UltraPaste.  Everyone else’s stuff jams because the glues interact.”

“Hey, are you talking about Mister Sticky?  I can’t wait until he comes.  He’s the greatest!  Did you see his formulations for UltraPaste II and UltraPaste III?  The guy’s unbelievable!”

“Mister Sticky?  Oh, he’s awesome!  Did you read about how he tested his first capture gel, back when he was still at Whateley?”

“Did you see the schematics for his latest glue launcher?  I just downloaded them from his website.  Come over here and take a look…”

“Man!  Nanomolecular adhesion controllers.  Wow!”

“And look at this!  Field generators that actually control the subtending van der Waals forces!”

C’est incroyable!

“OOOHH!”

“Wow, that’s cooler than his glue cannon!”

“Do you think he could make that in an egg shape?”

I don’t think a single person noticed when Unicorn and I walked out.

 

I got back to the dorm to find out that I had missed the really important stuff.  Jinn had returned to Jade!  Jade was out cold, sleeping on her bed, but Jeanie and Tennyo explained it all to me.

I said, “Okay, but we need a full debriefing as soon as she’s able.  Jinn knows more about Tansy and the Alphas than anybody else at this school.  Even more than Security does.  Probably a lot more than that Hartford bitch thinks she does.”

Tennyo snapped to attention, gave me a mock salute, and said, “Aye aye, sir!”

Wednesday, October 4

I was drying off when I heard the good news.  Jade was awake, and she was fine.  This was good on several levels.  More than one utterly naked girl was so happy that she gave me a huge hug.  And you haven’t lived until you get hugged by a naked Bunny.

Okay, I was so happy that I was hugging people too.  It was the girls’ bathroom.  It wasn’t like I was giving Lancer or Flux a hug.

Jade was just glowing with pleasure.  It was great seeing the little squirt so happy, after the crappy week she’d had.  Thanks to that bitch Solange.

All of Team Kimba went to breakfast.  We had Sara with us too, and even Bugs and Riptide came along.  We grabbed a table far enough from anyone else that we could talk, and Bugs checked for eavesdropping devises.

You’ll be totally shocked when you hear this, but her detector was egg-shaped.  A pastel green egg with enough frou-frou on it that someone might have mistaken it for an edible Easter egg.

Jade filled us in with as much intel as she dared discuss in the open.  She had some additional details that we would be discussing in my room later on.  Definitely not in the cafeteria, with its freaky acoustics.  Not to mention that I wouldn’t put it past the Alphas to have someone following us around with a rifle mike.

I wouldn’t put it past a couple of the Alphas to follow us around with a rifle.  Period.

Some of what she had to tell was astonishing.  She was dying to be a real girl, and she’d been able to take over Tansy’s body, and she hadn’t done anything with it?  If I’d been inside, say, Aries, I would have been going wild with a real guy body.

Oh yeah, the stuff about Tansy and the Alphas was pretty interesting too, even if she couldn’t dish the real dirt in public.

Jade finally got down to business, “So here’s the thing.  Toward the end, Tansy was seriously angry at three of us.  Mostly me, ‘cause I shot her.  She was pretty pissed at Fey, too.  I think it’s the whole modeling thing.  And Ayla was the third.  Partially some childhood history, I think, but it was also your whole...” she momentarily dropped her voice to a whisper, “girl/guy thing, you know?  I couldn’t figure her out.  She was halfway attracted and halfway scared.”

Oh my God!  That fat ugly pimply toad Tansy Walcutt, halfway attracted to me?  The girl I most hated on the entire planet?  The girl who had gone out of her way to make my life miserable from second grade onward?  I’d rather hear that Cataclysm wanted to put one of his creepy tentacle-things up my butt!  “Thank you!  That’s more than I want to know!  Let’s not go there, okay?”

She said, “Right.  Anyway, we’ve got three people that she’s really p.o.’ed at, and money to burn, and a history of hiring out murders...  And I suddenly thought...”

Tennyo nodded.  “I think we get the picture.”

Nikki shook her head in astonishment.  “No way!  That sort of thing doesn’t really happen, does it?”

