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Diane Castle / Ayla / Ayla #4: "Ayla and the Tests" / Part 7

Ayla #4: “Ayla and the Tests” 

- a Whateley Universe Tale

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

 

CHAPTER 7 – The Cattle of Geryon
Sunday, October 29

My morning started off really well.  I just happened to walk down the hallway to the bathroom at exactly the same time as Vox, and she wasn’t in a big hurry to get to a potty.  She looked sleepy, and sexy as hell.  So I stopped her and gave her a ‘good morning’ kiss that definitely woke up a part of me.  Vanessa leaned in against me and sleepily kissed me back until I was seriously wishing I could go back to bed.  With her in tow.

“GET a ROOM!”

“Morning to you too, Sharisha,” I muttered.

“Fuck you, bitch-boy!”

“Nice to see your Prozac prescription is working so well,” I whispered to myself.

Vox playfully batted my arm, “Stop it, that’s not nice.”

I fussed, “Well, what she said wasn’t exactly heart-warming.”

She pouted, “I know, but she’s having a hard time this term.  Cut her some slack.”

I kissed her and murmured, “It would be a lot easier to cut her some slack if she’d cut us some slack.”

Vox nodded, “I know.  I’m working on it.”

She was still snuggling up against me as we slipped into the bathroom, so I still had a boner you could use for a towel rack.  She didn’t want to stop kissing me, which ordinarily I would have been thrilled about, but we were in a crowded shower area and we needed to get going.  She really picked a lousy time to want to be all kissy and cuddly.  I peeled off her bathrobe and scooted her into a shower.

Okay, so I took the opportunity to put my hands on her behind.  So sue me.

Sharisha stepped out of her shower while I was still standing there holding Vanessa’s bathrobe.  I asked her, “Why’s Vox so…”

“So sleepy?  And horny?  Like you don’t know.  It was that goddamn demon downstairs.  Nessa was moaning like she was in heat, ‘bout half the night.  Kept me up, too.”

I told her, “Well, it’s not like we were sharing those dreams you, know.  If you don’t like it, go complain to the demon.”  Okay, I’d had some pretty arousing dreams last night too.  But there was no way I was talking to this jerk about them.

Her eyes got big and scared at the mere idea of confronting a demon who ate live animals in front of the whole cafeteria, and was rumored to eat babies like popcorn.  “Oh yeah, like that’s ever gonna happen.”

And then breakfast at the TK table was even more bizarre than usual.  Apparently, Sara had done something to Hip last night.  The Poe lesbian posse was on Sara’s case about it.  Well, they just wanted to know what the hell had changed with Hippolyta, who wasn’t her usual angry self.

Well duh.  How could they NOT figure out what had happened?  Sara and Hip were so gooey and saccharine that I was surprised my body didn’t erupt in an instantaneous case of Type II diabetes.  Watching Hip be all cutesy-poo was sort of disturbing.  But watching Sara The Demon being all cutesy-poo was just plain freaky.

I had a list of things to do, so I left before either Hippolyta declared undying love or else the Grrl Power Gang tried performing an exorcism right there on the cafeteria table.  I didn’t think I could stomach either.  I took the elevator down to the Workshop levels, and I went looking for Knick-Knack.

I knew I was going to have to find someone who would help me, because the underground Workshop and lab levels were a massive rabbit warren.  And if devisers had been secretly claiming some of the old, unused tunnel areas as their illegal lab areas, it would probably take five or ten years to search the entire thing.

I made my way to the large labroom where Automa-tech and Triaxial had announced the Weapons Fair.  I knew how to get there from the testing labs, and I knew there were likely to be people there.

Bingo.  There were seven devisers and/or gadgeteers hard at work at various tables.  Thanks to my table-crawl at the Weapons Fair, I even knew a few of them.

Back in the far right corner, isolated from everyone else, was a tall, thin figure working away while a bizarre octopoid robot handed him tools.  Mega-death.  Was he being paranoid, or were the rest of the labkids avoiding him?  Maybe both.

It hadn’t been that long ago that I’d been feeling totally depressive and wretched, so I had an idea how he was feeling.  And it hadn’t been that long ago that I wondered if MD needed a friend who could tolerate his going off the deep end now and then.

I took a deep breath and strolled over to his table.

He didn’t bother to look up from his arc-welding.  “No, you can’t borrow my phase-meter again.”

“Not really interested, Harvey,” I smiled.

“Huh?”  He stopped and looked up.  He peered in confusion for a couple seconds before he remembered to lift up his heavily-smoked safety glasses.  When he could see, he broke into a huge grin.  “Ayla!  Hi!”

I said, “Hi.  I was just in the neighborhood, and I thought I’d stop and see how you were doing.”

“Umm, well, I don’t have that forcefield scrambler ready,” he winced.

“Harvey, that’s not what I meant,” I jumped in.  “I stopped by to see how YOU were doing, not how your work was going.”

He groaned, “Well, I only had three major ‘drick-outs this week, so that’s an improvement.  Maybe it’s the new meds they’ve got me on.  But they make me just feel edgy all the time.  I hate it.”

“You seem okay to me.”

“Besides me almost biting your head off when you came over?” he complained.

I grinned, “I’m crankier than that most of the time.  Just ask my team.”

He smiled back.  Then he frowned, “But I was working on a couple forcefield scramblers for you.  They’re just not working, and I don’t know why.  Sometimes devises are just like that.  You can make something really amazing, but when you go back, your devise just isn’t all there.”

I told him, “Look, it’s okay.  Really.  If you get one or two, let me know.  If nothing works right, give it up for a while.  This isn’t something I need, and it isn’t like I already paid you for it.  So relax.”

He nodded an okay.

“So, what are you working on?” I asked idly.

“Oh, this.  It’s an arithmantic calibrator, for…”

Okay, frankly, he lost me right around “it’s”.  All I got out of five minutes of geek-speak was that this was a sophisticated tool he wanted to build, to make it easier for him to build more sophisticated tools later, which would then be used to build even more sophisticated devises.  I let him rattle on a bit, because he had this excited, unleashed look on his face as if no one ever let him talk about his work and he’d had this pent up inside for months.

Man, did this boy need some friends!  Why did everybody in school have to be such assholes to him, just because he had Diedrick’s?

Finally he wound down and blushed, “I.. umm.. you probably didn’t want to listen to all that.  Did you?”

I shrugged, “It’s okay.  You’d probably hate to have to listen to me rant about microeconomic fallacies and consumer education, or risk factors in stock market derivatives.”

“I don’t even know what you just said,” he grinned.

“See?  We’re even.”

He snorted in amusement, and asked, “What can I do for ya?”

I said, “You don’t have to do anything for me.  But if you happen to know where Knick-Knack is likely to be, I’d appreciate it.  Otherwise, I’ll just ask around.”

He scratched the top of his head as he thought.  “Jean-Paul’s probably in Secure Lab 7.  That’s where he is most times, these days.  He’s one of the guys who have access to that Yama Dojo ninja devise, the ‘variable interface’ that’s got that phenomenal process throughput.  Everybody’s talking about it, but hardly anyone gets to work with it.  No one’s been able to reverse-engineer it yet, but Knick-Knack’s figured out how to use it as a high-throughput bus, and he’s got funding from somebody for something major.  He’s got Kew on it, she’s really good on inter-dimensional size manipulators, and Sonex, he’s great on bio-mechanical interfaces.  Go down one level, head toward the large electro-mechanical labs, and look for an area with a Security guy guarding it.”

“Thanks, Harvey.  I appreciate it.”

He smiled like no one had thanked him for much lately.  I had a really uncomfortable feeling that I wasn’t far off the mark.

I followed Harvey’s directions – as much as I could – and made my way down a level, then off toward the larger labs.  But it took me a while to find an elevator that went down to the lower levels.  And the corridors weren’t arranged in a nice, orderly rectangular grid.  Plus, there were more detours and security doors and squirrelly widgets than you could shake a stick at.  Although some of them might have gone into self-defense mode if you did shake a stick at them.  After a while, I really could have used that Exemplar ‘direction sense’ that I didn’t have.  Boy, calling this place a rabbit warren was an insult to rabbits everywhere.

Fortunately, I finally found a guard.  He directed me down a couple corridors, to another guard standing in front of the entrance to Secure Mechanical Labs 1 through 8.  That guard – officer Vane by his namebadge – wouldn’t let me go in.  Well duh, that was his job.

“I understand that you can’t let an unauthorized person wander through the secure labs,” I pressed, “But that’s not what I’m after.  I only want you to call Knick-Knack and tell him I’d like to talk with him about a project.  Oh, and if Sonex and Kew are in there, they can come too if they’re interested.”

“You seem to know an awful lot about this for someone who’s not a deviser and isn’t cleared for the secure labs,” he glared.  He had a London accent that wasn’t quite like Stunner’s, but I couldn’t place it exactly.  At least he wasn’t faking that upper-crust accent like Belphegor and Hazard were.. not to mention most of the other Brits at Whateley.

I rolled my eyes.  “It’s not a secret where he is, or who he asked to work on his project.  Everyone in Workshop knows that much.”  He frowned.  I tried again, “Look, just call Knick-Knack and tell him Phase – Ayla Goodkind – wants to talk to him for a couple minutes about a potential project.  That’s all.”

He had to think it over a bit.  Holy crow, it wasn’t like I was asking him to unlock the security vaults so I could rummage around in them!

He finally made the call, using a videophone system right there on the wall beside him.  Which was obviously there for situations like this.

He cleared his throat and called, “Knick-Knack?  It’s officer Harry Vane.  Excuse me, but there’s someone out here to see you.  Phase.  She doesn’t have clearance to come into the lab without.. umm.. someone else’s permission.”

Hmm.  Was that a particular ‘someone else’?  It sounded that way to me.

“Phase?  Umm.. I don’t remember a Phase…”  Knick-Knack’s voice came back, sounding puzzled.

I went heavy and leaned into officer Vane enough that I could talk into the videophone too.  “Hey Kew!  It’s me.  Ayla Goodkind.  Remind Knick-Knack where we met, before I have to say so in front of officer Vane here.”

Maybe she wouldn’t do it.  If officer Vane were getting paid by a ‘someone’ to provide special guard services, then he’d probably keep quiet for his patron about things like the Weapons Fair.  But he might be a straight arrow who would file a report with Security.  And I had embarrassed Kew in front of her Spy Kidz buddies, so she might be holding a grudge.  In the long run, that might prove to be a strategic error.

I tried something else.  “Hey Rafael, it’s me.  Clue the absent-minded professor in on me, and send him out so I can talk to him for a couple minutes and let all of you get back to work.”  I moved back out of officer Vane’s way, and waited.

He turned off the videophone and turned to me, “You’re stronger than you look.”

I’d put on a couple pounds since I came to Whateley, but I was still fairly thin, on a girlish five-foot-nothing frame.  I shrugged, “Sorry.  I just wanted to get a word in.  And it’s not like you have to look like the Headmistress to have super-strength around here.  I hear there are little old ladies around here, like Ms. Dennon, the martial arts instructor for bricks, who can knock over buses.”

Hank had told me about her one day in Kimba Korner while we were supposed to be studying.

He smirked, “Well, it’s what makes working security around here interesting.”

He had a military look about him, and I’d heard about the people that Whateley accepted as security officers.  Navy Seals, Army Rangers, and so on.  I took a wild guess.

“What, the SAS wasn’t interesting enough for you?”

He blinked twice.  “Psychic too?”

Okay, so that was a ‘yes’.

“No, just a lucky guess,” I replied.

He raised one eyebrow and said, “That sort of lucky guess usually falls under the Esper category, doesn’t it?”

“Not really.  It’s more of a deductive gift.”

He opened his mouth to say something in reply, but the secure door behind him slid aside to reveal Knick-Knack.  Behind him were a smiling Sonex and a glowering Kew.  There was no mistaking Sonex.  Rafael Eagan’s porcupine hair stuck out oddly, no matter what he tried to do with it.

I was figuring that Knick-Knack was really having trouble placing me, and not just blowing me off.  So I pulled from my utility belt the little snooping-detector cube I had bought from him at the Weapons Fair.  Which was only a week ago.  I held it up in my left hand, while I put out my right hand for a handshake.

He shook hands, while focusing completely on the little cube in my left hand.  I was expecting the ‘you are a dainty girl’ handshake that so many guys gave me, but he forgot.  He was concentrating on the cube, and he squeezed.  I quickly went semi-heavy so he didn’t crush my fingers.  He had a hell of a grip for a non-brick.  What the heck did he do in his spare time to get a grip like that?  Blacksmithing?

“How is the detector working?” he asked.

I pressed the button and turned it on.  It immediately went a deep red.

“Hmm,” he thought out loud.

Kew snapped, “Officer Vane, please conduct another sweep immediately.”  Then she reached into her labcoat and pulled out a big monitor topped with a swiveling radar dish.  Now that definitely wouldn’t have fit in her labcoat pocket.  So either she had pockets like Möbius did, or she was an external size manipulator, like Holdout.

Wait a minute.  Holdout was another one of the Spy Kidz.  So there was yet another possibility.  Perhaps Holdout had shrunk things for the other team members to pull out and use.  Or else Kew had been studying Holdout’s Warper talent, and had synthesized it.  Or…

“Phase?  Did you want something?” Knick-Knack asked grumpily.  “I was in the middle of something important.”

I stalled, “Is it safe to talk here?”

He waved away the glowing red cube.  “Oh yes, we’re not going to discuss my project out here.”

Kew insisted, “That’s still very lax security, if you ask me!”

“Okay, I’ll keep it general and non-specific,” I said.

Kew was focusing on her devise.  She murmured, “Good, good…  That’ll help us zero in on it…”

I said, “I’d like to hire you for what might be a long-term project.  Do you work with BITs?”

All three of the devisers froze.

Rafael Eagan asked a little too calmly, “Why do you ask?”

Hmm.  So that’s what they were working on.  Something involving BITs.

Only now they were all antsy about my interest.  Crud.

I snapped, “Why do you think?  Look at me, for God’s sake!  I’m one of the biggest freakjobs on campus!  Every gaybasher for two miles has tried to punch my face in.  I want to hire you to devise a way to fix my BIT!”  I glared at him, “Why?  What did you think I was talking about?”

“Oh nothing, nothing at all,” Kew lied.  Really badly.  Man, I hope she never needed subterfuge skills as part of her Spy Kidz work.

Then her dish locked onto something up on the ceiling, right about the time that Rafael’s gadget beeped.

“Gotcha!” Sonex yelled.

Knick-Knack already had in his hand the ‘Harry Potter’ wand he had showed me at the Weapons Fair.  He fired at the spot where Kew’s dish was pointing.  A beam of red light hit…  And after about a second, there was a shimmer, as some sort of cloaking system failed.  What had appeared to be ordinary ceiling suddenly transformed into a weird black oval about three inches long.

The beam began weakening, and then winked out.  Well, he said it had a limited power supply.

Sonex pointed a small ‘hand phaser’ type of weapon at the disk, and a wave of something rippled through the air, hitting the black oval and making it short out.

The cube in my hand suddenly changed from bright red to clear green.

Kew pointed another weapon, this one shaped like a maraca, but with transistors glued all over the ovoid part.  A high-pitched ping erupted from it, and – whatever it was doing – it made the oval fall from the ceiling.

Officer Vane pulled out a latex glove and a plastic bag.  He pulled on the glove, popped the devise into the bag, and sealed it up.  Then he made notes on the bag.  He murmured, “Hmm, funny none of our sweeps picked it up…”

Kew looked at the gauges on her devise and said, “Not surprising.  It’s part magic and magic devise.  It had a magical stealth system, instead of a physical one.”

Officer Vane asked her, “And who’s capable of building that?”

She thought for a second, “My first suspect would be Nephandus.  He’s a deviser and mage.  After him, Techno-Devil.  Then if it wasn’t either of them, I’d widen my search to include any mage who consorts with a deviser.”

I added, “And isn’t a good enough mage to scry without help.”

Officer Vane nodded, “Good point.”  He scribbled even more into his notebook.

I asked Rafael, “Why would Nephandus be bugging the hallway out here?”

He said, “I’m only guessing, but that thing’s probably mobile.  It managed to get here somehow without any of our detectors spotting a person putting it in place.  So maybe it just needed to wait until we opened the door for long enough, and it could sneak in and get into the lab so it could listen to us talking about the project.”

Kew firmly said, “Which we are not talking about out here.  Right?”

“Right,” Sonex agreed.

Knick-Knack had an “oh yeah I forgot” expression on his face, so I supposed it was a good thing that Kew was a stickler for security.

I pushed, “I see that you have a project going on right now.  But I can offer a lot of perks.  Remember, I’m a Goodkind.  Plus, being able to fix one person’s BIT could have a lot of utility for a lot of people around here.”

He didn’t even need to think it over.  “My patron can provide all the resources we’re likely to need.  And this is already going to be a generalist approach.  When I’m done with this devise and he’s satisfied with it, I’ll have time for your project.  I’ll get back to you then.”

Rafael pointed at his own chest and mouthed, “I’ll let you know.”

I gave him a terse nod.  I was glad that someone besides me had noticed that Knick-Knack wasn’t exactly Mister Daytimer.

Knick-Knack pulled from his labcoat pockets another anti-snooping cube, and a snowglobe.  Yeah.  A snowglobe with a little snowman in front, and what I thought might be the Canadian Parliament building in the background.  The cube glowed green.  The snowman turned back and forth several times before waving its arms and going back to his normal posture.

Knick-Knack looked at his devises and announced, “No more snooping, and no intruders.  Let’s get back to work.”

They turned and went back into the secure lab.  I thanked the officer and strolled off down the corridor.

Now what did I know?  Knick-Knack had a rich patron.  Rich enough that the Goodkind name didn’t tempt him.  Just one.  Male.  A hands-on manager, apparently.  But not a deviser or gadgeteer, or else - as a hands-on manager - he’d be in there with them.  And someone who was also interested in fixing BITs.  Not a specific BIT, but a ‘generalist’ approach that would probably be applicable to a lot of bad BITs.  Not an outsider, or else someone other than three high-school kids would be involved.  Not a Whateley staffer, for the same reason.  Okay, I had a prime suspect in mind, along with two other students as less-likely possibilities.  But if it wasn’t Thuban, I’d be surprised.

Plus, if they got this up and running, maybe it would be the answer for my problem.  And I needed to tell Jade about it.  But I’d wait until it was really working properly.  There was no point in getting her all excited about something that might not even pan out.  I knew just how painful it was to get your hopes up about something this important, only to find out that it was a dead end.

Rather than struggle with finding my way back out of this maze, I just went light and floated up to the surface.  Then I made my way over to Hawthorne.  Melissa was going to love all the dirt that Traduce had dished, not to mention the saga of Glitch and his roommate, and everything else I’d heard.

Lunch was a spicy little treat.  Jana casually strolled out with a bowl of Chinese dumplings in a rich brown sauce.  Of course, ‘casual’ is in the eye of the beholder, when a centaur is bringing you your food.  She handed me the bowl and whispered, “I helped Marcel with these.  They’re Mandarin pork dumplings with a spicy Hoisin-garlic sauce.  I hope you like it spicy.”

I murmured, “Thanks, Jana.  Tell Marcel I appreciate it.”

Then I fixed myself a salad, got an extra-large glass of cold milk just in case, and settled down to enjoy my lunch.  Of course, lunch was the usual Team Kimba ‘kraziness’.  I walked up to hear Jade discussing feminine hygiene with Toni.

As soon as I reached in and touched Fey’s anti-eavesdropping charm, the conversation changed.  Abruptly.

“Well, what if they have more than just those four?  There’re a whole bunch of kids in the Goobers.  What if England sicks all of ‘em on Sara?”

Toni snorted in derision, “Have you seen those losers?  Most of ‘em couldn’t fight their way out of their own bedsheets.”

I took a deep breath and savored the aroma of the dumplings.  Man.  Then I interjected, “There’s a deviser I’ve met.  Ecto-Tek.  He’s supposed to be pretty hot as a deviser.  And he’s totally obsessed with weapons against non-humans.  Anti-werewolf, anti-vampire, anti-spirit, you know…  If he’s building weapons for them, they might have some nasty stuff.”

Fey shrugged, which made her chest bounce, and I nearly lost the thread of her reply.  “…in magic class was talking about him, and his stuff is always designed to be safe against humans.”

“I’ve seen that.  But that doesn’t mean he can’t build something to use on us in case we try to support Sara,” I argued.

“Ooh, good point.”

Then I spent some time ignoring the conversation and concentrating on those dumplings.  The sauce was a rich Hoisin sauce with extra goodies.  Lots of mashed garlic, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, some sort of spicy chili oil, and something that gave it an extra burst of exotic flavor I couldn’t identify.  The dumplings were filled with pork and diced bok choi and chopped water chestnuts.  They were redolent with ginger and scallions and Chinese red pepper.  They were really spicy, but really delicious.

I had to go chat with Marcel and Jana about them.  It turned out that Chef Peter made his own Chinese hot chili oil.  He made it about a gallon at a time, and the cooks used it for some of the Asian dishes whenever they needed that kind of spicy chili pepper condiment.

My entire mouth still had a peppery bite when I left the cafeteria.

I spotted Mal walking out with his buddy Nephandus, so I hurried to catch up with them as they ducked into the elevator.  I sank down through the floor and the ground, to end up in the underground hallway just as the elevator doors opened.

They stepped out and froze when they saw me. 

Nephandus shifted his grip on his walking stick and glared at me.  “What are you doing?”

I smiled blandly.  “Waiting to talk to Mal for a minute.  But it’s not anything secret, so you can listen in.  Which apparently is one of the things you like to do.”

He looked dreadfully affronted.  If he had looked completely befuddled by my comment, I would have wondered if he was behind the listening devise this morning.  But he gave me the ‘I would never’ look instead, so I was guessing it was him.

Mal looked at me, “What do you want?”

I explained, “Nothing major.  I’m thinking about asking Jobe to work with me on a project, and I wanted to know what you thought about him.  You know.  His skill set, his work ethic, his reliability, how he adheres to a contract, that sort of thing.”

“Jobe?” Mal asked.  “Are you sure?”

“No, I’m not.  That why I wanted to ask you.”

He pressed his lips together.  “Jobe’s a genius.  There’s no getting around that.  If it’s biology, and he works on it, he’s going to do an incredible job.  He’s definitely the best bio-deviser I’ve ever met, and that’s saying a lot.  But look…  I’m probably the best friend Jobe’s got.  I’ve known him since before I knew you, and I’ve known him for all those years I was out of your life.  And I can’t count how many times I’ve wanted to just punch him in the head.  Some of those times, I actually did.  Although I usually used a blunt instrument.”

I had to laugh.  “You know, I haven’t even really met him, just heard him all over the place at the Weapons Fair, and I’ve already wanted to punch him in the head about five times.”

He just nodded, “He’s like that.  All the time.  Frankly, you were a lot like him when you were in second grade.  That Goodkind ‘tood you had.  You still have it, even if it’s not so blatant anymore.  You were a cool second grader.  That whole ‘when I run the planet I will not tolerate this’ kind of stuff.  Jadis used to say you’d have made a hell of a supervillain.”

“Uhh, thanks.  I think.”

He shrugged, “But you two going head to head?  I don’t see it working.  First, Jobe works on what he wants to.  You can’t bribe him, and you can’t force him, and you definitely don’t ever want to trick him or cheat him.  He may not be Gizmatic, but he gets even.  He gets way more than even.  Let me give you just one example.  He’s rooming with Oak.  Second week here, this senior Exemplar was giving Oak a hard time in the hall and Jobe told him to lay off.  So the senior smacked Jobe a good one.  Knocked him halfway down the hall.  Gave him a concussion and a lot of bruises.  Jobe came back to the dorm two days later and said ‘stuff happens’.  People thought he was just going to roll over and play dead.  Two nights later, the Exemplar wakes up in the middle of the night, with about a hundred spiders crawling all over him and biting the hell out of him.  After he stopped screaming, they rushed him over to the clinic.  He needed twenty different types of anti-toxin, and he was sick as hell for a week.  Any non-Exemplar would have died.  The guy came back to the dorm and told everyone he was going to rip Jobe’s face off.  Jobe coughed on him.  That was all.  The guy made a fist…  And passed out.  When he woke up in the clinic, he had four legs and four arms, and he was turning into a giant spider!  He had to beg Jobe to turn him back, and he has to take an antidote from Jobe every week to keep from turning into a two hundred pound black widow spider.  He’s basically Jobe’s slave now.  If Jobe dies or gets hospitalized for too long, that kid is fucked.”

