The Secret of the Forger's List (Chapter 3)
The Secret of the Forger’s List
A WHATELEY LITERARY CLUB ADVENTURE
By E. E. Nalley
Headmistress’ Office, Shuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Liz Carson was numb with grief and frustrated rage. She sat at her desk, a pile of requisitions, reports, and emergencies major and minor that only the Headmistress could deal with sat ignored on her desk. It’s too much, she thought to herself. “I can’t deal with this any more,” she whispered. Her eyes, red and swollen with tears fell on the photograph of her daughter; despite the granite hard skin her GSD had cursed her with, still smiling her most beautiful smile for the camera.
She carefully picked up the photo and traced the lines of her daughter’s face with a fingertip. Shelly had always been such a happy child, always looking on the bright side. When she’d been diagnosed with GSD she’s grinned and told her mother now she didn’t have to worry about another spanking for acting out. “I’m so sorry Shelly,” Liz whispered at the photograph. “I let you down.”
“Liz?” Mrs. Hartford’s voice penetrated her grief stricken haze. “Liz, the man from the DPA is here, and one of the trustees is here with him.”
Carson looked up numbly at her assistant, standing in the doorway, the door just open enough for her to see in, but not the guests she was announcing. After a moment of thought, Carson realized her intercom had been buzzing for several minutes. “Tell them to go to hell,” she replied in a voice bereft of emotion.
“I’ll deal with this Amelia,” a male voice remarked from behind the door. After a moment of the assistant Headmistress staring at someone Carson couldn’t see, the door swung open fully to reveal an older man in a seersucker suit and a string tie. He smiled a very unpleasant smile and said, “You want me to go to hell, Mrs. Carson? You first.”
Liz carefully set down the photograph of her daughter lest she be tempted to throw it at her unwelcome visitor. “Come to fire me already, Tywyswyr?” she demanded tiredly. “Well, that suits me just fine.”
“What on earth gave you that impression?” the older man replied as he hobbled forward and sank with a sigh into one of the leather wing back chairs that faced the desk.
The super heroine glared at her unwelcome visitor for a long moment before she decided to try a different tact. “When you talked me into putting my English degree to work here, I realized you’d have some ulterior motive. I’d thought you’d fulfilled it when you got Marco fired and maneuvered me into the Humanities department chair. Of course I hadn’t realized I was thinking far too low until you pulled your little sleight of hand with the Board and had me installed as ‘interim Headmistress’ and sang that siren song of it was just for a few months to clean up the messes since Dr. Alexander. And then when you made it permanent, I thought that had to be your game and now I’m certain even that isn’t it. So, why don’t you stop yanking my chain, you scaly bastard, and tell me what it is you really want?”
The old man chuckled. “Leave my skin problems to my dermatologist.”
“I’m about five seconds from coming out of this chair and handing you your seersucker-ed ass,” she growled, her normally soft and caring voice dripping menace. “So you’ve got that long to tell me why you’re here or God as my witness I’m going to wipe this campus with you.”
The old man rested both hands on the top of his cane before leaning forward and resting his chin atop them and spearing the teacher with his most direct gaze. “You are greater than your ambitions, Liz, you always have been. You were better than Holbrook, better than Trenton and so far beyond Stevens, Wells and that idiot Owen that it’s not worth discussing. I put you here because here is where you belong, Liz. Here you shape the entire world and its future through those kids outside. And isn’t that worth more than locking up some petty thief as Lady Astarte, or playing housewife and baking cookies for Owen Carson?”
Carson’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Leave my husband out of your little Machiavellian schemes.”
“You wanted to know the truth, so now you have it,” the dragon replied. “And what will you do with this Truth, Headmistress? Will you keep wallowing in self pity or will you do what you have always done and make things right?”
“You don’t know what it’s like to loose a child…” she started.
“This planet is my family,” the alien retorted, “and every man, woman and child on it my own. Liz, you know I grieve for Shelly, but I have four hundred and twenty seven other children in your care and I need you here watching over them! I need you!”
Carson sat for a long time, staring at the portrait of her daughter, trying to imagine what she would say if the picture could talk. Tracing every line and sparkle in her deep blue eyes. After an eternity she reached over to her desk and pressed the intercom. “Amelia?”
“I believe the gentleman from the DPA has waiting long enough to finish up this unpleasant business. Please give him my apologies and send him in.”
“Right away, Headmistress.”
The dragon pretending to be an old man got laboriously to his feet. “Well, I shall take my leave then. My work here is done.”
The Headmistress speared him in place with her most icy stare. “Sit,” she commanded. Despite himself, Tywyswyr sank back into the chair. “I still owe you a beating,” she added calmly as if explaining a lingering charge to a tradesman “And when I’m done with this gentleman you and I are going to the Arena to have it.”
“Oh really?” the dragon chuckled. “Why wait?”
Carson’s smile was thin and full of malice. “To show you who is in charge here. You may be a trustee, Tywyswyr, but this is my school. Don’t you ever come into my office and think to manipulate me again. Besides,” she said, letting a bit of warmth enter her smile as the door opened and the bureaucrat entered. “Business always comes before pleasure.”
Administrative Office, Shuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Tansy let herself into the Admin Center of the school with vague feelings of apprehension. Generally when one was called to the Headmistress’ Office, it was never a good sign. More to the point, while yesterday she’d felt rather certain she’d dodged any fall out from that idiot freshman and those three little pests, the tersely written email she found waiting for her in her inbox this morning had her reconsidering just how clean her getaway had been.
Mrs. Hawkins barely took note of her presence, merely opening the small gate that separated the student area of administration back into the offices. Mrs. Hartford wasn’t at her desk when she arrived at the Headmistress’ Office, but the door was standing open and Mrs. Carson was typing at her computer. “Come in, Miss Walcutt,” she called without looking up. “Close the door after you.”
Tansy swallowed softly as she did as instructed. The door being shut removed any hope this was something other than a disciplinary visit. While one part of her mind kept her features properly neutral and respectful, another was already hard at work planning how she’d take her revenge once she found out who had ratted her out. “Seems to me we just had a conversation about you being on your best behavior or I would wash my hands of you,” Carson started without preamble.
“I’m not sure what you mean, Headmistress,” Tansy replied in her most respectful tones.
The cornflower blue eyes darted up from the screen behind their fashion eyeglasses. Their gaze was cold and spoke of tightly held anger. “Oh, really? Allow me to refresh your memory. Yesterday morning, you pulled a force pistol and discharged it, meaning to strike another student, which instead triggered a rage attack from Razorback. Ring any bells?”
“You made me Mrs. Grimes assistant, and she put me in charge of those three pests. I had just tracked them down when this corn fed redneck sticks his nose into my business. He put hands on me! I was in fear of my life, what was I supposed to do?”
Carson snorted in derision. “As an upperclassman, I expect you to act with more maturity and presence of mind that a freshman on his third day on campus. I expect you to be able to manage two 8th graders and a 7th grader without resorting to death threats, and I certainly expect you to remember just how high you are on my shit list, Miss Walcutt.”