Poor, naive Nikki.  Someone was going to have to explain to her how the world really worked.  Not that I was going to do it here, in the open.  Heck, Tansy’s father, Old Man Walcutt, was a member of the Trilateral Commission, and there were rumors he was an upper-level member of the Brotherhood of the Bell, who were some seriously unpleasant people.  I wouldn’t put assassinations past him and his ‘brotherhood’, so I certainly wouldn’t put it past Tansy.

I snorted.  “The Walcutts?  Are you kidding?”  But there was no way I was going to discuss unsubstantiated rumors about the Walcutt family out here.  I went back to the topic.  “Although, frankly, I’m shocked that Tansy would be so careless.  But then, she’s always been pretty sloppy.”

I held up my hand and started ticking off major issues.  “Let’s see, first, when you’re doing anything dirty you never make the contact directly.  It’s always done through at least one level of intermediary.  And you always maintain ‘plausible deniability’.  You know, the old ‘misunderstood wishes’ thing.”

I put up another finger.  “Second, violence is so completely looked down on.  It’s just so.. blue collar.  What are we, a gang?  Some sort of Mafia?  Although...  With a name like ‘The Don’ you have to wonder...”

Toni interrupted, “But you punch people, Ayla.  Doesn’t that violate rule two?”

I waved her off.  “Nah.  I’m a mutant.  Different standards.  Also, face-to-face stuff is completely different.  But then, I’m violating rule three as much as Tansy is.  That is, ‘breeding always shows’.  I think Grace worked most of that out of me.”

I held up another finger.  “And rule four isn’t so much a rule as a philosophy.  ‘Always do it in style’.  Assassination or some such crass physical attack is so totally lacking in style.  But...”  I thought it over and shrugged.  “...If your question is ‘Could Tansy do it?’ the answer is, ‘Hell yes.’  She wouldn’t bat an eyelash over it.  It wouldn’t bother her at all.  On the other hand, ‘Would Tansy do it?’  I don’t think so.  Not unless she’s completely slipped up on anything like style or class or respect or class consciousness.”

Fey frowned, “Thanks.  That makes me feel just soooo much better.”

I shrugged again.  “Hey, no problem.”  I mean, she wanted the truth, didn’t she?

I headed off for my first class.  And, just to brighten up a day with detention looming that afternoon, more Alpha wannabe’s had to get in my face.  I knew it was going to be trouble as soon as I spotted Farrago and Talos making a beeline for me.

I was so not going to put up with this crap.

I went disruption-light.  I let them and their girlfriends surround me.  Then I turned and gave the shortest of the set a nasty smile, “Why, Glissade!  How nice to see you again!  Been knocked on your ass by helpless blind devisers lately?”

Talos leapt to her defense, “Shut up, freak!”

But there still were enough snickers around us to make Glissade really angry.  She glared at Farrago.

He started, “Look loser, don’t mess with the Alphas!  You’re on our shitlist now.”

I gave him my nastiest glare.  “Look Farrago…”  He blinked in surprise.  “Yeah, I know who you all are, and what you can do.  And what you can’t do.  So I know you’re picking on the wrong kid!  I just fought Skybolt and Kodiak.  And you all know I’ve fought Aries.  And Icer.  And Hamper and Damper.  But you dolts just don’t learn, do you?  First, I win the fights.  Second, the one time I lost the fight, I got even.  In fact, I got way more than even.  Ask Aries and those dorks how they liked being locked down in Hawthorne for a couple days.  Third, I’m also strong on the revenge factor.  You don’t want to find out what I can do when I’m pissed off at you.  So just get out of my face, and stay away from me!”

Farrago growled, “Nobody talks to us like that!”

I snapped, “Then they ought to start.  Because you have ten seconds to get the fuck out of my face before I start leaving unconscious bodies all over the hallway!  Remember what happened to Aries?  What’s this entire hall of students going to do to you after you’re out cold on the floor?  What are all these students gonna do to your unconscious girlfriends?”

The girls really looked worried about that.  I would have been, in their place.

