Ayla and the Mad Scientist, the 9th Phase novel by Diane Castle, Chapter 15 – La Nausée
I ignored the twinge in my left leg as I worked on our lab experiment. I was recording results while Mister Mystic ran each test and Pendragon set up the next one. We were blazing through the lab that way. I was hoping we would complete our measurements in time to get the lab written up properly before the class was over.
We were well ahead of the other groups. Quarrel was arguing with his team again, and that was slowing them up markedly. I was wondering if they would even manage to complete the lab before the hour was up. Or before Monday.
That was when I felt a bone-deep pain shooting down both my thighs.
“Mmgh.” I tried not to yelp, but it really hurt.
“You okay?” Pendragon asked.
“No, she’s really not,” replied Mister Mystic. Empaths and telepaths. I so had to learn how to block them.
“Just… some pain in my legs,” I admitted. “I’ll just sit down and keep recording.”
Pendragon picked up the whole table and scooted it over to the closest schooldesk.
“Thank you,” I told him. “But you didn’t need to. I should be able to take notes, even with some minor discomfort.”
Not that it felt like ‘minor discomfort’. It felt like a searing, ripping pain through my thighbones. But this was Whateley Academy. I was dealing with young men who planned to be superheroes in a matter of months. They knew all about pain and injury and deprivation. Whining about a pain in my leg was not going to go over very well.
I sat down in a chair and tried to ignore how much my legs were hurting. I tried to concentrate on the readings from the scale and the meters, so we could write up the experiment properly. I even double checked all the numbers, because I knew I was having trouble concentrating.
But sitting down seemed to start a new set of aches, this time in my hips. I have had broken bones and serious injuries, so I knew this wasn’t as bad as it could get. But it felt like someone was pounding on my hipbones. With a spiked mace. I so needed to call Jobe and talk to him about pain relievers. I wasn’t going to take anything until I was assured they wouldn’t have any sort of interaction.
I managed to get all the numbers down in a nice, usable table for our write-up. While Pendragon moved the table back and Mister Mystic put our gear away, I focused on making a quick copy of the table for each of them.
I was almost done with the second copy when I started getting an upset stomach. At first, I didn’t pay much attention to it, because my legs and hips were aching so much, but my stomach just kept bothering me more and more.
We all wrote up the format for the lab, starting with the basis of the experiment. I was working slower than usual, because I was really feeling lousy.
Mister Mystic finally asked, “Do I need to ask Dr. Y to give you an extension on the lab?”
Pendragon asked, “Do you need to go to the clinic?”
I gritted my teeth so I wouldn’t groan from the pain, and then I said, “I’m going to make it through this class and then decide.”
A few seconds later, I regretted my decision, because a wicked headache flared up to go with the upset stomach. In a matter of seconds, that turned into full-blown nausea. After all the headaches and head injuries I’ve had, you would think I would be able to cope with yet another one.
And yet it was all I could do to write down what my lab partners were telling me. I managed to get all the way through the first several parts, up through the experimental procedures and our data tables, but they were well ahead of me by then. But I wasn’t up to doing the computations and drawing the graphs, much less writing up the discussion and the conclusions.
Pendragon finally said, “Okay, I’m done. Your first sections look fine, even if your handwriting looks a bit… tense. I’ll send you a copy of my last few sections, and you can write up your own report.”
Mister Mystic asked, “Do you want one of us to help you to the clinic?”
I wanted to slap myself on the forehead, but I was worried my head might actually explode in pain if I did it. “I can’t! I have a quiz next period.”
Pendragon asked, “Are you going to be able to take the quiz?”
“And pass it?” wondered Mister Mystic.
“I have to,” I groaned.
Pendragon said, “No, you don’t. We’ll walk you to class and explain to the teacher.”
“Fine,” I growled. “I’m still gonna try and take the quiz.”
Mister Mystic said, “Persistence is good. Stubbornness isn’t.”
“There is no difference,” I complained. “Just how you get judged by outsiders.”
Pendragon said, “That’s pretty cynical, even for a Goodkind.”
I didn’t feel up to arguing with him, but I thought his view was rather naïve. After all, I had seen enough people in the news and business moves that had been categorized as persistent and also stubborn, depending on the source to which you listened. If the commentator liked you, your actions were ‘persistent’ and ‘valiant’. If the commentator disliked you, your actions were ‘stubborn’ and ‘wrongheaded’.
I stood up before Pendragon could offer me a hand. The headache didn’t get any worse, although the nausea flared a little with my motion. The aches in my hips and legs spiked nastily as I took steps forward. And there was something new. I noticed an uncomfortable tingling and itching at my chest.
I kept walking, even though it hurt. A lot. I went light and floated an inch or two above the floor, so I didn’t have to move my hips or legs, and the pain lessened a little. It didn’t go away, though. And the scratchy tingling at my chest seemed to focus on my breasts. Or perhaps my own focus was on my breasts. But the weird tingling sensations also started up around my butt.
I floated along toward math class, while Pendragon and Mister Mystic accompanied me to make sure I was all right. After all, they were Capes, and this was the sort of thing they did. To be fair, it was the sort of thing that any of my friends would have done, although Jade might have cast one of the J-Team into me and hauled me around. Especially after I told her not to do so.
The more I thought about it, the more my aches and pains seemed encouraging. I wanted more height, so I was going to have to expect some growing pains. I wanted my breasts and butt to shrivel down to normal masculine features, so I was going to have to expect some discomfort in those areas. I just didn’t want my head or my stomach to change. Or explode. Or metamorphose into alien extremities. With Jobe, pretty much anything was possible.
I decided a phone call might not be amiss. I just kept my bPhone against my palm and fingers, so it would stay light with me. I dialed Jobe’s lab.
“Yeah?” barked a New Jersey voice.
“Hello, Freight Train,” I said. I didn’t point out that she had the telephone answering skills of a grizzly bear.
“How’d ya know it was me?”
I said, “There aren’t very many people who might be in Jobe’s lab, and the number of people she would let answer her phone is even smaller. Plus, you don’t have an English accent.”
“What’d ya want?”
I asked, “Can I speak to Jobe for a minute?”
“She’s out. Something with the Bads.”
I tried again. “Can I speak to Belphoebe instead?”
“Oh sure. I guess so.” She put the phone down and then bellowed, “PHEEBS! PHONE!”
I could hear that British voice, working on the posh tones Belphegor didn’t really have. “Honestly, you answer a phone with ‘hello’ and a polite greeting. Perhaps ‘Jobe’s lab, Freight Train speaking, may I help you’ or something like that!”
Belphoebe picked up the phone and said, “I’m terribly sorry, but someone couldn’t be bothered to tell me who is calling, or why.”
I managed not to smile, probably because I hurt so much. “It’s Phase. I’m having shooting pains that feeling like they’re in my thighbones and hipbones. Plus headache, upset stomach, and nausea. Also, itching and tingling in my breasts and rear. I need to know if this is normal, and if anything contraindicates pain relievers and something for my stomach.”
Belphoebe said, “It all sounds more or less as expected. Growing pains, effects at the secondary sexual characteristics, hormonal adjustments… The headache and nausea are most likely from the shifts in hormones.”
“Okay. Thanks for the information.” I had to admit, that was better news than I was expecting. “What about pain relievers and anti-nausea drugs?”
She sighed, as if I were asking the dumbest question ever. In some ways, she was more like Jobe than she realized. “Anything considered over the counter in the States would be fine. Try some Pepto-Bismol and a large dose of ibuprofen. You know what that is, right?”
“Yes, I know what that is,” I said with some heat. “I even know the Pepto-Bismol is a salicylate, so I need to watch my aspirin consumption when taking it.”
“Fine,” she muttered. “Let someone know if you have any interesting symptoms.” Then she hung up on me. And she was complaining about telephone etiquette?
Mister Mystic asked, “So… some Pepto-Bismol and some pain relievers?”
