Diane Castle / Ayla / The Turks or the Geek
Toni Chandler, better known as Chaka around Whateley, was her usual ebullient self, chattering away while hanging upside down from a rope in the Kimba Korner. She was supposedly reviewing English grammar for her exam the next week, but the combat finals were far more interesting. She had been talking for several minutes non-stop about how she would handle the scenario they had thrown at Billie. “…so, I figure I can easily get away from the crowd, and run up a wall to get out of sight up on a roof. And I can supercharge my ki enough to jump from one roof to another across those streets, but the problem is getting thirty seconds in that spindle without getting a sniper bullet put right through me…”
Jinn tilted herself upward a bit. She was a blanket and book at the moment. She was reviewing her Chinese, and also holding Jade five feet above the floor while Jade reviewed English. She asked, “But sempai, if the town has a SWAT force and can call in jet fighters, won’t there be helicopters that can find you on those rooftops?”
Toni switched to two ropes and did a split, with her feet in the loops at the ends of the ropes. She scowled for a moment while she thought. She opened her mouth to answer, and was interrupted before she could get her first syllable out.
Ayla popped her head through the wall. “Guys! Emergency meeting in Sara’s room. It’s downstairs right now. In three! Nikki, start preparing the usual. I’ve already got Bugs on her way. And get those lights off!”
Toni did a backflip over Tennyo’s horizontal form and landed in a perfect dismount in the middle of the table, knocking two pencils into the air.
Fey sighed as if this was an everyday occurrence. She casually waved her hand, freezing the pencils in mid-air so she could reach out and recover them. To be fair, this wasn’t an everyday occurrence. Once a week, tops. Still, she needed to get going if she would have to work with the magic of the Lovecraft Room and still put up effective anti-eavesdropping spells. The crystal that worked so well in most places around Whateley was not up to the necessary magical interface with the runes on Sara’s walls. And hopefully, the door to Sara’s room would stay downstairs the whole time.
Fey dissipated her glowing ‘reading lights’ and made sure they vanished properly, instead of turning into hobgoblins. Sheesh, one little accident with electric-blue hamsters in puce tutus chewing on every bit of paper they could reach, and everyone was constantly on her case about turning off the lights just right…
Toni was already out the door before anyone realized that she had conveniently managed to avoid explaining what she would do to avoid SWAT helicopters.
Tennyo grabbed her laptop and floated down to the floor. She growled, “This had better be good. I was right in the middle of algebra, and I was finally getting somewhere!” She didn’t like to admit it, but she was still having a lot of trouble in her math class. Sure, Doctor Winslow was really good at explaining things, but she still had miserable trouble with a lot of the story problems. If someone told her what formula to apply, she could get it. Almost all the time, now. But figuring out what formula to pull out was still making her cranky.
And no one wanted to be around when she was cranky. After the combat final, a lot of people at dinner had given her a really wide berth. She tried not to get upset about it, because that just made things worse. But hundreds of other students had seen some of what she could do, and even the Alphas looked nervous at the thought of getting in her way. On the upside, no one had made her wait in line when she went back for seconds and thirds.. and fourths.. and fifths. One of these days, she was going to have to find a way to lug enough calories around with her without toting a knapsack the size of Slab on her shoulder. Were any of the devisors nutrition specialists? She’d have to think about that.
Jinn carefully descended and tilted so that Jade could step out onto the floor, then scooped up all the assorted pencils, books, papers, notepads, and drinks she had been managing. She laid most of them on the table for everyone else to reclaim later, then whisked herself and Jade’s school stuff off to their room.
A few seconds later, Jade blinked as Jinn and Jann and Jasmine’s memories popped into her head. She had been studying four subjects at once. She had left Jann and Jasmine in her room, although it just looked as if two of the books were lying on her desk and moving of their own accord. It sometimes paid off to have a guard in her room. She hadn’t had to fight off an intruder yet, but she had gotten to surprise Stephen one time when he used another Warper to pop into her room so that he could leave her a rose bouquet.
The group slipped down to Sara’s room. Toni was already there, staring at Sara’s bed. Tennyo and Fey came in behind her, and saw what had left Toni dumbstruck.. which was nearly impossible to do normally.
At the far wall, Sara was putting away some books and covering up a weird chest with a blanket. That wasn’t what Toni had spotted. Jamie was lying peacefully in the middle of the bed, eyes closed and hands atop her stomach.
Fey opened her mouth to question Sara about Jamie, but Tennyo beat her to it. Tennyo growled in her drill instructor voice, “Sara! You couldn’t leave Jamie alone, when we’re supposed to have a meeting here?!”
Fey added unhappily, “You didn’t mark her, did you?”
Sara snapped back, “Honest to… Never mind, you don’t want to know who I was about to curse to. Of course I didn’t mark her! Can you stop being so damned prejudiced?”
Just then, Jamie opened her eyes and sat up. She looked over at Sara, but she didn’t dare tell what she had accomplished on the astral plane when other people could hear. “Done.” That was all Jamie needed to tell Sara. But Jamie had checked that there were no snoopers on the astral plane and no ghosts listening anywhere nearby. There was also the favor Jamie was going to owe Weaver for hanging around just to make sure that no one could get close enough to listen
Jamie looked over at the shocked faces, and couldn’t resist adding, “Hey, I thought you said this was going to be a private party!” But it was impossible to keep a straight face when Toni’s jaw dropped even farther.
But Fey could see the energies around the boygirl, and could tell that Jamie had to have been astral projecting, not recovering fromnaughty tentacle sex with a demon princess. She blushingly murmured, “Sorry, Jamie.”
Toni looked at her roommate’s ki and could see that Nikki was really embarrassed, not pretending. Oops. She put her hands up and insisted, “I wasn’t thinking that at all! Honest! Never!”
Sara rolled her eyes. She would have sighed, except she wasn’t breathing at that moment. “Toni, you were broadcasting like a radio tower.”
Toni ducked her head and said, “Yeah, sorry. To both of you. It’s just that, well, what would you think if you walked in and found me lying in the bed of a lust demon?”
Jamie giggled, “I’d be thinking you had a bun in the oven.”
A teenaged male voice in the doorway added in a sing-song, “Nothin’ says lovin’ like demons in the oven, and dead-’n-buried says it best!”
A general groan arose, with Fey adding, “Hank, don’t try out for Open Mike Night at the Comedy Shop in Berlin, okay?”
Hank just shook his head. He knew better than to say “Women!” aloud when he was so badly outnumbered. Well, he finally knew better. He looked around. Jade was charging up two specks of grit on her palm. He still didn’t know what to call them, but he knew ‘Jinn’ and ‘Jann’ were wrong. And if he called the specks ‘Jamie’, everyone would think he was talking to his roomie. He watched as the specks flew off to keep watch.
Bugs hopped in, grinning, “All clear! Sniffer checked out the room already, and I just planted a few anti-snooping eggs around the hallway and the outside of the window.”
Ayla stepped in and said, “Is everybody here? Where’s Jinn and Rip? Fey, have you done that mumbo-jumbo stuff yet? And are there any, say, poison-green hedgehogs running around near my room right now?”
Fey gave Ayla a dirty look and got back to work. She concentrated a few more seconds, and suddenly everyone felt a globe of something expanding to protect the room. She nodded, “All done. We’re protected against psi and magical eavesdropping. But there’s something alive and aware, right outside your window.”
Sara shrugged. “That’s Feral. Erin found out that Arachne… You know her, right? Arachne can talk to spiders and get reports back from them. And Arachne’s not the only student who can get information from animals. So we’re doing a little prevention there. Any critters that come near my window tonight are going to be snacks.”
Jinn came in with Riptide, Lily, and Chou. Chou asked, “I left my notebooks up in the study room. There aren’t any purple book-eating slugs tapdancing around up there, are there?”
Fey growled, “It was one time!”
Jinn said, “Mrs. Horton says that we can be here for an hour past curfew if we need to, but no longer than that. And if the door moves over to Hawthorne, Ms. Cantrel will give us permission slips so we can walk back to Poe. Okay?”
Ayla smiled, “Good. We shouldn’t need that long.. if we can stay on track and avoid ‘scope creep’. Everyone who needs to be here is here. Grab a piece of floor and get comfy. I’ve got some intel on The Assault, and we have a few reports that need to be made where no one else can hear.” She watched as several people in the room winced. Ever since unknown attackers had jumped Nikki and Jade, then fought off Toni and Chou before vanishing, they had all been trying to track down the culprits. Since then they had been privately referred to that attack as The Assault. There had been other fights and bushwhackings, but this was the only one they had not been able to avenge.
She continued, “My sources came up with some news. The Alphas have told The Turks that they can become auxiliaries, but only if they shitcan their less ‘pretty’ members. Now the Turks are freshmen. What did they do to get Alpha attention? The three mainstays in The Turks are Shadowolf, Bombshell, and Sweetheart. That ring any bells?”
“Sure does,” Toni piped up first. “Someone was doing something funky with shadows and screening in that clearing, and I know one of the assholes who hit me was a brick. I didn’t know it then, but I know what I felt when I got blindsided, and I’ve been working with Diz enough to figure out that what hit me was a PK field. Bombshell’s a PK supergirl. Coulda been her.”
Hank volunteered, “We’ve been trying to track down every student who could’ve done the stuff with the shadows, but we had a huge list we couldn’t cut down easily. Ayla had someone get her most of the school’s power list, and I made notes on the MID of every freshman and sophomore in the combat finals. Even if we know that some of them are a tad.. ahem.. inaccurate.” For some reason, everyone in the room turned and looked at Jade.
He went on, “Anyway, between those MIDs and what Ayla’s sources came up with, we had a list of six students with shadow-related powers, twenty-seven mages who could have done the shadow thing with spells, eight psis who might have been able to do it, and a number of devisors who have the tech to do it. And we don’t have the full powers on everyone in school. So we were kind of stuck.”
Ayla said, “But now we have one student with known shadow powers who just got a big pat on the head from the Alphas, for no apparent reason. We know the Alphas don’t work that way. So what did The Turks do to get themselves such a big reward? Lily? Your turn.”
Lily took a breath and explained, “Most of you know I’m friends with Phoenixfire. She’s been pushing hard to get into the Alphas. Well, given her looks and her powers and her background, everyone on campus is rushing her. The Cape Squad, Venus Inc., you name it. She’s had to turn down half a dozen members of the Robins already! And her roomie is in the Alphas. So she’s gotten to hang with the alpha Alphas a bunch. And she told me that The Don said something about The Turks earning their place because of you guys. Team Kimba.” She gave Hank a quick “I’m sorry” look.
Ayla said, “That’s just about what I expected for the Alphas.”
Toni added, “Yeah, that sounds about like Donny-boy. Lily, I hope you’re not too attached to Phoenixfire, because she’s likely to end up as one of the Don’s mindsluts - or worse - if she doesn’t figure out who’s the Bad Guys around here.”
Lily objected, “Look, Ashley’s my friend! She wouldn’t. She just… Well, there’s a lot of pressure on some of us to get into the Alphas like the ‘rents did. And Ashley’s mom was a a real power in the Alphas for her last two years at Whateley, and Magma’s kind of pushing her to do the same. It’s not her fault.”
Tennyo growled, “But Phoenixfire’s done a couple sims with me and Hank, and she knows a lot about what we can do. If there’s another fight between us and the Alphas, you know The Don’s gonna sick her on us. And I can’t fight the next time anything happens. You heard Carson. That means that you guys might have to face her and Aries and Cavalier and Skybolt and Icer, and whoever else the Don can round up, without me. I don’t like the sound of that.”
Hank shrugged, “Ashley’s tough. But she’s not nearly as strong as me, and her fire won’t hurt me. Nikki ought to be able to use her fire as a power source, and Jinn can tackle her the same way she took out Tisiphone, and Ayla can take her if she can phase through her, and I know Jade’s got a freeze shot for her Cobra, and...
“Dear, that’s too many ‘ands’.” Several people laughed out loud as they realized that it was Jinn, doing an impressive imitation of Beltane using her speaker disk. Some of the room didn’t get the joke.
Hank blushed a little and went on, “We just have to factor her in, the next time we strategize a fight against the Alphas. Unless we want to take her out by having Lily meet with her somewhere far away from the battlezone.” He gave Lily a small shrug.
Jamie didn’t say anything. While there were a couple things the spirits could help with on the astral plane to stop someone like Phoenixfire, most of them were off-limits on orders from the heads of the Dream Team. They were still watching over Jamie since that first day on campus. At least Jeff and his gang had shown enough common sense - or self-preservation - to stay the heck away.
Ayla stepped in, “Back to the point. We now know that The Turks got major bennies from The Don for something to do with us. And the only thing that ‘something’ could be is The Assault. Bunny? Your turn. Tell everyone what you told me.”
Everyone turned to look at the curvy blonde. She flopped her pigtails like bunny ears and excitedly explained, “So I was in Workshop last week? And there’s a freshman in there called Doctor Goodvibes. His specialty is ultrasonics.” Half the room winced, as they remembered Halloween. “So he’s got this surround-sound system he built that generates sounds from a quadrangular structure of semi-phased arrays to control cutouts on ultrasonic and subsonics, all the way down to about three Hertz, and…” She stopped as Riptide gave her an elbow in the side. “Um, sorry, so his name comes from his best stuff. He can get his array to generate a set of frequencies that will make you feel really relaxed and completely calm. He says it’s almost like a sonic high…”
Fey looked like she wanted to spit. Or rip something in half. “So that’s what it was. That’s why I felt so happy and out of it, even though I was getting the shit kicked out of me.” Her posture changed, and Aunghadhail vowed, “This is not to be tolerated!” Then she relaxed and rubbed her forehead, “Sorry. But someone’s even more upset about this than I am.”
Jade added, “Well, me too! I mean, look. They grabbed the two people they figured were the easiest targets to pound on. I don’t like having a big bullseye on my back.”
Billie added, “Says the kid who’s number 263 on the charts and doesn’t want to fight back if she gets pushed around.”
Fey said, “I don’t like being labeled as one of the easy targets either! But that’s pretty clearly the Alpha attitude. Am I going to have to walk around everywhere with defensive spells constantly active?”
Toni said, “Actually Nikki, that might not be such a bad idea.”
“Do you know what a drain that is on me? I can only keep that kind of thing up for so long. I already have to keep up a barrier full-time so I don’t hear everything that was ever alive or part of the earth, and I have to keep up another barrier so I’m not feeling everything people around me are projecting, and I have to keep another spell going full-time to hold down my glamourie to something manageable, and…”
“Okay, okay, I get the point. Man, you try to help out a roommate, and she bites your head off,” Toni groused.
Ayla insisted, “Back to the point please, people! We have a possible guilty party here. Let’s focus on eliminating them or satisfying ourselves that it is them? Bunny, would you finish? And try to keep the geek-speak down to a mild screech.”
“Hmmph! Okay, anyway, the thing is, Arwin, Arwin.. umm.. Hochauser I think, that’s Doctor Goodvibes’ real name, he’s griping like crazy in Workshop the other week because The Turks are throwing him out. And this week he was complaining to Automa-tech…” She pronounced the name as if it were Spanish.
“Who he?” interrupted Toni.
Rip explained in her usual style, “That’s ‘she’, not ‘he’, and she’s a devisor from one of the nicer parts of Barcelona, that’s in Spain in case you didn’t know, and she’s one of the queens of the Beret Mafia, but she doesn’t associate with us immature, bourgeois Americans even if we speak Spanish too, the snotty little…”
“Man, do those guys even eat with us?” Toni griped. “It seems like they spend all their time hiding from the rest of us, like they didn’t want to come to America to begin with. I mean, why didn’t they just go to one of the crappy little mutant schools in Europe and leave us alone?”
Lily grumbled quietly, “I know a few I wish would hide from the rest of us.”
“And as I was saying,” huffed Bunny, “she was trying to get him to shut up and leave her alone, but I definitely heard him say that it wasn’t fair after the stuff he’d done for Shadowolf.”
“Bingo,” breathed Hank. Toni heard him and gave him a tight nod of agreement.
Ayla added, “My sources say Doc G is tight with Grenadier, who’s a specialized energizer. Grenadier can cast plasma spheres that explode like a low explosive worth about half a stick of dynamite. And, if you watched his combat final, you’d know he likes to spread his plasma balls around like a minefield. On top of that, yesterday they were sitting with Behemoth at combat finals.”
“That could have been coincidence,” said Sara.