But Talos didn’t take the hint.  Lots of bricks are like that.  They’re so used to shoving everyone aside to get their way that they forget they’re not truly invulnerable.  He took a swing at me.  His fist lunged into my stomach.  But I was disruption-light, so it sent jolts of agony tearing up his arm.

“AAAARRGGHH!!”  He screamed in pain and jerked his fist back to cradle it against his chest.

I stepped forward, right at Farrago and Glissade.  She scrambled back, while he still wasn’t sure what to do.  If he didn’t fight me, he’d look like a loser.  If he did fight me, he might end up like Talos.  Or worse.

I went really light and walked right through him.  He tried to dive out of my way.  I made a hasty grab into his backpack and tried to disintegrate a handful of his books and stuff.

I came away with a handful of textbooks and notebooks.  Not the entire books and notebooks, just a big handful out of the middle of the stack in his backpack, along with some canvas from the backpack and half of two mechanical pencils.

I stared at the handful of junk in my hand, and I realized something astounding.  I COULD CHANGE SOMETHING ELSE’S DENSITY IN PASSING AND WALK OFF WITH IT!

I needed to show this to the testers right away!

I turned to the dorks on the floor - Talos trying not to scream in pain while Glissade held him, and Farrago trying to get back to his feet after an embarrassing dive for safety - and said, “Gotta go.  I’ve got an appointment.”  Then I sank through the floor and into another hallway.

I did wonder what Farrago was going to do when he opened up his backpack and found a big handful of his important books and papers had been ripped out.

I whipped open my cell phone and called Dr. Hewley.  I managed to get an appointment in powers testing lab W at 11 am.  I would have preferred to miss Costume Shop, but getting to miss Powers Theory would have to suffice.

By the time I arrived in Lab W, they had all the equipment set up for me.  And Dr. Hewley had several stacks of paper out of the recycle bins on which I could practice.  I managed to walk off with a handful of the paper on twelve out of fifteen tries.  Dr. Hewley thought that was really good, but I thought it was a sign that I needed a lot more practice at this.

Then they put objects in the stacks of papers and had me reach through to see if I could differentiate the objects or even grab them.  That was a lot harder.  But I managed to yank the metal objects out from the papers most of the time.  And I was sort of feeling the difference in density - or something - between the objects, so I could make grabs at them.  But this was going to take practice.  Lots of practice.

They kept me at it until I missed lunch.  Fortunately for me, Hillary dashed out and got me my usual last-second powers testing lab meal: a grilled chicken sandwich, prepared by someone who knew what they were doing.

Dr. Hewley was insistent that I be really careful with this latest ability.  “Phase, this is important.  You don’t want to accidentally rip a handful out of someone’s chest.  You could kill them!  This is a really dangerous ability, and you need to be really, really careful with it.  Okay?”

Like this was any more dangerous than just sticking my hand into someone’s chest and going heavy, disintegrating a huge hole in their body?  Or trying to knock out someone with my phase-KO and getting knocked for a loop at the same time?  I’d been thinking about the hazards of my powers for a lot longer than he had.

After classes, Team Kimba trekked over to Hawthorne to start our week of detention.  Jinn was really going all-out.  I wasn’t sure what she was going all-out for, but she was doing it.  She was pure white - she admitted she was using ground chalk for her skin - and she was wearing a ragged black bandeau top with matching ragged micro-miniskirt.  Of course, since she had blossomed to about 5’7” with a sixteen-year-old’s figure, she was dying to flaunt it.  But I could understand that.  If I’d suddenly shifted and had a body like Pendragon’s I’d be running around in muscle tees and bike shorts, showing off my bod to everyone in sight.

I’d never been in Hawthorne, but I’d heard about it.  GSD cases who were otherwise able to cope went into Twain and Whitman.  Hawthorne was for the kids who had powers that they couldn’t control.  Powers that made them a threat to others, or made everyone else a threat to them.  Energizers who couldn’t keep from blasting everything in sight.  Psis and espers who couldn’t control their powers or couldn’t shield themselves from the world.  Bricks who couldn’t control their strength.  People with bizarre BITs or hideous GSD who couldn’t live without special assistance.  Those kinds of kids.