I said, “I think I get the point.”

He frowned, “I hope so.  Jobe’s annoying, and arrogant, and overbearing.  But he’ll expect you to stick to the contract, no matter what.  He’ll expect you to do what you’re supposed to, with no cheating and no welching.”

I told him, “Of course!”

“I knew you’d say that.”

I went on, “But that’s exactly what I’m looking for.  A hyper-competent bio-deviser who will stick to the contract and perform without oversight.”

He shook his head, “I don’t know.  I just don’t see this one ending well.”

I sighed, “Okay.  Thanks for the advice.”

Then I walked off toward Hawthorne, so I could take my private shortcut into the Poe basement.  But Mal had me worried.  Even more worried than I was before.  If Mal was Jobe’s best friend, and a supervillain-in-training too, and he said those things about Jobe…

Well maybe tomorrow I’d have a breakthrough with the hypnosis, and I wouldn’t need to depend on a bio-deviser.

Yeah, and maybe Vanessa would walk into my room with Fey and they’d propose a hot ménage á trois.  I figured I had about the same odds of that happening.

Monday, October 30

There’s nothing super about the supermodel!
Oh they’re super-thin and yeah they’re super-shits.
They’re super-egocentric and they’re super-freaky too.
They’re doin’ super drugs
And they’re super-fucking whores.
But there’s nothing fucking super about them!

I woke up to the chorus of “I Hate the Supermodel” by Brass Monkey.  There’s nothing like waking up to the masterpieces.  I tried to sing along to Pete’s vocals for the main guitar line, as I floated out of my bed and drifted over to my bathrobe.  This song had two clashing guitar lines to the same drum and synthesizer line, and four overlaid vocal tracks, two to each of the guitar lines.

Kill the supermodel
(hate the super-ego)
(watch the super-hottie)
(like a super-villain)
She’s a slut they coddle
(she says run and we go)
(so her record’s spotty)
(ev’rything but killin’)
She wears clothes we all detest
(she thinks she is better than)
(she is sexier than hell)
(like Doctor Diabolik)
She is nothing but a pest.
(other girls and every man)
(shake it to a fare-thee-well)
(but also alcoholic)

You know, it’s murder trying to sing along when there are four rocking vocal tracks going on simultaneously.  Plus, there was no way I could fake the four-octave range that Lena Pereille was covering, and I couldn’t lower my voice to the range of any of the guys.

Not to mention that when I sang along to Brass Monkey in the halls and the bathroom, people tended to throw stuff at me.

Okay, maybe it was just that I was a lousy singer.

I showered quickly, so I could get a sink and stare into the mirror as Fey dried off behind me.  Man, I was never going to get tired of that.

Verdant was shaving her legs, only she was trying something new.  She was slowly gaining control over her real mutant power, which was an ability to secrete pretty much anything you could think of, in any way a human body could secrete.  It seemed like she was secreting some sort of scented shaving lotion from the pores on her legs, so she could shave without messing with applying lotions or foams or anything to her legs.  And she had a great rack - even if her skin was sometimes green - so it was always worth watching when she shaved all the way up and gave herself a Brazilian trim, because she usually did it naked.

There was a tap on my shoulder.  It was Chaka.  “Phase, quit ogling everyone and get a move on, so I can brush my teeth.  You’re hoggin’ the sink.  Like always.”

So much for my subtle tactics.  Well, she was probably using her Ki abilities to tell where I was really focusing my attention.

Okay, I’d keep doing it until Chaka actually told everyone what I was doing.  Then I’d move to a different technique.

So I moved.  I slowly gathered up my stuff and left the bathroom, taking enough time that I got to watch Chaka stand naked in front of the sink so she could brush her teeth, do her hair, apply body lotion, and paint her toenails.  All at the same time, while standing upright.  Not only was there some outstanding jiggling involved, there was also some totally unbelievable, totally hot, body movement.  Some day in the future, Thunderbird was going to find out that he was a very lucky boy.

Breakfast was pretty ordinary, but at lunch there was another great tidbit for me.  Chef André had a slice of real quiche Lorraine for me.  Plenty of restaurants offer what they call ‘quiche Lorraine’, but the real thing is clearly better.

And then, after classes, it was time for my appointment with Dr. Bellows, and round two of Fun With Hypnosis.  Once again, Jade met me in the Admin area and cast Jinn into my skin and clothes.  This time, Jinn didn’t need to do her little checks with my clothes and my eardrums.

Dr. Bellows ushered me into his office, “Come in, come in.  Have a lie-down on the couch.”

Once I was horizontal, he said, “I talked this over with your doctor at the clinic, and we think that perhaps you need something to relax you a bit more, and make you a little more suggestible.  I’d like to try giving you an injection of sodium pentothal.  Now I know people think it’s some kind of truth serum.  It’s anything but.  It’s a legitimate pharmaceutical.”

Well, I knew from my check on him that he had a medical degree to go with his psychiatric one.  So I wasn’t worried about his prescribing drugs or anything.

And I already knew sodium pentothal wasn’t a real truth serum.  There weren’t any reliable ‘truth serums’ out there.  Even the best deviser drugs, like Veritol, only worked about twenty percent of the time, and usually on the twenty percent of the population you could have gotten to talk without using the drug.

So I said, “I’m good with this.  Let’s do it.”

He had me sign a form that I had agreed to the treatment, and we went to work.  I lay down on the couch, rolled up my sleeve, and let him give me an injection in my arm.  Then we just talked about my week until he was sure the drug had kicked in.

We tried for an entire hour to get me into a hypnotic state.  He tried five standard techniques, and he even tried walking me through a basic self-hypnosis regimen.  Nothing worked.

He finally gave up, “Okay Ayla, it’s time to stop.  I’ll see what our options are, and prepare some new ideas for Friday.  But the drug won’t wear off completely for another couple hours.  Who would you like me to call to come get you?”

I was kind of dopey, but not too dopey to admit I had Jinn on hand.  I said, “Why don’t you call Vox?  If she can’t come, try Fey, and Tennyo, and Lancer, and Chaka.  If none of them can come, I’ve got more names.”

Vox and Fey weren’t available, but Billie flew over in no time.  One thing about Billie, she might have been a bit gruff about my choice of treatments, but she was a great bodyguard.  Jinn made sure I didn’t wobble (much) as we walked back, and as soon as I was lying down on my bed, she vanished.  Then Jade was dragging people into my room moments later, telling them all about the sodium pentothal and the lack of success with the hypnosis.

Chaka had to try and see if I’d tell the truth while under the influence.  “Okay Ayla, who do you stare at the most in the showers?”

I pretended to be groggy and said, “I try not to stare at anyone anymore…”

Billie flatly said, “She’s lying about that one.”

Chaka shrugged, “Well it was worth a try.”

Jinn stayed with me while everyone else went off to eat, and Fey brought a nice to-go meal back for me.  I noticed that it was a to-go box about three times bigger than I would have gotten for myself.

She opened the box and explained, “Everybody wanted to pick something for you, so we ended up with a lot of stuff…”

“Hey, thanks,” I said.

“I picked the sliced beef in oyster sauce,” volunteered Billie.

“And I picked the ravioli with marinara sauce,” said Toni.

“And I picked the chicken breasts with green onion thingies,” Hank added.

“Well you all know I’m a breast man,” I smirked.

“Yeah, we’ve noticed.”

Jade chipped in, “I thought you liked those chicken legs instead.”  Most of us turned and stared at her.  “What?”

Billie did an ‘Emily Litella’.  “Never mind!”

“I hate it when you guys don’t explain those jokes,” Jade grumped.

There was way more than I could eat in one sitting – or even two sittings - but I had Billie and Hank on hand, so nothing went to waste.  One of these days, Billie’s just going to eat the styrofoam food container too.

Jade left, saying, “I’ve gotta finish the costumes.  Ayla, yours won’t be ready ‘til tomorrow.  Sorry.  Chou?  Nikki?  Get Rip and Bunny.  I need you to try on your costumes and see if they’re ready.  Okay?”

Well, I couldn’t miss that.

Actually the best part was sitting back on Billie’s bed watching as the girls changed into the costumes.  None of the costumes were revealing.  Nikki was going as Ayeka, while Jade was going – of course – as Sasami.  Jade had the outfits multi-layered to give the look of the outfits in Billie’s OAVs of Tenchi Muyo.

I asked, “Hey Nikki, isn’t Ayeka supposed to be dark-haired?”

She just smirked at me and closed her eyes in concentration.  Whatever she was mumbling seemed to echo around the room in a weird way.  And then suddenly her hair changed to a cartoon-like blue-black.

“Impressive.  Is that an illusion, or did you really change your hair color?”

She smiled, “An illusion might not hold up, especially if someone interferes.  So it’s a real color change.”

Then I got to see Chou and Rip’s costumes.  Wow.  I was just glad that I wasn’t having to go as Mihoshi or Kiyone.  Chou looked really good in those high-heeled boots and that miniskirt.  They both did.

Then Bunny was going as Washu.  Jade had the outfit, which looked really good on Bugs.  Especially the tights, showing off those legs.  Bunny had already constructed the special effects for Washu, including two shoulder puppets and what looked like an anti-grav system hidden in a large pillow.

I didn’t want to find out what they had for me, but I knew it was inevitable.  I’d promised I’d go to the costume party no matter what.  After all, this wasn’t just a party, it was likely to be a battle against people trying to kill Sara.

Well, I’d find out soon enough.

Tuesday, October 31

You’d never know it was Halloween.  Well, maybe there were a few subtle hints.  Like the cafeteria having Halloween-themed meals.  And Costume Shop spending the entire hour on Halloween-themed costumes.  And Señor Ramirez spending the whole class talking in Spanish about Halloween-related holidays in Hispanic cultures.  And Quintain talking about Class 1 entities that looked like Class 2 entities for various reasons.  And everyone chattering about their costumes as they walked between classes.

At least Ito and Tolman got a grip, and didn’t have any hokey Halloween crud in BMA class.

After trig, I walked back to Poe to face the music.  Still, I couldn’t believe the costume they had for me.

It was the costume for Tsunami.  Which was four layers, over a gray supersuit.  Plus a super-long bright-blue wig, and a leather bustier to hold everything in place.

Okay, they had suckered me.  They had known I’d kick up a fuss if they showed me the costume, so they waited until I had no time.  I had to either skip the costume party, or wear the costume.  But I didn’t want to wear a damned dress!

Well, it wasn’t like they were going to let me be Tenchi.

So I had to go to the stupid Halloween party in a stupid floaty layered dress.  With makeup!  And a stupid wig!  Could this be any worse?  At least they didn’t make me wear high heels.  Oh no, they had these stupid shoes that no real Japanese girl would wear.  And then I had to go out in public looking like this!

I looked over at Hank, who was blushing with embarrassment in his Tenchi costume, and I murmured, “Could this get any worse?”

I really shouldn’t have asked that question.

We gathered up Sara and convoyed her into the fieldhouse.  That was when I spotted Vox.  Vox came as - get this – the original Black Canary.

She had the bustier-style leotard, and the fishnets, and the pirate boots, and the unbuttoned black leather jacket.  She even had the 1940’s style blond wig.  Of course, the DC Comics versions of the Black Canary were all white chicks.  So this was pretty damned funny.  Several of her friends - all black - had also come as 1940’s DC superheroes, who had all been dorky whiteys.  But the Black Canary was the best of the group.

Okay, maybe I was biased.  A bit.

The only problem?  I was going to have to phase out of these floaty layers in order to dance with Vox.  And I was supposed to look helpless.  Phasing through the outfit would tip off our targets that I wasn’t helpless.  So I had to stand around while the Black Canary danced with a buff black Johnny Thunder.  Crap.

At least I got to tease Chou and Molly a little.

Before I could really give them a hard time, the entire building was hit with some sort of sonic Puke-o-matic.

That damned sonic weapon they used made me feel like Emil Hammond was using a high-speed dentist’s drill on my cerebrum.  It had me vomiting my guts out and phasing uncontrollably.  If someone had come by and tried to help me, I could have disintegrated chunks out of them.  Just like I actually did to half my costume, and a table, and part of the concrete flooring.

Of course, my teammates were unstoppable, while I was lying on the floor puking and crying.  Tennyo and Chaka and Sara and Chou and Jinn were all kicking ass and taking names, while Lancer managed to tough it out too.  So only Fey and Jade and I were totally taken out.  Along with 99% of the rest of the crowd.

Maybe I should think of it differently.  Instead of worrying about being so outclassed by my teammates, I should laugh about being on a team with the toughest bitches in the whole school.

Once Tennyo and company took out the sonic Puke-o-matic, I took out a few cyborgs and stuff.  But so did plenty of other kids.  I didn’t do anything special.  Once Security had everything wrapped up, we adjourned to the Crystal Hall.  Vox sought me out and just clung to me.

And, when we got back to Poe, the place looked like Tennyo had been fighting.  With Godzilla.. and the entire U.S. Army.  There was a massive hole right through the wall, and down into the dorm vault.  Which was supposed to be impregnable!

I didn’t know who had done it, but I was once again reminded that there were a LOT of people around here who could kick my ass from here to Saskatchewan.

Fortunately, Mrs. Horton was already out there, calmly fixing stuff, like someone had merely knocked a baseball through her window.  She was using her magic and spreading deviser tarps over the holes, then sealing the tarps at the edges so they were air-tight, at least until repair people could fix things.  Half the magic users in the cottage stopped and bibbety-bobbety-booed things into place.  Apparently, once the tarps were in place and taut, and they were sealed to the building at the edges of the hole, you sprayed a fixative on them, and they went rigid.  Mrs. Horton said each tarp had an R value of 12.  That was probably more than the R-value of the wall of my dorm room.

Vox was a lot more shaken than I was.  She hadn’t been hammered as badly by the sonics, which didn’t surprise me any.  After all, she was a siren.  But she’d been scared shitless by armed maniacs and armed Chessmen.  She wanted to be held, so I lifted her into my bunk bed and held her for the rest of the night.  Nothing sexy, other than Vox herself.  I just held her, and let her cry onto my pajama top.  Having her want to be held – and want to be held by me - made me feel a LOT better.  I hadn’t felt that manly in a long, long time.

Wednesday, November 1

I took my time waking up, since I had Vox in my arms.  She was snuggled into my collarbone, her breasts pressed erotically against my chest.  Okay, I had a flagpole that was trying to rip its way through the bedsheets.  But that was okay.  I hugged her as long as I could, until she woke up and wanted to use the toilet.  Immediately.

I went light with my pajamas, floated up through her and the bedclothes, and drifted down to the floor.  Then I lifted her out of the bed and let her rush off to the bathroom.  Frankly, I’d been hoping for more snuggling, and maybe some serious necking.

Classes were cancelled for the day, but the cafeteria was open all day long, for people who were having trouble coping with things.  Someone had bombed the senior party with a nasty but non-fatal gas, and some of the seniors were still pretty sick from that.  Then there were some kids who had overdone it and needed extra sleep, and some kids who just hadn’t slept well after all that had happened.

I talked with Dr Bellows for half an hour and felt a lot better.  I made Vox go talk to her counselor too.

Apparently, a lot of the students - particularly the bricks and Exemplars and the high-end Energizers, as well as most of the really powerful Wizards and Devisers - hadn’t felt vulnerable in years, and this was really screwing with their brains.  I hadn’t ever felt invulnerable, or even safe.

I had never felt like my powers protected me from anything, since the first thing my powers had done was make me lose my family and my home.  Then my powers put me in a torture chamber in a testing lab from which I couldn’t escape.  Then my powers put me in the basement of a hovel, turned me into a half-girl freakazoid, and ruined all the clothes I owned in the world.  Then my abilities put me into a confrontation with a super-bimbo and nearly got me char-broiled.  Then they got me sent to Whateley, where half the student body wanted to beat me up, and a large fraction of those bozos actually could pound me into pulp.  What else?  Oh yeah, my powers had nearly killed me a couple of times, and had done horrific stuff to other people.

Come to think of it, Halloween hadn’t been nearly as bad for me as that trip to Boston.  I still had occasional nightmares about being trapped underground with no air and then being attacked in the pitch-dark by hundreds of zombies.

Of course, Halloween had been extraordinarily bad for a lot of Whateley.  Kane Hall looked like the U.S. Navy had used it for gunnery practice.  A lot of Whateley Security people were dead or seriously injured.  There were already a couple construction crews on-campus, cleaning up wreckage and rebuilding.

I made some mental notes on the companies.  If the headmistress trusted these guys to build on the Whateley campus, I was going to consider using them when I needed some private construction done.

That evening, I spent a long time trying to talk Vox into repeating last night’s arrangement.  No such luck.  You know, sometimes there’s a real downside to having a girlfriend with morals.

Thursday, November 2

At breakfast, the big buzz was the prank that had been played on all of Melville.  Every single girl in Melville had been pranked, with someone stealing some, if not all, of every girl’s panties.  And there were a lot of very hot babes in Melville, even if some of them were major bitches.  Half a dozen of the panties had been hung on the top of the flagpole.  Some of the guys at a table behind me were saying that there was a pair of ‘My Little Pony’ panties that no Melville girl was willing to claim.

Someone was asking for a major bruising with this one.  There were plenty of girls in Melville who were not going to put up with that kind of crap.  I could just see what some of the Melville bitches like Hekate and Majestic were going to do when they found out who was behind this one.  Not to mention Pariah, Sizzle, Alakazam, and a host of other hotheads and jerks.

I looked over to the main table.  The Alphas were having some big, angry discussion.  Hekate and her peons Conjure and Spellbinder were fussing away.  The Don was actually looking concerned.

Whoa.  Wait a minute.  The Alphas weren’t behind this one?  The Alpha girls sure looked pissed off.  None of the Alphas looked smug this morning.  So who had pulled this one off?

And what kind of dimwit could pull off something this involved, and not realize that a lot of superpowered girls were going to be looking to rip him a new one?

That thought immediately had me looking for Peeper and Greasy.  I spotted them, about five tables away.  Peeper was busy ogling Fey and Carmilla.  He’d better not ogle me, or I’d put the hurt on him.  I realized that nearly every Melville girl on this half of the caff was glaring at Peeper, as if he were wearing a big sign that said “PANTY THIEF HERE”.

And how could a guy like Peeper pull something like this one off?  People like Hekate and Majestic would be scrying away, magically looking to see who did it and how it was done.  Clairvoyants and other Psis would be doing the same thing, non-magically.  Peeper had a deviser sidekick, but he’d need a teleporter to get in and out of all the rooms, and a really good mage to cover their tracks from magic users, and probably a clairvoyant to check for traps, and maybe several other powers.  And I wouldn’t want to try hitting every girl’s room in Melville without a Psi or Energizer or Deviser who could make sure that the girls in any given room stayed asleep while I rummaged around.

Plus, I knew from my contacts that Thuban ran Twain.  He wouldn’t let a ton of Twain boys get involved in something like this, unless it was some major payback for something serious that the Melville girls had done to Twain or Whitman.  I hadn’t heard of anything like that, even if the Dickinson girls had played a big prank on several Whitman girls just about a week ago.  Which was pretty much the standard: if a couple Dickinsonians weren’t playing a prank on a couple Whitman girls, then a couple Whitmaniacs were playing a prank on a few Dickinson girls.  Also, if Thuban was doing that, he wouldn’t let a loose cannon like Peeper run the op.  Well, I certainly wouldn’t, and my sources told me that Thuban was quite competent.

So who had done it?  And why?  I mean, I could see some pervert-slash-prankster like Flux or Risk doing this to Nikki or Zenith.  Or even to Hank or Sonex, given that both Flux and Risk were very bi.  But why hit Melville?  That made me wonder if the culprit was already in Melville.  Some major Melville dork, maybe even someone who already had a rep for stealing stuff…

Belphegor.

I wondered if Belphegor could be behind this.  If so, I really doubted he could hide his activities from major mages like Hekate and Majestic.  If he showed up tomorrow with a donkey’s head, or with most of his floating chair inextricably rammed up his ass, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.  On the other hand, ol’ Belph didn’t strike me as the kind of guy who had the cojones to hit every girl’s room in Melville.

All day long, I heard people gossiping about the Perverted Panty Purloiner.  No one had a good suspect.  Most people were convicting the usual suspects on no evidence whatsoever.  The Alphas.  The Ninjas.  Pranksters like Risk and Flux and Jokester.  Peeper and Greasy were making the list too, mainly because every girl on campus hated them.

My Accounting I TA work went a lot more smoothly.  People like Aqueous and Cueball were willing to come ask me questions without being forced to by Mr. Marley, and plenty of the questions were fairly interesting.  Okay, the interesting questions were more along the lines of ‘how do we use this in the real world’ or ‘what do you do when this is not enough’.  Somehow I ended up discussing how to handle accounting problems across several incorporated entities within a conglomerate, and the session ran long.

Dinner at the TK table was its usual wackiness.  Particularly when Chaka decided to make a case for “Ayla Goodkind, world’s greatest panty thief”.  She figured that if I hired a deviser to flood Melville with sleeping gas, then paid a wizard to build a trap-checking charm, I could walk through people’s walls and phase through any traps.

“So…  How would I sneak out of the room and back without tipping off my roomie?”

But there’s no stopping Chaka when she’s on a roll.  “Aha!  Of course, you hired her to help you!  She could use the Tao to check for traps and people who weren’t asleep and stuff!”

“And how would I keep my floormates from sensing my emotions about the subject?”

She bore down, “You paid them off too!  Starting with Fey, and…”

But that was what I was waiting for.  I cut in, “And I’d have to pay off anyone with special Esper talents…”

“You know it.  So…”

I wrapped up, “…like the ability to read Ki…”

“Hey!”

I smirked, “So you confess, do you, Toni Chandler…  Or whatever your real name is, you dangerous criminal.”  I turned to the side, “Hank, Lily, I think you better cuff her and haul her in for questioning.”

Lily said something relevant.  “I think everyone’s missing the real question.  Why do this?  This is a major undertaking, and it’s upset a lot of people.  Why are the perps doing this?  It’s stupid and childish.  Because if they can do this, they could rob an upscale apartment building in New York City instead, and walk off with millions in one night.”

I thought that was the best point I’d heard all day.

I spent a couple hours re-thinking and re-writing my paper for World Lit.  I just didn’t think that what I had so far was a good paper, and I was aiming for another ‘A+’.  Well, actually I wanted an ‘A’ without having to write another journal article.

It was snowing pretty heavily by the time I got into bed that night.  We’d had cold, nasty weather already; after all it was November in the Presidential Mountains.  We’d had flurries before.  But this was the first serious snowfall.  I was glad I wasn’t one of the people who had to clean off the walkways.

Friday, November 3

I woke up to the urgent strains of the Dead Kennedys scrabbling out of my alarm, and I looked out the window.  Wow.  It looked like there was a four-inch blanket of snow on the ground.  I was glad I’d gotten Jody to help me weatherproof my window.  In addition to the double-glazed window that was already in place, we’d put a clear plastic insulator over the inside of the window, sealed it around the edges, and filled the space in between with Freon.  So my window had a much higher R-value than before.  I’d suggested that everyone else on the floor do likewise, but no one except Jody had taken me up on it.

And it certainly felt colder in the bathroom.  The hot water didn’t seem as hot as usual, so I rushed through a shower and did my phasing trick to dry off.  At least my heavy bathrobe was nice and warm.

I dressed for the weather, even though I didn’t plan to be outside much.  I figured that some of the classrooms would be pretty cold.  So I started with long underwear.  Silk, of course.  It’s not as bulky as the cotton stuff, and it feels better, and it does a great job of keeping you warm without making you get clothes a size larger.

Then I avoided going outside.  I took my usual shortcut to the Hawthorne tunnel to go to the cafeteria.  I chatted with Phlegm and a couple other Thornies as I walked down the tunnel, so I got to the caff about the same time as the rest of TK.

