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

Ayla #4: “Ayla and the Tests” 

- a Whateley Universe Tale

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

CHAPTER 4 - The Capture of Cerberus

Saturday, October 14

I woke up extra early.  We all had to.  We needed to be downstairs before daybreak.  The campus shuttle would take us over to the Berlin train station, to catch the pompously-named Grand Miskatonic Shuttle into Boston.  Even though it was a high-speed train, we still had to leave Berlin well before sunrise in order to get into Boston at a reasonable hour.

Chou hopped up from her bed when my alarm went off.  “This should be very interesting.  I’m ready to go.”

I made some brilliant riposte, like, “Ugh.”  Maybe it was “Muh.”  At any rate, I wasn’t bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, like some people.

She grabbed her stuff and rushed off to the bathroom.  I slipped out of my red silk pajamas and into my bathrobe.  Then I grabbed my shower kit off the back of the door, and followed Miss Perky Morning Person to the bathroom.

Tennyo was already in the showers.  Oh yeah, she got up really early on Saturday mornings for that Flight class.  She was probably used to this.  Still, getting to see Tennyo naked and drying herself off was certainly a plus.

Chou was in the left-hand shower.  I could tell because her stuff was hung on the outside of the shower.

Chaka was in the middle shower.  She turned off the water, but didn’t emerge.  I watched, and sure enough, after a few seconds, there was a spray of water that flew upward and spread all over the place.  Since it mostly went into the neighboring showers, no one was complaining.  But I was sure it was one of her ki tricks.

She hopped out stark naked, which was always a sight to see.  She hooked her bathrobe with one finger as she stepped forward.  She flung it into the air, and put her arms up.  The bathrobe drifted forward and fell onto her arms, sliding perfectly over her as if Jade was animating it.

Holy crow, was that another ki trick?  Was there anything that girl couldn’t do?

While Chaka brushed her teeth, did her hair, and put on underarm deodorant simultaneously, I slipped out of my bathrobe and quickly showered.  I did my ‘go light and drop off the water’ trick and slipped the bathrobe back on.

By then, a yawning Fey was dragging herself into the bathroom.  “Doesn’t anybody else think this is too darn early?”

I contributed, “I sure do.”

Chaka bounced, “Hey, the early bird gets the worm!”

Chou added, “He who refuses the warmth of the dawn gets only the heat of mid-day.”

I told Chaka, “Got news for you, Toni.  I’m not interested in eating worms.  You early birds can have ‘em all.”

Nikki yawned again and tilted her head toward her roomie.  “Yeah, when life hands her worms, she makes worm-ade.”

Billie chipped in, “Mmm-mm, that’s good bass!”

I snickered at the Saturday Night Live ref.  My brother Paul had a ‘Best Commercials of SNL’ DVD, and I’d seen that parody.

Rip and Bugs came in, arguing about the time.  Rip fussed, “Still, this is just too early!”

Bunny perked up, “No it’s not!  This is just when we need to get going.  By my calculations, we’ll just meet the shuttle with three-point-four minutes to spare.  With a standard error of seventy seconds.  I did a dry run with Egbert and Sniffer last night.”

Tennyo stepped out of the shower in nothing but a towel and said, “What I want to know, is when do we eat?”

I said, “I think everyone in New Hampshire knew you were going to ask that.”

Tennyo started drying off her back, leaving her front completely exposed.  And jiggling wildly.  She said, “Hey, I’m just a growing girl!  I have to keep my strength up.”

I smirked, “No problem.  They’re going to have a couple cows on the shuttle, so you can have a quick snack.”

“I don’t eat live stuff!” she insisted.

“Yeah, that’s Sara’s thing,” said Chaka.

Rip groaned, “Oh God, can you imagine Sara and two cows?  We’d be covered in that blue dust stuff.”

I watched as Fey undressed and stepped into the shower.  Holy crow, I was never going to get tired of that.

Jade came in, already dressed in dirty clothes.  She was yawning hugely, while two pair of gloves were working hard at scooting her along and getting her ready for a shower.  I wondered how fast she could shower if she had her hands doing, say, her hair, while Jinn did her front and Jann did her back.  Then she could dry off with three towels simultaneously.

Tennyo asked, “Hey, did you really get up three hours ago to pull a super-early shift in the sewers?

Jade yawned so wide I wondered if her lower jaw would fall off.  “Uhh.  Yeah.  Jinn and I were cleaning these spring-loaded grates that Stan and Morrie can’t get to.  They’re in these tiny access tunnels just off the main tunnels.  There’s about twenty of them, all downhill from Melville.  Stan said they got built back when they built Melville, and they had a sewer technician who did this Plastic-man thing where he stretched out his arms and reached up into the access tunnels.  But now they really need someone like me and Jinn, because the grates get blocked up with leaves this time of year.  I cleaned one side of the grates, and Jinn did the other side, and we had ‘em all done in a few hours.  But I’m so ti-iii-iii-ired!”  Her yawn was huge enough that I could have inspected her uvula.  Maybe even her liver.

I think Jade would have fallen asleep in the shower if Jinn hadn’t kept her moving.

Chaka asked, “Are we missing anyone?”

I didn’t have to look around.  “Nope.  Sara doesn’t need to shower or anything.  And Hank will be ready on time.  Mister Military never has trouble getting up when he’s supposed to.”

Chou was drying off, which was really hard not to watch.  She was slender and athletic, instead of curvy like Vox and Fey.  But she had a great bod.  And she jiggled a lot when she dried off, because she still dried off like a guy.

Okay, so I watched her in the mirror while I flossed.  So sue me.

I left the bathroom about the time that a yawning Jade was being dried off by a towel that was insisting, “Come on, you just have to get dried off and dressed, and then you can sleep!”

As I walked back to my room, I thought about the class I was going to be skipping today.  World Lit was going to be pretty interesting, since we would be discussing The Faerie Queene, and I expected a lot of interesting ideas from Pendragon.  Majestic might even have something worth listening to, since there wasn’t anything about the Greek or Roman Gods to derail her.

I had already emailed Professor Zinn my signed excuse for being absent.  But I figured that he would still be cranky about it.  I’d already emailed in my paper, complete with some really arcane refs I’d gotten from Nikki.  And I already had a topic in mind for my paper on Orlando Furioso.

I got dressed before Chou came back into the room.  That seemed to work better for both of us.  She really didn’t want to see my dick hanging loose while I put on panties, and I really felt embarrassed about having her see it.  I mean, she may have been a boy not that long ago, but she was obviously bothered by the sight now.

So I had my panties and bra and black Gloria Vanderbilt stretch jeans on before she got back to the room.  I pulled on a tank top and a long-sleeved pullover top.  Then I made sure I had my utility belt.  I slipped it on under the pullover, so it wouldn’t show even when I had my coat off.

Chou put on her usual outfit of yoga pants and top with mandarin collar.  One of these days, she was going to have to find something else to wear.  I teased her, “Hey, you know that they don’t make yoga pants and mandarin tops for swimwear, so one of these days you’re going to have to buy something else.”

She sort of shuddered, probably at the idea of buying girls’ swimwear.  She muttered, “Don’t remind me.  I do not even have to think about that for at least half a year.”

“Don’t you have some pithy Chinese saying about people who put off until next year what they could be doing today?”

She rolled her eyes.  “Yes.  We say ‘firefly who pesters girl with magical sword ends up being de-lighted’.”

I snickered, even though her joke was pretty weak.

I laced up my Doc Martens, and Chou slipped on her shoes.  We grabbed our coats.  I grabbed my daypack, while Chou slung Destiny’s Wave over her shoulder.  I still wasn’t used to it, but that sword did something funky and magical when it didn’t want to be seen.  So the sword and scabbard and even the carrying strap all just sort of faded away until they were nearly invisible against Chou’s coat.  We headed out the door together.

Sara was already in the common room talking to Tennyo and a blanket.  The blanket was floating along beside Billie, while a tiny girl snored gently within it.

The blanket said, “Well, what I’m worried about is Billie eating everything in sight, so there’s nothing left for me when I wake up.”

That girl needed to invent some new pronouns.

Tennyo complained, “Hey!  I’m not that bad!  I’m not going to make everyone else go hungry!”  She thought a second and asked, “Are we gonna have enough food?”

I said, “Yeah.  The cafeteria’s got some box breakfast stuff for us.  It should already be in the shuttle.”

Billie’s eyes gleamed.  “Well then, let’s get over to the shuttle!”

Sara smiled, “Let’s wait until everyone else is here.”

I pointed out, “That way, no one can accuse you of wolfing down all the food first.”

She gave me an aggrieved look.  “Why does everyone always think I’m the one who ate everything?”

I pretended to look at the ceiling and think it over.  “Could it be because you eat roughly the same amount per day as a full-grown killer whale?”

“I’m not that bad…”

The blanket helpfully said, “Don’t you remember the pizza night?  You had two entire pizzas just for you.  And you already had a big dinner first.  And then you ate all the slices that were left.”

“I burned off a lot of calories that day!”

But you can’t win against a blanket.  I mean, if you triumph in the argument, congratulations!  You outdid a piece of fabric!  Plus, this blanket knew about every single meal Billie had eaten in the past month.

The blanket said, “Did you mention that you already went over to the cafeteria and had a super-early breakfast - like you always do on Saturdays - before you came back for a shower?”

“Well, I have to keep my strength up…”

The blanket pushed onward, “And what about all those lunches where you grab eight or ten half-sandwiches?  For starters?  And does your mom know you’re eating a couple pies a day?”

“Okay!  Okay, already!  I give!”

Good strategic move there, Billie.  Ratting you out and telling your mother that you’re eating way too many desserts?  That trumps pretty much any boarding-school argument about eating.

Billie had this sort of ‘Rodney Dangerfield as a hot teenaged girl’ look on her face, as she fumed about being picked on.  By her sleeping roommate.

By then, Fey and Chaka had joined us, along with Riptide and Bugs.  Fey asked, “Hey!  Where’s Lancer?”