I was complaining.  Of course.  Toni had told me I ought to change my codename to ‘The Complainer’.  Billie had heard that and suggested ‘Kvetch’.  Which I was sure was Yiddish.

I groused to Hank, “It was a lot easier thinking about the whole ‘Cooler King’ approach when we weren’t so close to the problem.”

Hank just waved me off, “Hey, if it was easy, no one would be impressed.”

Everyone else went off on the subject of choices for detention.  I was still focusing on what was bothering me.  Namely, what would a dormful of GSD cases and mutants struggling with their disabilities want to do to a Goodkind?  I just had a feeling that I was in for the kind of week that David Duke would get if he had to go work as a waiter for an NAACP convention.

We walked in, and we met the house mother.  Actually, she was more ‘house’ than ‘mother’.  She was a huge, ancient, immobile structure.  She looked old enough to have once been Mrs. Ryan’s nanny.  She was in an oversized wheelchair, and she filled it completely.  And it wasn’t really a wheelchair, since it had no wheels.  At the four corners of the base, the chair had glowing golden softballs, and there were more control knobs on her armrests than on an entire set of stereo system components.

She zoomed up to us at a really surprising speed, and got right in Toni’s face.  I was impressed.  It took a lot to slow Chaka down, but Mrs. Cantrel had it.  She had Jade and Jinn bustled off to help Jello and Musk, respectively, before you could sneeze.

Then she turned to me and said, “Phase?  I think you should start with cleaning Fubar’s pool.”

Holy crow, you mean there really was a guy here named Fubar?  And he had his own pool?

I shrugged, “Okay, how do I get down there?”

She smiled wickedly, “Oh, Louis will show you.”  I really didn’t trust that smile.

“Louis?” I asked.

“That’s me.”  I turned around at the voice, and a guy I KNEW hadn’t been behind me a second ago was lounging carelessly against the wall.  He looked really ordinary, and way too old to be a student.  This guy was an Exemplar?  And had GSD too?  I didn’t think so.

He waved me toward the stairs, and he led me downward.

I asked, “Aren’t you a little old to be a student here?”  I mean, surely they hadn’t flunked him 23 years in a row or something.

He smiled, “No, they haven’t flunked me 23 years in a row.”

I nearly tripped on the stairs.  Holy crow!  That was some esper talent!

He blithely agreed with what I hadn’t said out loud, “Yes.  That’s why I’m not only one of the inmates here in Freak Central…”

“Okay, I was definitely NOT thinking that!”

He went on, as if I hadn’t complained, “…but I’m also one of the senior instructors in the Psychic disciplines here.”

He led me past a door that had a sign reading “FUBAR” with a picture of a cartoon character that looked like an anthropomorphic octopus.  Was there a joke there?

The pool wasn’t a swimming pool.  It was a massive specimen tank.  There were complex aerators and pumps on one side of the pool.  Somehow, there was thick slime all over one edge of the pool and the equipment mounted at the edge.  Some of the goo was drying to a nasty, crusty mess.

And there was something hideous and grotesque at the bottom of the pool.

Louis smiled a bit.  “Yep, hideous and grotesque.  That’s me, all right.”

I was really getting fed up with that mind-reading bit.

I said, “That’s you?  No way!”

He gave me a brittle smile.  “Phase, what you’re seeing in front of you is only a mental projection, with some PK tossed in to give me substance and the appearance of physical abilities.  The real me?  That ‘something’ down at the bottom of the pool.  Come on over here, and get a better look.”

He led me down a staircase to a huge window looking into the bottom half of the pool.  He flipped a switch, and the pool was illuminated enough that I could see what was down there.

My stomach roiled horribly, and I nearly bolted up the stairs.  OH.  MY.  GAWD!

I was pretty unhappy about my GSD, but…  Oh my God, his GSD made Igneous and Montana look like Brad Pitt!  He didn’t even look like he could ever have been human!