I said, “I think I have just enough time to hit the campus store and pick things up, then make it to pre-calc on time.”
Mister Mystic said, “I could go pick things up for you, while Pen walks you to class.”
I made sure not to shake my head. “You don’t need to be wasting your money on things I should be buying. And it’s only a little out of my way.”
“Are you sure?” he checked.
“I’d rather do this my way,” I insisted. I knew it was hypocritical of me to object to other people buying things for me, when I was such a pain in the neck about making sure my friends had the things they needed. But I couldn’t help it. It was the Goodkind way to fix things that one saw needed repair, and I was still a Goodkind inside, where it counted the most.
“Yes, milady,” he smirked.
Oh man, I needed to dial down the ‘tude again. I said, “Just consider me to be quirky.”
He grinned, “Considering you hang out with Generator and Chaka and Beltane, wanting to buy your own things hardly counts as a quirk.”
Pendragon asked, “Speaking of which, is it true that Bardue threw a Dark Generator simulation at your team, and she nearly won?”
Mister Mystic asked, “Is it true she dressed up like a comic book supervillain first? Bardue hates that kind of folderol.”
I admitted, “Bardue let her jack up her powers considerably, and she’s already a lot more dangerous than people realize. So she did really well against us. And she asked for a fully customizable camo costume, and she just neglected to tell Bardue she was going to customize it into a comic book supervillainess uniform. Then she complained about not being allowed to do the Evil Supervillain Laugh.”
Pendragon grinned. He said, “She has some competition, apparently. In winter term, Bardue had to deal with some deviser who wanted to disrupt one of his ‘teachable moment’ simulations with… What was it?”
Mister Mystic snickered, “Radioactive-”
“Condor Girl,” I interrupted. “That was Generator too. Want to know the worst part? We actually beat the sim with her Radioactive Condor Girl plan. So it was insane and also really effective. I’m not sure Bardue knows how to cope with both at the same time.”
They looked at each other. Pendragon asked, “She’s in Poe, right?”
“With me,” I pointed out. “But not everyone in Poe is a drooling basketcase. Some of us just need some counseling and support. Just like not everyone in Hawthorne is unable to live outside their dorm without injuring themselves or others.”
“Right,” Mister Mystic firmly said. “Maybe Slab needed a lot of help when he first came to Whateley, but he’s really gotten a good handle on his powers now.”
Pendragon nodded. “Same for Jimmy. And Torpedo.”
“Who?” I wondered. I hadn’t met anyone codenamed Torpedo in my visits to Hawthorne.
“He graduated last year,” Pendragon explained.
I hurried through the campus store. I only needed to go through the aisle that had medications and sundries. I grabbed a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, a bottle of ibuprofen capsules, and a bottle of water off the endcap at the end of the aisle.
Yes, I know bottled water is an enormous waste of resources and a massive waste of one’s own money, not to mention the sad fact that it may not be as good for you as your own municipal water supply. But I needed something to wash down the pink goo and the capsules. It was the either bottled water or a soda that looked suspiciously like carbonated urine.
Instead of waiting in line to check out, I made a quick detour to the customer service area, which was the only place in the store where one could use a Goodkind Banking credit card. All right, I was probably the one person in the school who would even consider carrying a Goodkind Banking credit card. I was definitely the only person at the school with a Goodkind Banking iridium card, which had taken me a lot of effort to acquire. The family still had their titanium cards, which had no upper limit and carried more perks than mine, but I finally had a decent card with no upper limit on purchases. If I had an emergency where I needed to walk into an airport and buy a jet, I could.
I flashed my credit card through the card reader, paid for the goods, and left. As soon as we were past the theft detectors, I tore off the protective wrapper on the Pepto-Bismol and took a slug of it. Then I disintegrated one side of the box containing the pill bottle, ripped off the wrapper, peeled off the foil seal, pulled out the wad of cotton, and popped six pills into my mouth. I downed the entire bottle of water to get the pills down and kill the taste of the pink nastiness.
It’s just discouraging that a tiny bottle of pills requires so much packaging and protective systems just to ensure that someone like The Poison Pen or Doctor Dread hadn’t tainted the pills. Things would probably be so much simpler if there were no supervillains out there.
Not that I had to think about things like that back when I was still a Goodkind. We had to worry about poisons and attacks a lot more than the average person, and we had a security staff to handle a lot of it. The pills in our cabinets came straight from our doctors and never went on the shelves in a grocery store or a pharmacy. In fact, they were often collected straight from the manufacturer and never saw a standard pill bottle. I didn’t have options like that anymore. On the other hand, if I were still a Goodkind, I wouldn’t have options like Fey and Prism and Banned Aids and Caduceus. On the gripping hand, if I were still a Goodkind, I wouldn’t be doing something so completely insane as letting the mad scientist son of Gizmatic inject me with a potentially teratogenic serum.
Well, at least I wasn’t going to explode, like I might have done if I let Delta Spike work on me.
Mister Mystic asked, “A GB card? Isn’t that a bit… unusual for around here?”
I just said, “That’s because I’m a bit unusual for around here.”
Pendragon said, “She probably has half a dozen other credit cards in there.”
I confessed, “But the GB card has the advantage that it gives me an excuse to go through customer services, instead of waiting in the usual checkout lines.”
I noticed the guys looking at each other, no doubt with identical ‘oh what a Goodkind thing to do’ expressions. Didn’t they realize that there was no reason not to use something like the customer service desk, when the workers there were usually not busy and the clerks on the checkout lines were usually swamped?
All right, perhaps it wasn’t a thing that normal people did. But I had learned over the past year that I really sucked at ‘normal people stuff’. And I had learned that there were lots of ‘normal people things’ that I wanted to avoid wholeheartedly. Like shopping in a grocery store where anybody could have handled the food you were about to pick up… and then eat. Had these people never heard of Typhoid Mary? Or the Prionator? Or like credit card debt as a way of life. Or like throwing away one’s money on lottery tickets. Or like treating school as playtime instead of a learning opportunity. The list of ‘normal people’ things I wanted to avoid just got longer with every week of experience I had out in what normal people called ‘the real world’.
Really. I was never going to understand ‘normal’ people.
By the time we got to math class, my stomach felt a little better, but my headache hadn’t improved, and the deep pains in my hips and thighs had decided to extend themselves into my knees and shins. I just floated along as much as I could, instead of walking. I wasn’t looking forward to sitting in a classroom desk with its hard wood seat. On the other hand, I was hoping that the pain relievers would kick in well before class ended.
Pendragon persisted, so I finally gave in just to get him to stop nagging. We walked – well, I was still floating – up to the front desk.
Mrs. Bell looked at my two erstwhile protectors and raised an eyebrow. “Mister Smith. Mister Pennyworth. What brings you two back to the pre-calculus class?”
Mister Mystic said, “Ahh, that would be Miss Goodkind here. We realized in physics lab that she was getting quite ill. She could hardly walk over here.”
Pendragon added, “As a matter of fact, she didn’t walk over here. She flew the entire way.”
I said, “I had a chance to get some Pepto-Bismol and some ibuprofen on the way here. I’ll be better in no time.”
Mrs. Bell looked at Mister Mystic. She finally asked, “And will she?”
Mister Mystic admitted, “She’s in a lot of pain, and I think nausea. But I’m trying not to read her mind or anything like that. The emotional load is kind of hard to ignore right now, which is why I noticed in class. I really can’t tell if some over the counter drugs are going to put a dent in the pain.”
I confessed, “It’s a headache, and shooting pains in my leg bones. And hips. But I don’t want to miss the quiz and get behind. And I don’t know how long this is going to last, so setting a bad precedent now could cause problems next week.”
Mrs. Bell asked, “Do you think you can perform up to your usual standards on the quiz? I am aware of your GPA.”
I nodded. “I don’t know if I can do as well as usual, but I know this stuff. It’s all fall term material. I should be able to do it. I just don’t know if I can sit on a wooden seat for the whole class period.”