“Yeah. But they both gave him high-fives after he trashed his opponent. So they know him, and they’re friends with him.”
Toni said, “I watched that fight. He was up against a real nobody. One of the Underdogs. He could’ve stranded that kid up on top of a building, run to the spindle, shrunk back down, and had plenty of time to enter codes. But no, he had to grow to about twenty feet high and pound the crap out of that kid first. And man, is his ki screwed up when he gets big. I could tell from where I was sitting that…”
Ayla dragged the discussion back on track again. “But you said you got hit by a giant fist more than once. Behemoth? Yes or no.”
Toni thought a second. “Coulda been. I mean, how many other people at Whateley can grow that big?”
Ayla replied, “Maybe seven or eight. Don’t forget Sizemax, Silo, Giga-form, Jimmy T, and a couple people like Leviathan who don’t have hands and arms in their larger forms. That’s why we haven’t been able to narrow it down enough before now.”
Rip looked at Bunny and whispered, “Giga-form? Who makes these names up?”
Jade kept her mouth shut. She didn’t need to mention Stephen. Sure, Thuban could grow to maybe seventy or eighty feet high, but she believed him when he said that he couldn’t interface with the rest of the world in a way that would let him use his ability as a combat power. And she also knew that he wouldn’t have been a part of the group that beat her up. Not when he always worked behind the scenes, instead of as a frontline fighter. Not when he wanted her to be healthy and powering Lazuli for his Faction 3 meetings. Not when he was thinking of Lazuli as a robotic girlfriend. Of course, now he had something better than a robotic girlfriend…
Tennyo whispered at Jade, “What are you smiling at?”
Jade just shook her head. “Just a memory.”
Tennyo guessed, “Given that smile, I bet it’s about Thuban.” She grinned as Jade blushed.
Ayla saw the interchange and said a bit louder, “Ladies! Could we pay attention to the matter at hand?”
Jade sat at attention, trying not to smile too much. It always made her feel good when Ayla forgot and thought of her as a girl.
Toni muttered, “At least she’s not making us use Robert’s Rules of Order.”
“Yet,” Nikki whispered back.
Hank got things back on track. “So who else is with The Turks, if they’re dropping Doc Goodvibes and Grenadier and Behemoth?”
Ayla looked at him with thanks in her eyes. “Swoop and Accelerator. Swoop’s an avatar and can manifest aspects of the eagle. Flight and strength. Enhanced eyesight. She can use her wings and talons and feathers as close-in weapons. Accelerator’s a speedster.”
Fey hissed, “I knew there was one involved somewhere in this mess.”
Ayla nodded, “And he meets your description. You didn’t get a good look because he was super-speeding and wearing a mask, but you got the ‘male and brown hair’ part right. There’s more speedsters at Whateley right now than in any single country except the U.S. and maybe China, so we hadn’t figured out who. Until now. But now we know who, and how, and why. Shadowolf, Bombshell, and Sweetheart, all running the Turks. Plus Swoop and Accelerator. And Behemoth, Doc Good-V, and Grenadier. That makes eight of them, hitting two of us. They didn’t expect to get Toni and Chou on their asses, much less that giant cat-thing.”
Fey interrupted, “He’s not a cat-thing. Ambassador Rythax is…”
“A big hairy winged cat-thing,” insisted Ayla. “And I don’t want to hear three hours of mystical weirdness on what it really is, and why you care. Not now. Okay?”
Fey grumbled a bit, but let it slide. This time. She looked over at Chou, and saw that Chou was of a like mind. She knew just what they would do. They would get Molly to summon Rythax, and let the Ambassador lounge about on Ayla’s bed until Ayla apologized.
Hank cut in before Ayla and Nikki really got into it. “So that’s who. Why? That’s easy. They wanted into the Alphas and figured smacking some of us around would get them brownie points with The Don. How? We can see that in retrospect. They must have spent some time tracking us. Maybe all of us. After all, they sure wouldn’t have wanted to try this when Billie was just around the corner.”
“Why does everyone keep naming me?” Tennyo complained. No one bothered to answer.
Hank went on, “Okay, for that matter, me. Obviously, they didn’t want Toni showing up, either. But they had contingency plans. Shadowolf is supposed to be pretty good at tactics, from what I hear.”
Ayla smirked, “Oh, you have your own personal information web?”
He shrugged, “I hear stuff from the other Army brats and the like. Some of the Grunts wanted to know if I was interested. You know me, Army brat, brick, good with a rifle…”
“Good with a rifle? You never told me that,” said Lily.
“Umm, it’s not really the kind of thing girls want to talk about on a date, ya know…”
“You didn’t tell us, either,” said Toni.
“Well, I would have if it had ever come up. But the closest we ever came was when Sara wanted me to show up armed with a couple howitzers, and I said no thanks,” Hank insisted. “Look, I spent years around dad at rifle ranges and pistol ranges. And I’m an Exemplar. You shouldn’t be surprised I know how to aim and hit something. I’m not in Sam’s class with a rifle, or Deadeye’s.”
“Well, no one else I’ve ever heard of is, either,” added Jade.
Hank tried to explain, “Look, the Grunts came asking around Monday. I told some of you about this already. Dad told them to grab me, but they don’t work that way. They’ve been nosing around for a couple months. Breaker finally came out and asked. They’re wondering if I want to go Army after Whateley, and if I want to join up with them. They also knew about the ninjas, and the Breakfast Battle, and they’ve heard rumors about Boston. They asked if I wanted to run on both teams. I said there was no way I was leaving TK, but I might run with their team too.”
“Good call there,” said Toni. “So how are you gonna handle this when we go up against the Grunts in the sims? Gonna ask Duplex to ‘be’ you for a few minutes?”
“Why do you guys want to fight all the time?” asked Bunny. “One of these days, someone’s going to get hurt. Really hurt.”
Ayla cleared her throat loudly, “And once again, we’re off-track. Meanwhile back at the ranch… We have a good suspect. We have no one else who’s even a candidate. We know that no one else has gotten even a pat on the head from The Don lately. Are we agreed that it has to be The Turks? Let’s see hands.”
Everyone raised their hand. Sara raised eight.
Ayla asked in a ‘prissy schoolteacher’ voice, “Miss Waite? Do you have something you want to share with the class?”
Sara looked around and said, “I asked Gypsy if she would sit with me in the clearing where The Assault took place and try to give a reading on it. That’s not as easy as it sounds.”
“That sounds easy?” asked Toni. “It sounds impossible. Campus cops brought a mage afterward and tried scrying, but someone had done a spell to make the area hard to look at magically.”
Fey said, “It wouldn’t surprise me if it was Hekate and her witchy little sidekicks.”
Sara shrugged, which looked deeply disturbing when she did it with eight tentacles, instead of a pair of shoulders. “That’s why Gypsy couldn’t come up with anything solid. But everything she read fits with what you guys have put together.”
Toni said, “So now we know who beat up Nikki and Jade. What are we going to do about it?”
Ayla said, “That’s exactly the right question.”
Billie asked, “Could we just, you know, casually pull a few limbs off? By accident?”
Jade winced. “Oneesan, sometimes you’re kind of scary.”
Billie whispered, “Says the one who nailed someone to a tree with railroad spikes and burned a message on his chest.”
“Hey! That was Jinn with the railroad spikes!” Jade whispered back.
Billie insisted in a slightly louder whisper, “In case you hadn’t noticed, you’re Jinn!”
“Well, it was a really bad day, okay?”
Hank interrupted the byplay before Ayla yelled at them. “Look, we already know what we can’t do about it. We can’t run over and stomp them into the mud. And we can’t jump them one at a time. No fighting, except under controlled conditions, as per Carson.”
“So we challenge them to an arena match!” pushed Toni.
Bunny pointed out, “We can’t use Arena ‘99 because of the combat finals for juniors and seniors next week. And believe me, Arena ‘77 is way too small for a TK-vs-Turks battle. It was big enough for Hank-against-Jinn, but it would have been crowded if we had a three-on-three fight. Anything like we’re talking about is way too big.”
Someone groused, “Hank fought Jinn? When? Nobody tells me anything around here…”
“Arena ‘91. It’s big enough, and it doesn’t get much use now that Arena ‘99 is up and running,” said Lily.
Toni excitedly insisted, “Okay! So we challenge those weasels tomorrow, and set it up for, say, Monday some time, and…”
“And they’ll dodge us. Nobody in their right mind is going to go up against Tennyo. Not even psychos like Scrambler or Razorback,” Ayla pointed out.
Fey said, “Hey, Razorback is a good guy! Leave him out of this.”
Several people stopped and stared at that. Ayla asked, “Are we talking about the same Razorback? Giant psycho lizard near the top of the Ultraviolent list? Rager with more kills on his sheet than Nex?”
Fey carefully said, “He’s a good guy. Okay, he’s a rager. It’s not his fault. He’s really helped me out with the, umm, Were thing, you know.”
Toni added, “Wouldn’t surprise me a bit if some of Razor’s explosions last year had a little help from Donny-boy and his merry prankster pals.”
Ayla cleared her throat, “I wouldn’t be surprised either. But I’d like to stay on track for more than five seconds! If we challenge them and they back out, citing Tennyo, no one is going to call them on it. I’m not sure the Wild Pack would go up against Tennyo if they didn’t have to.”
Billie growled, “Could everyone stop pointing fingers at me? It’s not like I blew up the city in the simulation! Heck, I didn’t even do as much damage as Jade’s boyfriend!”
Hank said soothingly, “Billie, that’s not the problem. Everyone saw how much control you showed. But you showed a pretty frightening set of abilities, and everyone on campus knows you were holding back. Word’s gotten around about what else you can do. Heck, Carson told everyone about your Death Blow. Neurox killed five people in three weeks, before Whateley slapped a Section 33 on him. I looked it up. You’ve managed not to kill anyone, and no one even suffered any lasting damage.”
Someone softly murmured, “Which is a freaking miracle, if you ask me.” Billie gritted her teeth and refused to look around at the likely sources.
Sara said, “I think you’re forgetting something. Billie’s not the only one in this room that no one wants to mess with. Everyone still sees me as part of Team Kimba, you know. Billie has a few fights on her record, all of them in self-defense. Big effing deal. I have multiple murders. I eat the lifeforce of living creatures. When I walk across the lawn, I leave burned footprints where my touch kills all the vegetation. Even psychos like Bloodwolf are scared to mess with me. People will spar with me, but only because they have to. The Turks can use me as another sound reason not to go into an arena match with us.”
Hank stopped her, “Look Sara, you’re being too hard on yourself. We have lots of power on this team. Remember Necromancer and the Children of the Night? An A- level supervillain and a team of supervillains that haven’t been stopped yet by real pros? We took them, and an entire army of zombies, and a horde of heavy-hitter henchmen. We walked away with some cuts and bruises. And we did it twice, even when they were planning for us the second time.”
Toni inserted smugly, “We are some bad mamma-jammas!”
Hank cleared his throat and went on, “The fundamental problem is that The Turks will do what the Alphas always do. When faced with a challenge from a superior foe, they duck out and make reasonable-sounding excuses. So let’s look at this from a different angle. What’s the weakest-looking force we can put up that can still kick their sleazy butts?”
Ayla said, “Think about this. They’ll have Bombshell. She’s a PK superwoman. Like Hank, but with no martial arts and limited flight, from what my sources say. They’ll have Behemoth too, if they have to fight us. Max height for him is twenty-five feet, and at that size he weighs maybe more than Hank can lift. Accelerator’s top speed is currently listed at 107 miles per hour, so he’s faster than Jay Jay. Swoop can fly pretty fast, somewhere between Jinn’s top speed and Hank’s, and she’s a tough fighter. Shadowolf’s an Exemplar, and he can use his shadows as blinding screens and also as physical weapons. Sweetheart’s a PDP. Throw in Grenadier and Doctor Goodvibes, and we’ll have to be on our game if we want to win this.”
Fey said, “I don’t care who else is on the arena floor, but I’m in. I owe them. Half of them got a free punch in while I just stood there, all sonically doped up.”
Toni said, “I want in too. But they’re going to use the same tactics as before. They’ll hit us with the Doc’s sonic brain-moosher. Then they’ll target the biggest threats first.”
Hank said, “Right. They’ll use their fastest weapons on the biggest threats, and then take out the lesser threats afterward.”
Toni looked up at the ceiling and grinned wickedly, “Hmm… How about if it’s all of them against just the four of us they beat up the last time?”
Saturday, December 16 - lunchtime and later
The night before, they had argued for ten minutes about the timing of the challenge, and who would get to issue it. They had talked over what would happen as soon as they announced it. Then they had discussed how to keep The Turks from ducking out.
So they had finally decided on lunch as the right time. Toni would issue the challenge in the Crystal Hall. (She was chosen partly because no one could figure out how they could keep her quiet while someone else did it.) Breakfast was too scattered, so they would wait until lunch. Plus, Jade had an appointment in Dunwich in the morning, and Billie and Nikki wanted to go along too.
At the lunch table, Jade was having trouble with one of her hands, although she wasn’t talking about what had happened to it. Still, she was wearing a pair of gloves, so it was possible one of her hands had been damaged somehow while she was in Dunwich. Several of the Kimbas were wondering if that crazed doctor who was based in Berlin had been torturing her again.
They were all seated around their table, as usual, watching the Crystal Hall fill up. Bunny slipped into her seat and whispered, “Got it reserved for the time.” Ayla looked over to see where the Wild Pack were sitting, since she would have the task of handling them as soon as they stuck their noses in.
Toni waited until Bombshell and Sweetheart sat down with their lunches, and Shadowolf had started eating. Then she stood up. First, she charged her ki into her voice and announced, “Hold everything!” She wasn’t Vox or Glissade, but she could use her voice almost as effectively. She could make it carry across the entire hall without shouting, and she was getting really good at her ‘Bene Gesserit voice’ trick. It even seemed to work on psis and mages and exemplars.
And sure enough, the entire hall came to a halt. Everyone was looking at her. “Team Kimba hereby challenges The Turks to an arena match, Sunday night in Arena ‘91, at 7 pm. The Turks can even bring the team members they just kicked out. Team Kimba will only bring the four people regarded as the weakest in combat. That’s right, no Tennyo. No Carmilla. No Lancer. No Phase. Just me, Bladedancer, Fey, and Generator. Against eight Turks. The Turks know why we’re issuing this challenge. Since they’re a bunch of weasely cowards, we’re only going with our weakest members, so everyone on campus will know what creeps they are when they chicken out.” Then she slid into her best radio announcer voice, “Remember, it’s SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY!!” She sat down with a grin.
Ayla leaned over. “What’s with the tractor-pull radio announcement? That wasn’t any part of the discussion!”
Before Toni could answer back, the Wild Pack were there. Toni looked up and smiled, “Why Stormwolf, what a surprise to see you here!”
Adam Ironknife stared down at the troublesome frosh. “Chaka, we heard your challenge, and…”
Toni blithely cut him off, “Oh, so sorry, we only do one arena challenge at a time. If you guys want to fight us too, you’ll have to wait your turn. For you, we’ll even bring Tennyo and Carmilla. Try not to get eaten during the match, honey.”
Dale “Mindbird” Townsend took Adam by the forearm, and he stopped his reply. She said, “Why are you doing this?”
It was already agreed that Ayla would take this one. “Why? I thought it was obvious. We’re following the official Whateley guidelines. We know who attacked Generator and Fey, back in October. We are not launching an unauthorized fight, or attacking anyone. We are setting up an arena match with the perpetrators.”
Robert ‘Bobcat’ Shih stepped in and asked, “How do you know you have the right people?”
Ayla smiled wickedly, “It should be obvious. Just look at the Alphas.” Adam tried not to look over at Sebastiano’s table. Just looking at The Don could start a problem some days. But there was no denying the reactions of the key players. The Don and Hekate were having an intense if quiet discussion, while their lackeys sat tensely around them, as if they were about to be attacked. Meanwhile, The Turks were obviously trying hard not to look to the Alpha table for help.
Mindbird calmly focused on the task and asked, “But how did you know beforehand?”
Ayla answered, as planned. “We cheated. We used our brains. We put together a list of the powers used against our team, and we used deduction to figure out the only group with all those powers. It was elementary, my dear Townsend. The question should be ‘why did we have to do it, and not you guys or Security?’ That’s what I’d like to know.”
Adam tried to unclench his jaw as he said, “You’re asking for more trouble this way. You should have gone to Security with your suspicions. Or us.”