Chaka waved me over.  When I walked up to her, she asked, “Hey Ayles, ya think you could do that super-light stuff while holding me, and carry me along with you to the tunnel?”

I asked her, “Why don’t you just use some of that ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ Ki stuff and run on top of the snow instead?”

Fey glowered, “She already did.  She and Chou started flicking snow at each other, and the next thing you know, they were flicking snow on everyone else too.”

I looked at her.  She looked remarkably pristine for someone who’d had snow flicked all over her.  She got my drift, or picked up on my emotions.  She smiled naughtily and made a two-handed gesture that made my eyes hurt.  Suddenly a translucent green bubble surrounded her.

“Oh.  Right.  Magic,” I lamely realized.

Jade grumped, “But she didn’t protect the rest of us!  I had snow down my blouse, and snow all over my legs, and snow in my hair…”

I looked at her, and she didn’t look snow-covered either.

Oh.  Right.  That cast-in-your-clothes bit she did.  She had probably cast into her clothes and the snow, and just flung the snow off her.

Solange stomped past us, still trying to comb the remains of a massive snowball out of her no-longer-immaculate hair, while her posse fussed around her.

As we got in the food line, Lancer smirked, “Wonder who clobbered Tansy?”

Tennyo suggested, “Better question: who wouldn’t?”

I grinned, “Yeah.  If there’s, say, 562 students at Whateley this term, I think the suspect list is probably about 555 students long.”

Fey smirked, “That’s pretty generous of you.  A whole six other students who wouldn’t want to hit Tansy with a snowball?  I can only come up with about two.”

Jade started counting off on her fingers.  “Flicker, Fade, those two girls on the floor below Tansy that she loans clothes to and they run errands for her…  Okay, I’m stuck, I can’t come up with more than four.”

At breakfast, everyone was talking about the big news.  Whitman had been hit last night by the Perverted Panty Purloiner.  Every single girl in the cottage had lost at least a few of her panties.  Given what some of the Whitman girls looked like, that had to be a very kinky panty thief.  Even if I were perverted enough to be stealing all those panties, I didn’t think I’d be interested in a lot of the girls in Whitman.  Okay, so there were some cuties over there.  But Diamondback?  Psydoe?  Arachne?  Deimos and Phobos?  I liked Phobos, but as a friend, not as a girl I wanted to date.  And could someone with a body like Diamondback’s even wear panties?  Okay, I didn’t want to know the answer to that one.  But there were a lot of girls over in Whitman who just didn’t sound like primo panty-stealing territory.

Plus there was the interesting news that a bunch of the Whitman girls had prepared traps, just in case the Panty Purloiner decided to descend upon their dorm in the middle of the night.  Several girls had put traps on their doors and windows, and some had traps on their bureaus or their panties.  None of the traps had been triggered.  Not the magical ones, not the devises, and not the plain old baseline-style booby traps.  And a couple girls were angrily complaining that the thief had stolen their panties off them while they slept!

Also, there were no incriminating footprints through the snow outside the dorm.  But Whitman had tunnel access, so that might not mean much.  Even if the tunnels were supposed to be monitored with security cameras.

All that put a whole new spin on this operation.  Whoever was behind this was good.  Really good.  I wondered if someone was doing this as an advertisement of their skills, or as a test to get hired by someone big.  I could see a heavy hitter like a Syndicate honcho making some high school kid demonstrate his skills in a very public way, before the kid would be considered high-level henchman material.  I just couldn’t see a Syndicate honcho picking this kind of silliness as the demonstration.  So why was someone doing this?

The chefs must have thought the weather was extra-cold too, because they had a lot of comfort food on the menu.  And there was something special for me, too.  A gorgeous gallinelle e polenta, which is fricasseed game hen with polenta.  The Cornish game hens were quartered and sautéed in what tasted like a mixture of fresh butter and extra-virgin olive oil.  Then they were cooked in a white wine with porcini mushrooms and some wild mushrooms and fresh rosemary and diced roma tomatoes.  Then Chef Marcel did a gorgeous presentation, smearing a layer of polenta over a flat plate and making a well in the center for a quarter of the hen plus a ladle of the thickened mushroom-tomato sauce, plus a little fresh rosemary and fresh wild mushroom as a decoration around the game hen.  The sauce was pungent with rosemary and the earthy mushrooms, so it went marvelously with the creamy polenta.  I had to go chat with Marcel about the sauce, to find out how he got such a rich mushroom earthiness to it.

After classes were over, there was a big snowball fight going on in front of Poe.  A powered snowball fight, of course.  Quake used her powers to put up a wall of snow as a snowfort.  Then Troika split into three behind their fortification and started throwing snowballs as fast as Quake could make them.

I packed a snowball until it was about a foot across, went heavy with the snowball, and heaved a fifty-pound, hundred-mile-an-hour snow cannonball that ripped their snowfort apart.

I got pelted in the back of the head for my trouble.  There was no mistaking Chaka’s laugh.

I ducked behind a tree, went light, dove down through the ground, came up behind Chaka…  And got pelted with half a dozen snowballs as soon as I went solid.

She laughed, “I could feel your Ki when you slid under the ground, under me!”

Just about the time she was done laughing, three snowballs caught her in the back of the head.  We could hear Tennyo and Jade laughing uproariously.

I had to quit early, since I had another appointment with Dr. Bellows.  I had been hit with twenty or thirty snowballs, since every time I stopped being light I got pummeled.  So I had to change my outerwear before I went off to my session.

Once again, Dr. Bellows tried to put me under.  He tried subsonics, he tried a devise, and he tried an alpha-wave generator.  It didn’t matter.  I just didn’t go under.

He finally sighed, “Ayla, there are lots of people like you.  Their will is so strong that we can’t get them into even a light state of hypnosis.  So there’s no way we can work on your BIT using hypnosis.  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything you can do.”

“I understand that,” I said.  “I’m looking into other options too.”

He nodded, “But if you can’t change your BIT, then I want to work with you on changing your outlook.  There’s no reason you can’t have a happy, complete life while looking just the way you do now.  There are a lot of people here at Whateley who are never going to be able to pass as a normal person.  Even your friends Fey and Tennyo are having to adapt to that.  And there are a lot of people here who are never going to be able to control their powers enough to do things that you’re taking for granted.”

“Like being able to walk out of my room when I feel like it,” I said.

“Yes.  Or go to the movies, or walk down a city street without risking a riot, or a lot of other simple things.  You can have a normal life.  You can have a family – I checked your medical records, your sperm count is higher than normal.  There are few things that you cannot do.  You just need to learn to accept that you can’t have everything in life.”

“That’s part of the problem,” I told him.  “I’ve spent my entire life, up until a couple months ago, learning that I could have everything.  That I could literally have everything on the planet.  Un-learning that is hard.”

He sort of smiled, “Yes, I can see that.  But I have confidence in you.  You’ll get there, in time.”

After dinner, I had homework to complete.  I was still re-writing part of my paper for World Lit.  That made me late to the sleepover.

I had been telling myself that it was something silly that only girls would like, but I actually had a great time.  Of course, once Sara and Destiny’s Wave started competing to see who could tell the scariest ghost story, I knew things would get out of hand.  Destiny’s Wave knew some pretty horrific stories, but it was up against a master horror writer who had died and become a real half-demon.  Sara won their ‘friendly’ competition with a story so terrifying that I was surprised no one wet their panties.

I told Chou and Molly they could have the room for the night, and I’d sleep in the sleepover room.  They kept thanking me, like I was making some huge sacrifice.  They deserved a little private time together.

Well, it wasn’t like this was a huge hardship for me.  I had a Nieman Marcus inflatable camping mattress and a really good sleeping bag that even had a battery-powered heating system if the weather was bad.  I had my pillow and my backup alarm clock from my room, so I was all set.

Except for all the flack I got from Toni for having a ‘camping mattress’ that was better than her real mattress.

Saturday, November 4

In the morning, I had to get up while everyone else – except Sara – was still in a deep sleepover-induced coma.  I had a class to get to.  I got showered and dressed with as little contact with the snugglers in my room as I could manage.  Chou was awake when I slipped in to get my bathrobe and bath stuff, so I reminded her about my class and told her to let Molly know they had all morning.

The showers were nearly deserted this morning, which was a rarity.  Still, I’d rather be in a crowded room full of half-naked hotties.  Okay, I would really rather be in an extremely crowded room full of totally naked hotties, but you can’t have everything.

Molly slept through my grabbing a set of clothes, and I dressed in the bathroom so I wouldn’t wake her.  Then I cut through to the Hawthorne tunnel and trotted off to breakfast and class.  I was really tired, so I took two of the large to-go cups of coffee with me.  I figured that in the worst case, I’d have a painfully full bladder to keep me awake in class.

Since I hadn’t gotten my paper finished until last night, I had to hand it in when I got to class.  That was the first time for me.  Most of the class was in the same situation.  At least next week’s paper, Lucan’s Pharsalia, was going to be a much faster read.  Nine books of about a thousand lines each, and a tenth book, cut short at about 700 lines, because Lucan got ‘cut short’, if you know what I mean.

Class that morning was fairly interesting.  I had to admit it, Majestic was a pretty impressive scholar when she wasn’t getting all distracted by her ‘Greek and Roman Gods’ issues.  And Silver Serpent had much more of an Eastern-cultures slant on things than the rest of the room, which really helped put things in perspective.  I would have loved to hear what Silver and some of the other Whateley kids from that part of the world really thought about the material.

I bugged Silver Serpent after class, and she was willing to talk to me about the Asian perspective of such works.  We took the elevator to the tunnel system and walked through the tunnels to the cafeteria, instead of trudging through the nominally-cleared walkways outside.

I didn’t find out until I visited Static Girl after lunch, but the panty thief hit Hawthorne last night.  Claire lost her favorite panties, too.  She was blushing a bright red and didn’t want to admit what they were.

“Oh come on,” I pushed.  “They can’t be worse than those ‘My Little Pony’ panties from Melville that ended up on the flagpole!”

It took quite a while before she admitted that she had a pair of really racy black lace panties that were sheer over most of their surface.

I teased her, “Woo-hoo!  Claire Pierce, the naughty hottie!”

“Oh shut up,” she blushed furiously.  “I knew you’d tease me about ‘em.”

It turned out that every girl at Hawthorne lost some panties.  Man, who on earth would go into Musk’s room and steal HER panties?  And who could go into Puppet’s room and not get poisoned by any of her blood on her clothes?

Did that mean our thief was immune to poisons and didn’t have to inhale?  Hey, maybe it was Sara, with help from her posse.  I could see a lust demon stealing panties like this.  I just couldn’t see someone as smart as Sara pulling something so obvious.

That only left Dickinson and Poe.  Three down, two to go for the Peculiar Panty Purloiner.

Sunday, November 5

I was on my way back from visiting Melissa in Hawthorne, when a big guy jumped out of a tree to land in front of me.  He was nearly six feet tall, and maybe 180 pounds of solid muscle.  He wasn’t all bulked-up like a weightlifter, but he looked strong.  Whateley strong.  He had bronzed skin, red eyes, and jet-black hair that was pulled back in a ponytail.  He had a sharp-featured, vicious face that reminded me of a hawk.

It was Counterpoint.

Crap.  I’d asked around about both him and Powerhouse, after Chief Delarose’s little warning.  Counterpoint was an Exemplar and a really strong power mimic, who just happened to be totally psycho.  He’d picked fights with a ton of kids already, and he’d won nearly every one of them.  The kids who beat him the first time, just had him taking them on with more and more powers until he finally won.  The last thing anyone needed was this nutbar getting a copy of my powers.

I told him, “Counterpoint.  I’ve heard of you.  I’m not fighting you.”

He sneered, “Are you scared, little girl?”

“Yeah, as a matter of fact, I am.”  I was damned scared that he’d be able to mimic my powers and do some serious damage with them.  And he was an Exemplar, so I was not about to phase-KO him, even if I hadn’t had that major worry that he’d be able to get my powers in the process.

“You’re a pussy!” he blazed.

I just said, “Look, you’ve won this fight.  We’re done.”

He yelled, “What is wrong with you?”

I calmly said, “I don’t want to fight you.  I’m scared to.  So you win.”

He bellowed, “That’s not the way it works!”

Just then, Imperious strolled up.

Oh crap.  I so didn’t want to fight another nutbar, and especially not one who hurled lightning bolts like You-Know-Who.

Imperious smiled at Counterpoint, “What is the matter my friend?”

Holy crow.  He thought of Counterpoint as a friend?  But Imperious was like Majestic.  They thought that they were avatars of the Greek Gods.  They didn’t deign to deal with mere mortals.  But that meant…

Psycho.  Always looking for fights.  War-like.

Oh crap.  Counterpoint had to be their psychotic little equivalent of Ares.  Were they all reinforcing each other’s loony-toon delusions?

Or was something even worse going on?  Nikki had merged with Aunghadhail, who apparently was The Queen Of The West.  Billie had merged with The Star Stalker.  Sara was The Kellith.  Was it possible that these fruitcakes really WERE avatars or merges of the Greek Gods?  Oh crap.  I’d have to keep an eye out for them.  AND whoever they allowed to hang with them.

Counterpoint fumed, “The little bitch won’t fight me!”

Imperious looked down up on me, just like a loon who thought he was Zeus ought to be looking down on some mere mortal.

I said, “I’m too afraid to fight him.  Why would I, a mere mortal, choose to fight Ares, God of war?”  Then I tossed out a quote in ancient Greek from a play by Euripides.  “It is not for us to fight against the Powers from Mount Olympus.

Imperious easily translated, “‘It is not for us to fight against the powers of Mount Olympus.’  Ah, it is so long since I have heard anyone else speak the ancient tongue.  And you are?”

“Phase.  Ayla Goodkind.”

He smiled regally, “Since you know who we are, and you know not to fight against us, it would be churlish of us to insist on fighting you.  Come, Counterpoint.  I want to talk to you about Prism.  Once again, he refuses to come to our discussions, and his opinions would be most valuable now…”

They walked off, and I felt a massive knot coiling up in my stomach.  He spoke ancient Greek, or at least understood it.  I was just quoting a Greek author.  That made him more than just a nut who thought he was Zeus.  And he had the powers of Zeus too.  Super-strength and lightning bolts, and who knew what else.  He could lead Counterpoint around by the nose.  But if he was Zeus, and Majestic was Hera, and Counterpoint was Ares, then what about Prism?

Let me think…  Energy powers, stronger in sunlight, and a Healer.

Sunlight.  Healing.

Oh crap.  Prism had to be the god Apollo.

Holy crow, how could so many Greek Gods just be showing up all of a sudden at Whateley?  Were there more of them?  Was something so horrific going on that the Greek Gods were returning to Earth?  Or could it be that this was the first chance they had to merge with human bodies that were strong enough to hold their energies, and had the ability to manifest their powers?

How could I find out the truth?  Because either there was an entire flock of super-powered loons loose at Whateley, or else…

Or else there was an entire flock of super-powered Greek Gods loose at Whateley.

I couldn’t stop from shivering at the icy lightning running down my spine.  I couldn’t decide which of the two would be worse.

One thing was for sure.  I could NOT let that psycho Counterpoint get a copy of my powers.  Not when I was only a conscience away from being Tinsnip.  Even if he could copy my powers temporarily just by being near me, he couldn’t learn how to use them like I did, unless I showed him.  So I definitely wasn’t going to fight him and reveal what I could do.  That fruitcake would have no compunction about disintegrating chunks out of people, or ripping holes in people, or shredding BITs, or doing every horrendous thing that I was afraid might happen around me, even by accident.

I went back to Poe.  I figured that I needed to talk to an expert about this.  I made a beeline for Nikki’s room.

I knocked, and walked in when she told me to.  She was at her desk, working on homework of some kind.

Chaka was busy doing a one-armed handstand, balancing on one leg of an upside-down chair, and throwing her minuscule darts at her teeny dartboard.  And she still wasn’t missing.  She turned around and waved ‘hi’ without losing her balance.

Nikki looked at me and said, “What’s got you all upset?”

Empaths.  Oh brother.

I flopped down on her bed.  “Counterpoint and Imperious.  And Majestic, for that matter.  They’re either completely nuts, or else they really are the ancient Greek Gods in some way.  Could they be avatars or channelers or merges of the real Greek Gods?  Or something?  I figured you’d know, if anyone would.  You or Aunghadhail.”

Nikki leaned back in her chair and thought out loud, “Let’s see, we’ve got me and Billie and Sara on campus.  There are some other Sidhe.  Circe teaches here.  Hmm…  Could be.”

Then she sat up straight and became.  She didn’t become something else, she just became more Fey-ish.  Watching Nikki switch over to Aunghadhail was always interesting, and frankly freaky.  She went from being a casual teenager to being a rigid queen.

Aunghadhail tilted her head regally and spoke, “The Gods of recent Greek myths, as the child remembers them.  They would be mere children.  Younglings who are too new and too immature to handle their powers as they ought.”

Then Nikki was back.  I could tell by the change in her posture.  “I hate it when she thinks of me as a child!”

“I imagine she thinks of Circe as a baby, and she’s old,” I ventured.

“Yeah, I know she’s right, but I still don’t like it,” Nikki insisted.

“So.  What does the Queen of the West really think?” I asked.

Nikki shrugged.  “She doesn’t know either.  Not that she’s going to admit it.  So is it just those three pains in the ass?”

I admitted, “Maybe not.  They think Prism is one of them.  He’s a really handsome Exemplar-”

“Ooh!  Our little girl is going het on us!” crowed Toni.

“As if,” I snapped.  “He’s stronger in sunlight, a major Energizer, and he’s a Healer.  Pretty damned powerful one, too.  Right up in your league,” I pointed out to Nikki.  “And he didn’t want to join their council.  I think that makes him Apollo.”

Toni thought for a second and said, “Ayles, you’re jumpin’ to conclusions here.  You say he doesn’t wanna play nice with ‘em?  So maybe they just think he’s like Apollo, and he thinks they’re loony-toons.”

“Good thinking, Toni,” agreed Nikki.

“Toni?  Thinking?  Do those go together?” I added.

“Hey!”

Nikki giggled exotically, then said, “I really think she’s got a point, Ayla.  You may be reading way too much into this.  We’re on an entire campus of super-powered people who look like Exemplars.  There’s got to be a bunch of people who’d fit pretty much any of these archetypes.”

Toni added, “And since they’re the Greek Gods, you gotta start with them being Exemplars.”

I said, “Well, all of them except Hephaestus.”

“Heh-who?”

I glared at Toni.  “Hephaestus.  Vulcan, in Roman mythology.”

“Oh.  Okay,” she said.

I went on, “God of the forge.  God of blacksmiths and artisans.  God of technology.  The cripple-legged God, son of Hera, who was married to Aphrodite by Zeus.”

Toni grinned, “Sounds like a deviser to me.”

“Yeah, I…  Oh crap.  I know who it is.  It’s Knick-Knack,” I groaned.  I thought about his crippled leg and his powerful shoulders and his awesome grip.  Could be…

Nikki shook her head, “You’re doing it again, Ayla.  Just because you can make it fit, doesn’t make him one of their crowd.”

Toni chipped in, “Yeah.  Try Venus.  I mean, Aphrodite.  Smokin’ babe who acts like a love goddess.  I bet there’s a hundred girls on campus who fit that.  Startin’ with Fey and all of Venus, Inc., and Sahar, and dozens of other hotties around here.  Includin’ Solange, and I really hate to admit that one.”

“Ugh.”  The thought of Tansy Walcutt as the avatar of Aphrodite just made me want to hurl.  But it did fit.  A stunning blonde who could really crank up the “I’m all that” vibe, not to mention having psychic powers that made her ultra-desirable and better in bed.

Nikki looked at me and then poked me in the arm.  “You’re doing it again!”

“Sorry.”

She said, “I like the idea of someone like Poise as the avatar of Aphrodite.  Or Lifeline.  She’d be a really good fit.  Or Charmer.  She’s really pretty, and her magical abilities are impressive.  Who else?”

I said, “Well, Apollo has a sister, Artemis – that’s Diana or Luna in Roman mythology – who’s the goddess of the hunt and all wild things.  She a virgin goddess, and-”

“A virgin goddess?” Toni snickered.  “She don’t do the humpty dance with the guys?  Well, if she’s a lesbian, she’d be in Poe.”

“Feral,” Nikki said suddenly.  “She’d fit.  She’s a lesbian, she shifts into predator forms, she goes out at night and hunts live animals…”  She realized we were both staring at her.  “What?  Sara told me!”

“Suuuuuure…”

“Well, Feral sure is a ‘wild thang’.  And she’s an Exemplar too.  So she does fit.”

I said, “Okay, what about Athena?  Stern goddess of justice.”

“Sounds like Batman,” smirked Toni.

“Athena’s female, remember?” I huffed.

“Okay.  Batgirl.”

Nikki giggled out loud.

Toni shrugged, “Okay, okay, lemme think.  Stern goddess of justice type.  Umm…  Half the girls in the Cape Squad.  Hippolyta.  Shrike.  Adamantine.  Bombshell.  Golden Girl, from what you been sayin’.  A-Plus.  Aztecka.  Mindbird.  That nutcake Nightbane.  Ya want me to keep goin’?”

“No,” I sighed.  “That’s plenty.  I think you proved your point.  This is Whateley, after all.”

 

The more I thought about it, the less I was certain that I wasn’t just reading way too much into this.  After all, Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, could be any of the girls on campus with plant or nature powers.  Hermes?  Good grief, there were way too many speedsters around here.  Poseidon?  Tidewater or Aqueous or any of the guys around here with water-related powers.  Dionysus, the god of wine and festivity?  Ninety percent of the Dylans, plus dozens of serious party animals all over campus.  Hades?  Any of the guys with shadow or darkness powers, or most of the Goths, or even that depressive kid Stygian who was a manifestor or something.

But the bottom line was that Fey thought that the Whateley kids really could be avatars or merges or channelers or something of the real Greek Gods.  That didn’t make me feel any better.

Okay, if she’d told me she thought they were total fruitloops who were deluding themselves, that wouldn’t have reassured me either.  With those nuts, this was a strictly lose-lose situation.

As I was going to bed that night, I realized that there was also an Option C: maybe one or two of these guys were real Greek Gods, while the rest were enjoying having someone feeding into their psychotic little delusions.  Maybe that was actually worse.

Monday, November 6

I woke up to the alarm clock, and I had a sudden urge to check whether any of my underwear had vanished overnight.  I repressed that and got moving.

While I was waiting for a shower stall - and ogling everyone else - Chaka walked into the bathroom.  She called out, “Everyone still got their panties?”  Most of the room laughed.

Rip fluttered her eyelashes at Toni and teased, “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

Sharisha walked out of her shower and muttered, “Fuckin’ boybitch.  Wouldn’t surprise me any if you Kimbos were doin’ it.”

“Oh come on, that’s not very nice,” Bunny fussed.

Yeah.  And if we were doing it, we certainly wouldn’t bother with your panties, you cranky lardball.  I had enough sense not to say that out loud.  But Punch turned and stared at me for a second, so she must have picked up on my angry emotions.

We trekked off to breakfast.  The walks were all clear, so I grabbed my heavy coat and walked with the gang.  I went light for most of the walk, since pranksters were flinging snowballs all over the place, especially around Melville.

Nikki just murmured something that echoed oddly between my ears.  Then she made a fluid hand gesture, and all the snowballs suddenly reversed direction and chased down their hurlers.

“Goddamn magic users!”  That was some guy who had just taken one of those snowballs, right in the kisser.

“Nice aim, Nikki,” whispered Chaka.

“Not really,” Fey admitted.  “I was trying to make the snowballs fly down into their underpants.”

Ooh.  A snowball right in the crotch, inside the clothes.  My knees almost locked together at the thought.

The big news in the cafeteria was that Dickinson got hit last night by the Perverted Panty Purloiner.  That left Poe.

A number of girls around the caff were looking at some of the Poe troublemakers as potential panty-thieves.  Risk and Flux seemed to be getting the most focus, even if Michelangelo was a bigger pain in the ass in my opinion.

I wondered who was behind all this.  And I wondered about some guy rummaging through Solange and Sahar’s panty drawers in the dead of night.  Or through some of the other panty drawers there.  I mean, there were a ton of hotties over in Dickinson.