“We’re not here to discuss Stronghold’s actions, Miss Walcutt, we’re here to discuss yours. Your inability to control your temper escalated what should have been a minor issue of three students not being where you expect them to be into a full fledged rager incident that, were it not for Stronghold’s quick thinking and maturity beyond his years and yours could have ended with the death of three students!”
“I’m sorry,” Walcutt muttered angrily.
“No,” Carson replied. “I don’t think you are. And I certainly don’t think you realize just how close to the edge you are either. So, I think perhaps a taste of what awaits you should you fail to learn the lesson I’m trying to teach you will get your attention.” She pressed a button on her intercom. “Franklin, would you join us, please?”
The door opened and the Security Chief walked in, a pair of hand cuffs in his hands. “I want you to know I hate resorting to this,” Carson told Tansy. “However, if you don’t get your act together, Miss Walcutt, this will be your future. Tansy Walcutt, I sentence you to three days, in school suspension. Chief Delarose, you may take the student into custody.”
“Put your hands behind your back,” the Security Chief ordered harshly.
“You can’t be serious!” squeaked Tansy. “Those barbaric little cells in Kane Hall are just for show! You can’t…!”
Carson steepled her fingers after tapping a school application form on her desk. “To the contrary,” she replied coolly as Delarose took hold of Tansy’s arms and clicked the handcuffs in place. “Not only are those jail cells you were shown on your tour used exactly for the purpose of in school suspension but your father signed both in loco parentis rights to the school as well as an acceptance of the jurisdiction of Medawihla Tribe or their representative, which would be me. So yes, I can throw you into one for the next three days, and I will. Further more, should this not wake you up, the next time you grace those cells with your presence, it will be to wait for a Department of Paranormal Affairs van to take you into custody. Take her away, Franklin.”
Lit Chix Club House, Tunnels below Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
“This is the most eclectic piece of crap I’ve ever seen,” declared Rebecca as she read over the list Elaine and Heather had brought back from Poe. “Who does this creep think he is? I mean honestly, the school’s green flag, the double clef off the wall from the music wing of Dunn Hall, Colonel Leyton’s Silver Star Commendation from his office, and the statue of Noah Whateley from the quad for the love of Pete?”
“None of this has any kind of value he could fence,” mused Lifeline as she took the paper and glanced over it. “The motivation couldn’t have been money then.”
“I wouldn’t want to try to pinch any of this,” fretted Diane from cleaning her nails. “This is just asking to get caught.”
“Maybe that was the point?” suggested Compiler from the kitchenette as she stirred chocolate into her coffee. “What if the Forger was trying to get the Amigos caught and in trouble?”
“Seems like there’d be easier ways to do that,” replied Rebecca. “And what set off The Forger, anyway? The fact that the Amigos found a GSD cure, or that it killed Shelly Carson?”
“Love is certainly a powerful motivator for revenge,” Renee tossed out. “If The Forger was involved with Shelly…”
“Or thought he was,” interjected Elaine.
“Or thought he was,” admitted Renee with a roll of her eyes. “Bringing her killers to justice would certainly be a powerful motivation for trying to maneuver them into getting into serious trouble.”
“But if he knows something, why not just go to Carson or Delarose?” demanded Heather.
“Maybe he did and nobody believed him,” Simone replied, her tone full of memories best forgotten.
“Do we kenna know it is a he?” asked Heather. “I mean, there are these things called Lesbians, ya know.”
“McCorbin’s rule,” Maggie replied. Seeing the quizzical look on her friend’s face she smiled and elaborated. “It’s from Everything Goes With Blackmail, by Robert McCorbin. If the blackmail note talks more about the blackmailer than the victim, the blackmailer is male. This is all me, I, possessive pronouns. The Forger is male.”
“Ok, so either he’s in bed with Shelly, or he wants to be,” Elaine said. “He’s bent that his beloved is dead, whether it’s an accident or not, and he’s enraged that her killers not only get off, they get out of GSD too. So he dreams up a ridiculous list of crap for them to grab so they get caught or he gives his proof to Delarose.”
“If he had proof, why won’t anyone believe him?” demanded Stella from the bean bag she was curled up on.
“He doesn’t,” said Dee slowly. “He wants to follow them so he can find out where they go under stress…”
“And that would be their lab,” remarked Babs around her coffee. Looking up, she shrugged. “It’s where I go.”
“And it’s where his proof would be!” exalted Rebecca. “This is all about finding their clubhouse so he can raid it and turn them all in.” She sighed as her excitement faded. “Which means following this list won’t do us any good and we’ve lost the trail.”
“If he went to Security, there’ll be a record of it,” Simone commented quietly.
“After all this time?” worried Dee.
A grin spread on Loophole’s face. “Absolutely! The Whateley Campus Police force is Federally Accredited, that’s why they can have all the toys they have. And being federally accredited, they’re required to abide by the Freedom of Information Act, and they can’t destroy any record ever! Their blotter reports have to go back to the sixties when the school was reopened!”
Rebecca nodded thoughtfully after a long moment. “Ok, we’ve got a plan of action then. Babs, you and Doc crack that data base and see if we can put a name to our bad guy other than The Forger. Once we have that, Dee, you and Stella hit the library. Find out who this fool was as well as anything else you can about the Amigos. If we can get into their lives, maybe we can find out where their club house was.”
“Is there any chance what we need will still be there even if we find it?” asked Dee. “After all this time?”
“This place sat unused for twenty years,” replied Maggie. “There have to be all kinds of places nobody knows about all over this campus. If you two can get us something personal of Shelly, or one of the other Amigos, Rebecca and I can do a spell to try and find the club house.”
Outside the Lit Chix Club House, Tunnels below Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
The vision faded from the glowing ball of magic that had held the interest of three friends enraptured. Immediately they became aware of how uncomfortable they all were, crushed together into a broom closet that was dank and dusty with lack of use. They held their collective breath as the door next to theirs opened and the hallway was filled for a moment with the high spirited chatter of a dozen girls with a juicy secret.
After a long moment the voices faded as the Lit Chix went their separate ways and Bethany decided to risk peeking out the door. The empty hallway drew a sigh of relief as her friends, tired of being stuffed into the uncomfortable closet, pushed their way out. “It’s perfect,” cooed Bethany.
“Were you listening to the same conversation I was?” demanded Clover. “I didn’t hear anything about…”
“Working a complicated seek spell?” demanded Bethany as she turned on her friend. “The kind of spell that sends essence all out into the world, just asking to be sucked up and captured?” she asked crossly. “You didn’t hear that?”
“Oh,” Clover replied, sullen at being singled out.
“There’s no guarantee they’ll work the spell somewhere we can get near,” Palantir cautioned.
“They’ll do it here,” Bethany replied, looking down the empty corridor. “Here is where they’ll feel safe. And we’ll be right next door to grab it. Count on it.”
Devisor Lab, Vehicle, under Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
Stephen wandered through the tunnels, intensely wishing they’d been labeled better. They twisted and turned, split and rejoined so many times the young man from Georgia was becoming more and more certain he was hopelessly lost. Still, there were plenty of nerd types in their white coats walking around, having arguments using words that sounded like they’d been cut from a Star Trek script as being too unbelievable so he was still pretty sure he was mostly in the right place.