Ayla had the answer to this, too. “We have no solid proof that would stand up in a disciplinary hearing. Just circumstantial evidence and deductions. We know how Security loves that. We know what you can do with that kind of evidence. Nothing. Same as the last time. And there’s definitely no way to tie it to the Alphas. So we’ll stick to school rules.”
Adam said, “You’re making a mistake. They’ll be throwing Bombshell and Behemoth at your martial artists. They’ll hit your mage with their PDP while they target her with their speedster first, then everything they can throw at her. Then what will you have left? An eleven-year-old devisor?”
Jade was about to stand up and tell him off. She was fourteen, for Pete’s sake! But Tennyo grabbed the back of her blazer and tugged her back into place.
Toni smiled, “Why Adam, I didn’t know you cared! Now I wouldn’t want you to accuse us of crying wolf or anything…” She still hadn’t forgiven him for those ‘leopard’ cracks back when she was trying to help Sahar.
The Wild Pack walked off. Erin looked them over and murmured, “He doesn’t seem like much of a wolf to me. More like a lapdog…”
Shadowolf didn’t like it. Team Kimba was telling him flat out that they knew The Turks were responsible for that attack on those four girls, and that in a fair match even those four could take The Turks. Gwen and Barb had gotten him into this, and now he was going to have to win this arena match or look like the biggest loser in school. He signalled to Farrago, who could take a message for him to The Don. Shadowolf had been slapped down by the head Alphas enough that he knew not to try going straight to the top this time. He would have to make an appointment, and then suck up enough to get some attention from the people he needed, before he could see The Don.
And he was going to have to go apologize to Behemoth, Doc, and Grenadier. He’d tell them that it was The Don who was making things so diificult, and if they participated in the match it would make them all look better.
Barb glared over at the Kimbas. “Stupid little…” She was sure that without their powerhouses, the Kimbas were nothing. Their mage, Fey, was useless in combat, and needed lots of time for performing her spells. Just like every wizard she’d ever run into. Or run over.
Gwen looked up at her nervously. “There’s something wrong. I’m getting a bad feeling about this.”
Barb looked down and was about to make a blistering reply when she saw the worry in Gwen’s eyes. Sweetheart was a Package Deal Psychic. Gwen’s strength was as a projective empath. But she had some precog too. Barb whispered, “What is it?”
Gwen concentrated, and then said, “I don’t know. But I just have a feeling we’re going to lose. Badly.”
Shadowolf murmured, “Then we’ll ask the Alphas for advice on ducking the match while making our opponents look like the problem. The Alphas have been doing that for about two terms now. They’re the masters at it.”
Barb flatly said, “This is stupid. There’s no way those four losers can take all of us. All we have to do is knock out their mage, and they’re doomed.”
Shadowolf asserted himself, “I am the leader of The Turks. You wanted me to stand out front? Then you get to follow me.”
Bombshell bristled, but kept quiet. For now.
The Don calmly finished his lunch, then walked off toward his dorm room. Hekate and Conjure followed a few minutes behind, as did Farrago.
“Cavalier, get me a drink. Sky, re-arrange the room. We’re going to have company.” His two servants hurried to obey. He smiled ruthlessly at their work.
Bluejay suddenly popped in, as uncooperative as ever. He bowed so low that his forehead threatened to scuff the carpet. Then he looked up with a wicked grin on his face. “My liege, I bring news of your minions.” The Don just raised one eyebrow. “The Turks appear as untrained as you anticipated. But they are already thinking like true Alphas, and are considering how to turn down their most gracious invitation while appearing to be the victims.”
Sebastiano glared, “Why aren’t they preparing to fight? Fey is powerful, but easy to take from close in. Unless you decide to waste your advantage and play with her defenders like a villain in a bad movie. Bladedancer is not even a mutant. Generator is a child with minor devisor tricks. Chaka is…”
Chaka was a problem. A problem he would like to crush under his heel like a fat caterpillar. But she was as tricky as a real leopard. Every time he tried to deal with her, she danced away out of his reach.. and laughed at him. If he didn’t hate her so much, he would be considering bringing her into the Alphas, even if the last attempt was his most brutal failure. He wanted nothing more than to kill that little negrita, as slowly and as painfully as possible.
He realized he had stopped talking in the middle of his sentence. Bluejay was looking on with a wicked smile on his face, as if he knew precisely what Sebastiano was thinking.
Just as Sebastiano was about to lambaste his most annoying minion, a knock at the door stopped him. “Sky, see who it is.”
Hekate walked in, with Conjure right behind. Farrago appeared before Conjure was all the way through the door, and followed them in. Sebastiano growled, “Farrago, after your recent disasters, you do not have the right to walk in here unannounced. Do you want more humilations heaped on you?”
Farrago managed not to wince, but The Don could read his embarrassment, along with a strong urgency. Farrago stood his ground and said, “I’m sorry, but I have a message from The Turks. Shadowolf says that Sweetheart has foreseen a problem. She felt that they would lose badly, even against those four.”
Sebastiano looked at Hekate and asked, “Kallista, could we get a minor prediction on the match? If The Turks are worried about a loss, what’s going to happen? Is there anything we can do to alter the outcome?”
Hekate rolled her eyes. Sebastiano understood nothing about magics. He still assumed she could produce a parlor trick at the wave of a tophat, like a magician at a child’s birthday party. She had done this more than once before, and he had not truly paid attention. Ever. She had thought that he would have learned his lesson after his disastrous attempt to convert Fey. She still did not understand how the youngest one had interfered, but her scryings told her that she had been right. It was the little one, Generator, who had somehow interacted with the black girl and thwarted Sebastiano. She was still unhappy over the loss of esteem, even if seeing Sebastiano staggering home from Hawthorne each evening had been quite amusing.
Hekate put out her hand, and Conjure produced the bound book. She let Conjure prepare the room, carefully drawing a pentagram around her and lighting the correct candles. Hekate waved her fingers over the book’s cover, and it unbuckled, opening in a fan of yellowing pages to the correct spot. She focused for long seconds, while Conjure performed a conjury of seeing to provide more…
She looked up. “This makes no sense. I see Generator and Bladedancer using magic. I see Fey using martial arts. I see a dead girl who is not dead. I see a screen which is not a screen, and a shadow which does not shade. I see Chaka avoiding battle. I see the four Kimbas emerging victorious over all the forces of The Turks. This must be a trick of some sort.”
Sebastiano looked at her and grinned wickedly. “Don’t you see? It’s a bluff. A magical bluff. The Kimba bimbos know their four can’t beat all The Turks at full strength. So they get their mages to do some rite to interfere with precognition and scrying and foreseeing, so The Turks will cry off and look like fools. You’re seeing what they want you to see.”
Hekate bristled at him. “I doubt that. You may know a great deal about telepathy, but you have no understanding of the complexity of what you so blithely propose.” Still, the faerie was a very powerful mage, and there was simply no telling what powers the Kellith might be able to call upon. It was remotely possible. And the images made no sense. If only she had a way to talk with her master before the scheduled arena match, perhaps he could help. Or perhaps he would merely punish her for her failure. She shuddered inwardly at the idea.
Sebastiano turned to Farrago and said, “Tell that idiot Shadowolf that he had better fight, and he had better win, or The Turks will be paying for their failure for a very long time. And I want to see Chaka on the arena floor, broken and bleeding. Now get going.”
But he still had that doubt. That feeling that the negrita Chaka was standing behind him, laughing at him. Taunting him. Preparing to humiliate him once again. He wondered if he could have her assassinated before the match. But who would even consider the contract? Everyone on campus knew that she had faced off against Nex, and had humiliated him. There was even a rumor that she had taunted him and used a handful of playing cards as a weapon. Everyone on campus knew that she had pounded that overgrown carpet Montana and made him look the fool. Then she had taken a blow from Montana that should have been fatal, and walked out of the hospital the next morning. Everyone knew that she had been one of the very few students who had been able to withstand the sonic weaponry used against them at Halloween. The students who themselves manipulated sound, Tennyo - who appeared to be unstoppable no matter what - and Chaka. There had to be more to the negrita than mere martial arts. But how could he find out?
Shadowolf stood in an empty hallway, waiting for Farrago to return. He wanted to hear what The Don had to say. He didn’t like having a precog who was predicting them losing. That had to be bad, even if he didn’t really get how precognition was supposed to work. Maybe Gwen was just having an attack of nerves? After all, she wasn’t a frontline fighter, like Barb…
Suddenly a slimy tentacle wrapped itself around his neck and pulled him into the nearby classroom. He found himself choking as the tentacle tightened nastily about his throat and nearly lifted him off his feet. He was spun about, and to his horror he found himself face to face with the demon.
Sara smiled evilly as Shadowolf struggled against the tentacle. She kept strengthening it every time he looked like he might break free. But she wasn’t about to let him see her put any effort into it. She watched as he used his shadow powers and struck her with a shadow made solid in the shape of a huge set of claws. The impact on her shoulder should have shredded the collarbone of a normal person. She just grinned, and watched his terror spike as the damage on her skin instantly healed.
Shadowolf felt his wrists and ankles being trapped by more tentacles. Then more tentacles wrapped around his biceps, and his thighs, and his waist, and his ribs. And yet more tentacles waved hideously around him, as well as behind the demon-girl.
Then the monster finally spoke. “Sherman, I hear you want to get out of the arena match. You won’t do that. You will fight. As planned. Or something far worse than losing a little fight will happen to you. Do you know what that might be?”
He struggled to shake his head no, even as he was slowly strangled. The demon-girl leaned in closer, and her face began to split. The skin was splitting vertically, right down the middle of her face. Which was impossible! Her face opened like a giant vertical mouth, and he nearly screamed in horror. The fangs. The writhing tentacles inside, with eyes and mouths of their own. The bile and slime and… “Dear God, get me out of here!”
And yet somehow she - IT - could still talk. He understood now. When they had said Sara Waite was a demon, he hadn’t believed. But this thing was something beyond the understanding of mortal men. It was truly a demon. Something which didn’t belong in this plane of existence.
Sara hissed, “Shermie, take the fight. Otherwise, I’ll come for you, and I’ll rend you into a thousand pieces, and then I’ll consume your soul, and you’ll suffer the agonies of the damned. For all eternity.” She set him down and walked away, not even looking back as his knees gave way and he collapsed to the floor.
Long minutes later, Shadowolf staggered back to his feet. He couldn’t wait for Farrago now. Not after he had wet his pants in terror. He had to get to his room and change before anyone saw him.
He had to take that challenge. Because he was scared to death that the demon would do exactly as it said.
Bombshell stormed back to her dorm room. If that little wimp Sweetheart made them look like a bunch of cowards, she would punch that little cow right in the mouth. Or something. Nobody made a fool of Bombshell!
She walked into her room.. and froze. There, floating in the air in the middle of her room, was Tennyo. Tennyo the Section 33 case. Still, this was her room, in her dorm. And Bombshell didn’t take shit from anyone. “What the hell are you doing in my room?”
Tennyo lazily floated forward. “Oh, I told your roomie that I needed to have a little chat with you. For some reason, she didn’t want to stay and pal around with me.”
“Well, say your piece, and then get out.”
Tennyo grinned wickedly, “Oh, I intend to. It’s simple, Barb. I want you to make sure your team of slimeballs fights our four Kimbas. Or else.”
Barb stared back. “Or else what?”
Tennyo slid even closer, her eyes turning to a frightening red. Bombshell tried to ignore how sparks were flying off the floating girl. Bombshell tried to forget what this girl had done to an SUV with the flick of a wrist.
Tennyo growled, “Or else ME! Take the challenge, or else you’ll be facing me. If you don’t know what I can do to a PK superman like you, ask Hippolyta. Or Lancer. Or anybody else with any sense.”
Bombshell tried to look calm. “I heard about Hippy. You busted her up.”
Tennyo growled, in a voice like a buzzsaw, “No, Hank was the one I busted up. I knocked him out with one punch. Hip? I ripped her soul apart. She was dying, in unbearable agony, on the floor before me. If Fey and Carmilla and Chaka hadn’t stuck their noses in, Hip would’ve died. Slowly. Horribly. And her body - her whole pattern - her soul - would have just disintegrated into nothingness. Take this challenge, or you’ll face me some night when you can no longer get away.”
Bombshell felt the sweat running down her forehead, but she tried to stand up to the girl. “You don’t dare. Section 33. You’d get expelled.”
Tennyo laughed cruelly, “That Section 33 crap? Once I disintegrate what’s left of your body, there won’t be a problem. No evidence? No expulsion.” Tennyo turned and soared out the door, making an absolutely impossible right angle in mid-air on her way.
Barb sat down on her bed. For the first time since her powers had manifested, she felt vulnerable. As soon as her knees stopped shaking, she was going to find Sherman and insist on accepting that challenge.
Sweetheart was almost at the front door of her dorm when Lancer flew down in front of her. And he was holding a vase full of carnations. Was this some sort of trick? He was the brick of Team Kimba, and he ought to be supporting his teammates, not bringing her flowers.
She reached out with her mind. She hadn’t been able to affect Barb’s emotions one iota, but according to the Alphas, Lancer was supposed to be susceptible to psychics. She pushed.. and hit a psychic barrier that felt like a concrete wall. A concrete wall with razor wire across the top. She recoiled in pain.
Lancer smiled sweetly and held out the flowers. He said, “This is for you, Sweetheart. It’s an adamantium vase. So it’s a message.” Then he concentrated, and she could see his fingers squeezing mercilessly around the bulb of the metal vase. As she watched, his fist contracted. Finally, he opened his hand, revealing a crushed metal wad where the bulb of the vase had been.
He bowed as he handed her the vase. “Take the hint, Sweetheart. Take that challenge. Be there in the fight, too. Or I might have to do something like this to you or Bombshell.”
Gwen choked, “B-but Barb’s just as strong as you are!”
“Used to be, Gwen.” Hank smiled, but there was no humor there. “She’s as strong as I used to be. All the crap Donny-Boy’s been throwing our way? It put me up onto a new power curve. Now I’m way stronger than Barb. Tell her to be there in that arena, or else you’re going to have to deal with me. And show her the vase. See if she can bend the adamantium. Let her know that I’m not putting up with any more shit from any Alphas, or any Alpha wannabe’s.”
He lifted off, and her hands trembled as she picked up the vase. She had to find Barb and Sherman, as soon as possible!
They met in Sherman’s dorm room. They all had something to say. Shadowolf was surprised that Barb didn’t want to go first. He led off. “The Don says we accept the challenge, and we win no matter what we have to do. And he says that we have to hurt Chaka. Bad.” He wasn’t about to admit that the demon-girl had frightened him half to death too.
He was surprised to see the looks of sheer relief on both girls’ faces. What was that all about? Hadn’t Gwen been desperate to get out of this challenge? And why was Barb struggling to bend a wrecked vase? Whatever it was, she couldn’t budge the thing. Maybe it was adamantium. But why would anybody have a vase made of adamantium, and how could anyone crush one if they had it? Never mind, he had tasks to allocate.
“Now we have to get our cast-offs back in the fold, and get everyone together for a conference. I’ll find Grenadier. Gwen, you take Doc G. He likes you. Barb, you take Behemoth. We tell each of them that they’re back on the team for as long as they contribute, and that means stomping those Kimbas into paste.” He looked at his watch. “We’ll meet in the usual place, right after dinner.”
He didn’t notice the piece of grit that fell out of his left pants cuff.
They all met in Sara’s room again. Once the protections were in place, they could talk freely.
Toni couldn’t help bouncing excitedly, “So? How’d it go?”
Sara gave her a big ‘thumbs up’. “By the time I was done, Shadowolf peed his pants. He’ll make them fight.”
Billie grinned ferally, “Bombshell wasn’t so tough. She’ll make ‘em fight.”
Hank smirked, “Well, thanks to Nikki and Jade, my part went well too. Sweetheart’s not going to back out either.”
Rip couldn’t help asking, “Thanks to Nikki and Jade? I don’t get you, are you sure you told me this part, because I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear about any ‘Nikki and Jade’ part on your end, and I would’ve remembered, so maybe…”
Hank put up a hand to get her to stop. Surprisingly, it worked. He said, “We know, from Sweetheart’s MID and what Ayla’s contacts could find out, that Sweetheart’s a PDP with emotion projecting and emotion influencing abilities. Let’s face it, the psi area’s one of my known weaknesses. So we made it look like I was a lot stronger, and I was resistant to psi. Once she tells the Alphas that, they’ll really be confused about me.”