Lunch was excellent.  Not only did I have a marvelous treat from Chef Marcel, but I got to watch a dozen angry girls rough up Peeper and smash gooey desserts onto his head.  Security had to break it up and lead Peeper away for his own safety.

At the end of trig class, Unicorn led me down the hall until we had a little privacy.  She said, “Tonight, come over and eat dinner with me and Tidewater and the rest.  We want to talk to you about handling a future Golden Kids meeting.”

I told her, “Okay.  I’ll be there.  Anything to avoid the catering we had last time.”

She shook her head in disgust, “I told them Traduce couldn’t follow through on her promises.  She never does.”

I smirked, “Yeah, but I’ll bet she has a really interesting story about how it’s someone else’s fault and they’re out to get her.”

Unicorn grinned.  “Yeah, she’s already on about how her secretary has been sabotaging her for months as part of some fiendish plot.”

“Yeah, it couldn’t possibly be that Traduce treats her people like cattle, and then they quit and tell everyone about her, so she can’t get good help after that.”

She said, “My mom says Traduce’s mother is exactly like that.”

So I missed the usual wackiness at the TK table, and had dinner with some of the Golden Kids instead.

Tidewater and Premiere were obviously running the meeting.  And the table.  Premiere had two serving girls in regular Whateley uniforms fetching beverages and desserts for everyone.  Both girls looked like sophomores, but I didn’t know either one.

Premiere said, “I’d like to extend a welcome to Phase and Tabby, two of our most impressive up-and-comers.”  We received a host of smiles and nods.

He turned to the two of us and continued, “The reason we invited you to eat with us, is that we want to sound you out.  Would you be willing to listen to us discuss what’s involved in putting on one of the monthly meetings, and then let us know if you’d be willing to run one?”

“Sure,” she said.

“Of course,” I added.

He smiled in acknowledgement.  “Good.  We’ll have one more meeting this term.  It’ll be on the 18th, and there won’t be a meeting in December.  Meetings when everyone’s sweating over finals never work well.  Hatamoto’s going to be handling the next meeting.”  He looked over at Hatamoto, “Ken, do you have anything you want to talk about before we open it up?”

Hatamoto nodded, “Yes, I do.  First, after having to deal with Traduce, the caterers are very upset with us.  We may have to give up on the caterers we’ve been using for the last several years.  I’ll see if I can talk them into working with us at least once more.  I’ll know more about this later.

“Second, there are two staffers who are always willing to earn some extra money as serving staff.  Although Ginger was really upset with the way Traduce treated everyone, so we may lose her.  Still, we usually prefer four to six staffers, so each person in charge ends up talking a couple students into being waitstaff for one evening.  You have to follow the Whateley handbook on this, or you’ll be hearing from Ms. Hartford or Mrs. Carson.

“Third, the room is ours, regardless of when we schedule the meetings.  But our security staff likes to have a couple hours to sweep the room before the meeting.  And the meeting has to be at a time when they’re officially off-duty.  Typically, that means there’s one Saturday a month when they can’t do it.  Accommodate them.  They define the pay scale, you merely pay them as they request.

“Fourth, the cleaning before and after the meeting, plus the set-up and break-down of chairs and such, has usually been handled by the caterers.  You have to make sure that’s part of the arrangements.

“And finally, the part everyone sees.  The foods and beverages.  For Heaven’s sake, try to do better than Traduce!  Those little things in dough were utterly dreadful.  If you can’t find a halfway decent non-alcoholic beverage, try mineral water.  That’s what I’ll be serving this time.”

Premiere nodded, “Thank you, Ken.  That was well-presented.  Anyone else?”

Unicorn muttered, “Yeah.  Try to get that bottle away from Glitch without his going ballistic about it.  He shouldn’t be drinking.  He’s underage.  One of these days, he’s going to get us in trouble.”

While people brought up points they’d discovered when they were running the Saturday night meeting, I ate my dessert.  Premiere’s serving girls brought around a fairly decent coffee, so I had a cup.

When they had covered the issues, Premiere looked at me and Tabby and asked, “So, are either of you willing to handle one meeting sometime during the rest of the school year?”

I said, “Definitely.  Sign me up.”

Tabby said, “Oh, mother would have a fit over the expenses!”  She switched to an evil gleam and said, “I’m in too.”

Finally, Tidewater wrapped up the meeting.  “Are there any other questions?”

I said, “I only have one.  We go by ‘Golden Kids’, but that’s what everyone else calls us.  What’s the official name of the group?”

Unicorn covered her face with her hands.  Premiere groaned.

Tidewater said, “You’re not going to believe this, but our official title is ‘The Superior Court of Kings and Queens of the Golden Circle and Platinum Diadem and Silver Crown’.  That’s why we all call ourselves the Golden Kids.”

“Okay, you’re right.  I don’t believe you,” I replied.

He sighed, “I didn’t either.  But you can look it up.  Official clubs have to be registered with Whateley Admin.”

Premiere volunteered, “When I was a frosh, Coronet explained it to me.  Of course, Coronet liked to make up a lot of stuff, so take this with a grain of salt the size of a salt mine.  He told me that what he was told was that it started out as the Royal Kings of the Golden Circle, and so the group was known as the Golden Kings, which got labeled the Golden Kids by everyone else.  But in the late 60’s, there was a kid here who actually had the codename Golden Circle, and so they changed the name to the Royal Kings of the Golden Circle and the Platinum Diadem.  Then, in the 70’s, the feminists of the group insisted on a change, so it became the Royal Court of Kings and Queens of the Golden Circle and the Platinum Diadem.  After that, in the 80’s there was a big ongoing economic fight about the gold standard vs. the silver standard, and so the ‘Silver Crown’ part got added on.  Then in the 90’s, the Americans dominated the group and decided to replace the ‘Royal’ part.  No one’s made the name any worse since then, but that’s why none of us call the group by its real name.  ‘Golden Kids’ is enough.  The real name is just plain embarrassing.”

“Okay.  I’m sorry I asked,” I told him.  Actually, I was glad I’d asked.  This was something that could be fixed.

As I got up, I thanked everyone for the invite, and told them I appreciated the offer.

Chou caught me as I left the caff.  “Ayla, you missed dinner.”

“No, I was eating with the Golds.”

She tried again, “I am sorry.  I meant that you missed dinner with us.  Lancer has a new roommate.  Heyoka.  We met at dinner.  Let’s go back to the room, and Hank will introduce us to Jamie.”

“Heyoka?  What sort of name is that?”

She bowed her head slightly, “I will let Heyoka explain that.  It is some sort of American Indian word.”

“That’s okay.  I’m tired of most of Whateley acting like all codenames have to be in English.”

She grinned, “Says ‘Phase’ to ‘Bladedancer’.”

I laughed, “Well, it is kind of stupid sometimes.  Most of the Europeans have English codenames, or at least codenames that are also English words.  Even a bunch of the Beret Mafia do it.  Charge and Migraine and Kismet all have names that are also English words, even if they’re pronouncing them the way they sound in the original.”

“Oh,” she said.  “I thought their names were pronounced ‘charj’ and ‘MY-grayn’, not ‘sharj’ and ‘me-grain’.”

“I guess you’re still a Knoxville kid inside that body.”

She sighed miserably, making me sorry I’d brought it up.  “I wish it were so.”

I nudged her, “Hey, look at it like this.  If it wasn’t for that sword, you wouldn’t have Molly…”

“True.”

“Or the coolest roommate in the country.”

She giggled and said, “It is very nice rooming with you.  And I do not have to fight hobgoblins every day, or argue with my roommate over bringing another four trunks of deviser gear into the room, or worry about my roommate accidentally blasting part of the room.”

I agreed, “Yeah, I’m just glad I don’t have Scrambler for a roommate.  Or Tempest.  Or Michelangelo.  Or…”

“Yes, there are many people who would not be as good a roommate as I have.  I do appreciate that.”

I told her, “Well the only way I’d be happier with my roommate sitch was if my roomie were Vox, and she was ready to get serious.  But that’s not happening, so I’ll stick with you.”

“Gosh.  Thank you so much,” she complained.

Right after we got back to my room, there was a strong knock.  Hank called out, “It’s me.  With Jamie.”

I called out, “Come on in.”

Hank opened the door, and stepped in with a good-looking kid of obvious Indian heritage.  The odd part was that the kid was really good looking, but in a really androgynous way, so you couldn’t tell he was a guy.  If he was a guy.  The name ‘Jamie’ wasn’t exactly gender-defining.

Hank said, “Jamie, you met Chou already, and this is Ayla.  Ayla, this is Jamie Carson, who goes by Heyoka.”

I smiled and said, “Welcome to Poe.  I take it you’re one of us.  By the way, I approve of a non-English codename.  We’ve got way too many non-WASP and not-American kids with ordinary English names.  Like, say, Bladedancer.”

Chou stuck out her tongue, just to show how she was truly one with the Tao.

Jamie cautiously explained, “It’s Lakota.  It means ‘sacred clown’.”

“Oh?  Like the medicine man character in the movie Little Big Man?”

Jamie looked sort of uncomfortable.  “I don’t know.  I haven’t seen that one.”

Hank said, “Man, that’s a great movie.  Action, adventure, comedy, the Indians are the good guys and General Custer is a dick, the hero’s supposed to be an old Indian fighter but it turns out he was one of the Indians himself…  Dustin Hoffman is really, really good in it.  I’ll have to show it to you sometime.”

Jamie thought it over.  “That sounds pretty neat.”

I told Hank, “I’ll go ahead and get it and download it, so it’s ready when you are.”

Jamie seemed like a nice kid.  Shy, but that was to be expected when being thrown into a new school that was completely different culturally as well.  But was he a boy or a girl?  And he didn’t seem to care which sex he was, or even which sex you thought he was.

That really bugged me.  How could you not care whether you were a boy or a girl, and how could you not care that people were guessing wrong about your gender?  It just ate at me that I had to live with the identity of a girl, and people really thought I was a girl.

Granted, I had far fewer people trying to punch my lights out when they thought I was a girl, instead of an intersexed transgender freakfest.  But I would have vastly preferred to be able to pass as a boy.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t come close, unless I was buried under ten layers of clothing.. and a parka.. and I didn’t talk, or walk, or do any of the other things that tipped off people that this body was clearly not male.

Jamie explained a bit about his sitch.  And, since this was Whateley, the truth was even weirder than I expected.  Jamie used to be a girl, but she’s now intersexed like me; and she shifts back and forth depending on weird shit that’s out of her control.  Holy crow!  The thought of waking up with a slit between my legs just made me shudder.  The thought of waking up covered in feathers, or scales, or fur, or God only knew what…  Ugh.  Okay, so I didn’t have it as bad as plenty of people at Whateley.  I already knew that.

Tuesday, November 7

I woke up, and the first thing I did was check the bureaus.  Mine and Chou’s.  No missing panties.  At least they looked like everything was there.  I wasn’t going to go all OC and count them.

Things in the showers were more tense than the day before.  People were really expecting to get ripped off.  No one laughed when Chaka did the same “Everyone still got their panties?” bit.

Chaka confided, “Fey put so many hexes on her stuff, I was almost afraid to get clean lingerie this morning.”

Fey muttered, “Yeah, like you weren’t asking me to put the same charms on your side of the room…”

As we walked to the cafeteria for breakfast, just about everyone we met wanted to know if we’d been raided.  Then they wanted to know why not.  It was just like that in the caff.

Automa-tech waved me over as soon as we walked toward the breakfast line.  I knew what she wanted, so I strolled over.

“Were you been raided last night?”

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

“Beats me.  Maybe Sara ate ‘em.”

Charmer shuddered, “That is not a laughing matter.”

I shrugged, “Believe me; if I really thought Sara ate people, I wouldn’t ever go down to her room.  She’s okay.”

The general reaction to that statement ranged from the ‘if you say so’ shrug to the ‘you must be mad’ eyeball roll.  Sara definitely needed less cult and more PR campaign.

I walked through the food line, and Chef Peter strolled up with a plate.  He murmured, “Swedish pancakes with homemade lingonberry preserves.”

“Thanks.”

He leaned forward, “So, were you…”

I grinned and shook my head.  “No.  And we have no idea why not.”

He smiled wickedly, “Marcel had ten bucks that said you had been.  It’s my lucky day.”

The Swedish pancakes were almost like crepes, and the lingonberry preserves were excellent.  I savored them as I ate.  Meanwhile, the table conversation was as weird as ever.

“So what I want to know is why we still have our panties.”

“Maybe Sara ate the panty thieves.”

“Maybe they’re scared of Billie.”

“Hey!  Why’s everybody always picking on me?”  Actually, since she had two whole cinnamon buns stuffed in her mouth at the time, it sounded more like, “Ey!  Eye eh-ee-ah-ee aw-ay ih-ih aw ee?”

“Maybe it’s the Alphas and they’re settin’ up to frame us.”

“Maybe it’s Jade and Belle.  Jinn could get in anywhere, and she can see magic, so maybe it’s them.  They could do it.”

“Hey!  Oh wait, that’s a compliment, right?”

“Well, nobody’s going to want those Hello Kitty panties, anyway.”

“HEY!  Why’s everybody so down on Hello Kitty?”

“Jade, news flash.  Hello Kitty’s even a step down from those My Little Pony panties that got left on the flagpole.”

I noticed that all day long there was a certain level of tension around the campus.  Poe hadn’t been raided.  People were watching the Poe troublemakers with a lot more suspicion than usual.  Flux and Risk were constantly being glared at by angry young women.

In trig class, Unicorn flat-out asked me and Electrode what the deal was.

I told her, “Whoever is behind this is ultra-competent.  Look at what he’s done in a week.  There’s no way he’d forget to raid his own dorm, if he was in Melville or Hawthorne or Poe.  In fact, my guess is that it’s a couple Melville guys who raided all of your panty drawers, and then realized they had to hit the other dorms just to keep everyone else from figuring out it was some Melvillians.”

“So why hasn’t Poe been hit?”

I shrugged, “Got me.  My guess is it’ll get hit any day now.  Maybe the big sleepover we did on our floor a couple nights ago just screwed up the schedule of our Panty Purloiner.  Or maybe it’s all been a big scam to implicate some dork in Poe, like Risk.”

Electrode suggested, “Or you.  Plenty of people, including a bunch of Alphas, would love to nail you to the wall.  If Poe doesn’t get hit, and then a bunch of incriminating evidence shows up in your room, you’ll be in serious trouble.”

“Good point,” I agreed.  But I was counting on my source inside the Alphas, plus a couple other contacts, to keep me informed if anything like that was going on.  Not that I was ever going to admit I had that much of an information network already.

Unicorn snorted, “Yeah, keep an eye out for a couple thousand panties suddenly appearing in your room.”

I grinned, “I’m still dying to know who owned those My Little Pony panties that ended up on the flagpole.”

Unicorn broke out in giggles.  “You’ll never believe this!  It was one of the Bad Seeds!”

Electrode gaped, “No way!”

“Yeah.  It was Dragonrider.  The chick who hangs with She-Beast and Nacht, but looks like she’s right out of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ or something?  But nobody messes with her, because word is that her dad is a MAJOR supervillain.  And that cute little dragon-thing she carries around with her like a puppy?  If she gets pissed off, it’ll go for you.  And it grows.”

“It grows?  How much?”

Unicorn winced, “I’ve seen it maybe fifteen or twenty feet long, maybe a twenty-foot wingspan, and its claws ripped right through a granite floor.  So I don’t want to find out how big it can get.”

Man, the thought of one of the Bad Seeds wearing My Little Pony panties just sounded bizarre and incongruous.  I wondered if it could be some sort of Xanatos Gambit: make it look like you’re really embarrassed by the result, while secretly furthering some sort of evil plan.

I went to sleep that night, wondering when Poe was going to get hit by the Perverted Panty Pimpernel.

Wednesday, November 8, ~ 1 am

There was a girl’s scream.  It was Chou’s scream.  The bunkbed shook frantically.  Then there was a crash and a man’s voice shouting something that wasn’t English.

Hunh?  I was awake and sitting up in bed.  Chou was fighting with a…  It wasn’t a man.  It was a part-man part-monkey thing with a strange-looking face and a tail.  “What the hell?!”

The monkey-man tried to make it to the window.  Jeez, was he fast!  Still, Chou managed to grab the end of his tail and pull him backwards a little.  He slowed down some and complained loudly.  In Chinese.

Chinese?  I wasn’t thinking too clearly, but my first thought was that the Yama Dojo had sent him after us.

I jumped out of the bed and landed in front of the window.  I went heavy as soon as I was on the floor.  When he moved toward me, I gave him a two-handed willow-palm strike right in the solar plexus.  I hit him hard enough to knock him into Vermont.  He hardly budged.  He only stumbled backward.  He hit the door, but it was just a light bump.

Uh-oh.  This guy was a brick too.  He was going to be dangerous.

Chou had stuck her arm out for no reason I could see.  But Destiny’s Wave was suddenly there.  It magically leapt into being in her hand.  She glided forward in a lethal-looking move that would have scared the crap out of me if it was coming my way.  She attacked, with the sword slicing downward at the guy’s chest.

He moved.  At the very last possible microsecond, he moved.  He moved so fast I could hardly see it in the darkness, but he suddenly wasn’t in the path of the sword.  Chou missed, and Destiny’s Wave sank deeply into the door.

Crap.  He was super-strong and super-fast.  Not good.

I was still heavy.  I moved to hem him in, and I punched at his oddly-flat nose.  I thought he was concentrating on Chou, but he suddenly flashed an arm sideways and blocked my punch like I weighed about thirty pounds, instead of around a ton.

I went disruption-light and tried to phase-KO him.  I hit his body and painfully bounced back.  He had a force field all over his skin, or something like that.  Crap!  What the hell was this guy?

Chou tore her sword free, and the door splintered around the blade.  The remains of the door flew open.   The guy spun out of the way of the door, right toward me.  I went heavy and tackled him.  Somehow, even though I outweighed him by a huge amount, he managed to turn the two of us in mid-air.  We flew out into the hall, and we crashed into the far wall with me taking the brunt of the impact.  If I hadn’t been heavy, it would have really hurt.

I was still heavy, and at my strongest.  But the guy easily pried open my grasp like I was powerless, and jumped back.  Which put him in perfect position to get hammered by Toni when she leapt out of her room, leading foot-first.  Incredibly, the guy was too fast for Toni.

By then everyone else was erupting into the hall to find out what the hell was going on.  I screamed, “Panty thief!”  If that didn’t tell everyone what they needed to know, they weren’t paying enough attention.

And everyone was paying attention.  Our thief should have been smeared into guacamole in the first two seconds, but he was frighteningly fast, and astonishingly powerful.  I mean, he was too fast for Scrambler.  He made Hank look like a chump.  He humiliated Toni and Billie both, in under ten seconds. 

Then he took out Fey with his first effort.  Holy crow!  He was super-strong, and super-fast, and super-magical!  Who the hell was this guy?  WHAT the hell was this guy?

The other problem was that when Fey was knocked out, her energies went wild and created an armada of giant red-and-white-and-purple paisley crabs wearing tophats.  And the crabs were trying to pinch everyone.  And their claws were big enough to do serious damage.  The crabs were pinching people, and the squeals were echoing through the building.  But several crabs reached out to touch Jamie, and he dropped like they’d electrocuted him.

Crap!  I went heavy again and moved toward Fey and Jamie.  It looked like someone needed to protect the innocents while the serious fighters got to it.  But our thief suddenly zipped past me to talk to the wall by Jamie’s body, then shoo the crabs away from Jamie.

But Hank got after the thief, then Billie grabbed him and slammed him into one of the bathrooms.  I stayed heavy and went after the crab-hobgoblins.  Someone needed to!

The crabs suddenly stopped right in front of the wall, over by Jamie’s body, and just waited.  They looked like they were staring at a movie screen.  There was something very weird going on there, and I didn’t like not knowing what it was.  Had Fey left some sort of mystical sigil on the wall that was making the crabs zone out?  Or had our opponent done something?  Fey had gotten up, and was off after our Panty Purloiner with the rest of the cottage, so I knew it wasn’t Fey herself.

The crabs suddenly turned and moved my way, as if they had gotten a message from someone or something.  I just wished I knew if it was someone I could trust, or if they’d soon be doing something worse than pinching cute girls.  I was heavy, so I figured I was safe from those claws.  I stomped on one, and it sort of popped like a balloon.

Toni called out, “Good one!  Okay Ayles, incoming!”

I looked up, just in time to see her perform an amazing double kick that sent two of the crabs flying my way.  I stomped both of them.  By then, Toni had flicked another crab my way, and Jade was scooping up a crab to lob into my path of destruction.

For a few seconds, I felt kind of like Godzilla wading through Tokyo, smashing everything in its path.  I stomped on every crab that got tossed my way.  Since I was over a ton, I had to be careful not to wreck the floor at the same time.  But the hobgoblins were popping like crab-shaped soap bubbles.

Jade went for the last crab, and suddenly it starting growing.  It was the size of a collie by the time she got to it, and it gave her a pinch on the arm that could have been a LOT worse.  She screeched and jumped back out of the way.

It snapped both of its claws menacingly, making Jade back up.  And it got bigger.  It grew to about the size of a mastiff.  But it was no match for the Tone-ster.  Chaka gave it a spin kick that sent it rolling over to me.  I jumped up, and changed my density.  Not a lot, just to not-quite-so-heavy.  It was enough that Conservation of Momentum upped my velocity, and I went a lot higher than I could normally jump from a standing start.  I went fully heavy again, and I came down on King Crab like a boulder on Wiley Coyote.  It winked out of existence.

Shortly after I carried Jamie’s unconscious body into the sunroom - I put Jamie on the synthetic-covered couch, hoping that he/she didn’t have any Nikki-like allergies to synthetics - Jamie sat up.  He/she seemed to be fine, just embarrassed at not being able to stop our thief.  Like anyone else had managed.

Chou came trudging up the stairs, with Nikki hugging her and Billie watching over her.

“What happened?” I wondered out loud.

Chou sobbed, “It’s all my fault!  That was the Monkey King!  He showed up and did all this stuff just because I’m here!  If I hadn’t bought that stupid sword…”

I hugged her and led her off to bed.  I told her, “Look, it was only some panties.  Right?  That’s nothing compared to some of the stuff we’ve been through.  Think about it.  Ninjas?  Breakfast Brawl?  Boston?  Stuff just happens to us.  We’re destined to be lightning rods.”

Man, I hoped I was wrong about that.

But Chou was really upset.  I tucked her back in her bed, and we talked for a long time about it.  I decided that I wasn’t going to say anything to anyone about this, even if maybe a dozen girls had heard the Monkey King talk to Chou.  If Chou wanted to tell people that the Monkey King had come to see her personally, that was her business.  Given what he’d done to every girl on campus, I thought it might be a good idea if she kept this one quiet.  Too many people were likely to take their anger out on Chou instead.

Wednesday, November 8, ~ 7:00 am

My alarm went off, but I was too tired.  Damn it, I needed lots of sleep after fighting super-powered legends in the middle of the night!

And my back was still sore from where the Monkey King had slammed me into a wall, so I hadn’t slept all that well.  I needed more of Chou’s secret muscle cream.  Note to self: always make sure my super-team has plenty of healers and herbalists on it.

Everyone in the bathroom was dragging.  Except Chaka, of course.  I mean, the least she could do was to pretend to be tired.  Chou probably wasn’t tired either, but I figured she was off doing Tai Chi or something.

Chaka bopped into her shower and called out to Fey, “Hey Nikki, ya think Chou could get her pal to come back for some more sparring?  That guy was awesome!”

“What?  You like showing your butt off to everybody in sight?”

“I was kinda hopin’ you wouldn’t bring that one up.  Besides, I figure he ain’t always stealing panties, right?”

“Fuckin’ boy-bitch, probably WANT to show off what you got, just like a GUY…”

“Hey Sharisha, maybe you weren’t paying attention, but Toni doesn’t have any guy stuff down there now.”

“And just how closely were you staring?”

“I.. uhh.. only…  I just happened to catch a glimpse…  By accident…”

I finally said something.  “Chaka?  Maybe you didn’t notice, but that guy is a super-brick, and a super-speedster, and super-magical, on top of being a super martial artist.  He’s kind of out of our league.”