Sara answered, “Oh, he’s already outside, flagging down the shuttle for us.  It’s pulling up now.”

Chaka said, “Who’re we missing?”

The blanket replied, “No one.  We’re ready to roll.”

A soft snore came from out of the depths of the blanket, making me wonder if everyone was ready to roll.  I hoped the blanket didn’t lose its charge at some inconvenient moment, like just as it was carrying Jade over railroad tracks to the train.

We piled into the shuttle.  The driver closed the door behind us and drove off, down toward Dunwich.  As he did, I wondered if someone in Admin was grouchy about us getting to go into Boston without a chaperone.  I didn’t really think a thirteen-year-old half-demon who used to be twenty-six would count as reputable adult supervision.

Frankly, I hoped Amelia Hartford was at home with a miserable case of heartburn over us getting away with this one.

Tennyo interrupted my unkind thoughts, “Hey, what about food?”

Lancer of course jumped all over that, “Yeah, I’m ready for breakfast.”

The blanket cuddled Jade on the back seats and said, “Yeah, save something for me!”

I muttered, “Watch the pronouns there, please!”

Rip agreed, “Yeah, breakfast would be good, even if it’s really early, but I’m hungry, so maybe we oughta go ahead and eat, if we have food here, and if we don’t there’s probably somewhere to eat at the train station, and anyway…”

Bugs spotted the huge, insulated cooler in the seat in front of her.  “Here it is!  I hope it’s good!”

I just smiled.

She opened up the lid, and savory aromas drifted all through the shuttle.

Suddenly, Tennyo’s stomach rumbled like an erupting volcano.  “Sorry!  I can’t help it!  That stuff smells really good!”

The driver spoke up from the front seat, “Yeah, I gotta admit, it smells great.”

I said, “We’ll be sure to save you something.”

He called back, “Hey, thanks!”

Bugs started doling out breakfast sandwiches from the styrofoam container.  “Okay, this big thing says ‘Irish all-day breakfast sandwich’.”

“Me!” Tennyo bellowed like a Marine DI.

“Me too!” Lancer called.

Bugs handed several of the half-foot sandwiches back to the heavy eaters.

She looked some more.  “Okay, these are labeled as ‘bacon tomato and egg sandwiches’.  Who wants one?”

As the bacon-tomato-and-egg treats were getting passed around, Tennyo and Lancer were saying, “Hey, these things are really great!”

Chou spilled the beans.  “Ayla talked the chefs into making us some special breakfast sandwiches.”

“Ayles…”

I frowned, “Look Toni, what’s the harm in using a little pull so we get some decent food, instead of a bunch of junk only Billie would want to eat?”

“MMM!”  I think she meant to say ‘hey!’ but she had most of a half-foot sandwich rammed into her mouth.

Chaka sighed in resignation, “Okay, what weird stuff did you get us?”

I pretended to have to think about it, even though I knew exactly what Chef Marcel and Chef Peter had put together for me.  “The bacon-tomato-and-egg sandwiches are thick-cut bacon, a tangy tomato chutney, arugula, and a scrambled egg-and-cream mixture, layered on toasted sourdough…”

“Hey!  I want a couple of them too!” Tennyo insisted through a mouthful of sandwich.

I continued, “The ‘Irish all-day breakfast sandwich’ is half a foot of soft baguette, sliced in half, with lengthwise-sliced, grilled pork sausage, fried eggs, and Irish bacon…”

Hank interrupted, “Yeah, they’re really good!”

I nodded his way and went on.  “Then we have sage buttermilk biscuits.  Half of them are sliced in half with melted cheddar and grilled sausage patties.  The other half are for the vegetarians among us.  They don’t have the sausage in them.”

Fey and Chou both signaled for Bugs to fish some of those out.

“Then we have some breakfast burritos.  They’re made with real chorizo, diced fried Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped tomatoes, shredded queso blanco cheese, some diced jalapenos, red and orange sweet peppers, and cumin and fresh cilantro to taste, all rolled up in grilled tortillas.”

Rip instantly waved to Bugs, “Toss me one of those!”

I added, “Then we have some toasted poppyseed bagels with cream cheese and capers…”

Fey fussed, “Not with just butter?”

I said, “Just try them.  Okay?”  Then I wrapped up, “And there should be a plastic tub full of to-go cups of coffee.”

Jinn burst out, “Holy crap on a popsicle stick!  Did you bring the entire cafeteria?”

I muttered, “Says the one person in here who doesn’t eat…”

I managed to get a breakfast burrito and a bacon-tomato-and-egg sandwich.  I would have loved to try more of the sandwiches, but I was stuffed after those two.

We saved a sage buttermilk biscuit with sausage, and a bagel with cream cheese and capers, for Jade.  I slipped a breakfast burrito to Ed our driver, who hid it in his bag down to the left of his seat.  Good thinking.  Tennyo would never get to that one.

Meanwhile, Tennyo and Lancer went through the rest of the food like a convention of tapeworm sufferers.

Tennyo munched around a whole sandwich, “Mm-la, veese ‘re reawwy gooh.”

Fey agreed, “These buttermilk biscuits are amazing!  They’re so light, and fluffy, and the herbs - did you say sage? - are great!”

Chaka admitted, “Yeah, Ayles.  You really outdid yourself this time.  I was figuring on sumthin’ weird like those icky little finger sandwiches you see in movies about rich people.”

I laughed, “Oh yeah, that would go over big with this group.  The shuttle would show up in Berlin, and Billie would get arrested for eating the rest of the team!”

Tennyo fussed, “Why does everyone always pick on me?”

Chou quietly said, “I have never had poppyseed bagels, and not with cream cheese or those little green things, but that was really, really good.”

“Capers,” I explained.

Rip put in, “The breakfast burritos were great!  Not enough jalapenos on them, but really good.  Almost as good as my Tia Marcella’s.  How the heck did you get a bunch of gringos to make fresh tortillas like these?”

“Oh, she probably just paid a couple Mexican chefs to fly up here from Mexico City and whip out a few dozen tortillas for her…”

I grimaced, “It’s so rewarding to put forth this kind of effort and get all these heartfelt thanks…”

I noticed that there was nothing left by the time we drove into Berlin.  Between Billie and Hank, we were probably lucky that the styrofoam cooler hadn’t been eaten too.

And maybe a couple of the upholstered seats.

Bugs waited until we stopped at the train station.  Then she gave me a big hug and said, “That was great!  I knew it would be cool to be the gadgeteer for a group like TK, but I never knew that super-groups like this had their own caterers…”

I smiled, “As far as I know, it’s just us.”

Jinn floated off the bus, carrying Jade.  Nikki frowned at that, then wiggled her fingers in a way that made my eyes tear up.  Suddenly, Jinn the blanket sort of transformed into a seventeen-year-old Oriental girl.  If I looked really carefully, I could tell that it was an illusion.  But I figured it was more than good enough to pass muster in the pre-dawn darkness.

Lancer walked past and gave me a low-five.  “Yeah.  Ditto.  With food like that, it’s no wonder you keep sneaking over to the food line and getting your own stuff.”

Oh well, so much for my subtle style.

Chou quietly murmured, “Those biscuits were better than the homemade biscuits out at the Lovelace Café back home.  I am going to be so spoiled after rooming with you…”

Nikki waited until everyone else was done, and then she buttonholed me.  “Ayla, how much did you spend on that breakfast?”

I asked, “Does it matter?”

She frowned, “Of course it matters!  You must’ve spent five hundred bucks on this!”

I said, “Look, if you had a thousand dollars spending money for the year, would you be willing to spend ten bucks on your friends now and then?”

“Of course.”

I was counting on her saying that.  I said, “So it’s okay to spend a mere one percent of your pocket money on your friends now and then.”

She glared, “I see where you’re going with this.”

I said it anyway, “Well, I figure that I have eight-point-five million dollars of flexible spending this year without eating into my capital.  One percent of that is $85,000.  So I should be able to spend that much on my friends, now and then.”

She fussed, “Ayla, I’m not comfortable with you spending money on us like this.  It’s too much.”

I told her, “All right, I spent $570 on breakfast, but only because I insisted on Marcel and Peter paying themselves $80 an hour.  I’ve spent that much on a single brunch, just for myself.”

She gaped in shock.  “How could you spend that much on brunch for one?”

I told her, “Blinis made with real beluga caviar.  Fresh beluga caviar, flown in the night before from Russia.”

“Oh.  My.  God.”

I smirked, “I believe F. Scott Fitzgerald said it.  ‘The rich are different than you and me.’  Hemingway supposedly replied, ‘Yes, they have more money.’  But it works either way.  I have enough money that I can easily afford to do nice things for you guys.  And I’m not running myself into bankruptcy.  I’m only working with the interest accruing from my liquid investments.”

She shook her head slowly.  “I have this feeling that some day, someone’s going to piss you off, and suddenly the entire national economy will turn and attack them.”

I didn’t tell her that a couple of jerks had already come pretty close to having that happen to them.

We walked through the Berlin ‘train station’, which was roughly the size of a decent depot.  We picked up our train tickets and walked out to grab an empty car.  Most of the passenger cars were completely empty, so we had our pick.

We piled in, and got settled.  I took a window seat, and Chaka sat next to me.  A blanket drifted down onto the seat on Chaka’s other side.  Then it shook its passenger until a sleepy Jade said, “Huh?”

All the blanket said was “Charge.”

Jade murmured, “Oh.  Okay.”  She rolled over, and the blanket carefully wrapped around its passenger.

About twenty minutes later, the train started up.  We rode down to Boston on the Grand Miskatonic Shuttle, which hadn’t been ‘grand’ since Jacob Astor rode in it.

I had wanted to go with a different option.  But I couldn’t get a large enough limo to drive all of us in comfort to Boston and back, and Team Kimba had voted me down on my renting a limo for us while we were in Boston proper.

Honestly, didn’t these girls know what Boston’s light rail and taxi cabs were like?