Before Rip could start asking for more information, he looked at her and explained, “Nikki got to Gwen’s dorm first and was around the side of the building when I made my big entrance. She did a spell to block off psi attacks.” He frowned, “Unfortunately, it’s only temporary. I could really use something like that for keeps.” He sighed and got back on track. “So Sweetheart found out that she couldn’t read me or influence my emotions. At all.”
Nikki grinned, “It felt like she got a major ouch out of it, so I doubt she’ll try again, either.”
Hank nodded in agreement. “Then I did a little magic trick. Jade found a ruined adamantium vase in the Devisor Lab trash…”
Jade butted in, “Believe me, you do not want to be reaching in the trash bins there unless you’re Hank or a Regen 5. There’s some dangerous stuff just tossed in there.”
Bunny added, “Well, that’s why there’s that warning sign there. It’s signed by ‘Stumpy’ McGrew for a reason, you know.”
Hank went on as if he hadn’t been interrupted, “This adamantium vase must have needed about twenty tons of pressure to crush it. I tried bending it, and it’s thick enough to resist me. So I did a magic trick. I held it like it was a round, undamaged base. Then I pretended to squeeze it really hard, and I just closed my hand down to the already-crushed metal. Gwen really thought I was crushing it one-handed.”
Jamie added, “He practiced in our room for almost twenty minutes, until he could do it and make it look real. If I hadn’t seen the vase to start with, his act would’ve fooled me.”
Jade grinned, “And Jamie’s back. My spyspeck, I mean, not Heyoka. I did just like Hank said and I hitched a ride on Shadowolf when Sara scared the pee out of him…”
“Literally,” added Sara wickedly.
“Yeah, he ran back to his dorm room and had to change his pants and underwear. Definitely too much information there.”
Toni grinned, “I don’t suppose you got any pictures?”
“I was a speck of grit! Of course she didn’t get any pictures!”
Ayla casually mentioned, “You know, you really need to work on your pronouns one of these days.”
Jade harrumphed and went on, “So I slipped into the cuff of his new pants, and let him take me to Bombshell and Sweetheart. After your little visits with them, they all wanted to accept the challenge.” She looked around shiftily, “And Farrago had a message from The Don. They have to meet us in the arena, and they have to win. Or else. And they have to hurt Toni. A lot.”
Toni shrugged, “So what else is new? After that caper with the stealth robot and Little Bee, I’m kinda surprised he hasn’t tried to hire somebody like Deathlist to come after me. I’m still tryin’ to come up with a way to get him detention in Hawthorne again, even if I get some too. As long as I don’t get a lot, and I don’t have to clean the toilets. Hopefully, I don’t get the Foob’s snot patrol again either.”
Billie said somewhat defensively, “Hey, I don’t know why everyone makes such a big deal out of helping clean up Lou’s pool. He’s a good guy.”
Toni rolled her eyes. “Yeah, he’s cool. But I don’t fly, and sometimes dodging one of those five-gallon loogies is pretty tough.”
“Five gallons? Eww!”
“Ewww ewww ewww! Too much information!”
Billie turned to the complainers and said, “There are a lot worse things than Lou’s pool. Like cleaning the toilets. You do not want to have to go in any of them, unless you’re armed and armored. Or the fourth basement bathroom. Stay WAY away from there.. unless you’re Sara.”
Sara just shrugged. “So I like unnameable horrors. So sue me. They’re a fun bunch, even if they ate the buckets along with the toxic waste.”
Bunny cringed, “Guys, you’re really creeping me out here…”
Jade couldn’t resist getting in one more shot. “Hey, it could be worse. There are way worse things in the sewer system under the school… Oops, I’m not supposed to talk about that.”
But Sara was interested. “Jade, is it true there’s a real Class X site down there? Could I go too the next time you have to clean it out?”
Ayla groaned, “Ugh. Fun field trips for Great Old Ones. Just leave me out of that one.”
Jade thought it over and stiffly said, “As a junior waste management technician, I can neither confirm or deny the existence of such a site.” That got a few laughs. But she added, “I’ll ask Stan and Morrie, okay?” She really didn’t want to go back down there, ever again. She shuddered just thinking about it. But if there was anyone on earth who wouldn’t mind helping out down there, it would be Sara. Heck, Sara might even enjoy doing it. If Sara didn’t mind it, and was willing to do all the stuff that needed to be done, maybe she and Stan and Morrie could get a couple years of reprieve from that place.
Ayla reminded Jade, “You were in the middle of your intelligence report?”
Jade nodded, more than willing to put thoughts of the Class X site away. “So they’re rounding up the three team members they dumped, and they’re going to have a meeting after dinner. I’ll be attending that one too, just like we planned.”
Ayla summarized, “So our plans are still on track. We have the arena scheduled for tomorrow night. We have The Turks on the defensive. We have the tactics that Toni and Hank have been designing.” She turned her head. “Bunny? Are the comm systems still working?”
Bunny nodded yes, flipping her hair, now in spaniel ears, so that for a moment she looked more like a rabbit than a hot blonde ought to. “Comm systems are a go. And I’ve got sound filters for everyone, to handle Doc G’s toys. After Halloween, I’ve been wearing a pair pretty much all the time when I’m out of Poe, and I know I’m not the only devisor who does. The sound filters are just small earplugs that fit in the ear canal, so they won’t interfere with ‘The Spots’. We’ll use The Spots version 1.2, like at Halloween, because I’m not sure my version 2.0 ones are ready for field-testing.”
Ayla turned to Jade. “You’ve been working with Bunny and Nikki on new tricks, you said. Ready to report?”
Jade grinned excitedly. “You bet! First, I’d like you to meet Shielder.” She turned and set a flat manilla folder on the floor. It looked like it might have twenty sheets of paper in it, but not much more than that. “Shielder! Operate!”
The folder twitched, then sprang open as a shiny metal sphere the size of a bowling ball popped into being. It dropped an inch to the floor with a solid BLONG, as if it were a metal ball weighing twenty or thirty pounds. Three antennae sprang up in a line at the top of the sphere, and four flexible metallic ‘legs’ the size of pipe cleaners came to life at the bottom of the sphere. The sphere stood up on the four legs and ‘walked’ to a spot halfway between Jade and Ayla. Then the antennae vibrated with an eerie hum for a second. The object spoke in a deep robotic voice, “Shielder operational.”
Bunny giggled, but most of the room stared in confusion.
Jade grinned, “Okay, Shielder’s ready. Ayla, throw something at me.”
Ayla picked up a notebook off Sara’s desk and threw it right at Jade’s stomach. The notebook flew through the air and hit.. something. An invisible force field suddenly flared into a light green color. For a split second, she could see that the force field was a flat wall, separating her from Jade. But the force field looked familiar.
She picked a paperweight up off Sara’s desk and went heavy. Then she threw it as hard as she could. She aimed over everyone’s head, just in case, because she was throwing the paperweight with enough force to put it through a wall. It hit the force field and stopped dead. The field flared into a bright green fractal in a huge circle around the impact. The paperweight bounced back a bit, and dropped to the floor.
“Hey, that’s Nikki’s force field!” she exclaimed. She - and a lot of the school - had seen that force field the night the Yama Dojo dorks had attacked. But only a few Kimbas had been close enough to see that pattern glowing in the field.
Nikki just smiled smugly.
Jade grinned, “Yeah, Nikki does a spell to build the force field. Then I animate Shielder and move it up to where the force field is going to be. So it looks like Shielder is an autonomous robot that can generate a force field.”
Toni butted in, “But I want to know where Shielder came from. It looked like it popped up from a completely flat circle inside that folder.”
Billie stared at her, “Chaka, how the heck did you get that? All I saw was the folder flying open and the ball just popping out.”
Toni shrugged, “I figured out how to supercharge my ki so I could temporarily speed up my reactions and my perceptions. Well, more than usual. I was thinking about trying to catch speedsters, or maybe Ito Soke. But I used it when Jade put that folder down, so I had a better view.”
“Your own personal slo-mo camera. Cool, I wish I could do that,” said Rip. Toni gave her a grin, but she knew Rip wasn’t serious. Rip had asked before, and had been really disgusted to hear that she’d have to do a couple years of martial arts stuff with Toni before she might be ready to begin learning even one of those cool ki tricks.
Jade grinned, “Shielder can stand by itself on those four disguised pipe cleaners, since it only sounds like it’s heavy. So I can charge Jann into it, have it walk to its place and set up, and then I can get the charge back to use on other things.” She leaned over and picked it up by one antenna. Then she tossed it to Toni.
It didn’t move right. It sort of floated like a balloon, instead of moving like a metal ball ought to. Someone said, “Is Jinn in there?”
Toni caught it, and found that it weighed almost nothing. “Oh! I get it!” She held it between her hands and suddenly flexed slightly. The ‘sphere’ folded up like an accordion, then popped back out when she released it.
Bunny finally had to explain. “It’s a classic kid’s magic trick. My dad - he does special effects for Vegas acts - he gave me my first magic set when I was six. This is one of the tricks you’ve probably seen regular magicians do. It’s the appearing and vanishing bowling ball. That’s what this is. A magician’s fake bowling ball, spray-painted to look metallic, with pipe cleaner legs and wire antennas and one of Jann’s voice disks to make the landing noise and the voice. It’s even a lot lighter than the original version, since it doesn’t need a fake plate inside to make the noise when the magician ‘accidentally’ drops it.”
Toni squeezed it inward and let it pop back out. Everyone could spot the big spring inside, popping the material back into a ball-shape.
Jade said, “So it’s completely flat to start with. No bulk, and it only weighs about three ounces total now. Perfect for tucking into my backpack, or even in the back of my devisor gear.” She frowned, “But it’s only effective if I’ve got Nikki around to do her spell too.”
Hank grinned, “Confusion to the enemy! It’s gonna look like you have a thirty-pound robot force field generator. They’re not going to catch on that it’s Nikki providing the field. So everyone will think it’s a devise.” In his best - or worst, depending on your point of view - Montgomery Burns voice, he said, “Eggggg-cellent!”
Nikki just rolled her eyes.
Sara, in a perfect Homer Simpson voice, added, “Doh!”
Toni chipped in, using her best Bart Simpson voice, “I will not put purple dye on The Don’s toilet seat any more. I will not put purple dye on The Don’s toilet seat any more. I will not…”
Ayla cut across her, “So you have the sound filters for Doc G’s brain-mooshing sonics. You have the force field surprise. Anything else new?”
Jade grinned, “I thought you’d never ask!” She touched her right hairclip, and her holographic eyepiece appeared. Then she pointed her right arm at Ayla, made a fist with her right hand, and slapped her right forearm bracer with her left hand.
Ayla blinked as a full-sized blaster snapped up out of the bracer. The thing looked like it was a barrel shape, six inches long and two inches at its thickest, pointing straight at her. It seemed to be mounted on some sort of spring-loaded mechanical thing. She flinched as a bright red laser beam erupted out of the end of the blaster and hit her right in between her breasts.
Nothing happened, although Ayla did feel a warm spot forming under the laser dot.
Jade explained, “It’s mostly a hologram. (Thanks, Bunny.) The rest is a teeny battery-powered laser that won’t do much. Yet. It only has enough power to warm up a spot the size of a dime. It’s harmless, unless I shine it right in someone’s eye or something. I power the battery and aim the laser using Jann. However, with a little help from Nikki, again…”
She pointed the laser at Tennyo, and there was a sudden flash of white smoke. The smoke cleared quickly, revealing a five-foot-tall chicken standing where Billie had been.
“The chicken gun!” Hank suddenly fell over laughing.
Nikki grinned, “I figured at least one of you video gamers would get the joke.”
The illusion faded, and Tennyo was left standing there looking puzzled. “What happened? I didn’t see anything!”
“She turned you into a newt!”
“She gawt bettah!”
Tennyo shrugged, while the Monty Python fans rolled on the floor in hysterics. She gave Nikki a glare and asked, “Well?”
Nikki grinned, “I cast a little illusion on you, and everyone except you saw a burst of smoke, and then a five-foot chicken standing where you are.”
Tennyo sniffed a few times. “I guess the smoke was an illusion too. I don’t smell anything.”
Ayla interrupted, “Don’t tell me you’re going to pretend to turn someone into a chicken tomorrow night. We need to take these jerks seriously.”
Nikki shook her head no. “That’s just an example of what we can do. Jade and I have worked out what we’re going to do. It’ll be good. I promise.”
Toni smirked, “And no hobgoblins?”
Nikki smirked back, “I can’t promise that. Besides, hobgoblins might be a good battle tactic against a larger force.”
Hank added, “They ought to be pretty effective in the simulations too. Keep working on that for future.”
Ayla complained, “If we could get back to the present for a few minutes, we have an arena match tomorrow!” She looked back at Jade. “Any more tricks to show us?”
Jade shook her head no. “Nothing new, anyway. I’ve got the grappling hook and the missiles and the Kitty Compact, and we’ll throw Shroud at them as a devise. Toni didn’t say anything about no Jinn, right?”
“Right,” Ayla replied. “Who’s next?”
Lily spoke up, “Bunny and I went over the arena layout. There are holographic generators, but they’re Mark VII’s instead of the modern stuff in Arena ‘99. Still, there are power sources for them running through the walls and under the floor. The wall power may not be accessible, because of the protective force fields around the arena, but Nikki ought to be able to tap into the electricity running under the floor. Everyone thinks of her as a ‘nature’ mage, but electricity is as natural as lightning. It might help if we could get access to the arena floor and map out where the power cables run.”
Ayla nodded. “Okay, we have the strategy and tactics Hank and Toni worked out for The Turks. But I figure they’ll cheat. Who has any ideas on how they’re most likely to try cheating?”
Billie raised her hand. “Can I skip out on the next part? I have a ton of studying to do for my math exam. I reeeeeelly don’t want to have to take this course again.”
Ayla rolled her eyes. “Fine. Go on.” She looked around the rest of the room and asked, “Does anyone else have to leave? Potty break? Emergency invasion of Elvis impersonators from outer space?”
“Well, now that you mention it…”
“Hey, now I have to use the bathroom! Thanks a bunch!”
“I do have a lot of stuff to review for Monday…”
Soon, there was no one left in the room, except Ayla, Hank, Sara, and Toni. Hank murmured to Ayla as they re-arranged themselves in the now-emptier room, “Hey, nice meeting handling there. I’ll remember that if I ever want to make most of a room get up and run out.”
Ayla quietly growled something that sounded like “real funny - don’t quit your day job”.
Before things got tense, Sara jumped in. “I think they have several sound options for serious cheating. First, they can hit one of our challengers before the match. That’s easy enough to avoid, if we just put bodyguards on our competitors for the rest of the weekend. Second, they can get someone to attack on the astral plane during the match. But I have someone who can guard against that. Third, they can…”
At the Turks table, dinner was.. uncomfortable. Shadowolf tried to appear unconcerned, but Gwen was visibly unhappy, and Barb was too tense to talk. Which was really unusual. He wished he knew what was going on. He hoped the demon-girl hadn’t threatened them too. Accelerator was sitting with them for a few moments, but he was so nervous that he was just a blur as he ate. Shadowolf tried not to look over at the Kimba table. The crowd there was cheerfully gabbing about something or other. Was Fey talking about shopping for clothes? That’s what it sounded like. Why were they so unconcerned?
He never noticed as a piece of grit flew along the floor from the Kimba table to his table.
After dinner, Shadowolf walked with Sweetheart to the agreed-upon meeting room, while Bombshell backtracked to make sure no one was following them. He figured that Gwen could spot a psi eavesdropper, but they didn’t have any real protection against magical snooping, or eavesdropping gadgets. He didn’t like that. He’d have to ask Doc to build something, and he knew there was a good chance that as soon as the challenge ended, The Don’s lackeys would tell him to ditch Doc Goodvibes and Grenadier and Behemoth again. He didn’t like that. It wasn’t that he liked the three dorks, but he didn’t believe that you could create a solid power base without a slew of lackeys at the bottom of the pyramid. It was pretty clear that The Don operated that way.
He waited at the head of the table until everyone was there.
Bombshell came in last, carrying a small octagonal box. She set it down in the middle of the table and explained, “Glissade gave this to me for our meeting. Apparently, The Don doesn’t want any slip-ups. One of Hekate’s finger-wigglers spelled this up for us. I just set it on the table, and open it…”
She lifted off the lid, and a faint blue bubble expanded out of the box, past the eight people around the table, until it grew past the edges of the room.