Now I got the joke about the cartoon character on his door.  Some joke.  NOT!  It was a joke about as funny as giving a cripple a rubber crutch.

I was looking at a huge thing with a gigantic head that had waving, writhing, rubbery tentacles instead of a lower face.  It was a sickening off-white instead of a human color.  It had a massive, bloated body that was definitely not human.  It didn’t even look like its joints were mounted like a normal mammal’s.  It had massive claws instead of hands.  Coming out of its back were these grotesque wings that looked more like a bat’s wings than anything that lived underwater ought to have.

Fubar looked into the pool at his real body and calmly said, “I have the distinction of being the most severe GSD case ever to survive.”

Holy crow.  I mean, HOLY CROW!  Looking at his body, lying there on some sort of padded frame, I just wanted to run upstairs and hide from that thing.  All the horrid mutant monstrosities Mother had ever talked about, including Tearaway and Cataclysm, had nothing on this.  And he had to be sensing exactly what I was feeling, which made me feel even worse.

Louis gently said, “Come on, Phase.  Let’s go upstairs, so you can get started.”

I managed to say, “How can you be so together about this?  I mean, you know I’m a basketcase, and I’m just looking at you.”

He said, “Twenty-some years ago, when this happened to me, I was a basketcase too.  Over time, I adjusted to looking like that.  But it took a long time.  Just like it’s going to take you a long time to come to grips with your body.  You don’t just go through a really unpleasant change and then the next day say ‘hey, this is okay, I think I can live with this’.  No, you go through a lot of pain and a lot of time, on your way to ‘I have to live with this because I am stuck like this for the rest of my life’.”

He ushered me up the stairs, and I walked up, leaving him down below.  But he was waiting for me when I reached the top of the staircase.

Oh, right.  Mental projection.

He pointed to the goop floating in the water, and the crud stuck on the poolside and machinery.  “I need pure water, or my sinuses clog up.  And when that happens…”

Holy crow.  Monster snot.  I was going to have to spend the next couple hours cleaning up monster snot.  He looked at me, and stopped explaining, so I knew he had picked up on my little burst of understanding.

Before I could ask where the supplies were, he pointed at a closet off to the side, marked “Cleaning Supplies”.

This mind reader stuff was getting pretty darn old.

Louis raised one eyebrow and said, “Then stop projecting so hard.  I’m trying not to read your mind, but it’s like you’re carrying a lighthouse around, and you want me not to notice you turned the beacon on.”

Just then the door opened, and several kids who had to be Hawthorne residents ambled in.

In the front of the group was a massive guy I’d seen before.  He was huge.  About the size of Igneous.  Jet-black.  And he looked a lot like a live action version of Captain Gantu from “Lilo and Stitch”.  When he walked through the halls between classes, people got out of his way in a hurry.  He boomed out, “Hey Foob, we just came down to make sure the Goodkind kid doesn’t do anything she shouldn’t.”

Behind him were five more kids who all looked like someone who wouldn’t trust a Goodkind.

There was a ‘creature from the black lagoon’ type wearing something like scuba gear.  But the facemask was obviously full of water, and the big, rectangular tank sloshed, so it was probably full of water too.  That told me that the kid was breathing oxygenated water, instead of air.

There was ‘aerial boy’ whom I’d seen that day in the tunnels with Malachi.  Energy bolts were arcing from the tips of the metallic rods sticking out of his body.  He was still in that thing that looked like an adult-sized toddler walker, with radar dishes to siphon power off him.  I wondered how safe he was around a pool of water.  He was standing back near the door, but I still wondered if he was a safety hazard in here.

There was a kid wearing rubberized coveralls that were attached to his boots, with sleeves that came down to attached gloves.  He would have looked ordinary, other than his choice of clothing, except that he was COVERED in mucus.  I mean, he had an inch-thick layer of slime all over every square inch of his body including his hair, and his coveralls were bulging with quarts more of the stuff, and it was leaking out of his collar to ooze down the front.

There was a kid maybe even shorter than me, who was wearing a massive electronics-covered helmet which looked several times too heavy for his neck.  I didn’t know what the helmet did.  But it was obvious that the kid didn’t like it.  So it had to be keeping him from doing something.  Probably something psychic, like PK blasts or super-telepathy.