Oh well, it would do me some good.  Maybe I would see how many times I could avoid using the phrase ‘hoi polloi’.  Maybe we’d have fun staring at all the other rail passengers.  Maybe, after getting sick and tired of lugging all their purchases around town, they’d admit that my idea was a good one, and they’d let me call one of the limo services.  I hadn’t told anyone, but I’d called and reserved a limo just in case.

Toni and I were pointedly ignoring the game going on in the facing seats.  Billie and Nikki were turning Hank inside out while they practiced their ‘feminine wiles’ on the safest guy they knew.  I couldn’t believe that Hank was that much of a guy already.  Didn’t he remember learning these kinds of games as a girl?  Or had he been a tomboy on a military base, so he never learned this stuff?

While Billie and Nikki teased Hank mercilessly, Toni was joking with me about her aikido class, and teasing me mercilessly about bringing me over to sixth period aikido some day to teach me something about self-defense.  I think what I would learn from their sixth-period class was that the ass-kicking I sometimes got in my fourth-period class was nothing compared to the down-home butt-whuppin’ that Chaka would give me.  Not to mention Tennyo and Jinn and Lancer, and a dozen other kids in that class.  Still, she was hysterically funny about it.

Jade was sound asleep in her blanket, but her blanket occasionally put in its own two cents about their aikido class.  There was some white-belt devisor named Vincent that Jinn wanted me to squash like a bug.  I figured there was a major story in there somewhere.

Across the aisle, Sara was sitting with Bladedancer, Bugs, and Riptide.  Chou was sitting awfully stiffly.  I wondered if Sara was doing something annoying to her.  Bugs was hard at work organizing her shopping schedule and all the money everyone had given her for their purchases.

Okay, I’m not perfect.  It was really bugging me that everyone trusted Bunny with their dough, and people weren’t asking me to handle their transactions.  Everyone trusted Bunny.  Hardly anyone trusted me.  Bunny was a cute, sexy gadgeteer who wouldn’t hurt a fly.  I was a freakish, intersexed, mutant-hating Goodkind who had brawled with more people this year than Razorback and Killstench put together.

But there wasn’t much I could do to change any of that.  I had Team Kimba.  Most of the Beret Mafia and almost all the Golden Kids seemed to like me.  That would have to do until I rescued kittens from trees and started turning straw into gold.

Two guys auditioning for the role of ‘second ticket taker’ in a Woody Allen movie casually strolled into the train car.  They were practically stereotypes.  The older guy was going for the jovial, rounded, graying, not-quite-Santa look.  The younger guy was going for the fit, ‘sidekick in a Steven Segal movie’ look but not quite making it.  “Tickets, please!”

They looked at the only people in the car, and instantly zoomed in on Fey.

“Boston, huh girls?” The older guy tried out a smile that I’m sure he thought looked fatherly.  He probably practiced it in front of his bathroom mirror.  Of course, since he was focusing on the hottest babe in New England, his smile didn’t look fatherly to me.

Hank coughed, futilely trying to hint that there was someone there besides girls.  Lotsa luck on that one, when the Faerie glamour’s around.

The younger guy was busy ogling Fey, and his eyes were focused some inches below Fey’s eyes.  Fey made some sort of uncomfortable agreement, no doubt wishing that Tennyo had a glamour instead of an intimidation factor.

“Well, have a nice time and be sure to enjoy yourselves,” the guards smirked as they tipped their hats and strolled off.

I glared at the two lechers.  “Sleazebags.”  Then I remembered what I had felt the first time I saw Fey, and I felt bad for my reaction.  Those two losers probably had about as much chance of blocking Fey’s glamour, toned-down as it was today, as they had of stopping the train with their bare hands.

Chaka gave me a nudge to behave, and changed the subject with a big grin.  “What do we want to hit first? Clothes or CDs?”

Hank gave it a desperate try, “I vote for CDs.”  I almost laughed.

But the girls weren’t done torturing him.  Tennyo purred - well, as much of a purr as she has - “Oh, come on, sweetie-pie, I’ll model for you.”

Fey pretended to be affronted.  “I think we should leave that for the professionals, right, Hanky-poo?”

Hanky-poo?  Oh my God, where’s the motion sickness bag?  I groused, “If this gets any sweeter, I think I’ll die of diabetic shock.”  I yanked my earphones out of my backpack, cranked up Brass Monkey’s “I Hate the Supermodel”, and covered up my ears.  “Wake me up when we get there.”

Chaka added, “Don’t worry about her, she’s not getting any.”

“I heard that,” I grumbled, and turned the volume up to eleven.  I closed my eyes and tuned out the rest of the nauseating routine.  I couldn’t fall asleep, so I stewed about why Fey and Tennyo’s schtick was bothering me so much.  Maybe it was the thought that they were deliberately working on their feminine skills, as they tried to become two hot chicks.  The thought of ending up like that, completely female and happy about it, just scared the holy crap out of me.

I had to pay attention again when the train finally stopped, and we transferred to the LRT.  The inter-city rail system had a day pass, which was probably a reasonably priced pass for visitors like us.  Still, I figured it was out of some peoples’ price range.

I took my time getting up, even though I didn’t have anything except my daypack to haul around.  So I managed to be right in front of Jade when we stood in line for passes.

“Day pass.”

“Day pass.”

“Day pass.”  I repeated the magic words to the woman behind the glass, only I held up two fingers with my left hand while I slid her a credit card.

I turned to Jade, “Oops, I got two.  Here, just take this one.  You can pay me back later.”

Jade fussed, “I can pay for my own ticket!”

I smiled, “I know.  But do you know how long it’ll take to get this straightened out?  Toni will be in New Haven by then.  It’ll be a lot easier if you’d just help me out.  Just pay me back later.  Okay?”

She shrugged and accepted the second pass.  Sucker!  She was going to have a heck of a time getting me to ‘remember’ that she still owed me the money.

The gang completely ignored my advice and headed straight for Faneuil Hall Marketplace.  Well, when in Rome…

After some discussion, which I lost, we headed into Victoria’s Secret.  I wanted to look at books first.  But there was no way on earth that I was going to pass up the chance to watch Fey and Tennyo model lingerie and tease Lancer in the process.  This was going to be HOT.  I walked in, with Jade on my tail.  I was wondering if there was any way she would let me buy her some clothes, after that stunt I pulled with the day passes…

After almost a half hour of unbelievable hotness, we finally left the store.  Hank wasn’t the only one with a painfully-hard boner.  Well, Hank and I weren’t the only ones.  Every guy who had gotten a peek at Nikki and Billie was walking around looking dazed and horny, and a good number of the women in the store had the same look in their eyes.  If I could bottle that, I’d be the most powerful man on earth.

Oh crap.  It suddenly dawned on me that I’d have to keep an eye out for that problem, in future.  Sooner or later, some super-loon was going to try to grab one or both of them and do just that.  Or try to kidnap them to do something worse.  Man, was this what things were like for Champion?

Things sped up after Victoria’s Secret, although Hank got burdened with everyone’s purchases.  Almost everyone’s purchases.  I paid extra to have most of what I bought shipped up to Whateley, so I didn’t have to lug it around.  I just put a few purchases in my daypack, in case the stores didn’t get my stuff off to FedEx in a timely manner.

Bear in mind that Hank could have carried all the purchases of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  He was just at the point where he could no longer see over the pile of shopping bags and boxes in his arms.

Fortunately, Tennyo’s stomach insistently reminded everyone that it was lunchtime.  I insisted on somewhere decent for lunch, and so I had to find a place that had decent food for a good price.  I had to make a couple phone calls on my cell to find a good restaurant that was still too unknown to charge Boston high-end food prices.  We ended up at “Daugherty’s Bistro”, across the street from the Boston Gallery of Antiquities, one of the dozens of Boston’s under-funded, out-classed, old museums.

I was hoping for a quiet, sophisticated luncheon.  Was I a moron, or what?

Jade hadn’t let me buy her anything since the day pass on the LRT, but she’d gone hog-wild and shelled out a whopping 99 cents plus tax for a plastic eyepatch with enough cheap elastic  to hold it on her head.  She was wearing it now, and doing her best - or worst - pirate imitation, just in case we hadn’t gotten the idea that we had ‘raided’ Boston’s shops.

I ‘helpfully’ suggested, “Jade, you do know that National Talk Like A Pirate Day was last month?”

“Aaaaarrrgh!  Ye scurvy landlubber!  Ye cahn’t halt Red-Top the Pirate with a scurvy trick like tha’!”

I turned to Chaka and asked, “Does that make you Blacktop?”

She grinned back, “Watch it, Vanilla-girl.”

Rip stuck in, “I think Tarmac’s got that name locked up.  He’s one of Thunderbird’s team.”

Whoa.  Things got kind of icy there for a few seconds.  I was just glad that I had enough sense not to try dating someone behind my girlfriend’s back.  Fey and Chaka both had that super-hot bi-babe thing going on, and they seemed to be getting away with it.  For the most part.  Just the idea of dating a guy made me feel uncomfortable, but they weren’t me.

And on top of that, Chaka was making eyes at the black waiter.  Okay, he was pretty good-looking.  He was damn handsome for a baseline.  If he’d been walking around Whateley, I would have guessed he was an Exemplar.  But couldn’t Chaka keep her eyes in her head when she was sitting down to eat with one of her SO’s?

Okay, I didn’t have to worry about that for long.  We placed our drink orders - I found that they had some specialty teas not listed on the menu, and I ordered a small pot of Singbulli Darjeeling hot tea.  Then, while Sara was admitting that she had done a major book signing at Dymocks back in her ‘Michael Waite’ days, the waiter came back, and Sara chewed him up.

Not literally, of course.  She didn’t eat live food that way.  She just ripped him a new one and chased him away.  Damn.  If we got kicked out of this place before I got a chance to eat, I was going to be grouchy.  Grouchier than usual.