She quickly dried herself off with a Ki trick and insisted, “But that’s what makes him a great sparring partner!  You don’t get better sparring against chumps!”

Maybe I should take that under advisement myself.

Nikki added, “By the way, Phase.  You left out ‘partly in the astral plane so he would be pretty much impossible to beat using normal methods’.”

“Thanks.  I think.”  Holy crow.  Well, I guess you don’t get to be a god like the Monkey King without being able to kick a lot of mortals around.  So you need a diverse set of abilities.

Wait a minute…  Diverse abilities…  Astral plane…  Talking to the wall…  Was that possible?  I’d have to think about it.

By the time we got to breakfast, the entire school seemed to have heard that the Poe girls fought our intruder in the middle of the night.  Someone had read the Security reports already, so they knew that Chou and I had been the ones who actually fought him first.  So even some of the Alpha bitches were happy with me.  For a few minutes, anyway.  The same with A-Plus and Kew.  Even Heartbreaker, who was eating breakfast with Jello and Hazard.  On the other hand, that told me that the Alphas got copies of the Security reports, as did the Spy Kidz and the Masterminds.  Undoubtedly, Thuban did too.  But I didn’t see him around.

I didn’t see anyone else who was reacting as if they’d seen the Security reports, but that didn’t mean much.  Maybe they weren’t around, or maybe they were doing a better job of concealing their emotions.  I still didn’t know if there were other groups getting intel from Security.  I was figuring that one of these days, I was going to have to find that out.

I walked through the food line, and Chef Peter had a couple hot beignets dusted with powdered sugar.  Mmm.

He whispered, “Is it true?”

“That Chou spotted the panty thief last night and half the dorm fought him and he still got away?”

He frowned, “Shoot!  I had Thursday in the pool!”

I had to laugh.  “Sorry.  Next time, let me know, and I’ll ask supernatural gods to adhere to your timetable.”

He smiled, “It was only a dollar.  I lost way more than that betting against your taste buds, before I learned better.”

At least people were no longer blaming the school troublemakers for all the panty raids.  Flux and Risk both had reps as pranksters, and they had been getting plenty of grief, right up until Poe got hit.

Although I have to admit it.  I really missed seeing Peeper and Greasy getting pelted with food every time they walked into the cafeteria.

Everybody wanted to talk about the panty thief, so I ended up having lunch with the Beret Mafia and filling them in on most of the action.  Not that I was going to mention that the Monkey King had come to see Chou.  There was no way I was spreading that little clusterbomb around campus.  Chou had enough trouble as it was.

The downside of that chat was that I missed lunch with the rest of TK.  So I didn’t find out until I walked back to Poe after trig class that Jamie hadn’t even made it to his first class before Gold Stallion put him in the hospital.  That fucking asshole!  I should have ripped his liver out, instead of just walking away from him!

Hank was pretty pissed off too.  And I definitely wouldn’t want to be the target of Hank’s ire if he ever lost it.  All of TK was upset.  But Jade had inside information.  Jamie the Spyspeck had been keeping tabs on Heyoka, so Jade knew that somehow, while Heyoka was lying in a hospital bed, he had ripped Gold Stallion up seriously enough that Jeff had to go to the hospital too.  I had a couple theories about that.

On our way to dinner, several of us dropped in on Jamie just to see how s?he was doing.  He was definitely a ‘he’ at the time.  He was a massive male werebear.

Okay, even kids who only watched Disney movies knew that the bear spirit was a part of many Amerindian cultures.  And Jamie had named himself after a type of Indian shaman.  The abilities of the shaman classically included spirit talking.  So he was not only talking to spirits, he was absorbing their powers, and even shifting into their forms.  And maybe even using their abilities in some sort of astral-projection way.

Which made him an astral avatar, plus a shifter.  I didn’t think I’d ever heard of a shifter-slash-astral avatar.  But it had to be more dangerous than an astral avatar.  Which was bad.  Really bad.  I’d read a report from Mother’s research on avatars, so I knew a little bit on the subject.  And one thing I had read in the report was that astral avatars were about as stable as the Joker plus Two-Face put together.  Astral avatars have this thing where they tend to go absolute bonkers within a couple years of manifesting, even if they have protecting spirits.  And Jamie couldn’t even control his - or her - own shifts, so I had to worry about how protected he could be on the spirit side.  That just sounded really serious.  At least he had a roommate he couldn’t hurt if he went totally postal some night.  Was that why they put him in Hank’s room?

Okay, Jamie hadn’t wanted to tell us exactly what his powers were.  I could see a couple reasons why.  But I needed to think this over.  Someone like Fey or Carmilla might be able to help Jamie on the astral-magical side of things, and I really felt like Jamie needed to warn us about what might happen in the future.  On top of that, if s?he really was some sort of avatar who could grab spirits for a few hours and then move to another spirit, I really needed to warn him/her about the avatar-snatching scheme and tell him/her to keep a low profile.

Maybe I could wait until Jamie was back to normal, and then have a nice private chat with him.  Her.  Hir.  Hem.  Darn it, as if there weren’t enough pronoun problems around here with the J-Team…

Thursday, November 9

The day started out pretty normally, for Team Kimba days anyway.  Jamie was still looking pretty darn ursine, but was clearly improving.  Interestingly, it looked like Sara had already taken Jamie under her wing.  Or tentacle.  Or whatever.  Classes went okay.  Lunch was typical.

It wasn’t until aikido class that things went sideways.

After spending the first half of aikido class working with Phobos on kicks and blocks, I was tired.  But I knew I was in trouble when Ito called me onto the mat.

Just me.

Oh crap.  I was really, REALLY hoping I wasn’t going to have to spar against Ito.  Or Tolman.  Or a surprise guest star from one of the other BMA classes, like Chaka or Lancer or Tennyo.  Ooh, yeah, all I needed was a major ass-kicking from Tennyo to brighten my day.

Ito announced, “It is time to consider another complication.  You cannot assume that your opponent will be kind enough to walk up to you and first announce that he wants to fight you or capture you or assassinate you.  You cannot assume that your opponent will ‘play fair’.  A carefully-crafted battle plan may be designed to play upon your weaknesses.  For example, almost anyone can be vulnerable to an attack which consists of simultaneous close-range, medium-range, and long-range assaults…”

Oh crap.  I could see this one coming up Broadway, like an evil Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

“…so let us see what Phase can do against such an attack.  Silverwing!  You will be the close-range attack.  You are stronger than Phase even when she is at her densest.”

Clark hopped up and took up a position right in front of me on the mat.

Ito looked across the rows of students.  “Golden Girl.  You will be the medium-range attack.  You have energy blasts and force fields which are problems for Phase.”

No shit, Sherlock.  Jayne hopped up with a vicious gleam in her eye, and took up a position about twenty feet from me, right where sensei Tolman directed her.

Ito finished, “And Kismet.  You will be the long-range attack.  You have magical and manifestor attacks which work best at long range.”

Korende stood up and took up a position across the dojo from me, at a spot where Tolman was pointing.

Could this get any worse?  Well, it could.  It could have been a LOT worse.  If Ito had brought in Lancer for the close-range, Tennyo for the medium-range, and Fey for the long-range attack, I would have just surrendered.  Or cried for my mommy.

Sensei Tolman took over.  “Team!  Your task is to defeat Phase and get her in the capture cage, in any way you choose.  This match will last four minutes, or less if Phase has been captured.. or Phase has stopped all three opponents.”

I just stared at her.  I couldn’t go heavy enough to beat Silverwing in straight hand-to-hand.  He could lift me up like a doll, even when I was at my heaviest.  Okay, I was a hair quicker than he was, but not enough to overcome his strength and size advantages.  Not until I learned a hell of a lot more aikido.  But a flying blaster like Golden Girl wouldn’t let me go light, and someone like Kismet could then fry my butt with ranged attacks while the first two whipsawed me.

But I only had to stall for four minutes.  So…

Hajime!

I dove for Silverwing’s feet, while a golden burst of energy ripped through the spot where I had been standing.

Clark jumped up into the air, expecting me to try some sort of wrestling hold.

I dove through the floor instead.  They had all assumed I would go heavy first, but I had gone maximally light instead.  Since I no longer glowed blue when I went light, no one could tell what phase I was in just by looking at me.  Advantage: me.

I phased through the solid sub-flooring, and I held my breath until I thought I was well outside the building.  Then I came back up.  I was about eighty yards past the outside walls of the gym building, so I had overdone it a bit.

Then I didn’t come back into class until I was sure that the four-minute time period was up.  So I ‘won’ by evading capture.  Silverwing and Kismet gave me ‘good job’ smiles, but Golden Girl glared at me like I had just stolen her life’s savings.

To be honest, Golden Girl always glared at me like I had just stolen her life’s savings.  So this was nothing new.

I was more concerned about soke’s reaction.  But he just gave me his usual inscrutable look.

Then he announced, “Phase used her powers to evade capture in a way that few of us can do.  This is to her benefit.  But tomorrow, we will have the same three-against-one match.  Only it will be Phase’s task to capture all three of them in the same four-minute time period.”

Oh crap.  Could I just call in sick instead?

Golden Girl looked like she could hardly wait for the rematch.  And giving a mage-manifestor like Kismet a full day to prepare for me was going to be bad.  Really bad.  Plus, it was obvious to me that they would get together and actually plan something for tomorrow.  I certainly would have.

In the shower after class, I said to Tolman, “Sensei, I have a problem.  In a real fight against supervillains, I would have no compunction about using my disruption-phase to knock them out.  I can’t do that here.  All three of them are Exemplars, as far as I know.  I.. I can’t risk destroying another person with a BIT.  Not after Fireball.  I’d rather surrender.”

She just said, “Then you’ll want to spend some time thinking about self-defense before tomorrow…”

Oh, thanks a lot!

“…But Kismet and Silverwing are not Exemplars, and do not have a BIT.”

So I COULD phase-KO them without a risk of destroying them.  “Oh!  Thanks!  Thanks a lot!”

I decided that this was the time to pick up a weapon I’d been thinking about for some time.  If I needed an anti-magic item, mithril might do the trick.  I caught up with Silver before she left her dorm for dinner, and I acquired a $33,000 set of ‘brass knuckles’.  Okay, it was just a mithril band that was the size of Chaka’s bracelet but shaped more like a flat oval so I could use it when I punched.  I didn’t know if I’d be able to knock aside one of Kismet’s spells - probably her mystical flames or her energy shackles - with that mithril, but it might be worth having.

I took it back to my room and tried it out.  I went heavy with the mithril over my knuckles…  And I realized that the mithril wouldn’t go heavy with me.  So I tried going light.  The mithril stayed normal, but I couldn’t phase through it.  It just stayed there on my knuckles and kept me from phasing my hand through other matter.  I tried putting it into my utility belt, and it just wouldn’t go into the inter-dimensional pocket.

Crap.  I had just paid $33,000 for a weapon that I couldn’t carry, and that I couldn’t use in the ways I had planned.  I could still use it the way Chaka used her bracelet, but I had been hoping for something more.

Well, maybe I could think of something ultra-cool to do with it some other day.

The only upside I could imagine was that I finally knew whether I could phase through metaphysical materials, like mithril and orichalcium.  Unfortunately, the answer was a big fat ‘no’.

I spent some time that evening thinking about what my three opponents would probably do, and what I could do to counter their moves.  I even pestered Chaka for some ideas.  Her suggestions would have been awesome.. if I had absolute control over my Ki.

Friday, November 10

Vanessa was waiting for me when I came out of my room to go shower.  Once again, she was really sleepy, and really horny.  She just wanted me to hold her, and kiss her.  She was really not ready to let go of me when we walked into the bathroom.  Even though I really needed to pee.  Desperately.

I told myself this was a good omen, as I undressed Nessa and squeezed her into a shower stall, making sure to caress her as much as I could get away with while in a roomful of girls.

Then Chef André had something for me: a gorgeous smoked salmon omelet with fresh chives.  I told myself that things were looking up for the day.

Costume class even went well.  Mrs. Ryan took a couple of my costume designs and put them up on her computer screen to show how to make the costume look better by changing the way the colors were blocked.  I really liked how a couple of her suggestions worked.  I figured that I could take one of her suggestions and actually have my costume done for the term.

So things went pretty well before BMA class.  After lunch, I changed into my gi and got ready.  Only this time, I was wearing my utility belt under my gi.  It didn’t show at all.  I was going to have to do something nice for Möbius for Christmas.

I hoped I had it loaded with everything I’d need, because I was at the point where I didn’t have enough room for all the holdouts I’d acquired.  Well, I needed things organized, so I could find them in the middle of a fight.  So I didn’t have everything just crammed into the pockets on top of one another.

I spent most of the class doing one-on-one work with Phobos, practicing combinations.  But Phobos was deliberately taking it easy on me so I’d be rested when it came time for the sparring.  Let’s just say that Golden Girl wasn’t Phobos’ favorite person.

We were called to sit seiza at the edge of the mat.  It was time.  I reached under my gi top and surreptitiously fished two objects out of my utility belt.  Then I hid them in my clenched fists.

Ito called me to the mat.  I stood there and kept my fists clenched, so no one would realize that I was already armed.  Hopefully, it just looked like I was nervous.

The three of them lined up.  Silverwing was as close as he could get without having Ito make him move back.  Golden Girl was twenty feet off to my left, and Kismet was way off to my right.  And I didn’t dare phase-KO Golden Girl for fear of destroying her BIT.

I stood there tensely, with my hands in fists, and I went heavy.

Hajime!

Silverwing went for me, to grapple me in close.  Golden Girl leapt into the air to attack me from out of my reach with an energy blast.  Kismet began focusing on something magical to knock me on my ass: most likely her mystical fire attack or her energy-shackle attack.

I held up my left hand in Silverwing’s face, and I fired the gadget stuck to my palm.  It was a one-shot flasher.  An array of micro-sized halogen lights with a battery and capacitor that discharged so completely that it burned out the system.  The ferocious flash at three feet utterly blinded Silverwing.

He staggered forward, still trying to grapple with me.  I grabbed his hand and threw him over my hip so that for a moment he was between me and Golden Girl.  Her energy blasts smashed into him instead of into me, and he yelped in surprised pain.

I took the opportunity to throw a cannonball at GG.  In my right hand was a solid steel ball bearing 1.8 inches in diameter, weighing nearly a pound when I was at normal density.  Once I went heavy, it weighed over twenty pounds.  I threw it at her as hard as I could.  I figured that it would hit her force field hard enough to stun her for a few seconds.  I figured it might even make her drop out of the air, if I was lucky.

The ball bearing punched through her golden force field and caught her right in the guts.  She folded like a cheap tent, and was knocked backward a good ten feet.  Then she dropped like a rock.

Holy crow!  I wasn’t expecting that!

I phase-KO’ed Silverwing when he tried to get up and grab me, and I held up his body between me and Kismet.

Kismet let loose with her energy shackle attack, but I had Clark’s body as a shield, so her energy bands wrapped up Silverwing instead of me.

Golden Girl was in no shape to fight, after getting hit in the gut with a two-inch cannonball and falling fifteen feet to the mat.  So I changed my plan.  I sprinted right at Kismet instead.

She teleported a good thirty feet away from where she had been standing.  I knew, from sparring with her before, that thirty feet was about her maximum.  But as I turned toward her, she teleported again so she was another thirty feet back from me.  She launched her mystic flame attack at me, and - I couldn’t believe it - it was perfectly aimed even though she was moving, and she was forty or fifty feet away.  It hit me dead center.

Oh yeah, it had to be that probability flux thing of hers.  Kismet was a Warper too.  She could teleport, although when she ‘ported more than a few feet, she was usually pretty woozy.  But she could also manipulate probability some, too.  Well, sometimes the probabilities manipulated her.  That usually made her either a really tough opponent, or a laughably easy one.  I had seen her win easily against Golden Girl when everything went her way.  But one time, when she had gone through a whole series of unlucky events, she had lost (badly) to Rhiannon.  That had included a really humiliating finale, where she teleported behind Rhiannon, staggered dazedly, tripped herself on the hem of her gi pants, fell face-first to the mat, and stunned herself for long enough that Rhiannon got her in an armbar.

This time, it looked like luck was going her way.  I went heavy and let the flames hit me.  I was engulfed in her mystic flames for a second.  I threw the smokebomb down between my feet and let the smoke surround me, even as the flames entrapped me.  Then, as soon as the flames slacked off enough, I went light and dove through the floor.  Hopefully, she wouldn’t know for a few seconds what I was doing.

But she knew enough to be prepared.  When I came up through the floor behind where she had been, she was already running away and casting her energy shackles back my way.  I ducked back below the flooring, but not before I took a major whack in the arm from the energy shackles.  Damn, that really hurt when I was light!

I took a guess on where she would go next, and I dodged through the sub-floor.  I came up a good thirty feet away from her.  Bad guess on my part, or more of her ‘probability manipulation’ luck.

I went heavy and threw my second cannonball.  She teleported as soon as she saw me start to throw at her.  I sprinted for where I figured she’d re-appear, thirty feet away from where she had been.  She ported to a spot only about four feet from where I figured, but somehow I tripped on a seam in the mat or something.  That damned probability manipulation deal again.  On the upside, she was so woozy from all her teleports that she wasn’t ready to teleport any time soon.  She was hardly able to stand.

I went into a well-practiced roll and came up with my other smokebomb in hand.  I threw it, and it hit right between her feet, enveloping her in a cloud of dark gray smoke.

She staggered out of the smoke, coughing and flapping her arms.  She should have tried a blind teleport instead, if you asked me.  She didn’t see me coming.  I dove through her and phase-KO’ed her.

Then I headed back for Golden Girl.  But she was lying in a fetal position, curled up and not moving.  Holy crow!  Had I really hurt her?  I rushed over to see if she was okay.

Vox suddenly screamed, “She’s faking!”

I went heavy and dove at Golden Girl just in time, because GG uncurled enough to hit me with her hardest blast.  I took the shot as best I could.  It still hurt a lot, and it even knocked me backward some.  Which was saying a lot, because I was heavy and aimed right at her.

But she was hurt enough that her blast was all she had in her.  Ito ruled that I had won, and Prism rushed out to heal her.

I had really injured her with that ball bearing.  She had two broken lower ribs, a ruptured liver, a bruised gallbladder, and internal bleeding.

Oh God.  I had really injured her.  I could have killed her.  I felt like vomiting.

I knelt beside her while Prism healed her enough to take her to the clinic.  “I’m really sorry.  I didn’t know it would punch through your shields like that.  I didn’t mean to do this…”

She glared at me and growled, “Just shut the fuck up, you evil freak!  Everyone knows you hate my guts.  You probably tried to kill me, you bitch!”

I swallowed miserably.  Was that what everyone thought?  That I was the problem here, and not her?  That I hated her, and not the other way around?  That I was capable of murdering someone like that?  I just gritted my teeth and tried not to sob out loud.

Ito had everyone except we four combatants and Prism stay in seiza position at the edge of the mat, while he lectured them on preparation and technique and planning, and how I combined my powers and my training and several useful holdouts to tackle a trio of opponents.

When he dismissed class after that, he took Vox aside and really chewed her out for interfering.  I couldn’t go over and intervene, because Tolman was busy chewing me out for not maintaining a complete 360-degree map of the sitch during the fight, allowing Golden Girl to set me up for a knockout punch that nearly worked.  I didn’t say anything.

As I showered by myself in the women instructors’ locker room, I found myself crying miserably.

Tolman stepped into view and snapped, “Is there a problem, Phase?”

“N-no.  I’m fine.”

She stared at me for a few seconds before she finally sighed, “You did what you were supposed to do.”

“B-but she really got hurt!  I could’ve killed her doing that!”

She frowned, “Yes, she got hurt.  Have you never been hurt in this class?  I seem to recall a day when you nearly lost an arm.  And I seem to recall that you not only refused to testify against Phobos, but actually continued to partner her in class.  I seem to recall that on your first day, you saw Silverwing get pounded.  Is there anyone in this class who has never been injured?  I said, on the first day, that this was a tough class and people would get hurt!  Did you think I meant a few bruises, or a bloody nose?  You wouldn’t need to sign waivers for that!”

I managed, “I.. I understand.  But seeing it…  Seeing it when it’s my fault…  That’s different.”

She sternly said, “And yet you have had no qualms about attacking people all over the campus grounds.  Not to mention Sparkler in Los Angeles, and the incident in Boston.  Or what you did to Fireball.”

“That’s different,” I insisted.  “I haven’t been attacking anybody!  Sparkler tried to kill my sister!  And me too.  Then all these assholes have been trying to beat me up or run me off, just because I’m a Goodkind, or because I’m intersexed…  The fight with the Alphas, I was just trying to protect Fey and Generator; Skybolt was trying to fry them!  Okay, I punched Kodiak.  Once.  Maybe I didn’t need to do that.  And Boston?  I was fighting hundreds of zombies and they had me trapped.  Fireball?  I just wanted to make her unconscious, even if she was trying to scar me, or maybe kill me.  I had no idea I could do anything like that!  I didn’t start any of these things!”

She insisted, “And how likely is it that you would be involved in so many battles in a mere three months or so, unless you were instigating most of them?”

I just cringed.  “It’s impossible, is what it is.  I can’t explain it.  The ‘people are out to get me’ line sounds so paranoid.  But almost every bully and gaybasher on campus has taken a shot at me.  Am I just walking around with a giant neon sign that says ‘please beat me up’?  You know how much you hate me; why is it so hard to believe that other people on campus feel the same way?  Or worse?”

She wondered aloud, “You really believe that, don’t you?”

I just stared at her.  She was a Psi, for God’s sake.  What kind of Psi actually needs an answer to a question like that one?

When I came out, Vox and Verdant were waiting for me.  Vox just hugged me hard, while Verdant said, “We know she was lying.  We know you would not hurt her on purpose.”

Vox angrily agreed, “Yeah, she’s just a skeezy little bee-yatch.”

I got through the rest of my classes, although I didn’t remember much of them.  I spent as much time as I could with Dr. Bellows, telling him all about what had happened.  As always, he was sympathetic and understanding.  I felt a lot better by the time I left his office.

Back at Poe, Scrambler had been regaling half the floor with the story, in her usual frenetic style.  Of course, Jay Jay’s stories tended to come out like you took a videotape of the events, dropped the tape in a food processor, randomly taped half the pieces together, and then played it at ‘fast forward’.

Team Kimba took me into my room just before dinner.  Chaka started, “Are you okay, Ayles?”

I nodded, but Fey said, “I can tell you’re not okay.  You’re really bothered by what happened.”

Chaka agreed, “Yeah, your Ki is just all over the place.  Vox tol’ me what that little cracker said to you.  You can’t let some pissed-off little bitch get to ya like that.”

Lancer said, “Yeah.  We know who the red team is in this exercise.”

I didn’t even know what the hell that meant, but I knew what he meant.  “Thanks.”

Jade gave me a big hug.  Chou did too.

Billie cracked her knuckles menacingly and growled, “If that little snot gives you any more trouble, you let us know.  Okay?”

Chaka agreed, “Yeah.  Nobody messes with Team Kimba.  If she pulls anything else, we’ll get all up in ‘er bizniss.”

Chou sort-of-agreed, “Yes.  Whatever that means.”

At dinner, I was waved over to the Beret Mafia table before I made it into the food line.  Kismet and Charmer had apparently been filling everyone in on my day in aikido class.

Kismet smiled at me, “We are all happy that you are feeling better than you did this afternoon.  Everyone knows that Golden Girl was being hateful.  I do not understand why she hates you so much.

I nodded, “Golden Girl isn’t making a whole lot of friends in aikido, is she?”

Migraine murmured to Charge in a voice that carried a little too far, “What do you expect from an American?

I didn’t bother to remind her that I was American too.

Then, while Team Kimba was deep in a dinner-table discussion of who was going to do what on Parents’ Day, we got a visit from part of the Fey Fan Club.  Anna and Rhiannon dropped by, which they never did.

“Hey Phase, we just wanted to see how you were doing.”

“Oh, hi Fey!”

“Yeah, hi!  Thanks for that picture.  It came out great.”

Fey gracefully smiled, “You’re welcome.  But I’m not anybody special.”

They both reacted like Beyonce had said that to them.  They got wide-eyed and giggled nervously.