“You’re floating right now, aren’t you?” she asked.
She said, “Then how about if you take the quiz orally? Just float next to my desk here when I give the quiz. You can look at a test and just whisper the answers to me.”
“That sounds really workable. Thank you,” I said.
Pendragon checked, “Are you going to need someone to walk you to the clinic after class?”
I said, “No thank you. I’ll have one of my teammates help. Or Electrode or Unicorn. They’re in this class with me.”
“All right then, we’ll see you Monday in class, if not sooner,” he said, and he made a ‘come along’ gesture to Mister Mystic. They trotted out and hurried off to whatever classes they still had to attend.
I floated across the room and stayed light as I ‘sat’ in a chair beside Electrode. She glanced at me and did a double-take. “Why aren’t you sitting down?”
Unicorn looked over. “What?”
Electrode said, “She’s still floating. Her butt’s not on the seat, and her hand’s through the desk.”
Unicorn asked, “Are we about to be attacked or something?”
I admitted, “I’m not doing too well today. Intense leg and hip pains, and some other treats. So it’s easier on my body if I just float for a while instead of trying to sit on an unpadded wooden seat.”
Electrode asked, “What happened? I thought you guys were in the holo sims, not Arena ’99.”
“I wasn’t even in the last sim,” I explained. “No, this is something independent of the training sims.”
Unicorn asked, “Is your team through the prep sims yet? And are you ready to tussle with a team like us?”
I returned serve. “Do you think you’re ready to take on a team like Team Kimba?”
She scoffed, “Oh come on, you’re a bunch of froshes.”
I firmly said, “And we have more real-world experience than any two other training teams together. We’ve beaten a host of real threats, up to and including The Necromancer and his Children of the Night. That means we don’t get rattled in the sims.”
Electrode muttered, “Don’t forget, they have Tennyo.”
“Who can punch right through PK fields like they were toilet paper,” I added. “And her roommate is a deviser so insane that Bardue had to tell her to dial it back. About half a dozen times.”
“Isn’t Generator ranked number 263?” she rebutted.
Electrode said, “She nearly took me in our combat final, so you know that’s not a fair ranking.”
I said, “Everyone knows the rankings are put together by a bunch of nerdboys afraid of guys like Buster and Counterpoint coming over and giving them superpowered wedgies. The rankings completely underestimate you if you’re female, if you’re short, if you look harmless, and if you don’t retaliate disproportionately when you lose.”
“So what else is new?” she asked.
I said, “If the rankings were done properly, do you really think the top three lower-classers wouldn’t have to be Tennyo, Fey, and Jimmy T?”
She admitted, “Well, it sure wouldn’t be the three guys they’ve got at the top right now.” She sighed. “Same problem with the junior-senior rankings.”
When it was time for the Friday quiz, I floated down to Mrs. Bell’s desk and looked over the test she set at the edge of the desk. My headache was only marginally better, but not putting any weight on my lower half was apparently easing the shooting pains down there.
The test was easy. I had more difficulty than usual when I was trying to concentrate, but it wasn’t as if this was the first time I had been in extreme pain during the past year. The algebra was simple, and I could do all the math in my head. The trig was simple, and I knew all the table values. The story problems took more effort, because I wasn’t feeling all that well. I really had to stop and concentrate for a while on the story problem that yielded simultaneous equations. Especially when my first answer was obviously wrong.
What? You don’t check your answers on tests?
It was a problem where the unknowns were quantities of apples and oranges, and I ended up with a negative number. Obviously wrong. I had to stop and think before I realized that I had subtracted where I needed to add when I was making a substitution. So it took me an extra minute or two to get the right answer. Which I fed back into the problem to make sure it was correct.
You really don’t verify your answers on tests? Then what are you going to do in the real world? I swear, I am never going to understand ‘normal’ people.
Man, it’s like talking to Toni about her English papers. Except without the extra ‘street jive’ – or whatever it’s called – she gives me to drive me crazy.
I was far from the first person finished with the math test. But that was okay with me. I just wanted an ‘A’ and not having to worry about getting behind in the class. But as people came by and dropped their papers on the table, I found out from the reactions that some people hadn’t gotten the correct answers. And at least one person turned in a quiz with negative numbers for the counts on apples and oranges.
I left the class a few minutes before the bell would ring. I didn’t need to stay, and I did have an appointment with Dr. Bellows. I was just glad I didn’t have to endure Accounting class open sessions today.
<(Phase) On my way to Bellows’ for my appointment.>
<(Generator) Say hi for me!>
<(Fey) Are you feeling okay?>
<(Phase) No. Growing pains in the legs and hips. Headache and nausea from hormonal shifts. A lot of itching in the breasts and butt. Pretty much what Belphoebe told me to expect.>
<(Billie) I have some Tylenol and Midol and a bunch of other stuff, if you need it. None of it works on me anymore, so it’s just sitting around.>
<(Phase) Thanks, but I already hit the campus store for Pepto-Bismol and Vitamin I.>
<(Generator) I don’t mind the Pepto-Bismol taste, but it turns my poop black.>
<(Phase) TMI there. Way TMI.>
<(Chaka) You need any support staff?>
<(Phase) I don’t think so. I’m just flying everywhere so I don’t have to stand on my legs.>
<(Lancer) Okay, that sounds like you need some backup. Fey? You available?>
<(Fey) Nope. Sir Wallace and ‘Cynthia Rothrock’ are doing tag-team kicking of my ass now.>
<(Chaka) Okay, first one out of aikido jets over to Admin and waits for Phase.>
<(Phase) Thanks, but take your time. By the time soke lets you go, I’ll already be in talking to Dr. Bellows.>
<(Lancer) Just don’t do anything crazy.>
<(Generator) Anything ELSE crazy.>
<(Chaka) Ooh, burn! If G thinks you’re crazy…>
<(Generator) IF… you’ve ever tried to glue your hair up so you look like a Dragonball character… you MAY be crazier than me!>
<(Tennyo) Umm… I think that’s just you. Sorry.>
<(Phase) Okay, I’m at Admin. Signing off before one of Hartford’s systems can start gathering intel.>
<(Chaka) One of us’ll be over there before long.>
<(Phase) Shower first. My stomach is rocky enough as it is.>
<(Chaka) Always tryin’ to get us into the showers…>
I floated up the stairs and through the front doors, then drifted my way down to Dr. Bellows’ office. I fished out the bottle of Pepto-Bismol and had some more, since it had apparently helped the last time. Then I used the water fountain near Valerie’s desk.
Dr. Bellows ushered Crunch out of his office. Crunch glowered and stared at the floor as he trudged off. Dr. Bellows smiled at me and waved me in. He sat down in his chair, and I went for the couch.
“Ayla? What’s the matter?” he worried.
“It’s the treatment from Jobe,” I told him. I had been talking with Dr. Bellows every Friday afternoon for quite a while, and I had already explained to him just why I had to try Jobe’s deviser serum. He had tried to talk me out of it, of course, but he hadn’t been able to convince me.
He didn’t say ‘I told you so’ or anything like that. He said, “Why don’t you tell me about it?”
So I did. I told him about the injection, and my feelings about Jobe trying to get a look at my butt, and my feelings about the pain I was enduring. I knew I wasn’t the most freakish person at Whateley – it was impossible to meet Fubar and still maintain that belief – but I really needed to stop being a guy who looked like a pretty girl. I knew that other people around here wanted to look normal, and I fully intended to fund Jobe’s researches into ways of fixing other people if this worked for me. Even if I was undoubtedly going to have to work hard to figure out ways to make Jobe want to perform those sorts of studies.
Oh what the heck, I’ll see if Jadis can think of something. She knows the little weasel better than anybody, and she’s sharp. And I’ll keep an eye on Bova to see if I should talk to her about it.