“This is supposed to be good for at least four hours, and it’ll block any magical or psychic eavesdropping. It ought to block any devises and gadgets too. The only problem is we can’t move the box, and we can’t re-use the thing. It’s a one-shot deal.”
Shadowolf said, “Thanks, Bombshell.” He looked around the room. “I want to offer a special thanks to Doctor Goodvibes, Behemoth, and Grenadier. You’re being real stand-up guys to come back for this, after The Don made us drop you. But this is our chance to show The Don and all the top Alphas what you’re really made of. If we make a good showing tomorrow, it’ll be way harder for them to tell us who can be in The Turks and who can’t.”
He looked around the room. Behemoth was nodding happily. Grenadier was pushing his oily hair out of his face and thinking it over. Doc Goodvibes was frowning, as if in deep thought. He went on, “We don’t know how they figured it was us, when campus security couldn’t. But if they know it was us, they have to know what we can do.”
Bombshell put in, “And it’s not like all our MIDs weren’t up for everyone to see this week.”
Sherman nodded to her. “That may be how they figured it out. No one else has. But if they know what we can do, they’ll do what they can to counter us. Let’s go around the table and see if anyone has suggestions for their own personal tactics.”
Accelerator spoke up, carefully trying to speak slower so that everyone else could understand him. “The little devisor has some sort of tangle-web shots in that gun of hers. I watched her against Electrode. One of those shots wrapped up an entire pickup truck, and the kid was lucky she got out of its way. That’s probably what they’ll use against me. But I’ve been practicing a lot of stop-start moves and dodging maneuvers in Powers Lab. So I figure I go for the elf first, with a couple fast dodges. I’ve got a blackjack now, and at a hundred miles an hour, that elf will be out cold before she can blink. Then I zigzag my way over to the kid before she can hit me with one of her tangle-web shots. And maybe I can shoot one of the Jackie Chan wannabe’s with the kid’s gun before I whack the other one with the blackjack.”
Shadowolf grinned, “Good thinking. If we win the fight in half a second, they’ll look like the biggest fools in New Hampshire. Swoop?”
Swoop already knew what Sherman wanted her to say, so she played along. “I think I need to back up Accelerator. He’s the fastest on the team, so he’ll get in the first shot at Fey, but we have to make sure she’s down for the count. So I’ll target her and put her down, just in case Accelerator only stunned her, or she’s got some regen ability, or something. Then I’ll go where I’m needed. Maybe Bladedancer. She took out Nex, so she’s pretty tough for a norm.”
Shadowolf nodded, “That sounds good, too. Bombshell?”
Barb said what she knew she was supposed to say. She didn’t like playing second banana, but Shadowolf was supposed to be the boss of the team. And she did want the Alphas to be happy with the match outcome. “We have to put Chaka down. Hard. That’s an order from on high. So I target her first. She’s fast and tricky, so Behemoth and I ought to double-team her. She can’t get away from both of us at the same time. And if there’s two of us tackling her from both sides, well, sometimes people get hurt in these arena matches. And maybe, once Chaka is down, Behemoth might ‘accidentally’ stumble and step on her.”
Shadowolf nodded, “Excellent. Behemoth, is that okay with you?” The pudgy boy gave a nod. So Shadowolf added, “Good. I’ll provide support for you two. Chaka’s fast, and tricky. But if she can’t see what’s coming, she won’t be able to dodge you.” He turned to Grenadier and said, “If we’re making concerted efforts at Fey and Chaka, what do you propose?”
Grenadier took a breath and said, “I won’t be able to lay out mines, like last time. I asked around, and there’s pretty tight security on the arenas to prevent cheating ahead of time. But I can create a bunch of plasma bombs and hold ‘em until I’m ready to throw ‘em. So I guess I could launch a dozen bombs at once, right onto the sword-waver, and then start bombing the crap out of the shrimp.”
Shadowolf nodded, “Good thinking. That works for me. Doc?”
Doctor Goodvibes pinched the bridge of his nose, like he had a headache. “Everyone who saw my combat final saw me using a portable sound array. And Team Kimba has to know about it if they know who hit them before. Hell, Bugs hangs out with them all the time, and she’s in a couple of my classes, so she has to have told them about my stuff. Half the devisors on campus are walking around wearing sonic filters full-time since Halloween, so we have to figure Team Kimba will at least be doing that. So I’ve got something else I’ve been working on that I can throw at ‘em. It’s an array of lightbars and speakers that puts out several blinding pulses of light and sequenced subsonics that integrate with the light flashes to daze an attacker. For a group of four teammates spread around an arena that big, I’ll need my largest array. The only problem is it’s too heavy for me to carry. It’s over four hundred pounds, and…”
“I can carry that easily and put it in the arena for you,” said Bombshell.
“Hey, thanks!” Doctor G grinned at her. “Okay, that’s number one. Next, the kid, Generator, she’s got a good trick up her sleeve that she didn’t get to use in her combat final. It’s on her MID, and I’ve heard about it. Those twinky hairclips she wears? They’re a strobelight system that induces vertigo and probably nausea. I think I’ve figured out how it works, and I’ll have polarized contact lenses for all of us to wear tomorrow night to protect us from that.”
“Good. That’s very good,” Shadowolf said. “And last but not least, Sweetheart?”
Gwen said pretty much what Sherman had asked her to say. “I’m not a front-line fighter, but I have some psi skills. So I’ll hit Fey with a burst of emotions, and try to confuse her until she’s been put down. Then I’ll do the same to Chaka until she’s been hammered. After that, I’ll focus on Bladedancer until Behemoth and Bombshell can squash her.”
Shadowolf nodded, “Excellent, Gwen. That sounds good. They’ll be expecting Doctor Goodvibes to hit them with sonics, but a psychic attack that does the same thing will be completely unexpected.” He took a breath. “And speaking of unexpected, there is no reason to believe that they won’t cheat. So I think we need to think outside the box and do them one better. Any ideas?”
Doctor Goodvibes put his hand up. “Holograms. The arena has a Mark VII hologram system in place, even if we’re not going to be using it for the match. We can use that.”
Grenadier frowned, “How’s that gonna help? If a dragon just appears and flies at ‘em, they’ll know it’s a fake. They’re in a freaking holographic arena, right?”
Doctor Goodvibes nodded, “That’s why we don’t do something that stupid. These girls may be pains in the ass, but they’re not dumb. We use holograms of ourselves. They’ve got to be expecting Accelerator to sprint like mad right at them before they can blink, so they’ll have something ready. But if Accelerator appears to be over there…” He pointed at the far corner of the room. “…and really he’s right here…” he pointed at the seat next to him, “then they won’t know what’s happening. And if Behemoth is full-sized but he appears to be normal sized, they won’t be ready for him. There’s a ton of things we can do with the holographics that don’t do anything other than making us look different from how we are, and in different spots.”
Shadowolf stepped in, “Excellent plan, Doc. So let’s consider how we’ll set up our battle formation, and then how we’ll look using the holograms.”
Twenty minutes later, they wrapped up. Shadowolf thanked all of them for their time, and suggested that they all take roundabout routes back to their dorms so no one would know where they had been.
Shadowolf took Accelerator aside and made sure no one else could hear. “Look, I got that ‘clear’ from the Alphas for you. But you’ve got to lay off the drugs, or the Alphas may ask us to boot you. At least lay off until after the arena match, okay?” He got an unhappy nod from Accelerator before the guy zipped away down the hall.
As she left the room, Sweetheart never noticed the tiny piece of grit that suddenly fell off the shoulder of her jacket.
Jade blinked as Jamie came back to her. She scowled as her hand bumped the desk. Dang, that hurt! Her hand had completely regenerated, at least outwardly. But it was still a little sore in a couple spots. She knew Tennyo could have stepped in and taken out those two idiots in Dunwich, and she knew why Billie had insisted on Jade taking on those two goons. But her hand still hurt.
She charged up Billie’s Cabbit and sent it off to make a full report to Ayla.
A couple hours later, in the tunnels under Whateley, Ayla complained, “You do know they have security sensors down here. Right?”
Lily nodded, ignoring the sarcasm. “Of course. I’ve been working with Security. They’ve put several more kinds of sensors in since Halloween, and they’ve got a couple student devisors working on even more. But I have security clearance to be down here.”
Bunny added, “And I have clearance to be down here, since it’s near one of our Workshop auxiliary sites, and I’ve got special access since I made the reservation on the arena.”
Ayla shrugged, “Okay, okay. Let’s just get this done, so we can get back before curfew.”
Bunny led them to a corridor with a biometric hand scanner beside a heavy door. She put her palm on and waited for the scan to complete. Then she spoke, “Bugs. Authority oh-seven-five-three-two.” The door slid open.
Ayla smirked, “How ‘Incredibles’.” She dropped her voice down to a rasp, “‘Edna Mode.. and guest.” Then she slipped back to her normal sarcasm, “What, no laser weapons?”
Lily answered seriously, “It’s against campus rules. Just an alarm that goes off in Kane Hall. For more important areas, they have more sophisticated measures, but they tend to be non-lethal.”
Ayla muttered under her breath, “Thank you, Joe Friday.”
Bunny led them up a flight of stairs, and into a massively complex control booth for the arena. There was no direct access to the arena floor. She looked at Ayla and just pointed at the wall.
Ayla rolled her eyes and phased through the wall. At least the force field was off. That would really hurt if she tried to phase through it. She floated down to the arena floor and paced over to the spot Bunny had shown her on a map of the facility. Then she knelt down and carefully phased only her right arm through the floor. “Okay, she better be right. If I get electrocuted from this, I’m gonna come back from the grave and haunt her.”
It had taken months of practice to be able to reach through objects and differentiate materials. Stealing the panties off Jade was just one practical use for the skill. This was another. She found the cable, and made sure not to phase through it. Every time she thought about getting hit with one of Skybolt’s lightning bolts, she cringed. Getting hit with a few thousand watts of power would be a lot worse. She felt along the floor and followed the cable as it led to four different sets of hologram generators. Bunny could probably tell her why there were four instead of three or five or whatever, but she wasn’t in the mood for a two-hour lecture on the theory of hologram-ology, or whatever it was called. If Bunny said this was all the information they needed, she was good with that.
When she was done and Bunny gave her the thumbs-up, Ayla just walked across the large room and phased through the reinforced wall beside the security door. She met up with her two ‘partners in crime’, and they hustled back to the dorm. It didn’t pay to get on Mrs. Horton’s bad side, and being out past curfew without a reason would certainly do it.
Don Sebastiano watched Skybolt carry another load of laundry out the door and down to the laundry room on the first floor. It was so nice having hand-laundered clothes. He turned to his other faithful servant. “Report.”
Cavalier nodded. “Yes sir! The incident report from this morning has been filed with Security. Tennyo, Generator, and Fey walked into Dunwich this morning and encountered two low-level criminals. Podcast, a mediocre Warper who teleports bombs, and Blinder, a psi with a knack for forcing everyone within some radius to look in a particular direction. Generator intervened. She used the same tools we already saw. Her grapple, her handgun, and her missile launcher. After Podcast teleported her weapons off her arms and then blew her hand to pieces, Generator used martial arts to defeat him. She showed substantial pain resistance, as well as regenerative capabilities.”
“We already knew she was Regen 5 from her MID.”
“But if she can regenerate from that, then an attack on her is unlikely to have significant impact on her performance in tomorrow’s match.”
“Agreed, Cav. And so that leaves…”
“Bladedancer and Fey only,” Cavalier replied. “I have checked with two of our most reliable resources, and both refused the opportunity to take out Chaka. Apparently, both know Nex, and both are concerned that the girl is more than she has let on. According to Nex, the girl defeated him without using any of her known tricks, such as her kiai shout, and she showed a phenomenal ability as a chain fighter after only two weeks of working with one. Which should be impossible, even for an Exemplar 7 or a Paragon 6.. and she is neither. Plus, she apparently defeated Sahar. Whatever Sahar had planned was seemingly thwarted with little effort. Chaka apparently got Sahar to apologize to Zenith, and Chaka still seems to have Sahar working as her student under Ito’s supervision.”
The Don refused to show his consternation at that. But Sahar was dangerous. Anyone who could walk all over Freya deserved one’s respect. No one had gotten the better of Sahar. Not Freya, not Zenith, not Nex, not Dragonball, not Semiotic, no one. And this little nobody who wasn’t even supposed to have psychic powers did just that. There was something extremely dangerous about that little black bitch.
Cavalier added, “It appears that several months ago, Chaka had a fight with Mace, as well. As far as our sources can tell, she knocked him out with one blow. While she was dressed for a date with Thunderbird. How she defeated a Paragon like that is still unknown. And we have more intel now. It is extremely difficult to read many of the Hawthorne residents, but it appears she was the one who altered Doctor Heavy’s gravity field.”
The Don sat up at that. “What?”
Cavalier insisted, “Based on what some of the residents believe, it appears that Chaka somehow affected Doctor Heavy’s warping powers, when the entire scientific and magical staff there could not. I have a theory on how this could be.”
Sebastiano stared avidly. “Go on.”
“We know that she is taking an Introduction to Magic class with Fey and several other powerful mages, and is keeping up with the material. She currently has a grade in the upper quarter of the class, according to computer records. We also know that she was the first person on campus to recognize that Silver is actually producing mithril rather than ordinary silver. I suspect that she is a powerful mage. Given her performances in battle against Nex, Montana, and myself, I also suspect that she is a PDP. I infer from this that she has deceived the testers. She is using her psi gifts or her magical gifts to fake a gift with ki manipulation.”
Cavalier took a breath and continued, “Some of the research faculty are aware of a series of papers by a Professor Hiro Kyoji. He put forth what is known in the field of variant human genetics as the ‘Lethal Mutation’ theory. It holds that a large number of ki mutants have already arisen, but ki is so intimately tied with human biological processes that all ki mutants have died within three months of manifesting their powers. Therefore, Toni Chandler is not a ki mutant at all. She is only pretending to be limited to applications of ki.”
The Don clenched his fists in triumph. At last, he was getting a handle on that little negrita. When he found out what her real powers were, he was going to find a way to use that information to destroy her. He looked up. “So Cav, will she demonstrate any of her real abilities tomorrow night?”
“It is unlikely. She seems to be able to win battles using nothing more than the gifts she wishes to reveal. She may be using some sort of precog ability to recognize what she will face, and perhaps a gadgeteer power to figure out how to counter those attacks while showing only a limited set of abilities. If that is correct, then we may have no way to divine the scope or the limits on her powers. Perhaps we can get a diviner near enough to her to find out, if we are careful.”
“What else do we know?”
Cavalier paused for a moment. “It may be that some of the faculty have suspicions about her real abilities. You saw her combat final. She faced not one but three powerful opponents, in a disaster scenario, and won handily. Ito Sensei gave her a B grade for that. So he clearly expected much more from her. But I have been utterly unable to read him or Tolman Sensei, so I have not been able to find out what they know.. or suspect.”
Sebastiano got up and began pacing back and forth across the room. Cavalier gracefully moved out of his way. The Don wondered. Could Hekate’s strange reading be due to the Chandler bitch, and not Fey or Carmilla? If so, he would have to remember that all future scryings and divinations might be equally distorted. Could Chandler be playing some deep game, while pretending to be a mere martial arts nut? Could she be more of a threat than he already thought?
He would have to think this over. He might have to resort to off-campus resources. The Syndicate might be willing to take her out, given her threat potential and what she had already done to their Tiger Guards and Chessmen. The Children of the Night ought to be bearing a grudge against her too, if what Cavalier had been able to find out about the two Boston trips was correct. Perhaps someone could arrange to track her and undertake an assault at Christmas break, while she was away from Whateley. No one would ever be able to tie an assault like that to him or the other Alphas…
He look back at Cavalier. “Now tell me about the possibilities for an attack on Fey or Bladedancer.”
“Both are considered dangerous fighters if they are given warning. Fey was surprising against Mule, even though she lost. Bladedancer is not even a mutant, and she pummeled Nex. So neither can be taken lightly. The fundamental difficulty is going to be finding a location suitable for an attack by a sufficiently powered attacker. The Kimbas have been targeted before, and have made tactical adjustments to their schedules so that they seldom walk alone in areas that can be used for this. Furthermore, someone in Poe is bound to realize that protecting these four for a single day is tactically smart and hardly difficult.”