He thought to ask a teacher, but there seemed to be a surprising lack of them down here, and there was a part of him that worried about all these kids tinkering with things unsupervised. Finally, he rounded a corner and to his disbelief encountered what appeared to be a fast food stand, carved out of the granite bedrock with a neon sign above it labeled ‘Got to Eat’. Behind the counter was, and nothing after the past few days would surprise him anymore, a centaur girl done up like a fifties soda jerk, complete with the paper hat on her Blonde hair.
“What’ll ya have?” she asked with a smile as he approached the counter.
“A coke,” Nalley replied, digging into one of his pouches for his School ID, “And some directions if you don’t mind, uh, Sted? Did I say that right?”
“Close enough,” the girl replied with a smile as she dunked a paper cup into an ice bin and began to fill it from a fountain. “Where you trying to get to?”
“My sister has a workshop down here somewhere and I’m trying to find it. I think I got a little lost, though. I’ve tried calling, but…”
“Oh, that phone isn’t going to work down here, hon,” Sted replied as she fastened a lid to the cup and placed it with a straw on the counter. “They could drop a nuke up there and we wouldn’t know it till somebody went up top and came back to tell us in person. So, who’s your sister and maybe I can point you in the right direction?”
“Uh, Loophole,” he replied as he handed over his ID. Sted ran the card through a reader and gave it back.
“More than likely she’ll be in the Vehicle Lab. Go back to the main tunnel, turn left and go another fifty yards. If you get to the big cavern with the giant robot, you’ve gone too far.”
“Giant robot…?” he started, and then shook his head. “Right, Whateley. Thanks.”
Stronghold retraced his steps to the main tunnel and continued on, guided by the sound of engines being over revved that he knew well enough from many a bored hour at their dad’s shop. While his sister was definitely their father’s daughter, reveling in all things mechanical with wheels, Stephen had never found the hulks more than moderately interesting and far too filthy to hold his interest.
A pair of double doors opened into a vaulted cavern with a barrel ceiling high over head with fluorescent tubes suspended proving light. At one end was a rollup door next to a cage that held the more expensive parts and diagnostic tools, the other had a teaching area with desks, a black board and an office. Between were a double dozen individual bays, most with vehicles already in them, some on hydraulic lifts, all with their hoods up, and students fawning over the hunks of metal like surgeon’s crooning over the President.
From the office was coming a brick wall of a man in a polo shirt that put Stronghold in mind of Matt, his Dad’s Snap-On Dealer. “Can I help you, son?” The Teacher rumbled with a voice that seemed to vibrate up from the center of the Earth.
“Yes sir,” Nalley replied as he took the offered hand shake and lost his hand in the massive fist of Melvin Donner. “I’m looking for my sister, Loophole.”
A grin spread across the teacher’s face. “Excellent!” he beamed. “There’s always room for another Nalley around the shop! Tell me, son, you as old a hand as Doc around these?”
Stronghold chose his words carefully. “I guess my sister got all the talent, that way, sir,” he admitted cautiously. “I was just looking for…”
“Nonsense,” Donner replied with a rough slap of the smaller man’s shoulder as he led the way over to one of the bays. “We’ll make a Gear Head out of you in no time. Isn’t that right, Doc?” he asked as they arrived at a pair of feet sticking out from under his sister’s Mustang. She rolled out from under the car, her face, artfully covered in grease, pulling into a frown.
“Ah think ya’ll have better luck with Tansy Walcutt, Mr. Donner.” The teacher chuckled as he withdrew and Stephen helped his sister to her feet. “What do you want?” she asked half smile as she reached under the hood to pull a cable she’d detached from below free.
Stephen sighed. “Is this going to be a fight?” he asked quietly.
“Only if you make it one,” she replied as she inspected the end of the cable in the better light.
“I don’t mean to intrude in your little fiefdom down here, I just want some information and then I’ll go,” He said as he looked into the engine cavity. “I thought dad said you couldn’t put a nitrous system on Baby Girl?”
“Daddy ain’t here, is he?” she shot back.
“You’re not going to rest until this hunk of junk tops two hundred, are you?”
Loophole’s smile became evil. “She’s already topping out at three oh four,” she boasted.
“This thing is going to kill you,” her brother shot back. “This crate wasn’t meant to go that fast.”
“If all you came down here to do was to hurl insults, you can…”
He threw up his hands in surrender. “Sorry, sorry. Look, what I came down here for was I wanted to get some advice. On a girl.”
Work stopped across the bay as every techie in the place turned to eavesdrop. “What are ya’ll staring at?” she roared. “Ain’t ya’ll got work to do?”
“Dial it down an octave or twenty, Doc,” rumbled Mr. Donner from his desk. “As for the rest of you, if you don’t have work to do, I can find you some…” At once the other student’s heads disappeared back beneath the various hoods throughout the cavern.
Satisfied they weren’t being as obviously listened in on; Doc retrieved a wire brush from the rack of tools and began to idly clean the end of the cable in her hands. “Alright,” she declared finally. “What do you want to know?”
“Well, for starters, what are the rules about dating here?”
Doc shrugged. “Off hours, you can do what you like on campus. You can’t leave campus during the week without a teacher’s permission and a chaperone. On the weekends, you can sign out and go wherever. Most of the kids go into Berlin because to be honest, most folk would rather go to the dentist than Dunwich. If you’re gonna be gone over night you have to have a teacher’s permission and a chaperone. You get caught dancing the mattress mambo you can get expelled. Now, who have you got in mind?”
Instantly Stronghold got defensive. “Why do you want to know? It’s not like it’s any of your business.”
Again she shrugged before looking up from cleaning the cable to spear her brother in place with a gaze she’d learned from their mother. “If you want mah help that makes it mah business. More to the point, little brother, some of the girls around here aren’t just vicious, they’re man eaters. So, why don’t ya’ll pony up with who’s caught your eye before Ah to start asking around and mentioning some of Grandma’s babysitting stories…”
“There’s no need to be vicious,” he snapped. “And you’re in just as many of those stories as I am!”
“Yes, but Ah’m a girl and Ah can get away with it,” she told him with an evil chuckle.
“Fine,” Stronghold muttered. “Marty, her name is Marty.”
“Marty Penn?” she demanded. “Mega-Girl?” Once more the shop came to a halt, but this time a warning whistle from Mr. Donner was sufficient to get the work going again. “Have you lost what little sense you were born with?”
At having his intended slighted, Stephen quickly became cross and defensive. “Yes, her code name is Mega-Girl, so what of it? She seems like a really sweet girl and we both…”
“Deserve each other,” his sister finished with a grin. “Look, Bro, Mega-Girl is in Poe because Poe is the dorm where they put all the head cases.”
“What head case, she seems perfectly fine to me!”