I still felt like crap by the time my meeting with Dr. Bellows wrapped up. He made me feel better about my taking this insane risk, but my headache and nausea didn’t get better. My shooting pains weren’t any worse in my legs and hips, but they had extended up my spine and out to my arms. I was really hoping that was a good sign. It wasn’t like I could do anything about it if it was a bad sign. And, given the sympathetic response I had already received from Belphoebe, I could just imagine how kind and responsive Jobe would be if I called his lab again.
I thanked Dr. Bellows and drifted out of his office without opening the door. Toni and Jinn were both waiting for me. Toni was balancing on the back of the couch with one hand while reading a magazine with the other. Jinn was floating beside her.
“Hey Ayles, you doin’ okay?” Toni quickly checked.
Jinn said, “Jade wanted to come too, but she’s still working in the sewers.”
Toni said, “Nikki wanted to come, but the Brits are still beatin’ the crap outta her.”
Jinn loyally said, “Billie wanted to too. But she’s got library duty now so she can be available for sims later.”
Toni added, “And the Hulkster isn’t down with the whole emotional support thing, but he would’ve been here too except Lily needed his help on something.”
I made myself smile. “Thanks for coming. You two ought to be enough, unless the ‘Lympies decide to bushwhack us.”
Toni said, “With CP still in the hospital, they’re not as loony. Well, not as loony in that particular way. And isn’t Prism on your side?”
I said, “I hope so. But he isn’t part of the inner sanctum. And there’s no telling what Imperious and Majestic are likely to get up to, under the right conditions.”
Jinn said, “So you just dive into the ground and disappear!”
“As long as June can’t pull off one of those big blocking spells, like Dark Fey,” I muttered.
Toni said, “Nah, I doubt it. I’ve seen her in action.”
I reminded her, “Toni, I’m pretty sure fighting a computer sim of her doesn’t count. Especially a computer sim of her that wasn’t programmed by the people who know all of what she can do in a sim.”
Toni rebutted, “But that was a Majestic who had a crapton of time to set up her Gigantic Evil Trap Of Doom first. Fey slamdunked that loser.”
Jinn grumbled, “I’m still mad at Stygian for that whole ‘ghost’ thing.”
“You do realize he was going for suicide by cop, don’t you?” I pushed.
“Well, yeah, but he didn’t have to be so mean to Billie,” she fussed.
I decided to stop arguing the point, even if it was obvious that Stygian really had needed to be that mean to Billie, because he was trying to get her to kill him, no matter how inadvertently it might have been.
Instead, I said, “I really don’t feel good. I need to go down to the sims and get my new belt registered, so everything’s in the right place. But I think it’s going to have to wait until tomorrow.”
Toni grinned, “Hey, we can take out Dark Lancer tonight, even if you’re not up to playing in the sims. As soon as Fey yanks up her top and flashes the highbeams, he’ll just stand there and drool on himself.”
I snorted with laughter, but even that little bit of movement made my spine hurt.
Toni winced as she no doubt studied my ki. “Damn girl, you really aren’t doin’ good, are you?”
Jinn asked, “Is it supposed to hurt like this?”
I admitted, “Jobe isn’t exactly the master of empathy. Yeah, they were expecting it would hurt. It just isn’t hurting him.”
Toni guessed, “So… a couple years of growing pains all in one shot? Sounds about as much fun as having some old white guy break your hips in several places. I think we better get you home and tucked in the bed.”
Jinn said, “Some of the Workshop guys said Counterpoint smashed Jobe’s arm and leg bones with a sledgehammer. And Jobe still beat him. So maybe Jobe is kind of… different about this kind of stuff.”
I thought her phrasing was a tad euphemistic. Even if Jade did let a mad scientist hack off her foot without anesthetic. And let another mad scientist hack up her privates, also without anesthetic. And… Come to think of it, Jade was sort of ‘different’ on this topic, even more so than Jobe.
Come to think of it, I really needed to talk to Jade about techniques for pain management. I seemed to get hurt a lot. Hanging around with Team Kimba was hardly a safe proposition. Ever since I had manifested as a mutant, I seemed to get seriously hurt on a regular basis.
What I really needed to do was to figure out how to stop getting hurt so severely. So… Stop getting trank darted and experimented on by mad scientists. Stop running into supervillains and mutant ninjas and demons from hell dimensions. Stop getting picked on by Alpha hit teams and gaybashers and Goodkind-haters. Stop getting dragged into things by Toni. Stop taking orders from the Boston PD. Stop getting hurled into sewers or snotted by GSD cases.
Yes, it sounded as easy as pie.
I decided to leave my aikido gear in my locker in the women instructors’ locker room until I felt better. It wasn’t as if that was my only set. I said, “Let’s just head back to Poe.”
I floated alongside Jinn and Toni as we made our way down to the tunnels and off to the dorm. I was in a lot of pain, and I still felt sick to my stomach, so I was glad we didn’t have any excitement. No one leapt out to bushwhack us. No one stopped to chat for interminable amounts of time. No Workshoppers blew up an experiment, or a lab, or themselves, or innocent bystanders. It was just a nice, quiet trip to Poe, accompanied by a great deal of pain and plenty of chatter. Apparently, Toni had a blast in sixth period aikido, which didn’t surprise me at all. She always enjoyed that class, no matter what happened. And Shroud had a great time fighting Blitz, who apparently hadn’t realized before that her electrical attacks were useless against someone like Shroud.
Come to think about it, the only times I could remember the two of them sparring in winter term martial arts class were times when Ito had Blitz working with that rope dart without using her Energizer powers, so she could learn the forms. Had Ito been setting Blitz up? It was entirely possible. The old fart was as slippery as a hagfish. Not that I was ever going to say so to his face, because he probably had several methods worked out to pound me into the mat. And then he’d make me spar with Tolman. Repeatedly.
Then Toni started talking about Nikki’s afternoon. Apparently, Sir Wallace Westmont and ‘Hardass’ Hagarty wanted Fey to work on fighting two battles simultaneously: so Nikki was facing a magic assault and a physical assault at the same time. Considering what she had already had to face this year, that was probably really good training. It just wouldn’t be any fun for the trainee. Particularly if the trainee was afraid to use a lot of her spells right now.
On the other hand, it was the perfect opportunity for Fey to blast Hagarty with something magically delicious, for a little payback. After all, revenge is a dish best served cold. With skim milk. As part of a nutritious breakfast.
I shuddered inwardly. I had seen Jade eating Lucky Charms, and they looked hideous. I didn’t want to think about the taste. Heavily dyed marshmallows treated with enormous amounts of preservatives to keep them technically edible after sitting on a shelf for a year and then being left soaking in milk. Eww.
I didn’t talk much. I primarily focused on not moving and not puking. I just floated along between Toni and Jinn, wondering if I was going to be feeling better by dinnertime.
<(Chaka) Hey, someone get over to Phase’s room and brew up summadat.>
<(Fey) I have to shower first. Give me four minutes.>
<(Lancer) I’ll do it.>
<(Chaka) Does he even know how to boil water?>
<(Lancer) Guys! Jesus, you’d think you didn’t know where I was a couple years ago.>
<(Generator) Already on it. Don’t even have to unlock the door for Jayna. Besides, I actually paid attention while Bladedancer brewed that tea.>
<(Tennyo) And she took notes. Do you have to take notes for making tea?>
<(Generator) Sure you do. You can’t do a Japanese tea ceremony without really good tea and all that stuff. Okay, I don’t have any of that stuff. But I’m thinking about sewing myself a kimono. Maybe three kimonos. In three different sizes.>
Only for the J-Team would that make any sense whatsoever. I didn’t feel up to giving her grief about her pronoun usage.