The Don nodded. “So let’s contact one of our resources, tell him that he can wait for an opening if it occurs, and see if one of the Kimbas makes herself a target of opportunity.”
Sunday, December 17
Jade woke up and immediately charged up Jinn. Tennyo was already up and out of the room, so Jinn made both beds first, then picked up dirty clothes and straightened the books and papers on both desks. By then, Jade was already wrapped in a towel and on her way to the showers.
At least, she would be safe going to and from the showers. It really bothered her that everyone thought she was the most likely target if The Turks tried cheating. It wasn’t like she was powerless. But everyone treated her like she really was eleven. Eleven and helpless. If she could just get her BIT to cooperate, she could blossom into the form Jinn got to walk around in. No one would treat her like a child if she looked like that.
Jade stepped out of the shower and began toweling off. She had a hard time keeping the smile off her face at the mere ability to dry herself with the other girls. Her body was closer to what she needed it to be, and just thinking about her new breasts was making her want to jump up and down with happiness. It looked like they were going to stay! The reset hadn’t happened yesterday, she still didn’t know why, but she still had her breasts. They weren’t C-cup beauties like Fey had, but they were real.
She had Jann-sensei keeping watch, so she saw Sharisha ‘Tempest’ Kincaid coming in the bathroom behind her. She took a deep breath and tried to center herself for what might happen. It had been nearly three weeks since Chou put Sharisha into the hospital, and the black girl had been avoiding most of TK since then. But it seemed inevitable that Sharisha would start up again on the changelings eventually. And it had seemed equally inevitable that Tempest would start in on Jade, since Jade was the ‘easy target’. Ugh.
Jann-sensei focused on the chunky black girl, and so Jade could see Sharisha’s emotions. The ugly mixture of colors showed a vivid red anger, as well as hatred and disgust, mixed with a boiling envy and what looked like a desperate despair. Whew. Well, envy and despair certainly explained a lot.
Jade raised her towel and began drying her hair with it. Then she deliberately turned to face Tempest. “Sharisha! Hi. I didn’t hear you come in. How are the ribs?”
Jade watched as Sharisha’s envy turned to a hasty fear. She tried again, even though she knew it was hopeless. “You know, Chou is really sorry. You just caught her on a super-bad day. She shouldn’t have done that.”
Vanessa, one of Tempest’s homegirls, took another look. “Hey Jade, you’re sprouting!”
Jade grinned, “Yeah, isn’t it great? They’re pretty small, but they’re a start, aren’t they?”
Sharisha sneered, “Why would some boy need breasts?”
Vanessa’s aura suddenly bloomed into anxiety and worry. It wasn’t full-grown fear, but it was serious. She hurried Sharisha off to the side as she rushed her words, “Come on Sharisha we gotta get going an’ I know you’ve got studying to do and so let’s get over there and get showered and get going…”
Jade mouthed a quick “thanks” at Vanessa. She doubted Vanessa was worried about Jade attacking her friend, but everyone in Poe knew Tennyo was protective of her roommate, and Sharisha’s broken ribs would be the least of her problems if she set Tennyo off. She wrapped the towel around her breasts - her breasts!! - and she rushed back to her room.
Jade charged up Jinn to go get in a couple hours of maintenance work. Then she dressed. Tennyo was already gone to breakfast. Some people needed more calories than others, although sometimes it seemed like Tennyo needed food by the ton. Jade had heard that some of the energizers and shifters could out-eat Billie, but that was hard to believe most days.
Jade came out of her room, and found a crowd waiting to walk with her to breakfast. Nikki and Toni were arguing about how they wanted to re-decorate their room after winter break. Hank was casually lounging against the wall watching them.
Jade looked at them, and knew why they were all ‘casually’ hanging around waiting for her. She insisted with all the force of an eleven-year-old, “I don’t need an armed escort to go to breakfast, you know!”
Toni just grinned, “Oh, we’re waiting for you to help guard the elf here. She’s a target too, you know.”
Nikki glared at her roomie, “I can defend myself, you know. Just because I got blindsided one stinking time by a ninja assassin. Aunghadhail won’t stop picking at me about it either, you know.”
They walked out to find that Jackie ‘Electrode’ Warwick and Hippolyta just happened to be lounging around the front door. Nikki snapped, “What, you couldn’t find Chou?”
Hip shrugged, “Tennyo went with her. I didn’t think Tennyo needed any help.”
Jade gave Nikki a ‘sisters together’ look, and Nikki shrugged, “Okay, lay on MacDuff. I’m hungry.”
Hank asked, “I thought it was ‘lead on MacDuff’?”
Nikki giggled, “Dude, you had better brush up on your Shakespeare. Your girlfriend knows all this stuff already.”
Hank thought it over. “You know, I think that’s a good idea. I’ll ask Lily to help me learn Shakespeare. She’ll probably need to tutor me or something, somewhere private…”
Electrode walked beside Jade and said, “You okay? No hard feelings about the combat finals?”
Jade smiled, “No hard feelings. I’ve been hurt worse.. since Friday!”
Electrode looked around cautiously and murmured, “Umm, yeah. I kind of figured rooming with Tennyo might need hazard pay.”
Jade fumed, “No, not Billie! She’d never hurt me. No, it was…” She decided that it wasn’t anything that could be kept secret at a place like Whateley. “It was those two supervillains in Dunwich yesterday morning. You heard about that?” Jackie nodded. “I ended up having to stop them before anyone got hurt. And I got hurt.”
“One of them blew my hand apart while he was trying to kill me.”
Jackie suddenly looked like her eyes were going to pop out of her head.
Jade shrugged, “Regen 5, remember? I heal up.”
Jackie let out a soft whistle. “And I was worried about being too rough on a kid.”
They all settled at their usual table, which was even more crowded than normal. Tennyo and Chou were already there, with Stormwolf and Mindbird just ‘accidentally’ sitting with them. Toni came into the hall right behind them, chatting away with Bobcat and Thunderfox. There wasn’t room at their table anymore, so Toni plopped down at the table behind Jade.
Jade turned to see Toni lean back so far that her chair lifted off its front legs. Then Toni leaned to the side so she could talk to Jade, and her chair lifted off one of its back legs. Toni casually balanced on the single chairleg as she murmured to Jade, “Get the feeling that everybody thinks there’s gonna be a sneak attack on one of us?
That was great. Just great. Well, as long as no one kept her from going back to Dunwich…
After breakfast, Tennyo accompanied Jade to Dunwich. She could tell that Jade was really looking forward to nursing little Alhaji again. That still weirded her out. Letting a baby do that? Wanting to have a baby? She figured that, despite their biological status, Jade was a lot more female than she was. Maybe there was still a lot of Bill Wilson left in her. Not that that was a bad thing. She had liked being Bill Wilson, and there were some things about Bill that she didn’t intend to lose. She kept an eye out for trouble, but she didn’t really think anyone would be stupid enough to attack Jade when Tennyo The Destroyer was right there.
As they walked, Jade picked up their discussion from breakfast. “But it would’ve been really funny to get Hank to come with us! Can you imagine his face when I start breast-feeding?” They laughed about it most of the way to Myrtle’s Diner.
Billie was still ftreaked out watching Jade nurse that little guy, but after yesterday she was doing a better job of concealing it. Hey, it was a matter of self-preservation! Jade would tease her mercilessly if Jade realized just how truly uncomfortable this was making her. And the things Jade had said about Regenerators’ blood and organs being biohazards made her feel almost nauseous. The thought of some of her cells loose in someone else’s body, transforming that person into another Tennyo, or something far worse… It just made her feel like some sort of thing. A danger to everything around her if she went off the deep end. Something as dangerous as Sara. She pushed that thought away and tried to concentrate on the conversation going on between Jade and Alhaji’s mother.
Jade just wanted to hold Alhaji and cuddle him. He was so beautiful and so vulnerable. So she managed to talk Tennyo into staying a while longer. She held the little bundle of joy until his mom finally needed to nurse him.
Myrtle finally came back and glared at them for taking up one of her booths and not buying a meal, at which point Billie’s stomach loudly reminded her about food, and they hurried back to Poe. They managed to get almost an hour of study - Jade got in almost four hours of study - before lunch.
Lunch was more of the same. Jade had Tennyo and Flux as escorts this time. She sat with them, while Chou and Toni went through the lunch line with Bobcat, and Nikki strolled in with Beltane and Mindbird. As they ate, Jade and Chou and Nikki and Toni all complained about being followed around all morning.
Mindbird sat with them and pretended to listen to their gripes. Some days it just didn’t pay to be the security forces. She had to concentrate on her shields, because the frustration radiating from all four of the Poesies was slowly giving her a headache.
“Chief Delarose? The headmistress can see you now.”
He smiled at the student worker - that kid James who kept being out after curfew. He placidly ignored the perpetual scowl on the face of Amelia Hartford and said to her, “Nice day, isn’t it, Amelia? I’ll just let myself in.” If anything, the scowl deepened. He knew she was more than upset about The Palm, and he knew more about her ‘unofficial’ activities at Whateley than she would believe, but he still thought she needed to lighten up before she gave herself a stroke or something.
Elizabeth Carson set down the anti-eavesdropping devise she had been using, and with a wave of a hand indicated for him to sit down in one of the armchairs. She chose to sit in another armchair, instead of behind her desk.
She smiled, “I’d offer you a cup of coffee, Frank, but I know what your doctor would say about that.”
He smiled, “I already had a mug of herbal tea. That’ll hold me.” He raised an eyebrow and asked, “You wanted to know about the arena match tonight?” She nodded regally. He said, “I got a report from Stormwolf. Apparently, the Kimbas heard what you said to them after the Breakfast Battle, and put the usual spin on it. They figured out who beat up Generator and Fey back in October, and they’re planning a little payback in the arena tonight.”
She asked, “The Turks were behind that sneak attack? Are they part of the Alpha hit squads now?”
He considered, “I don’t think so. They’re just freshmen. They probably figured that they could make Team Kimba look bad, and get on The Don’s good side. It looks like it even partly worked, for a while. We’re not going to interfere. Not if The Don is implicated as hired help in an international avatar-stealing operation. We need to let things play out, so we can find out who The Don’s contacts are. If Team Kimba just happens to kick Sebastiano’s can in the process, not a whole lot of people are going to complain.”
She wondered, “Do you really think they can win this match?”
He grinned a little, “Yeah, I do, ma’am. Even if we leave out Tennyo and Carmilla and Lancer, Team Kimba has some serious muscle on their side. That brawl against the Alphas showed that. What they did in Boston shows some real talent. They all showed real ability in their combat finals. And they’re lucky. At their age, you can’t beat pure luck for getting you out of a jam.”
He watched her expression. She’d had some pretty bad luck a few times in her life, just like he had. Having your only daughter die horribly of GSD, and then having your spouse blame you for it? That was about as unlucky as you could get. Maybe he shouldn’t have said what he did. Still, she was tough. As far as he was concerned, there was no one on the planet tougher than Lady Astarte.
She sighed a little, “Just keep an eye on the match, but don’t interfere. Charlie and Samantha have both told me that Team Kimba is showing tactical and strategic awareness, so we have to assume they planned all of this ahead of time.” She adjusted her skirt unnecessarily. “It’s probably my fault, too. I told them they needed to think more about this than about their wardrobes.”
Frank snorted as he tried not to laugh.
After Delarose left and closed the door behind him, the headmistress slowly rose and walked to a picture on her bookcase. She sighed, “I couldn’t save you, Harry. I couldn’t save Ted, either. Or the Thorsons, or Pauline, or Bryan, or…” The list was too long to walk through. In over forty years of superheroing, she had seen far too much death and destruction. She whispered, “I promise to keep trying. That’s what you always said, right? If I can’t protect these kids, who can?” She ran a gentle fingertip over the face of Harry Holbrook, the first Champion, and tried to keep the tears at bay.
Jericho carefully walked to Outcast Corner with his slightly under-sized dinner. He could see where he was going, but it was so much more fun tapping along and watching people over-react when the ‘blind kid’ went by. He didn’t like not getting enough to eat, but he was already ‘that blind geek’. He really didn’t want to go back to being the fat kid too. Razor had really kicked his ass in the exercise room this morning, so he knew that Razor and Diamond would be all over his case if he wasn’t eating enough. He sat down and tried not to look at the mountain of meat on Razor’s plate.
Razor signed at him, ~I thought I told you that you needed to eat more. You get cranky when you’re starving.~
Jericho lied, “Hey, I pigged out at lunch, I’m not that hungry. A chef’s salad is plenty for me.” Behind him, he saw the crowd walking through the Crystal Hall doorway, well before he heard the laughing and chatter. Even in shades of gray, there was no mistaking who it was.
He complained, “Well, if it isn’t the hot-shit Team Kimba again, back to being the centers of attention. Again. You think they’re getting a jones for it?”
Razor signed, ~Leave F-E-Y out of this. She’s all right.~
Diamondback grinned, “Razor’s got a giiiiirlfriend, Razor’s got a giiiiiiirlfriend…”
Razor glared at her and signed, ~You know about her and the Weres and the other things. She is a lot more dangerous than she looks. If she really cuts loose full power on The Turks, they will be picking up body parts for a week.~
Jericho signed back, ~If you say so.~
He didn’t say what he was really thinking. He didn’t really need to, since Razor and Diamond knew as much about Team Kimba and the Voodoo-wolves as he did. He was in Basic Martial Arts with Generator and Chaka and Bladedancer. Chaka and Bladedancer were hot shit on a sparring mat, and he’d seen what they could do to a horde of Voodoo-wolves. But sparring wasn’t an arena match. They were going to be in big trouble against a brick and a speedster and a giant. He knew what Fey could do, but still, she usually needed time and distance from her targets.. and an asshat like Accelerator was never going to give her that.
After dinner, they hurried back to Poe to get dressed for the match. Jade was already wearing her cargo pants and ‘devisor’ top, so she only needed to slip on her fisherman’s vest and then put on the backpack. It was the size of a schoolbag. She buckled it into place. Jinn had carefully packed everything into the bag while Jade ate.
Jade stepped into the hall. Chou was already there, which wasn’t surprising. Chou had been wearing a blue mandarin top and yoga pants, as usual - that girl desperately needed some different clothes - so all Chou had needed to do was to slip into her Robe of Midnight and sling Destiny’s Wave over her shoulder.
Toni popped out of her room, already changed. She was wearing a solid black karate gi. She would have liked some ultra-cool leopard spots across it. But when they’d tried the idea out on Jade’s costuming class templates, the results just looked like Toni had been in a food fight instead. She had to work on that. Toni said, “Nikki’s not ready yet. Give her a minute.”
Jade asked her, “How did you get changed so fast?”
Toni just gave her the usual leopard grin (patent pending) and boomed, “THE GREAT AND ALL-POWERFUL CHAKA CAN DO ANYTHING!”
Ayla walked up. “How ‘Wizard of Oz’. Got any ruby slippers to go with that?”
Nikki stepped out of her room in her sexiest school uniform.
Hank choked, “Nikki! What were you thinking?”
Toni cut him off, “Hey big guy, she’s not gonna fight in that. Didn’t you see her do the big ‘magical costume transformation’ bit in her combat final?”
By the rapt expression on Hank’s face, he most certainly had, and was thinking ‘guy’ thoughts about it too.
“You better hope Lily doesn’t see you looking like that around Nikki.”
They walked to the arena with most of Poe around them cheering them on. Not that Sharisha and her cronies would ever be in that group, but most of Poe was there. Hank and Tennyo were flying overwatch, and Nikki had some sort of defensive spell active, making the whole group glow an interesting pale blue in the darkness.
They trooped through the corridors to the competitors’ entrances for Arena ‘91. The four fighters entered through the door with the LCD sign reading “TEAM KIMBA COMPETITORS ONLY”. A short, barren hallway led to an entry door which matched an opening in the force fields around the arena.
From their viewpoint in the doorway, they could see the arena ‘playing area’ as laid out for this fight. It was a simple arrangement, as bare as a sparring mat. A slightly-padded floor in an off-white covered the entire field, with a single black line cutting across at the halfway point, splitting the field into Turks and Kimba halves. The Turks were already in place in their half of the arena, just yards short of the line. As was expected.
Nikki went first, marching across the arena to take her place two yards short of the line. She stood exactly where Bunny had told her to, and she could feel the thrumming power directly beneath her feet. She cast a spell, and her school uniform instantly transformed into what looked like a full bodysuit in fall colors, hidden under a sectioned mithril breastplate and cuirass, with mithril-looking pteriges covering her groin, bracers on her forearms, and greaves on her legs. She drew on the power beneath her and began building the force field they were going to need.