“Said the freshman wearing a cape and his underwear on the outside of his pants!” Doc shot back. “Now, Ah will say that of all of them, Marty seems like she’s got it the least bad. She’s just obsessed with being a super hero. There’s some in that place that are busy telling folk they’re Fairy Queens come back to life. Nuts, the lot of ‘em. Well, Heather’s ok, but that’s different. So, if ya’ll don’t mind lugging around all her baggage, Ah hope ya both hit it off and go have Superboy or something. Now, was that all? Ah’m busy here.”
“Look, do you know her well or don’t you?”
“She was in mah advanced flight class last year. Why?”
“Well, what does she like? Chocolates or candy? Is she allergic to any flowers?”
Doc rubbed her chin which spread the grease further across her face. “You have it bad, don’t ya?” Stephen glared at her until she raised her hands in defeat. “Ok ok, sorry. Ah don’t know her that well, other than she’s kind of a tom boy. What you can do is get in touch with the fixer over at Poe.”
His sister nodded. “All the cottages have one or two kids that take it on themselves to be the kids that get things done. Information brokers, bookies, hell, around here you could probably get a fixer to disappear a body for you if the price was right.”
“Great,” he beamed, genuinely pleased. “Who’s the fixer in Poe?”
“Zenith is her name, not that it will do you a lick of good.” He opened his mouth to obviously demand an explanation that his sister cut him off with without being prompted. “Because you’re a freshman and she’s a junior. She won’t give you the time of day. But, Ah have a friend or two in Poe, and the one Ah’m thinking of will probably have all the inside dope on Miss Penn.”
“Awesome! Who is she?”
“He…well, it’s complicated.” She walked over to her desk and tapped at a grease stained keyboard for several seconds before the screen was filled with the image of a lovely young girl with the most outrageous hair style Stephen had ever seen. “This is Phase. Ayla Goodkind. He’s also a freshman and more than likely will be Zenith’s replacement year after next.”
“You’re shitting me,” Stronghold declared. “You think I’m dumb enough to…”
“He’s got a problem with his BIT, but take mah word for it, it doesn’t matter what the curtains say, on the inside Ayla is a he. Now, he will have the information you want, but he’s not going to part with it for free, so be ready for that. He’s a foodie, so Ah figure if you offer him something better than what the cafeteria can dish out, that will probably do the trick. Now, look at me. For reasons that are completely none of your business, Ah want you on your best behavior when you talk with him.”
Stephen shrugged as his new photographic memory wrote every detail of the face into his mind. “Sure, no problem.”
“No, not ‘sure no problem’,” she hissed. “Ah mean it, Stephen, if you embarrass me, mah hand of God, Ah will make sure every girl on this campus knows about every little misdeed throughout your colorful childhood. Like the time you…”
“I get the picture, sis!”
“And especially when you…”
“We’re in public!” he hissed, stealing glances back down the room at the other gear heads who were obviously eavesdropping.
“Just so we understand each other,” his sister finally told him.
“Scouts honor,” he affirmed, holding up his hand in pledge. “My best behavior.”
Campus Police Headquarters, Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
With the difficulties of pleasing Mrs. Carson and taking care of the school’s extensive vehicle fleet, it was several days before Elaine managed to get the free time to head over to Kane Hall and see exactly what the Campus Cops knew about what she and her friends had stumbled on. Normally, Loophole didn’t mind working on cars, but caring for what was yours and making it better had been one thing; doing drudge work meant to be a punishment had somehow taken the fun out of it. Never the less, she was well prepared and, thanks to Dee’s obsessive editing, the Rules Lawyer of Whateley felt like she had an air tight FOIA request.
It was early in the morning and there was, as usual for this time of year, a thick blanket of snow on the ground. Elaine paused to stomp the snow from her boots before entering the precinct and a lack of breakfast hadn’t prepared her for the screams from within.
“You can’t keep me in here!” screeched a voice from behind the counter. “Ants, you’re all worthless little ants and when I’m free I will rain down vengeance from on high! No one will escape the magnifying glass of my revenge! You hear me? Your cooperation with the FLAY will be punished…!”
“Hello Jackie,” Elaine called back to short, cute strawberry blonde whose face she could see pressed up against the bars of the cell.
“Elaine!” Jacqueline ‘Roux’ Sanger yelled, catching a glimpse of her fellow Whitmaniac through the bars. She had a heart shaped face that was peppered with a shotgun blast of freckles and, currently, the glassy look in her chocolate brown eyes of a full blown Diedrick'sattack. “Elaine, you have to get me out of here! I haven’t had a trial! Or a phone call! They won’t even feed me! Loophole, do you hear me?”
Nalley sighed a much put upon sigh. Ah so don’t need this before breakfast, she thought to herself. Out loud she absently called, “Ah told you, Jackie, Ah’m not admitted to the State Bar of New Hampshire and, as such, Ah cannot act on the behalf of anyone in any matter of civil or criminal law.” Still, she realized, Cottage Sorority required some gesture. In a much lower voice, she asked the fresh faced lieutenant that was manning the desk, “What set her off?”
“Damned if we know,” he replied with a shrug. “One of my guys found her wandering the paths and screaming vengeance to the world. She’ll run out of gas in a bit and we’ll let her go once we’re sure she’s not a danger to herself or anyone else.”
“Food!” Roux screamed, “I haven’t eaten!”
“Will somebody shut her up?” yelled a different, more strident voice.
“No,” whispered Elaine as she shifted her position and got a better look back into the cell block. “Ah’d heard the rumor, but its true! The Hidden Jewel is in klink!” Nalley quickly fished out her iPhone and used it’s camera to forever capture the look of outrage on the Junior’s face.
“You can’t take my picture!” Walcutt protested, but Lieutenant Reynolds only chuckled.
“No rules against it, Miss Walcutt,” was his only comment. “Now, what can I do for you, Miss Nalley?”
“Ah’ll see you get a cut, Lieutenant. Ah imagine the yearbook committee will pay some serious coin for this picture! What Ah have is pursuant to US Code 89-554, 80 Statute 383; as amended 1996 and 2002, to whit, a request under the Freedom of Information Act for the blotter reports from January to March of 1995,” the redhead replied, laying the thick forms on the desk.
The Lieutenant sighed. “Duly served,” he said with a lopsided smile. “You want a receipt?”
Nalley batted her eyes in the time honored tradition of Southern Belle’s getting their way. “If ya’ll wouldn’t mind…?”
Alpha Prime Clubhouse, Penthouse, Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
From its perch on top of O. Henry Hill, Melville Cottage held the distinction of being the tallest building on the campus and on top of this, in the corner penthouse over looking Shuster Hall and the Quad, the Alpha’s maintained their Prime Clubhouse. Normally this was a space of parties and good times, a long, wide L shaped room that took up a quarter of the floor. It had been claimed by the Alpha’s moments after it was complete and the Silver A was painted on one of the walls almost before the original paint was dry.
Now it had been set up like a board room meeting; a long table catty corner to the bend so it would fit and still have enough seating room for the heads of all the campus organizations to meet in conclave all at once. Forty nine students sat at the table, whose head and foot places were empty, as the Alpha Council met for the first time of the New Year and only the second time this school year since the Don preformed his coup at the fall pledge party.
But the table was different now.