<(Shroud) We already do the white face sometimes. We’ve got that one.>
<(Generator) Yeah. The hair’s the problem. We don’t have really, really, super-long hair to do the fancy hairdo. We’ll have to fake it with some wigs or bundles of hair.>
I floated down the Hawthorne tunnel with my retinue. I was going to have to get a lot cooler before I was going to be allowed to use the word ‘posse’. And I was fully aware that I was never going to be cool enough to use words like ‘homeys’. I doubted I was ever going to be cool enough for someone like Vanessa to call me one of her homeys in public. Granted, Toni did it once in a while, but she was probably doing it to irritate me.
We got all the way back to my room without my doing the Technicolor yawn. Jade’s little lion was standing guard outside my room watching for me. It snapped off a fuzzy salute at me, and then sprinted off toward Jade and Billie’s room.
I let Toni unlock my door and step in first. I floated in after her, with Jinn right behind me. The room was already filled with the rich scent of Chou’s tea. Two oven mitts and a potholder were brewing the tea and setting out a bone china cup and saucer.
And yet people continued to underestimate the utility of Jade’s powers. If she didn’t want to work for me when we were older, then I was at least going to make sure she had a really great job when she was ready. Knowing Jade, that might actually turn out to be three or four jobs.
The potholder turned and faced me, if that makes any sense. “Hi Ayla!” it piped up in the tones I usually associated with the cabbit. “We got the tea all done, and Bunny said some ginger cookies might be good for your tummy, so I told me to go get some.”
Jinn looked at me and waited. I didn’t feel up to being snarky about their pronoun usage. She finally looked at me and said, “Yeah, we know we sound weird sometimes, but it makes sense to me.”
Jinn helped me take off my shoes, and I sank down onto my bed. Right then, I was glad Vamp had made such a stink about getting the top bunk, because I wasn’t up to floating over the top bunk and then changing density to collapse on it.
Jinn helped me settle in with a bolster behind my back. The oven mitts brought me a cup of hot tea, and I sipped it slowly. I admitted, “I don’t think I’m going to be up for dinner. Maybe you could check on me before you leave, but I think I’ll probably just stay here.”
Toni frowned, “Look Ayles, you may feel like crap, but if you’re doin’ the growth spurt thing, you need some calories. Some calories that’ll stay down.”
Jinn said, “I’ll be back with some ginger cookies soon. I’ll just wait here and keep an eye on Ayla ‘til then.”
The pot holder said, “I could do that.”
Jinn disagreed. “Nuh-uh, you go on back. I don’t like it when Jade’s using this many charges.”
“Me neither,” said the pot holder.
Toni said, “If I quoted you guys in a story, my English teacher would flunk me.”
“That would be distasteful,” I said.
She looked at the ceiling and thought for a second. “Loathsome, even. Maybe even…” She thought for another second. “Oh I know! Repugnant.”
I told her, “That magazine subscription is the best prank ever.”
She grinned, “Yeah, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. And it drives Nikki up the wall.” She gave me a naughty smirk, “But that meat cooking magazine really makes her crazy. She’s got Koehnes checkin’ her mail now so she doesn’t have to look at another one of ‘em.”
Jinn said, “That dragon-killing magazine is just creepy. And there are way too many guys in the dorm who want to read it.”
Toni laughed, “Gamer boys. You can’t live with ‘em, you can’t nail ‘em in their room for the rest of the year.”
Jinn asked, “Does Askey even come out of his room except for food and potty breaks?”
Toni added snidely, “Maybe not for the potty breaks either.”
Jinn stared at Toni. “Really?” Toni nodded. “EWWW!”
I tried not to think about what I had heard about Askey’s gaming habits through the Poe grapevine, because I was still have trouble with queasiness. But most of the upper floors knew his roomie had needed to bring in Mrs. Horton to make Askey stop playing GEO for ten or fifteen hours at a stretch. That wasn’t the big problem. The problem was the input/output system Askey rigged up so he didn’t have to leave his chair or take his hands off his keyboard.
If his concept wasn’t so disgusting, I would have considered talking to him about a viral marketing campaign for the system, directed at overly-serious gamers. As it was, I had been encouraging him to think about less revolting systems that weren’t so gross that they made a teenaged boy run to a house mother for help.
I said, “Toni, why don’t you grab something to eat and have a seat?” Granted, Toni was about as good at sitting still as Jobe was at being sympathetic. But I felt uncomfortable having her do all of this for me.
She said, “Nah, I got homework I gotta get done before we go off to get sim-y. I’m hopin’ the BF can take me out tomorrow.”
Jinn said, “What are you gonna do when we get thrown at his training team?”
Toni shrugged carelessly. “Not gonna worry about it now. I mean, I can’t ask Scott to stay out and have me outta the line-up. He’s their big gun. Me? I’m Gun Number Five on our team. Totally unfair. But for all I know, Bardue’ll yank some of us off the team for most of our sim fights.”
I said, “That’s what I was figuring. All of Team Kimba against most of the teams around here? Not exactly fair. We have Fey knock out their mage or Psi, and we have Tennyo zoom in and punch their PK brick. Presto, a lot of our matches are half over.”
Toni rubbed her hands together and said, “Heck, I’d like to try takin’ on alla Barricade with maybe just one other Kimba. Maybe Generator.”
I said, “She’d make you dress like a supervillain and shout ‘Mwa-ha-hah!’ a lot.”
“I would not!” insisted Jinn. She pursed her lips and reconsidered. “Well, maybe. If it was funny.”
Toni shook her head but was still grinning. “No way I’m dressin’ up like a bad ‘90’s supervillain. Even if I’d still look hot like that. That outfit G wore the other night? That was whack.”
Jinn said thoughtfully, “I’ve got more cleavage and longer legs, I could’ve worn the supervillainess dress. I would have looked better than me.”
Toni said, “Yeah, G shoulda just spawned off another hundred of you and pulled an Ayla and stayed outta sight. You could’ve played ‘Generator’ and bushwhacked some more of us. If she’d played it a little smarter at the start, or Ayles was a little dumber, you guys woulda nailed Fey and maybe even me, and then we’d never’ve found her.”
“Hindsight is always 20/20,” I said. Not that I believed it. What I actually believed was that Santayana was right. And that an awful lot of people learned the wrong lessons from life. How many people were still fighting wars that were lost hundreds of years ago, or which should have been abandoned?
Toni looked at me and grinned, “Ayles, you lie like a rug.”
I made an effort not to shrug, since that would probably hurt. “Okay, for most people, hindsight is about 20/200. Plenty of people? Their hindsight is legally blind. They only ‘learn’ the lessons they already wanted to believe.”
Toni snarked, “Those who do not learn the lessons of the sims are destined to get tons of Dark Phoenix scenarios rammed down their throats?”
“That too,” I told her. “There’s also the issue that the sim jockeys don’t give everyone these kinds of sims. Most training teams get the kinds of intro simulations we got early in Team Tactics. The Dark Phoenix sims are mainly prepwork for teams with lots of kids who want to go play superhero when they graduate, like the Team Tactics courses.”
Toni said, “We are kinda the problem children of the superheroine set. Did anybody else do like we did over Christmas? Not countin’ Megs and Seraphim.”
“OF COURSE!” Jinn insisted loudly.
I said, “The Bad Seeds. The ones who went to New York got jumped by the Cadet Crusaders. Twice in one week. And they got attacked by some urchins from the Deville Academy. Other than Marty, the Capes had a nice, quiet Christmas. A couple other kids stopped some street crimes here and there.”
Toni groaned, “What is it with us? Do we have a great big sign that says ‘Calling all supervillains’ just floatin’ over our heads?”
Jinn said, “A lot of the other kids? They’re just having a normal high school thing. Classes, friends, dating, normal vacations. Maybe we got cursed back in September.”
I didn’t say anything, because I certainly felt like I had been cursed… and my curse had activated the day that I manifested. Granted, a lot of great things had happened to me since then, but plenty of horrible things had happened too.
Toni insisted, “Well, it totally wasn’t my fault ninjas decided ta attack Chou when we were at the mall.”