On the upside, his replacement was a hot redhead with gorgeous legs.  Could I get her in a to-go box?  Chaka was disappointed with the new waitress, while Riptide and Bugs were ecstatic.  At least the waiter had turned in our orders before he had to run for his life.

I had ordered a couple appetizer plates for the table, and the lobster stew with a shrimp side salad for me.  Tennyo had ordered roughly the entire menu.  At the other end of the scale, Jade had ordered the fish and chips (with drink and a scoop of ice cream included) off the children’s menu.  Well, she looked eleven - okay, with the cheap pirate eyepatch on, she looked about nine - so she could get away with that.

To the accompaniment of a vicious barrage of thunder, the waitress came back with our orders.  It took her several trips.  Well, it would have taken her several trips just to get all of Tennyo and Chaka’s orders.

Then the waitress touched Sara’s shoulder, and got a major dose of Sara’s lust aura.  The waitress gasped and disappeared back toward the restrooms.  Sara told me she needed to go to the little girls’ room, and went in the same direction.

Sara didn’t have bodily functions like us mere humans and meta-humans.  What was she up to?

Oh.  Duh.  A little ‘afternoon delight’ in the ladies’ room with the redhead.

Great, just great.  I ate the salad as quickly as I could and started on my soup, just in case Sara molested the waitress and got us thrown out of the place.  This is what I got for hanging around with a lust demon.  Couldn’t she just keep it in her pants for once?

The lobster stew was definitely worth the price.  The large chunks of fresh lobster were set off by a delicately-flavored cream soup with just enough garlic and a hint of coriander.  The shrimp salad had really fresh baby shrimp, and a pretty good balsamic vinaigrette over the lettuce mixture.  And the appetizers were pretty good, even if there was a bit too much of the fried stuff for my tastes.  The fried clams and oysters were cooked just right.  It’s really easy to undercook or overcook seafood, but these were almost perfect.  The dipping sauce was tangy and spicy, but not so overwhelming that you couldn’t enjoy the briny goodness of the shellfish.  And the tea was excellent: it was aromatic, fragrant, and very floral, while the character of the tea had a nutty second flush that is distinctive of good Darjeeling teas.

Sara came back, looking a little mussed.  I hoped the waitress was okay.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who noticed something.  Fey grabbed Sara by the arm and glared at her.  “Find something to eat?”

Sara looked back at her with the flattest look I’d ever seen.  “I threw it back.”

What the hell did that mean?  I had a sudden impulse to jump and run to the bathroom to see if the waitress was okay.  Fey just stared at me and pinned me in my chair with her eyeballs.  That told me that she knew what had happened.  Either the waitress was okay, or there was nothing anyone could do about it.  I just hoped to God that didn’t mean there was a pile of blue dust on the tile floor.

Before I could ask the question that Fey and Sara clearly didn’t want me to ask, the television volume was ratcheted up a dozen notches, and distracted everyone.  “…the gunmen have taken control of the square, it is not known yet what is in the vault, …”

The helicopter view of the square was clear enough that I could recognize it.  We were only two or three blocks away.  And there were sirens.  I could hear them.

“… I do believe that is a SWAT contingent en-route.  As of yet, no sign of Skyhawk…”  The image of the SWAT vans on the television screen appeared about a second before the vans blazed past the front of the bistro, the sirens suddenly dropping in tone as they whizzed by.

“Hey, that’s…”

“…near us!”  And Chaka was out of her chair, weaving through the bistro, and out the door before I could even swallow my lobster stew.

Chou vaulted backward out of her chair in a move that would have made Olympic gymnasts jealous.

Tennyo didn’t even bother to do that.  She flew straight up, grabbing Lancer on her way.  She headed out the front door at fifty or sixty miles an hour.

Damn.  I had just wanted a nice, quiet, sophisticated luncheon.  Was that too much to ask?  I jumped to my feet along with Fey, Jade, and Riptide.  We all ran out the door.  A second after we hit the sidewalk, a Sara-shaped blur sped past us at Warp 6.

Damn!  That girl was fast!  I could run at Olympic sprinter speeds, but there was no way I was going to get to the battlezone before everything wrapped up.  Sara was moving at speedster velocity.  Tennyo was probably doing 150 mph with Lancer in tow - and the last thing I’d ever want would be Tennyo and Lancer coming at me at 150 mph.  I knew from Ninja Night that Chaka could do well over fifty miles an hour while she carried Jade in her arms, so there was no telling what speeds she and Bladedancer were making.

I ran at my top speed.  I easily outpaced Fey and Rip, and left Jade way behind.  But I was only doing about twenty-five miles an hour.  I could run at that speed if I went light, but I couldn’t float any faster.  That probably made me one of the limiting factors on the team.  Damnit.

Right about then, I heard one of Chaka’s ki-shouts echo through the streets.  She was engaged in battle already.  And Tennyo had to be there already.  By the time I got there, I’d probably be looking at a square covered in bad-guy sushi.

As it was, I got there in time to see Chaka get swept off the roof of a crashing SUV by a blue-clad, caped superhero with a really dorky bird-style mask over his upper face.  Lancer and Tennyo were covered in snow and ice.  Chou was standing in front of the bank.  And there was a girl-shaped hole punched in the bank wall that looked like Sara had run through it at trans-warp speeds.

I slid across the icy roads to the crashed SUV, only to find out that the police had everything in hand, so to speak.  Incredibly, the bad guys had managed to crash their SUV right next to the crashed SWAT van.  And both of them were upside-down.  Some pissed-off and somewhat-injured cops had guns drawn on the crooks.

I went heavy, just in case someone with a gun was jumpy, and stuck my head down to the window of the SWAT van.  “Is everyone okay?  Does anyone need emergency medical treatment?”

The driver looked pretty shaken up, but the burly guy in the captain’s uniform on the far side - who was busy shoving a handgun that Dirty Harry would have envied up the nostril of one of the thugs in the SUV - drawled, “Thanks fer askin’, honey.  But we’re gonna need the ‘jaws of life’ to get these tin cans opened up.”

Honey?!?  Goddamnit!  I hated my stupid body.  Nobody ever thought I was a guy, or anything close to one.  I was wearing a heavy coat over pants and shirt, but still I was automatically a ‘honey’ instead of ‘mac’ or ‘bud’ or even ‘hey you’.

I said, “Oh, that’s no problem.”  And I peeled the driver-side door open like it was made of kleenex.

Even the shaken-up driver goggled at that.  The captain cursed, “Jesus fuckin’ Christ, is there a friggin’ superhero convention here today?”

I ignored that.  “Unfortunately, I’m not a doctor or an EMT, so I can’t get you guys out of here.  But I’ll open up the back of the SWAT van so the medics can get you out without hurting anyone.”

The captain nodded, “Good thinkin’ honey.  Just don’t let any of the perps out of the SUV, until reinforcements get here.”

“Gotcha.”

I walked around to the back of the SWAT van and pried open the door.  It was stuck, so I had to pull hard enough that one hinge tore loose.

A couple SWAT guys in body armor climbed out, looking the worse for wear.  One growled, “Thanks, kid.  If we’d had to wait on that fuckin’ moron Skyhawk, we’d ‘a been in there fer a goddamn month.”

I walked around to the far side of the upside-down SUV.  Since I was still heavy, I was sinking into the ice instead of slipping on top of it.  One of the thugs in the back seat was struggling to get his door open.  I just leaned against it, and it slammed closed on him.  A ton of weight will do that.

The thug handled that really gracefully.  He pounded on the door furiously.  Then he slammed his shoulder into the door three or four times.  Then he smashed out the window with the butt end of a pump-action shotgun, and shoved the barrel against my shin.  He yelled at the cops, “Get me the fuck outta here or I’ll blow your pal’s leg off!  I swear I will!”  This guy needed some anger management courses.

I reached down and grabbed the barrel.  Then I squeezed.  After I crushed the barrel into scrap metal, I quietly said, “Bad idea, Snidely.  Shooting me in the leg is slightly dumber than pressing your shotgun barrel against a bank vault and pulling the trigger.”

He got the hint.  He dropped the remains of the shotgun, and stayed still until police reinforcements started yanking everyone out of the SUV.

I walked over to the others.  Rip was doing everything except kissing Chaka senseless.  Tennyo was screaming madly at the bank robbers, while Fey and Jade hung onto her.  Since Tennyo was about fifty times stronger than Fey and Jade put together, it was obvious that she was just letting off steam, and not going to do anything about it.  Sara was sitting down in what were obviously some clothes off the backs of strangers.  I had to wonder if she had blasted the clothes off her body or something.

Captain Tilley, as the policemen around me called him, was busy reaming Skyhawk - “The Defender Of The Weak!” - a new one.  “Where the fuck were you?  This is the sort of thing you freaks are supposed to STOP!”

I had to bite the inside of my mouth to keep from laughing.

Skyschmuck pointed at me and intoned, “Language, Captain.  There are women and children present.”

“I’LL TEACH YOU LANGUAGE, YOU COCK-EYED CONDOM-CLAD MORON!”

I had to turn my back on them so they wouldn’t see me laughing.

Skydoink played the clueless superhero to the hilt, “Please excuse the captain, girls, he’s just upset by the loss of his men.  I swear to you on my grandmother’s grave he isn’t usually like this.”

“HEY, I’M TALKIN’ TO YOU…”

But before Captain Tilley could let loose with a string of insults that would have had me rolling on the ground in hysterics, he was interrupted by a nervous guy who had ‘rookie’ written all over his spiffy little uniform.  The rookie led Captain Tilley and most of the crowd over to a stretcher surrounded by EMTs.

I got over there about the time that Sara made a lightning-fast move that had one of the EMTs screeching frantically.

She was holding up something that looked like a tightly-spiraled, spike-shaped seashell.  “This is a poison dart.  You’re lucky, this one’s not lethal.  See those little blue and purple markings near the tip?  If they were red or iridescent, your patient would be a corpse.  However, Captain, this thing should not be here in the middle of Boston. In fact, it’s on entirely the wrong planet.”