Now the table had a place for Thuban as the head of Faction Three to glare from as well as one for Gadget has the representative of the Engineering Tract. However, some things never change and the Stoner’s place was empty, doubtlessly due to the seats holder being passed out somewhere on campus in a marijuana induced stupor. In the chairs around the room were the Captains of every Training Team in the school and hush fell over the room as the candidates entered the room, Kodiak carrying a beautifully stained wooden gavel. This he rapped on a matching striker plate at the head of the table he conspicuously didn’t sit down at.
“This meeting of the Alpha Council is called to order at One PM, Saturday, January 20th, 2007. As my final act as interim Alpha Male I hand the gavel to Pendragon to conduct the ceremonies as I believe everyone can agree he will conduct them fairly?”
A long pause drug out before Jadis snapped, “No objection. And what is everybody looking at me for?”
Arthur chuckled as he took the gavel from his friend and gestured him to return to the other candidates. “No reason at all, Jadis,” he told her with a winning smile. “The Chair recognizes Loophole,” he called to the red head with her hand raised.
“Mister Chairman, Ah must respectfully recluse mah self from this vote as Ah have…um, conflicts of interest Ah suppose would be the polite way to say it. Foxfire will represent the Literary Club for this vote.”
“You owe me,” hissed Rebecca as she took the seat Elaine gave up.
“So noted,” Arthur replied. “So, let’s get down to business. First item is the vote for Alpha Female. Candidates are Poise, leader of Venus, Inc. and Dashboard, leader of the Gear Heads, Tumbler of the Uber-Jocks, Automa-tech of the Baret Ma…excuse me, European League, Gloriana of the FSA, and Traduce of the Golden Kids. Would any of the candidates care to address the Council?”
Poise took a half step forward and favored her opponents with her dazzling smile. “I would just like to say that I think Bridgette would make a better Alpha Female than I would, she’s far better at organization than I am, and electing her would, I think, send a clear message how things have changed for the better in this council. Not because of her race, let me be clear, but rather for her skills as a Devisor.”
“Cliff Huxtable would be proud,” Dashboard replied with a roll of her eyes.
“Bridgette?” invited Arthur.
The Leonine senior shrugged. “This ain’t exactly a presidential debate Arty,” she shot back. “She looks good and has great manners and I’ll get crap done. Take your pick.” The last was said with a self deprecating smile to her competitor.
“Ok, if no one wants else wants to address the Council let’s vote then,” Pendragon said with a nod. “If the Candidates will leave the room please? Thank you, Ladies.” The girls filed out and once the door was closed Arthur cast his gaze around the table once more. “Discussion?” he offered.
“It will be a cold day in hell before I vote for Traduce,” growled Thuban.
“Don’t look at me,” returned Ken Yagimura. “Just because she’s in my club doesn’t mean I like her,” he said with a chuckle. “In fact, Mr. Chairman, I move that Traduce be removed from consideration.”
“Seconded,” affirmed Charger quickly from the European League chair. Arthur rolled his eyes in consideration.
“Motion moved and seconded members for? Ok, members against? Traduce is removed. Any further discussion on the floor?” he asked. “A show of hands please. All those for Dashboard?” A quick count filled the silence as hands were raised. “Very good, all those for Poise? All those for Tumbler? All those for Automa-Tech? All those for Glorianna? Alright, Mister Declan, if you’d be so kind as to have the candidates return?”
Hank rose from his chair with the other Team Leaders as he was closest to the door and opened it. “Ladies?” he invited as he stepped to one side. The girls all filed back in, a number with honest anxiety on their faces.
“Congratulations, Poise,” Arthur told her with a smile. “You’ve been elected Alpha Female.” Traduce scowled at the assembly and stormed out, slamming the door behind her.
Poise blushed and bowed her head graciously as Bridget gave her a mock shove with a smile. “Thank you all. And I here by appoint Bridget as my second. Now that this unpleasant business is cleared up, I want to assure everyone I will take steps to be certain this kind of chicanery doesn’t happen again.”
Pendragon allowed a brief moment of applause before seating Poise at the foot of the table. That settled, he fixed his gaze on Kodiak and Oiler. “Gentlemen, if you’ll excuse us, we’ll get down to business.” The two seniors filed out with only a bit of posturing as they reached the door. “Discussion?” he invited.
“Can we add nominations?” demanded Thuban. “Neither of those two are acceptable.”
“Are you presenting yourself as a candidate?” asked Arthur blandly.
Steven clicked his teeth in disgust. “Not hardly. But answer me this,” he said as he stood from his chair and stared down the other men in the room. “Has any one of you here not been intimidated, if not beaten up by that hairy thug from Alaska? Have you so quickly forgotten he was Freya’s hit man?”
Lancer crossed his arms over his broad chest and laughed. “He’s not that tough.”
Thuban scowled at the freshman. “Don’t delude yourself, boy. The only reason you won that fight is because Kodiak’s heart wasn’t in it. He could take you apart with one hand and your girlfriend’s entire team with the other.”
Hank smirked. “You think so, huh?”
“It’s true,” Arthur informed him softly. “I shared a room with Kody most of my time here, and I’m here to tell you the only reason you won is Kody wasn’t really fighting.”
The official leader of Team Kimba rubbed his jaw in memory of a particularly solid blow that had landed. “It didn’t seem that way at the time.”
“Are you alive?” asked Poise quietly from her new place. Hank nodded quizzically. “Then he wasn’t really fighting,” she finished. She sighed and directed her gaze back down the table. “However, Oiler isn’t a viable alternative. Kodiak may be a thug, but Oiler is, well, to put it politely, Oiler is a sleaze bag without any sense of honor. Wyatt has always upheld his word once he’s given it. And once we knew it was Hekate and not the Don who did those horrible things to Cavalier and Skybolt, Kody didn’t hesitate to cast The Don out and take steps to return this Council to its true purpose.”
“Once he was sure he wouldn’t get mind raped,” growled Thuban.
“I don’t recall you taking any steps, Thuban,” Poise shot back. “Further, and correct me if I’m wrong, was it not Wyatt who insisted you have that chair? And you, Gadget? And you, Lancer and all the other freshmen training teams for that matter? Wyatt is the best choice and he has my vote.”
“You might not like Kodiak because he can stand up to Slab, Thuban,” whistled Gadget, “but Freya wasn’t the only student on this campus with a hit man, now was she?”
“Don’t confuse legitimate self defense with…” started Thuban hotly.
“Tone it down,” ordered Pendragon firmly from the head of the table.
Jadis shook her head and stood. “Look, this is just going in circles. Now, there’s plenty of folks here that probably have a beef with Kodiak, but I have to give props to the fashion Nazi, he probably is the best choice here. So, that said, Mister Chairman, I call the matter to question.”
“Very well,” Arthur replied with a quick rap of the gavel. “The matter has been called to question. All those in favor of Kodiak?” he asked as he quickly counted the votes. “And those for Oiler? Those not voting shall be marked abstained. Mister Declan, if you would please?”
The two seniors returned to the room and stood before the head of the Cape Squad. After a long moment, Pendragon returned the gavel to the hand that had given it to him. “Congratulations, Wyatt.”