I stared at her. It absolutely was her fault we had gotten mixed up with the Children of the Night on our first visit to Boston. Granted, that fact that she and Billie ran out to fight badguys probably saved a dozen police officers, all of the Masterminds, and a museum. Plus the hundreds or thousands of Bostonians who would have been on the receiving end of Darrow’s zombies.
And it was certainly her fault that Chou got dragged into that fight against the KoP over Christmas. Granted, Jolt was probably really glad that she had saved his butt from a Knights team when the Baltimore police over-reacted and called in a Knights team for a kid who was manifesting and just needed some help. Some intro to Whateley: two incredibly hot babes your age run to your rescue and save the day.
She looked back at me and pretended she had no idea why I was glaring. Let me just say that Meryl Streep has nothing to fear.
I refrained from stating my objections. Instead I said, “Thanks for helping me out. Both of you.”
Toni shrugged, “Hey, it’s not like you haven’t helped everyone else out a ton.”
Jinn said, “And you’re our friend. Even if you don’t like Hello Kitty.”
I sipped some more tea and replied, “Well, you’re all my friends, even if you don’t like brodetto.”
“Is that the soup that had the octopus chunks in it?” Toni cringed.
“That was gross,” Jinn agreed.
“It was calamari, and it was excellent. Although I’m sure if I tried to cook it myself, it would taste like concentrate of dysentery.”
Jinn added, “With octopus chunks.”
“Mmm mmm, there’s good eatin’!” grinned Toni.
I tried again, “You two can take off now. I’m just going to lie here and read. Maybe I’ll feel up to dinner. But if anything comes up, I can call you on the Spots.”
Jinn said, “That’s okay. I brought my homework along. I’ll just hang out over there, out of your way.” She pointed toward the ceiling behind me.
I didn’t shrug, because my body was really sore. I said, “That’s fine. Just be prepared for annoyance when Vamp gets back.”
Toni left, saying, “I dunno what you got against Alex. She’s funny.”
Jinn waited until Toni was in her own room before whispering, “Vamp said my Hello Kitty nightie was sucky and was too short on me so it looked more like Hello Pedo.”
Well, that was one of the problems with trying to make the same short nightie fit two different figures, one of which was almost a foot taller than the other. Not that I was going to point it out, because I knew Jade didn’t have the money to properly outfit all of her forms.
Jinn reached into her chest and pulled out a notebook and pen. Then she floated up near the ceiling and went to work writing. I focused on my math textbook. And the tea, which was slowly making my stomach feel better.
After a few minutes, Vamp dropped by with Tara in tow. She glanced up at Jinn and smirked, “Having to keep a bodyguard around these days?”
Jinn griped, “Don’t be a poopyhead. Ayla’s in a lot of pain and she feels really bad.”
I said, “Have some tea. The J-Team made a whole pot.”
Tara sniffed a couple times and said, “It smells really good, I mean, for tea.”
I said, “You’re welcome to help yourself. The cups are over by the pantry.”
Tara stepped over and then came to an abrupt halt. “I… These are real china! I can’t drink outta them.”
Vamp looked over at me and smirked, “Sure they’re real china. This is Phase we’re talkin’ about. Probably made by Mister Wedgwood himself.”
I ignored Alex and said, “Tara, you can use them. They’re just cups and saucers. They may be nicer than some cheap plastic that contributes off-tastes, but they’re for people to use.”
Vamp said, “C’mon Tara, we’ve been through this before. If you break one, worst that happens is she makes me pay for it after I get my inheritance.”
I said, “If I don’t mind Toni drinking out of one and then spinning it on her finger, then I’m not going to worry about you. I know you’ll be careful.”
She dithered for a few seconds and finally looked at Vamp. “I… I think I’ll just go get a mug from the kitchen downstairs. Okay?”
Vamp said, “Better hurry. Phase may decide to re-supply the whole kitchen in Waterford crystal.”
I waited until I heard her going down the stairs, and I told Vamp, “I really was okay with Tara using my china.”
She glared at me. “You don’t have to intimidate the crap out of everyone y’know.” She waited until Tara came back and nervously poured herself a mug of the tea. Then she stomped off, while Tara timidly skittered out in her wake.
“What did I do?” I complained to myself.
Jinn said, “You were kind of… you.”
That made no sense, but when I thought about it I realized what she meant. Damn. I really had to work on toning down my attitude. I could have sworn I was being a polite host.
So much for trying to be nice to Vamp’s girlfriend. Sometimes it seems that no good deed goes unpunished.
Or maybe I just suck at being nice to people.
I asked Jinn, “Could you pour me some more tea?”
She said, “Sure” and flew past my head to the teapot. As she poured, she asked, “So… what’s a tea cozy? It sounds cozy and homey, but I don’t know what one is.”
I said, “It’s a cover for an entire teapot. Lots of times it’s a quilted cloth hemisphere. It keeps the heat in so your tea stays hot without reheating it and ruining the flavor.”
“Why not use a thermos?” she wondered.
I explained, “Because the tea cozy comes from a time before you could make a decent thin-walled vacuum for a reasonable cost.”
“Well, I think a tea cozy sounds a lot homier,” she decided. And she went back to her writing.
By the time dinner rolled around, I was a lot farther along on my math assignments. I just hadn’t written any of them down yet, because it hurt to move my arms. Large chunks of pre-calc are just learning how to use algebra and trig and geometry in new ways. I was doing pretty well with the material. The physics text was another matter. Having the teacher explain things was really helpful. For lots of the material, it was essential. If I was ever going to understand the basics of pattern theory, I was going to have to get a solid foundation under my feet first.
I knew it was time for dinner when Toni and Nikki knocked on my doorframe and checked on me. Nikki said, “Toni figured it was a good excuse to stop working on her English homework.”
Toni rolled her eyes and grinned. “Well, where in the real world am I ever gonna need to write five paragraphs on a really stupid short story?”
I was fully aware that she was joking, but I still felt compelled to say, “But you’ll need to compose emails that make sense, and debriefings where you have to explain why you gave The Lamplighter a lamp enema, and…”
Nikki made a snorting noise as she tried not to laugh at the ‘who me’ expression on Toni’s face. She looked over at me and asked, “You think you’re up for dinner?”
I admitted, “My stomach feels better, but the rest of me isn’t doing so well. I think I’ll just stay here and read.”
Jinn said, “I can hang out here and do homework just as easy as in our room.”
Toni said, “Good plan.” <(Chaka) Phase is skipping meals. G, come on over for a second.>
<(Fey) You know she’s sick if she’s not checking out treats from the chefs.>
<(Generator) Wow. That’s like Tennyo deciding to skip dessert.>
Jade hopped in wearing a big, naughty grin. I had to wonder how much she teased Billie when she wasn’t on the Spots. Maybe it was like having your own personal Vamp in your room. Or, considering most of the J-Team could speak, it would be like having a roomful of Vamp clones. I shuddered inwardly at the thought.
Jade stopped for a second and then floated up to poke Jinn on the tip of her nose. Jinn quivered for a second and then lifted up an inch so Jade’s finger was no longer touching. Jade said, “That’ll do it. We’ll see you after we eat.”
Nikki said, “I’ll look over the food and see if I can find you something tasty that won’t upset your stomach.”
I smiled at her. “Thanks, but I’ve got food in my pantry.”
Toni said, “Oh come on, Ayles, let her have some fun picking out stuff for ya.”
Nikki said, “Everyone’s probably going to want to pick something for you.”
Jade grinned, “Lancer’ll get you some deep-fried pork rinds.”
“Ugh,” I groaned. “Now I need some more of that tea for my stomach.”
She smirked naughtily. “And Billie will pick out some mmmmph.” Fortunately for my digestive tract, Jade’s speech was cut short with a hand over the mouth. And since it was Billie’s hand, I knew Jade wasn’t going to do anything unpleasant, like, say, lick the palm or bite it. Or attack it with plastic hornets. Or… Well, Jade had a lot of options, even if she wasn’t carrying that purse.