“Excuse me?”  Captain Tilley stared at her as if she had suddenly sprouted tentacles and turned into a demon.

Of course, with Sara, that could happen next.

I was feeling sort of the same way as the captain.  I didn’t want to believe what she was saying, but I knew too much about her to doubt her.  My stomach was knotting up.

“Really?”  Skyschmuck scratched his head cluelessly, “It looks like one of The Necromancer’s gauntlet darts to me.”

The Necromancer?  Currently rated somewhere between #40 and #60 on the MCO/Interpol international supervillain threat rankings?  We were in the vicinity of The Necromancer?  Holy crow!  I wanted to get the hell out of there, and back to someplace safe.  Like Whateley, where I only had to worry about fighting guys like Aries.

Sara closed her eyes and sighed in disgust.  She glared up at him.  “Let me guess.  This Necromancer is a powerful mage who has dealings with dark magic on a regular basis.  His actions often seem random and meaningless, yet he places a disproportionate amount of effort into his targets for unknown and inexplicable motives.  And, every time you come close to catching him, he slips through your fingers?”

Skyschmuck folded his arms across his chest and gave her a smug smirk.  “You must have read his file on the Villains’ Top 100.”

AKA the ‘international supervillain threat rankings’ maintained by the MCO in conjunction with Interpol, and only called the Villains’ Top 100 by major dorks.

Sara shook her head no.  “I don’t need to.  I know his type.  The reason his motives have eluded you for so long is that the items he prizes above all others are innocuous to the untrained eye.  His plans are inscrutable because he has given up a part of his humanity for his goals.  And you have never caught him because he has dealings with creatures you could never understand.”  She looked over and said, “Hank, you better call the rest over here.”

Hank went.  I stood there, wondering why she hadn’t sent me.  What, was I the Invisible Girl?  I figured that she didn’t trust me.  Or maybe she knew that I didn’t really trust her.

Captain Tilley growled, “Mind telling us what the hell you’re talking about, kid?”

Sara held up the dart and went into ‘professorial lecture mode’.  “This is a Mi-go tranquilizer dart, usually used to capture and harvest humans for transport between the stars.  If this Necromancer character has access to their technology, it means that he has contact with things beyond the ken of mortal man and must be stopped.”

I felt an icy chill down my spine.  I so wished that I didn’t believe her.  But I did.  Which meant that we were way out of our league on this.  We needed Lady Astarte.  Or the Mystic Six.  Or the Justice League of America, or something!

The captain gave her a big sneer, “Oh, is that all?  And here I was thinkin’ that you were askin’ me to believe in something difficult.”

“Whether you believe or not doesn’t matter to me.”  Sara gave him a careless shrug.  She sounded like she really didn’t care, but I knew that she wasn’t human, and she ought to be able to fake emotional detachment better than any ordinary meta-human.  She pushed on, “but if this Necromancer’s plans succeed I can guarantee that the result will be destruction on a scale that will make nuclear war sound reasonable.”

That stopped the captain in his tracks.  Skyschmuck just stood there in a heroic pose with his arms crossed over his chest, and tried to put both of his synapses together long enough to figure out whether to believe her.

Rip and Chaka strolled over, arms around each other’s shoulders.  “Hey, guys,” Rip started, “what’s.. hey, I’ve seen that ass before!”

Thank you, Elena.  I was SO glad someone else besides me was thinking that.  And I awarded her some extra gladness points, since I hadn’t been dumb enough to say that out loud.

“She was eating lunch in the same restaurant with us. I remember, she left in a bit of a rush,” Chaka added.

“Really? No, I’m sure I’ve seen her someplace else. She’s got back.”

Everyone else tried to avoid staring at the blonde’s can.  So I took the opportunity to study it more thoroughly.  It was definitely a world-class ass.  It was right up there with Fey’s backside, and Vox’s, and Bugs’, and...

Holy crow.  With a body like that, she had to be an Exemplar.  What was another mutant doing here?  I was pretty sure we weren’t having a convention.

Lancer came back right then with Fey, Generator, Bladedancer, and Tennyo in tow.  Most of them stared at the blonde’s backside too.  I think Jade was the only one who didn’t.

Chou helped out, “Hey, I’ve seen that ass before!”  Then she turned beet red.  I was going to have to give her some grief about that.  Maybe some Extreme Teasing when we got back to the dorm.

Fey stepped in.  She moved to the side of the stretcher and gasped, “Heartbreaker!”

“Who?” Captain Tilley seemed a little confused by the sudden announcement.

“She’s Heartbreaker.. er.. Edith something, I think,” Fey supplied.  “Sorry, I don’t really know her that well.  I’ve worked with her once or twice, she goes to school with us.”

Hmm.  Why didn’t I know about this babe?  I was going to have to ask around when we got back.  IF we got back.

“She was knocked out with this.”  Sara handed Fey the shell-like dart.

Fey actually blanched as she quietly cursed.  “It fits. The cold projector and exoskeletons too.  Mi-go.  What were they stealing?”

Oh crap.  There had been a remote possibility that Sara was mistaken, or was reading too much into the presence of something weird.  After all, she had been a horror writer.  But if Fey was instantly leaping to the same conclusion, then Serious Inhuman Badness was lurking nearby.  I went heavy, just in case.

Captain Tilley shrugged as he answered, “Cash, and some safe deposit boxes.  Nothing out of the ordinary, really.  We’ve dealt with these thugs before, all ex-henchmen of various super-villains, all’ve done time within the last year.”

“A stage magician once told me,” Sara began, dramatically building up to her conclusion, “that distraction is the fundamental art of sleight-of-hand.  Make the audience watch your right hand, then pull a bunch of flowers out of thin air with your left.”

Oh.  Got it.

“So these guys,” Chaka pointed toward at the cuffed thugs, “are The Necromancer’s distraction.  So where is he?”

“Across the road from where we ate lunch,” Sara smiled wickedly, “robbing the Boston Gallery of Antiquities.  Think about it, these idiots inflicted maximum collateral damage on the entire area, even killing cops.  You’d have to have a peanut for a brain to hang around destroying things if you could just waltz in and ransack the place in under a minute and be gone before anyone can even blink.”

“So,” Hank picked up the line of thought, “Heartbreaker knows something’s going down.  Despite the crackdown on students visiting Boston, she and maybe her friends get wind of something and sneak down here to swoop in and put a stop to it before it starts.  But they get overconfident and run into The Necromancer...”

Hmm.  I didn’t buy any of Hank’s argument, for several reasons.  Including the fact that Heartbreaker would need a pass to leave Whateley, and the fact that I knew she wasn’t one of the Cape Squad, or even one of the kids hassling Pendragon to get into the Capes.  I’d heard Pendragon talking about that a couple times on our way in or out of World Lit.

“..Who puts a dart in her leg to knock her unconscious,” Fey finished, “but doesn’t count on the fact that she’s a mutant and able to drag herself two blocks down the road before the drug takes effect.”

Skyschmuck heroically put his hands on his hips before speaking.  Did this dork watch old ‘Superman’ programs on Nick At Night and then practice in front of his mirror?  “Well done, people, I believe that your line of reasoning is sound.  Captain, even if she is wrong about the museum, I think that we should check it out anyway, just to be sure.”

Captain Tilley just looked us all over, as he thought out his options…

And that was how I found myself helping Hank and Skydork lift that battered SWAT van and turn it right-side up.  Hank could have probably done it on his own, but Skyschmuck had to be Mister Superhero.  The dork probably would have given himself a hernia trying to flip over an armored van.  It was pretty obvious from watching Skydoink in action that he wasn’t a PK-superman, and that he wasn’t anywhere as strong as I was, much less Hank.

I had to go normal to crowd into the back of the van with everybody.  I was worried that my weight when I was heavy would break what was left of the shocks on this scrapheap.  After being crashed, and then flipped over by mutants, it was roughly in the same shape as Tiffany’s decrepit junkheap back in The Square.  The engine whined and protested every time the gear was shifted, and it cornered like the axles were about to break.

Skydork urged everyone into the one van, which seemed like a stupid plan to me.

If we were going to pull a ‘Trojan horse’ ploy, we would have done better to put two or three of us Whateleyites in each of several vans, all converging on the museum at once.  Plus, I would have put Lancer and Tennyo in the air overhead, so the perpetrators couldn’t just rocket straight up into the sky to escape us.  But no one ever listened to me.  Maybe I should change my name to Cassandra.

But we were all crammed into the single SWAT van.  All of Team Kimba plus Riptide were stuffed in, with Skyschmuck and half a dozen of the less-damaged SWAT guys.  So it was like playing ‘sardines’, but without the benefit of being pressed up against a couple cuddly girls.

Instead, I had Tennyo ramming her elbow into me nearly hard enough to break a rib, and growling, “Why are we all in here again?”

“My thought exactly,” I muttered.

Skydoink held onto the ceiling strap with one hand and did the heroic pose bit with his other hand.  He pompously explained, “Because for hardened villains like The Necromancer, if that is indeed who we face, being surrounded by the local police is hardly worrisome.  A concerted attack by ten superbeings is quite another league.  This van is, if you’d like, the Trojan horse carrying us into battle.”

Moron.  I needed to send this guy a copy of the Iliad.  Perhaps the Children’s Illustrated Comics version of it.

So we’re the fuckin’ BAIT?!?” Captain Tilley exploded from the shotgun seat up front.

I bit the inside of my mouth to keep from laughing, since I was right next to Skyschmuck.

The big goof stalled, “I wouldn’t put it quite like that…”

The captain bulled past him, “GAH!  NEVER MIND!  Armorlite Security just reported an alarm at the museum.  They didn’t report it earlier because the system’s been faulty for months and the curator hasn’t had the money to pay for repairs.  However, their guards onsite haven’t reported in for an hou...”