Gold House Pizza, Pleasant and Mechanic Street, Berlin, NH
“Are you ever going to paint this thing?” demanded Wyatt as he stepped out of Elaine’s Mustang and closed the door. He surveyed the car with a critical eye and shook his head.
“Does the Alpha Male object to being carted around in a work in progress?” teased Elaine as she got her purse more comfortable on her shoulder and joined him on the other side of the vehicle.
He pulled her close and favored her with a crooked smile. “It reminds me of one of Jerico’s shirts,” he shot back. “And it’s not fair to you,” he added quickly when her face began to darken with anger. “You’ve poured your heart and soul into this thing, and knowing you it must be top drawer work, but you’re going to be judged on what it looks like, not how well it performs.”
“Nice save,” she said as she purposefully stepped on his foot on her way into the restaurant. “It’s a long, cold walk back to the school. In fact, Ah’m waiting on something from Babs for the paint.”
“You wound me, milady,” he replied, taking no notice of her weight on his foot. “I would never disparage your craftsmanship. And besides, any walk away from you would be cold and long.”
“Why Mister Wyatt, whatever intentions could ya’ll have on mah virtue?”
He opened the door and held it for her as they were both bombarded with the smell of pizza’s baking in a brick oven. “Only the best of intentions I assure you,” he claimed with a winning smile. “I wouldn’t be where I am without you and Joanne. Why didn’t she come again?”
“You wanted to invite Murphy?” asked Elaine with a false innocence that wouldn’t fool the most naive priest. Her joy was short lived however as her eye went deeper into the restaurant and settled on a group of patrons. “Oh, shit,” she whispered. “Wyatt, let’s go somewhere else,” she pleaded, pulling on his arm.
Before he could respond, however, the group of boys Elaine had seen had shot to their feet. “Bitch!” the leader shouted. “You got my car impounded!”
The epithet instantly brought a scowl to Kodiak’s face as he turned and faced the rapidly approaching clique of Berlin High’s Hockey team. “You’re going to want to walk away, right now,” he growled down at them, head and shoulders above the tallest.
“Or what?” the enraged boy before he realized he was rapidly biting off more than he could chew. Wyatt calmly collected a pair of handfuls of the boy’s shirt and effortlessly picked him up so that the two were eye to eye.
“Or,” he drawled, “My date will kick all of your asses while I watch and laugh. Because if I do it, none of you idiots will be having children,” the big man informed him as he carefully set him back down. “Now, why don’t you kids run along home before I decide I need to open up a can of whoop ass and throw you all a category five beating?”
The leader blinked in confusion for a moment before his face suffused with rage once more and he lashed out with a kick directly into Kodiak’s manhood. The big senior grunted, but his stance didn’t change. “Nice,” he said calmly. “That almost hurt, you done?” The gang roared with outrage and launched an all out assault on the Alaskan with a flurry of kicks and punches.
One decided his buddies were enough to deal with Kodiak and so threw a right hook at Elaine. She neatly blocked it, reversed the arm behind the boy’s head and nearly shoved his face into the wall. Fortunately she remembered her new strength and arrested his movement millimeters from the wall by a handful of his own hair. Kodiak, on the other hand, stood like a mountain, none of the blows affecting him in the slightest, or even interfering with his soft chant to the waitress of “Please call the police,” as he glanced over every now and then to be sure Elaine was alright.
Finally, his patience wearing thin, Kody extended a pinky finger and as gently as he could pushed it into the chest of the boy in front of him. This sent the boy sprawling and allowed Kodiak to take a step forward and pin him down with his foot. Pinned by to the foot on the back of his neck, Kodiak then turned his attention to the other two, still wailing on him. Faster than anyone but Elaine could follow, he reached out and caught a hold of the letterman jackets both were wearing and hoisted them off their feet. On seeing this, the final boy snatched a baseball bat off the wall of memorabilia and smashed it into kindling across the back of Kodiak’s head.
“Oh Hell no,” growled the senior. “You boys are about to piss me off!”
“Sheriff’s office!” yelled a new voice from the door way. “Step away from them, Son, and keep your hands where I can see them.”
“They didn’t start it!” the waitress shouted from behind the podium where she’d taken cover. “He just stood there and let them hit him!”
“Let’s start with ID,” the deputy commanded. Elaine quickly stepped away from her captive, who slid down the wall, cradling his wounded limb, and presented her school ID. The deputy’s eyes rose as he read hers and Kodiak’s which joined it. He surveyed the scene and handed them back. “I appreciate you kids not escalating this,” he said over the wounded and outraged cries of the Hockey team. “Go on, if I have any questions I’ll call the school.”
“We’d really appreciate it if you didn’t,” Kodiak replied with a sheepish grin. “We can hang around…”
The Deputy shook his head. “I’ve got a witness and your info. Unless you want to press charges…”
Kodiak looked over his date and shook his head. “No beef here, sir. We’re just looking to have a nice evening.”
“Come on in,” a new man invited as he arrived from the back of the store. “Mary, why don’t you seat these kids and the drinks are on me,” the Manager said with a smile. “I’m sorry about these troublemakers.”
“It’s nothing,” Elaine told him quickly while pouring on her native Southern Charm. “Ya’ll can’t control the clientele.”
“What do I have to do to take out a restraining order?” the manager inquired as Mary led Elaine and Wyatt to the table.
“Are you sure Joanne didn’t sneak along?” Kody asked her with a grin as he seated her then settled into a chair himself.
“If she did, it’s not because Ah told her,” Elaine replied with a laugh. “Ah’ll have a coke,” she told the waitress. “So, is being Alpha Male going to make all your dreams come true?”
“Coke,” Wyatt said as he opened the menu and began to peruse. “Nope, and as a matter of fact, it’s only so I can put right all the crap the Don did.”
“That’s not your fault,” she protested.
“It happened on my watch that makes it my fault.” Elaine rolled her eyes in disbelief.
“Ah will never understand the male ability for self delusion. So, a lot of crap happened this fall, is the fact that the Yama Dojo tried to pinch the Poe Bust your fault too? Or how about what Jobe did to Phobos and Deimos?” He sighed noisily and shook his head.
“I don’t expect anybody but me to understand it,” he muttered quietly. “Supreme? How’s that sound?”
“Fine,” she gave, knowing she’d get nothing more out of him.
“Phobos and Deimos got caught in the good Samaritan law Elaine. If there were any way to legally prove he did that deliberately, we’d have his ass, and I’d have crunched Jobe myself. But until he cops to anyone but his bad seed buddies it’s just hearsay. But it still happened, another case of people eating shit they don’t deserve because everyone’s hands are tied.”
“But it ain’t your fault!” she protested.
“Sure it is,” he countered hotly. “If I’d been man enough to stand up to Freya about Sebastiano in the first place, then half the crap that’s happened in the last couple of years wouldn’t have! Do you think Jobe would have had the stones to try something like that if he knew he’d have to answer to me for it?”
“You should warm up more before you stretch like that,” she shot back. “You’ll pull a muscle or something.”