They rounded up Hank and hiked off to dinner. I went back to reading, while Jinn drifted up to the ceiling again and went back to working on her essay. Or maybe Jade’s essay. They tended to be interchangeable on coursework.
After about half an hour, Vanessa knocked on my doorframe. She pouted at me, “How come you didn’t tell me you were sick?”
Jinn dove right in, “She’s not sick, she’s just got growing pains. And a headache. And an upset stomach. And stuff.”
I said, “Apparently, I’ve got all the symptoms of changing hormones and growing unusually quickly.”
Vanessa knelt down beside my bed and held my hand. She said, “If you’re going to be growing into an Exemplar guy, you need to eat. What have you had since lunch?”
Jinn helped out, “Just tea.”
“Queasy stomach,” I reminded everyone.
Vanessa pursed her lips and said, “Then you need to eat some crackers. And if you hold that down, we’ll see what else you’ll eat.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Yes mom,” chipped in Jinn.
Vanessa showed her vastly superior maturity by sticking her tongue out at Jinn. Then she fed me a bunch of crackers, followed by some fruit, and then some cheese slices. I was surprised that I was hungry, despite the headache and pains. I should have expected my body would want some calories, no matter how rotten I felt.
When the team came back from dinner, Vanessa gave me a kiss and slipped off to her room to work on homework assignments.
Toni, of course, couldn’t let it go. She wiggled her eyebrows and smirked, “So, Vox slippin’ you sump’m?”
Jinn said, “Just crackers and stuff.” Either she completely missed the innuendo, or she was doing an excellent job or pretending as if she had.
Jade slipped past Billie and Hank to kneel down next to me. “Look what we brought!”
She had two big to-go boxes. She let go of them, and they flew into my lap before popping open.
Nikki said, “We had a bit of a disagreement over what soup to bring you.”
In the first to-go box were four cylindrical soup containers, with Nikki’s neat writing on each of the lids.
Toni said, “We had to get you chicken noodle soup. It’s traditional for sick people.”
Hank said, “I thought you needed some calories. I picked the clam chowder.”
Billie said, “They had the spicy Thai peanut soup. It’s great. You have to try it.”
Nikki said, “I picked the vegetable soup. You probably guessed.”
Jade said, “I didn’t like any of the soups, but everybody said no on the deep-fried cheesesticks.”
Billie said, “Even I didn’t think they were a good idea.”
Jade said, “But she ate about thirty.”
“With a ton of the dipping sauce,” Toni added.
Hank contributed, “Yeah, I think her bowl of dipping sauce was big enough Jade could’ve taken a bath in it.”
“Hey!” complained Billie.
“Yeah, hey!” fussed Jade. I’m not that small!”
“Sure you are, shrimpy,” said Jinn, who was floating a couple feet off the floor for extra looming. Jade blew her a raspberry, so Jinn kept it up. “Shorty, shorty, two foot four, slips right under the kitchen door!”
“Do not!” Jade retorted.
Nikki said, “When you two are done arguing with yourself, maybe we can let Ayla eat something.”
“Thank you,” I replied. In addition to the four servings of soup, they had the second box. It held a simple salad with grated carrots and sliced beets and a light vinaigrette dressing, some slices of broiled chicken, a small roll with butter, and something that was probably listed as rice pilaf. “This is really great of you guys. I appreciate it.”
I did appreciate it. After all, since they were selecting food, who would be pickier than I would?
All right, who would be more selective about anything? I mean, other than my sister Heather. I knew I wasn’t exactly easy to shop for.
Billie looked at Jade and laughed, “And she didn’t complain about any of the food. Pay up.”
Jade grumbled, “I shoulda put some of those fried cheesesticks in. She’d’ve complained about them.”
“They were good!” Billie insisted.
“How much was the bet?” I asked.
Billie said, “The loser has to buss the whole table all day tomorrow.”
Given that Jade was willing to buss Billie’s trays anytime she got the chance, that didn’t seem too onerous for her. I was just glad I hadn’t cost Jade anything major, like money she couldn’t afford to lose. But then, betting with Billie wasn’t exactly like betting with Risk or Hazard.
I had some of all four soups. The New England style clam chowder was better than I expected, but a little heavy on the potato chunks and a little light on the clam chunks. The chicken noodle soup was fairly ordinary, but made with a hearty chicken stock and not over-salted as was usually the case. The noodles weren’t too badly overcooked. The vegetable soup had a fairly unimaginative selection of vegetables, all of which were overcooked, but it was still a dozen times better than Janet’s vegetable soup. The spicy Thai peanut soup was surprisingly good. It was full-bodied, with a layered richness I wasn’t expecting. It was quite spicy, but not so much that it overpowered the other flavors. I could taste the complexity. And the chopped peanuts were freshly roasted – or at least well-preserved – and not softened by cooking them in the richly peanut-flavored soup.
I even ate most of the contents of the other box. The rice concoction was nothing to write home about, but the roll was decently made, and the sliced beets were quite good. I don’t know why people have this weird aversion to beets. They can be really good.
While I was picking through the food, Billie suddenly pointed out, “Hey look! Ayla ate all my soup! I picked the best soup. So there!” And she stuck her tongue out at Jade, who retaliated by not only sticking out her tongue but also thumbing her nose at Billie.
Toni said to Nikki, “Y’know, I think Generator’s gettin’ to be a bad, bad influence on Tennyo.”
Billie and Jade both turned and stuck their tongues out at Toni. So did Jinn. Knowing the J-Team as I did, I assumed that Toni was lucky it stopped there.
Jinn stuck around until I was done eating, and then she scooped up the remnants and whisked them out of the room. I assumed she took everything to the trash can in the kitchen area downstairs, but I wasn’t really sure.
She came back a few minutes later and said, “I got charged up, so I’m good for a while. And I got more homework to work on.”
I said, “Have I said ‘thank you’ enough times yet? I really appreciate your keeping an eye on me when I feel so crappy.”
Jinn said, “Hey, it’s not like you haven’t done a ton of stuff for me. And Jade. And all of us. I mean, I’m never gonna be able to pay you back for getting me the codename Shroud. I guess I could’ve found another codename, but I like it, and it feels right, and I never could’ve used it for real without pretty much of a miracle. And Billie said it probably cost you a mint to bribe Mrs. Hawkins to change my powers listing the way we wanted. And looking out for Toni’s family, and helping Nikki’s mom, and… And you’ve done a ton of stuff for all of us, when you didn’t have to.”
“Goodkinds don’t complain, they fix things.”
She grinned, “I figure that’s totally wrong. You complain like crazy. Then you fix things… as much as we’ll let you.”
I explained, “We may have discussions, and we may focus on the issues that need fixing, but we don’t just sit around and let the bad things continue. We stop the bad people and work to improve life for the good people.”
“And mutants are the bad people?” she frowned.
I sighed. “We certainly know plenty of mutants who are really, really bad people. But Tansy Walcutt’s father may be just as bad as she is, maybe a lot worse, and he’s a baseline. You don’t have to be a mutant to be bad, but if you are bad and a mutant too, you’re potentially a worldwide threat. Look at The Necromancer. If he wasn’t a magic-wielding mutant, he’d be long dead, and he wouldn’t have been a massive threat for decades.”
“But… Miss Champion!” she protested. “And like that!”
I said, “Yeah. But for every hero like her, how many dozens of monsters are unleashed on helpless innocents?”
She rolled her eyes. “You know the answer already and just want me to say something to you can make me feel stupid.”
I said, “No, I don’t want you to feel stupid. I just want you to think about the scope of the problem. For every mutant who puts on the cape, there are about ten to thirteen who become criminals, and a lot more than that who claim to be neutral. But how many of those neutrals are really supervillains who are just doing a better job of concealing their crimes? Think about the first mutant you ever met.”