He never got the chance to finish.  Something hit the other side of the SWAT van with the force of a tsunami.  The van flew sideways through the air, rolling horribly, while whatever-it-was ripped a huge gash down the side of the van with mammoth black claws that also shredded a SWAT guy on the other side.

Suddenly, as the van rolled, Skyhawk came crashing down on top of me.  I reacted.  I had already spent too much time telling myself not to go heavy for fear that I would break the undercarriage of the van.

I went light.

It wasn’t a deliberate choice as much as it was an instinctive reaction.  But it was still a bad choice.  In fact, if I had been given the time to think about it, I would have realized that it could be a really, really bad choice.

The van smashed onto its side, and Skyhawk’s torso smashed into my face.  Or, it would have, if I hadn’t been light.  The van rolled on, but, thanks to our momentum, I was flung downward, through the van, through the street, and into the ground.

I was rolling over and over, end over end.  I couldn’t see where I was or where I was going.  I was underground somewhere, with no air.  I hadn’t had time to take a breath.

It dawned on me that this time I was going to die.

I couldn’t stop rolling over.  I couldn’t tell which way I had to go in order to get back to the surface.  I had no idea how far underground I had gone, so I had no idea how far to go before being sure that I had gone in the wrong direction.  I didn’t have enough air to be able to make more than one or two tries, even if I could stop rolling and make a guess about which way was up.

I had no chance.  I was already running out of air.

I didn’t know what to do.  I tried going a tiny bit less light, enough that I was getting a tingle all through my body as I careened through the rock or dirt or concrete or whatever I was phasing through.  I couldn’t tell.  If I could have told what I was phasing through, I might have been able to figure out which way was up.  But I didn’t have that ability.  The best I could do was to tell when the density of the materials changed.  But I had no way to tell what solid objects I was passing through.

My lungs were already burning, and I was still trying to slow myself down.  I was guessing that I was headed downward, and probably going at some angle to straight down.  So the longer it took me to stop, the worse my chances were.

I went a little heavier.  If I went too far from ‘maximal light’, I might knock myself out as I disintegrated the bedrock I was phasing through, and I would suffocate down here.  The tingle was getting pretty painful, even if it wasn’t as painful as the searing pain in my lungs.

But I finally managed to get not-quite-light-enough to slow myself down.  I stopped rotating.  I stopped moving.  Now I had to get back to the surface before I passed out.  My lungs were on fire.  I was terrified that I only had seconds left before I passed out.  And I didn’t know which way to go!

I headed back the way I thought I had come.  If I was wrong.. if I was only a little wrong.. I was probably going to pass out before I got back to the surface.  If I was only sixty degrees off, it would take me at least twice the time to get back to the surface, and I didn’t have anywhere that much air left in my lungs!

And then there was the really important thing I wasn’t thinking about.  I had gone light.  I was vulnerable.

That didn’t occur to me until some time after I hit that underground power line.

There was an explosion of lightning-like pain in my shoulder, and I went bouncing off in utter agony.  I had no idea what direction I was going, or anything.  I had no control over my direction or my speed.  I couldn’t even scream.  I was just being reflected off from thousands and thousands of volts of electricity.

I tried to slow down.  I tried to stop spinning, even if I wasn’t sure whether I was spinning or just passing out from lack of air.

I hurt all over.  My lungs hurt with an unbearable pain.  My shoulder felt like it had been hit by lightning.  My entire body burned as I went less and less light to stop myself.

I was out of air.  I couldn’t think any more.  I couldn’t remember which way I had been going.  I couldn’t remember which way I needed to go.  I couldn’t remember where the power line was.  I couldn’t…

And the burning, tingling, sensation left my hands and arms and face.

I could breathe!  I was in air!

It was pitch black, and I couldn’t see anything, but I took a deep, desperate gasp of air.

And I vomited horribly.

I lost my lightness and went solid.  I was in mid-air somewhere.  I dropped face-first into a couple feet of unbearably filthy water.

I was in the sewers.

I scrambled back to my feet, and gasped for air.  The smell was so awful I was wishing I didn’t need to breathe or smell or taste or anything.  But I could breathe again.  I was covered in water so filthy I didn’t want to be within a hundred yards of it, and I was completely blind, and I was still gasping helplessly for oxygen, and every breath was of air so foul I couldn’t bear it.  But I could breathe again.  I had really been afraid I was going to die.

I had really been afraid.

I hated that.  I’d bet Tennyo and Chaka and Lancer and Bladedancer wouldn’t have been so terribly afraid.  I was just a big wuss.

And I still had to get out of the sewers, one way or another.

At least I had options again.  I could go light, and go straight up, and hope that I didn’t hit another underground power line.  I could wander blindly through the sewers until a tiny ray of light showed me the way to a manhole cover, assuming the manholes around here weren’t buried under water-swept trash, or still iced over from those bank robbers.  Or I could pull out one of my holdouts and try to use it in some unusual way.

I had in my utility belt a tiny, high-powered halogen light that was designed to stick to your palm and produce one single blinding flash that would stun someone like Golden Girl, or incapacitate someone like Silverwing.  Down here, it would maybe give me a fraction of a second of light down one tunnel, while ruining my night vision to the point that I might not be able to see for five or ten minutes whether a tiny sliver of light was coming from a nearby manhole.

I also had a small pyrolant bomb that would make a big, super-hot flash.  It was mainly magnesium fusing and powdered aluminum.  I had bought it with Magneto-type energizers in mind, since heat disrupts electro-magnetic fields.  But I could set it off and get maybe two seconds of blinding, brutally-hot light.

Okay, so I could have used a tiny flashlight in my utility belt.  Who knew I’d get dumped in the sewers and they’d be so damned black?  In the movies, the sewers are always nicely backlit for your viewing convenience.  I just hoped that everything in my utility belt wasn’t trashed by being dumped in the sewer along with me.

I stood up and tried going light to drop the filthy water off me.  Most of the water dropped off, but I could feel that most of the filth stayed put.  I cursed angrily as I floated up out of the water.

That was when I heard the splashes.

It sounded like something was moving through the sewer tunnel, toward me.  Something big.  Something with a lot of legs.

I went heavy.  I splashed down solidly.

The splashes were coming closer.  I didn’t know what they were.  I didn’t want to know.  I kept having horrid thoughts.  Like the legendary alligators of the New York City sewer system.  Or some of the things Jade had told me about the Whateley sewer system.

The splashes were echoing off the filthy tunnel walls, so I couldn’t tell how close they were.  But I could tell they were too close.  I fished the pyro-bomb out of my utility belt and threw it.

“AAAAAAAAGGGHHHH!!!”  When I saw what was there, I screamed like a girl.

The fireball engulfed what looked like zombies.  Real zombies.  Skeletal things with not nearly enough flesh on their bones to make even a pretense of life.  Horrible things with decaying flesh hanging off hideous bones.  Things so ghastly they would have made Michael Waite soil his pants.

Some of them even caught on fire from the heat of the pyro-bomb.  They just kept splashing toward me, uncaring.  Unaware.  Un-alive.

The ones that were on fire lit up the tunnel enough that I could see further down the way they had come.

The tunnel was wall to wall zombies, going back further than I could make out.  Dozens of them.  Scores of them.  Maybe more.

And the smell!  Oh my GOD!  Not only was there a hideous ‘long dead animal’ smell, but there was another smell.  A smell so vile and so.. well.. just plain unnatural that it made me want to tear my nose off just so I wouldn’t have to smell it anymore.  The gorge rose in my throat, and I would have vomited again if I still had anything in my stomach.

I had to get out of there!  Instantly!  I went light and jumped straight up.

And I hit another power line.

I wasn’t even a third of the way through the tunnel ceiling when there was an explosion of electric pain across my neck and shoulders.

I must have gone solid without realizing it, because suddenly there was a ferocious pain everywhere I was embedded in the ceiling, and I fell back into the fetid water with chunks of tunnel ceiling raining painfully down on me.

Between the searing pain of the electricity and the tingling agony of going solid in a solid object, it was all I could do to lift my face out of the water.  I hurt so much I could hardly move.  I couldn’t see anything anymore, except where still-burning zombies cast a hideous light around themselves.  I struggled to get to my hands and knees.

That was when the zombies got me.

Hideous, slimy, rotting hands grabbed me and pulled me up with inhuman strength.  I instinctively went heavy, even as I screamed in terror.

And, once I was heavy, I was too heavy for them to lift.  I threw them off me like they were rag dolls.

They were still horrifying, and unbearably gruesome, and unbelievably stinky.  But they couldn’t hurt me as long as I was heavy.

Still, could I hurt them?  They were already dead!

I moved toward one of the still-burning zombies, so I had a tiny bit of light.  I punched one zombie in the jaw, which actually knocked the jaw off its face.  Oh my God, I nearly vomited just from seeing that, much less having zombie pieces splattering my arm.  I kicked the legs off another.  I twisted the arm off a third.  They kept coming.  I lashed out in a sidekick at one that was crawling toward me, and I caught it in the side of the skull.

The skull ruptured, with an eerie burst of glowing green goo.  It was as if the thing had a Steven King lava-lamp in its head.  The goo splattered everywhere, and the green sort of evaporated upward in an evanescent display of ickiness.

The thing dropped.

Busting open the skull and letting that energy out would stop these things.

I punched three more in the skull, and they dropped too.  The nasty goo splattered all over me, but as long as I was heavy I seemed to be safe from any untoward effects of the stuff.  I hoped.  I really, really hoped I was safe.

Because the zombies were still coming.  I smashed skulls right and left.  I worked my way toward the two that were still slightly burning, and I ripped the smoldering cloth off their corpses before I smashed their skulls open.  Then I waved the clothes about until they started burning more brightly, and I lobbed them onto still-clothed zombies.  Presto!  The zombie nightlight.

“O-oh, say can you seeeeee…  By the zomb’s early light…”

By the firelight of the still-burning zombies, I waded into the other things.  Every punch to the skull dropped another one.  They tried to grab me and bite me, but they couldn’t hurt me as long as I stayed heavy.