Anna finally turned back to me and said, “We just wanted to come by and tell you everyone knows Jayne has it in for you.  She was just being a hateful cow because you won the match.”

“And she got hurt.  She doesn’t like that.”

I thanked them, and they sidled off.  “Bye Fey!”

I whispered to Nikki, “Want me to get started on those Fey Fan Club buttons and t-shirts?”

She kept her smile for her fans, but out of the corner of her mouth, she muttered, “If you do, I’ll turn you into a goat!”

After dinner, I went over to the hospital to check on Golden Girl.  They didn’t let me see her, which wouldn’t have been good for Jayne’s recuperation anyway.  But a nurse told me that Jayne would be in hospital for just a couple more days.

I sent Jayne a big flower bouquet.  I figured she’d blast it apart when she found out who had sent it, but it made me feel better.

Saturday, November 11

I awoke, immediately buzzed because it was Parents’ Day.  I hurried through my morning routine, just as most of the rest of the floor was doing.  Everyone who had family coming was buzzing with excitement, and in a few cases, incredible nervousness.

Nikki still wasn’t sure her dad was dealing with her change, and she knew her younger brother wasn’t.  Billie still wasn’t sure whether she ought to hug her brother Tad or strangle him.  Chou wasn’t sure if any of her sponsors were going to show up - and if they did, what they’d do.

I was more concerned about some of the others.  Even if Jade was going to be hanging with Billie, she was still going to be surrounded by happy families, when she didn’t have one.  And I was worried about Chou.  This was going to be a big reminder of what she no longer had.  It sounded like Jamie had someone coming in to spend time with him/her, but that wasn’t the same as having a mom around.

I personally was really looking forward to it.  Gracie and Janet were coming in to see me.  Of course, students were obligated to meet relatives at the buses and NOT let them wander around unattended.  But they wouldn’t arrive until after lunch, so I didn’t have to miss class.  I was glad about that, because Professor Zinn wouldn’t have been happy about me missing part of class.. again.  Everyone else was a junior or senior, so they didn’t have parents coming in.  And I really didn’t want to be the problem child in the class.  For the fourth time, in a single term, in a once-a-week class.

Plus, I didn’t want to miss a second of the class.  We were discussing Lucan’s Pharsalia, and this was going to be the last chance I had to watch Majestic get all bent out of shape over some poet’s treatment of the Greek and Roman Gods.

I had written about the personal relationship between Lucan and Nero, and how that drove the way the epic was presented.  That part was actually pretty interesting.  Lucan was either really ballsy or really stupid.  He started out as Nero’s pal, and wrote several books of the epic that were dedicated to Nero, until they had a big falling out.  Then Lucan kept writing more books of the epic, but after the big clash, the material was anti-imperialistic, and frankly anti-Nero.  Not smart, when Nero was in absolute control of the Roman Empire and didn’t tolerate writings like that.  But Lucan was anti-Nero enough to get involved in the Pisonian conspiracy to assassinate Nero, and ended up having to commit suicide afterward.  So much for additional books of the epic.

Since my paper didn’t involve the Roman Gods, Majestic didn’t flip out on me.  In fact, she made a couple useful suggestions about the relationship between the two that sort of made me wonder if she’d been there for part of it.  Well, if she really was the avatar of Juno, it was possible.

On the other hand, Bubble’s paper was on the Roman Gods and how they were important to the development of the plot.  Of course, Majestic totally flipped out on her.  Bubble was still completely clueless about Majestic’s hot buttons, even after a couple months of this, and she was utterly confused about why Majestic was coming unglued.  I had to bite the inside of my mouth to keep from laughing out loud.

Lunch was.. interesting.  The cafeteria was crowded with students and their families.  The Alphas and lots of other cliques had been run off from their usual tables by certain families that had adults who were so obviously mutants themselves that I had to wonder how they passed as baselines in the real world.

I even got to meet some of my team’s families.  Chaka’s family was almost exactly how I had imagined them from her stories, right down to big brother Vince, who was clearly trying to demonstrate his manly gangsta rebellious nature without getting in too much trouble from the ‘rents.  Chaka’s big sister Cindy seemed fairly shocked to have been turned into a below-average girl by all the Exemplar beauty around the school.  Nikki’s parents seemed a lot more touchy-feely than I would have expected for two people who had split the family in half and now worked in different states.  Nikki’s brother was giving off the expected “he’s so gay I can’t stand it” vibes, even if Stalwart was proving to be more useful than I tended to think of him.

I arrived early at the meeting site, along with most of the eager freshthings who hadn’t seen mommy or daddy for months.  I was kind of surprised by the number of kids that I knew.  I walked around and chatted with people while I waited for the buses to arrive.  I said hi to Igneous.  I chatted with Adamantine and Britomart.  I made small talk with half a dozen other kids while I tried not to be anxious.

I couldn’t believe how happy I was to see Gracie and Janet when they stepped off the bus.  Then I led them around and let them see how freaky Whateley is to the outsider.  Heh-heh-heh.  The whole school helped me out.  Razorback and Diamondback were out with Jericho and a couple I assumed were Jericho’s parents.  I personally thought Jericho’s clothes were more frightening than Razorback, but Razorback and Diamondback are enough to scare the crap out of Dr. von Helsing himself.

The big surprise I had planned wasn’t a surprise for Gracie and Janet.  I’d carefully explained what they were facing before I had suggested they consider it.  But, even after hearing about Hawthorne, and Puppet in particular, they were both up for meeting Melissa.  Mrs. Cantrel ushered us into Hawthorne, and stalled us for a minute in the lobby area, while Fubar gave Gracie and Janet a little subtle psychic reinforcing so they’d be prepared for the reality of Puppet’s life.  Gracie had met Puppet before, but that had been a long time ago, back when Gracie was Greg and Puppet was Cousin Missy.  I figured the last time they had seen each other was about seven and a half years ago.  The get-together went really well, considering three of us were in overboots and carrying gasmasks.

After I saw Gracie and Janet off, I walked back to Poe.  I was surprised to find a special delivery package waiting for me from Goodkind Industrials.  I’d ordered it, but I hadn’t thought I would get it anywhere near this soon.  I was figuring December at the earliest.  I rushed up to my room and checked it out.

Inside were two metal darts that were slightly larger than a regulation dart.  But they were made of spent uranium for maximal weight, and the needle-sharp tips were a titanium-osmium alloy for extra strength with the weight.  Both had little plastic covers over the sharp tips, so I could coat the tips with a fast-acting drug if I wanted to.

Someday, someone was going to get a sharp little surprise from me.  For some reason, the image that came to mind was Golden Girl.

Sunday, November 12

The day started off really well, with Vanessa even more kissy and cuddly than the day before.  For a second, I thought she was going to yank off my bathrobe and drag me into the shower with her.  Not that I would have objected, except that there were a dozen other girls in the bathroom at the time, and they would have found ways to show their displeasure at having one of the shower stalls becoming permanently occupied while they wanted to clean up.  I figured that yelling and Rip coercing gallons of cold water on top of us would have been just the start.

I went over to Hawthorne and visited with Melissa for a while.  Then I worked with Claire on her math.  By the time I left the dorm, it was already lunchtime.  So I had a late lunch after most of Team Kimba had already left the caff, and then I walked back to Poe by myself.  I found Chou and Molly leaving my room, giggling madly.

Molly smirked, “Better hurry up, you don’t want to keep a lady waiting!”

Chou added, “And don’t worry, you’ve got the room to yourself until after dinner.”

Huh?

I opened the door and stepped in…  “Ho.  Lee.  Crow!”

The mattresses were on the floor side-by-side, with my good satin sheets on them.  A satin top sheet was spread over the top of them, and in between the sheets was Vanessa.  Obviously stark naked.  Mister Happy went to attention instantly.

She groaned, “I can’t stand it any longer.  That damn demon!  I’m so horny I think I’m gonna melt!  It’s been like this for days!  So c’mere.  But no rumpty-rumpty, got it?  Just hooking up.  I’m not ready to give it up yet.  Okay?”

Holy crow, she wanted an entire afternoon of oral sex?  How was I NOT going to say okay to that?

I walked out of my clothes, revealing that I already had a throbbing erection.  “Okay.  Anything you want.  Just say the word.”

“Then come over here and kiss me.”

Like I was going to say no to that.

The afternoon was just as beautiful and perfect and erotic as I’d ever imagined it could be.  And that’s all I’m going to say about it.

I was exhausted by the time Vanessa left, and I got dressed to go eat dinner.  Fey and Chaka walked with me over to the caff, and they just would not stop gigging me about spending the whole afternoon making Vanessa squeal.  And Vanessa making me squeal.

“Ya know you sound like a little piglet?”

“Squeeee!”

“Yeah.  Jus’ like that.”

“Stop it!”

Okay, maybe we hadn’t been all that quiet.

Oh crap, the sunroom was on the other side of my room, so there was no telling how many other people got an earful.

I called Dunwich Florists and had them deliver a dozen red roses to Vanessa.  Then I made sure to go over to her room and give her a big thank-you kiss at bedtime.  I was going to have to think of a really nice thank-you gift for Chou and Molly.

Monday, November 13

The day went pretty well, up until aikido class.  That was when things went to pieces.  Ito made me spar against Vox, to teach both of us a lesson.

Crap.

The lesson for Vox was to keep her mouth shut during sparring matches.  The lesson for me was that no matter how well my lovelife seemed to be going, some evil little git would screw things up.

Today was the worst possible day to pull this stunt on us.  I didn’t want to hurt her, but I didn’t want to make it obvious I was taking it easy on her.  I couldn’t phase-KO her because of her BIT, but I knew that if I went maximally heavy she couldn’t do anything with me except voicing me.  I was pretty sure that if I put in the deviser earplugs I’d gotten from Bugs after Halloween, that I would have resistance to her ‘siren call’.  I had a feeling we’d find out, really quickly.

I put in the earplugs, which were in a little plastic case in the third pocket.  Then I stepped out onto the mat and took up my position.  I went slightly heavy.  I wasn’t up to my usual one ton, but I was probably somewhere around several hundred pounds, and way stronger than normal.

As soon as soke announced “Hajime!” she started.  She firmly gave me a command in her best ‘siren’ voice.

Step into the cage!  Now!  Do it!

I could hear her perfectly well, but the deviser earplugs were working like a dream.  They were filtering out whatever sonics made her voice so irresistible.

As an Exemplar 3, I was already stronger and faster than Vanessa was, so I was just blocking her strikes and herding her toward the capture cage.  I could tell by her expression that her hands and feet weren’t enjoying striking a brick.  She tried ‘voicing’ me several more times, but the earplugs worked.  She knew I was hemming her in, but she wasn’t having any success using her power.

Then she tried using a perfect imitation of Ito’s voice to announce “Yame!”

If I hadn’t been looking right at Ito, I would’ve fallen for it.

Okay, I admit it, I did fall for it.  I froze while I was trying to figure out what the deal was.  She would have gotten me in an armbar if I hadn’t been too heavy for her to budge.

Okay, that was it.  No more Captain Nice.  I went maximally heavy, and I picked her up like she was a sack of packing peanuts.

“Phase!  Put me down!”  Then she tried to ‘voice’ me again.  “PUT ME DOWN!  NOW!

I carried her across the mat and stuck her into the capture cage while she glared at me furiously.

Sensei Ito chewed me out again.  It was pretty obvious to him that Vox couldn’t hurt me, and that I had just been taking it easy on her.  He insisted that taking it easy on an opponent was never helpful, and sometimes gave the opponent a chance to find a hole in your defenses.

Well, everyone who’d ever watched action movies knew that.  How often did the Big Bad kick the hero around, monologuing the whole time, until the hero got one dramatic chance to take out the bad guy?  And didn’t that big chance work almost every time?

I quietly said, “Yes, soke.”

But he said, “Perhaps we shall have to find some other way to instill this thought in you.”

Uh-oh.  I really didn’t like the sound of that.  At that moment, I resolved to wear my utility belt to class every day for the rest of the month.

On top of that, Vox was really mad at me.  What was I supposed to do?  Throw the match and get us both in even more trouble with Ito and Tolman?

After trig class, I was about to walk to the elevator to take the tunnel and my ‘private’ door to Poe, when a male voice with a light Southern accent called out, “Uhh, Phase?  Can I talk to you?”

I looked around and recognized the guy.  He was one of the seniors.  Peril was a known adventure nut and thrill-seeker.  Tall, dark, handsome, and Type T.  Last month, he’d been testing out a friend’s jetpack, and it had failed spectacularly.  It had exploded at about two hundred feet.  So he’d taken the brunt of the blast, gotten burned too, then fallen two hundred feet and just barely missed crashing into Schuster Hall before doing a faceplant in the lawn.  But he did stuff like this all the time.  Since he was an Exemplar-5 and a Regen-4, he could get away with it, too.  Anything he couldn’t handle as a high-level Exemplar, he healed up in a week or less.

He looked around uncomfortably and asked, “Can we talk?  Privately?”

I had to wonder if he was up to something.  But I knew I could walk through a wall and get away if he was trying to set me up for something.  I shrugged, “Sure.  Let’s go down to the tunnels.  At this time of day, that ought to be pretty quiet.”  And once we were down there, I could get away simply by jumping straight up and phasing through the ceiling to pop out above the ground.

We went down to the tunnels, and he looked around to make sure we were alone.  He winced, “I don’t know how to ask this.  But my family?  They’ve got a publishing business back in Nashville.  I.. umm…  I wanna know if you’d consider giving us a loan.  A big loan.”

“How much?  And for what?”

He winced again.  “Dad needs about $147,000.  It’s my Uncle Cliff.  Turns out he’s got a gambling problem.  He’s been going over to the riverboat casinos in Memphis and losin’ his shirt for months and months.  And he’s been embezzling from the family business to cover his losses.  It’s not like the company’s goin’ down the toilet, or dad can’t run a business.  We just need to be able to cover all that money until we can pay our taxes and make payroll and buy printing supplies.  Otherwise, we’re screwed.  Dad checked with our bank back home, and he asked a couple friends, but I was hoping that a Goodkind could come up with that much cash real fast, and come up with a decent payment plan for us.”

I thought about it for a couple minutes, and then I offered to GIVE him the money if he did me a favor.  He stared curiously.  I told him what I wanted him to do.

He laughed out loud.  “I’m in!”

Before I got around to the details of my plan with Peril, I got started on more holdouts for myself.  I had a feeling that Ito was going to kick my ass tomorrow, and I wanted to be ready.  If I had something new that he hadn’t seen, and didn’t have time to prepare for, I might be able to catch him off-guard.  Maybe.

Okay, I was probably kidding myself.

First I went over to the Whateley store and found a black glove that was a pretty good match for the ‘touch taser’ glove I’d bought from Slapdash a couple weeks ago.

Once I got back to my room, I carefully attached one of my holdouts to its palm.  Then I talked Jade into sewing three tiny pockets on the back of its hand.  I already had three small ninja throwing darts that Bunny had kindly coated with a layer of micro-beads filled with the same knockout drug she’d loaded into the Kitty Compact.  The darts fit snugly in the pockets that Jade sewed, so now I could put on the gloves and have several surprises for someone.  I hoped.

Then I went by Vanessa’s room to talk.  Okay, I was hoping for some apology-and-making-up kisses.  But Vox was still mad at me.  Damn it.  What was I supposed to have done differently?  Kick her ass from the start of the match and utterly humiliate her?

After I got my homework done, I dropped in on Bunny.  Rip was nowhere to be seen, so I had the chance to make my request in private.  “Do you think you could put together a gory little special effect for me?”

She waggled her head, making her ‘spaniel ears’ hairdo flop more like rabbit ears than they ought to.  “Oh sure!  Special effects are my specialty!”  Then she got this funny look on her face, and she fretted, “Have you been talking to Beltane lately?”

Okay, I don’t want to know.  As long as Belle isn’t whipping it up for a prank on me…

So I told her no, and then I told her what I wanted.

She gasped, “I don’t want to get near some guy’s.. WIENER!”

I muttered, “Could you scream that a little louder?  I don’t think they heard you in Pakistan.”

“Sorry.”

I tried, “Look, this doesn’t have to be a working replica or anything.  It only has to look real.  How about using mine as a model?”

She thought it over for a few seconds.  “Okay…  But only if I just scan it and do a 3-D model from that.  Okay?”

“Sounds good here,” I shrugged.

She nodded, “Okay, I’ve got a laser biometric scan system over here in my work area, and we can do it now.”

I almost laughed, “Are you sure?”  All I had to do was think about Sunday afternoon with Nessa, and I was more than ready for her scanner.  I unbuckled and unzipped my pants, and then dropped them along with my panties.

Bunny set up something that looked like a 22nd-century version of an old-fashioned Polaroid camera, and she knelt down to get a scan from my left.

So there I was, with my pants and panties down around my ankles, Mister Happy sticking straight out, with Bunny kneeling at my side about to pick up her gear…

Rip walked right in.  “Oh shit!  Sorry!  Sorry!  I’ll come back later!”  She vanished into the hallway with a slam of the door.

Bunny and I looked at each other, and we went into hysterics.  We laughed so hard we didn’t get the scan done for another ten minutes.  So when we opened the door, Rip was there.  With Vox, Fey, and Chaka.  Rip looked shocked, but the others looked upset.  Vox looked furious.

Oh crap.

“Wait a minute guys, it’s not what you think, Bunny was just scanning me!”

Toni smirked, “Oh, is that what they call it at the fancy white-boy schools?”

Thanks, Chaka.  That helped so much.

So I had to tell all of them what I was really up to.  Chaka laughed so hard she was rolling on the floor.  Even Vox was grinning when I was done.

Not that she wasn’t still mad at me.

Tuesday, November 14

The morning started out pretty much as usual, but I had a tight knot in my stomach.  I knew it was going to remain lodged there until Ito sprung whatever evil surprise he had in mind for me.

Fey had something special for me.  In the bathroom, while she was in just a nightie and a peignoir, she came over and gave me a big hug.  She said, “I can tell you’re really worried and upset.  But I’m sure Vox will come around in a day or two.”

Okay, that wasn’t why I was worried and upset.  But I wasn’t going to pass up a hug from an under-dressed Nikki.  I hugged her back and said, “Thanks.  I appreciate it.”

Then, at breakfast, Chef André had something special for me.  Three perfectly-prepared crepes, rolled up with a gorgeous homemade apricot jelly inside.  The crepes were piping hot, with the rich texture of a real French crepe.  André had made them with brandy and vanilla in the batter, so they smelled as great as they tasted.

And at lunch, Chef Peter had a little something special for me as well.  A casserole that he wanted me to taste before he told me what was in it.  I suppose most people would have reacted badly if he had told them ahead of time that the gratin was made of turnips.  But these turnips were sliced paper-thin, then pan-roasted to give them a delicate sweetness.  If you’ve never had well-prepared turnips, then I suppose you’d expect them to be bitter and gross.  They were awesome.  The gratin was rich but light, with enough thyme and savory to bring out the flavors of the turnips, and just enough cayenne pepper to add a little zing to the gratin.  Then the roasted turnip slices were baked with a light cream and topped with coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

I gave Chou a bite, and after she mmm’ed a bit, I admitted that she’d eaten turnips.  She was certain that my food could NOT have been turnips, because everyone knew turnips tasted awful, and this was amazingly good.  I had to drag her back to talk to Chef Peter before she believed me.

So, of course, Ito had something special for me in BMA.

A full-powers ‘capture cage’ fight against someone who was not from our class.

“Lancer?  Could you come out and take your position on the mat?”

Most of the class either winced or gasped.

Hank walked out in his gi.  He looked like he could rip the building apart.

Crap.

I knew from rather painful experience that I couldn’t phase through him, and I knew I couldn’t out-muscle him.  If I went light, he could still hit me, since his PK field didn’t phase through me.  And I knew I couldn’t beat him in a fair sparring match.  Not when he could apply five tons of force anywhere he wanted, like on a fingertip.  He had years of martial arts background as an Army brat, and I had a couple months’ worth.  As an Exemplar, he was just as quick as I was, maybe quicker.  Plus, Hank was smart.  He was the best strategist we had in TK.  He had to be learning how to protect himself from the sort of stuff Ito had pulled on him in his first day in class.  All of those things told me that I was going to lose.  Badly.

Well, at least Golden Girl wasn’t here to watch me get my ass kicked.

It was a good thing that Ito had given part of this away yesterday, so I was wearing my utility belt.  I tugged on my black gloves and checked by touch that they were ready.

I walked to my place on the mat and faced Lancer.  I went heavy, and made sure my gloves went heavy with me.  I whispered, “Hank, just don’t go easy on me.  Ito’s pulling this because I went easy on Vox yesterday.”  I didn’t want Lancer to beat me senseless, but I sure didn’t want him to get this level of trouble for going easy on me in turn.

He didn’t nod, but I could see the agreement in his eyes.  Then his eyes bulged as he realized just what ‘yesterday’ and ‘Vox’ added up to.

Hajime!

Lancer attacked immediately, moving forward in a smooth glide that was probably more PK flying than aikido skill.  His first punch snapped forward with the force of a pile driver.  I dodged it by backing up just enough.  His left leg flashed forward in a back kick, and I managed to block it by redirecting the force.  It felt like I was pushing an elephant off to the side.  Then his other fist came flying forward, blasted through my armblock, and tagged me hard, right in the chest.

I was expecting to go flying backward at a zillion miles an hour and crash through the far wall of the dojo.  I didn’t.  Well, I hadn’t sat down and worked out what five tons of force would do.  Even with superpowers, and pattern theory that I didn’t understand, and everything else, most of life still comes down to old-fashioned Newtonian physics.  F=m*a, and all that stuff.  Since my mass was around a thousand kilograms, it wasn’t really so surprising that my change in velocity was pretty small.  I went from zero meters per second to about five meters per second.  That wasn’t even a good running speed for me.

I flew backward a few yards, and I hit the mat.  I rolled backward, and I was on my feet again.  But Hank The Tank was floating a couple inches off the mat and moving toward me with a determined look on his face.

I grabbed the back of my left glove and pulled out one of the ninja throwing darts with the drug coating.  I hurled it at him as hard as I could.  It hit point-first, exactly as I wanted.

It just bounced off his PK field.  Crap.

I was going to move toward him, but he was on me before I had time to do anything else.  He could fly about twice as fast as I could sprint.  All I had time to do was get into a stance and block his combination.  Just blocking one of his strikes and redirecting the force was painful, and rocked me backward.  At least he wasn’t any quicker than I was.

I got in a good kick to his solar plexus, but it didn’t do more than knock him back a few inches.  Maybe I weighed a ton, and I could deadlift two tons, but I wasn’t striking the target hard enough.  He got in another punch that knocked me a good four yards backward.  Damn, that one hurt!

That time I landed on my feet, and I was ready when Hank flew forward at me.  I made like I was going for a palm strike to his face, and he blocked it.  That was when I set off the flash I’d glued to the palm of the glove.

He wasn’t blinded, but he was definitely blinking hard.  I took the opportunity to get in a hard combination while he couldn’t see.  And I managed to knock him a few more inches backward.  None of my punches hurt him.

But Hank was too smart to stick around and let me get in another twenty punches while he waited for his eyes to get better.  He lifted off and zipped up to a good thirty feet above the floor.  He knew I couldn’t fly unless I went light, and if I was light I was really vulnerable to his PK field.

While he was basically stationary up there, I pulled out one of my heavy darts and hurled it as hard as I could at his thigh.  It actually punched through the PK field and nailed him.  Well, the force per square inch had to be pretty huge, since that tip was sharp.

Only problem?  The knockout drug was on the little ninja darts, and not on these guys.  Not that a dose that small would have done much to an Exemplar 3, especially after his PK field had probably scoured most of the coating off.

Still, I now had a weapon I could use against PK bricks.  Assuming Hank didn’t kill me for trying it out on him.

“Damn, Phase!”  He pulled the dart out of his thigh and hurled it back at me.

I tried to dodge, but we just weren’t that far apart.  And he really whipped it at me.  The dart hit me in the shoulder.  And bent on my skin.  Crap!  Those darts were expensive!

He curved around and flew straight at me.  It was pretty obvious that he was just going to tackle me.  I pulled out Mega-death’s forcefield scrambler and hit Hank in the shoulder with it just as he plowed into me.