And finally, there was a guy inside a metallic spacesuit with a square facial window that looked like it was an inch of leaded glass.  The guy looked like he was glowing with some kind of green radiation, so maybe the suit was designed to protect everyone else from what he was giving off.

I looked at all of them and gave them a smile I didn’t really feel.  I mean, they had already admitted that they were there because they didn’t trust me.  They knew I was a Goodkind, and they were obviously holding that against me.  I said, “Hi.  I’m Phase.”

Not one of them answered me.  Boy, you could just feel the love.

So I got to work.  I put a liner in one of the trash cans, and scooped snot out of the pool, using the skimmer net.  That pretty well filled one bag.  I got another bag set up.  I emptied the filters into it.  Then I used a shovel-like scoop to get up all the large gobs on the machinery and the side of the tank.

The huge onyx-black ‘Captain Gantu’ guy growled, “You’re leaving a lot of stuff behind.  You gotta do a better job than that.”

I put the shovel down and turned to talk to him.  I figured I’d better be ready in case this devolved into a fight, because he looked like he’d be pretty comfortable in the water, and I’d be in trouble if he got me underwater and I couldn’t get away from him.

I said, “Of course I’m leaving the finer stuff behind.  You want me to do a good job, right?”

“Course.”

“Well, I’m trying to be efficient, so I get everything done before it’s time to leave.  That means I get all the work with the shovel done first, then all the work with the finer tools next, and all the detail work last.  Switching back and forth between tools would be really inefficient, and would take a lot longer than it would take me if I…”

I heard something to my right, and I turned just in time for a huge, translucent yellow-ish blob to fly out of the pool and hit me square in the face.

Actually, since the blob was about three gallons of Fubar snot, it hit me square all over.

At first, I didn’t know what had hit me.  I couldn’t see, and I couldn’t breathe, and I was covered in stickiness.  My first thought was a terrifying scene from the movie “Alien”.

But then I realized that the entire room was rocking with the laughter of half a dozen guys.

Oh.

I’d been slimed.

I went light and tried to walk out of the stuff.  Almost all of it fell to the floor with a disgusting splursh as I moved to the side.  Since I was light, the splatter went through me, instead of onto me.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get all of the slime off like that.  There was still a thin coating all over my face and hair and clothing.  I was going to have to wash up.

The guys hadn’t stopped howling with laughter by the time I walked up to the big guy.  I put on my blank ‘there is nothing wrong here’ face.

I carefully wiped my face off with both hands, and said to him, “Hey big guy, where’s a bathroom?  I need to wash up a bit, so I can get back in here and finish up.”

Not that I WANTED to come back, but I was not going to let these jerks see how humiliated and hurt I really felt.  I was not going to let them know how much I wanted to leave and never come back.  I was not going to let them see me quit.

The big guy smirked, “Phlegm’ll take you over to Washroom 3, and…”

Fubar popped into existence beside us and smiled, “I think Washroom 2 would be a lot better, since Phase is a girl.”

The big guy didn’t like that, for some reason.  But he wasn’t going to disagree with Fubar.  “Sure.  Whatever you say, Foob.”  He turned to the slime-covered guy and said, “You heard the man.  Washroom 2.”

Phlegm led me out of the room and then off to the right, down a long hall, to a washroom that had little sliding panels on the door.  One of the panels was an Occupied/Vacant slider that was set on ‘Vacant’, and one was a Boys/Girls/Neither slider set on ‘Boys’.  Below those two was a set of sliders for ‘Psi danger’, ‘Energizer danger’, ‘Brick danger’, and several other possible kinds of threats that might be inside.

Phlegm reached over and moved the sliders to ‘Occupied’ and ‘Girls’ and ‘No danger’.  He said, “There’s a lock on the inside for privacy.”

“Thanks.  But I doubt there’s any such thing as privacy around here with Fubar popping in wherever he wants.”

He waved that off, “Oh, the Foob wouldn’t do a thing like that.”