I punched and kicked and struck and slashed.  I could have really used a big ol’ magical sword or a light saber right then.  Or a heavy machine gun.  I just kept punching, and the things kept coming.

And coming.

And coming.

Holy crow, how many dead bodies had The Necromancer necromanced?

I lost the precise count somewhere around a hundred eighty-seven, but I smashed a lot more than that.

I was getting tired.  There were only so many hundreds of dead horror-movie rejects that I could punch before my arms gave out.

Then I heard the loud clang, and I moved off toward the sound.  I was really hoping it was someone prying loose a manhole cover to look for me.

I stepped around a corner in the tunnels, and there, standing in what passed for light below an open manhole, was Chaka.  God, was I glad to see her!  She didn’t look too happy to be down here.  She was in water that was only ankle-deep.  She looked wet but clean.  And she had her scarf wrapped over her face, as if that would protect her sense of smell from this lot.

I stomped toward her, “Well, there you are!  Where the hell have you been?”

She jumped in shock and screeched, “WHHAAA!!  What the…”

I walked up to her and glared at her.  I tapped my foot and snarled, “It’s me!  Okay?  Ayla!”

Chaka just stared at me, and tried not to inhale.  Okay, so I wasn’t exactly springtime fresh.  So sue me.  She complained, “Ayla? Where the hell you been?  We lost you after the crash.”

I groused, “Down here, wandering around in the dark.  I may be a mutant, but it’s not like I have darkvision, you know.  I fell into the street, took me forever to find the sewers.  Then there were all these.. things down here, I’ve been bashing heads together for ages.  Must have been a few hundred of them.”

And just to teach me not to get too cocky about my meager victories, more creepy corpses shambled around the corner, splashing in the water.  Chaka gagged as the smell from the zombies hit her.  Or maybe it was my smell that was finally hitting her.

I sighed, “Oh shit, not more of them? These things just don’t quit! Wait here.”

“Hang on,” Chaka said, as she grabbed me by one slime-covered arm, and instantly regretted it.  “Did you see a big werewolf come through here?”

A werewolf?  Well, after a zombie army, I guess a lone werewolf wasn’t too unexpected.  I just shook my head.  She got a big ‘uh-oh’ look on her face.

Suddenly a werewolf that made Bloodwolf look like a happy puppy loomed out of the darkness and rammed Chaka headfirst into my chest.  “There’s a reason for that,” he grinned.

I did my best to twist out of her way, but I didn’t have her quickness, and I was already exhausted.  She went face-first into my sternum.  I was worried for a split second that she’d get her neck broken on me.

The werewolf took a ruthless swipe at my neck, and I think he broke a couple claws on my skin.  He howled in pain and took off in a ‘tactical retreat’.  As he ran past, I could see that one side of his face was a bloody mess and he had half a dozen splintered ribs sticking out horribly from his chest.  If that was what Chaka could do when she got going, I did NOT want to be sparring with her!

The werewolf ran past the zombies and disappeared around the corner, screaming, “KILL THEM! KILL THEM!”

Get real.  Like zombies were going to be a threat if his were-claws couldn’t scratch me.

I helped Chaka roll to her feet.  The zombies, three or four times the number that had been there a couple seconds before, staggered toward us, reaching for our throats.

Chaka stared in disbelief.  “Zombies?  This guy’s got an army of motherfuckin’ zombies down here?  Gimme a break, where’d he get all the corpses?”

I complained, “I don’t know, but I’ll say this.  When I die, I’m getting cremated!  Come on.  These things look scary, but they’re total wusses in a real fight.  Hit them in the head, pop the cranium, and they’re down.  No brains, but whatever’s animating them resides in the head.  Soon as that’s ventilated, they’re gone.”

“Okay,” Chaka grinned.  She bounced on her toes and raised her voice, “Resident Evil, we’re here with your eviction notice!  KI-YAI!”

Why hadn’t I thought of that line?

With Chaka moving about three times faster than I could, and the rest of Team Kimba working toward us with a blazing blue energy sword slashing through anything, the remnants of the zombie army were wiped out faster than I could believe.  The things that had scared the holy crap out of me lasted about a second against the rest of TK.  I think Tennyo was actually frustrated that there weren’t more zombies to mow down.

Then I finally got to get the hell out of there.  I trudged over to an open manhole shaft and went light, drifting up into the bright, beautiful, warming sunlight.

Okay, okay, it was a cloudy, rainy, crappy, wintry afternoon.  But it looked incredible to me, after I had been trapped down in the sewers for so long.

Some of the others went searching for Sara, while I went looking for the obvious.  A shower, several gallons of disinfectant, and some clean clothes.  Thank God I had left my good coat and my wallet and my daypack with Bunny before we started this insane adventure.  As it was, my clothes and my utility belt were utterly ruined.

I was really glad I had had the foresight to buy an emergency backup utility belt from Möbius.  After I lost my first utility belt to the powers testing wonks and then desperately needed it the next day, I had picked up a spare belt in case I lost mine again.  It looked like I was going to have to go buy yet another emergency backup belt.  Did Bruce Wayne ever have this problem?

The rest of the crew who had gone into the sewers had ruined their shoes and socks.  They needed to scrub up a bit.  I needed a decontamination unit from the Hanford nuclear reactor site.  At least, I smelled like it.

Bugs came up with a solution, of course.  Captain Tilley and a couple other police officers conferred, and told her where there were some public showers I could use.

Great.  Public showers.  I still had enough trouble just using the girls’ showers at Whateley.

Fortunately for me - and for every woman in Boston who might have been exposed to Mister Happy And His Luggage - these showers were single occupancy, at a laundromat only two blocks away.  I grabbed a couple police blankets, wrapped myself up, and walked it.  After all, it wasn’t like anyone was going to want a sewer-slime and zombie-goo covered stinkbomb in their vehicle.

Bunny got the laundromat manager to let me in the back door and right into a shower.  She got me some soap and shampoo, and also something soapy she mixed up from household chemicals bought at the neighboring market.  The ‘something soapy’ would supposedly get the stink off me.

I told her my shoe size, and she went off to get me some boots to replace my nice, completely-trashed, jet-black Doc Martens.  Then I set about the task of scrubbing myself until I wouldn’t offend the homeless people in the alley.

How the heck did Jade get clean after near-daily jobs in the Whateley sewers?

Before long, Bunny was back.  She stuck her head in and bubbled, “Ooh, I found the cutest shoes in your size, and they were on sale!  And…”  She stopped to sniff.  She wrinkled her nose a couple times and admitted, “Ayla, you still smell.  You’d better use more of that special remover.  I’ll go mix some more up and bring it in.”

“Yeah, you do that.  The first batch didn’t quite strip my epidermis off.”

But she was gone.  I scrubbed with that stuff three times before I stopped smelling like an erupting outhouse.

It was a damned good thing I had layered some purchased clothing in my daypack, because I would have hated to see what Bugs bought me for clothing, given what she found me for shoes.

Shiny, electric-pink, zip-up Avia cross-trainers.

Did I mention they were pink?  And shiny?  Gah!  If I had let her buy me clothes, I probably would have ended up in a pastel pink tutu.  With rhinestones.  I was never letting her buy me clothes again.  Never!

I did the instant-dry trick, going light and letting the water fall off me to the floor.  Then I dressed in my clothes from the daypack, and the cross-trainers.

Did I mention they were a shiny Day-Glo pink?  Ugh.  I think even Jericho would have refused to wear these things.

I emptied my still-stinky utility belt and washed off the contents in Bunny’s super-cleaning solution.  I kept the few salvageable pieces and stuck them into a ziplock baggie.  I stuck that in the daypack.  I kept the used psi grenade, and the ball bearings, and one or two other toys.  The smokebombs and the tangle-web grenade and the unprotected electronics were waterlogged and useless.

By the time I was clean - and not smelling like a frat house toilet - again, the crew had found Sara.

And Captain Tilley had made us an offer we couldn’t refuse.  Well, we certainly couldn’t refuse free food when we had Tennyo and Lancer to feed.  That, and dropping all potential legal charges against us, and deputizing us (after the fact) as legal superheroes within the Boston Metropolitan Area.  Smart move on his part, if you ask me.

I was interested in the other part of the offer: the police escort, so we didn’t have to lug all our purchases around on the LRT anymore.

We went back to the bistro, and Tennyo immediately ordered four entire dinner plates before we even got seated.  Apparently, she had basically memorized the dinner menu, and she had worked up a substantial appetite beating the Arch-Fiend to a bloody pulp.

Whoa!  She beat the Arch-Fiend?  THE Arch-Fiend?  Single-handed?  And all that happened to her was some of her clothes got ripped up and dirty?  Holy crow!

Remind me again not to spar with that girl.

Most of the gang was bubbling over with excitement about the battles they had fought.  Chaka was bouncing and gesticulating as she described her big fight with Lycanthros.  And Jade was all agog as she recounted the magical battle Fey had waged against The Necromancer.

DAMN!  Fey had gone one-on-one against a supervillain ranked in the top 50 or 60 threats world-wide?  Most of this team so outclassed me that it wasn’t even funny.

The rest of the team had been just as impressive.  Hank had stopped a speeding getaway van, and then he and Shroud had taken on Nightgaunt and Lady Darke.  Bladedancer had faced off against Vamp, and Sara had finished Vamp in about three seconds.

Me?  I nearly suffocated myself, fell into a sewer, and got terrified by zombies.  I felt really outclassed.  Really pathetic.  I felt so miserable that I could hardly eat my oyster quiche, even though it was pretty well prepared.

The rest of the afternoon went better.  We shopped, although there was more emphasis on books and CDs, now that the clothes-sharks were no longer smelling blood in the water.

I will say that Sara’s bookseller, down on the wharf, is one bookstore to which I’m not ever going to want to go back.  Creepy doesn’t begin to describe it.  It was dank and dark and musty and incense-laden.. and those were its good points.  Even the sewer zombies would have complained about having to go in there.  And the books in there!  Holy crow!  H.P. Lovecraft wouldn’t have dared to read those things.  I had a headache just from reading some of the titles.