The devise exploded like a bomb, right in between us.  Jesus, that hurt!  I was knocked backward about ten feet, while Hank was shoved back maybe a yard.

Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t have tried it on a PK field.

Hank wasn’t hurt, so he used the opportunity to tackle me as I tried to get to my feet.  He lifted me off the mat and he flew me straight at the capture cage.  Crap!  I should have seen that one coming!

He was flying horizontally like Superman, with me easily slung over his shoulder despite my one-ton weight.  I tried breaking his grip.  No dice.  I tried a hammer-strike to the back of his neck.  No good either.  He was about to just sling me into the damn cage.

I went with the touch taser.  I pressed it to the back of his neck and fired.

“Jeez!”  He dropped to the mat with me underneath.  It didn’t knock the wind out of either of us.  But before I could get away from him, he grabbed my wrist and easily threw me over his shoulder.

I refused to slam into the ground.  I went light.  I couldn’t phase through his grip, but I phased through the mat where he was expecting to slam me.  That caught him by surprise.  I took a deep breath and went heavy.

That hurt.  I disintegrated the mat and the floor and the subfloor that I had phased through.  But that gave me a terrific purchase.  I wouldn’t have been strong enough to reverse his grip, but he had already let go when he had thought I would be slamming into the mat.  I grabbed him and heaved as hard as I could.

Even at one ton, and with my legs planted in the floor for maximal purchase, the best I was able to do was to throw him over my head before he kicked in his field and flew out of my hand.

I went light and dove into the floor.  I tried to come up behind him and surprise him, but he’d apparently been waiting the whole match for me to try that.  He grabbed my immaterial wrist with his PK field and slung me at the open door of the capture cage.

Since I weighed about zero grams, he threw me at maybe five hundred miles an hour.  I managed to react about the time I flew out the back side of the capture cage and passed through the dojo wall.  I went heavy, and my velocity dropped.  But I was still flying away at maybe forty miles an hour.  I flew through the air for a couple seconds before I crashed into the ground about two hundred feet from the building.

I brushed my gi off, went light, and flew back into the dojo.  Since Hank had thrown me into the capture cage, I had already lost the match.  I hate losing.  But I had to admit, it was easier than fighting Hank for another couple bruising minutes.

Hank and I bowed to each other, and Ito let Hank hurry off to the boys’ locker room.  Then Ito had me stand while he lectured the rest of the class on preparation and facing a dangerous opponent.

Then he had me wait while he dismissed the rest of the class.  “So, Phase.  What did we learn from this match?”

Well, I learned that you were an evil old midget.  No, I knew that already.  But I had enough sense not to say that.  Time for another lesson of Politics 101.  Proper phrasing can be key.

I stared at him and said, “I believe I learned that if I do not take your lessons to heart, that you will find another way to instill the message in my stubborn head.”

He paused a moment, then said, “Well put…  And will you take it easy on an opponent in this class?”

I admitted, “Probably.  There is no way I’m going to go ‘full powers’ on someone like Vox or Ash or Glass.  I could hurt them.  This is an aikido class, not a real life-or-death situation.  And there’s no way I’m going to do a phase-KO on anyone here who could possibly have a BIT, for the same reason.”  I could have lied, but I figured Tolman would read my mind and rat me out to Ito as soon as she had the chance.

He nodded, “Very well.  The bonsai cannot curve unless the gardener can be patient.  We shall see over the next weeks if the message has truly been absorbed.”

I reclaimed my ninja dart and spent-uranium dart.  I was able to go heavy and straighten the bent tip somewhat, but it was going to need some machining to make it straight and super-sharp again.  I figured Harry would be willing to do it for me.  Then I carefully put my stuff away in my utility belt.  Man, I needed a bigger belt.  I had to talk to Möbius again.

I was still sore when I got home from classes.  My hands hurt from hitting Hank, and my forearms hurt from blocking him.  Plus I had a sore spot everywhere he had struck me, and my shoulders were aching from a couple of those throws.

I took a hot shower and used a bunch of Chou’s muscle cream.  Man, was that stuff good.  I was going to have to wheedle a quart of that out of her at the rate aikido class was going.  Who was Ito going to use to pound on me next?  Stormwolf?

Okay, a large chunk of Team Kimba would be bad enough.  If he had me fight Shroud, Bladedancer, Chaka, Carmilla, and then Tennyo, I’d be sore for a month.

After dinner, Bugs dropped by my room.  She pulled out a little egg with a propeller sticking out of its top and said, “Sniffer!  Check!”

The little egg hovered around the room as if it were a cat (okay, a flying cat), checking in the corners and looking over anything interesting in my room.  Finally, it gave her a little beep and flew back to her hand.

She smiled, “Okay, the room’s clean.  Well, as much as Sniffer can check.  I still don’t have a way to find magical snoopers or clairvoyants who might be listening in.  But I’m working on it.”

Out of curiosity more than anything, I asked, “Can it find an invisible person?  Or someone like me who’s leaning through the wall?  Or just someone with really good hearing who’s listening on the other side of the wall with a stethoscope?”

“Hmm, I hadn’t thought about those.  I just built Sniffer to search for ordinary listening gadgets, and then I built in some devise-detection systems.”

I thought about Heyoka and Aquerna.  “What about someone listening in from the astral planes?  Or someone who can command animals and maybe get them to listen for her?”

Bugs thought for a moment, doing a little bunny hop as she concentrated.  “Or someone like Feral who can turn into a giant bird-eating spider and cling to the outside wall to listen in…”

“I hadn’t even thought of that,” I admitted.

She shrugged, “Well, Sniffer’s just a work in progress.  Give me a few months.”

I reminded her, “This isn’t really top secret, anyway.  So I’m not worried about snoopers.  It’s more likely that a serious snooper checking this room would be trying to find out about investments I’m making.”

She nodded.  “Well anyway, I came over to tell you it’s all molded and painted, and the bloodpacks are all set.  But that wiener looks just repulsively real.  I don’t even want to have to touch it again!”

“Great,” I told her.  “And while you’re here, let me show you what I’ve been doing for you.  I’ve got Mattel and Goodkind Toys and Hasbro in a bidding war for your ‘egg-painter bunny’ and the paintable eggs.  I think I can get Mattel to go up another three million, plus another two percent on royalties, and if they do, Goodkind Toys will probably fold.  I think Hasbro is already max’ed out.  But that Mattel contract will probably accrue around one to four million a year for you on royalties alone, until the patent expires.”

“Wow!” she gasped wide-eyed.  “I didn’t really think you’d be this good!  I mean…  All this, for toys?”

“Sure,” I told her.  “Look, hardly anyone needs a personal forcefield generator, or even a really good holographic projection system-”

“But you said Disney was interested in my hologram projector.”

I pushed on, “Yeah, they are.  But that’s going to be a one-time transfer of patent rights.  I’ve got them up to 12.4 million, but I doubt they’ll go any higher.  It isn’t something they need; it’s just something they’d like to add in for some of their amusement park rides.  That’s peanuts compared to sales to the everyday person!  Think about it.  If most every girl in the world gets between two and sixty dolls in her lifetime, what’s the market for a better dolly?

“Now toys aren’t the only consumer item like this.  When everyone on the planet brushes their teeth, how much would you make off royalties of a better-designed toothbrush, or a better toothpaste, or an easy-to-use flossing system?  Or a kitchen knife that stays sharper longer.  Or a cutting board that doesn’t get hacked up by that new, better knife.  You make some great gadgets, but some of them have uses that you’re not thinking about.”

“Nikki told me you really knew your stuff about this, but I didn’t really…”

“That’s okay.  Why would a fourteen-year-old kid know this kind of stuff?  Really?”  I smiled, “Just tell your friends in Workshop what a good job I’m doing for you, and send me more business.”

Once Bugs left, I called Peril.  “Hey, it’s me.  We’re on for lunch tomorrow.  Meet me fifteen minutes before curfew at our agreed-upon meeting spot.”

Then I walked over to meet him in the darkness outside his dorm.  I gave him his supplies for the next day.  He snickered all the way back to the cottage.

Wednesday, November 15

I woke up and felt a lot better than I had yesterday morning.  I was still sore in a couple places, courtesy of Hank The Tank, but my stomach wasn’t knotting up in painful anxiety.

Okay, I was still going to wear my utility belt under my gi in every aikido class for the rest of the term.  Just in case.

The showers weren’t as fun as they might have been.  Vanessa was still mad at me, even after watching me get smacked around by Lancer.  I didn’t like the way she was carrying this grudge.  It didn’t bode well for the future of our relationship, if she was going to act like this every time she felt like I’d been mean to her.  Especially if she was going to do this when I hadn’t done anything!  Sharisha was getting way too much enjoyment out of seeing us split apart.  That made me wonder if she was giving Nessa bad advice, just to screw me over.

Okay, Fey drying off naked was always a real treat.  And Tennyo shaving her legs.  And Chaka drying off with that Ki trick.  And…  Well, it was hard to get all my ogling done in ten minutes, before people started wondering why I was taking so long at the sink.

I hiked off to breakfast and classes.  I had Bunny’s prosthetic ready to go, in a ziplock baggie hidden under my Whateley blazer.  I was ready.  Peril was ready.  Now all I had to do was wait until lunchtime, and face him.

After three hours, I was getting pretty tired of having that baggie jammed under my blazer.  So I was more than ready.  I started walking across the Quad as if I were on my way to lunch…

Peril stopped me and got in my face.  “So, you’re so fucking tough, huh?  Let’s see what you got, bitch!”

I glared at him, and then looked around.  I yelled to the crowd, “Would someone stop this moron before he gets trashed?”

Someone called out, “Hey Peril, don’t fuck with her.  She’s the one who turned Fireball into that demon!”

But most of the crowd just stood there to watch the show.

Peril glared at me, “Come on, show me what you got.  I’m a Regen 4.  I can take anything you can dish out.”

I groaned, “This is stupid.  Get out of my face, before I really hurt you.  I’m fed up with people giving me shit!”

“Come on, faggot.  Show me what a tough guy you are.”

I growled, “Goddamnit, that’s it!”

And I phased right through him.  The timing was what really mattered.  I had practiced this twenty or thirty times last night, so I was ready.  I pulled out Bunny’s prosthetic as I passed through him, so I had it in hand as I walked out through his back.

I hadn’t imagined he could scream like that.  He grabbed his crotch and fell to the ground.

That was when everyone realized what I was holding.  A penis and testicles, ripped off at the root, with blood pouring out.  Most of the girls in the Quad screamed.  Most of the guys in the Quad convulsively grabbed their groins.

Peril lay on the ground, screaming bloody murder, the blood-red patch in the front of his khakis spreading astonishingly fast.

I held up the ‘penis’ in my fist and shouted, “No more Mister Nice Guy, you hear!  From now on, anybody who pisses me off, I’m phasing through them!  And taking souvenirs!  Tell your friends!”

I’d hardly finished threatening everyone before Stormwolf zipped to a halt in front of me.  Dang!  For someone who wasn’t supposed to be a speedster, he was fast.  Then Stormbear teleported to a spot on my right side, and Bobcat soared in to land on my other side.

Stormwolf stared at the bloody thing in my hand.  “Now Phase, let’s just all calm down…”

I gave him an insane smile, “Hi Adam.  How are you doing?  I’m completely calm.  I think Peril’s a bit upset about something.  But I’m just fine now.”

Peril was still writhing on the ground holding his crotch and screaming like a banshee.

I turned to Stonebear and said, “Howdy, Theo!  I’d shake hands, but I don’t think you want to until I have a chance to clean up…”

I think I had them nearly as nervous as the guys over by the benches, who were still convulsively clamping their hands to their groins.

Mindbird and Thunderfox showed up just as three Security officers rushed over.  I focused on Mindbird and concentrated on what I was doing.  I wasn’t sure if it would work, but it was worth a try.  She stared at me for long seconds, and then gave me a little nod.

She stepped forward and calmly said, “Will you come with me to Kane Hall?”

I smiled, “Of course.  I’d love to.”  I turned my head a little.  “Adam?  Would you come too?  I don’t want anyone to think I’m putting the move on your girlfriend.”

Two medics put Peril on a stretcher while I was being escorted to Kane Hall.  I could hear him screeching for most of our walk over to Security.  Man, maybe he should become an actor.  He could do his own stunts and everything.

Just to freak Stormwolf out, I juggled the prosthetic as we headed toward the Security offices.  Finally, Mindbird said, “Stop it, Phase.  I already alerted the rest of the team that you’re playing with a piece of rubber.”

One of the Security officers choked, “Shit!  You mean this is all a con?”

“Yep,” I said.  “But play it like it’s real.  I’m trying to scare off potential assailants now, instead of having to fight them later.  So I’d appreciate it if you wrote me up as if I really had mutilated Peril.”

Stormwolf stared at the prosthetic uneasily and said, “You Kimbas haven’t exactly been showing a lot of forethought.”

“What do you expect?” I asked.  “We’re a bunch of first-term freshmen.  We didn’t have to know how to do this stuff before.  No one hands out a ‘Prepare for Your First Big Superhero Fight in Ten Easy Steps’ book when you get here.  And you haven’t been helpful either!”

“It’s not my job to show freshmen how to start fights.  It’s my job to assist Security on campus.  To stop fights and keep people from getting hurt.”

I didn’t say anything, but I was thinking that he needed to do a better job.  I didn’t need to say it aloud, because I knew Mindbird was picking up every little bit that I was broadcasting.

They marched me into Kane Hall, and straight into a briefing room.  Chief Delarose was there almost before a forensic specialist had the prosthetic in a ziplock baggie for analysis.

Delarose stared intently at the prosthetic.  But he didn’t over-react, and he didn’t wince.  Jeez.  I wondered what awful things he had seen that he wasn’t fazed by that.

Mindbird explained, “It’s a prosthetic.  One of the devisers or gadgeteers must have made it, so Phase could pull that stunt in the Quad.”

I explained, “I gave Peril a couple special effects bloodpacks.  When I phased through him, I pulled this out of a baggie, and he crushed the bloodpacks he had hidden in his shorts.  So it looked like I ripped his privates off.  He’s a Regen 4, so no one will be surprised that he has his privates back again tomorrow morning.”

Delarose and Lieutenant Forsyth both looked like they were having to bite the insides of their mouths to keep from laughing out loud.

Delarose finally snorted, “I think that ought to stop the Gunslinger Syndrome problem for you.  But I’m still going to have to take you to see Mrs. Carson.”

I told him, “I think you have to.  You would under any ordinary circumstances.”

He marched me over to Admin.  He gave me that stony face, just like he was really fed up with me and was about to feed me to the lions.  Or at least one very dangerous lioness.

Hartford was awaiting our arrival with an evil little smile.  Delarose ignored it and said, “Is the Headmistress ready?”

“Oh yes,” Hartford smirked.  “Go right in.”  She just couldn’t wait to have me folded, spindled, and/or mutilated.

Delarose made sure to close the door all the way once we were inside.  That told me something about the level of trust he had for Hartford.  I wondered what he knew about her that I didn’t.

Mrs. Carson glared at me, “Miss Goodkind.  Perhaps you would be so good as to explain what happened this time.”

So I explained, “Peril needed a favor from me, so this is what I chose.”

“And what did he need?”

“Umm, it’s personal.  And private,” I stalled.  “It’s his secret.  If he wants to tell you, I’m okay with that.”

“Very well.  Go on.”

I nodded and continued.  “Bugs did the special effects for me.  Peril and I set up the scene.  I phased through him and pulled out a prosthetic penis, while he crushed a couple bloodpacks in his shorts, to make it look like he was bleeding huge amounts.  Everyone assumed I had ripped his privates off.  As I intended.”

“And is Peril all right?”

I grinned, “He’s fine.  His throat may be sore from all the screaming, but that’ll be it.”

She thought for a moment and said, “That is a reasonable and a.. creative solution.  Perhaps not what I would have preferred, but preferable to many of the options you’ve chosen this term.”

I pointed out, “But you’ll have to give me some sort of punishment to make it look good.”

She nodded, “I agree.  I think another week at Hawthorne ought to be good for you, Miss Goodkind.  Starting this evening.”

I grinned, “Good.  I haven’t been over to see any of them in a couple days.”

Then I put on a grumpy face and stomped out, just to give Hartford the wrong impression.

After classes I hiked over to Hawthorne, to be confronted by a puzzled Mrs. Cantrel and a smirking Fubar.  Mrs. Cantrel said, “Ayla, would you please explain this to me?  You have detention for a week, but Louis says it’s because you didn’t hurt anyone.”

We all went down to Fubar’s room, and I explained to Mrs. Cantrel exactly what I had done, and why Mrs. Carson had given me detention.

Mrs. Cantrel just shook her head slowly.  “You kids today…  I swear, I don’t know what you’ll be up to next.”

I said, “The main point is that now I won’t have to face off against several bullies and end up hurting someone for real.  I hope.”

“Well, since this is detention, go ahead and clean up Louis’s pool first, then go up and help Static Girl and Frostbite with their math.  If you have time, you can go visit Puppet and Diz.”

“Sure,” I said.  I was good with all of that, even if cleaning the Foob’s pool was gross and disgusting and potentially snotty.

Louis winked at me and said, “I’ll warn you before I clear my sinuses.”

The pool wasn’t nearly as bad as the first time I’d been down here, and Louis didn’t nail me with a five-gallon snotball, so I was still clean and fresh when I finished up.  On the other hand, Claire and Frosty both wanted a lot of help on math, so I didn’t get to see Melissa or Diz before it was time to leave.

After dinner, Fey dragged me into her room.  Okay, it wasn’t like I was putting up a fight.  But she was obviously insistent.

A few seconds after we sat down, Chaka showed up with Vox in tow.  Oh.

Fey insisted, “This has gone on long enough.  I want you two to kiss and make up.”

I said, “I’m good with that.  I didn’t want to do this in the first place.”

Vox fumed, “Sure, you’re fine with it, ‘cause you’re not the one who got humiliated in front of the whole class!”  She suddenly burst into tears.

I tried to go over and hold her, but she pushed me away.  I let her, even though I was far stronger, even without going heavy.  Instead, I said, “What did you want me to do?  Throw the match, and have sensei really get mad at us?”

She sobbed miserably, “You could’ve done anything!  You could’ve phased through me and knocked me out, or hit me in the jaw and knocked me out, or…”

Chaka said, “Vanessa, think about it.  Those are really bad ideas.  Ayla ain’t Ito soke.  She don’t have that kind of control.  If she hit you hard enough in the jaw to knock you out, you’d probably end up in the hospital.  Broken jaw, twenty or thirty fractured teeth, concussion, maybe worse.  When bricks hit you, you stay hit.”

I chimed in, “And there’s no way I’m doing a phase-KO on you.  I don’t care what I have to do.  After what I did to Fireball, I’m never going disruption light through anyone with a BIT ever again, unless I’m up against Dr. Diabolik or something.  Just thinking about doing that and hurting you like I did Fireball…  It makes me sick to my stomach.”

Vanessa cried, “There must’ve been something you could’ve done!”

I admitted, “What I should have done was go maximally heavy from the start, get you in a hold before you could blink, then throw you into the capture cage.  That’s what Ito was expecting.  I think.  But I didn’t want to hurt you.  I didn’t know what else to do!”

She sat and stared at her knees for long seconds.  “Maybe it’s me.  I.. umm.. kind of have problems with stuff like this.  Daddy used to hit momma and me before he left us.  So I…”

Oh God.

“Girl, you have issues,” declared Toni.

I insisted, “Look Nessa, I’m never going to hit you.  Goodkinds don’t do that sort of thing.  But having to spar against each other in class?  That’s got to be different.  Ito will kill us if we refuse to spar against each other any more!”

She pouted, “It didn’t feel different…”

I told her, “Look, I got beat up by Hank just because I took it easy on you.  That ought to tell you that I’ll go a long way to keep from hurting you.  What more can I do?”

She blew her nose on a hankie that Fey pulled out of I-don’t-know-where, and sobbed, “I…  I don’t know.”

Chaka turned to me, “Sure didn’t sound from Hank like he beat you up.  He said you put the hurt on him a couple times, and he never managed to do more’n knock you back a few yards.  He said he couldn’t even slam you into the mat, and if he hadn’t been able to hang onto you when you went light, he never would’ve been able to throw you into the cage.”

I shrugged, “Even with all the holdouts I had, I still never came close to winning.”

Fey sounded stunned as she asked, “You expected to win?  Against Lancer?”

I shook my head no.  “No, but I wanted to.  I tried hard too.  I just couldn’t get through that PK field, except with my new dart.  And I didn’t have any knockout drug painted on its tip, so it didn’t do any good.”

Chaka pointed out, “Well, Hank’s an Exemplar too, so maybe your drug wouldn’t a’ done the trick anyway.”

Vox let me walk her back to her room, and she gave me a good-night kiss on the cheek.  So maybe things weren’t so bad after all.

Thursday, November 16

Vox wasn’t glowering at me in the bathroom, so things were looking up a little.  Still, we had a way to go to get back to normal, and I didn’t know what I needed to do.  If her dad used to beat up her mom and then buy his way back with flowers, then flowers would be exactly the wrong thing to get her.  I just didn’t know enough about her family situation.  Maybe I needed to just sit down and talk with her, and get her to tell me about what her dad had done to them.

At breakfast, Hank was chatting away with Billie and Jade about fighting me in BMA.  He made it sound like I had really been an adequate opponent.  I knew better.

Billie looked at me and encouraged, “Hey, you should switch to sixth period martial arts.  Then we could spar all the time!”

Oh.  Right.  Absolutely.  I was still sore from Hank.  The last thing I wanted to do was spar against Hank and Billie on a regular basis.

Jade piped up, “Yeah!  And you could spar against m.. my sister too.”

Yeah.  Definitely.  Spar against two hundred pounds of armor and weapons and evil devises?  That couldn’t be hurt?  No thanks.  Besides I still didn’t know if I could damage Jade’s BIT by phasing through another of the J-Team, and there was no way in hell I was going to risk finding that out the hard way.

But before I had to say no to them, Jade and Billie were off on another typical tangent.  This time, it was the important question of what kind of weaponry really went with the Hello Kitty motif, and whether Cobra linear induction pistols came in pink.

One of these days, some eavesdropper halfway across the caff was going to give himself away when one of our wacko conversations made him stand up holding his ears and scream, “Make it stop!  For God’s sake!  Make it stop!”

BMA class was pretty much back to normal.  Not that I was going to stop wearing my utility belt to class for a long time.  For some odd reason, Ito made sure not to have me spar against any testicle-bearing students for the next week or so.  Heh.  Like he didn’t have a major pipeline into Security, so he knew just what was posted there about my fight with Peril.  I was pretty sure he also had a direct link into the powers testing labs too.

Of course, that meant I was going to be sparring against Phobos and Adamantine and Britomart, along with some other pretty tough customers, like Kismet and Charmer.  Golden Girl wasn’t going to be back in class until next week, and Ito implied that he’d be letting her spar with easier opponents than usual for a few days until she was fully healed.  That was okay by me, since the less time I spent around her, the better.

But it seemed like the ‘girl’ lineup in our class was a lot tougher than the ‘guy’ lineup of Prism and Silverwing, and on down.  That was interesting when I thought about it, because the ‘girl’ lineup in 6th period was a fucking NIGHTMARE: Tennyo, Chaka, Shroud, Carmilla, Blitz, Punch, Alakazam, and on and on.  Also, I had heard that the ‘girl’ lineup in first period was pretty terrifying, starting with kids like Diamondback and working downward.

That just seemed suspicious.  Were a lot of these classes being skewed power-wise by the GSD/BIT transformers who looked normal?  Namely, us TGs?  That certainly covered me and Tennyo and Chaka and Shroud and Carmilla.  Without us for comparison, the guy line-up of Lancer, Silverwing, Counterpoint, etc. sounded a lot tougher.  Even if Lancer was one of us changelings.

After classes, I went over and did my teaching assistant stuff for the Business Accounting I open session.  That was going better, as the other students slowly realized that I wasn’t going to rip their faces off if they asked a stupid question.