Jade went next, taking position thirty feet to Nikki’s right. She stood there in her devisor gear, and adjusted the straps on her backpack.
Chou stepped into position thirty feet behind Nikki, Destiny’s Wave at the ready on her back.
Toni strolled confidently into position last, thirty feet behind Jade and thirty feet to Chou’s right. They formed a simple square, ten yards on a side. She knew they needed at least that much space in order to fight, but she still felt the urge to move closer to Jade and Nikki to guard them. She was just going to have to trust them to do their jobs. After all, she and Hank had designed their tactics with this in mind.
Toni watched as the referee walked out and took up her position off to Toni’s left, right on the line. It was Sensei Tolman. That was good. Sensei was tough, but very fair. Tolman was standing far enough to Fey’s left that the ‘force field’ wouldn’t hit her. That was even better.
Across the line from them stood The Turks. Accelerator stood cockily only a few yards to Jade’s right. Swoop stood proudly before Nikki. Behemoth, in his normal nebbish boy form, stood outside of Accelerator, looking harmless. Doctor Goodvibes stood halfway between Nikki and Jade, wearing a white armored body that looked like a Star Wars soldier with a hundred speakers welded to his armor. Behind the Doc stood Grenadier, holding what looked like a chubby rocket launcher on his shoulder. Behind Swoop was Bombshell, unmoving with her arms crossed. Behind Behemoth was Shadowolf. Finally, standing between Shadowolf and Grenadier, was Sweetheart, who looked nervous.
Toni noticed right away. Some of their opponents had no ki, or at least heavily-masked ki. She spoke using her comm system, “Holograms, dead ahead. Nikki, power up enough to knock out the hologram generators.” She’d been practicing speaking over the comm system without talking aloud, but it still made her throat get scratchy.
The speakers blared, “Team Kimba, challenging The Turks. Match will begin in sixty seconds…” The LCD timers on the walls began showing a large red ‘60’, which began clicking its way down toward zero.
Grenadier swiped his greasy hair out of his face and sneered, “You girls look overmatched. Four of you, against eight of us? It’s not too late to call it off. Pussies.”
Jade knew what to do. She just hadn’t expected this perfect of an opportunity. She grinned, “In that case, let me even up the odds a bit.” She paused and called out, “SHROUD DEPLOY! KITTY COMPACT LAUNCH! SHIELDER OPERATE!”
And her small backpack seemed to explode. A whirl of gray fabric and chains erupted out, and re-formed into the familiar form of Shroud, just as she had appeared a few days earlier when she fought Tisiphone. A small pink hockey puck launched itself straight up from one of the front pockets of Jade’s cargo vest. And a one-foot-diameter metal sphere popped out of the backpack to fall to the floor with a loud, metallic THONK that rang across the arena. The sphere picked itself up on four thin legs and marched forward to the line. Its antennae vibrated in weird patterns for several seconds before taking position. The thing announced in a robotic voice, “Shielder operational.” And it froze.
Jade smiled wickedly, “I think we’re nearly up to eight now.” Shroud, cape billowing and chains writhing like snakes, took up a position at Jade’s right side.
Suddenly light and texture in the arena began fluctuating.
The holographic imagers went off-line as Nikki siphoned more and more power from the underfloor cable, until the holograms around the arena vanished.
“Oh shit,” swore Doctor Goodvibes, as the hologram faded from around him, revealing a nerdy freshman boy with no armor, standing behind four hundred pounds of sonic arrays and lightbars and batteries.
With the holograms gone, the real arrangement of the Turks became obvious. Accelerator was in a sprinter’s crouch, on Nikki’s left. Swoop had already manifested her wings, and was preparing to soar into the air. Bombshell was over where Accelerator had seemed to be, several yards to Jade’s right. Behemoth was in the same spot as before, but fully grown to his maximum of twenty-five feet high. Grenadier didn’t have a launcher, but he did have half a dozen glowing plasma spheres floating above his hands. Shadowolf and Sweetheart were the only two who hadn’t been masked by the holograms.
Toni looked at The Turks and managed not to smile. Hank had been right. The strategy mattered more than the tactics. Having the right intel beforehand made it so much better. She studied her opponents. It was obvious from their ki that Behemoth, Bombshell, and Shadowolf were focusing on her. Good. She subvocalized, “Aaaand we’re a go. Set as planned. Jinn, you’ve got Behemoth on your way to Shadowolf.”
Jinn began spinning her arms in her ‘whirling arms of death’ maneuver.
Chou pulled Destiny’s Wave from its sheath and concentrated.
Jade moved into a gunfighter’s stance.
Toni took a deep breath, pulling ki up from the earth into her lungs. She didn’t think she’d need a kiai shout or the ki voice effect, but she wanted to be ready. If everything went right, she wouldn’t need either. If things went wrong, she was going to need everything she had to stop a giant and a brick and a speedster.
The buzzer blared, and Accelerator was off. He was up to at least 70 miles per hour before he reached the line. He put his hand into his jacket for his blackjack.
And he ran facefirst into an invisible wall of force that tossed him backward. He had a split second to see the flare of a deep green pattern that looked to him like a thousand ferns, all stuck together in a bizarre design. Then he hit the (fortunately padded) floor just before Swoop flew over him.
Swoop was lucky to see the force field flare as Accelerator hit it. She flew upward, hoping to fly over the top of it. She didn’t think that little metal ball could keep a force field like that up for more than a few seconds. She soared over the top of the field, and found a small pink thing hovering on a tiny rocket. She focused on the thing with her eagle-like sight. Good lord, was that really a Hello Kitty compact? Was that supposed to be a threat? A Hello Kitty makeup compact that flies? What did it do: ruin your foundation?
Then knives popped out on opposite sides of the compact, and the thing began spinning insanely. It tilted suddenly and moved straight at her, the blades whirling so fast that even her superior vision couldn’t track them. She veered to the right in a quick banking turn, planning to sweep up behind it and rip it apart with her talons before she went after the elf-girl.
She moved in on the thing, and it reacted as if it were alive. Alive and smart. Great Spirits, she hadn’t expected that! She swiftly dodged as the weapon juked around her. She didn’t want to use her wings or her talons against those whirling blades, but she could do something else too. She fired a blast of ectoplasmic feathers at the thing, hoping to knock it out of the air…
Bombshell ran straight for Chaka, who seemed to be strolling casually toward her. Didn’t the stupid little jerk realize the trouble she was in?
Behemoth moved toward Chaka too, but in his largest form, he was slow. He stomped toward the girl, knowing that Bombshell would get there way before he did. Still, at his size, one step was maybe five yards.
Doctor Goodvibes touched the keys on his LCD control panel, and fired off his array of lights and sonics. For a moment, he thought his system had exploded. The unbearable brightness and the pounding sound.beat on him mercilessly. Then he heard Grenadier cursing behind him, and he knew. The force field had reflected his attack as easily as it had stopped Accelerator. His next planned movement didn’t matter. He couldn’t read his LCD control panel for the flickering spots before his eyes.
Grenadier froze. He was about to launch his cluster of plasma bombs at the chick with the sword, when that dumbass Hochauser blinded him. He squeezed his eyes shut and held his fire, waiting until he could see again before trying to fire off his bombs. Then it dawned on him. He couldn’t throw them anyway. That force field would flick the bombs right back at him. Damnit!
Accelerator hit the floor hard. If the floor hadn’t been padded, he would be hurting pretty bad now. But he was training to take impacts at speed. He rolled over onto his hands and knees, and prepared to sprint around the force field to take out the redhead. He looked at her, and saw she was smiling. She was waving her hand through the air and saying something… And he realized she had already done a spell on him. Because he was floating straight up. He was three feet above the floor, and still rising. He scrambled frantically, but it did no good. He clawed helplessly at the air, but he still rose. He tried swimming down through the air at superspeed, but he just kept rising.
Shadowolf watched as Bombshell sprinted past the edge of that force field, right at Chaka. Behemoth lumbered toward the martial artist at a different angle, moving slower but still closing. Shadowolf was about to attack Chaka and blind her with one of his shadows, when he saw Shroud moving at high speed right for him. He hadn’t expected Shroud, and he didn’t know if his shadow powers would have much effect on a dead girl. But she had come out of Generator’s pack. So was she really a devise? Shroud didn’t pause, but a string of loud noises came from those spinning arms.
CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!
He realized that what looked like four huge spikes were now flying off to the side. Oh God, they were heading for Behemoth! One of the spikes zinged past Behemoth to smash into the force field off to the side, but the other three spikes punched right into that gigantic foot.
Behemoth screamed as something like nails jabbed into his massive right foot, just as he was stepping onto it. The pain was too much. He couldn’t stand on that foot! He fell forward, trying to grab his foot instead of trying to catch himself with his hands.
Bombshell moved to face Chaka, who looked anything but prepared for a fight. In fact, the little bitch actually grinned as Bombshell took a swift jab at her chin.
Her fist hit nothing but air. The girl moved so fast she was like a blur. One moment, Chaka was standing before her, and the next, Chaka was sliding past the blow, turning behind Bombshell…
It wasn’t until Bombshell was flying through the air that she realized Chaka had just used some sort of judo throw on her. But Bombshell wasn’t a PK ‘supergirl’ for nothing. She caught herself three feet above the floor and turned in the air to face Chaka. Chaka was moving backward, and grinning, the little bitch. Bombshell snarled, “You are sooooo dead, you litt..GAAAA…”
Maybe if she had noticed the huge shadow looming over her, instead of focusing on Chaka, she would have realized that she was right in Behemoth’s path. He landed on top of her with a loud whump, smashing her to the (fortunately padded) floor. Bombshell could lift nearly five tons with her PK field. It turned out that at maximum size, Behemoth weighed a lot more than that.
“…AAAmmmppph.” Her yell was cut off embarrassingly, as Behemoth’s weight smashed her face-first to the floor.
Swoop watched as the little pink weapon easily dodged her feathers. When she fired her feather-blast like that, she produced a spray of feather-shaped ectoplasmic forms that were as solid as stone. But if she couldn’t hit the little thing, her best medium-range attack was useless. It dove at her again. She arched desperately and made another quick, banking turn. She was faster than the pink weapon, but it was herding her away from the fight. And she couldn’t shake the little pink thing. The thing was spinning those blades like it wanted to disembowel her, and it was all she could do to keep away from it. The thing was chasing her toward the outer edges of the arena. She had to be careful. If she ran into the force fields surrounding the arena, she’d be easy prey for that thing. She swooped downward suddenly and tried to arch back upward to circle behind the robot, but it darted to the side instead of following her, and as she followed through, it made a sudden deadly move toward her face.
Sweetheart tried affecting Fey’s emotions, pushing confusion and fear at the redhead. But nothing happened. Fey made a gesture like she was swatting a fly, and Sweetheart felt the feedback that told her the faerie girl had shielded herself. That was bad. With Accelerator still floating upward, and Swoop flying crazily all over the place, no one was stopping Fey from doing her worst.
Doctor Goodvibes was still blinking the flashing spots out of his eyes and trying to activate his next light-and-sound attack when he realized the little devisor girl was pointing her arm at him. He looked up and saw she had some sort of square eyepiece over her right eye. Some kind of blaster popped up from her right arm, and a narrow red beam fired from it, playing across the front of his lightbar array. He didn’t see the faerie girl look at his equipment and utter a few words of power.
Suddenly the gauges on his control panel went insane, and every one of the lightbars exploded, knocking him onto his back.
Behemoth was lying on his stomach, gasping at the pain in his foot. He wasn’t sure, but he might have fallen on someone too. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Chaka. No, the martial artist was right in front of him. She shook her head and said, “Sorry about this.” Then she struck at him with a double-fisted punch. She hit him just below his collarbone on his right side, maybe halfway between his neck and shoulder. It didn’t hurt that much, but suddenly he felt his whole body seize up. He couldn’t move a muscle. What the heck had Chaka done to him? He was paralyzed!
Shadowolf watched in shock as Chaka threw Bombshell right into the path of Behemoth, and danced back out of the way. That had to be deliberate. Behemoth smashed Bombshell to the floor. Even though Bombshell was a PK supergirl, Shadowolf still winced in sympathy. But he didn’t have time to go to her aid. Shroud was closing fast. He threw up a shadow to hide himself, and he moved to the side to attack her as she blundered forward.
But she didn’t blunder forward. She turned and moved straight for him. What the…
He just barely had time to pull up his shadow armor before those whirling arms hit him. He blocked with an armblock, but before he could blink, another whirling arm caught him in the ribs hard enough to smash through his shadow armor and send him flying.
Shroud was hovering over him before he could get to his feet. In a voice that sounded as cold as the grave, she growled, “Your powers are useless against the dead!”
He stared at her white face and lashed out in desperation. He formed his shadow-claws in mid-air and ripped her face apart.
Nothing happened. His claws simply passed through her chalk-white skin as if it had no real substance. She didn’t even try to block his attack. It was as if his best threat was meaningless to her.
She lashed out with those whirling arms and battered him, until his shadow armor gave way and one fist hit him in the neck like a crowbar, knocking him unconscious.
Grenadier stepped back as Doc’s lightshow stuff exploded like a bomb. Normally, he liked bombs. But not this time. He looked back at the little devisor pipsqueak, and saw the blaster fold back into the brace. Oh, a one-shot power source. Good. She was going to be his target, instead of the sword-chick. He started to throw his plasma bombs at the kid, and realized he was too slow. Three miniature missiles had just launched from the kid’s bracer, and were headed right for him. He tried to dive out of the way, but the missiles curved after him. How the hell did she build smart missiles that tiny? The first hit him in the stomach, blasting him ten feet toward Sweetheart. The second went off in his face. The sudden burning pain told him it was tear gas. He didn’t see the third one. He couldn’t see anything.
A split second before the plasma bombs hit the ground, he realized that he had lost control of them. They rained down around him and exploded, blasting him painfully up into the air. He was gonna kill that little snot when he could stand up again. And breathe. And see.
Sweetheart watched in horror as Doctor Goodvibes’ stuff blew up, then the devisor kid fired missiles at Grenadier. One actually blew Grenadier into the air, and the second exploded right in his face! His plasma bombs went off all around him, blowing him into the air again. She managed to use her PK to catch him and lower him to the floor.
She knew she wasn’t ready for this. She wasn’t a fighter!
She watched in fear as the girl’s third missile suddenly arched up and aimed right at her! She nearly screamed. She pushed with all of her telekinesis, and the missile stopped in mid-air, not three feet from her face. It made a little ‘pop’ noise and fell apart. She nearly collapsed in relief. She never realized that its sedative gas payload had been released right in her face.
She felt light-headed with relief. Well, she thought it was relief, rather than a sedative. She didn’t even notice when she keeled over backward. She was unconscious shortly after she hit the floor.
Swoop tried to veer off, but the pink weapon leapt at her. At the last second, the knives vanished back into the compact. The thing rammed her right between the eyes, stunning her. She fell twenty-five feet to the floor, and hit with a feather-muffled thud. She didn’t get back up.
Bombshell struggled to get out from under Behemoth’s bulk. She hadn’t been hurt since her powers manifested, and now she felt like she’d been run over by a truck. It felt like her nose was bleeding, and she felt bruised from head to toe. She wasn’t used to being hurt, and she didn’t like the way it made her feel inside. She felt vulnerable. She felt like tearing someone apart.
She pushed as hard as she could. Behemoth’s body tipped onto its side like a huge slab of concrete. It was like he was paralyzed or something. She crawled out from under the huge bulk to find Chaka and Bladedancer standing there waiting for her. She was so angry and humiliated that she was ready to hit either of them full strength, regardless of the consequences.
Accelerator felt whatever-it-was release him, and he dropped. It was a twenty-foot fall. He knew he would hit hard, but he was sure he could take a fall like this and be ready to sprint right for that faerie bitch. Fey wasn’t going to get another chance from him. He looked over, and he saw Fey watching him closely. He also saw the devisor pipsqueak had pulled out her gun and was tracking him as he fell.
“No!” The tangle-web shot hit him when he was still a couple yards above the floor, and he was wrapped up like a fly in a spider’s web before he hit the floor with a brutal crash.
Bombshell moved at the two martial artists, and took a roundhouse punch at Bladedancer. Why should she care about some stupid sword, when she could take a clip of bullets from a gun? She had a PK field that could stop anything, much less some stupid sword that didn’t even look like steel. Her punch swished through the air, as Bladedancer flowed around her blow. Bladedancer swung the sword.