“Would you, if you could?”

He insisted, “Naah.”  I just glared at him.  “Okay, sure.  But not in here.  The girls aren’t that hot.  Now if I could do that in Melville, or Poe, or Dickinson…”

I told him, “Well then, you’re losing prime girl-watching time.  While you were down here, Fey and Tennyo and Chaka are loose in the building.”

“FEY?”  His eyes bulged.

“Yup.  Nikki Reilly.  In the flesh.  Probably bent over, cleaning something, that cute tush sticking out, wiggling carelessly…”

He took off down the hall. 

I smirked to myself as I stepped in and locked the door behind me.  Like that was any help at Whateley.

I surveyed the damage.  My shoes were surprisingly clean.  Besides my face and hair and arms, my shirt and pants were a mess.  So I walked out of them.  I checked again.  My bra and undies were clean.  Good.

I washed up at the big industrial sink, washing my face and hair until I didn’t feel covered in snot.  Then I went light and let the water fall to the floor.  My hair was still damp, but otherwise I was good.  I scrubbed my shirt and pants, and put them on.  Then I tried going light again and letting the water drop off my clothes.

It sort of worked.  The loose water dropped off, but the clothes stayed uncomfortably damp.  Well, it wasn’t like there were hair dryers or an infrared heater in here, so I’d just have to live with it.

I stepped out of the washroom, to find Mrs. Cantrel floating there with that evil grin.  I said, “Excuse me ma’am, but I have to get back to Fubar’s.  There’s more snot to clean up.”

She smirked and said, “I think you cleaned up enough for today, Goodchild.”

“Goodkind.  And I didn’t finish.  There’s more work to do.”

She smiled, “That’s all right.  We have more of you Kimbas.”

I insisted, “Goodkinds don’t quit just because the job is hard.”  Not that I was looking forward to dodging snot-bombs for another hour, but I was not going to let those jerks see me quit.

She said, “I need you to go up to Compiler’s room and get Chaka for me, and then go over to Frostbite’s room on third floor, and help her with her math.”

She zoomed off, while I walked up the stairs to find Compiler’s room.  I got directions from a couple kids watching the television, and arrived just in time to hear a terrific crash.  It sounded like someone had smashed two elephants together.

I hurriedly opened the door to see if everyone was okay.  “What’s going on here?”

Because Chaka was lying on her back, on the floor, with this Exemplar brunette with a cartoon-ish figure lying on top of her.  Dang!  Couldn’t that girl keep it in her panties during detention?  I smirked, “Tsk, tsk, tsk.  Toni, aren’t you having enough problems with Rip as it is?  If word of this gets around…”

But before I could needle her a bit more, Mrs. Cantrel came zooming up behind me.  What, did she have a seismograph in all that instrumentation?

You know, considering where we were, that could be a good idea.

Cantrel snapped, “What’s going on here?  No, I don’t want to know.”  She turned to me and ordered, “You.  Goodchild.  Get her off your friend.  I have another job for her.”

I reached down and grabbed Betty Page, and…  Jeez!  She was way heavier than she ought to be!  I went heavy and heaved her upright.  Dang, was she a quarter ton of steel, or something?  I watched as Mrs. Cantrel chivvied Chaka down the hall like a goosegirl with her flock.  Then I headed off to my next job.  Frostbite, up on the third floor.

I got to what looked like the door to a refrigerated meat locker, or maybe a really large refrigerator.  There was a little clear-plastic plaque carved to look like a piece of ice, and engraved with the word ‘FROSTBITE’.  I figured I was in the right place.  I knocked on the door.

In a few seconds a petite girl with dirty blond hair stuck her head out.  “Yeah?  What?”

“Mrs. Cantrel sent me up.  She said you could use some help with math.”

She looked at me in alarm.  “Are you using too much mousse, or are you wet?”

I shrugged, “I’m kind of damp all over, right now.  Accident downstairs.”