I know it’s been said that there are no stupid questions, but whoever said that must not have taught an intro course like this one.  Interestingly, the questions that started with “I know this is a stupid question, but…” weren’t the questions that I thought were so brain-dead.  There were several kids in there who not only didn’t understand the material, but had no clue that they didn’t understand what was going on.  Just how detached from reality were these dorks?

Somehow, Aqueous and Threadbare got me talking about using basic accounting tools to track terrorist funding sources, as some of the FBI and CIA analysts were now doing.  So I talked well past the time I was due over at Hawthorne.  I had to run off once we were done.  And it was a really good thing that I got right over to Hawthorne.

 

Because I finally beat Diz at Scrabble!  Yes!  All right!  I really pounded her, too!

Okay, so I did a victory dance.  On top of her table.

So sue me.

We were in the middle of a ferocious second game of Scrabble To The Death, with Diz up by only 19 points.  I was just about to play and move into the lead, when there was a loud knock at the door.  We both knew who that had to be.

Mrs. Cantrel hovered in the hallway and said, “Phase?  Would you please go over to Antenna’s room and help Ernie and Dr. Traherne?”

I shrugged, “Sure.  It’s a good thing, because I don’t think Diz could have survived losing two Scrabble games in a row.”

“Hey!  I was gonna crush you!  Just ‘cause you won the first game…”

I laughed as I got up.  As I walked down the hall I could hear Mrs. Cantrel bugging her about the game.

“Did she really beat you?”

“Well, yeah.”

“And you didn’t let her win?”

“Well, no…”

“And who was leading this time…”

By the time I got to Antenna’s room, Antenna was standing in his electro-walker in the hallway, glumly watching Ernie try to lug a massive metal array out of the room.  The doorway was extra-wide to accommodate the walker, but the door itself looked a lot more normal than many of the doors in Hawthorne.

I stopped Ernie.  “Hey!  Hang on.  Let me get that.”

I had already gone heavy, since Antenna usually put out enough electricity to fry a lakeful of trout.  Ernie was in an insulated jumpsuit with heavy gloves and a mesh cage over his head.  I noticed that the whole suit was grounded too.

Ernie looked over.  “Phase!  Great!  Can you crush this down and carry it out to the loading dock at the back of the cottage?  We got a new dish array out there, and if you could carry in the pieces and help me get it set up in here, that would be great.”

“Sure I can,” I told him.

I crushed the mess of metal into something the size of a beach ball and hauled it out.  On the loading dock were six roughly triangular metal shapes that would fit together to make a hexagonal ‘radar dish’ shape about ten feet across.  While I was heavy, it was easy to carry it all in, a couple pieces at a time.

On my second trip back with dish components, I caught Traherne – in a similar protective suit – gingerly patting Antenna on the shoulder and saying, “Look Bryan, this one wasn’t your fault.  Stop fretting.  I’ve been looking at the cables, and it’s physical damage.  Probably from Halloween, and we just missed it.  The cable was nearly torn in two, but just enough of the wire was left intact to keep draining energy.  The rest of the cable had to be arcing pretty heavily.  We should have caught it a couple weeks ago.  We’ll put in some new monitors to watch for defects in the electrical system like this one.”

Then I stuck around and helped Ernie put the dish together.  It hung over a double bed that had a heavy metal frame and oddly-reflective sheets.  I wondered if the sheets were woven from some sort of metallic compound.  Regular sheets would probably catch on fire from Antenna’s energy.

Ernie said, “You know Phase, you’re a huge help.  Without someone like you or Slab around, I’d have to get the Foob to lift these into place, or use one of the mobile cranes we’ve got in the supply closet.”

All I was doing was holding a dish component in place, so I didn’t think I was helping all that much.  Any brick at Whateley could have done it.

Once Ernie had the dish bolted together and hooked up to the new cable system, he had Antenna come in and give it a try.  Antenna clambered out of his walker, carefully lay down on his bed so his ‘spikes’ weren’t jabbing into the sheet, and relaxed.  I watched with interest as lightning bolts arced madly from his body into the dish over him.

Ernie stared at a couple gauges set behind heavy plastic in the wall behind the bed.  “Hmm, it looks good.  I’m seeing a big improvement in our scavenging, too.  I’d say you’re going to be powering maybe forty percent of the cottage while you sleep from now on.”

Antenna grinned, “Yeah, the Foob said I’m his own personal backup power supply.”

Ernie grinned back.  “You just stay put for a few minutes, and Phase and me’ll get the protective sheeting rolled back up.  Okay?”

“Okay,” he said.

That part consisted of four hand winches, one for each wall.  The room was set up so that – in case of electrical eruptions – plastic sheeting automatically unrolled from the ceiling to protect the stuff on the walls.  Afterward, the sheets had to be rolled back up by hand.  Ernie was having trouble with his winch, but I stayed heavy and had no trouble winding up the other three, and then helping him finish his wall.

That was when I looked at the walls.  There were four posters.  Each one was laminated and then embedded in some sort of electricity-proof clear plastic.

All four posters were of Brass Monkey.  Two of them were old photos of group members that had been blown up to poster size.  They weren’t official Brass Monkey posters.  The whole room was like a Brass Monkey shrine.

“Holy crow!  You’re a Brass Monkey fan?” I burst out.

Ernie complained, “Ugh!  You mean that awful stuff he’s always listening to?”

I insisted, “They’re great!  It’s not my fault you don’t get how complex they are.”

Antenna chimed in, “Yeah!  They’re the best!  Lena Pereille has the greatest voice in rock!”

Ernie waved us off as he left.  “You two are nuts.  Now Ann Wilson, there was a great singer!”

“Who?” Antenna asked.

I just shrugged.  Ann Wilson?  That sounded way too whitebread to be a rock singer.  Ernie probably liked ‘easy listening’ music or something.

Antenna looked at me in excitement, “You like Brass Monkey too?”

“You bet.  I’ve got all their CDs, and I’ve seen ‘em in concert.  Three times.”

He looked both sad and pleased.  “Awesome.  I’d give anything to be able to see ‘em live…  Oh, let me show you what I’ve got.  My big brother Max got me started on ‘em when they were just Lena and Pete and Mike, playing in Lena’s mom’s basement and doing the local punk rock clubs.  Here’s Pete’s old guitar, Max got it and put it back together after Pete smashed it at a performance at the Rusty Staple…”

Antenna had that busted guitar, and a pair of Mike’s old drumsticks, and an autographed bar napkin that read “from Lena to my buddy Max”.  He had a couple pictures of a guy who looked a lot like him – presumably his big brother Max – getting a high five from Pete Czernowski the lead guitarist, and getting a wild hug from Lena Pereille, and sitting excitedly at Mike Wells’ drum set while Mike stood behind him and laughed at something.

Antenna also had some really amazing stuff.  Tapes from the early days of Brass Monkey, long before they picked up their other two guitarists.  Basement tapes of rehearsals.  Hand-written music sheets of some of their early songs, including an early version of “Stab My Eyes with Synesthesia”.

“Wow.  I love this song!”

And pretty soon we were listening to it and talking about our favorite group.  I guess we had the music up a little loud.  Ricou came by and slammed the door shut.

We listened to Brass Monkey and talked until Mrs. Cantrel chased me out.  As it was, I nearly missed dinner.

Friday, November 17

Once again, we had to get up at a ridiculously early hour in order to get to the train station.  This time, we had to rush over to the cafeteria for food, instead of being allowed to provide our own.

Man, the stuff you have to endure when you have a legitimate chaperone.

I knew this chaperone.  Well, I had met her before.  It was Miss Grimes, from the Magical Arts Department.  She still looked like Morticia Addams dressed for Halloween as a schoolteacher.  Not that I was going to say anything.  If I were about to follow Circe’s advice and take a lot of courses from the Magical Arts Department, then there was no way I was going to start out by pissing off some of the teachers.  Especially not the teachers with serious magical powers.

So I had the day off from my imaginary detention, to ride to Boston with the rest of the crew.  It looked like everyone who was caught by a photographer, no matter what the distance on the zoom, was going.. and might have to give a deposition.  Except Carmilla, for obvious reasons.  Like every defense attorney on the planet wouldn’t give his eyeteeth to have the prosecution bring in a real demon as a witness against your client.  Having a demon opposing your client automatically makes him look more wholesome than a Disney movie.

We had to wait on four more students: Chaka’s pal Silver, some little ‘Velma’ named Foxfire, a gadget-girl named Jetstream who was lugging an entire backpack full of junk, and a loonytoon named Pucelle.  My sources had let me know that Foxfire was one of the Lit Chix who had been nosing around after the Alphas tried to smash Toni with Little Bee and a remote-controlled robot.  That made me want to keep an eye on her.  Hank and I ended up front, with me in the shotgun seat and Hank right behind Miss Grimes, who was driving.  The cool kids, Nikki and Toni, got to sit in the very back.

Okay, I was just griping.  What really bugged me was that Miss Grimes acted like she hardly even remembered me.  Now she’d only been in the room with me for ten minutes, and she’d been working at the time.  And she probably had to do powers testing stuff for scores of kids every fall.  But still, it seemed like she was way more focused on the mages in the van.  Maybe I should have expected that.  She obviously had Foxfire in one or more classes, and she sure had an interest in Nikki.

We caught one of the high-speed trains, and we were in downtown Boston not much after ten.  Miss Grimes accompanied us, while Silver got the Three Whitmans as her bodyguards.  The Assistant District Attorney had us meet with her in the SWAT team ready room.  My first thought was that she’d seen what Tennyo did to that building the last time we were in Boston.

It turned out that the ADA only wanted depositions from Chaka, Lancer, and Tennyo.  I had no idea why Fey, Generator, Bladedancer, and I were along on this one.  Now, if they’d asked for Fey and Carmilla and, say, Pendragon, then it would have been pretty obvious what was up.  I was kind of leaning in that direction, given that Sky Hawk and two other superheroes - a female speedster and a guy in power armor - were hanging around.  And Captain Tilley went out of his way to brief us on the Necromancer and all his Children of the Night.  Wow, were the Boston cops subtle.  Well, Fey had prepped everyone for a big battle, so we were ready if anything happened.

After all three depositions, and watching a really good defense attorney eat Tennyo alive, we finally got lunch.  Or at least something that passed for lunch in a building where prisoners were fed on a city budget.  I’m not going to say anything about that meatloaf, but I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that the stray cat population in the neighborhood was way down.

And then it was time to follow the SWAT captain’s play.  We accompanied the cops as Wilbur Bunsen got herded into an armored prisoner transport.  And at the very last second, Bunsen went postal on the cops and the other prisoners.  Captain Tilley, who obviously had been waiting for this, just yelled out, “SHOWTIME!”

Team Kimba moved.  We stepped out of the lines of the security cameras, and Fey let loose.  Each of us had a prepared pack that was about the size of a textbook.  There was a viciously-bright white light, a really creepy feeling all over my body, and my school uniform was gone.  I - and every other Kimba - was in a superhero costume.  I was wearing a white ninja outfit with a padded vest area over my front which - on me, anyway - went down low enough to conceal Mister Happy.  My outfit had dark gray trim and a gradated capital ‘P’ on the front right where Superman has his stylized ‘S’.  I really didn’t like the color: white was too easy to get mucked up, so you looked like you lost your battle no matter what happened.  I didn’t like the trim, either.  I didn’t like the ‘symbol on the chest’ bit either, especially that stupid P which started out solid black at the top, and faded to a ghostly gray at the bottom.  Fortunately, I still had my utility belt.

But at least I didn’t have a uniform like Jade’s, which was in several shades of pink.  With butterfly wings.  And - get this - pixie dust trailing after her when Jann flew her through the air.  That girl really needed to pay more attention in Costume Shop.

Bunsen used his superpowers.. to run away like Tennyo was on his tail.  Lancer grabbed me around the waist and lifted off with the rest of the team.  Tennyo was holding Bladedancer and doing a pretty good job of not outrunning the rest of us.  Lancer was keeping up with her, with me tucked under one arm.  I had already gone heavy, since my extra weight didn’t bother Hank a bit.  Shroud had Chaka, and wasn’t trailing by much, but Generator was lagging a bit.

Fortunately, our target was blatantly obvious.  If the gaping hole in the window of the skyscraper wasn’t enough of a hint, the aerial dogfight was a big enough clue for anybody.

Tennyo dropped Bladedancer and blasted an incoming missile out of the air.  Before I even spotted the source of the missile, Chaka was dropping to the ground and firing off a series of arrows.  Which all hit exactly where they were supposed to go.

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

And then Matterhorn was in front of us.  Oh my God, it was Matterhorn.  There was no mistaking a guy that big and that distinctive, particularly one who had been all over the news plenty of times.

Tennyo let fly with a plasma blast.  I figured that would take care of Mister Gigantic, in a rather ugly way.

It hit Matterhorn’s displacement field and veered off at a weird angle to turn somebody’s window office into a slagheap.  Whoa.  I hadn’t expected that.

Matterhorn punched her, smashing her into a building.  Then he body-blocked Lancer.

I had already disengaged.  Maybe it was my fault that Lancer didn’t see it coming.  I gave Lancer a whack on the shoulder, which told him to drop me.  Maybe he was watching to see if I was okay, instead of watching Matterhorn.  But the giant slammed Lancer across the street.

I hit the ground and made a small crater.  That’s what happens when a ton of mass hits from thirty feet up.  I just went light and floated up.  But not before Tennyo’s next blast bounced off the giant at some insane angle, and Matterhorn swatted her out of the air.  Then, just to add insult to injury, he stomped her into the asphalt.  She was going to be pissed about that one.

Before I could get over there, Lancer had knocked Matterhorn down, and there was an explosion which knocked both of them around.  Tennyo was fighting some guy who seemed to be warping reality all around him, and Matterhorn smashed the two of them into the asphalt.

I went disruption-light and made for the crater in the street that represented Tennyo and Reality-warping Boy.  I figured that one of two things would happen if Matterhorn stepped on me.  Most likely, if Dr. Quintain and Dr. Yablonski were right, I’d go right through his displacement field and he’d get a pain in his foot that would incapacitate him for a while.  If not, his displacement field would shove me into the street, and I’d just float back up a couple seconds later.

Well, that was the theory, anyway.  As we say in business, “the difference between theory and practice is that, in theory, there isn’t any difference.”

I got over there as the reality warper was rising up out of the rubble.  Or rather, pieces of him were leaping up in a really disturbing way, to reform into the original guy.  Just about the time that I was going to have to worry about Matterhorn’s feet, the Evil Ironman flier went nuts and started bashing into the giant.

What the hell?

Oh.  Duh.  I figured it out about twenty seconds later than I should have.  He’d grabbed Jade.  Jade could touch his armor.  Presto, one instantiation later, and Jinn (or Jann or Jeannie or whatever the hell she was calling this one) was ‘possessing’ some part of his armor.  I had to clench my jaw to keep from laughing at the mental image I had.

The reality warper went for Tennyo, who still hadn’t extracted herself.  Crap.

I went heavy and put a fist right through him.

I mean, I literally put a fist through him.  At least, through a gap where his body should have been.  This guy was going to be a pain to fight if I played fair.

I didn’t.  I kicked at his stomach, which did the same freaky reality warp.  As I expected.  But I palmed something out of my utility belt while I was kicking.  My next move was a palm strike at his face.

Or so he thought.  I set off a ferocious flash of light into his eyes, and he couldn’t see my next move.  So when I punched him in the stomach, I actually hit him.  He went flying backward.  Score one for sensei Ito.

I grabbed Tennyo by the arm and hauled her up.  She was intact, of course.  Man, some days it seemed like her Regen level had to be up in the double digits.  But she hadn’t figured out what was going on with Matterhorn.

And Matterhorn was gearing up for Round Two on us, with Reality-warp Boy up again and moving into backstop position to keep us penned in.  Crap.  I should have hit him until he couldn’t get back up.  Score another one for sensei Ito: I still hadn’t learned that lesson.  Tennyo went for Reality-warp Boy, while I looked up at Matterhorn.

And up.  And up!  Crap, he was big!  He was a lot bigger than Stonebear.

Stonebear.  Powers Lab.  Dr. Yablonski.  The lab I missed.

Bingo.

I smirked to myself, “Ooohhh…  Yeeaaahhh…  You think that I can get some Powers Theory Lab credit for this?”

I went heavy and waited for him.  It took all my courage to simply stand there and let him try to smash me into the pavement.  I knew that it had a good chance of working.  I knew that I was heavy, so maybe he’d just pound me into the asphalt like a tent peg, at which point I could go light and float away.  But this also had a chance of failing horribly, with me ending up a puddle of blood and guts on the asphalt.

I stood there, put my arms up, and waited.

A fist the size of an Audi came crashing down at me.  I focused as hard as I could.  The displacement field hit my hands.. and came to a screeching halt.

Holy crow, it worked!  It worked!

Matterhorn looked utterly shocked and confused.  He just stood there, bent over, still trying to hammer me into the street.

I tried moving his hand.  His entire displacement field went with me.  Whoa!  Suddenly I was waving Matterhorn about as if he were a balloon in the Macy’s Day Parade.

Since I had taken over his displacement field, I was lifting him.  Not the ten-ton giant he appeared to be, but the real guy.  All two hundred fifty pounds or so of him.  And when I was this heavy, I could dead lift over two tons.  So this felt like I was waving around a piñata.

I focused on his displacement field, and moved him back and forth.  He was finally figuring out that he needed to get loose from me, so I tried something more concrete.  I slammed him as hard as I could into the street.

Holy crow!  That was awesome!  I really hadn’t thought it would work that well!

I reversed direction, slamming him over my head and into the street on my other side.  He was still moving, so I slammed him a couple more times.

This was more fun than playing Mortal Kombat with Chou.  Of course, I also never got to smack Chou around like this in Mortal Kombat: she was too darn quick.

I swung Matterhorn around like I was swinging a bucket on the end of a rope, and I smacked the Arch-Fiend out of the air with Matterhorn’s immense shoe.  Yes!

After that, I went wild with the giant thug-shaped balloon.  I smashed the Necromancer into a billboard.  I smashed Lancer’s armored opponent into the sidewalk.  Then I went for Reality-warping Boy, who was giving Billie fits.

You wouldn’t think you could miss a guy with a hammer the size of a whale.  But it was that reality-warping deal.  He saw me coming, and he managed to dodge me three or four times before I finally connected.  Then I smashed him a couple more times, once he was down, just like Ito would have wanted.

Okay, so I’m a bad sport.  So sue me.  It’s not like this was flag football.

I hefted Matterhorn’s body once more and looked around for someone else stupid enough to come within range.  And suddenly someone was grabbing me from my blind side.  Ito and Tolman would have kicked my ass for failing to maintain a mental map of the combatants and letting someone pull this.

I was expecting a punch in the kidney, or a blast of energy.  But I was already heavy, so I might be able to take it if I had to.

Before I could try to take on a new opponent while hanging onto Matterhorn, the ‘opponent’ wrapped herself around me like an octopus and groped my left boob.  What the hell?

Oh crap, it was Vamp!  She purred, “Hey cutie, I know games that are lots more fun…”

And suddenly I had a boner you could have used to pound railroad spikes.  If I hadn’t had to ward off Nikki’s glamour a couple times a day, not to mention Cytherea’s glamour, and Carmilla’s lust rays…  Okay, I still had major trouble with that last one…

Still, I was nearly paralyzed as she groped me.. and fondled me.. and slid her hand down to my crotch…

“WHAT?!?” she gasped.

I think I turned redder than a beet under my ninja mask.  Have I ever mentioned that sometimes I really, really hate my body?  Even a bisexual sex-fiend like Vamp was freaked out by my shape.  I shrugged her off.  Hard.  And since I was heavy, I put a lot of force into that shrug.

But she was tougher than she looked.  I already knew that, since I’d heard Bladedancer’s description of her fight against this slut.  Vamp just came back for more.  She cooed, “Now, now, don’t BE like that sweetie!  You just caught me by surprise there!  If anything, this just means that there are just so many NEW games that we can play!”

Yeah.  Right.  Like I wanted to be humiliated a few more times before she let me have it the way she gave it to Chou.  I heaved Matterhorn straight up and disengaged from his displacement field.

“Oh, you wanna wrassle then?” she asked sexily.

I pointed up as I went light and sank into the street.

I wished I could have seen her face when she realized I had just dropped a giant on her albino ass.

I came up through the sidewalk to see Matterhorn out cold, flat in the middle of the street, and no sign of the little bitch who was squished underneath him.

Unfortunately, the fight wasn’t over.  Lycanthros grabbed Fey, and before I could do more than start running their way, the whole place went black.

Not black, like standing outside at night.  This was a suffocating, sense-cloying blackness that muffled everything.  I couldn’t see.  I couldn’t smell.  I couldn’t hear.

Crap, it had to be Lady Darke.  Had she targeted me, or had she blacked out the whole battlefield?  Either way, the Necromancer was bound to be free to do Serious Inhuman Badness to Nikki.  And I was as useless as the NYSE to a privately-held company.  I went heavy and tried feeling my way forward.

By the time my senses cleared, Lady Darke was down, Chaka was rescuing Fey, and most of the rest of the fighters were staggering around just like me.  Holy crow, that woman was dangerous!

I did the one thing the bad guys couldn’t track.  I went light and dove into the street.  Then I aimed for where I thought Nikki and Toni would be.  I’d done this enough times that I could gauge the distance reasonably well while I was phasing through the underground.  As long as I didn’t hit another of those damned power lines…

I came up right in Lycanthros’ path, only about three yards from Toni.  Man, that was better targeting than I had any right to expect.  I went heavy before I had to fight the big hairball.  I remembered the last time I’d met him: when I’d been heavy, he’d broken his claws trying to rip my throat out.  So I was ready to rumble.

He looked at me, glanced at Chaka.. and ran like a frightened dog.

Okay, I should have expected that.  Chaka didn’t miss a trick; she whipped out a nasty-looking knife and nailed him on the fly.  Dang, that girl’s aim was just scary!

But he was getting back up.  I jumped at him and went not-quite-light.  This was a new trick I’d been working on.  Instead of going to zero weight and a jet-like speed I couldn’t control, I was going to a couple ounces and about eighty miles an hour.  It let me cover more distance without quite as much difficulty as I’d had with Conservation of Angular Momentum.

Lycanthros exhaled and blasted the entire area with a gust of wind that Superman would have envied.

If I’d been heavy, I could have withstood it.  If I’d been maximally light, the blast of wind would have gone right through me.  I was exactly the wrong density.  The wind blew me backward like I was a helium balloon.

By the time I went heavy and dropped to the pavement, everything was over.  The Lamplighter had shown up and intimidated the heck out of most of the crowd, except Captain Tilley.  Fey and Miss Grimes had fixed something nasty that Fey said was a rip in space-time.  Tennyo and Lancer had a bunch of the bad guys trapped in their own escape pod, a couple hundred feet up.  The Necromancer and Vamp had escaped, but hardly anyone else had.

Now we just had to get a couple people off to the hospital, and fill out police reports.  Then we could go home to Whateley.

Unlike the first time in Boston, I wasn’t humiliated or covered in slime or smelling like a frat house toilet.  In fact, I felt great.

Chou and I just about bounced ourselves silly on the trip home, while everyone else was beat up.  Even the Regens.  I thought Tennyo and Fey were going to whomp up on us if we didn’t tone it down a bit.

It was bizarre.  I just had this phenomenal adrenaline rush, and this huge bubble of excitement and victory inside me.  I could sure see why people like Chaka were ready to get out there and mix it up at the slightest provocation.

On the other hand, we had two students in the hospital, half a dozen students seriously pounded, and several students who could just as easily have been horribly dead.  Including me.

Were we good, or just really lucky?  Maybe it was my euphoria, but I was still leaning toward ‘good’.  The bad guys had been planning for our appearance, and had stuff specifically geared to stop Fey and a couple others of our group.

And frankly, the bad guys were just lucky that Tennyo had been fighting their Warpers instead of pounding the rest of their line-up into moo goo gai pan.  If she had ignored Matterhorn and the reality-warping guy to concentrate on everything else that moved, those guys would have been in a world of hurt.  That told me that Hank had a really good point: we needed better tactical intelligence, and we needed to be wearing our comm gear all the time.

And there was something about that girl Foxfire.  Something suspicious.  I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I was going to keep an eye on her.