Bombshell screamed at the unexpected searing pain.
Doctor Goodvibes got back to his feet as he heard a girl scream. He wasn’t too steady, but he was up. He looked around, and choked. Shadowolf was down. Swoop and Sweetheart and Behemoth were down. How the hell did those losers take down Behemoth? Accelerator was wrapped up in what looked like a web-shot from the kid. Grenadier was choking and gasping on the floor, rubbing his eyes. This was bad. Really bad. He had a few tricks left, but he didn’t think he’d get time to use them. He saw the pipsqueak make a beeline for him, right through where the force field had been.
The kid walked up to him and said, “I would like you to surrender now, before anyone else gets hurt.”
He wasn’t a fighter, but he could take an eleven-year-old girl. He snapped, “Like hell I will!” as he grabbed for her cargo vest. Suddenly, the kid grabbed his hand and twisted. Pain was shooting through his arm, he was losing his balance, and the floor was rushing upward to smack him in the face.
Bombshell looked down at the searing pain in her side, and she gasped in shock. The bitch had cut her with the sword! But that was impossible! There was a slice through her clothes that curved around her ribcage, and she was bleeding from a cut that went halfway around her body! The sword-wielder calmly said, “I was careful only to nick you. This time. But if you continue this battle, I will be forced to injure you far more seriously.”
Chaka added, “Come on, Barb. Be smart. If she wanted to kill you, you’d be dead already. That sword could’ve chopped you in half, instead of wrecking your outfit and giving you a really big papercut. Just quit, while the quitting is good.”
Bombshell quickly thought over her options. She pretended to sag in defeat. And then she leapt for the sword as fast as she could fly.
Grenadier staggered to his feet. Damn, he hated tear gas. His eyes were running and stinging, but he was up. And it was a good thing. The little devisor girl had that wimp Doc G in an armbar and was grinding his face into the floor. Ordinarily, that would’ve been pretty damn funny. But not now. He needed to do something. He summoned up three more plasma bombs and started to move toward them.
“Uh-uh-uh!” It was that hottie Fey in that weird armor, only a couple yards away from him and moving closer. She wiggled her fingers in a complex gesture that made his eyes hurt, and suddenly his plasma bombs just shriveled up and vanished. Which was impossible!
She said, “Why don’t you just quit, before someone else gets hurt?”
He growled, “Like you?” He didn’t need his bombs to handle a bimbo like this one. He stepped forward and aimed a right cross at her kisser.
She turned slightly and swept her hand in a smooth arc, sweeping his force aside with her armor-covered forearm. Damn, that felt like she broke his wrist! And she was still moving. She put a fist into his solar plexus and followed that with a chop to the side of his neck. He hit the floor face-first, and choked as he struggled to get air back into his lungs.
Bombshell found herself flying through the air under someone else’s power, for a change. Bladedancer had blocked her attack with the flat of the sword, and then used some judo move or something to slam her against the floor. But that couldn’t hurt a brick like Bombshell. The cut along her side was pretty shocking, but a three-foot fall was nothing.
She spun about, preparing to charge the girl again, but Chaka stepped forward. Before Bombshell could react, Chaka opened her mouth and screamed a fierce “KIII-YAAAIII!” It felt like a bomb went off inside her head.
She opened her eyes, to find herself stretched out on the floor, with that sword pressing against her throat. How long had she been out?
The sword-girl hissed, “Don’t move, or else.” Bombshell looked into those eyes and believed. She stayed still.
Doctor Goodvibes was gasping in pain and struggling futilely against the kid’s grip when he heard the arena announcer call, “AND THE WINNERS ARE… TEEEEEEEEAM KIMBA!” The arena erupted in roars and applause. He had to wonder, what the hell had just happened? How could the fight be over that fast?
The Don didn’t bother to get up from his armchair. Kallista had been right when she pointed out that attending the match in person had no upside. Even if The Turks had won, there was no advantage to being there in person. Besides, the amenities were far better in this private room off one of the tunnels.
He put his drink down and looked away from the high-definition television screen in disgust. He turned to her and growled, “That was just pathetic. If I’d wanted to make Team Kimba look good, I could have just let them humiliate Nex and Bloodwolf some more.”
Hekate inhaled slowly and thought for a few seconds. “It appears that most of what I foresaw was correct. Chaka did avoid as much fighting as she could. Fey did use martial arts. There was a dead girl there who may not be dead in some sense of the word. We saw shadows which did not work, and a force field screen which may not be a real screen. We saw Bladedancer use that sword to injure a brick, and that very well might have been a magical attack. More than one of Generator’s attacks could have been some sort of devise which released an already-created effect from Fey. And the Kimbettes did indeed emerge the winners.”
The Don didn’t reply at once. He thought her analysis was mostly ‘cover your ass’ double-talk. Not that he would tell her that to her face. No, Kallista was not someone to insult lightly. She was far more dangerous than people realized. He eventually said, “That still brings us no closer to dealing with those little maniacs. When we return from Christmas break, we will have to come up with a better plan. I want them put in their place, and I want Chaka dealt with.”
He turned to his servant. “Cav, make sure that Farrago debriefs the losers. Gather as much information as you can, when he does.”
Chaka looked around at her teammates. “Anyone hurt?” She got three quick shakes of the head, and three ‘no’ voices over the comm system. Jinn didn’t bother to answer, and Jann, in the Kitty Compact, had already popped back into Jade’s vest pocket before releasing her charge.
Medics were busy treating the unconscious and the injured, while Jade was explaining to them about the knockout gas she had used on Sweetheart. Someone else was trying to cut Accelerator out of his web prison.
Fey moved over to Behemoth. The boy was in agony, and still couldn’t even move. She had to help. She concentrated, and then spoke fluid words that seemed to echo through the heads of the people around her, while leaving no memory of what she had actually said. The huge boy gasped in agony, and then began shrinking.
Fey gestured with her left hand, and the three spikes embedded in his foot flew out, to land at her feet. She turned to Jinn and said, “Old steel. Well, at least you didn’t use cold iron.”
Jinn murmured, “The old iron ones are cheaper. If you want to buy me a couple dozen more steel spikes, I’ll be happy to use them instead of the iron ones when you’re around.”
Fey nodded, “That’s reasonable.”
Jinn remembered how much Nikki had spent on clothes in Boston, and added, “And while you’re at it, could I get a couple silver-plated? Or maybe plated with mithril, in case I run up against something supernatural?”
Fey rolled her eyes, “You’re pushing.”
Jinn muttered, “It doesn’t hurt to ask…”
Fey knelt beside Behemoth, who was holding his foot and trying not to weep. She said, “Child, you have been used by people who do not care whether you live or die, and you have been hurt because of it. Let me help you.”
Behemoth whimpered, “You can help? ‘Cause it really hurts. And I’m on the other team.”
Fey smiled, “You are not the enemy. The enemy have used you unfairly and made you into a pawn for their own amusement.” She passed her hand over the bleeding holes, and they closed up. He gasped as the pain left and his foot was healed. She said, “I do not want you for an enemy, but I would be willing to call you friend, if you wouldst be one in turn.”
Behemoth looked into the eyes of a being who wasn’t really his age. That face and those eyes and that posture all belonged to someone far older, far more mature. Maybe she really was as powerful as people said. And it wasn’t like anyone in The Turks was going to talk to him again, after this disaster. He decided. “Lady, you got yerself a deal.”
Back in the common room at Poe only an hour later, a party was going on. All but a few Poe residents were celebrating, along with a few visitors who had been allowed entrance by Mrs. Horton. Molly and Erin and Gypsy were there. A number of Poe residents were surprised to see that Mrs. Horton had allowed Sahar to join them: wasn’t Sahar persona non grata at Poe? Sharisha and a couple of her pals were missing, but just about every other Poe resident was dancing and laughing and partying.
Chou tried to talk to Toni over the noise of the party. “I thought you said you couldn’t do the paralyzing nerve strike on someone like that!”
Toni focused herself for a second, and then used her ki to channel her voice at Chou. “No, what I said was that I couldn’t do Slab. He’s got that energy-absorbing field that took all the force out of the blow, and he’s got enough padding over his acupuncture meridiens that I couldn’t get a decent strike in even if his field was down. Behemoth was another matter. His ki is all screwed up, but it’s easy to read. And his acupucture meridiens are ginormous when he’s all godzilla’ed up. The target was just a lot bigger than usual. Normally, I have to focus an attack on a spot smaller than a dime. With Behemoth, I had a target the size of my head. I couldn’t miss. I just had to hit hard enough to do the job.”
Toni looked around and decided no one would hear her over all the ruckus. “So you got a sword that’ll slice through bricks like Bombshell, and can block Tennyo’s energy sword. Aren’t you worried someone’s gonna steal it now?”
Chou resorted to the comm system to make herself heard without shouting. She really had to get Toni to show her how to do that trick with her voice, one of these days. “Destiny’s Wave is already a target. I do not think it is in any more danger than before. And it is unlikely to want to perform these skills for a thief.”
“Kewl.” Toni thought about the perks of having your own magic sword that had a mind of its own. What could be the downside to that?
Chou suddenly felt something behind her that made her smile. Chaka looked over her shoulder and grinned, “Incoming. Girlfriend at eleven o’clock.” Chou turned and went to hug Molly.
Chaka watched the two, and decided to go see if Rip wanted to dance. Or something.
Farrago stood in the infirmary, looking over the remains of The Turks. Most of the team had been stunned or sedated instead of anything more serious, and they were coming out of it. They were still woozy, but that was to Farrago’s advantage. He was more likely to hear the truth. Accelerator was still trying to scrub some of the webbing off his skin, using cheesecloth and a bottle of solvent provided by a helpful nurse. Bombshell’s injury had proved to be a long but extremely shallow cut. Her Exemplar abilities would heal that in no time. As for the bruises and other minor injuries, he couldn’t care less. He didn’t even want to be in the same room as them.
He cleared his throat. “Now that you are officially the biggest losers at Whateley…”
Shadowolf glared at him nastily. “I think you mean the second-biggest losers at Whateley. If you know what I mean…”
Farrago growled at him, but continued, “…the only contribution you can make is providing a full debriefing that may help some better team handle the Kimbettes in future.”
Bombshell thought about getting up and shoving that smug face through the closest wall. But she was still too sore to get up and take him on.
Shadowolf thought for a moment and said, “We do need to debrief. And if it helps the Alphas at some point, I expect to get the credit.”
Farrago shrugged uncaringly.
Shadowolf started. “They outmaneuvered us. We didn’t expect them to take out our holograms, but we should have planned for that. We didn’t expect Shroud, but we should have planned for that too. I don’t know how we could have prepared for that force field generator. That must be new, because the twerp didn’t use it in her combat final. Maybe it’s not mobile enough, or it’s a lot more fragile than it looks. Anyway, they mapped out at least one strategy to handle all of us. They probably had other strategies set up, because I don’t believe we just happened to fall into the only tactics they had. So whoever does their strategy and tactics is a lot more dangerous than anybody thought. You’ll need to figure out who’s doing that for them. Anyone else?”
Bombshell groaned and sat up gingerly, trying to ignore all her aches. “I’d like to punch that stupid smile right off Chaka’s face. She tossed me under Behemoth, and made it look easy. She’s way faster than I thought. And that shout. What the hell was that? It felt like she hit me with an aircraft carrier. And Bladedancer’s sword is too damn dangerous to mess with. If it can cut right through my PK field to slice up my clothes and my skin, it could have cut me in half. Why does somebody who’s not even a mutant have a brick-killing sword? Or is that sword why they let her in?”
Sweetheart was still laying down on a cot. She didn’t even open her eyes as she moaned, “It could’ve been worse. What if Lancer came after us? Or Tennyo? Or the demon-girl? I’m worried about Lancer, myself. He threatened me before the match. He’s supposed to be vulnerable to psi. But I tried him, and hit a wall. It actually hurt me to try it. And he’s gotten stronger. A lot stronger. And you saw what he could do in the combat finals! Nobody said anything about him being able to do that stuff! What if there isn’t any way to stop him anymore? I don’t want him coming after me!”
Swoop blinked her eyes a few times to clear her vision and said, “That stupid little pink compact. How the hell did that kid build spinning knives and a jetpack and all that stuff in that little case?”
Doctor Goodvibes winced as he turned his head. His neck and shoulder were going to hurt for days, since he didn’t have any Regen or Exemplar traits. “That’s nothing. There must be a phenomenal artificial intelligence package in that thing too, and you’d think a computer that smart would be bigger than the pipsqueak is. Their devisor kicked our asses. That Kitty Compact is a hell of a lot more sophisticated than an eleven-year-old ought to be able to make. I have no idea how that Shielder robot made a force field that powerful with no external power source and no focusing structures except those three stupid antennas. Shroud? Who knows what the hell that thing is? Is she really a dead girl animating a bunch of devisor gear? If so, how the hell does that work? We need a lot more intel on her. And you’ve got a much bigger problem than any of those. There’s no way there’s enough room in that little bracer for a complete set of launchable missiles, plus that blaster. (And I have no idea what that beam did to my gear either, I’ll have to analyze the pieces for a couple days, after finals are over.) There’s no way there was room for all the stuff that makes up Shroud, or for that Shielder robot in her schoolpack, much less both. She’s got something that warps space so she can store things larger than the storage container. And if she can do that, there’s no telling what else she’s packing in her outfit. For all you know, the next time you face her, she might pull a frigging Abrams tank out of that packpack.”
Grenadier smirked, “Yeah, and the pipsqueak kicked your ass but good.” He winced as he moved the wrong way. Damn, his lower ribs and his neck still hurt. And he had a knot on his forearm the size of an egg. “Okay, so the faerie bitch kicked my ass too. I thought she didn’t have any hand-to-hand skills.”
Shadowolf said, “Obviously, she’s learning from her mistakes. She found out she was weak to close-in attacks, and she’s fixing that. We need to learn from our mistakes too, or we’ll never be ready to take them on again.”
Behemoth snapped, “We’ll never be ready to take them on. Period. We’re fools to let the Alphas tell us what to do. And I’m a dope for listening to you jerks. We’re all lucky she didn’t turn us into toads or something. She’s got real magic. Real powerful stuff, and she’s way faster with it than what we were told. She just did one little thing, and she made me shrink back to normal. If she can do that, she can stop anyone. I’m not messin’ with her again, and I’m not hanging with The Turks either. I’m done with this team.” He stormed out.
Farrago sneered, “That wasn’t particularly impressive when he’s only a hundred pounds or so.”
Shadowolf stared at Farrago, “Anything else you want? Because Behemoth is right. You and your boss have bitten off more than you can chew, only you’re not going to realize it until you choke on it.”
Farrago looked at him and smirked, “I thought you had the Alpha mentality. But you’re weak. You’ll never be at the top of the heap.” He turned and sauntered out.
Shadowolf put his head in his hands and groaned. How had it all gone wrong so quickly? No one was ever going to consider him Alpha material after this humiliation.
In the hallway outside, Cavalier finished making notes, and hurried off to tell Don Sebastiano the new intel as quickly as possible.
Later that night, as Billie was getting ready for bed, she looked over at her roommate. “So, you kicked some Turk butt tonight. You think that’ll get you moved up from number 263 on the list?”
Jade smiled, “Maybe not. But I think a few people are going to think twice about bullying me when I’m a dangerous arena fighter with scary gadgets. Even if half of them were really Nikki’s spells. And as long as they leave me alone, I’m happy. I really don’t want to have to fight anyone.”
Billie shook her head. Acting like a pushover was not the way to get through high school. And it was really not the way to get through a high school like Whateley. But she didn’t think Jade was going to change her mind anytime soon. Still, that holographic blaster had looked really impressive, even if the explosion was due to Nikki’s spell.
On the other hand, after Jade had to put up with TB for a couple weeks over Christmas, Jade would be ready to kick somebody’s ass all over the place. Billie knew that she’d probably be ready to clobber TB after just a couple minutes, if he was like usual.
And she still had to get through that stupid math final first. If TB found out that she was having trouble in math, she’d never live it down.
Billie drifted off to sleep, to dream about her family. An hour later, Jinn and Jann looked over when they heard her giggling in her sleep, “Yeah Thad, you have to clean all the toilets in Hawthorne, or else…”
THE END of one weekend at Whateley, anyway…