She stepped out of her room.  I saw that she was wearing a Captain Cold-style parka with the fur-lined hood down.  She waved her hand, and the water slid out of my hair and clothes to form a swirling mist that coalesced into a good-sized ice cube.  The ice dropped to the floor.  I picked it up and dropped it into a nearby wastebasket.  The wastebasket had several chunks of ice floating around in water.

She admitted, “Yeah, that’s all mine.  I’ve got to keep it warm and dry in here.  I have a PK talent that’s attuned to water molecules, but I can’t keep it from working.  If I start working with water, the water freezes, everything ices up, I get my butt frozen off, and.. well…  That’s why I missed a week and a half of classes already.  I caught pneumonia.”

Got it.  Ice powers she couldn’t control, and no resistance to the cold she creates.  Suck-o-rama.

I stepped into her room, and it was toasty warm.  She had a massive set of heater panels suspended over her bed, an upright heater across the room by her desk, and a dehumidifier the size of a refrigerator in the far corner.

She grimaced, “I really need help with my geometry.  But you look like a freshman.  Can you really help?”

I said, “Sure.  I took geometry last year.”

“You’re a junior?”

I shook my head no.  “Freshman.  But I’ve been taking advanced coursework for several years.  I’m in trig/pre-calc with the juniors and seniors this term.”

She finally grinned.  “Neat.  I could use some help.  I’ve been doing a lot better than last year, but I had this dream about two weeks ago, and frosted the room up, and gave myself a bad cold, and then I froze the place up again, and got pneumonia.  So now I’ve got to get caught up on everything.”

We sat down at her desk, and I said, “So show me what you’re working on.”

“I got the types of angles down. But I’m stuck on the homework on these postulate things…”

“Oh!  They’re easy.  Let’s just go over the list of postulates you’ve seen so far, and then we’ll tackle the homework on them.  Some of these, you need to treat like a brain teaser.  You look at what you have to start with, and what you have to end up with, and you think about what you can use to get you from A to B.”

I was able to get her nearly caught up with her geometry homework before Mrs. Cantrel showed up and told me it was time to leave.

So dinner was pretty wild, with everyone else talking about the interesting times they’d had at Hawthorne.  Somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to describe being humiliated with gallons of monster-snot.  I did manage to warn them to watch out if they had to clean Fubar’s pool.  And I told them a little about helping Frostbite with her math.

Tennyo talked about her adventures, and even made them sound funny.  Although she warned us about the toilets.  The stuff in there was so hideous that she couldn’t even describe it.

Something that scared the hell out of Tennyo?  Oh my God, I didn’t want to know.  I didn’t even want to think about it.

Then we hiked back to Poe, and found Hippolyta glowering around the mailboxes.  Some Alpha wannabe from Emerson had tried to steal a message to Jade.  A DVD to Jade.  A semi-porn DVD, sent to Jade.. by Jade.  Well, by friends of Jinn while Jinn was still trapped in Tansy’s body.

Okay, I had to see this one.

We could have used the holographic projector on my computer, but Bugs had a big-screen projector that was probably really cool.  And it was Tansy Walcutt, the notorious lesbo-hater, making out with a hot babe.

Tansy?  The person I hated most on the planet?  I didn’t know whether to barf or get a throbbing erection.

So we watched the DVD.  And that was so not Tansy.  It was so obviously Jinn - well, one of the J-Team - in that body, moving like Jinn, and acting like Jade.  But it was a hot seventeen-year-old Exemplar body.  By the time the DVD wrapped, I had a boner you could have used to hammer nails.

By the time Hank and Bugs and Rip were lobbying for a fourth showing, I was about to have to change my underwear, if you know what I mean.

But Tennyo and Chaka had some really relevant points, which I would have made if I could have managed to make my throat work just then.  Tansy was a major danger, and this would make things worse.  Extorting money from Tansy to get the DVD back was a Class A felony, and the Walcutts could probably make sure that every judge who heard the case was in their pocket.  Deciding to become a blackmailer was NOT a good career move.

It was hard to see Jade as a candidate for going over to the Dark Side of the Force, but I was still sort of worried.  I mean, Anakin Skywalker started out as a cute, adorable tyke too.  I’d have to keep an eye on her.