“Melodious Silvertongue.” She thought for a moment and said, “Yeah, no one but me even knew he was pulling little bank robberies.”
I pressed onward, “And how many of the so-called Capes that we know are really in it for less than stellar reasons?”
She admitted, “I dunno. Powerhouse seems like a real jerk, and Marty says Iron Star is trying to date like half the hotties in the Capes who wouldn’t punch him for hitting on them. And Lindsey says Winter is trying to get into the Capes, and she’s a Bad Seed. And we found out the Lamplighter is a total butthead… But wouldn’t they be just as bad if there weren’t any supers at all? Isn’t Brigand a baseline?”
I said, “There are plenty of serious problems out there besides mutant supervillains. Remember the Tong of the Black Madonna who was giving Chou so much trouble?”
I continued, “They may have a couple mutants, but they’re mainly baselines. And from what I’ve been able to find out, it looks like their mages tend to be baselines who are big on really dark blood magics, or else necromancy. Or both.”
“Well, I think… Oh hi, Vamp.”
Alex sashayed in, doing her best to wiggle a pretty much non-existent ass. I wondered if she had any idea how I would be happy to trade my female butt and boobs for her boyish shape. It still didn’t make her any less annoying to know she wasn’t happy with her shape either. Even some significant proportion of the Exemplars on campus weren’t happy with their shapes.
I asked, “Where’s Tara?”
“Why?” Alex snapped. “Planning on intimidating the hell out of her some more?”
“I didn’t mean to intimidate her. I was trying to be nice and invite her to have some tea.”
She fumed, “In the china tea set so expensive you could buy Tara’s whole house with? She was really worried that something would happen to a cup or a saucer and you would make her try to pay you for it. Or worse!”
I tried not to grimace. I wouldn’t mind being able to intimidate Alex, even if that had never happened. But Tara was one of the people I didn’t wish to terrorize. I seemed to be unable to make my attitude work for me. The people I wanted to cow were unmoved; the people I wanted to like me were terrified. I merely said, “Perhaps you could bring Tara by so I could apologize in person.”
She glared at me, “Why are you so annoying? Is there anyone else on earth who can scare teenaged girls when they say they’re sorry?”
Jinn helpfully suggested, “How about Dr. Diabolik?”
“I was being sarcastic!” Alex turned her baleful countenance upon Jinn. Naturally, it had no effect whatsoever. Well, Jinn might have smirked a little.
Alex griped about me, and to me, and around Jinn. She kept griping while she started on her homework, and intermittently stopped to gripe some more. I tuned out as much of it as I could manage. I just read some auxiliary material for Intro to Mystical Concepts, and did some more prep work for my meeting on Saturday. I also did my best to ignore the shooting pains in my bones and my headache and the wretched itching. I wasn’t scratching where I itched, because it hurt too much to move my arms and twist my body.
It seemed like it was days before Toni and Nikki dropped by to let me know it was time to go to the sims. Between the pains… and the itching… and the nagging from across the room, time seemed to have slowed to a crawl.
I looked up without moving my head when I heard the knocks. Toni grinned, “Hey Ayles, you think you’re up for a sim run?”
I started to say yes, and I tried sitting up. “Aagh!” That was a mistake. It felt like electrical stabs were going all up and down my spine.
Vamp smirked from her desk. “I think that was Ancient Smug-ese for ‘maybe not’.”
Jinn said, “Just get Generator over here.”
Nikki said “Will do.” Then she made several mystical-looking passes in the air. <(Fey) G, hop on over here.>
<(Shroud) Make it look like you’re being magically dragged over. Fey’s doing some fake stuff to freak out Vamp.>
And so, about ten seconds later, there was a sound in the hall. “Whoa! Whoa!” And Jade came floating into the room, kicking her legs while upside down and backwards. She really did look like she had been dragged there against her will.
I glanced over. Vamp was actually impressed. In that ‘oh holy shit please do not let this ever happen to me’ way that Fey and Tennyo inspired so readily.
Jade looked at Nikki and said, “I would’ve come over on my own. You just had to ask.”
Nikki made a few passes through the air with her hands, and Jade slowly turned right-side up and drifted down to the floor.
Toni smirked at Alex. “And that’s why you always want to stay on the good side of the Sidhe.”
“One of the several hundred reasons why,” I supplemented.
While we were talking, Jinn gathered together two potholders, her homework, a pen, some chains, and one cable with a knife attached to the end. Jade slapped a blinking disk to the pile, and it came to life.
Vamp complained, “You don’t need a knife! I’m not going to attack Phase in her sleep, you know.”
The knife stood up and said, “It’s not for you. It’s in case someone decides Phase is easier prey while she’s feeling bad. Plus, I might have to slice up some cheese.”
Alex slowly shook her head. She looked at me and said, “No wonder everyone thinks Poe is the campus nuthouse.”
I said, “If it weren’t for the Diedrick’s cases and the ragers, it would be.”
“Hey!” three different people protested. Jade and Jinn even did it simultaneously.
Nikki corrected me, “If it wasn’t for the ‘drickers, the ragers, and Jericho, and that Thorn guy Belle’s still fighting with.”
“So anyway,” Toni interrupted, “we’re off to play Dark Phoenix again, and you get to lie around and read. Tough gig.”
“I really think I could manage to get there, and-”
Nikki snorted sexily. “There is no way you could put your sim suit on when you’re in this much pain, and I’m not doing it for you. So stop being a martyr and just stay put.”
Jade stuck her tongue out at me as punctuation, and they trooped off to find Hank and Billie.
Vamp waited until they left. Then she turned to me and lewdly asked, “You got Fey putting your clothes on in the holographic sims now?”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” I groused. “She does it with a spell.”
“She does it with a spell, you say?”
“Shut up and do your homework, Alex.”
Hank was already in his chair, wondering just what the sim jocks were going to throw at his girls. His team. Man, he’d only been a guy for less than a year, and he was already thinking like his dad. Not to mention that the girls would slaughter him if he was ever dumb enough to say that out loud. Now that Chaka knew how to pierce his PK field doing that completely freaky Ki trick, and Jade had taken him out with her Hello Kitty compact just the other sim, that pretty much left Jinn as the only girl on the team who couldn’t kick his ass.
PK superboys were supposed to be the bad mamma-jammas, but Phase’s list of ways to take him down had been… Okay, it had been discouraging. And scary. Phase spent WAY too much time worrying about weird shit. Hell, one of the ways Phase dreamed up to take him down was using Sharisha, and she was generally considered one of the floor losers. Phase was a lot more dangerous than people gave him credit for.
Her. People gave HER credit for. He hated when he slipped up, because Phase had put a lot of time and effort into this whole ‘Ayla Goodkind is not Trevor Goodkind’ deal. He didn’t really understand why Phase was still trying to protect his family, when they were enormous asshats and deserved some massive humiliation. Hank’s family were good people, even if his little brother was still a jerk. Well, he hadn’t gotten along with his little brother even back when he was still Hannah.
He was never, ever, EVER going to admit that back when he was Hannah, Hannah had a Barbie doll, and Hannah’s little brother gave Malibu Barbie a buzzcut and ‘put her through basic training’ until Barbie only had one arm and a torso. Christ, Chaka and Generator and Fey would tease him for the next twenty years if they ever found out. And Phase would give him those I-know-something-big smirks.
Hank was figuring this one was going to be Dark Chaka, since he knew it wasn’t him. But Chaka just wasn’t as big a threat as Tennyo or Fey, and wasn’t as crazy as Generator and Shroud, and wasn’t as big a planner as Phase. They would just have to protect against some big ki shouts and Chaka Chaka Bang Bangs at the start of the sim, and…
The door of his cubicle opened. Bardue and Wilson strode in, with someone he totally wasn’t expected. What the hell were they pulling this time…
“Oh.” He got it even before Bardue started explaining. “Oh crap.”
to be continued