Fortunately, everyone else wanted to get the heck away from that place too.  I’m surprised Captain Tilley didn’t call someone and have it raided.  I just didn’t know who he could call to raid it.  Maybe Arthur Weasley and the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.

The rest of the shopping trip was much better.  Hank and I found stuff to look at, every time the girls got too gaga about clothes.  Chou usually hung with us two, instead of with the ‘do these hotpants make my butt look big’ crowd.  We ended up buying a couple new games to play on my laptop, although I had a feeling that Chou was going to stomp my ass at Mortal Kombat.  Hank was all about the latest Halo, and I doubted I was going to be able to beat him at that.  Plus I picked up a couple CDs I thought Vanessa would like.

Although I would like to go on record as publicly stating that Fey and Bugs can show me their hotpants ANY time they want my opinion.  And no, their butts looked absolutely perfect.

Captain Tilley and his officers gave us an escort and hung onto all our purchases, which really made shopping easier.  I pointed out a couple times that having a limo on hand would have given us an even better arrangement.  The only time I even got a ‘maybe’ from anyone else was when I pointed out that the limo would have carried lots of snacks.  That got some momentary interest from Tennyo and Lancer.

The captain even escorted us to the train station.  He got kisses on the cheek from Fey and Tennyo and Chaka and Jade, and even Bugs.  He had to think that was a good deal.  Most hetero guys would have run Fey all around Boston in a rickshaw for the chance of a kiss on the cheek from her.  So Captain Tilley scored majorly on this one.  Kisses from a pack of unbelievable hotties?  He was probably sitting in his squad car with a hard-on that wouldn’t quit.  Mrs. Tilley was probably in for a real surprise later when he got home from work.

We crowded together in the middle of the warmest train car, and I tried to ignore all the over-dramatizing going on around me.  That was pretty much impossible between Chaka bouncing all over the place describing how she kicked Lycanthros’s furry butt, and Tennyo bursting with energy as she described her fight with the Arch-Fiend, and Jade acting everything out, and Jinn playing the part of ‘villain getting butt majorly kicked’.

It really bothered me.  They had been so brave, and they were so happy now.  I had been a terrified chicken.  I was miserable.  I really wanted to hear all their stories, and yet every tale I heard just made me feel worse about myself.

I finally managed to fall asleep, right about the time that Hank stopped snoring continuously and went back to snuffling intermittently.  Man, was I glad I wasn’t rooming with him.

On the way to Poe from the train station, it hit me.  A couple standard throwing knives.  Hold one, go heavy, turn it into a twenty-pound throwing axe, and throw as hard as I could.  I was going to have to practice that a LOT before I would dare use it in a fight.  But where was I going to find a place to practice something like that?  I’d ask Ito soke on Monday.

Sunday, October 15

Whateley Academy

We were standing in admin, waiting for Headmistress Carson to ‘talk to us’ about the Boston ‘incident’.  I couldn’t see any way that this was going to be a good thing.

The intercom finally snapped, “Okay, send them in.”  The secretary just gave us a tilt of the head.  We knew where to go.  It wasn’t like we hadn’t been here before.

I’d been here way too many times already.

Lancer led the way, and we trooped in to stand before her desk.  She glared at us, “Do you know why you have been called in here?”

Toni took the initiative, as usual.  “Er, isn’t this about the fight that happened down in Boston?”

Bad move, Chaka.  Never admit guilt, especially as part of an opening maneuver.

“Fight?” Carson rebuked her, “Fight? That wasn’t a fight, it was a DEBACLE!”

Tennyo burst in, “What are you talking about?  We kicked ASS!”

Oh, thanks a ton, Tennyo.  You’re making things worse.

Carson fumed, “You rushed into a high risk situation, where you knew that deadly weapons were being used, when you KNEW that SWAT was already underway!  What were you thinking?”

Hank had to know that was rhetorical.  But he answered anyway.  “We were thinking that the news report said that Skyhawk wasn’t known to be anywhere near.  If SWAT was sending three armored vans, and they were all but sending up the Skyhawk-signal, then the situation was so bad that paranormal response was called for.  And since Skyhawk wasn’t showing up, we...”

Carson erupted, “You are High School kids!  You are not policemen!  You are not even deputized paranormal police auxiliaries!”

Okay, I wasn’t going to let that one slide past.  We were probably going to have to get this part in as evidence on our behalf.  “Well, actually, we sort of are.  Now.  SWAT Captain Tilley swore us in.”

“Captain Tilley,” Mrs. Carson said snidely, “was covering his own backside for taking minors into a near-certain firefight.  Mutant powers or no mutant powers, you’re still minors!  He had no business allowing you to endanger yourselves that way.  By allowing yourselves to be deputized, you’ve severely reduced his liability to a lawsuit.”

Well duh.  Who hadn’t figured that one out already?  Why else had he put ‘deputizing us’ on the list with free food and escorting around town?  Not that I was going to say that out loud.  She’d go Rambo on us if I did.

She angrily leaned forward across the desk.  “Kids, your problem is that you’re lucky.  Your first week here, you catch a bunch of Yama Dojo ninjas, which I admit was very impressive.  But you did it because you were lucky!  So far, you’ve skated along through a bunch of scrapes and managed to keep from getting too badly banged up.  But this!”  She held up a newspaper and shook it at us.  “This is STUPID!  You went up against a crew of professional super powered criminals!  Most of them have multiple warrants for Murder One out on them!  They would have killed you without blinking an eye!”

“You’re telling me,” Sara muttered under her breath.

“What was that?” growled Carson.

“Nothing!” Sara said sweetly.

I didn’t know she did ‘sweet’ too.

Carson snapped, “You managed to pull through this scrape without anyone getting too badly hurt.  But that could have gone very differently.  The Necromancer is a Class A-Minus Felon.  His being at large is regarded as a Clear and Present Danger to the General Populace.”  She gave us the dramatic pause.  “However, you are all too young to really take such things as Death seriously.  So, try this.  You were photographed.”

Oh crap.

Most of the rest of the group chorused, “Oh, really?”  I stared at them like they’d lost their minds.  Didn’t they remember the whole Whateley thing about codenames and security?

“That’s NOT a good thing!” Carson snapped.  “While nobody got close enough to get a good shot of you, there were several long shots of Miss Wilson, Miss Reilly and one of the Sinclair projections.  Your general likeness is now out there.  People know about you.  They think that you’re powerful enough to stand up to a team of professionals like the Children of the Night.  They will be interested in you.”

Nice try, Lady Astarte.  The only problem with your spiel was that most of us WERE powerful enough to stand up to pros like the Children of the Night.  In fact, I was fairly sure that the pros had been lucky to get away with their asses intact.  The ones that got away had needed to flee like frightened bunnies.  Even the bottom half of our line-up had put the hurt on them.

Carson glared straight at Tennyo.  “Miss Wilson!  As I remember, there are warrants out in Colorado for a person matching your rather distinctive likeness, aren’t there?  Now those people know that a person matching that description is in the greater New England area.  And New England isn’t that large an area.  How hard would it be for an intelligent person to link up your presence in Boston and the fact that Whateley is only a few hours away from Boston by train?”

She looked harshly at the rest of us.  “Beyond that, you’ve called attention to the fact that there is a group of super-powered teenagers running around in New England.  Whateley manages to survive mostly because we keep a low profile.  Things like this..” she shook the newspaper again, “do not constitute keeping a low profile!”

She took another deep breath.  “And it doesn’t stop at endangering the security of the school.  Foolhardy cowboy stunts like this get other kids thinking that it’s some sort of game.  If Team Kimba can go out and play superhero, why can’t we?  One stupid stunt leads to another, and eventually kids are getting killed.”  Her deep blue eyes went rock-hard.  “I won’t have that.  You all show a lot of promise.  But you HAVE to learn discipline and restraint!  If not, then you’re all a danger to this school.  I will not allow that.  If you won’t straighten up and actually THINK before you do something, then I’ll expel you!  Individually, or as a team, it doesn’t matter!”

She’d been on my ass before about the rules and regs in the Whateley handbook.  Well, I knew them almost as well as she did.  I interrupted, “Excuse me, ma’am, but I believe that we can’t be punished for things that happen off-campus, unless it’s a class field trip.”

“Don’t split hairs with me!” she snapped.  “This is about the safety of this school!  Some of you have very powerful patrons, but that doesn’t count for more than the safety of my students!  If you think that you’re all hotshot superheroes, and you don’t need the classes that we offer, then I can cut you loose, and let’s see how long you last in the real world!”

Yikes.  The kid gloves were off.

“Well, as Miss Goodkind pointed out, I can’t penalize you for things that happen off campus.  However, risking exposure of the school IS a school offense!  You all have a week of detention at Hawthorne!  And don’t even THINK about trying to go out on another shopping trip this year!”

“Ah, excuse me,” Nikki nervously interjected, “but we have to go back to Boston next month.  We’re scheduled to give depositions at the Arch-Fiend’s arraignment.”

Carson ground her teeth hard enough to crush steel.  “Listen up.  You think that you’re clever, but you’re not.  I warn you, if you insist on charging in every time that something dangerous happens, I will throw you out without a second thought.  Now, get out of here, and for the love of God, will you at least TRY to put as much thought into what you’re going to do as you put into picking out a dress?”

We filed out without saying another thing.  I mentally checked to make sure that Carson hadn’t chewed my ass completely off.

I thought about checking everyone else’s ass too, but that probably wouldn’t go over well.

Detention.  Great.  Maybe this time, Sara can be the one who gets to go clean Fubar’s pool.

I’ll probably get assigned to those toilets that were so hideous that even Tennyo wouldn’t tackle them the last time.

Chaka put everything into perspective, of course.

She threw her hands up over her head and shouted, “Terrific!  Do you know how much this eats into my time with T-Bird?”