“I wanted to be top dog and Freya let me. You wanted to be popular and Freya let you. We both got suckered by the same bitch. You wised up after Snapshot, me, I just kept being her flunky even after Cavalier and Skybolt.” His open face clouded over with grief and regret. “She thought it was funny that the Don had Cav under his thumb. She didn’t even try to find out what happened. “Cav was a good guy, good fighter, and he loved Skybolt like…like…she was everything to him.”
“You did what you could, Kody…”
“I did what I could when I thought I was safe,” he whispered. “You don’t know what that bastard Sebastiano did to them, Elaine. There were videotapes…Really sick shit. I should have stopped him. It’s all my fault.”
“Wait, wait!” she protested. “There are tapes? You’ve got his slimy ass! When Carson sees…”
“Carson won’t see,” he growled. “And you, my dear, won’t breathe a word of this.”
“Franklin Delarose is the most straight up guy on campus, baby, but some of the guys that work for him are slime. Once Carson sees the tapes, what happens to them? They go into the evidence locker, right?” She nodded slowly. “Then they make the rounds around campus, Elaine. And any chance Cav and Sky have of some kind of normal life at Whateley when they get out of ARC is gone. I won’t allow that. If anybody deserves some peace it’s those two. Besides, I didn’t say there are tapes I said there were tapes.”
“He’ll get his, Elaine. Count on it,” he threatened softly.
She thought about this for a long moment and smiled at him side long. “You never cease to surprise me, Mister Cody.”
He smirked as he lifted his glass in toast to her. “Nice to know I can do something right. God knows I have no idea how I’ll look my Mother in the eye after all this.”
“Oh, Ah’m sure you’ll manage.”
Loophole’s Private Lab, Kane Hall Tunnels, Whateley Academy
There were more than a few grumbles around the Workshop that Elaine got her own bay in the vehicle lab as well as a private lab for non-vehicle work, enough that the young inventor from Georgia felt fairly self conscious about it. Still, as Mr. Donner had pointed out, there were very few in the workshop that could boast about a patent that took her off a scholarship and still managed to make the school the amount of money that Kevra did.
It was nice, she admitted to herself to be able to get away and plan things out. Just now she was staring at a one foot square piece of metal she’d just finished soldering a pair of leads to while Compiler watched on the video screen from her own lab. “Alright Babs,” she said as she waved away the last of the smoke from the solder. “Let’s see what this does.”
Elaine pressed a button on a half completed control box and immediately the metal changed color in a rippling wave from dull grey to fire engine red. “Ok, that’s 12 volts, four milliamps at sixty hertz,” she said as she made a minor adjustment to the oscilloscope and the plate’s color faded into a hot orange. “Seventy hertz,” she commented as she continued to work the dial. The orange gave way to a lemon yellow as the dial settled onto eighty hertz. “Looks like we got ourselves a winner, here, Babs,” she told the screen with a smile.
“Yes!” exalted the brunette from her lab. “You won’t have any trouble with working patterns into it? Flames and stripes and what not?”
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Elaine replied as she made a note of the readings. “I’ll bang out some code and hard wire it into a controller in a couple of hours. Then we’ll install it and see if this doesn’t blow Phase’s socks off.”
“Speaking of the proverbial devil, Miss,” interrupted Carmen smoothly. “Miss Goodkind is at the door and is very eager to speak with you.”
“Is it important?” Elaine murmured softly from her note taking.
“I believe so Miss, and some amount of speed would be warranted.” Elaine considered the program’s tone for a moment as the image of the young woman’s eyes on her monitor flashed between her and the door. Finally resigned, Nalley put down her pen and walked over to the door to her lab and opened it.
“All right already, Carmen! Ah’m answering the dang door!”
“I would not have been so insistent if you didn’t need to address this at once.”
No matter how put out Elaine might be with her assistant, Southern Manners required she put her best face forward when playing hostess and so she favored her guest with a warm smile of welcome. “Why hi, Ayla. What brings you down to this neck of the woods?”
An odd look flashed across the gender confused young man’s face, but it didn’t keep him from smiling back, “I can see you’re busy, but I wanted to invite you to my birthday luncheon Saturday. We’re flying to Boston for a nice luncheon at Harrison’s, and then coming back.”
“See?” smirked the computer voice behind Elaine.
She turned and snapped, “Hush, Carmen!”
“Is that an AI, or just an incredible simulation?” he asked, his look something between fearful and hungry. The part of him that was still wary of mutants and Dr. Palm fearful, the young investing genius hungry for a new product that would doubtlessly sell very well.
“That’s a really bad pun, Ayla,” she grinned. “Carmen’s an AI, but Ah’m tryin’ to keep her abilities under wraps. And no, before you ask, she’s not gonna be under patents, and Ah’m not gonna be copying her for other people.”
“Well, good,” insisted the computer voice from inside the room.
Elaine rolled her eyes and tossed a thumb over her shoulder at the remark. “That’s the problem with AI’s. They’re either too much ‘artificial’ and not enough ‘intelligence’, or too much ‘intelligence’ and not enough ‘artificial’. Then you got the professors writin’ papers at MIT and Carnegie, and they basically all say if you can get it working, it must not be all that intelligent. Ah think after The Palm and some of his ilk, nobody’s gonna trust an AI as smart as Carmen for a long time.”
He nodded his understanding and contentment to let the topic lie. “After last week’s problem with Overclock and Make, I don’t think I’m ready to trust computer programs all that much.”
She winced a little. “We all heard about that. Ah didn’t like what they did, but Ah didn’t like how all the Workshop went crazy when they heard about it.”
“Well, there are a lot of Workshop people who like us. Starting with Bugs and Delta Spike and Techwolf, and working down from there.”
She said, “Ah heard Harvey completely ‘dricked out when he started talkin’ about them messing with you.”
Despite his many protestations of being male, a very lady like blush from the attention colored ‘his’ cheeks. “Harvey doesn’t have a lot of friends.”
She drawled, “Well, Carmen thinks Ah oughta go and have some fun. But you need to know you’re invitin’ an Alpha. Anything Ah see, Ah might talk to someone about.”
His grin was completely unforced. “Good. We’ve already got one New Olympian, a Cape and a Cape wannabe, a Beret Mafioso, a couple Golden Kids, at least one Outcast, a couple Security auxiliaries, and all of Team Kimba. And you’ll be the sixth inventor on the list.”
“Who else?” she wondered.
“Generator, Bugs, Delta Spike, Jericho, and Möbius.”
She smiled a little. “Sounds like you’ve got one heck of a cross-section there.”
That he seemed truly upset about as he shook his head. “Not really. No Thornies. No Faction Three, unless Thuban comes. No Ultraviolents or Dragons or Tigers or G.O.B. or Dylans or several other groups.”
She asked, “Aren’t Bladedancer and Chaka in those martial arts groups already?”
He sighed, “No, and they’re all making a big stink about it, too. The Tigers want Chaka pretty bad, and she’s mad at their head guy. Since he nearly took a swing at Chaka’s grandmother on Parents’ Day, I think you can figure Chaka’s going to hold that grudge a long time. And Bladedancer doesn’t like having both groups fighting over her like she’s a trophy, so I don’t think she’ll side with either. But you can talk to them about it on the trip.”
“Okay, I’m in. It sounds fun,” she said.
“Great. Nice casual, so just something better than t-shirt and worn jeans. No presents, no anything. Meet everyone in front of Schuster at nine Saturday morning, and we’ll take a couple shuttles to the airport.”
“Whoa. The airport? We all have to get tickets?”
“Umm, no. Sorry,” he replied quickly. “I chartered a jet. No tickets, no standard airport security line, nothing. And we have Whateley Security along to interact with the MCO and TSA. In theory, it should go smoothly.”
She suddenly grinned, “Ah still remember what you said about theory versus practice.”
“Well, there is that.”
He smiled again and walked off, precisely as Carmen decided to add her two cents worth, “I told you that you should talk to Phase.”
“Carmen, nobody likes a smarty-pants,” Elaine chastised as she shut the door.
The Quad between Shuster Hall and Doyle Medical Complex, Whateley Academy
Stronghold wasn’t exactly sure if he was being set up by his sister or not; some of their pranks between them had been only a hair or two below bloodthirsty when they’d been pulled. But, he had to admit, ever since Elaine had come to Whateley last year she’d been more…what was the right word? Distant? She didn’t laugh as much as she’d used to and whenever he’d asked her if someone was giving her a hard time; she’d just force a smile and change the subject. Stephen wasn’t sure who might be responsible for her sudden change, but he felt it his duty as a brother and a Southern Gentleman to find out if there was a person behind it and, if so, beat them soundly about the head and shoulders.
However, grim thoughts always gave way to the joys of a green flag day and being able to fly. Flying always put Stephen in a good mood; to be special in his own way was far more than a dream come true. To step out of the long shadow his sister cast in the eyes of their parents was a miracle. Still, it was time for business and a reverent hope that this ‘fixer’ system Elaine had explained was actually how things got done around the campus.
Despite the whispers already running around campus, Stephen was neither a fool, nor an idiot. He knew he’d have only one shot at wooing a commodity like Mega-Girl and be damned if he was going to foul things up. If the fixer’s had all the information, then Poe’s fixer would have all the inside scope about what she liked, what flowers she was allergic to, if any, whether it was milk, dark, white or Dutch chocolate that made her melt, every little detail.
“Now I just have to find this, ‘Phase’,” he told himself as he banked up and away from the Crystal Hall. Elaine had pulled up a picture of her from one of the campus security cameras and, he had to admit, even here hair like that stood out. He didn’t need a copy of the picture; indeed, Stephen was still trying to come to grips with remembering everything he did in a day, even the odd thoughts that drifted through your mind right before you fell asleep. However, he didn’t mind that he could call up Mega-Girl’s image when ever he wanted.
It would take getting used to, however, the Luck of the Proverbial Irish was with Stronghold and he caught sight of Phase in a clutch of other girls moving towards Poe Cottage. “Hold up a second!” he hollered as he altered his flight for a landing before them. Stephen favored the girls with his most winning smile, but the hairs on the back of his neck stood up and he took a second look. The one boy of the group had unfolded a pair of paper swords from his pockets and now they were remarkably rigid and no longer gave in the slight breeze. The small oriental girl had been shoved into the center of the group while the black girl and the walking anime character stepped forward to frame Phase; the black girl taking off her chain belt that was now obviously some kind of martial arts weapon.
Stephen cautiously raised an empty hand. “Afternoon. How are ya’ll?”
Phase stepped forward and looked up into the bigger boy’s freckled face. “Can I help you?” Stronghold took in Phase for a long moment, and despite Loophole’s insistence that Phase was a boy, he could have sworn this was a very cute girl about to be a devastatingly beautiful woman. Nevertheless, he’d promised he’d be on his best behavior so he would honor his word.
“I hope so,” Stephen admitted, widening the smile in vain hopes her friends would relax a little. No such luck. “I’m Stronghold. I’m told you’re the person to see about things in Poe, and well, here it is, I’m rather sweet on a lovely lady, like I’m sure you yourself ought to have. But, I don’t want to just come on strong like a cad. Maybe you’d do me the honor of letting me know what she’d like to do on a date? I’d be happy to take you out to dinner tonight to pay for the information.” He reached behind his back and took out a single red rose on a long stem. “I got this for…”
“No, thank you,” Phase replied with a deep frown.
Stephen blinked and realized where the conversation had gone wrong. “I’m sorry, you misunderstand, I know you’re not a lady, and don’t want to give the wrong connotation. Perhaps we could pick out some evening when you’re free; I’d like to talk about Ma…”
“No,” he said even more forcefully, and there was more than a touch of fear in ‘his’ eyes, like he was looking at something revolting. And the snickers of his friends weren’t helping things either. “I’m not interested; I’m not ever going to be interested! Didn’t anyone tell you about me?”
“Of course!” Stephen declared, looking desperately for some way to salvage this disastrous situation. “Mah sister did tell me all about you bein’n a boy, so there’s no way I…” he stammered, mentally cringing because he was getting nervous and his accent was getting stronger.
The black girl started laughing, which only made Phase turn a darker shade of red. “I am a boy!” he yelled. “I just have a really bizarre problem with my BIT, if you know what that is! Now, do I need to expose myself in public to convince you I have the same thing between my legs that you do?”
The yelling had stopped the passers by and now there were several dozen people staring at the commotion. Stephen felt his face burn with a flush, both embarrassment and frustration. “I…ummm….No. I wouldn’t ask anyone to do that.”
“AWK-ward!” the black girl sang between her guffaws.
“And your sister?” Phase demanded after staring daggers at his friend.
“Elaine. Elaine Nalley. Ah’m Steve Nalley.”
Phase looked like he’d swallowed a habanero a split second after reading the label on the jar. “Look Stronghold, you’re hitting on a guy. This is just embarrassing, and it’s not going to do your rep any good. So why don’t you just drop it, and I won’t talk about.”
Stephen opened and closed his mouth several times, trying desperately to think of some way to steer the conversation back to what he’d wanted to talk about, but realized quickly the damage was done. “I’m sorry to have troubled you,” he finally decided on, bowed stiffly from the neck and took off. One thing was certain after this cluster fuck; his sister had some explaining to do!
Clubhouse of F. O. E. between Dunn Hall and Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
The Secret seethed and boiled in rage. It had come so close, but now it seemed like the girls it had chosen had almost lost interest. They plotted and planned and waited on an endless list of little things that was driving The Secret mad. Gathering itself, it propelled itself once more into the tunnels and followed the familiar paths to Whitman Cottage. There, it carefully moved around the subtle layers of magic to the floor that protected the Students from outside influences.
The Secret hovered over the bed of the oval faced brunette and watched her shallow breathing for a moment as it worked itself up for what it must do. Finally it felt strong enough and grabbed a hold of one of the many tendrils of thought that a living being asleep let roam as their subconscious wondered the March of Dreams. From there The Secret dove beneath the warm clear skin of Reverb and revelled in the sensations of being alive once more.